Scientific institutes plant regional roots
TELLURIDE – Does thin air induce greater clarity of thought? That conclusion could easily be drawn from two separate reports of scientists congregating at Crested Butte and Telluride.

At the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in the rustic ghost town of Gothic, located near Crested Butte, scientists have gathered each summer since 1928 to study biological processes and, increasingly, humans impacts on them. Among those scientists has been John P. Holdren, the scientific advisor to President Obama.

With a $1.8 million federal grant, the Laboratory is now erecting a solar-powered building where scientists can use precise instruments and techniques to perform studies at the molecular level, instead of just through observation, reports the Crested Butte News.

At Telluride, elevation 8,750 feet, a vision has been announced of creating a new institute where scientists could meet each summer to collaborate on how to store solar energy – a key challenge if it is to displace fossil fuels to a far greater extent.

Scientists working through the local Telluride Science Research Center recently appealed to potential donors. “We know how to capture sunlight, but the challenge is to store it,” said Michael Wasielewski, a chemist and director of the Argonne-Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center.

The 25 to 30 groups of scientists around the world who are working on solving the storage problem for solar energy need to spend face time together, and they need a focal point. That’s where a “small but viable lab in Telluride” comes in, Wasielewski told the potential donors.

The Telluride Watch notes that the existing research institute in Telluride was started in 1984, when 18 chemists gathered to consider new research.

This summer, the institute hosted nearly 1,000 scientists in 30 workshops.

Nana Naisbitt, executive director of the Telluride Science Research Center, estimated that $25 - $30 million is needed for the new campus dedicated to solar energy research. Organizers say the broader Solar Fuels Institute that is being proposed would need a budget of $1 billion over the next decade, with the money coming from philanthropic donations, venture capitalists and existing industries.

Pitkin County addresses solar aesthetics
ASPEN – Proponents of renewable energy protested, but Pitkin County now requires that anybody erecting more than 200 square feet of solar panels in unincorporated areas must first notify neighbors, allowing the possibility that the project will be vetoed by county authorities.

The Aspen Daily News points out that county officials want to see more renewable energy but not at the expense of rural character. “We have the tricky task of balancing competing goals,” said Rachel Richards, chairwoman of the county commissioners.

The question was taken up by the commissioners after a family at Old Snowmass, an area of ranchettes and other small acreages, complained about the blinding glare from a neighboring 400-square-foot solar array. County planners believe the regulation drafted to address solar glare is the first in the nation, although others are being considered.

To Richards, the aesthetics of solar installations are analogous to those of home size. There’s no way to make an 8,000- or 10,000-square-foot home invisible in a neighborhood, she noted. “It is our job to minimize those,” she said.

The Daily News also reports that the county commissioners adopted regulations governing what constitutes a barn or other agriculture building. The regulations seek to both encourage small-scale farming and to prevent abuses by property owners who ostensibly build bigger barns to get around limits on house sizes.

Group to study Banff bear situation
BANFF, Alberta – It’s been a bad year for bears in the Canadian Rockies – really, a bad decade.

Ten bears have been killed by humans in Banff, Kootenay and Yoho national parks, most of them on roads or on railroad tracks. One was killed after chasing hikers and stalking a fisherman.

“Grizzly bears and black bears are getting killed left, right and center,” Canmore-based bear researcher Colleen Campbell told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

The situation along the railroad tracks has been simmering toward a boil. Since 2007, Canadian Pacific Railway trains have been the single-biggest killer of grizzly bears in the park, killing an average one or two grizzlies each year.

Railroad and park officials have taken steps to remove the spilled grain from along the tracks that is attracting at least some of the bears. However, they are now stepping up efforts to reduce the fatalities, such as more extensive use of train whistles.

The Outlook reports that a $1 million, five-year study will get under way to more intently examine solutions. The study will kick off with a gathering of scientists and transportation experts in September in Banff.

At least 10 grizzlies have died in Banff since 2001, a worrisome figure given that Banff has only 60 grizzlies. Worsening the situation is the fact that female grizzlies for unexplained reasons are now giving birth to cubs every five years, on average, which biologists seem to think is the lowest rate in the world. They also have begun having cubs at a later age.

Solar gardens gain traction in Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE – A concept called community solar gardens continues to attract attention in Colorado. The fundamental premise is that individuals can buy into a solar garden in small increments, say one panel at a time, instead of going through the cumbersome process of putting them atop homes.

Such solar gardens already exist at several locations, with potential for new gardens at the landfills for Eagle County, west of Vail, and in Summit County, near Keystone.

The Summit Daily News reports that county commissioners are interested in buying in, as they have adopted a goal of getting a percentage of the county’s energy from renewable sources. Proponents are also approaching Vail Resorts with the idea of being an anchor tenant or owner in the solar farm.

The payback on investment in such solar farms in now about 10 years, although continued improvements in solar technology and mass production capabilities continue to lower the payback time.

Meanwhile, the Summit County Energy Action Plan is on its way to adoption by county officials and representatives of the various towns. The plan outlines steps that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. The plan also sets as a goal 50 percent increase in waste diversions by 2020.

Squaw and Whistler cut ski pass deal
WHISTLER, B.C. – California’s Squaw Valley and Whistler Blackcomb are teaming up with a ski pass good at both resorts. The new Ultimate 7 Card costs $479 and gives skiers and riders four days at Squaw Valley and three days at Whistler Blackcomb, with no blackout dates.

Whistler has done reasonably well since being in the world spotlight with the 2010 Winter Olympics, but nonetheless is facing what Dave Brownlie, the chief operating officer, describes as “headwinds” in attempting to attract visitors from the United States, as well as Europe and Asia.

In a conference call with investors, reports Pique Newsmagazine, Brownlie said the ski company is challenged by the economic environment, the strength of the Canadian dollar, and the cost of air travel to Vancouver.

Aspen seeking lower-cost lodging
ASPEN – Among its top-10 goals for the next year, the Aspen City Council wants to see more mid-range lodging options. As Aspen has redeveloped, the old lodges built in the 1950s have generally been replaced by more upscale housing, particularly fractional timeshares.

At the end of a two-day retreat in July, the council agreed to examine the feasibility of encouraging cheaper rooms. The average hotel room goes for more than $400 a night during winter, the Aspen Daily News notes.

City officials tell the newspaper that it’s not clear what barriers exist to construction of more moderate-priced lodging. Chris Bendon, the director of community development, says it’s possible the city could tweak its zoning code to give breaks, in terms of less stiff parking and affordable housing requirements, to projects that promise less expensive rooms.

– Allen Best