THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
On the wind and solar buildout
What’s driving sudden flare of solar energy and storage in Colorado?
Large projects across Colorado are being driven by the ongoing shift in the fundamental economics of energy toward cheaper renewables, experts say. Lucrative tax credits and grants from the Inflation Reduction Act pumped in accelerants.
Agrovoltaics offer dual use on land used for solar energy development
In the agricultural community of Dove Creek, Colorado, Colten Schlegel is hoping to start an agrovoltaics vineyard that will pave the way for similar development in the currently solar-averse communities of rural Southwest Colorado.
How Wyoming's Carbon County came to embrace renewable energy
“The entire revenue model of this state is based on exporting energy and taxing other people,” said Rob Godby, interim dean of the College of Business at the University of Wyoming. “That’s not to say wind is a direct replacement for the declining coal sector and the oil and gas sector that could decline in the future. But it creates much-needed jobs in the energy sector when other parts are declining.”
Developer of hybrid solar farm in Converse County, Wyo., holding public comment sessions
Stakeholders in the 499MW BrightNight Dutchman Renewable Power Project, which is proposed to be located on 4,738 acres of land 1.5 miles northeast of Glenrock, will hold two open house meetings July 26 and July 27 to obtain public comment on the proposed solar hybrid facility/battery energy storage project.
Vestas invests in Windsor, Colo., plant expansion for new turbine line
Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems plans to invest up to $40 million in its Windsor and Brighton plants to manufacture and bring to market its new V163-4.5MW turbine that offers increased power output at medium and lower wind speeds when demand for energy is highest. The new manufacturing line will create between 800 and 1,000 new jobs, including about 150 high school interns, according to the company.
Nevada utility aims to replace last coal plant with gas, solar
NV Energy plans to ask state utility regulators to swap more than 500 megawatts of coal power in favor of gas power and 400 MW each of solar and storage at the North Valmy Generating Station in northern Nevada.
Chart: Wind and solar are outperforming coal on U.S. grid this year
Renewables are making progress in replacing coal, but to decarbonize U.S. electricity by 2035, they'll need to replace fossil gas too.
Report documents local backlash against renewable energy
Matthew Eisenson, the study’s author and a senior fellow for the Sabin Center’s Renewable Energy Legal Defense Initiative, said in an interview that the findings emphasize the importance of cities, towns and counties in the clean energy transition.
Over a barrel
Oil and gas companies would pay more to drill on public lands under new Biden rule
A rule proposed by the Interior Department raises royalty rates for oil drilling by more than one-third, to 16.67%, in accordance with the sweeping climate law approved by Congress last year. The previous rate of 12.5% paid by oil and gas companies for federal drilling rights had remained unchanged for a century.
Colorado is first in the U.S. to make rules tying pollution reduction to oil and gas production
The “emissions intensity” rule requires companies to closely monitor methane releases and limits allowed pollution based on how much oil and gas they produce.
PNM takes steps to demolish the San Juan Generating Station
Steps are underway to demolish the San Juan Generating Station in northwest New Mexico. The coal-fired power plant closed last year and Laura Sanchez, executive director of government and public affairs for the Public Service Company of New Mexico, says the utility recently identified a demolition contractor who will oversee the work.
After long wait, money starts to roll out for former employees of shuttered coal plant
The New Mexico Legislature made changes this year to the state’s Energy Transition Act in an effort to speed up funding and job training opportunities for former employees of the San Juan Generating Station and coal mine in Farmington. Some of the $20 million available has begun rolling out this month and officials say they’re making plans to get the rest out as quickly as possible.
Mayor: Combined 29% electric rate increase may threaten lives
Rocky Mountain Power says extreme weather and increasing costs for natural gas and coal are primary drivers for two historic rate increase requests.
Opinion: Coal CEOs are running out of excuses
Coal barons claiming poverty to avoid accountability simply does not match the reality they are sharing with their wealthiest stockholders, a former coal miner opines.
On other sources beneath our feet
Potential mine near Sheep Creek worries Bitterroot Valley residents
While companies exploring the area tout the potential for a multi-billion dollar operation, community members fear for the environment and their way of life.
Bureau of Land Management pulls plug on lithium mining plan near endangered wildlife refuge
The BLM will not go through with a planned lithium exploration project near Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in southern Nevada, an area home to 12 species that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
A vast untapped green energy source is hiding beneath your feet
New experiments in the deserts of Utah and Nevada show how advances in fracking—technology developed by the oil industry—can be repurposed to tap clean geothermal energy anywhere on Earth.
For clean energy, miners want a road in one of the most remote national parks
A proposed copper mine near two national parks in Alaska is turning into a test of values — how to protect wilderness while supplying minerals.
And more energy and climate news
Is climate change making Colorado’s weather crazier? Yes.
A NOAA meteorologist connects southwestern heat domes, Canadian wildfires, Phoenix furnace and more to climate change.
Lowering Montana lake stresses tourism, energy production
Flathead Lake in Montana is paradise for many boaters. But this summer the lake is down almost two feet due to climate change.
Utah’s first steps to ‘clean’ hydrogen will rely on not-so-clean greenhouse gas
Hydrogen is seen as a climate-friendly fuel, but Utah's contributions to a federal "hydrogen hub" will rely heavily on methane, a greenhouse gas.
Utah’s Community Renewable Energy Program is projected to come to fruition in 2024
The program, coordinated by Rocky Mountain Power, aims to help communities meet a goal of net-100% renewable energy by 2030. In all, 18 Utah communities are poised to take the next step in realizing a yearslong process to establish it.
Are the current heatwaves evidence that climate change is speeding up?
All sorts of records are being broken in all sorts of places.
Climate collapse could happen fast
As temperature and weather records fall, Earth may be nearing so-called tipping points.
Public land matters
Yellowstone rangers are voting on unionization
Yellowstone National Park’s rangers and other staff have until Thursday to decide whether to unionize, a change that would give them the ability to lobby Congress directly for higher pay and better working conditions.
Proposed Grand Canyon monument could turn 1.1 million acres into protected land. Here's what to know
Supporters of the monument proposal say it would protect fragile landscapes and important cultural sites, but critics say it's a land grab.
A proposed national monument in Arizona impacts Utah ranchers, energy
A possible 1.1 million-acre monument designation in northern Arizona being sought by Native American tribes and conservation organizations has potential to impact a significant number of Utah ranchers who can only access winter range within its boundaries.
Longtime leader of sportsmen's org announces departure
One of the foremost advocacy groups for public lands and waters access is losing its leader of 10 years, the organization announced Wednesday. Land Tawney, CEO and president of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, will leave at the end of July.
Building the outdoor recreation economy in natural resource-dependent communities
Lessons from communities dependent on natural resource extraction that have successfully diversified their economies with outdoor recreation.
Myth and might: New book explores bears in Montana and globally
Gloria Dickie interviewed trophy hunters, scientists, wildlife advocates, ranchers, land managers, the Chinese government's senior panda breeder and Peruvian women fearful of Ukuku, a mythical bear-man believed to abduct young women.
The bear in your back yard
Throughout North America, they’re showing up in unexpected places. Can we coexist?
‘We will decide their future’: Q&A with ‘pro-bear’ environmental journalist Gloria Dickie
Journalist and author Gloria Dickie, in an exclusive Mongabay interview, recounts her global journey of discovery culminating in her new book, “Eight Bears: Mythic Past and Imperiled Future.”
Zinke moves to delist grizzlies
U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke secured amendments in federal spending bills this week that would shield Colstrip from tougher pollution laws and remove grizzlies from the endangered species list.
Perspective: How Greater Yellowstone grizzlies could be delisted and remain protected
States are pushing hard to remove America's most famous grizzly population from federal protection. The primary reason is obvious. Why aren't we doing the same with bald eagles?
White House scrutinizes North Cascades grizzly bear plan
A revived proposal that could bring grizzly bears back into the North Cascades region of Washington state is now getting a final White House scrub, following a lively public review that attracted attention from as far away as Switzerland, Portugal and France.
Returning 'relatives': Yellowstone sends more buffalo to tribes, less to slaughter
The number of buffalo that Yellowstone National Park has sent to slaughter over time has ticked down from about 1,500 in 2008 to about 25 in the winter of 2022 and about 80 this past winter.
Idaho won't give wolves to Colorado, which still hasn't found a source
Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans to reintroduce wolves before the end of the year, but 9NEWS confirms Idaho and Wyoming won't give wolves to the state.
Mexican wolf recovery hinges on maternal instincts
Fifty years after the passage of the Endangered Species Act, the Mexican wolf recovery plan walks a fine line between human meddling and trusting mother nature.
Killed dog ruling relieves trappers, leaves pet owners stricken
A recent Wyoming Supreme Court decision buffers trappers from paying emotional damages when they accidentally kill people’s pets.
Virtual fences can benefit both ranchers and wildlife
Coupled with the removal of existing barbed-wire fencing, virtual fencing could open up whole landscapes for wildlife by removing injurious barriers for migratory herds, reducing mortality from fence strikes for numerous bird species, and protecting sensitive habitats from trampling by cattle.
From the fire lines
On the frontlines of B.C.’s wildfire fight
As B.C. faces its worst wildfire season ever — and the worst in Canada — fire crews are being tested like almost never before.
Canadian wildfires hit Indigenous communities hard, threatening their land and culture
The worst wildfire season in Canadian history is displacing Indigenous communities from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, blanketing them in thick smoke, destroying homes and forests and threatening important cultural activities like hunting, fishing and gathering native plants.
How to fight Canada’s wildfires in the era of climate change
“We can add billions and billions and billions of dollars, and even then we wouldn’t be able to extinguish all the wildfires,’’ said Yves Bergeron, an expert on forest ecology and management at the University of Quebec. “We need a paradigm shift from viewing the role of wildfire agencies as putting out fires to protecting human society.’’
Wildland firefighters inch toward permanent pay hike
A temporary pay increase for federal crews battling more frequent woodland blazes is set to expire this fall.
Lawmakers introduce wildfire smoke emergency bill
Democratic Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley has reintroduced legislation to boost the federal response to wildfire smoke, including giving the president the authority to declare "smoke emergencies" that bring federal help to affected communities.
Wildfires start, grow in Montana and Idaho as heat looms
While some small fires started and grew in western Montana, a new fire near Salmon, Idaho, exploded to nearly 2,000 acres in its first 24 hours.
Meteorological experts say Northwest Montana should prepare for prolonged, intense fire season
Representatives from federal and state environmental agencies warned that hot, dry conditions are setting the Flathead Valley up for extreme fire events in the coming months.
What else we’re reading today
A scientist said her research could help with repatriation. Instead, it destroyed Native remains.
Federal agencies have awarded millions of dollars to scientific studies on Native American human remains, undermining the goals of NAGPRA as tribes fight for repatriation.
This is how Phoenix is surviving its worst-ever heat wave
America's hottest big city is in the middle of the worst-ever heat wave, but people continue to work and play, with a few extra precautions.
Idaho jury finds 5 from white nationalist group guilty of criminal conspiracy to riot at Pride event
Five members of the white nationalist hate group Patriot Front have been convicted of misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to riot at a Pride event in Idaho.
What it means to stand at the crossroads of the West
In her latest book, "True West: Myth and Mending on the Far Side of America," Betsy Gaines Quammen takes a deep look into the myths of the West and how we our future lies in the balance
The case of the Colorado River’s missing water
Researchers are trying to unravel the mystery of snow that falls but never shows up in the river.
A quarter of rural water systems likely contain ‘forever chemicals’
USGS research confirms widespread PFAS contamination in drinking water — including in rural communities and private wells that are almost never tested.
Opinion: We’ll build a $728 million gondola so the rich can play. It’s The Utah Way.
Once the idea of building the longest gondola on planet Earth up a spectacular, treasured canyon was proposed we saw Utah’s Holy Trinity — power, money and influence — get on board, and everything that happened after was purely entertainment and distraction, Robert Gehrke writes.
Experiment to pay Denver’s homeless has reached $5 million and 846 people
Organizers say the payments to the homeless population from Denver Basic Income Project have been life altering for some.
The Salt Lake Tribune will experiment with a ‘free-for-all model’ after acquiring Moab weekly
The Moab Times-Independent, owned for generations by the Taylor family, will be donated to the Tribune. The newspaper will transition to free in print for Moab residents and free online for all.
Edited by Matthew Frank, associate director of regional journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana
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