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Mountain News: Solar panels generate surplus power



JASPER, Alberta — The roof of Jasper Junior-Senior High School now has 208 solar panels on it, enough to generate a surplus of energy when the school is not in session.

The project was made possible by a $125,000 grant from the Alberta Education Minister David Eggen, who said the solar panels help diversify Alberta's energy sources. "You have the added benefit of teaching the kids about sustainable energy, you have all the science and math, social studies that's associated with this new direction in energy," he told the Jasper Fitzhugh.

Cement plant studying low-carbon fuels

CANMORE, Alberta — A cement plant near Canmore, at the entrance of Banff National Park, has been looking into switching its fuel source to low-carbon fuels.

Cement making is an energy-intensive process, responsible globally for about five per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said that cement is the most energy-intensive of all manufacturing industries and is unique in its heavy reliance on coal and petroleum coke.

Lafarge, the cement manufacturer near Banff, said it is investigating burning things to produce the energy: shingles, tire fluff, carpet and textiles, non-recyclable plastics, rubber, wood products, treated wood products, and renovation/demolition waste. The company expected to soon submit a proposal to replace up to 50 per cent of its fossil fuel use, reported the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Biggest income gap in nation in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. — Jackson Hole may have the most dramatic geography in all of ski country. The distance from Jackson, the valley's only town, to the top of Grand Teton is 2,300 metres.

After studying U.S. demographic reports, economist Jonathan Schechter finds that Jackson Hole, otherwise called Teton County, also has the greatest income inequality of any county in America.

Studying numbers from 2014, Schechter found that eight per cent of all households earned $200,000 or more, and they accounted for 67 per cent of all income of residents.

Schechter, writing in a supplement to the Jackson Hole News&Guide called Compass, compared Teton County to other ski counties in Colorado, Idaho, and Utah. He found that Teton County is an exception in the wealth of its most affluent residents as compared to others. The wealthiest residents of the counties in which Breckenridge, Steamboat, and Vail are located earn less than 50 per cent of their counties' combined incomes. The wealthiest residents earn nearly 79 per cent in Aspen. But in Jackson Hole, it's nearly 90 per cent.

Schechter made other observations to the effect that while all ski valleys of the Rocky Mountains have great wealth, Jackson Hole stands a little higher, with its only rival being Aspen. He operates a think-tank called the Charture Institute.

self-governing council for homeless campers

DURANGO, Colo. — You heard about that permanent camp for the homeless located in Durango. There's more to the story.

After years of shutting down camps and having them spring up elsewhere, the sheriff's department said camps would be left alone if they were kept clean and the campers obeyed the law.

Then, last winter, La Plata County Sheriff's Lt. Ed Aber asked for volunteers at the camp interested in being on a council to help govern the camping area. The council would have to enforce several rules: no fires, clean camps, and campers must keep to themselves after dark.

So far, this governing council of the homeless seems to be working. "I'm not getting calls nearly as much; they are handling things themselves," he told the Durango Herald.

Denver gets key permit to raise height of dam

BOULDER, Colo. — Denver Water finally has a key permit needed to begin raising Gross Dam, located in the foothills northwest of Denver. The purpose is to triple the amount of water that can be stored there, including greater volumes of water diverted from the Winter Park area.

But the city still needs several more federal permits and may get a legal fight. Unlike some water battles of the past, however, this one will come from elsewhere along the Front Range. Save the Colorado, a group based in in Fort Collins and funded by New Belgium Beer, brewer of Fat Tire, is threatening litigation.

"We're trying to stop it altogether," the group's executive director, Gary Wockner, told the Summit Daily News.

Denver Water has been working on this plan since the great drought of 2002 caused city water officials to realize the vulnerabilities of their system. The agency provides water not only to Denver, but many suburbs, altogether about a quarter of all Colorado residents.

"While some may say 14 years is too long, I believe complicated issues deserve thorough study," said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water chief executive.

Denver has diverted water from the Fraser River and its tributaries since 1936 through the pioneer bore of a railroad tunnel under the Continental Divide. The water is impounded at Gross Dam. The dam already stands 104 metres tall, and Denver wants to raise the dam another 40 metres, to accommodate increased diversions.

Grand County, whose water will be diverted, has not opposed the project. Some — including Wockner — think it should. That and another diversion through a tunnel under Rocky Mountain National Park will mean that 80 per cent of water from the headwaters of the Colorado River will be diverted to the Great Plains.

These diversions were mostly engineered in the 1930s. "Denver had a vision; we had none," summarized Lurline Curran, who is the now-retired county manager of Grand County, at a water conference about a decade ago.

This time, Grand County sat down with Denver and brokered a deal. Denver gets more water, but it also agrees to work with Trout Unlimited and other local groups to try to take the water in ways that are least impactful to fish and other components of the ecosystem. That program, called Learning by Doing, has already started.

The Western Slope region altogether agreed to the stepped-up diversions in a broad-ranging deal called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. First reported by Mountain Town News in 2010, the deal provides US$11 million in cash to Summit County, to be split evenly among the county government and its four major towns for future water and other environmental enhancement projects. Grand County is to get US$6 million. Eagle County and other jurisdictions also got setasides.

Among those who participated in the deal was Thomas Davidson, currently a Summit County commissioner. He told the Summit Daily News that Denver's ownership of the water rights under Colorado law mattered.

"Denver Water already had these water rights, and that was something we from the Western Slope had to keep reminding ourselves of, each side had to give up or give in on things that we very passionately felt about not wanting to give up," said Davidson.

As for Curran, she was recently honoured by water agencies at a fund-raiser held in Denver. She stuck by her belief that Denver had the vision long ago, but she believes that this rectifies things.

Staying the course on federal lands

PARK CITY, Utah — Park City's elected officials have adopted a resolution that says federal lands in Utah and other states should remain in federal lands, not transferred to state governments or sold.

The Park Records noted that the resolution was not controversial in Park City, but is a polarizing topic in Utah, where state leaders have led the current argument for trimming federal land assets. The resolution described public lands as "the backbone" of the outdoor recreational industry and declared that loss of access to those lands "would have damaging consequences for Park City's economy and harm the health and welfare of residents and visitors."

Ironically, Park City has no federal lands within its borders. The land there almost entirely was patented, or made private through federal laws, during the mining era of the 19th and 20th centuries.