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Mountain News: Towns among energy prize semi-finalists



PARK CITY, Utah — The clock is now ticking in Park City. The Utah town and Summit County were recently named among the 50 semi-finalists for the $5-million Georgetown University Energy Prize.

The mountain communities of Aspen, Colo., and Jackson, Wyo., along with Bend, Ore., are also among the finalists. In Colorado, the Front Range communities of Brighton and Fort Collins also made the cut.

"This is a marathon, and we have a long road ahead of us, but we are excited to see what works and how we can tap into our community's competitive spirit," said Matt Abbott, environmental project manager for Park City. The program there is called Summit Community Power Works.

"I'm excited and feel like we are off to a great start, especially with our three school districts," added Abbott. "We are starting simple, with LEDs, and working our way up to smart controls, infrastructure, and eventually, renewables."

The contest was created by Dr. Francis Slakey, a physicist at Georgetown University and co-director of the university's Program on Science in the Public Interest. He saw the prize money as a way to stir competitive juices that will stimulate innovation but also spark community-wide cooperation among schools, governments, utilities, and other groups.

In Wyoming, Jackson Hole Energy Conservation Works has teamed up with the local electrical cooperative to start distributing 1,000 LED light bulbs to schools and homes in Jackson and Teton County.

But whether Jackson Hole wins is not entirely the point, says Phil Cameron, the director of the group. He says the connections that the program provides in sharing best practices and other resources are also of great value.

In Fort Collins, John Phelan placed the competition in two time frames, with two distinct layers to the aspiration. During 2015 and 2016, he said in a webcast press conference, Fort Collins and other semi-finalists would roll out their efforts to improve energy efficiency.

Fort Collins had been thinking about this intently for much of the last decade, most notably through its FortZED program, which seeks to boost renewable energy while decreasing energy demand in a district that aspires to have net-zero carbon use.

But that's only half the issue, added Phelan, the energy service manager for the city's electrical utility.

"Performing really well gets us into the finals. But once we're in the finals, the energy savings are a much smaller value, because at that point everybody will have done well," he explained.

"Then the focus becomes how did we innovate? What are the things we did and how replicable are they? How scalable is that to other communities? What kind of persistence did we see? How did we educate our communities? Those become the primary criteria for the $5 million prize."

A virtual raft trip down the Yampa

CRAIG, Colo. — You can do it with streets, so why not rivers? The Steamboat Pilot & Today reports that American Rivers, a conservation advocacy group, has sponsored a river-type viewing of the Yampa River as it descends through Dinosaur National Park.

The river originates about 185 kilometres northwest of Denver, flows through Steamboat Springs and is a rarity in the American West because it has no dams on its main stem.

In the 1950s, though, an effort was made to dam the river in Dinosaur, not far from its confluence with the Green River. Instead of a dam in Dinosaur, conservation leader David Brower and others conceded a dam at Flaming Gorge Canyon, creating Lake Powell. Brower later experienced serious heartburn about the concession.

Today, the Yampa is still wilderness. The Google Street View Trekker cameras were floated down the Yampa for 133 kilometres with its magnificent desert-varnished sandstone cliffs. It is, notes the Steamboat Pilot, a place seen by far fewer than the Grand Canyon.

But will the Yampa continue to flow as easily as it has? That's the nervous question on the minds of many residents of Steamboat Springs, Craig, and other towns along the river. The river is separated from Colorado's fast-growing Front Range urban corridor by two mountain ranges. But is that enough distance and geographic challenge?

"It's almost inevitable that the Eastern Slope will come after the Western Slope's water one more time, but if it happens on the Yampa, there's going to be a lot of outcry," says Kent Vertrees, of Steamboat Springs.

The background issue is whether Colorado can continue to meet its obligations to allow water to flow downstream to California, Nevada, and Arizona, as specified by the Colorado River compact of 1922.

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