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Mountain News: Park City considers peak power demand



PARK CITY, Utah – A power outage in Park City has officials talking about infrastructure. The problem, utility officials tell The Park Record, is a simple one of supply and demand — and unless more transmission lines are built from Wyoming to deliver electricity, outages will become more frequent after 2010.

Park City and other communities in an area called the Wasatch Back have been growing rapidly, about seven per cent annually as a region. Also, people are using more electricity per person, up 26 per cent from only 20 years ago, said David Eskelsen, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power.

“We have to build to match that peak demand,” he said.

Reverse logic is being cited in Telluride, where a new utility board member argues that the essential task is to shave peak demand.


Solar farm a triumph

CARBONDALE, Colo. – The new solar farm at Carbondale was a scene of triumph on July 1 – and a sobering reminder.

High-ranking politicians and titans of industry were on hand for the ceremonial flipping of the switch for the half-acre of panels that will produce 200,000 kilowatt hours annually.

“We understand that really it’s our responsibility to find cleaner ways to power our lifts,” said Mike Kaplan, president and chief executive officer of the Aspen Skiing Co. “It’s that simple.”

Aspen Skiing financed the solar farm, investing $1.1 million. Some of the electricity, explains Scott Condon of The Aspen Times, will be used directly by the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, on whose grounds the collectors sit.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, who made the “new energy economy” the centre of his campaign two years ago, commended the installation, the largest array of solar panels on Colorado’s West Slope.

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar took the occasion to link the solar panels to patriotism. “America today is at the end of a noose hanging from a tree where that noose is controlled by the Middle East and those countries that have the global reserves of those fossil fuels,” he said.

Actually, the solar panels will not displace imported oil, but instead the burning of coal, which is abundant in Colorado. At issue are the greenhouse gases and other pollutants created by burning coal. There is no way yet to prevent that pollution.

Closer to the mark was Jim Crown, managing partner for the family that owns Aspen Skiing. “This is a small step, but it is a powerful one because we are finally doing some things about alternative energy besides talking about it,” he said. “It’s not world-changing just yet. We’re not ready to change the name of the town to Carbon-free-dale.”

Energy expert Randy Udall, also of Carbondale, told the Times that the solar farm is both a “triumph and an example of how much work we have ahead of us to build a sustainable energy system.”

The solar farm will only produce enough electricity to meet the needs of 20 to 30 conventional homes. The infrastructure to fully eliminate the need to burn coal and natural gas, said Udall, will be huge.


Poet laureate gets second term

TELLURDE, Colo. – Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer has accepted a two-year term as poet laureate of San Miguel County. It is her second term in the position.

She is well known in Colorado mountain towns for her appearances at poetry festivals and for her writing workshops. But poetry, next to her family, is what she holds most dear, she told The Telluride Watch.

  “On a practical level, there is nothing practical about it,” she said. “Like religion, if you look at it too much, it doesn’t make sense. But it is what I am driven to and desire to do.”

“She charms our youth, delights the elderly, and is a favourite performer and interpreter of the lyric arts for all our citizens,” said County Commissioner Art Goodtimes, a well-known poet in his own right.


Spring suicide attempts spike

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Routt County had 19 suicide attempts in May, two of them successful. The county averages four to five attempts per month, mental health professionals tell The Steamboat Pilot & Today.

Tom Gangel, regional director of Colorado West Mental Health Center, said there were no discernible commonalities. “Rich, poor, employed, unemployed. They covered the gamut,” he said.

One hypothesis — with no evidence to support it, said Gangel — is that last winter was unusually hard and then chased by more cloudy days during May.

Mountain communities internationally have higher suicide rates than lower-lying areas, with the highest number of attempts in fall and spring. Why is this? Again, nobody knows.


Banff beetles waxing

CANMORE, Alberta – Cold weather last winter failed to dent the spread of bark beetles in the Banff-Canmore area of the Canadian Rockies. That area, in the Bow River Valley, has seen a three-fold increase in trees infested with pine beetles.

With just 18,000 trees now affected, it’s hardly a problem by the standards of Colorado and British Columbia, both areas with broad swaths of red mountainsides. “To suggest we’re on the edge of having the valley turn red I think is premature,” said Steve Donelon, a state tourism and recreation official.

Still, it was just a dozen years ago that officials in Colorado counted bark beetle trees by the hundreds.


Grizzlies test bear-proof lids

ASPEN, Colo. – Inmates at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City have a perhaps odd connection with that slice of paradise called Aspen during the summer. They make trash containers that are now required by city authorities who have been trying to reduce the lure of garbage to bears.

For some years, the city has had a growing problem of marauding bears, some of them now so brazen they let themselves into houses and condominiums when no garbage is available elsewhere.

To help break the bear-people connection, the city now requires bear-resistant containers or, if the containers are kept outside day and night, bear-proof containers. The difference, explains the Aspen Times, is in the armouring — and also the cost. Resistant containers can be made of plastic, but bear-proof containers are of metal.

Prices range from $170 for the plastic bear-resistant containers to $450 for the sturdy metal containers.

One manufacturer of bear-proof containers, BearSaver of Ontario, Calif. proves the sturdiness of its containers by filling them with trout and honey or peanut butter on the lids in an enclosed area with grizzly bears. The grizzlies have an hour to penetrate the containers. If they fail, the containers are good for public consumption.

Bear-proof trash containers placed on the streets of Aspen cost $750.


Park City re-examines bus

PARK CITY, Utah – Park City is located only 30 miles from Salt Lake City, connected by Interstate 80. The highway generally is not badly congested, which helps make for an easier time of finding employees.

Still, with gas now $4 a gallon, new thought is being given to a bus shuttle connecting the resort with the metropolis. A similar bus was attempted in 2006, but failed for lack of riders. There appear to be no leading theories as to why the bus lacked riders, but local officials are willing to give it another shot.

No decision has been made whether to invest in a new bus service, which would require start-up costs of $3.6 million, reports The Park Record. Annual operating costs are estimated at $2.2 million to $3 million.


Telluride daily sold

TELLURIDE, Colo. – The Telluride Planet has been sold by Gatehouse Media, a New York conglomerate, to Randy Miller. Miller comes from Boulder, where he owned the Colorado Daily for four years, and he now owns a large-circulation suburban newspaper in Tucson. Miller, 56, also has a long and extensive background in the Midwest and elsewhere, where he variously owned, published, and edited a variety of newspapers. His stints include one at the Detroit Free Press. In an article in the Daily Planet, he said he has wanted to own a paper in Telluride since he visited the town in 1975, two years after the ski area opened. The purchase also includes smaller newspapers in nearby Silverton and Norwood. His primary competition is The Telluride Watch, which now also has editions for Ouray and Norwood.


Give developer penthouses

KETCHUM, Idaho – For the last six years Ketchum has been talking about what it needs is a good hotel, the better to revive its flagging tourism sector in what, ironically, was the nation’s first destination ski town.

Leading the hurrahs has been the Idaho Mountain Express, which now likens the latest hotel proposal as being in the ninth inning. That project, Warm Springs Ranch, located at the bottom of the Bald Mountain ski trails, is a rather massive affair, but loaded with the hotel rooms that the city craves.

Yet the local planning and zoning board wants the developer to replace the for-sale penthouse suites with more hotel rooms. The developer, Stan Castleton, says that request/demand is likely a deal breaker.

Defer to the developer in this case, says the Express. “It’s the ninth inning. If Ketchum again heaps requirements that are impossible to meet on a hotel project, it would be the city’s third strike. The city could find itself out of the game.”


Snow adds to difficulty

SILVERTON, Colo. – Silverton will be a buzz of activity this weekend as endurance athletes converge for the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Race. It has a reputation as one of the most challenging endurance events in the world, owing to the 66,000 feet of climbing, much of it above timberline. The Silverton Standard says some thought was given by organizers to cancelling the race this year, owing to last winter’s heavy snows. However, the snowpack dropped substantially in June.


Boreal toads doing well

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo.—Research is underway in Jackson Hole to determine why boreal toads, also called the Western toad, is doing so well along the flanks of the Teton Range, while their populations have been going down the toilet for decades in Colorado?

For several decades scientists have studied the severe die off of the toads in Colorado and New Mexico. The specific cause is a fungus called chytrid that impairs the functionality of the toad’s skin, which the toad uses to regulate moisture and to breathe.

Amphibian researcher Peter Murphy of Idaho State University tells the Jackson Hole News & Guide that many of the boreal toads in the Tetons carry the same pathogen, but they didn’t seem to be affected by it. His goal is to figure out why.

The research from the Tetons is being compared against similar research involving toads near Steamboat Springs.


Air pollution laws flawed

DURANGO, Colo. – There’s more legal sparring in the four corners region, where the once prized air clarity has given way to smudged skies.

Much of the problems come from old power plants, including the Four Corners Power Plant and San Juan Generating Station, located on the Navajo Nation. The fear is that the proposed Desert Rock coal-fired power plant will worsen the soup.

The Durango Telegraph reports that nearby Mesa Verde National Park was named among the top 10 most threatened parks by the National Parks Conservation Association.

That group, along with Earthjustice and Environmental Defense Fund, is challenging the federal government, arguing that the Bush Administration’s proposed rule changes would weaken pollution rules and would allow Desert Rock to emit dirtier air.


Will drillers decamp from Colorado?

RIFLE, Colo. – Colorado will soon be convulsed in a debate about whether to impose higher taxes on the state’s oil and gas producers and more tightly prescribe drilling operations, to limit impacts to water and wildlife.

The industry is assembling a war chest for the November election, at which these issues will be decided. Recently, at a confab in Grand Junction attended by 2,000 people, it made clear what its talking points will be.

But Peter Shelton, who writes for the Watch newspapers out of Telluride, finds the industry’s arguments stray far from the facts of the case. One of the arguments is that the regulations would be so onerous as to drive industry away.

“The truth is, of course, that the industry is going nowhere. Colorado is where the gas is,” Shelton writes. The big companies “are making enormous profits. They can afford to use best practices and technologies to protect our air and drinking water and wildlife habitat. They’d just rather not.”

The energy boom is starting to overshadow the giant resorts along the I-70 corridor. One joke is that with the downturn in resort real estate, the oil-and-gas industry workers may start buying up the real estate in the Vail and Aspen areas. If that is perhaps an overstatement, it does suggest how rapidly things have changed from five years ago, when Rifle and Parachute — now oil patch towns — were considered spare bedrooms for the resorts.