Energy

As Our Energy Wants Change, Where Does Coal Stand?

Jul 28, 2016
Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

As of 2015, Coal production is at its lowest level since 1986, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That means coal companies are struggling to operate in a weak market.

A local effect is that Routt County, home to the Twentymile Mine, found its budget falling short due to a missed tax payment. The small school district there was counting on those funds and the state had to step in with a loan – although Peabody Energy did eventually get permission from the bankruptcy court to pay its taxes. But the decline of the coal industry is massive and widespread.

Colorado's coal country is experiencing the same slump that is gripping the heart of more traditional mining locales, like Wyoming or West Virginia.

"We see the trains and we hear the trains, and they used to be often. Daily," says Darci Mohr, the superintendent for South Routt County School District. "Now we hear one every five to six days."

Cheaper natural gas has dealt a blow to the coal industry -- and to Mohr's school district. Before the district opened an all-day preschool in the small town of Yampa, there wasn't an affordable day care program for this mostly working class community. When Peabody Energy, owner of Routt County's Twentymile Mine, went into bankruptcy and failed to pay property taxes, it would have been the first thing to go. But Mohr wasn't about to let that happen.

Wyoming Wants Wind Energy Factory Jobs. Colorado Has Them

Jul 26, 2016
Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Wyoming has lost hundreds of coal mining jobs in 2016. In contrast to coal, the renewables industry is growing nationwide. Generation capacity is projected to jump more than 50 percent by 2040, even in the absence of new environmental regulations. With that growth, there's a need for more components like blades and towers to build wind farms.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead's long-term energy strategy for the state includes plans to attract this kind of manufacturing. You only have to look to the state's neighbor to the south, Colorado, to find those kind of production jobs.

With The Cloud Ever More Energy Hungry, Tech Giants Want To Tap Straight Into Renewables

Jun 9, 2016
Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

The cloud, where you upload photos and stream video, is actually real, physical infrastructure housed in data centers across the country, like Green House Data's server farm in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

"This is the cloud," said Art Salazar, the company's director of operations, waving at rows and rows of glass and metal cabinets. "You're standing right in front of the cloud."

Feeding those hungry computers are big, black power lines, snaking along the ceiling. Like most data centers, electricity is the company's biggest expense, which is why Green House Data is obsessed with energy efficiency – and why companies want to get green power right at the source.

The last fully operational coal mine in the western part of the state announced layoffs Thursday.

The West Elk Mine outside of Paonia is owned by Arch Coal. The company filed for bankruptcy in January and says it’s letting go of 80 workers.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

There are a lot of ways to gauge momentum in politics. If you look at the money both sides of Colorado's hydraulic fracturing debate have raised so far, it seems to be a case of David versus Goliath.

The state's oil and gas industry is preparing for a potential battle at the ballot box against a much less well-funded foe. Supporters of four different ballot measures that seek to restrict drilling are gathering signatures and have raised just tens of thousands of dollars, compared to the more than $6 million that one opposition group has amassed for the fight.

Andrew Cullen / Inside Energy

As Lea Anne Shellberg knows, spring can be a difficult time. It's when the winter power bills start piling up. A broken back and a recurring skin cancer battle ended her career as an interior designer. When I first tried arranging an interview, she was in trouble.

"This is gonna be fun," she said, "we're literally going to be sitting in the dark."

Despite Shellberg and her daughter taking extra care to keep lights off and appliances unplugged, the charges for the last two months at her modular home were unexpectedly high, $470. With a fixed and razor-thin budget, she couldn't pay the bill.

When it comes to covering utility costs, the poor are paying more than they can afford and energy assistance programs are struggling to keep pace.

Dan Boyce / Inside Energy

Colorado Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled that state laws protecting the oil and gas industry overrule a hydraulic fracturing ban in Longmont [.pdf] and a five-year moratorium in Fort Collins [.pdf], calling both of the voter-approved moves "invalid and unenforceable." While the industry sees the decision as a big win, opponents view the ballot box as the likely outlet now for gaining more local control.

Fort Collins and Longmont's oil and gas control measures were the headline examples, but they weren't alone in the state. What happens now with similar efforts in Boulder County and Broomfield?

Jim Hill / KUNC

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the city of Longmont's hydraulic fracturing ban and the moratorium in Fort Collins Monday. The state's highest court said that Longmont's ban conflicts with state law and is invalid and unenforceable. The court ruled that state law also preempts the moratorium in Fort Collins.

Dan Boyce / Inside Energy

The costs of wind and solar power have fallen dramatically in recent years. Still, renewables only account for a fraction of the energy produced in the United States.

That's one of the challenges facing the new director of the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado. Dr. Martin Keller, who took over following the retirement of Dan Arvizu in late 2015, describes NREL's mission -- acting as the nation's premier renewable energy research laboratory -- as one of filling in the gaps in science and technology.

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