Shoshone Hydro

Organized in 1903, the Colorado Power and Irrigation Company brought electrical power to towns in the western part of the state. The company had planned to build a hydroelectric plant at Shoshone Falls in what would become Glenwood Canyon.

The idea was eventually scrapped, but it inspired the Central Colorado Power Company, which formed in 1906. Within two and a half years, most of the work on the new plant was finished. The project consisted of four divisions: the plant itself, the tunnel for the water, the dam, and the construction of a power line. A smaller plant was built to generate 1000 horsepower for electricity during the production of the main plant.

By the time the water tunnel was finished, it was 12,450 feet long, 13 feet high, and about 17 feet across. Concrete was used to allow the water to move more freely. Concrete arches were built to support the weakened parts of the rock. At first, the capacity was 1250 cubic feet a second. It was later expanded to allow over 1400 cubic feet a second, in 1929. The tunnel was pressurized with air in order to reduce waves that could reduce efficiency. The dam itself began construction in 1907 and was finished in 1910. It was supposed to incorporate a “bear trap” mechanism that would release excess water. The system never worked and needed to be altered immediately. The dam has been undergoing continuous modification ever since that first alteration.

The actual power plant was finished in 1909. The original plant consisted of two 9,000-horsepower turbines and two 5,000-kilowatt generators. Nine foot wide pipes transferred the water from the diversion pipe to the turbines. During its first operational year, the power plant generated about 38 million kilowatt hours, which was much less than the projected amount of 90 million. The dam has since been modified many times and now produces 104 million kilowatt hours.

Unfortunately, throughout much of the 20th century, asbestos was likely used at the Shoshone Hydro power plant. This was not uncommon before the 1980s, when information about the health risks of the fibrous mineral become more widespread. The mineral was used because it was a strong insulator against heat and electricity, preventing currents from being discharged from machinery.  While asbestos may have offered some immediate protection, in the long term it turned out to be very hazardous, leading to a rare and severe form of cancer known as mesothelioma, among other serious diseases.


Historic Structures

Xcel Energy