Mountain Town News: Coal plant with ties to ski towns going down |

Mountain Town News: Coal plant with ties to ski towns going down

spring has showed all its sides this week with early-week snowstorms followed by days in the 50s.
Tripp Fay / special to the Daily |

KEMMERER, Wyo. – Slowly, bit by bit, the energy system that spews carbon dioxide into the atmosphere so prodigiously is being replaced. Consider a coal-fired power plant in southwestern Wyoming that has connections to both Park City and, in a different way, to Jackson Hole.

PacifiCorp — parent of Rocky Mountain Power, which serves Park City — had to make changes in one of the three units at the plant near Kemmerer to reduce emissions of sulphur oxide, which cause hazy skies and can harm human health.

The company could have done so by replacing the 330-megawatt coal-burning unit with one that burns natural gas. Natural gas has become abundant and, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas has less than 0.0005 percent of sulfur compounds compared to 1.6 percent for coal.

But natural gas produces roughly half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal. That’s important in that PacificCorp has vowed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, 61 percent of the utility’s electricity in its six-state market comes from coal. However, it plans to reduce that to less than 50 percent by 2025.

Instead of switching to natural gas, at a retrofit cost of $160 million, PacificCorp has now decided to just shutter the unit. The cost was an issue, said Paul Murphy, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power in Salt Lake City, but so was energy efficiency.

The utility is not seeing reduced demand, but the growth of demand has slackened greatly as energy efficiency measures have begun to take effect. The utility expects new efficiency measures to reduce demand from what it would otherwise be. In other words, 87 percent of demand can be met in the next decade by figuring out how to more efficiently use existing electricity. That will prevent the need for another major power source for another decade.

This fits in with Park City’s goals. The city council there recently adopted a goal of the city government becoming net zero in carbon emissions by 2022. The resolution also calls for the community to achieve that same goal by 2030. Concerns about climate change and rising temperatures were cited as justification.

What exactly is required to achieve net-zero carbon status was not made clear in materials provided city council members. Electricity production in the United States was responsible for just 31 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, followed by transportation at 27 percent and industry at 21 percent. The commercial and residential sector was responsible for 12 percent and agriculture 9 percent.

As for Jackson Hole, it has a connection to the Kemmerer power plant in this way: The Kemmerer family that owns the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort came from coal and iron mining in Pennsylvania and West Virginia before the family diversified to Wyoming in the late 19th century. Kemmerer, located 160 miles southwest of Jackson, was named after the family, as was the coal mine that still supplies the power plant.

The family, however, sold their coal assets in 1981.

After recent years, the snowpack looks great!

TRUCKEE, Calif. – El Niño didn’t deliver buckets of snow to California and other Western states this winter, but it did all right. A year ago last Saturday, California Gov. Jerry Brown stood on bare ground near the Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort and announced that the snowpack was 5 percent of average, the worst since 1950.

This year, water officials in California announced that the snowpack was close to or a little below average.

Still, it’s good enough that Mt. Rose, located in Nevada, near Lake Tahoe, announced it will continue operations until May 8. If that happens, the ski area will have had a 185-day season, the longest season since 2005-06, reports the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The improved snowpack is also causing jubilation among river rafters and trout anglers, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Still, despite these glad tidings, state officials aren’t ready to declare an end to the drought. Electronic readings showed the snowpack has 87-percent water content as compared to average.

A report issued in March by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation suggests more water problems in the future, as warming temperatures caused by accumulating greenhouse gas emissions change the climate.

The Secure Water Act Report forecasts a slight increase in overall precipitation, because a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture. But the precipitation would come in the form of rain instead of snow, notes the Gazette-Journal.

Given current trends, Lake Tahoe and other nearby areas should expect to see temperature increases of 5- to 6-degrees Fahrenheit during the 21st century. The Truckee River Basin will have 10 to 20 inches less snowpack on April 1. The river is also expected to have a peak runoff 19 days earlier than it does now. This compares with 12 days earlier in the Colorado River Basin, where most of Colorado’s ski resorts are located.

Concierges for people with very deep pockets

ASPEN, Colo. – Not many ski town newspapers seem to have hewed to the tradition of April foolery this year. The Aspen Daily News, however, jabbed at the Aspen Skiing Co., announced that the company’s latest idea of milking a little more income from its customers was the addition of six gondola concierges.

“These velvet-clad experts in luxuriating spend all day riding up and down the gondola to provide skier with the highest level of service imaginable,” the paper reported. “They are capable of quick gondola ski tunes, massage therapy, boot fitting, screening your calls, child rearing for the parents that can’t be bothered, and much more.”

The cost? A mere $1,950 upgrade from the normal day pass.

The imperative for wildlife underpasses

JACKSON, Wyo. – Plans have been made to create wildlife underpasses as part of a highway widening project south of Jackson, but public officials have decided it’s too early to commit.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that locals turned out to tell public officials about the need for ways to prevent collisions with wildlife on local roads. Steve Deutsch explained that he was severely injured two decades ago after he swerved off the highway to avoid a moose. He said he remains paralyzed on one side of his body as a result of the accident.

Wolves dine on elk calves in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. – Do wolves kill only what they can eat? It would seem not. The Jackson Hole News&Guide tells of a pack of wolves that got into an area south of Jackson, along the Hoback River, where elk were being fed. In all, 19 elk were killed by the pack in just one night, all but two of them calves.

Mike Jiminez, wolf management and science coordinator in the northern Rockies for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tells the newspaper that he has seen wolves killing more than they can stomach before, but not that many.

“We’ve seen three or four or five (killed),” he said. “But it wasn’t 18 or 19 in a night. It’s the largest one we’ve seen around here.”

Jimenez speculated that spring snow conditions or weakened elk may have played a role in the high number of killings.

Wolves are a federally protected species in Wyoming currently, and Fish and Wildlife policies don’t allow lethal responses when wolves prey on other wildlife.

As many as 75 of the 1,000 elk in what is called the Hoback herd have been killed by wolves this winter.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s 100-year-old pavilion

BANFF, Alberta – A plan is afoot in Banff to recreate a pavilion designed by the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The pavilion was designed in the rustic Prairie School style and built in 1911-13. It didn’t last long. Because of neglect, it was torn down in the 1930s.

Still, it was just one of two buildings in Canada among the 500-plus buildings Wright designed during his career.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that the Banff Town Council has pledged support for the pavilion but committed no money. The price tag is estimated at $6 million to $8 million.

Fighter jets flying low over Jasper National Park

JASPER, Alberta – Some low-flying fighter jets have been seen over Jasper National Park lately, but military officials say there has been nothing special. The jets were likely part of the Royal Canadian Air Force routes, but they may have been American F-16s flying between the continental United States and Alaska, officials tell the Jasper Fitzhugh.

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