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Manitou Springs City Engineer Dole Grebenik shows off the new generator.

The Manitou Springs Water Treatment Plant, in partnership with the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, announced they have finished installation of an in-pipe hydropower system, which is a small step toward Colorado Springs Utilities’ goal of an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. 

Climate change and the earlier-than-expected shutdown of Drake Power Plant in December 2022 are two reasons, according to experts, that taking advantage of renewable power sources in the Pikes Peak region is more important than ever. Historically, the message from conservationists has been to use less energy by turning off unused lights, purchasing energy-efficient appliances and installing energy-efficient windows. Today the focus isn’t just on the quantity of energy being consumed, but where that energy comes from. 

With the rising popularity of products like electric cars, it’s less about how much electricity you use and more about how much carbon, trapped in fossil fuels like coal, was burned to generate it.

“[Carbon emissions] dropped substantially as we shifted away from coal and onto natural gas,” says Gabriel Caunt, a principal engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities’ Demand-side Management and Renewable Energy Team, of Drake’s recent transition to natural gas. “Natural gas is about half the carbon emissions per megawatt hour as coal, so as we’ve shifted off of coal, that’s been a substantial reduction.”

The new Manitou system generates power from the water that’s pumped into the treatment plant at 250 psi. Instead of using pressure-reducing valves to lower that pressure to meet treatment plant requirements, the hydropower system lowers pressure while generating electricity at the same time.

“At peak operation it should generate 45 to 50 kilowatts of electricity per hour,” said Dole Grebenik, the Manitou Springs city engineer, during the Dec. 16 ribbon-cutting ceremony at the plant. “The average household consumes 28.9 kilowatt hours per day. So, under all assumptions, every 30 minutes that the hydro is at full capacity, it generates enough electricity for one house for one day.”

While it might not sound like much, the power generated at the Manitou plant will effectively make the facility carbon neutral. “If the water treatment plant is able to maintain that production, which we think it can during peak demand summer season, it should cover all the Water Treatment Plant’s energy consumption after running for only 17 and a half days of the month,” said Grebenik.

The water treatment plant’s hydropower generator joins a team of larger hydroelectric sources in the region. “We have quite a bit [of renewable power sources] on the system, and that’s a growing area,” says Caunt. “For a long time, we’ve had hydroelectric power — the Manitou Hydro Plant and the Ruxton Hydro Plant on Pikes Peak. I know Manitou Hydro has been operating for over 100 years; that’s some of our oldest renewable resources on the system. We have some newer ones we’ve put in. We have a 35-megawatt system called the Tesla Hydropower system that is behind the Air Force Academy. That recaptures energy when we pull water out of one of our reservoirs.” 

Solar is another source of renewable energy used by CSU. “In addition to that we have about 100 megawatts of solar right now that we have contracted through purchase power agreements, but some of those are arrays nearby,” says Caunt. “There’s a 10-megawatt array down at the Clear Spring Ranch site, near the Nixon Power Plant. We have two other arrays that were recently installed just a couple years ago. The 35-megawatt Grazing Yak array and the 60-megawatt Palmer Solar. All together that adds up to about 95 megawatts of solar [CSU’s peak day demand is 965 megawatts]. We also are buying renewable credits from the 5½-megawatt array at the Air Force Academy, so we count that towards our renewable goals as well. In 2023, the one I’m really excited about, we’re going to construct a 175-megawatt solar array. It’s substantially larger than what you see [at the Academy], and that will be southeast of Fountain.” 

News Reporter

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.

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