Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Large rural cooperative is adding solar projects in Colorado in an effort to expand 'cleaner power' options

Tri-State service territory in blue (Tri-State photo)
Once a stalwart provider of coal-powered energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association will purchase Axial Basin Solar, a 145-megawatt project in Moffat County, Colorado, and Dolores Canyon Solar, a 110-​megawatt project in Dolores County, Colorado, reports Julian Spector of Canary Media. The acquisitions are part of the company's new commitment to providing cleaner energy to its "massive western service territory."

Tri-State is one of the largest rural cooperative utilities in the United States, and it provides power to customers in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska. "The customer base spans 200,000 square miles, more land than the entirety of California," Spector writes. "Just a few years ago, two member cooperatives quit Tri-State to seek cheaper, cleaner power elsewhere. Since then, Tri-State has rolled out a series of clean energy commitments."

Benefit changes within the Inflation Reduction Act have made switching to renewable energy more financially doable for cooperatives. Spector explains, "Chief among them is a ​'direct pay' option that lets nonprofits access the same generous clean energy tax credits as their for-profit peers — even with little to no tax burden. Once Tri-State’s leadership saw clarity on the tax rules, they decided this was the time to strike."

Tri-State is working to provide a balance of energy that will be dependable, affordable and as clean as safely possible. "Now the utility sees ample savings and benefits for its customers in maximizing low-cost renewable generation while ensuring it has enough ​'firm' power — today provided by coal and fossil gas plants — to keep the lights on," Spector reports. "The utility recently hit a new record for instantaneous renewable production on May 24, when wind and solar delivered 87% of its generation for half an hour."

Rural Florida community makes dramatic changes to prep for a new airport; an opportunity to 'move the needle'

Becoming home base for a major airport hub takes
monumental community efforts. (Adobe Stock photo)
When your community is surrounded by swamps and has low education levels, opportunities to gain infrastructure dollars don't come often, which is why rural Hendry County, Florida, is taking on the challenge of proving it can provide for the new "Airglades" airport," reports Nick Fouriezos of Open Campus. "The $300 million cargo hub could transform [the county] economy. . . . Local leaders see the project as a generational opportunity that could bring more than 1,400 new high-skilled jobs to their largely agricultural community at the edge of the Everglades." 

To reach their labor goals, Hendry community developers must educate and train their workforce to meet a dynamic shift in educational and labor needs. Getting that done is daunting. Fouriezos explains, "A third of Hendry County’s working-age adults lack a high-school diploma. And almost half speak a language other than English at home. Educators must first help them earn their GEDs and learn English."

The area must also work through logistics to transform its small private airport into a major U.S.-Latin America trading zone.

Location of Hendry County
(Adobe Stock map)
With help from the FutureMakers Coalition, a community organization that spearheads education retraining efforts, the county has opened two adult education centers. Fouriezos reports, "Spanish-speaking students have filled the adult education center in LaBelle, the 5,000-person county seat. . . . Even before the airport arrives, there are still plenty of local employers waiting to hire the students."

Part of the challenge of providing all the training and teaching was finding teachers. Michael Swindle, the county schools superintendent, "had to recruit a U.S. sugar worker to teach welding and coaxed a school bus mechanic out of retirement to lead the diesel mechanics program," Fouriezos adds. "Still, the program has been so successful the county is using tuition revenue and donations to open another training facility in LaBelle focused on HVAC and plumbing."

Swindle told Fouriezos: "We’re not just talking about an airport. We’re looking at this as an opportunity to move the needle on unemployment, on poverty, to a better place.”

Report: Chicken plant in West Virginia has recorded a number of serious injuries; immigrants 'shoulder' more risks

Chicken segmentation line (Adobe Stock photo)
Working in any U.S. factory comes with some risk of injury, but immigrant workers at Pilgrim’s Pride’s chicken factory in Moorefield, West Virginia, have faced compounded dangers, according to a report.

"Over the past 30 years, thousands have left their homelands and come to Moorefield to work at West Virginia’s only industrial poultry plant," reports Allen Siegler of Mountain State Spotlight. "Seeking safety and a better life, they’ve often faced unsafe working conditions. . . . Throughout the last decade, Pilgrim’s Moorefield plant has been one of the most dangerous non-coal industrial workplaces in West Virginia."

Large knives, saws and automated equipment make poultry production inherently dangerous. This plant has had a number of documented injuries. "From 2015 to late 2023, 12 factory employees had workplace injuries that led to amputations or overnight hospitalizations, according to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration," Siegler writes. Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA chief of staff, told Siegler, "This is a red flag on safety conditions in the plant."

Federal data doesn't include all injuries. Siegler explains, "In 2022 and 2023, local paramedics responded to calls to the Moorefield factory 138 times — about once every five days — according to the Hardy County Emergency Ambulance Authority. . . . In a state in which 91% of residents are white, a disproportionate amount of the danger is shouldered by the plant’s large immigrant workforce."

Immigrant workers often fear deportation should they speak up about workplace dangers or ask questions about how a job should be done. Others don't speak English, so a job at the Moorefield plant is one of their few options, Siegler reports. 

Despite efforts to get local or corporate Pilgrim's Pride officials to comment, "they didn’t answer a letter with over a dozen questions related to this story," Siegler writes. "A recent lawsuit against major American poultry corporations, including Pilgrim’s Pride, alleged the companies recruited vulnerable immigrant workers to staff some of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. . . . Pilgrim’s denied these allegations and said the workers’ lawyers were selectively pulling unflattering quotes from various reports and people."

Opinion: Farmers are working to bridge the producer-consumer divide. Here are ideas on how to do it.

GMO crops still make some Americans leery. Explaining what
they are can help create understanding. (Adobe Stock photo)
Some Americans believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Some think Genetically Modified Organism crops, also known as GMOs, can cause autism. While neither of these ideas is true, they are examples of how removed many Americans are from their food sources, which is something U.S. farmers are working to change, writes Holly Spangler in her opinion piece for Prairie Farmer.

Since the early 2000s, U.S. farmers have invested millions of dollars "to help consumers understand where their food comes from and how modern ag helps feed the world," Spangler explains. "To fight the agriculture disconnect, the Illinois Farm Families Coalition has produced two Super Bowl commercials, bussed moms to farms, bussed farmers to Chicago, and reminded Illinoisians that farm families own and operate 96% of all farms in Illinois, via the We Are the 96 campaign."

But as long as Americans remain uncertain about where and how their food is produced, there will be a significant degree of distrust between farmers and consumers. "A 2022 University of Minnesota study revealed that just 24% of U.S. adults have a high degree of trust in the information they receive about food production," Spangler writes. "Only 27% of all survey respondents said they had a 'very favorable' impression of U.S. agriculture and food production. . . . It’s no surprise that farmers feel misunderstood or even under attack."

How can the farmer-to-consumer information breakdown be repaired? Through connection. Spangler explains, "What really connects with consumers? Shared values. When you share that you worry about the safety of your drinking water the same way they do, they will pay attention. And when you share that you want your family to eat healthy and safe food the way they do, they will listen."

When farmers share their values, such as humane animal
treatment, they can reconnect with consumers. (AS photo)
Even when connections can't be immediately forged, Spangler says, "There's still plenty to talk about. . . . Like, explaining the science behind GMO crops and how they don’t cause cancer, autism, allergies or gluten intolerance. . . . Arm yourself with good news. I often think back to farmer Mike Martz telling a group of Chicago women about the healthy and unhealthy fats in steak. 'The fat in the marbling is actually monounsaturated fat. That’s the healthy fat, like olive oil. We call those flecks of flavor!' Martz said. The unhealthy fat? That’s the thick white stuff on the outside that you usually cut off."

Bring the facts and be ready to have a conversation. Spangler adds, "Statistics don’t change people’s minds. People change people’s minds."

Flora & Fauna: Canine pals help veterans with PTSD; finding rice paddies in Appalachia; welcoming bats; go fish!

Psychiatric service dogs can help veterans cope with
PTSD. (Adobe Stock photo)
U.S. veterans or military workers who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can feel and function better with the help of a psychiatric service dog, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open. Veterans with a canine pal "endured less severe symptoms and experienced significantly less depression and anxiety." This is the first NIH-funded study — and the largest ever — to focus on service dogs for military-related PTSD. It’s also the first study on this topic to use blind ratings, meaning that clinicians who assessed patients’ outcomes didn’t know whether they had a dog or not." Read the study and findings here.

Colorful, savory and full of history are a few ways to describe this heritage rice. "Black shell, red, purple, white and green. The Laotian rice that thrives in the North Carolina foothills is a treasure to Hmong farmers – and a revelation to others," writes Sheri Castle for The Bitter Southerner. "I never figured I’d be in a rice paddy at all, much less one in the Appalachian foothills of Western North Carolina. I was about an hour from where I’d grown up, but a world away. It was like finding a pearl in a potato."

When you go fishing, you can make memories and dinner. Having fun while snagging fish is what the group "Let's Go Fishing" aims to do through fishing boat tours for seniors, veterans, disabled adults and children. "We’re always looking for new communities to serve. If there’s a lake, we can help you put a pontoon on it and bring the joy of fishing to more people." Find out about starting a chapter.

Purple coneflowers are now common in
home gardens. (Adode Stock photo)
Once called weeds, native prairie plants are returning to their natural habitats through gardening education. "We find ourselves in the age of the pollinator plant, and the pollinator garden, and interest keeps growing. But it wasn’t always so," reports Margaret Roach of The New York Times. Expert gardener Neil Diboll remembers when purple coneflowers weren't welcome, but around 1989, sentiment changed. Diboll told Roach, “Purple coneflower was elevated from wildflower to quote-unquote perennial, and it was allowed inside the garden gate. . . . It paved the way for other native flowers and grasses to enter."

Hedge parsley is sometimes called
'Burn it.' (Nativetexaspark photo)
Gardening delight can go sour when it turns out those lovely white buds are invaders. "Torilis arvensis, known as hedge parsley has reedy stalks with tops that explode in tiny white flowers come springtime. It grows quickly and can be found in most regions of Texas, but it’s not native to the state or even the country," reports Amanda O’Donnell for Texas Monthly. "The plant has seeds that present as minuscule, stubborn burrs after a bloom, notorious for embedding themselves in clothes, animal fur, leg hair, and absolutely anything else that can aid in their proliferation." Hedge parsley isn't the only invader. "Many Texans have added bastard cabbage, or Rapistrum rugosum, to their list of vegetal enemies." To read how to remove or burn these interlopers, click here.

Bats are picky about their real estate options.
(Adobe Stock photo)

Bats are a farmer's best friend when eradicating crop-destroying bugs such as codling moth larvae -- but there's a catch. "Scientists have discovered significant effectiveness of bats for orchard pests. But the nighttime hunters are fickle about where they settle down," reports Sarah Derouin of Ambrook Research. To get bats to live and breed in an orchard area means creating spaces that are as bat-friendly as possible. "Agroforestry practices of incorporating trees into agricultural landscapes can go a long way for farm biodiversity and bat support. Treelines or patches of trees can provide bats with alternate places to forage while different cycles of pests emerge throughout the season."