By Todd Hagenbuch
When I was little, I was intrigued by the huge boulders that sat along the driveway on the hill above my grandparent’s house near Steamboat Springs. These awesome rocks were situated near Green Creek, the stream which my family’s ranch derives its name. The two most prominent boulders had a large concrete structure below them. Lichen covered rocks, stacked and cemented in formation, filled the void between the structures. Small concrete ‘walls’ ran the length of the top, creating a channel for water to flow. A large ditch, dug by hand, ran from the boulders back to the creek.
As I grew older, I became more intrigued by the structure and similar ones that surrounded the ranch. I was told that the structures had housed water wheels, and that much of the ranch work had been accomplished by water-powered machines in the early nineteen hundreds. The Lugon family, who had lived on the place prior to my family, had a water-powered mill in the granary to grind oats, a wheel to thresh grain, and so on.
There was also a wheel in the ‘power house’, just below the main residence, which was fed from the same water pipe that plumbed the house. Water flowing through a 4 inch pipe down the mountain achieved a 120 psi. The plant produced enough energy to power lights throughout the entire ranch, and it did so with pollution free, renewable energy in endless amounts.
Last week, as I arrived back in Sterling from a trip to Denver, I encountered some of the longest semi-trailers I’ve ever seen. The first few had huge pipe-looking items on them, the smallest being about 10’ in diameter and of incredible length. The next had equally long pieces on it, but these were smaller in diameter and curved. The last truck carried an enormous aero-looking box with the word ‘generator’ inscribed along the side with a ‘GE’ logo.
I had just witnessed one of man’s modern marvels on its way to be assembled for generating pollution free, renewable energy. The trucks lumbered past me on their way to the Peetz wind farm, and behind them I noticed the just-opened Sterling Ethanol Plant, producing renewable energy from corn. Between the trucks and the plant sat a diesel-powered train loaded with coal. I had just witnessed a shift in power: how we harness it, how we use it, and what it means to us.
Renewable energy is an idea that has come full circle. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is fighting for renewable energy in the hope that it helps you, the producer, increase your market influence, cut your costs, and that it provides you an alternative to imported oil. I encourage everyone to not only cut back on the energy you use, but to look at alternatives to traditional power supplies on your own place. I’m already looking for a water-powered generator to help light the ranch again.