Truckee rejects Utah power plant

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Three months ago, few people in Truckee knew where their electricity came from. They still may not know, but one thing is for certain: In coming years it will not be produced at a new coal-burning power plant proposed about 100 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

In a case that drew broad attention on the West Coast, directors of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District rejected a 50-year contract for electricity from the plant. Proponents had said the contract would have yielded a dependable source of electricity at a good price for the district, which is facing sharply increased demand as the population grows.

But California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the proposed contract a clear attempt to circumvent a new California law. “This contract will undoubtedly compromise the progress California made this year by signing into law one of the most sweeping greenhouse gas reduction efforts in the world.”

The law, which takes effect in January, will prohibit California utilities from purchasing electricity from outside the state if made in ways not allowed inside the state. In other words, traditional coal-burning power plants.

Burning of coal produces more greenhouse gases than does burning of natural gas. However, coal is far more plentiful, and hence the electricity is far cheaper than electricity produced by burning natural gas.

Truckee’sSierra Sun was filled with debate on the issue for several weeks. “This mountain ski town can continue to depend on coal burned hundreds of miles away in Utah for electric power, or it can choose to follow a less risky path and follow the lead of progressive southern California cities by rejecting coal-fired power,” wrote one V. Jon White.

One of the utility district board members, Ron Hemig, told theSacramento Bee that the outpouring of community objections took him by surprise. “Until a month ago, we never heard anything from our public except ‘keep rates down,’” Hemig said. “The community never spoke to the board ever … on the subject of coal.”

Just what will provide the electricity for the 12,000 consumers of the Truckee Donner district is unclear. The debate drew attention to the potential for greater energy conservation but also to potential creation of alternative energy sources such as biomass, wind and small hydroelectric installations. Truckee currently imports all of its energy.

“Coal should be the last resort, not the first. It is the dirtiest source of power,” editorialized theBee. “Change will happen one decision at a time, sometimes in big ways, sometimes small,” the paper added. “On Wednesday night, Truckee did its part.”


Eco-arsonists enter guilty pleas

VAIL – The long mystery about the fires on Vail Mountain on Oct. 14, 1998, ended earlier this year when several people in Oregon admitted to the arson that caused $12 million in damage, including the loss of a restaurant called Two Elk.

Two of the people, Chelsea Gerlach and Stanislas Meyerhoff, both 29, pleaded guilty Dec. 14 to the Colorado fires as well as a string of other acts of arson and vandalism in the West. In e-mail messages sent to various media, the fires at Vail had been credited to an anonymously faced group called the Earth Liberation Front.

At the time, there was some speculation that others in the Vail area, and even the ski area operator itself, might have set the fires. The pair, however, confirmed that federal authorities had been right in suspecting radical environmentalists.

Since his arrest, Meyerhoff has renounced the ELF. In return for his guilty plea, federal prosecutors are recommending he be sentenced to 15 years and eight months in prison. Gerlach said she had been motivated by a “deep sense of despair and anger at the deteriorating state of the global environment.”

The Vail fires were called the most destructive act known to be committed by environmental activists in U.S. history and came just as work had begun on a major expansion of ski terrain – the largest ever in North America – into national forest land where evidence of the endangered Canada lynx had been found. The destruction was credited in an e-mail message to a group called the Earth Liberation Front.

In a story published in August,Rolling Stone magazine says that such acts of environmental protests were labeled by the FBI in 2003 in the same category as attacks by Al Qaeda,

despite the fact that environmental activists avoided taking human lives. “In a post-9/11 world where every FBI agent wants to catch a terrorist, an ‘eco-terrorist’ is better than nothing,” said the magazine.


Choppers used as avalanche locators

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Statistics show that chances of surviving a larger avalanche are, at best, middlin’. Many victims get battered to death. But even for those who survive the tumble but end up buried, the time is short for recovery. Beyond 15 minutes, the odds of survival go south precipitously.

Wearing a transceiver – and having companions nearby who are similarly equipped and also have probes and shovels and know how to use them – is the best bet, but that only rarely occurs. With that in mind, several helicopters based in Utah’s Wasatch Front now have locator systems that could provide more rapid detection.

The Associated Press reports a demonstration of the technology, which has been in use for several years in Europe. “Helicopters flew a short hop to a snow field to pick up signals from buried avalanche beacons,” reports AP. “They appeared to do the job in minutes.”

Dean Cardinale, president of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, noted that it can take ground rescue groups an hour to reach an avalanche if traveling across dangerous terrain or in severe weather.Aspen enacts building moratorium

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council has enacted a six-month moratorium on projects that involve interior renovations in the city’s commercial core. Off-limits will be such things as tiling, counter tops and also built-in furniture such as booths, banquettes and shelving.

The moratorium is a response to broad, simmering issues about perceived loss of character in Aspen. That change is reflected in the closing next March of the legendary Red Onion, a locals’ restaurant that cannot afford the market lease rates.

“I think the conversation’s a hell of a lot bigger than one business or one building,” City Councilman Jack Johnson toldThe Aspen Times.

The newspaper did not say what the council intends to do during the moratorium. It comes on top of another moratorium on new buildings in the city’s commercial core. Despite the moratoriums, much work is already in progress in new and redevelopments.


Wildlife fences planned for I-70

EAGLE VALLEY, Colo. – Wildlife biologists for years have called Interstate 70 the Berlin Wall to wildlife in Colorado. It’s no accident that the first wolf in Colorado in 60 years was killed on the highway, as have been at least four of the reintroduced Canada lynx, plus many deer, elk, bear and even moose.

In the Eagle Valley, large portions of the highway are lined with fences that are 8-feet tall to keep wildlife off the highway. Still, some 67 animals got killed last year.

But more fence, at a cost of $3.1 million, is to be erected along the highway between Vail and Eagle, reports theEagle Valley Enterprise. As well, ramps that are designed to allow animals that do get onto the highway a way to get off it are being installed in the Avon-Edwards area.

Similar ramps have already been installed elsewhere in Colorado near Ridgway Reservoir, between Telluride and Montrose.

– compiled by Allen Best