Solar array breaks ground in N.M.

The Four Corners is again at the forefront of America’s clean energy future. Not far from Durango, the Chevron Corp. has broken ground on what will become the largest concentrated solar photovoltaic installation in the Unites States. The company is building the 1-megawatt solar facility on a molybdenum tailings site at a mine in Questa, N.M., and the move is being lauded by both business and conservation communities.

Chevron broke ground on the project last week, marking the latest effort to transform a brownfield into a green opportunity. Many Superfund sites across the country remain toxic and offer no benefit to local communities or economies. With this in mind, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy are encouraging similar initatives.

“Chevron’s project is a great example of building renewable energy on disturbed lands, a fantastic way to utilize waste land by using our polluted past to get to our clean future,” said Zoe Krasney, of  The Wilderness Society’s Albuquerque office. “America is in a position to see this kind of forward-thinking, renewable energy project happening across the country.”

The Questa mine has operated since the 1920s and was run as an open pit mine from 1965 - 1983. Now, waste rock, tailings, runoff and contaminants at the site have led to its designation as a Superfund site. Some of the impacted areas are in the process of remediation, and other areas are scheduled for cleanup at the end of mining operations. For the current clean-up, the EPA mandated capping the tailings with at least 3 feet of soil.  However, Chevron will take a different approach as part of the solar installation agreement.

The company will use the 30-acre solar field as a pilot project and attempt to show that shallower depths of soil will still protect against adverse impacts to the health of the local community and the environment. The demonstration site will be closely monitored over a period of five years by the EPA. At the same time, the solar field is expected to boost the Questa economy, bring new jobs to the region and pump clean power into the grid.

“We need jobs. We need to ensure we are finding ways to revitalize wastelands in our area,” said Questa Mayor Esther Garcia. “We’ll keep our eyes open to ensure the site is being monitored and following promises to have little impact on the healthy environment that surrounds the facility.”

Support for renewable energy development on disturbed lands continues to grow. The U.S. Department of Energy recently floated a similar proposal for Durango. The agency is evaluating the environmental impact of siting solar panels atop the Bodo Canyon Containment Cell. Located above Bodo Park, the holding cell contains more than 1 million cubic yards of radioactive tailings from the former Durango Smelter site.

The EPA and DOE are currently studying the potential of 12 similar sites in California, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin.


BLM vows to make drilling reforms

With hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil still leaking into the Gulf of Mexico each day, the federal government is getting pressure to reform the entire oil and gas industry. Last week, dozens of former Western energy regulators and land and wildlife managers pressed for reforms to onshore drilling. The Department of Interior quickly answered the charge with a pledge to clean up the industry.  

John Ellenberger, formerly of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, was among those pressing for reforms both on and off shore, arguing that Colorado’s richest energy resources are located under some the best wildlife habitat in the state. He noted that he and many officials agree that government agencies and energy companies must strike a balance between maintaining natural resources and allowing reasonable development.

“Wildlife managers think the majority of energy resources that are there can be developed as long as some preliminary planning is put into place prior to the drilling,” he said.”

Sixty former officials, including former heads of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, signed a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in support of reforming how on-shore energy development is managed.

Days later, Salazar responded by announcing that the Bureau of Land Management had finalized several reforms to its oil and gas program to improve environmental protection of important natural resources.

“The BP oil spill is a stark reminder of how we must continue to push ahead with the reforms we have been working on and which we know are needed,” he said.

Under the new policy, the BLM will offer increased opportunity for public participation and a more thorough environmental review process. In addition to safeguarding natural resources, the BLM is hopeful that the reforms will “front-load” the process and shortcut appeals and lawsuits.

FLC Enviro. Center names coordinator

Fort Lewis College’s Environmental Center has new leadership. Rebecca Schild has been hired as the new coordinator for the center. She will replace Marcus Renner, who is leaving to pursue a career in creative writing.

Schild comes to Fort Lewis from Duke University where she earned master degree in environmental management as well as a certificate in nonprofit management. Her master’s project was a case study on institutionalizing sustainability at Colorado College, where she developed and coordinated a campus-wide Eco-Reps network. Schild is also a Senior Field Instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School and a rock climbing and outdoor recreation enthusiast. She started work at the Environmental Center on May 11.  


Zero Motorcyles rolls into Durango

Durangoans can get an electric jumpstart this week. Zero Motorcycles and Love Bug Motors will offer a May 20 test ride on the company’s electric motorcycles. The event is a Colorado first and runs from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. at the Durango Transit Center.

Zero Motorcycles is the global leader in electric motorcycles and produces four models of all-electric bikes for both street and off-road riding. The bikes are emissions free and have a range of up to 50 miles and a GPS-verified top speed of 67 mph. Test rides are open to riders with valid motorcycle licenses.

– 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