Co-ops to get wider gap for alternatives

TAOS, N.M. – Electrical cooperatives that serve many of the mountain towns in Colorado and adjoining states have long complained of a provision in their contracts with Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the wholesale supplier. The contracts cap the amount of energy they can produce at 5 percent of their total.

This, say the co-ops serving Telluride, Durango and other mountain towns, limits what they can do on their own to produce renewable energy. But a recent decision in New Mexico may open the door a little wider for local efforts.

The Taos News explains that Kit Carson Electric, the local electrical cooperative, hopes that a new ruling in New Mexico provides potential for it and other co-ops to launch programs to create local renewable energy. Tri-State must provide it and other co-ops in New Mexico a “good faith” offer to get out of their contracts. That offer must be presented by the end of the year.

Still a sliver of hope for El Niño

Pasadena, Calif., – On Monday, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced that prospects for El Niño and abundant snow, while fading in recent weeks, do offer a glimmer of hope.

This hope is premised in satellite images of eastward-moving waves of higher sea level, known as Kelvin waves. Now crossing the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, they are expected to arrive off the coast of Ecuador in late September and early October.

NASA Climatologist Bill Patzert says it’s too early to tell, but the latest Kelvin waves may be the “last hurrah” for this much-hoped-for El Niño.

“Since February 2014, the prospect of an El Niño has waxed and waned. This late in the season, the best we can expect is a weak to moderate event. What comes next is not yet clear. But for the drought-plagued American West, the possibility of a badly needed drenching is fading,” said Patzert.

In Reno, Kelly Redmond, of the Western Regional Climate Center, said he believes winter could go either way. But even if it does snow a great deal, he told KOLO News, it won’t be enough to dig California out of its water hole after two bad drought years.

Scare tactics may ward off wolves

KETCHUM, Idaho – Wolves were removed from the endangered species list in 2011, making it legal to kill them in Idaho with a state license. Hunters have done just that. Last year, state officials counted 473 dead wolves, nearly all of them directly at the hands of humans.

Wolves, of course, have done some killing of their own. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game reported wolves were implicated in the killing of 78 cattle last year and 565 sheep.

But is it necessary to kill wolves to keep them from killing cattle and sheep? That question was posed before the Ketchum City Council at a recent meeting. The council decided to echo the argument of the local Wood River Wolf Project and adopt a resolution proclaiming that non-lethal means can be used to reduce or eliminate depredation of livestock by wolves.

The group advocates use of guard dogs, sound devices, lighting and flagging to keep wolves away.

In adopting this argument, Ketchum is a lonely voice in Idaho. The Idaho Mountain Express notes that Gov. Butch Otter in 2007 famously told hunters that he was “prepared to bid for the first ticket to shoot a wolf myself.”

Idaho must have at least 100 wolves to avoid triggering protections under the federal law, but it had an estimated 659 at the end of last year.

Vail, not a gorilla, arrives in Park City

PARK CITY, Utah – Blaise Carrig showed up in Park City last week to declare that his company, Vail Resorts, is not an 800-pound gorilla. Carrig is now essentially the No. 2 person for ski area operations for Vail Resorts. He has previously managed ski areas in California and Utah and, during the next two months, will be the public face as Vail takes the reins of Park City Mountain Resort.

In meeting with several groups, Carrig said nice things about the previous owners and managers of Park City. More importantly, he also sought to assure the locals that his company doesn’t have sharp elbows and the instinct to smother Park City with its corporate heft.

Changing Park City’s small-town feel is “the last thing on our minds and in our hearts,” he said.

Carrig acknowledged the perception that Vail will attempt to take a big slice of the town’s lodging and retail market. But Vail only operates real estate at the base of its resorts, and its retail offerings are not designed to push out local competitors, he said.

“We’re not dominant,” he told a meeting of the Park City Area Lodging Association. “This 800-pound gorilla thing doesn’t exist. We totally respect the appeal of diversity for our guests.”

Vail’s only clear plans are to join Park City and Canyons Resort with a chair lift next year, thus laying the groundwork for bragging rights to the largest ski area in the United States. Yet it will market the two ski areas separately, allowing Park City to lay claim to having three ski areas, with Deer Valley being the other.

The Park Record notes that many questions remain unanswered. For example, who gets the tax money from the sale of Epic Passes? And what does Vail intend to do with the development rights it has purchased?

Jim Bizily, owner of Park City Rental Properties, told The Park Record that he was reassured.

“I think it’s good, in general, for the whole community, because it sounds like they’re going to build more infrastructure. I think it’s going to bring more business to the town. It might take out a little bit of that local flair, but then again, maybe that’s not such a bad thing, to be a little bit more like a Vail destination.”

Anxiety in a town dependent on coal

CRAIG – Located 42 miles west of Steamboat Springs and two hours from Dinosaur National Park, Craig is also located in the cross-hairs of the debate about our shifting energy paradigm.

A quiet ranching center, the town became a boom town 30 to 40 years ago when three coal-fired power plants were built. Together, they can produce 1,139 megawatts of electricity. Customers include many of Colorado’s ski towns.

By one estimate, Craig Station contributes $276 million in direct economic spending to the local economy. More paychecks yet come from operations of the Twentymile Park coal mine, located southwest of Steamboat Springs.

Signs proclaiming “Coal keeps the lights on” are ubiquitous in Craig, a reference to lights elsewhere but even more so to local households. How will these paychecks be affected by the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clear Power Plan?

The federal agency was pushed into taking action after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that must be controlled under the nation’s Clean Air Act. Forced into action, the EPA’s plan proposes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by roughly 30 percent by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels.

A report issued last week by Environment Colorado and associated groups lists the Craig plants as No. 52 in the United States in terms of carbon pollution. Wyoming’s Jim Bridger, about 2 hours south of Jackson and three hours east of Park City, was listed No. 17. But even California has smudged fingers. Los Angeles Water and Power has a coal-fired plant at Delta, Utah, listed as No. 43.

In Craig, not everyone sees carbon dioxide as a problem. A meeting at the local high school earlier this month drew more than 500 people, among them John Kinkaid, a Moffat County commissioner who insists carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. And the manager of the local coal-fired power plant declared that the plant is clean, reported the Craig Daily Press afterward.

The Daily Press says Shaun McGrath, the regional EPA administrator, responded that scientists are clear that carbon dioxide is a pollutant – and so was the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2007 decision that triggered the regulations.

He said that the EPA does not want to “shut down” the coal industry. “There is nothing in our proposal to close a facility. We didn’t say, ‘Let’s close coal-fired power plants.’”

– Allen Best

A local motel owner seemed to agree that the Craig coal plants are likely to be around for a while, even if some older, less efficient plants in Colorado are not.

Older homes waste lots of energy/money

WHISTLER, B.C. – Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who is mayor of Whistler, recently had an energy audit conducted on her home, and she said she hoped others in Whistler would do the same.

“One is to reduce energy consumption by making homes more airtight and energy efficient,” she said. “The second reason is to save money... and the third reason is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The mayor’s 3,500-square-foot home was built in 1979 and, like most homes of that era, leaks air and is improperly insulated, a certified energy auditor told Pique Newsmagazine. Pique notes that Whistler residents spend approximately $20 million a year on home energy bills.

In Idaho, energy savings is also in the news. One speaker at a forum in Ketchum reported that a home built now is probably 15 percent more energy efficient than one built three years ago, which in turn was 15 percent more energy efficient than a home built three years prior.

As in Whistler, there was a take-home message that saving money and saving the planet can be achieved at the same time. Bill Mann, of Sagebrush Solar, said that investing $18,000 in a solar hot water and heating system could save nearly $50,000 during the 25-year life of the system.

– Allen Best For more, go to mountaintownnews.net.









In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows