Best of the West: The post-pandemic travel boom; transmission reform; recycled solar power; the oldest woman to ever summit Rainier; and an endangered addition to the Denver Zoo

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting July 31, 2023. (Photos courtesy of Adobe, iStock, and Mingrey Hildebrandt).

This summer has been good for airports throughout the West as a post-pandemic travel boom led to record-breaking passenger numbers.

Between July 2022 and June 2023, 26,421,401 passengers passed through The Salt Lake City International Airport, breaking the previous record from 2019. Of those passengers, 1,085,640 were international travelers, a 22% increase from 2019.

All of North Dakota’s eight commercial airports also reported their highest passenger numbers since 2019, and Hector International Airport in Fargo set all-time records with 40,969 boardings during May, and 214,414 for the year to date.  

Passenger traffic at Harry Reid International Airport in Nevada set a new record for June, beating last June by nearly 200,000 passengers (4.1%). Year-to-date comparisons show air passenger counts ahead of last year by a whopping 16%, representing an additional 6 million people.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport also broke a record for passenger numbers during the first half of the year. Through June, the airport saw 2.18 million passengers, the most in the first six months of the year since 2008.

Sky Harbor Airport in Arizona set multiple records in the first quarter of 2023. Its busiest day ever was Feb. 13, when more than 200,000 passengers flew after Super Bowl 57 and the WM Phoenix Open golf tournament ended. It also set s record for its busiest month ever in March, with 4,615,127 passengers 2% increase compared to March 2019, and for its busiest quarter ever with the airport surpassing its 2019 traffic record in all three months of the quarter.

The Port of Seattle estimates 198,000 travelers passed through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport during the final week of July, including 73,651 passengers on Monday, which broke even pre-pandemic levels.

After opening a new terminal in March, the Kansas City International Airport had its busiest month since December 2019 with 944,234 passengers passing through Kansas City International Airport’s gates, a 21-percent increase from March 2022. The increase continues a string of 25 consecutive months with year-over-year air traffic growth.

Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma set a record for air travel with over 980,000 passengers using the airport this year. The airport said 391,000 people flew in March, setting a new record. The previous record was 353,000 set back in March of 2019.

It wasn’t the major international hubs, however, that experienced significant increases in traffic. The post-pandemic travel boom also extended to smaller, regional airports.

With over 50,000 airline passengers inbound to the Missoula Montana Airport in June, the airport set a new record. According to airport director Brian Ellestad, more than 47,000 passengers were outbound that month — also a new record. Compared with June of 2022, the number of passengers boarding aircraft at MSO was up 17%.

Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport IN Arizona set a new record for commercial passenger activity, welcoming 1.92 million travelers in fiscal year 2023, a 5.6% increase year-over-year. The 2023 high-water mark is the second straight year in which the airport set record passenger totals.

The Colorado Springs Airport has seen more passengers in June than they have had in the past 2 decades. More than 206,000 passengers came through the Colorado Springs Airport in June, which is a 12% increase from the same time last year.

Plugging in: U.S. regulators approved proposals to speed up the connection of new power projects to the electric grid, reforms that could ease a growing backlog of requests from wind and solar energy developers. Long waits for transmission interconnection have hobbled the deployment of big renewable energy projects. Today there are more than 2,000 gigawatts of renewable power waiting to be connected to the grid -- nearly double the amount of current U.S. generation capacity, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Acting (FERC) Chairman Willie Phillips said at a press conference following the unanimous vote. ”This rule is a major first step in our journey to addressing transmission reform," he said.

Recycled Solar: North America’s first utility-scale solar panel recycling plant has opened in Arizona. Some solar panels are refurbished and sold, for example, at the store Mercados Solar in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Those that don’t go towards testing and resale head down a conveyor belt where glass, metals, and other materials with value are separated.

Water: The U.S. Department of the Interior announced $100 million to continue construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit project, which has been six decades in the making and finally broke ground in April. Once completed, the 130-mile pipeline will deliver filtered water ready for treatment from Pueblo Reservoir which will serve as many as 40 communities and 50,000 people east of Pueblo who mostly rely on groundwater and need a reliable supply of fresh water. Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper said this money will help expedite construction.

Age is Just a Number: Rose Vanderhoof, 78, became the oldest woman to ever summit Rainier, the tallest mountain in Washington at 14,417. The Ashford, Pierce County, resident, who summited the mountain eight times before, became the oldest woman ever to summit Rainier. But that’s not why she climbed: Vanderhoof just wanted to get to the top once more. And making the moment more poignant, her son and granddaughter reached Rainier’s peak with her for the first time as she reached it for the last.

“I am hoping to inspire other people that it doesn’t — age doesn’t matter,” Vanderhoof said. “I want people to go out and see God’s beautiful creation. It’s just another world out there. It’s beautiful. I’ve been doing this for 45 years, and I never get enough of it.”

The Pearl of Denver: The Denver Zoo is now home to a one-year-old Matschie's tree kangaroo named Pearl that once called the Bronx Zoo home. Only about 2,500 members of the species remain in the wild, found only on the Huon Peninsula of northeastern Papua New Guinea.  

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