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Know the West

Solar jobs for miners; millipede discovery; drought’s effects

HCN.org news in brief


As stricter environmental regulations and low natural gas prices make it difficult for coal companies to stay in business, a local program on Colorado’s Western Slope has helped spur economic development through renewable energy. A local energy cooperative, Delta Montrose Electric Association, is collaborating with Solar Energy International, a renewable energy lab and school, to train local people — some of them former coal, oil and gas workers — to install rooftop solar and off-grid systems. SEI programs have also helped veterans, women and high school students pursue careers in the solar industry, creating jobs while keeping money generated through energy projects in the county. Other Western states, too, have paved the way for local renewables. In New Mexico, one rural cooperative is building solar fields to attract new businesses looking to power themselves with renewable energy. -Lyndsey Gilpin

Training at Solar Energy International’s Paonia, Colorado, campus, just downvalley from several recently shuttered coal mines.
Courtesy Solar Energy International

After a market crash in the mid-1980s, a northern New Mexico community started saving for a rainy day. Lea County, known for its energy production, rebranded itself as “The EnergyPlex,” and started recruiting nuclear, solar and wind energy firms. Without borrowing a dime, the city invested in housing, doubled its police force and pooled resources with five other public and private entities to build a recreation center. Lea County’s strategic and sustained approach seems to be working. Today, the county boasts above-average salaries and — unique for an oil town — low income volatility, compared to other communities its size. -Leah Todd, Solutions Journalism

30: Percent saved, of each dollar earned, by Hobbs, New Mexico, in its quest to diversify its economy from the boom-bust cycles of oil and gas.

0: Borrowed dollars Hobbs spent on more housing, beefing up its police force,
and its part in the new $63.5 million recreation center.

Researchers in Sequoia National Park, California, recently discovered an unknown species of millipede, just three-quarters of an inch long and less than a millimeter wide. The find is a reminder of the organisms yet to be found, even in well-studied national parks. The 414-legged millipede is also a testament to the threat of anonymous extinction, when a species dies out before scientists ever discover it. -Anna V. Smith

Marek PE, Krejca JK, Shear WA, ZooKeys 626: 1-43

“There are courageous scientists in the federal government who will stand up and do great work and they will speak out about their results. ... There will be a president who wants to deny climate change with this science coming out that’s exactly in contradiction with him.”

 —Elizabeth Shogren, High Country News D.C. correspondent, speaking in the HCN podcast “West Obsessed.” In this episode, we discuss the inherent paradoxes of the president-elect’s campaign promises.

Autumn rains may have eased concerns about water scarcity in Northern California, but the rest of the state, including many predominantly Hispanic and low-income communities in the Central Valley, remains in a historic drought that has persisted for five years. See a gallery from Zoë Meyers and Sarah Craig’s multimedia project about severe water shortages by. -Lyndsey Gilpin 

Kids walk in between a walled off reservoir and an empty canal near their home in the Woodville Labor Camp, near Woodville, California. Before the drought, they remember playing in full canals.
Sarah Craig

Archaeologists serve an important role in documenting historic properties, but they tend to view the world through the lens of science and history — and could miss culturally sensitive artifacts and landmarks. In assessing Standing Rock’s most precious lands, the archaeologists on the Dakota Access Pipeline project may have done just that, says Tim Mentz Sr., a former archaeology professor. In a piece for The Conversation, an HCN publishing partner, Mentz says: Surveyors “rarely have the expertise and knowledge to identify traditional cultural properties, which are grounded in identity, culture, spirituality and the land’s living memory.” -Chip Colwell

You say

Raymond L. Morad: “I worked as a field archaeologist for seven years. ... I thought he brought up some very valid points about how guys like me could have, and probably did, miss things because they are culturally specific.”

Jonathan Scoll: “Sacred sites are just that: sacred. Those who know of them, e.g., elders, may be reluctant to talk about or even disclose them to non-Native outsiders. The very concept of (National Historic Preservation Act) ‘consultation’ has limitations.”

Michael Stiehl: “It seems that the Sioux weren’t interested in giving feedback then. Why are they saying that they weren’t consulted now? You go to the meetings and state your concerns, as soon and as often as possible.”