By Allen Best
Thin air draws big brains
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Does thin air induce greater clarity of thought? That conclusion could easily be drawn from two separate reports about scientists congregating at both Crested Butte and Telluride.
At the rustic ghost town of Gothic, located near Crested Butte at an elevation of 9,500 feet, scientists have gathered each summer since 1928 to study biological processes and, increasingly, their impact by humans. Among those scientists has been John P. Holdren, the scientific advisor to President Barack Obama.
With a $1.8 million federal grant, the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory is now erecting a solar-powered building where scientists can use precise instruments and techniques to study biological processes at the molecular level, instead of just through observation, reports the Crested Butte News.
At Telluride, elevation 8,750 feet, a vision has been announced of creating a new institute where scientists could meet each summer to collaborate on how to store solar energy – a key challenge if it is to displace fossil fuels to a far greater extent.
Scientists working through the local Telluride Science Research Center. recently appealed to potential donors. “We know how to capture sunlight, but the challenge is to store it,” said Michael Wasielewski, a chemist and director of the Argonne-Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center.
The 25 to 30 groups of scientists around the world who are working on solving the storage problem for solar energy need to spend face time together, and they need a focal point. That’s where a “small but viable lab in Telluride” comes in, Wasielewski told the potential donors.
The Telluride Watch notes that the existing research institute in Telluride was started in 1984, when 18 chemists gathered to consider new research. This summer, the institute hosted nearly 1,000 scientists in 30 workshops.
Aspen also serves as a magnet for scientists, particularly physicists, and it has done so for decades.
Nana Naisbitt, executive director of the Telluride Science Research Center, estimated that $25 million to $30 million is needed for the new campus to further solar energy research. Organizers say the broader Solar Fuels Institute that is being proposed would need a budget of $1 billion over the next decade, with the money coming from philanthropic donations, venture capitalists, and existing industries.
Numbers show contraction
JACKSON, Wyo. – The hard numbers are arriving to put firmness into the anecdotal observations about job decline of the last three years in Teton County.
From 2008 through 2010, the once-boisterous construction and real estate sector shrank dramatically, tourism businesses slimmed just a bit, and the government sector bulked up.
Accommodations and food services, if those jobs typically pay less, lost only 50 jobs. The construction sector lost 894 jobs. And the government sector, primarily the federal government, added 73 jobs.
Jobs, as of 2009, accounted for only 34 percent of total income in Teton County. Dividends, interest and rent accounted for 63 percent.
Jackson becoming bike friendly
JACKSON, Wyo. – With town and county governments underwriting the costs, the fourth business in Jackson has erected bike corrals. The corrals cost $1,000 each and, in the case of Pica’s Mexican Taqueria, displace one parking space for cars, notes the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
Aspen seeks more affordability
ASPEN, Colo. – Among its top-10 goals for the next year, the Aspen City Council wants to see more mid-range lodging options. As Aspen has redeveloped, the old lodges built in the 1950s have generally been replaced by more upscale housing, particularly fractional timeshares.
At the end of a two-day retreat in July, the council agreed to examine the feasibility of encouraging cheaper rooms. The average hotel room goes for more than $400 a night during winter, the Aspen Daily News notes.
City officials tell the newspaper that it’s not clear what barriers exist to construction of more moderate-priced lodging. Chris Bendon, the director of community development, says it’s possible the city could tweak its zoning code to give breaks, in terms of less stiff parking and affordable housing requirements, to projects that promise less expensive rooms.
County seeks balance between
ASPEN, Colo. – Proponents of renewable energy protested, but Pitkin County now requires that anybody erecting more than 200 square feet of solar panels in unincorporated areas must first notify neighbors, allowing the possibility that the project will be vetoed by county authorities.
The Aspen Daily News points out that county officials want to see more renewable energy but not at the expense of rural character. “We have the tricky task of balancing competing goals,” said Rachel Richards, chairwoman of the county commissioners.
The question was taken up by the commissioners after a family at Old Snowmass, an area of ranchettes and other small acreages, complained about the blinding glare from a neighboring 400-square-foot solar array.
County planners believe the regulation drafted to address solar glare is the
first in the nation, although others are being considered.
To Richards, the aesthetics of solar installations are analogous to those of home size. There’s no way to make an 8,000- or 10,000-square-foot home invisible in a neighborhood, she noted. “It is our job to minimize those,” she said.
Solar gardens gain
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – A concept called community solar gardens continues to attract attention in Colorado. The fundamental premise is that individuals can buy into a solar garden in small increments, say one panel at a time, instead of going through the cumbersome process of putting them atop homes.
Such solar gardens already exist at several locations, with potential for new gardens at the landfills for Eagle County, west of Vail, and in Summit County, near Keystone.
The Summit Daily News reports that county commissioners are interested in buying in, as they have adopted a goal of getting a percentage of the county’s energy from renewable sources. Proponents are also approaching Vail Resorts with the idea of being an anchor tenant or owner in the solar farm.
The payback on investment in such solar farms in now about 10 years, although continued improvements in solar technology and mass production capabilities continue to lower the payback time.
Meanwhile, the Summit County Energy Action Plan is on its way to adoption by county officials. The plan outlines steps that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. The plan also sets as a goal 50 percent increase in waste diversions by 2020.
Foodie pedalthon gains fans
WHISTLER, B.C. – The slow-food, locavore movement continues to gain momentum in British Columbia.
Pique Newsmagazine reports that an even called the Slow Food Cycle, which began in 2005 with 400 riders, last year drew 3,000 riders. Riders pedal their way around the countryside around Pemberton, where many farmers specialize in organic produce.