The recently refurbished 5-megawatt Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric Plant that is now generating power for Tri-State under a five-year power purchase agreement was once the primary source of electricity for the then small community of Boulder, Colo. Of course, that was 103 years ago, when electricity was more of a luxury than the necessity that it is today.
The historic Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric Plant began producing power in 1910.
The Powering the West staff recently visited the Boulder Canyon hydro facility, which has produced power at this scenic mountain site west of the city since 1910.
Jake Gesner, City of Boulder hydroelectric manager, provided a bit of background on the historic facility. “When this plant was constructed, it included two 7-megawatt generating units, which were later upgraded to 10 megawatts,” he said.
At around the same time, another engineering marvel was taking shape elsewhere in the state. The Colorado Central Power Company was building the Shoshone Hydro Plant a few miles west of Glenwood Springs.
That hydro plant would include a 13-mile diversion tunnel and pipeline from the Colorado River and a 153-mile transmission line that extended all the way to Denver over rugged Hagerman and Argentine passes. For many years this line was regarded as the world’s highest transmission line.
Today, the Shoshone Hydro Plant plant continues to produce up to 14 megawatts of power for the customers of Xcel Energy.
Boulder Canyon hydro also claims some unique engineering aspects. When the plant was completed, it was noted as being the highest head (water pressure) hydroelectric facility in the western U.S. Water pressure at the plant is measured at an impressive 800 PSI during peak runoff periods.
Jake Gesner manages Boulder Canyon Hydro and seven other city-owned hydro plants. He is shown here with the brand new unit that now generates power for Tri-State.
The water source for Boulder Canyon hydro is derived from Barker Reservoir. The other components of the project consist of the 11-mile Barker Gravity Pipeline, Kossler Boulder Canyon Penstock and the plant itself, which now operates a single highly efficient 5-megawatt turbine/generator unit.
The City of Boulder’s hydroelectric department owns and operates a total of eight hydroelectric plants with a maximum combined capacity of 16 megawatts. The units are monitored and controlled remotely with a staff of three employees, including Gesner. This hydroelectric network also supplies Boulder’s municipal water requirements.
The revenue that Boulder collects from the power it produces at its hydroelectric projects is derived from Tri-State and Xcel Energy. Those funds are used to help offset the maintenance and operating costs of the city’s various facilities.