Turnbull Hydro LLC

Location: Fairfield, MT
Grant: $500,000

Technology: Hydroelectric


Since the early 1900s, farmers have utilized irrigation systems to water their crops in the Greenfields District of Montana. Yet much of the power potential from the water flowing through irrigation drops and canals has gone to waste. In 2010, Ted Sorenson decided to use his 30 years of engineering experience to utilize the hydropower of two of these canals: Upper Turnbull and Lower Turnbull.

In 2010, Ted and his team received a $500,000 REAP grant and leveraged over $11 million to complete these projects, which were fully operational beginning in the summer of 2011. The two facilities together now generate about 13 MW of energy, a source of power that had gone untapped for the last 80-90 years.

“I like the concept of making something out of nothing,” Sorenson said. “Because there was no energy associated with the canal drops [before] …. we created revenue for my family and my partners’ families, 100-150 jobs for a couple years, revenue for the Greenfields irrigation district as well as property for the county, and economic activity during the recession.”

Sorenson said he pursued the Turnbull project because irrigation hydropower is a clean source of renewable energy with minimal environmental impact. These projects are non-consumptive, meaning they do not consume any of the water intended for use by farmers in irrigation.

In addition, the Turnbull projects generate power during peak irrigation season. When the weather is hotter and the need for irrigation is higher, Upper and Lower Turnbull provide a steady source of power during these periods of high demand.
Sorenson believes hydropower is also environmentally benign to local flora and fauna, as no noticeable impacts have been observed since the project’s completion in 2011.

Turnbull Hydro is an example of how to use existing structures to generate renewable energy for the benefit of the local region, economy and environment at a low operational cost.

For Sorenson’s team, the funding they received from the REAP program was essential to the project: “We were teetering right on the edge of ‘do we do this or not?’ And the REAP [grant] was the last bale of hay on the wagon that said ‘yes, we’re gonna do this.’ It was instrumental — hydroelectric is very capital intensive, and this made us feel better about our investment in the long term.”