Best of the West: Solar energy shines; A $200 million carbon capture investment; Geothermal testing in Utah; Ranking the nation’s best “public service” universities; The triple crown of ultrarunning

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Sept. 11, 2023. (Photos courtesy of agnormark,, revillard/solar impulse/ EPA , and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc).

Even as supply chain challenges persist, the West is adopting solar energy at a rapid pace.  According to the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report released by the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie, a record of 32 GW of solar capacity is expected to come online this year, up 53% compared to 2022, and comprising the majority (54%) of all new power installations in the U.S.  

As part of this boom, several western communities have recently opened the largest solar farms in their history to help offset costs and reach their net-zero emission goals.  

The recently completed Houston Solar Farm, the largest solar farm in Alaska, will nearly double the solar energy generated in the Last Frontier state. The 8.5-megawatt project, nearly eight times the next biggest solar farm in the state, is just part of the solar power picture in Southcentral Alaska, where solar panels are increasingly sprouting on rooftops amid gloomy forecasts that the region’s longtime power source, Cook Inlet natural gas, will dwindle starting in 2027.

Kansas City leaders continue planning for the largest solar array in the U.S. near Kansas City International Airport that would produce up to 500 megawatts of electricity, enough to power up to 70,000 homes and bolster the city’s grid resiliency.

Ameresco, Inc., recently launched a regional solar energy project in partnership with communities surrounding the City of Craig, Colorado, and the Yampa Valley Electric Association. The project will see the construction of the Yampa Valley Regional Solar Garden, the largest solar array in the Yampa Valley Region, which will annually produce 9.64 million kilowatt hours of electricity for the cities of Steamboat Springs, Craig, Hayden, and Yampa, as well as Routt and Moffat counties.

Origis Energy recently announced the construction of the Escalante Solar project on the site of a decommissioned 253 MW coal-powered plant in New Mexico. The 200 MW solar project is expected to produce enough power for 40,000 homes and offset 192,156 kg of carbon emissions that would otherwise have been produced by a comparable coal plant.

But it’s not just powering homes. Solar energy is also being harnessed to decarbonize all kinds of Western industries. 

Mountain Regional Water Special Service District, a special service district of the state of Utah that serves drinking water to the Snyderville Basin area of Park City, is working with Ameresco to design and install a floating solar photovoltaic array that will be placed on the treatment plant’s holding pond and provide electricity to power the water treatment plant.

Incentivized by the Rural Energy for America ProgramDiscovery Ski Area in Montana recently installed a new solar array that will help the resort offset the power demand for one of its main chairlifts by 70%. Date Creek rancher Savannah Figueroa also took advantage of the program to install solar panels on their ranch in Arizona to power refrigerators, barns, and other equipment.

Paired Power, a Campbell, California-based provider of solar-powered EV charging equipment, and Monarch Tractor, the maker of a fully electric tractor, announced a partnership to supply The Kaerskov Vineyard in Solvang, California with solar-powered electric vehicle chargers to power it’s electric, driver-optional tractor, reduce its energy costs, and cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

Even airplanes are making use of solar panels these days. Pilot Andre Borschberg recently completed a 120-hour voyage from Nagoya, Japan to Kalaeloa, Hawaii (a world record for the longest solo flight) using a single-seat aircraft entirely powered by solar energy, which the plane stored and used at night.

“Nobody now can say that renewable energies cannot do the impossible,” Borschberg said.

Direct Air Capture: Microsoft recently purchased $200 million worth of carbon credits over the next 10 years – the equivalent to 315,000 tons of carbon – from Heirloom Carbon to help fund the startup's direct air capture plants in Louisiana and Brisbane, California, which use processed limestone to draw carbon dioxide out of the air, where it is then removed from the stone and stored underground or in concrete.

Geothermal Testing: The Bureau of Land Management recently approved the Rodatherm Geothermal Test Bed project, which is designed to determine if an advanced geothermal electricity generation facility is commercially viable on BLM-managed lands in Beaver and Millard counties. The project is reportedly planned to operate for one year and will involve the development of two well pads, five wells, and testing two closed geothermal loops that will produce nearly two megawatts of power.

#1 in Service: For the second year in a row, Washington Monthly, a magazine of U.S. politics and government based in Washington, D.C., placed the University of Montana at the top of its “public service” ranking. In the “service” category, UM ranked above many of the nation’s prestigious private and public institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, George Washington University, Duke University, the University of Chicago, and many more. UC San Diego, US San Francisco, and Montana State University also ranked in the Top 10.

Rejuvenating Journalism: Some of the biggest names in American philanthropy have joined forces to spend at least $500 million over five years to revitalize the coverage of local news in places where it has waned. Led by the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation, the new initiative, called Press Forward, seeks to nurture and sustain new models for funding journalism as the industry has come under severe financial pressures. In its announcement, the group of more than 20 charitable organizations noted that about a fifth of the nation lives in so-called "news deserts" with little or no reliable coverage of major local developments.

"There is a crisis in local news," says John Palfrey, president of the MacArthur Foundation. "The fact that so many newspapers are going out of business, that there are so many news deserts across America, that it poses such a threat to our democracy [means] that we had to do something at scale to be helpful."

The Queen of Type-3 Fun: Courtney Dauwalter, a 38-year-old from Leadville, Colorado, is already recognized as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) of women’s ultrarunning, but after winning the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) — a 172-kilometer ultrarunning race around the Mont Blanc massif – on Sept. 11, she became the first woman to ever complete the “triple crown of ultrarunning,” after completing California’s Western States 100 in record-setting time and breaking the women’s record en route to victory at the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run in Silverton, Colorado. 

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