Best of the West: Wind power boosts rural economies; a satellite that detects wildfires; incorporating Indigenous knowledge with modern science; a concertgoing fox

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting March 7, 2022. (Photos courtesy of Getty Images and Pikes Peak Courier)

According to the recetnly released Sustainable Energy in America Factbookwind and solar energy grew 13% in 2021 — the fastest rate in U.S history. As the country continues its transition to carbon-neutral energy, many western states are ramping up wind power production and developing new, more efficent pathways to transport the resource throughout the region - a strategy that Western Governors promoted in their policy resolution Energy in the West

Leeward Renewable Energy, LLC in Texas, which is working on building more sustainable wind farms, recently completed two projects that will provide areas of Arizona and New Mexico with 20 years of renewable energy and use 60% less land than traditional wind farms. The recently completed New Mexico Western Spirit Wind Farm Complex, the largest renewable energy project in the U.S., which can power nearly 10 million homes using wind power, announced that it will send some of the power it generates to Los Angles using the same transmission line that once carried energy from a closed coal power plant.   

Several states also have wind power projects in the queue. Colorado recently approved a $1.7 billion ‘power pathway’ proposed by Xcel Energy that will ferry more than 5,000 megawatts of wind and solar power to the electrical grid. Montana is adding its largest wind farm through a project with NextEra Energy — a national leader in wind power. The Magic Valley in Idaho is attracting investors because of its proximity to the western power grid, spurring an influx of wind power proposals. 

Along with providing sustainable sources of energy, the projects are providing many rural communities with well paying jobs as wind energy technicians are projected to be one of the fastest-growing fields through 2028. NextEra Energy is investing in Oklahoma’s energy workforce, providing students with educational resources and hands on experiences related to wind power. In Nebraska, wind energy projects are sustaining rural communities and enticing former residents to move back for economic opportunities.

Early Wildfire Detection: NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration recently launched an advanced weather satellite that will provide 24/7 coverage of meteorological conditions in the western U.S. and most of the Pacific Ocean. Hovering 22,300 miles above Earth, the satellite moves at the same rate that the planet turns on its axis, allowing it to observe locations without disruptions. Additionally, the satellite uses a ‘lightning mapper’ to track of ground lightning and detect for wildfires. 

Leasing Hydrogen: The hydrogen industry in Arizona is growing after the Bureau of Land Management awarded Heliogen Inc. exclusive rights to lease land in the Brenda Solar Energy Zone, where it intends to develop a green hydrogen facility. 

Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge with Modern Science: Northwest Indian College in Washington, the only school in the U.S. with a ‘Native Environmental Science program,’ is getting a $100K donation from Amazon to fund scholarships that make the curriculum more accessible. The program combines traditional Indigenous knowledge with modern science. “We are so fortunate that (Northwest Indian College) Native Environmental Science graduates are prepared to carry on the knowledge of Indigenous people, combined with the latest science, to continue important stewardship of our planet.” 

A Concertgoing Fox: Musicians have found creative ways to keep the music going during  the pandemic, and a member of Colorado-based bluegrass jam band, Leftover Salmon, went viral for performing outdoors for a neighborhood fox. The musician discovered that the fox didn’t enjoy high-energy songs, which encouraged him to experiment with a new style called ‘clawhammer’ —a delicate and slow genre.

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