Best of the West: Record cold creates grid woes in Texas; ‘space mining’ classes launched at Colorado School of Mines; dangerous backcountry conditions across the region

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Feb. 15, 2021.

It’s been an extremely difficult week in Texas, where record-low temperatures made roads impassable and resulted in the state's grid being unable to supply millions with power. The aftermath has led to a variety of ideas about how to avoid a repeat, but some say the reality is that the state’s power system simply isn't designed to withstand such weather conditions.

And when it comes to weather impacting power supplies in states, the fact is that the number of weather-related power outages has climbed over the last decade. According to an Associated Press report, the greatest spikes in those weather incidents happened in 2008 and 2011.

Western Governors have addressed energy issues in their policy work, including their support for an “all-of-the above approach” as expressed in the WGA policy resolution Energy in the West. That resolution also seeks to “improve the United States’ electric grid’s reliability and resiliency.”

Additionally, in recent comments on a draft report of the West-wide Energy Corridors Regional Review, the Governors reminded officials of the U.S. Forest Service that meaningful state-federal collaboration on the designation of, and adjustments to, these (energy) corridors can have significant effects on state and regional energy, infrastructure, and land use planning across the West.”

MINING THE COSMOS: There may not be gold in them ‘thar planets, but there certainly are a variety of raw materials in space that could be used on Earth for manufacturing and other uses. That’s why the Colorado School of Mines just launched a minor in Space Mining.  "Space exploration presents a lot of technical challenges," said Jamal Rostami, an associate professor in the Department of Mining Engineering, about what is considered a first-of-its-kind program. "It requires out of box thinking and using the enduring knowledge to solve these new problems that we've never had to deal with. Like working in zero gravity, extreme temperatures, working in a vacuum."

A DANGEROUS ESCAPE? The pandemic has encouraged an enormous number of people to escape to the great outdoors. In Montana a supervisor recently said "visitation was off the charts” at the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Fores and officials at Zion National Park in Utah recently reported the highest number of visitors for any September on record. But an increasing number of people also are traveling to the backcountry this winter, where conditions have proved extremely dangerous. An avalanche that claimed a snowmobiler in Colorado this week brought the state’s backcountry death total to 11 for the season and the U.S. is on track for the deadliest avalanche season in half a decade. A forecaster at the Utah Avalanche Center said this year's season has been more active because of a "really dangerous snow pack" created by dry conditions in November and December.

ETERNAL LOVE: We recognize that Valentine's Day may have come and gone, but this heart-warming story about the “Sweetheart Couple” in Colorado that worked for decades (42 years, to be precise) on the long-running Valentine Remailing Program in the city of Loveland is always timely. And the program created by Ted and Mabel Thompson to incorporate children into the annual process, reports 5280 Magazine, is especially poignant. Read more.

STATE OF THE STATE: This week saw Colorado Gov. Jared Polis become the latest Western Governor to deliver a State of the State address. Watch all addresses and see a ‘word cloud’ of the top issues discussed by Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Mike Dunleavy of Alaska, Greg Gianforte of Montana, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Brad Little of Idaho, Doug Ducey of Arizona, Laura Kelly of Kansas, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Steve Sisolak of Nevada, Kate Brown of Oregon, Spencer Cox of Utah, David Ige of Hawaii, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Jay Inslee of Washington, and Lemanu Mauga of American Samoa. Read, watch all addresses.

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