Everything Old is New Again
Asking one simple question can lead, eventually, to big changes. In 2007 Dale Lyons, a Water Resources Coordinator for the City of Santa Fe Water Department, looked at the decommissioned Canyon Road Hydropower Plant and asked if a hydro-power plant was still feasible in Santa Fe. Dale made a few basic calculations that were promising enough to warrant a full engineering study. That study started a process which has culminated in a brand new hydro-power plant inspired by the original power plant in the Santa Fe Canyon Road Hydro Park.
The now-historic Canyon Road Hydro plant (photo below) was built in the 1890's to generate power from the drinking water delivered by the upstream reservoirs on the Santa Fe River. The Canyon Road plant generated power from the 1890's until the 1930's when it was decommissioned in favor of a higher capacity power plant. Though the old hydro-power plant was taken offline the upstream reservoirs, water treatment plant, piping and water tanks remain in use. In fact, the water pressure from the water treatment plant 200 feet uphill is strong enough to require an 'altitude valve' to dissipate the energy in the water flowing into the main storage tank.
Now instead of wasting water pressure, a new 100 KW 'Francis-Type' pump turbine and power system from Canyon Hydro will generate an average of 400 Megawatt Hours of electricity annually. The 400 MW hrs of electricity will offset approximately 1/3 of the power needed to pump and distribute water from the Canyon Road tank to the Santa Fe Water system. Not only will the Santa Fe Water division save $28K annually at current energy rates, they will be able to sell Renewable Energy Credits to power utilities. Between avoided electricity costs and projected REC income the hydro-power project should pay for the entire project costs in 18 years.
While this sort of renewable energy project should be obvious, it didn't happen easily. The new Canyon Road Hydropower Plant would not exist without the dedication of forward thinking staff at the Santa Fe Water Department, a $700K Recovery Act Grant, a $160K loan from the New Mexico Finance Authority and funds from the City of Santa Fe. I am quite proud that our city has invested in meaningful, renewable energy infrastructure projects like this. I'm also shocked that delivering our drinking water is so incredibly energy intensive. I suppose that means we have lots of renewable energy projects still to do.