Georgetown Hydro

Georgetown Hydro is a hydroelectric plant based in Georgetown, CO, currently owned by Xcel Energy. The total generating capacity of the plant is 1.5 megawatts, which is enough to power between 700 and 1000 businesses and homes. The plant’s water source is the Georgetown reservoir which is about a mile up the canyon. The 700-foot vertical drop produces 275 pounds per square inch of water pressure. Because this is more pressure than necessary to turn the generator wheel, a needle valve helps keep the speed controlled at 360 RPM. This way, the generator will produce 60 hertz, which allows it to be synchronized with all other generators on the grid.

When the plant was first built it was originally coal-powered. An Alice Chalmers Corliss steam engine, fueled by coal, was the first source of power. However, the lack of coal in the nearby mountains made keeping the engine running very expensive. To bring the cost of electricity down, the plant operators moved the reservoir to its current location in 1902. Occasionally however, the levels at the reservoir were too low to turn the water wheels on. The coal-powered steam engine was fired up to keep up with the demand at first, but later on additional pipes were added from Green Lake and Clear Lake to add to the reservoir capacity. After that, the steam generator was no longer needed. The equipment for the generator was removed in 1918.

Like all hydroelectric plants, Georgetown Hydro does not have any air, land, or water emissions. The plant is actually not controlled on site; the control operations are at Cabin Creek Hydro five miles away. Plant output is adjusted depending on the level of the water. The plant typically runs at less than full capacity, although when demand is up during the summertime the plant runs at full capacity. During this time excess water spills over the dam. Adjacent to the plant is the Georgetown Energy Museum (GEM), which is open to the public and offers exhibits on the history of the plant and technology used to generate electricity.

During its early years as a coal-fired plant and possibly into its days of hydropower, Georgetown Hydro likely included asbestos in its construction and insulating materials.  The natural mineral helped protect the machinery and facilities from extreme temperatures, but also endangered the health of the workers, since tiny fibers of asbestos can break away and become airborne.  Once in the lungs, they are nearly impossible to remove, and can cause such serious health problems as asbestosis and mesothelioma.