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Local news roundup with the Colorado Sun - 10/5/22

Colorful flowers are growing under and around solar panels
Brittany Peterson
Crops grow under solar panels at Jack's Solar Garden on Sept. 14, 2021, in Longmont, Colo.

We spoke with our colleagues at the Colorado Sun this week to find out what stories are crossing their reporting desk. Sun reporter Michael Booth discussed some of the news they’re following with KUNC’s Beau Baker.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Beau Baker: First off, Xcel Energy, the state's largest utility, is grappling with a transition from coal to cleaner sources of energy like solar. There's increasing pressure on them to meet consumer demand. Michael, what's Xcel up against? 

Michael Booth: Well, we may feel the temperatures getting a little crisper in the evenings across Colorado, but big utilities like Xcel Energy have to plan for the long term. And Mark Jeffrey reports that Xcel is facing a gap in the electricity it can offer to consumers during next summer's air conditioning season. As the state's biggest power company begins to retire its six coal-fired plants to lower greenhouse gas emissions, they need big renewable energy projects to come online to fill those gaps and meet Colorado's population growth. But two big solar projects near Pueblo are running behind schedule, and that's going to make things tight next summer. More consumers who have agreed to let Xcel take over their thermostats on high-demand days might see that happen even more next year. And it takes a lot of explaining to those angry customers. The solar projects have been delayed in part by something else. We've written a lot about a fight over solar tariffs that, for a while, put a block on cheaper foreign panels coming into the U.S. to finish projects. We're only now finding out just how much damage that did to some big renewable plants.

Beau: What are Xcel's chances of filling the gap before next year's pinch? 

Michael: They're scrambling to get contractors to finish on time, and they are redoubling their search for other projects that could come online quickly, even going back to some natural gas power. Natural gas, a lot of us know, is cleaner than coal but not at all like solar and wind in terms of saving greenhouse gas emissions.

Beau Baker: Let's pivot to Paddy Limerick, the former head and co-founder of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado Boulder. She was dismissed in September. There's a lot of questions around this firing. What can you tell us, Michael? 

Michael: Yeah, she had a lot better record than then football coach. I'll tell you that Patty Limerick is really one of Colorado's few national stars in the academic arts. She made a name for Colorado's view of Western history by overturning stereotypes and pointing out hypocrisy in the historical record. She founded the Center of the American West, which became a decades-long salon for original thought and the puncturing of destructive, deceptive stereotypes throughout Western history. But now, she's been fired from the center she founded by a new academic dean at Boulder. CU is not saying much about why, but Limerick's many supporters are not going away quietly. They're demanding answers. And much of the center's board resigned in a group protest. An audit released to Jason Blevins came up with what seem like a lot of ticky-tacky reasons Limerick irritated center personnel and crossed some personal work boundaries. But nothing that explains the removal of such an icon. If CU has something bigger to say, they claim they're locked in by personnel rules and not saying anything. But this will impact donations and CU Boulder's reputation in many fields.

Beau: And what is Limerick saying about this?

Michael: She seems confounded by the whole thing. She says she has, quote, no idea why anyone would want to spend so much time and effort on derailing the successful organization.

Beau: And finally, today, whether I read it almost daily, but new research suggests that I may not be using strong enough language. Michael, what is this all about? 

Michael: Our story really went to the heart of how everyone wants to talk about the weather, but new research shows we may not be talking about it the right way, or at least we're not using the words that can properly communicate the dangers we face from an increasing number of tornadoes, hurricanes, life-threatening heat events from global warming. Sociologists are increasingly working with meteorologists to figure out if the warnings they are giving are being heard. One new study from NOAA shows that, at least in Spanish, they are not being heard the way that they want them to. Too many weather reports have been using tame words like "AVISO" when they should be using forceful words like "ALERTA" and pardon my pronunciation. I'm certainly not a professional in that regard. One is just some advice from a friend, and the other word means pay attention now and go get shelter. So researchers say the same thing happens in English. One mentioned Reno residents who don't pay much attention when forecasters say big snow is coming. They assume it's on the mountains above Tahoe, so they don't pay attention. But if the forecasters say there's a big snow coming down here in the Truckee Meadows where the city is, people stay home from work, and they do avoid crashes.

Beau: Well, I welcome some weather workshopping down the road. Reporter Michael Booth giving us a preview of some of the sun's reporting. Thanks a lot. We'll talk again soon. 

Michael: Thanks again. We appreciate it.

As the Newscast Editor and Producer, I provide listeners with news and information critical to our region.
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