DECEMBER 9, 2015 BY 

As reported by Tom Ross at the Steamboat Today newspaper

Yampa Valley Electric Association has announced that, for the first time, the local electrical cooperative is purchasing the electricity generated by the John Fetcher Power Plant at Stagecoach Reservoir near Oak Creek directly from dam and reservoir owner, Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. YVEA is proposing to effectively keep the renewable hydropower within its service area, including Routt and Moffat counties.

The new “purchased power agreement” that sends the hydropower to the cooperative will allow YVEA to offer the clean, renewable energy from Stagecoach to some of its largest customers who can benefit from promoting their use of renewable energy sources through a marketing program, YVEA CEO Diane Johnson said.

The water district previously sold its hydropower to Xcel Energy, according to UYWCD Manager Kevin McBride.

The power plant generates about 3,600 megawatts of electricity per year, McBride said.

“In the world of trying to make more carbon-neutral power and making sure people are producing it, this is a step in the right direction,” McBride said.

In March 2001, the power plant at Stagecoach became the first in the United States to receive certification as a Low Impact Hydropower Facility.

Johnson said that, while all generated electrical power goes to the network of power transmission lines commonly referred to as “the grid,” YVEA’s wholesale purchase of the power generated by the Fetcher Power Plant creates an opportunity for its largest customers to support the local generation of clean, renewable energy.

“The interesting part of this for YVEA is that we’re excited we get to buy this power and, rather than have Xcel buy it, keep the relationship local,” Johnson said.

The hydropower will be made available to YVEA customers with energy usage of more than 1.5 million kilowatt hours (kWh) per year, according to a news release from YVEA. They will be able to acquire hydropower in increments of 1,000 kWh-related blocks, with up to 3,600 blocks available with an additional fee of $10 per block that goes back to UYWCD as encouragement for its hydropower operations, according to Johnson. The program will be available beginning in early January.

Regardless of how the renewable power offering is received by the 15 or so large consumers of electrical energy the power will be offered to, Johnson said, establishing a connection between an existing source of local hydropower and the YVEA’s customer base was an important goal.

“It’s really positive and a strong move in terms of clean energy,” she said. “We’re buying it for all of our customers, whether or not anybody buys it … Being able to buy this renewable energy source locally is really important. It would be a shame if we hadn’t found a way to support,” the water district.

Dan Ellertson, assisted by Matt Blankenship, operates the power plant, under oversight by district engineer Andy Rossi.

John Fetcher had a long connection to hydropower

The power plant at Stagecoach is named for founding UYWCD manager John Fetcher, who ranched in the Elk River Valley but had an impressive resume as an electrical engineer with a passion for dams. He earned master’s degrees in electrical engineering and business from Harvard University in 1935.

Fetcher’s first job was with the engineering firm Babcock and Wilcox, which was contracted to build the penstocks (water intakes) for Hoover Dam, and that became Fetcher’s first experience in dam building, according to the water district’s Web page. In 1967, he spearheaded the development of Steamboat Lake on his own ranch land. In the late 1970s, aware that hay farmers in the upper Yampa River basin had insufficient water for irrigation in spite of the presence of Yamcolo Reservoir in the Flat Tops, he began exploring the possibilities of building a reservoir at Stagecoach.

The scarcity of water for agriculture in the upper Yampa Valley ultimately drove him to lead the charge for the construction of Stagecoach Reservoir, and because he “liked to see wheels turn,” he helped to take the project through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process so that it could include a hydropower component.

UYWCD reports the Fetcher Power Plant produces five million kWh of renewable energy per year, enough power to support about 500 households in this climate.