Nuclear power shakes up region

Is meltdown in the Four Corners future? In late December, federal regulators highlighted numerous concerns about the nearby Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Located 50 miles west of Phoenix, Palo Verde has the largest capacity of any nuclear power plant in the United States.

In November 2006, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission rated Palo Verde as having one of the four worst safety records of the 103 nuclear power plants operating in the nation. Last March, the NRC started keeping a closer eye on the plant and closely monitoring the plant’s operations. However, Palo Verde failed to redeem itself in the last 10 months. The commission recently reported its findings, noting that the plant’s safety had continued to decline and highlighting 37 individual performance deficiencies.

“There has been a notable decline in Palo Verde’s performance since 2003,” Troy Pruett, the NRC’s investigation leader, told theArizona Republic. He did add that the plant still did not pose any threats to public health.

The Arizona Public Service Co., which operates the plant, responded to the report by pledging to enhance safety.

“The leaders of this organization take personal accountability,” Randy Edington, chief nuclear officer at Palo Verde, told the Republic. “We will make sure we listen and learn.”

However, just days after the pledge, another emergency broke out at the plant after a fiberglass blanket caught fire outside a closed-down cooling tower. APS noted that the fire started because of “routine maintenance,” was far from nuclear material and was quickly extinguished.

However, the NRC is taking Palo Verde’s missteps seriously. The investigative body plans to release its complete findings in coming weeks and will be watching Palo Verde for more warning signs and determining if the plant needs to be shut down.

Meanwhile, nuclear power is continuing its bid to come into being just across the state line in Green River, Utah. Plans for not one, but two new nuclear power plants are now on the books for the small community north of Moab, and a new twist could land reactors just west of Cortez.

Utah State Reps. Aaron Tilton and Mike Noel are currently pushing the new plants through the State Legislature and paving the way for nuclear power in the Beehive State.  The pair has drafted legislation that would rewrite Utah’s energy rules to tilt the playing field in favor of nuclear power over other alternatives. It would also eliminate competitive bidding processes for plants, which would be the first of their kind in Utah. Curiously, Tilton is also the CEO for Transition Power, the company behind the plants.

In another twist, Transition Power signed a deal for a massive amount of San Juan River water in early December. The company inked an agreement with the San Juan Water Conservancy District for the rights to 24,000 acre-feet of water on the San Juan for the next 70 years. In September, the company contracted for 30,000 acre-feet on the Green River, and maintains that it wants to exchange the San Juan rights for more water on the Green.

Though he declined to comment on the San Juan water rights, Tom Retson, president of Transition Power, told theSalt Lake Tribune, “Obviously we need water and we’re trying to do this right.”

The company has not disclosed whether it has any nuclear power aspirations for the communities of Bluff or Mexican Hat but the San Juan water rights acquisition is suspicious.

Colorado could lead in clean energy

Colorado could become a clean-energy leader, according to a new report from Gov. Bill Ritter’s Energy Office. The state has the potential to generate more than 10 times the energy it uses from renewable energy sources.

The Governor’s Energy Office spent recent months mapping Colorado’s renewable energy resources and on Jan. 3 released “Connecting Colorado’s Renewable Resources to the Markets.” The purpose of the report is to identify renewable energy resources that can advance Colorado to a “New Energy Economy.”

The report specifically identifies a 96,000 megawatt wind-energy potential on the state’s Eastern Plains and a 26,000 megawatt solar-energy potential in southern areas of Colorado. The state’s energy needs currently peak at 11,000 megawatts, making clean energy export a possibility. For a point of reference, the report noted that 1,000 megawatts provides enough energy to serve roughly 330,000 homes.

Tom Plant, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, hailed the report as good news. “This comprehensive mapping of our renewable energy resources serves as a roadmap to advance our state to a New Energy Economy,” he said. “By identifying our areas of greatest resource, we can leverage these solar, wind and other renewables to provide more clean power, jobs and revenue for our state.”

While these abundant renewable resources provide great opportunities, many challenges remain. Billions of dollars in infrastructure costs are major obstacle to the New Energy Economy. In addition, the report details how Colorado’s transmission is constrained and why new high voltage transmission lines would be needed to link the renewable resources with customers.

Nonetheless, the report has been distributed to legislators, utilities, the Clean Energy Development Authority and other interested parties. A copy is available to the public at:


Durango City Manager starts work

Durango’s new City Manager Ron LeBlanc reported for his first day of work last Tuesday. LaBlanc was hired from a pool of 58 applicants during a national search last summer. He replaces longtime City Manager Bob Ledger, who held the position for 25 years before retiring last August.

“I am pleased to be in Durango and on board with the City,” LeBlanc said. “I have been connected to the City’s e-mail system for three weeks, in communication with department directors and completed a ride-along with the Police Department. I feel I will be hitting the ground running.”

LeBlanc most recently served as city administrator of Ketchum, Idaho, home of Sun Valley ski resort. His prior work experience includes serving as town manager of Groton, Conn.; city manager of Olathe, Kans., and Springfield, Ore.; and deputy city manager of Arvada.

“City Council is excited that the new city manager has started,” said Mayor Doug Lyon. “We were fortunate to have an excellent pool of candidates. Ron LeBlanc is a true professional with an extensive background in public service, and I look forward to working with him.”

Vallecito trails hungry for donations

Durango’s other Nordic skiing resource is getting a little tight on funds. The Forest Service reminded Durangoans this week that the Vallecito Nordic trails are driven by a volunteer effort dependent upon donations from those who use the trails.

Pine Valley Nordic Ski Club volunteers donate many hours of labor per week to groom the area’s 12 kilometers of classic and skate-ski trails. User donations fund the purchase of gasoline and the cost of maintaining grooming equipment, and the box at the trailhead has been relatively empty this year.

The club also hopes to receive enough donations this year to be able to purchase a new groomer, which would allow volunteers to groom a wider track. Future donations can be mailed to: Pine Valley Nordic Ski Club, 111 Vallecito Drive, Vallecito Lake, CO 81122, or placed in a donation box at the trailhead. For more information, visit the Pine Valley Nordic Ski Club at:

– 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