Science and Technology

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Colorado utilities to exchange power with California under new agreement

Posted By on Tue, Jun 2, 2020 at 9:02 AM

Energy imbalance markets make it easier to integrate renewables. - MOONJAZZ, VIA FLICKR
  • moonjazz, via Flickr
  • Energy imbalance markets make it easier to integrate renewables.

It's official: A coalition of Colorado utilities (including Colorado Springs Utilities) will get access to renewable energy from California and other Western states starting in 2022, under a recently finalized agreement.

The nonprofit California Independent System Operator (ISO) oversees the state's electric power system and the Western Energy Imbalance Market, or WEIM for short.

The EIM — which launched in 2014 — is a power-trading market that automatically finds low-cost energy among member utilities in California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Washington state, Idaho, and British Columbia, Canada.

Such agreements are especially useful for incorporating renewable energy sources, because the amount of energy generated by renewable sources like wind and solar is more unpredictable than traditional sources — and could be greater, or less, than what a given community needs.

Thus, utilities that heavily rely on these sources of energy often have surplus energy they need to give away, or a shortage of energy for which they need to buy a replacement.

Colorado Springs Utilities has recently added new solar resources but doesn't have any wind power in its arsenal. In 2019, around half of the utility's generation came from natural gas, 36 percent from coal and 9 percent from hydropower.

CSU's Palmer Solar Project, added in April, produces enough electricity to power around 22,000 homes annually, and the Grazing Yak Solar Project added late last year could power 13,000 homes.

In March, Colorado Springs Utilities joined a smaller power-sharing group under a joint dispatch agreement, or JDA. The group is comprised of three other Colorado utilities: Xcel Energy, Black Hills Energy Colorado Electric and the Platte River Power Authority.

An agreement between Xcel Energy – Colorado and the California ISO, signed in May, means that the Colorado JDA will join the WEIM in 2022.

“We are excited to take the next step in joining the Western Energy Imbalance Market,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy - Colorado, said in a May 21 statement. “Participating in this market will support our efforts to keep customer bills low while providing them with more 100% carbon-free energy from wind and solar resources. That’s both a win for the environment and another way we can help the State of Colorado meet its clean energy goals.”

Before Colorado Springs Utilities joined the JDA, plans were already in the works for the JDA to join the WEIM — a move which CSU predicted would improve rates for customers while decreasing its carbon footprint.

The utility in December announced plans to eventually join the WEIM, with an original target of 2021.

"We are committed to offering our customers clean, more diverse and affordable energy," said CEO Aram Benyamin said in a December statement addressing those plans.
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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Make4Covid initiative unites 3D printing pros to make PPE

Posted By on Tue, Apr 7, 2020 at 11:16 AM

Library staff prep 3D printers at Library 21c. - COURTESY OF PIKES PEAK LIBRARY DISTRICT
  • Courtesy of Pikes Peak Library District
  • Library staff prep 3D printers at Library 21c.

A recent inspector general's report for the Department of Health and Human Services outlines several challenges faced by health care personnel responding to the COVID-19 pandemic across the U.S.

One of the most widespread challenges, the report found, is the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) — such as masks and gowns — to keep medical workers safe as they treat patients suffering severe symptoms from the novel coronavirus.

"To secure the necessary PPE, equipment, and supplies, hospitals reported turning to new, sometimes un-vetted, and non-traditional sources of supplies and medical equipment," the report says. "To try to make existing supplies of PPE last, hospitals reported conserving and reusing single-use/disposable PPE, including using or exploring ultra-violet (UV) sterilization of masks or bypassing some sanitation processes by having staff place surgical masks over N95 masks."

Hospitals are having to address this supply chain problem in novel ways. While many people in the community want to help by donating handmade masks or other equipment, facilities in the overwhelmed health care system don't have time to vet whether each shipment of PPE is safe.

That's where Colorado's Make4COVID comes in. The group, which started at the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus, now has more than 1,200 members working together to 3D print PPE, says Omar Soubra, a spokesperson for the group.

It's not only professional "makers" (who know how to use the 3D printers and laser cutters). The effort takes a village.

"There’s a core team, basically, that has medical professionals [who] validate what we’re doing from a medical perspective — so they approve the design, the decontamination procedures, everything that goes into those aspects," Soubra explains, "and then we have professional industrial designers that have joined the team and that are making the tweaks and the adjustments needed or required by the doctors depending on what their feedback was."

Also on board: supply chain managers, engineers, marketers and scientific advisors.

Make4Covid transports a load of PPE to the Melissa Memorial Hospital in Holyoke. - COURTESY OF MAKE4COVID
  • Courtesy of Make4Covid
  • Make4Covid transports a load of PPE to the Melissa Memorial Hospital in Holyoke.

Currently, Soubra says, the group is focusing on manufacturing face shields, which consist of a 3D-printer headband portion that's attached to a transparent shield produced using laser cutters. People with access to and knowledge of these machines follow a set of standard operating procedures "so they don't contaminate the parts," Soubra says.

Make4Covid is concentrating its efforts on helping rural hospitals, which Soubra says face the most severe supply chain issues.

As part of the effort, the Pikes Peak Library District has distributed several of its larger 3D printers to makers in the community, who are making face shield parts in the safety of their own homes.

CEO and Chief Librarian John Spears says the library district also plans to have staff use sewing machines and smaller 3D printers to help in the effort. (Read more about this in our April 8 issue.)

Make4Covid has partnered with Angel Flight West and the Civil Air Patrol to deliver shipments of PPE to rural hospitals, Soubra says.

People interested in supporting the effort can visit Online, there's instructions about how to make the items and what materials are needed.

“Colorado hospitals have been overwhelmed by the preparation and response to the COVID-19 crisis," Andrew Henderson, one of the Make4Covid founders and lab manager of Inworks, said in a recent statement. "Makers and people who want to help have been reaching out to them, but most medical professionals are not makers. They have needs, but no time to repeat these to all the people who want to help.

"Make4Covid is here to centralize the needs, remotely organize teams and systems and manufacture solutions. If you are maker, tinkerer, if you own a 3D printer, a laser cutter or other manufacturing equipment, join our effort and help as a community.”
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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Health care shortages: Blood donations, protective equipment

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 1:23 PM

N95 masks, or respirators, provide more protection than surgical masks. They're getting harder to come by as demand surges. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • N95 masks, or respirators, provide more protection than surgical masks. They're getting harder to come by as demand surges.


Centura Health announced it is also accepting donations of personal protective equipment for health care workers. In Colorado Springs, you can drop off the following items at Penrose Hospital, 2222 N. Nevada Ave., on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. starting March 25:

• Boxed masks and N95 masks (single or used masks cannot be accepted)
• Gloves that are still in the manufacturer's packaging
• Packaged gowns or rain ponchos with sleeves
• Face shields (must include eye protection and be labeled as surgical, isolation, dental, or medical procedure face shields)

In a March 24 statement, Centura Health noted that it cannot currently accept homemade masks, but that could change.

"We are so amazed by the talented and giving members of our community offering to make homemade masks," the statement says. "As of today, per CDC guidelines, homemade masks are not considered PPE and should be only considered as a last resort. Therefore, Centura is not currently accepting these as donations, but would like to still hear from you. Please email us at so we can provide you a pattern and material specifications in the event our current policy changes and we begin to accept homemade masks."


It's still safe to donate blood — and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care providers say that gift is critically needed.

Local blood centers anticipate a 20 percent decline in donations the week of March 20, according to a statement from Centura Health (which counts Penrose-St. Francis Health Services in Colorado Springs among its 17 hospitals in Colorado and Kansas). In coming weeks, the decline in donations could grow to 35 percent compared with the norm, due to social distancing precautions to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"It is important to note that blood donation is not considered a large social gathering, and individuals who are well and healthy can safely donate blood," Centura Health's statement says.
"Having a well-stocked inventory of blood products is crucial for health care facilities, as trauma, cancer and sickle cell patients routinely benefit from blood donations."

Visit to learn more about the donation process, and to sign up for an appointment. Blood donations through Vitalant are currently by appointment only.

Meanwhile, the state is scrambling to figure out how to handle a shortage of personal protective equipment for health care providers.

Colorado received an allocation of medical equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile on March 23, but the quantities (49,200 N95 masks; 115,000 surgical masks; 21,420 surgical gowns; 21,800 face shields; and 84 coveralls) are only enough for about one full day of statewide operations, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment said in a statement.

Local medical students, in conjunction with MedSupplyDrive, are organizing a donation drive for personal protective equipment, to be given to health care facilities. They are collecting the following items (which can be in an open box, but must be unused):

• Surgical masks
• N95 masks
• Face shields
• Bandanas
• Non-latex gloves
• Medical/Surgical gowns
• Plastic rain ponchos
• Bleach/bleach wipes
• Hand sanitizer

Items can be dropped off at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' HealthCircle Primary Care Clinic parking lot, located at 4863 N. Nevada Ave., at the following times:

• Wednesday, March 25 at 5 p.m.
• Saturday, March 28 at noon
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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Denver scientists make "unprecedented" fossil finds at Corral Bluffs open space

Posted By on Thu, Oct 24, 2019 at 3:02 PM

Dr. Ian Miller, left, curator of paleobotany at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and Dr. Tyler Lyson, the Museum's curator of vertebrate paleontology, look for fossil concretions at the Corral Bluffs open space on Colorado Springs' northeast rim. - PHOTOS AND COMPUTER GENERATING IMAGES BY HHMI TANGLED BANK STUDIOS
  • Photos and computer generating images by HHMI Tangled Bank Studios
  • Dr. Ian Miller, left, curator of paleobotany at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and Dr. Tyler Lyson, the Museum's curator of vertebrate paleontology, look for fossil concretions at the Corral Bluffs open space on Colorado Springs' northeast rim.
Colorado Springs' and El Paso County's Corral Bluffs open space has opened a new world of ancient discoveries for a pair of scientists with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

As the museum said in a release, Dr. Tyler Lyson, curator of vertebrate paleontology and lead author of a Science magazine paper on the discoveries, and Dr. Ian Miller, the Museum’s curator of paleobotany and director of earth and space sciences, led the team that announced the discovery.

The team reveals in striking detail how the world and life recovered after the catastrophic asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. The findings are described in a peer-reviewed scientific paper in Science. It outlines the unprecedented find, which includes thousands of exceptionally preserved animal and plant fossils from the critical first million years after the catastrophe and "shines a revelatory light on how life emerged from Earth’s darkest hour," the release said.
A computer generated image of an ancient Loxolophus mammal taken from the PBS NOVA special, Rise of the Mammals. In this recreation, Loxolophus scavenges for food in the palm dominated forests found within the first 300,000 years after the dinosaur extinction.
  • A computer generated image of an ancient Loxolophus mammal taken from the PBS NOVA special, Rise of the Mammals. In this recreation, Loxolophus scavenges for food in the palm dominated forests found within the first 300,000 years after the dinosaur extinction.
From the release:
In addition to the paper published in Science magazine, the story of the discovery is told in a new documentary, ”Rise of the Mammals,” a NOVA production by HHMI Tangled Bank Studios for WGBH Boston, that will stream online beginning today at ( across PBS platforms and mobile apps and will broadcast nationally on PBS Oct. 30 at 9 p.m. EDT/8 p.m. CDT (check local listings).

“Thanks to the expertise, vision and grit of the scientific team, we are gaining a clearer understanding of how our modern world of mammals arose from the ashes of the dinosaurs,” said George Sparks, the Museum’s President and CEO. “We hope that this story inspires people – especially future generations – to follow their curiosity and contemplate the big questions our world presents to us.”

“The course of life on Earth changed radically on a single day 66 million years ago,” said Lyson. “Blasting our planet, an asteroid triggered the extinction of three of every four kinds of living organisms. While it was a really bad time for life on Earth, some things survived, including some of our earliest, earliest ancestors.”

“These fossils tell us about our journey as a species – how we got to be here,” said Dr. Neil Shubin, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago who was not involved in the discovery.
During the summer of 2016, dinosaur-hunter Lyson stopped looking for glinting bits of bone in the Denver Basin and instead zeroed in on egg-shaped rocks called concretions.
A computer image of an ancient Taeniolabis mammal taken from the PBS NOVA special, Rise of the Mammals.
  • A computer image of an ancient Taeniolabis mammal taken from the PBS NOVA special, Rise of the Mammals.
“It was absolutely a light bulb moment. That was the game changer,” he said in the release.

When the concretions were cracked open, Lyson and Miller found skulls of mammals from the early generations of survivors of the mass extinction, the release said, noting that finding a single skull from this era is unusual, but in a single day, the pair found four and more than a dozen in a week. So far, they've found fossils from at least 16 different species of mammal.

More from the release:
The Denver Basin site also adds powerful evidence to the idea that the recovery and evolution of plants and animals were intricately linked after the asteroid impact. Combining a remarkable fossil plant record with the discovery of the fossil mammals has allowed the team to link millennia-long warming spells to global events, including massive amounts of volcanism on the Indian subcontinent. These events may have shaped the ecosystems half a world away.
A cranium of a new species of Loxolophus uncovered at the Corral Bluffs fossil site.
  • A cranium of a new species of Loxolophus uncovered at the Corral Bluffs fossil site.
“It was only after the meteor impact wiped out the dinosaurs that mammals explode into the breathtaking diversity of forms we see today,” says Professor Anjali Goswami, a paleobiologist at the Natural History Museum, London, who was not involved in the discovery.

“Our understanding of the asteroid’s aftermath has been spotty,” Lyson explained. “These fossils tell us for the first time how exactly our planet recovered from this global cataclysm.”

Additional collaborators include:
David Krause, James Hagadorn, Antoine Bercovici, Farley Fleming, Ken Weissenburger, Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Stephen Chester, Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY)
William Clyde and Anthony Fuentes, University of New Hampshire
Greg Wilson, University of Washington
Kirk Johnson and Rich Barclay, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
Matthew Butrim, Wesleyan University
Gussie Maccracken, University of Maryland
Ben Lloyd, Colorado College

The Museum worked with the United States Geological Survey’s National Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project to gather high-resolution images.

The NOVA program is slated to air Oct. 30, but check local listings for the exact time or visit

Corral Bluffs is open for scheduled hikes but is not open to the public on a day-to-day basis.
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Monday, August 19, 2019

Should you buy a Breathalyzer?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 19, 2019 at 4:47 PM

  • Shutterstock
Should you buy a Breathalyzer?

If you've ever asked yourself that question, now might be your best chance to answer in the affirmative. A device that measures your blood alcohol content can keep you out of jail — and more importantly, save lives — if you heed its warning before getting behind the wheel.

Plus, the Colorado Department of Transportation has partnered with BACtrack to offer Coloradans a 50 percent discount through September, or while supplies last, on personal Breathalyzer-type devices.

The BACtrack Mobile Pro device for sale is not necessarily cheap — $49.99 after the discount — but it just might be worth it.

I mean, think about the possibilities. Not only can you make sure you aren't too drunk to drive, but you can annoy all your friends at parties by forcing them to test their blood alcohol content before they leave.

State and local agencies across the state are conducting extra enforcement operations to catch impaired driving between Aug. 16 and Sept. 3. Last August and September, 44 people were killed in crashes involving impaired drivers — accounting for more than 20 percent of impaired driving-related fatalities for the year, according to a statement from CDOT.

During last year's Labor Day DUI enforcement period, 936 impaired drivers were arrested in Colorado.

Colorado laws specify that a BAC above 0.05 percent can land you a citation for Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI), and a BAC above 0.08 percent equates to a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) citation. (If you have consumed any amount of alcohol, and appear impaired to a police officer, you can get a DWAI citation even when your BAC is below 0.05 percent.)

BACtrack's personal device integrates a police-grade device with a mobile app, and it looks pretty nifty. It'll even help you estimate how long it will take for your BAC to hit 0 percent. Check it out here.

Not in the market at the moment? The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility offers a "Virtual Bar" to provide estimates of what your BAC could look like after consuming different amounts of alcohol and food, based on your height, weight and age.

For example, if I took a shot of tequila right now, the Virtual Bar estimates that my BAC would be 0.068 percent — enough for a DWAI. But if I'd had some pepperoni pizza 15 minutes before drinking, it would be around 0.047 percent. (Probably still a little too close for comfort.)

If you're bored at work, it doesn't hurt to check out the Virtual Bar. And if what you find surprises you, maybe you should buy a Breathalyzer.
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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

City Council denies appeal of Broadmoor expansion

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2019 at 11:27 AM

The Broadmoor’s main hotel, which dates back 101 years in Colorado Springs. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The Broadmoor’s main hotel, which dates back 101 years in Colorado Springs.

With a 8-1 vote, City Council denied an appeal May 15 of the Broadmoor hotel's plans to more than double the size of its exhibition hall.

Councilor Bill Murray was the sole dissenting vote.

The Broadmoor's plan to expand stemmed from the need to accommodate more exhibitors at the annual Space Symposium, which it's hosted for 35 years. The hotel also envisions a facility that could host multi-day events and conferences during "off-season" periods in the winter.

Since city staff approved the expansion plans Feb. 19, they've been appealed twice by residents of the neighborhood surrounding the hotel — first to the planning commission, which denied the appeal March 21, and then to Council.

Broadmoor neighborhood residents supporting the appeal took issue with the resort's exclusion of additional parking from its expansion plans, which would require running shuttles every 20 seconds at peak times. And they said the expansion doesn’t take into account evacuation needs, should there be a wildfire or other emergency.

The Broadmoor countered neighbors’ concerns about traffic and parking with a study that concluded shuttle use for the largest events — those drawing 9,000 attendees — would “create no negative impact to traffic operations for the surrounding roadway network and existing site access.”
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Friday, January 18, 2019

"Small house" community coming to Woodland Park

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2019 at 4:10 PM

Woodland Park developers think a planned “small house” community called the Village at Tamarac provides the answer to many people’s tiny-home dreams. But think “dreams” in terms of lifestyle, not cost — affordable housing experts say developments like these aren’t for those looking for a deal.

The Village at Tamarac will offer 53 models, says Pete LaBarre, one of the developers behind the project. The homes are a little too big to be considered “tiny homes,” which normally top out at 400 square feet.

Manufactured by Champion Home Builders, each small house — 500 square feet with a 500-square-foot crawl space — will cost about $115,000. While that may seem like a bargain, homebuyers won’t own the lots their homes sit on, and each site will cost an additional $600 to $700 a month to lease. In other words, it’s a similar setup to buying a mobile home, except the home can’t be moved elsewhere.

That could be a problem for some. Residents with fixed or low incomes who own homes in mobile home parks can struggle with lot rent increases. If rents become unaffordable, that can lead to foreclosure.

But LaBarre says his tenants are better protected than many mobile home owners. He’s offering all buyers a 99-year lease, and while there will be rent escalation provisions, LaBarre says they’re being included to “protect ourselves in the event of really high inflation.” It’s also worth noting that the developers won’t have an interest in the mortgages because they are not lending to homeowners, which sometimes happens in mobile home parks.

“Our passion is to try to bring more affordable, more obtainable housing, in this kind of price range where there just isn’t any,” LaBarre says.

But Jamie Pemberton, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Teller County, says developments like these won’t solve the area’s affordable housing problem. (A 2016 assessment identified the need for at least 741 affordable rental, workforce, senior and other housing units in Woodland Park.)

Let’s assume that you can make a 20-percent down payment of $23,000 on one of LaBarre’s small houses. If you have good credit, you could get a 30-year fixed loan and pay about $522 a month. But when you add the $600 monthly lot fee to that, you’re paying $1,122 a month to live in your small house for 30 years.

And theoretically, you’d have to keep paying $600 a month to lease the lot (though LaBarre says developers hope to sell the Village at Tamarac back to the community in five to seven years). If you purchased a $230,000 conventional home, on the other hand, and made the same down payment of $23,000, you could get a 30-year fixed loan of about $1,079 a month. (To be fair, it’s difficult to find a home in Woodland Park for $230,000 or less.)

“For homebuyers, [leasing land] is not what we recommend,” Pemberton says. “... We actually counsel our families that they can get caught up in this thinking.”

Susan Cummings, Habitat for Humanity’s homebuyer services coordinator, adds that tiny houses aren’t very family-friendly: “Where do you change the diapers? When somebody gets sick, how do you handle that?”
But LaBarre says the choice to purchase a tiny home “typically isn’t about affordability. It’s about lifestyle.” He expects many residents to pay cash for the homes, as he’s seen in longstanding Peak View Park, a Woodland Park RV and tiny house location that he co-owns.

“They like living in a smaller space,” LaBarre says. “... There’s less time spent cleaning the house, less time spent maintaining the house. So that translates to, in their view, and in my view, a better quality of life.”

LaBarre says overwhelming demand for spaces in Peak View Park led him and a few other developers, as the group M3XP2 LLC, to propose the new small house development.

They couldn’t expand the tiny house community at Peak View Park, LaBarre says, because Teller County’s building code no longer allows long-term residence in towable homes. Because the Village at Tamarac’s small houses will be secured by foundations, the development can follow the same building code as typical subdivisions.

The developers received preliminary approval from Woodland Park, LaBarre says, and plan to close on the property in February or March in time to have homes available in August.
Interest continues to grow — as of Jan. 17, there were already 34 people on the wait list. LaBarre says their demographics mirror those of residents of Peak View Park, which is most popular with single women, with and without children.

Wendy Hartshorn, vice president of marketing for the Village at Tamarac, says she’s moving to Peak View Park to start “a new chapter.”

“I’m able to simplify and cut costs. And I’m really excited.”
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Friday, November 16, 2018

Recycling report: Colorado still lags behind U.S.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 7:05 PM

Last year, the first-ever statewide survey of recycling rates showed Colorado recycled only 12 percent of its waste. Compared with the national average of 34 percent, it wasn't pretty.

This year's survey results — released Nov. 14, the day before America Recycles Day — aren't better. Colorado's rate stayed exactly the same.

The report, written by Eco-Cycle and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group and titled "The State of Recycling in Colorado: 2018," shows that in 2017, Coloradans created more than 9 million tons of waste. That's an average of 1.45 tons per resident.

“Colorado’s low recycling rate comes as a shock to most people who think of us as a ‘green’ state,” Kate Bailey, Eco-Cycle’s director of research and policy, is quoted in a statement. “The truth is, 95 percent of what we throw away could have been recycled or composted. With strong state leadership, Colorado is well-positioned to move forward quickly to realize the environmental and economic benefits of increased recycling."

On a county-by-county basis, Boulder County had the highest recycling rate: 40 percent, with Pitkin County coming in second at 30 percent. Denver County recycles 22 percent of its waste. But many counties, including El Paso County, don't track recycling rates.

Out of cities that collect data (most, like Colorado Springs, don't), Fort Collins came in first with a 55 percent overall rate. Boulder was a close second at 51 percent.

The report cites 2011 data from a one-time study that showed El Paso and Teller counties recycled just 11 percent of their waste.

The May closure of GOALZERO, a recycling program that provided a free drop-off point for recyclable materials in Colorado Springs, probably didn't help. There's currently just one place left in the city where residents can simply drop off recyclables: the Household Hazardous Waste Facility for El Paso County at 3255 Akers Drive.

The report did indicate some bright spots elsewhere in Colorado. Longmont increased its recycling rate by 5 percent, which researchers credit to a new curbside composting program. The city of Boulder bumped up its overall rate to 51 percent, attributed to a new ordinance that requires all businesses, apartments and homes to recycle and compost. And Pueblo opened its first public drop-off recycling center, possibly a first step to boosting the area's dismal 5 percent rate.

In Colorado Springs, waste disposal has long been a private service and the city doesn't have immediate plans to change that, says Skyler Leonard, city digital communications specialist. (El Paso County does have a recycling directory with information on how and where to recycle.)

Colorado's Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission adopted statewide and regional recycling goals last year that aim to increase the statewide rate to 28 percent by 2021 (32 percent for "Front Range" counties, which include El Paso County). Reaching that target would decrease carbon emissions at a level that is the equivalent of taking 485,000 cars off the road each year, the report says.

The ReWall Company, an Iowa-based business that recycles paper and plastic cartons into building materials, could help Colorado reach that goal thanks to a $1.5 million grant it received through the state's Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity Grant Program. The company plans to launch operations next year.

The report outlines several steps Governor-elect Jared Polis could take to improve recycling programs in Colorado:

1) Appoint a statewide recycling coordinator to coordinate with other state agencies and local governments to "create a comprehensive approach to building our new recycling economy."

2) Launch a "recycling market development initiative" to attract more remanufacturers (like ReWall) that keep recycled materials in local communities.

3) Create a statewide waste diversion funding task force to find ways to increase funding for recycling and other waste reduction programs.

4) Expand recycling and composting at state agencies, purchase compost for state projects, and set recycling goals for state construction projects.
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Friday, October 19, 2018

ReWall gets recycling grant to turn Colorado's cartons into buildings

Posted By on Fri, Oct 19, 2018 at 4:23 PM

ReWall's products include hail-resistant roof boards made from up-cycled cartons. - COURTESY OF THE REWALL COMPANY
  • Courtesy of The Rewall Company
  • ReWall's products include hail-resistant roof boards made from up-cycled cartons.

A company that produces building materials out of used packaging received an unprecedented $1.5 million grant to roll out operations in Colorado, where it could help to close the gap between our state and the rest of the country when it comes to recycling.

"There’s a little bit of a problem with landfilling in Colorado because it’s so cheap, so people don’t feel that need [to find] an alternative to it," says Jan Rayman, CEO of The ReWall Company. "So we like to think that we’re showing people a way [to] think outside the box."

The company, which has honed its manufacturing process in Iowa for the last seven years, plans to open a facility in a yet-undetermined location, probably near Denver, by April of next year. While ReWall will only need 15 employees to start — most of the process of shredding, melting and producing building materials is automated — Rayman says ReWall will feed local economies by incentivizing waste companies to add the people and infrastructure needed to collect, sort and deliver packaging to be transformed into building materials.

The funding for ReWall's Colorado launch comes from the state's Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity Grant Program, created in 2008 to promote economic development through recycling. Funded by tipping fees from state landfills, the program has provided close to $20 million for recycling infrastructure to businesses, local governments, nonprofits, schools and universities since its start.

And ReWall is getting an unusually big share of the pie. As the program’s total yearly budget — including staff and operations — is around $3.5 million, most grants are in the ballpark of $200,000 to $225,000, says Eric Heyboer, RREO’s program administrator.

“It was definitely the biggest grant we’ve ever awarded to a single entity through our program here at the state,” Heyboer says. “But, we felt it was very much justified because [ReWall is] basically bringing an end-market solution to paper cartons.”

Normally, Heyboer says, materials such as milk jugs and orange juice containers are usually shipped out of state for processing if they’re even recycled at all. That's because these containers often consist of different materials, such as plastic caps, paper and aluminum, making them hard to recycle.

But ReWall's manufacturing process uses the entire container, Rayman says, taking advantage of the plastic coating as a binder. The process involves shredding and melting the material but doesn't require any water to separate the layers, making it more eco-friendly.

These recycled material roof boards are class 4 hail resistant, and made in custom sizes. - COURTESY OF THE REWALL COMPANY
  • Courtesy of The Rewall Company
  • These recycled material roof boards are class 4 hail resistant, and made in custom sizes.

Colorado lags behind the rest of the nation when it comes to recycling. Though its residents are known for spending time outdoors, a 2017 report by Eco-Cycle and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group found that the state only recycles 12 percent of its waste. The national average is 34 percent.

ReWall might help Colorado narrow that gap. The company's goal is to drive the "local circle economy," where waste remains in a community and serves a new purpose.

"I’m a firm believer that construction is actually one of the very few, if not the only other industry that has the capacity to absorb the volumes that we’re producing as waste," Rayman says.

ReWall's products, because they're made from FDA-approved food packaging, are also more healthy and environmentally friendly than traditional building products that use toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, Rayman adds.
"We provide a healthy alternative," he says. "We stopped calling our product green because there’s a lot of greenwashing out there. People can call green, everything that saves them a little bit of energy or a little bit of money, but no. This is a healthy product that actually a lot of people seek out — a lot of people with environmental sensitivities would seek ReWall out to build their homes from because they’re allergic to the traditional products."
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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Pueblo could become "Colorado's clean energy hub" with coal plant closures

Posted By on Wed, Sep 5, 2018 at 1:00 AM

  • Jeffrey Beall

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission gave Xcel Energy unanimous verbal approval Aug. 27 to close two of the three coal-fired units at Pueblo's Comanche Generating Station, 10 years ahead of schedule.

Xcel will also invest $2.5 billion in renewable energy, including wind and solar generation and battery storage, as part of its Colorado Energy Plan. The plan was approved Aug. 27 by a 2-to-1 vote, says Utilities Commission spokesperson Terry Bote.

Currently, about 80 people work at Comanche Generating Station's two coal-fired units, Xcel spokesperson Michelle Aguayo says. Some current employees will be retiring when the units close in 2022 and 2025, she adds, and the rest will be trained to work in other jobs with the company.

One future project would include a new solar facility to power Pueblo's EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel, though that project needs to secure approval from the Utilities Commission separately. Xcel and EVRAZ recently agreed to a 22-year contract that clears the way for a potential $500 million expansion at the steel plant, the Pueblo Chieftain reports.

Xcel estimates that its new energy plan will mean Colorado could get 53 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2026 — an increase from 28 percent last year. The company also predicts the plan will save ratepayers $213 million, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions 60 percent from 2005 levels (though Bote says some Utilities Commission staff members thought those figures were overstated).

In 2017, 44 percent of Colorado's energy came from coal. The new plan would reduce coal dependence to just 24 percent by 2026, Xcel claims.

“By making this step change now, we reduce future fuel costs for the long term – and we can pass those savings directly along to our customers,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy—Colorado, is quoted in a company statement from the plan's June unveiling. “Our plan takes a significant step forward in transitioning our supply mix to cleaner and more diverse resources, benefiting our customers and the environment.”

Xcel's Colorado Energy Plan also includes solar and wind projects in Adams, Baca, Boulder, Kit Carson/Cheyenne, Morgan, Park and Weld counties. Pueblo County would be a leader, with 525 megawatts of solar power and 225 megawatts of battery storage.

“With approval of this plan, Pueblo is poised to become Colorado’s clean energy hub," David Cockrell, chair of the Colorado Sierra Club's Conservation Committee, is quoted in an Aug. 27 statement from the Sierra Club.

A new partnership between Pueblo Community College and NextEra Energy Resources would also push the city closer to that goal. NextEra plans to install 52 solar panels on Pueblo’s campus, and “provide training and curriculum to help the college create a pipeline of skilled workers for the rapidly evolving industry,” according to an Aug. 24 statement from the school.

The number of solar-panel installer jobs in the U.S. was expected to more than double between 2016 and 2026, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs Utilities has two solar projects coming online in 2020, after which 15 percent of its energy portfolio will come from renewable sources, says Utilities spokesperson Amy Trinidad. Currently, 11 percent of Utilities’ portfolio comes from renewables.

Colorado Springs’ controversial Martin Drake Power Plant, built in 1925, is slated to close no later than 2035 — though the Utilities Board, which is made up of City Council members, has toyed with the idea of accelerating the deadline.

Trinidad says the earliest the utility could have the infrastructure in place to allow for the closure would be 2023.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting.
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Springs is big with small businesses

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 6:00 AM

  • Pixabay

According to, Colorado Springs has lots of little reasons to celebrate.

Between last year and this year, the city bumped up its "B" score in "overall friendliness" to an "A+" on the site's Small Business Friendliness Survey, which ranks 57 cities based on factors such as licensing requirements, tax regulations, and labor and hiring regulations.

Colorado Springs outshone many of its peers, coming in at No. 4 nationwide. (Though it's government websites got a big, fat "F." Ouch.)

The survey is based on the input of 7,500 small business owners across the country, says.

Here's the city's full report card:

Employment, labor and hiring: A
Licensing: A
Tax code: A-
Training and networking programs: A-
Ease of hiring: B
Regulations: B
Ease of starting a business: C+
Government websites: F

The city, clearly, still has some studying to do on a couple of subjects (*cough* technology *cough*) but notes in an Aug. 14 statement that "Recognizing usability challenges, the city launched a redesigned website in the spring."

TBD whether that makes a difference next year — if so, Colorado Springs could climb even higher. This year, Fort Worth, Texas, topped the list, followed by San Antonio, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio.

The state of Colorado earned a "C+" in overall friendliness, and Denver got a "C-." We're unimpressed.
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