Duane Segelke, pictured second from left, explains the purpose of Trailblazer Compressor Station No. 601 to members of the Colorado Rural Electric Association board of directors during a tour May 24.

Colorado Rural Electric Association gets look at Highline project

    About 12 miles north of Crook, just south of the Nebraska state line, Trailblazer Pipeline Compressor Station 601 whines amid the grasslands and wheat fields of the Peetz Table. There is energy being produced here, and lots of it.
    The pipeline pushes up to 900 million cubic feet of natural gas a day along its 436-mile course from Wyoming, through Colorado and into Nebraska. The compressor station is surrounded by the NextEra Energy wind farm, where giant rotors spin sedately, turning the breezes into 600 megawatts of power almost every day.
    But there's more here than meets the eye.
    In the compressor station, heat exhaust that was released into the atmosphere is being turned into electricity that Highline Electric Association sells to its customers.
    On May 24, members of the Colorado Rural Electric Association board of directors and some of their staff members toured the site. The board was having its annual meeting in Sterling with Highline Electric Association hosting, and Highline vice president Jim Lueck, who is chairman of the CREA board, was eager to show his fellow board members HEA's best-kept secret.
    So on a May afternoon about 40 CREA members and staffers boarded a bus and headed out into the countryside.
    “The beauty of the thing is that it doesn't use any extra fuel of its own. It doesn't use any water,” he said. “And I was talking to (a neighbor) who said when Ormat put that system on there, it actually quieted down those jet engines to a tolerable level.”
    The “jet engines” are two 14,500-horsepower Solar Mars 100 gas-fired turbines that run the compressors that raise the pressure of the natural gas in the pipeline. They sit in a nondescript blue building, their incessant whine audible all over the facility. Walk into the compressor building and that whine becomes a deafening scream. Conversation is impossible and hearing protection is required. Move just a few feet past the giant open bay door and sweat begins to coat the skin. Inside the turbines the heat climbs to 1,600 degrees and if you can stand the noise to get close enough to see the compressors, you can feel the heat pounding off of the machinery.
    The turbines generate about 900 degrees of waste heat. When the facility first opened in 2001 the exhaust and all of that heat were shot directly into the sky via two huge exhaust columns.
    But three years later Mark Farnsworth, general manager of Highline, had the idea to convert those 900 degrees of waste heat into electricity. And Lueck is adamant about making sure Farnsworth gets the credit.
    “Mark has been a very progressive, kick-every-rock-that's-out-there kind of manager, and we've been real proud to have that guy,” he said.
    So, in 2009 a partnership of Ormat Technologies of Reno, Nev., Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Highline Electric Association and Kinder Morgan Inc., which owned the Trailblazer Pipeline at the time, dedicated the finished project. The pipeline has since been sold to Tallgrass Energy.


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