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On-Farm Hydropower Basics

There are many reasons for implementing small hydropower generation at the farm scale, including: economic incentives (including low interest loans, grants from the State of Colorado, net metering, and utility rebates or incentives), the need to reduce pipe pressure, or to simply transition to a more sustainable energy source. The benefits of small hydropower systems extend beyond the farm to environmental and community benefits. For example, installing a mechanical hydropower system to turn a center pivot in rural Colorado can eliminate the need for additional electrical transmission lines or diesel generators, therefore lessening the environmental impact. Economic benefits of small hydropower generation are mentioned in Colorado’s Water Plan which emphasizes lowering the cost of the “water-energy nexus” and recommends small hydropower projects be incorporated into irrigation efficiency improvements, when feasible, to increase the economic return on water use. It is common for irrigators to convert from flood to center pivot irrigation to save on labor costs and increase the precision and accuracy of water application on a field. However, one of the main costs over the life of the center pivot is the electrical costs to pump the water through the pivot and advance it around the field. Small on-farm hydropower generation offers an irrigator the opportunity to reduce their electrical costs which, depending on the size of the farm, could significantly reduce overall costs.

There are three components of agricultural water conveyance that have the capacity to harness hydropower:

  • on-farm pressurized irrigation systems
  • conduit drops on irrigation ditches, and
  • existing agricultural dams.

Since over 170,000 acres of irrigated land in Colorado have been labeled as suitable for pressurized irrigation systems, much attention has been paid to this category. Although only a fraction of the small hydropower potential has been developed, the State of Colorado has been creating resources to help landowners, including irrigating farmers, build and implement small hydropower projects. Colorado has established itself as a national small-hydro pioneer by developing resources to aid in small-hydro development, including streamlining regulations.

Financing A Small Hydropower System

In addition to regulatory incentives for hydropower, financial incentives are now more abundant for on-farm hydropower projects. One of the biggest incentives for an irrigator is a free program offered through the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) in which CDA performs a site assessment and, when funds allow, can help reimburse the cost of a feasibility assessment. A site assessment will take stock of your physical site characteristics needed for hydropower generation including elevational changes, diversion amounts, and current irrigation infrastructure. A feasibility assessment is a more detailed look at your site conditions and typically includes engineering reports and analysis.

Another incentive comes from the Colorado Water Conservation Board which offers low interest loans for small hydropower projects. Additionally, the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offers federal assistance for farm improvements such as center pivots and small hydropower systems. Making use of a variety of financial incentives will help irrigators pay for a small hydropower system.

Last updated: October 18, 2017 at 11:47 am