Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"It's a wonderful day in Colorado City"

A great example of how renewable energy can make a huge difference in the lives of people in small communities. (GW)

Grant to enable new plant in Colorado City to treat nonpotable water

The plant will be empowered in part by wind turbines

By Jeff Craig
July 19, 2011

Parched Colorado City residents soon will have a new source of water, after receiving a $2.8 million grant from the Texas Department of Rural Affairs to construct a plant to treat nonpotable groundwater, powered in part by wind turbines.

The plant will be among the first in the nation to use wind energy to desalinate brackish groundwater. The new plant initially will provide 750,000 gallons of clean drinking water per day, with the potential to provide up to 1.5 million gallons daily in the future.

"It's a wonderful day in Colorado City," said City Manager Pete Kampfer. "This is a home run. We desperately needed another source to develop potable drinking water. This is a big step forward."

Technology to treat brackish groundwater has existed for some time, according to Howard G. Baldwin Jr., TDRA's interim executive director. However, electricity costs to power such plants have proved to be too expensive for many small towns, Baldwin said in a news release.

He said, however, that Colorado City's "good wind resources" can make desalination affordable.

"We have lots of wind energy, so the component of wind turbines makes it reasonable for operations and maintenance," Kampfer said.

Three on-site 500-kilowatt wind turbines, produced by General Dynamics, will provide 40 percent of the plant's power. Power from the turbines will be donated to Mitchell County for this project. General Dynamics and the National Institute for Renewable Energy in Lubbock received federal funding to develop and test new mid-size wind turbines.

Kampfer said Colorado City's need for water is approaching the critical stage. He said without a solution like the plant, the city could have been out of water in three to five years or under severe water rationing.

"This county has about one-third drinkable water in its underground table and that's a declining resource used by agriculture," Kampfer said. "The majority of the county has brackish water, and no matter how you drill it, it's not drinkable without treatment."

After the $2.8 million grant, the donated turbines and use of existing facilities, the project will cost the city about $3 million, Kampfer said.

Travis Brown, renewable energy program manager with the Texas Department of Rural Affairs, said the innovative project will provide a new way to get drinkable water in a dry and desperate community.

"If towns like Colorado City don't come up with solutions, they are going to dry up and blow away," Brown said. "To clean up that much water for a whole town is really expensive, when you talk about electricity costs. The idea is if you can use wind to power them, it can be a solution."

Brown said the Colorado City plant and a similar project in Seminole are the first in the United States to use wind energy to power plants to desalinate brackish water. Brown said using wind energy could be a saving grace in communities across West Texas.

"Colorado City is not alone. All these small cities out in West Texas are facing a depletion of water," Brown said. "But even though you are facing a shortage of good drinking water, there is a lot of brackish water out there."

The new plant could be completed in two or three years. Seven new wells are being drilled to pump brackish groundwater to the plant.

Kampfer said the plant is a major source of good news for a community that has had a tough year with fires and the continuing search for middle school student Hailey Dunn, who was reported missing by her mother on Dec. 28.

"We've had drought, fires and a missing person. This is definitely good news," Kampfer said.


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