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COBWEB CORNERS: The power plant at Ruxton Park

By Mel McFarland

        I have been asked about the location of Ruxton Park. It is three miles up the cog railway, at the top of Englemann Canyon and Ruxton Creek. In that location is one of two hydroelectric power plants the city has in the canyon. The other is just above Manitou, built in 1905. There was another, at Minnehaha, but it was dismantled and moved.
       There is a fine stone building at Ruxton Park, which houses the Pelton wheel drive for the generation of electricity. The water used is then sent on down the pipe to Manitou. Colorado Springs has gotten fresh water for nearly a century and a half from lakes on the south slope of Pikes Peak.
       I explained in an earlier column how the Mount Manitou Incline was originally built to haul pipe for the water line from Ruxton Park.
       Colorado Springs Utilities, formed in 1925, controls the water use now through two divisions: power generation and water.
       The plant's electricity goes down a line that parallels the cog railway. Originally this was intended to be automatic. That is, as need increased, so would the power. This was handled remotely, by the operator at the plant in Manitou. This system, however, never worked well, and a caretaker was placed at Ruxton Park to control the plant manually.
       The city intended to close the plant about 10 years ago, but as "green" power became more important, the plant was upgraded, and the latest in automated controls installed. The caretaker had retired by then. Another complication was the drought at that time, which had caused water reserves to be lower than usual. The power could only be used sporadically, as it might not be needed at the same time the water was, and vice-versa.
       The mountain's slope gives the power plant the highest "head pressure" (the pressure of the water against the generator) of any power plant in the world. The plant has always provided "as needed" extra power.
       The electrical generation division, including coal- and gas-generating units, provides the lowest cost per kilowatt hour of any utility in the area.
       Outside the Ruxton plant is a large basin, known as the intake, where water is collected before going down the pipe line to the Manitou plant. There are several pipe lines in the area, some active, some retired. Over the years, as the need has become greater, larger pipes have been required to bring the water to town. One pipe even goes over to Ute Pass.
       Another generating plant is near the Air Force Academy. The city's newest is near Cascade, in Ute Pass.

(Posted 11/2/14; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since early 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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