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Tiny hydro project generates red tape
From Silverton Standard, the place where you can write!
Posted on June 04 2012, 3:09pm by Mark Esper in Local News category
This small shed at the Mayflower Mill houses an 8-kilowatt hydroelectric generator using water piped from Arastra Gulch (background). But due to federal regulatory hurdles, the hydro-power facility is still not allowed to operate.
By Mark Esper
Bev Rich, chairman of the San Juan County Historical Society, is pretty much fed up with FERC.
And she’s not alone.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been making it very difficult for the historical society to get its tiny hydroelectric generating facility at the Mayflower Mill online.
For instance, the agency is requiring detailed architectural drawings of the small shed that houses the generator itself.
“And they need a new survey of where the shed actually sits on the property,” Rich said.
Then there is the 30-day public comment period “from every federal agency you can think of and downstream Indian tribes,” Rich said. “It’s just ridiculous — especially since this is nonconsuming.”
The historical society, which also owns this newspaper, received a $105,000 grant for the  project from History Colorado in 2010.
The 8-kilowatt plant will be powered by water delivered by a pipeline from high in Arastra Gulch.
The small plant should provide power for the mill for its summer tour season, and also allow the historical society to sell surplus power to San Miguel Power Association.
Once completed, the small plant will offset the $600-a-month electricity bill the historical society now pays to keep the lights on at the Mayflower Mill, a National Historic Landmark that the society runs as a tourist attraction.
“A century ago, mills all over the San Juans were powered by hydro-electric power, a fortunate result of geography and abundant water supply,” Rich said. “We propose to re-use this historic technology to take our organization into the future.”
But so far the project has only generated a lot of red tape, even though the generator has been installed and is ready to go.
“We could have already been producing electric power since last fall if we hadn’t had to go through all of this,”  Rich said.
But Rich added that “it’s not FERC’s fault. They recognize it’s silly too. It’s just the way the law is.”
Kurt Johnson of Ophir, president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association, testified before Congress earlier this month in support of a bill to cut the paperwork involved in licensing small hydro-electric facilities and reduce the time it takes to get a license.
The bill faces no opposition, but its fate in Congress is still uncertain given the political climate in Washington.
Johnson asked for a “Hydro 1040EZ” process that would make licensing easier.
“It’s unbelievable,” Johnson said. “Imagine if, in order to put a solar panel on your house, you had to get letters from federal and state environmental agencies.”
On some small projects, he told the committee, the cost of complying with the laws is greater than the cost of the equipment itself.
“This much regulation — completely crazy,” Johnson said. “Thank God you have some members of Congress who are doing something intelligent. Cut red tape, cut emissions, create jobs.”
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