Catching the sun

 

This March, a massive photovoltaic panel at SunEdison's Alamosa solar power plant broke loose in a strong wind and began to spin atop its pillar. So plant service technician Joe Valdez, a thick-armed 36-year-old with an easy grin and expertise in everything from alfalfa farming to hydraulics, got creative. He lassoed the sun-sucking device and anchored it to his truck long enough to fix it.

"People ask, ‘Where'd you learn all this?' " he laughs. "Well, my dad was cheap."

Joe, who traces his San Luis Valley roots back to a ranch, and generations further to Spanish settlers and Ute and Apache Indians, was one of the first in the area to take advantage of a looming local solar rush. The San Luis Valley -- a sweeping expanse of sagebrush and farmland hemmed by dramatic mountain ranges -- has been identified as one of the two best spots in Colorado for centralized solar power generation. And utilities, eager to meet their state-mandated renewable energy goals, are talking up plans for a large transmission line that would carry new electricity from the valley across the Rockies to the state's Front Range cities.

So far, the 8.2-megawatt, 80-acre array where Joe works is the only solar plant here. But as other energy proposals begin to materialize -- including industrial-scale concentrating solar-thermal plants that could blanket thousands of acres -- the very size of the projects underscores the size of the problem they're meant to address: climate change.

It's a phenomenon currently rippling across the West, and stories about the big fights brewing over such developments have become familiar staples in the media, including High Country News. It's such a huge subject -- huge problems, huge solutions, and huge battles over what to do and where to do it -- that it can all begin to seem overwhelming. We like to think big, we Americans, and we tend to disregard incremental approaches. When there's a 66,000-pound gorilla in the room, who's going to notice a hamster? But perhaps not every solution to a big problem needs to be as big as the problem itself -- at least, not in the sense you might think.

This special issue attempts to explore how small, local solutions, implemented on a fairly ambitious scale, can fit into our overall efforts to ramp up alternative energy. It's like Joe Valdez lassoing the sun: People you've most likely never heard of, who are using creativity and small-scale, practical problem-solving to tackle big energy problems. With the right incentives and some shifts in the way we think about power generation, their role could grow.

In the San Luis Valley, for example, local governments are exploring the possibility of constructing their own large solar plant that would power local communities and provide new jobs and much-needed revenue. The rural electric co-operative is considering buying into some local solar power. Homeowners and businesses are figuring out how to take advantage of solar-power and energy-efficiency incentives offered by the state (and recently bolstered by the federal government) and utilities. The progress is slow, to be sure, and the outcome uncertain. But you have to start somewhere. Why not start on the ground where you live? Maybe "thinking globally and acting locally" will finally become more than just a catchy bumper-sticker slogan.

High Country News Classifieds
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.