Farmington eyes Desert Rock energy option

The City of Farmington could be climbing into bed with the controversial Desert Rock Power Plant. Last week, the Farmington City Council preserved the option of buying into the massive coal-fired power plant.

Sithe Global would like to build the $2 billion Desert Rock Energy Project on Navajo land, 30 miles southwest of Farmington. When completed, the 1,500 megawatt plant would be among the largest in the nation and generate enough energy for 1.5 million homes. The plant has already won preliminary approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, which touts it as state of the art, using 80 percent less water than traditional wet-cooled, coal-fired plants and having an efficiency of 41 percent. Efficiency aside, Desert Rock would continue to emit some toxins into the Four Corners’ airshed, and that fact has drawn widespread opposition throughout the region.

The City of Farmington, however, could be taking a step toward Sithe Global. The city is unusual in that it operates its own electric system – the Farmington Electric Utility – run largely on natural gas power plants. A recent report, however, found that in order to meet growing demand, the city’s most cost-effective option is buying into Desert Rock.

The Farmington Daily Times reported last week that the City Council voted to approve the report from Global Energy Partners. The study noted that Farmington Electrical Utility could fall as much as 60 megawatts short of the city’s needs as soon as next year. Global Energy Partners laid out two main options for the city: build another natural-gas fired plant or look elsewhere.

Though the up-front costs would be high, the consultants ranked buying into Desert Rock the best financial choice, rating it above new plants or green options. The report noted that it would be cheaper in the long term because Desert Rock would be “powered by inexpensive coal.”

“It would be one (option) I think should be highly considered,” Councilor George Sharpe said in theDaily Times report.

Lynx to get help from hut system

Backcountry skiers and hut trippers have an opportunity to lend a hand to lynx reintroduction. For the 2007-08 winter season, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is partnering with the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association to provide better on-the-ground lynx observations.

Since 1999, 218 Canada lynx have been released in Colorado in a DOW lynx reintroduction program. The division has also documented 116 Colorado-born lynx kittens since 1999.

Each of the 30 backcountry huts in the 10th Mountain System now has a new lynx kit. The kit includes a five-page laminated guide to help hut users learn to identify lynx tracks. There are also special forms for recording lynx track sightings and instructions for mailing the completed forms to DOW. Nearly 40,000 visitors use the 10th Mountain huts each winter.

Lynx are most often found above an elevation of 9,000 feet, as are 10th Mountain huts.  All released lynx have small radio collars to allow DOW researches to monitor their locations. But some of these collars have been lost or damaged. Also, newly born lynx kittens do not have collars. 

“10th Mountain and its hut users will be making a great contribution,” said Tanya Shenk, a DOW lynx biologist. “This is an excellent way for us to get a more complete picture of lynx distribution in Colorado. The more people we have looking for lynx tracks, the better picture we will have.”

Ben Dodge, executive director of the 10th Mountain Association, explained that the lynx track project exemplifies the group’s commitment to promoting a better understanding and appreciation of Colorado’s natural environment.

“I think this collaborative effort demonstrates the important and valuable connection between quality backcountry recreation and good stewardship of the forest,” he said.

The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association is a publicly funded, nonprofit organization headquartered in Aspen. The majority of the system’s huts are located in Central Colorado.

Condé Nast visits the Four Corners

The Four Corners region got a less-than-glowing report in one of the nation’s top travel magazines this month. In a story titled, “Is the West Losing Its Wild?,”Condé Nast Travelerprofiled how energy companies are taking a bite out of Western landscapes.

Started in 1987,Condé Nast Travelerspecializes in luxury and business travel. Subtitled “Stylish Guides fo Discerning Travelers,” the magazine generally reviews high-priced hotels, products and services. However, in its December issue,Condé Nast Travelergoes where no luxury magazine has gone before – Farmington, N.M. – and profiles the impact of energy development on open places. The story opens at Largo Canyon, a sandstone cut near Farmington rich in archeological resources. The story then notes that Largo Canyon has no formal protection and has become a haven for natural gas drilling.

“Some canyons like this are protected as state or national parks, but this area has instead been turned into a de facto industrial zone,” the story reads. “Largo Canyon is studded with dozens of methane gas wells and a network of pipelines, water tanks and metal sheds.”

Jim Robbins, the story’s author, is joined in the canyon by Mike Eisenfeld, of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Is nothing sacred?” Eisenfeld asks. “Everywhere you turn, you see wells. If you don’t see them, you hear them. I don’t think the American people know what’s being done to their land. They wouldn’t believe it.”

Robbins also vists with the Bureau of Land Management, who takes a different view. Tim Spisak, chief of the BLM’s Fluid Minerals Division, comments, “Every citizen has an interest in natural gas resources. Without these wells, we would need to import more gas from foreign sources.”

The BLM oversees 260 million acres, and critics charge that energy development infringes on the agency’s multiple-use doctrine.

Local heating assistance available

La Plata County residents feeling the pinch of heating costs could qualify for some help. The Colorado Department of Human Services Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) is lending a hand to those struggling to keep their houses warm.

LEAP provides cash to families and individuals for winter home heating costs. The program pays the highest benefits to those with the highest heating bills and lowest incomes by family size. Applicant income cannot exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty index, or a gross monthly income of $3,184 for a household of four. The anticipated average LEAP benefit for the winter of 2007-08 is approximately $316 per household.

Last winter, about 93,000 Colorado households received LEAP payment assistance and roughly 800 La Plata County families qualified for the program. For information, contact the La Plata County Department of Human Services at 382-6150.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

July 18, 2024
Rebuilding Craig

Agreement helps carve a path forward for town long dependent on coal

July 11, 2024
Reining it in

Amid rise in complaints, City embarks on renewed campaign to educate dog owners

July 11, 2024
Rolling retro

Vintage bikes get their day to shine with upcoming swap and sale