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New West Daily Roundup for Nov. 16, 2016

Today in New West news: Microsoft buys wind to power Cheyenne data center, Denver tourism wants 50M annual visitors by 2025, growth in Bozeman, and U.S. cancels energy leases in Badger-Two Medicine area.

According to the Casper Star Tribune, Microsoft Corp. has purchased 237 megawatts of wind power from a farm located just west of its data center in Cheyenne—the largest wind purchase in the company’s history, enough to power the whole center. Per Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, the deal will keep Microsoft “on a course to build a greener, more responsible cloud.” From the Tribune:

Microsoft contracted with Black Hills Energy to buy 59 megawatts worth of renewable energy credits from the Happy Jack and Silver Sage wind projects. The wind farms are located west of the Microsoft data center.

Black Hills Energy, the local utility company, is a subsidiary of Black Hills Corp. Black Hills Corp. is based in Rapid City, South Dakota, and serves 1.2 million natural gas and electric utility customers in eight states.

Microsoft also signed an agreement with Allianz Risk Transfer for 178 megawatts of wind energy from the new Bloom Wind project in Kansas.

The combined output of the Bloom and Happy Jack/Silver Sage projects will produce enough each year to cover the energy used at the Cheyenne data center, a news release said.

The 59 megawatts that Black Hills Energy provides from the wind farms could serve an estimated 21,000 residential customers a year, said Chris Kilpatrick, director of resource planning for Black Hills Energy.

Microsoft’s purchase brings its total investment in wind energy in the United States to more than 500 megawatts. The company wants to have 50 percent of its data center energy usage come from wind, hydropower and solar sources by 2018, Brian Janous said in a telephone interview Monday. He is the director of energy strategy for Microsoft.

So far, that total has reached about 44 percent.

In addition, the Tribune reports Microsoft’s purchase could actually reduce customers’ bills slightly at Black Hills Energy.

Over in Colorado, according to the Denver Post, Visit Denver has announced an ambitious plan for the future of tourism in and around the Front Range, calling for 50 million visitors per annum:

The Denver Tourism Roadmap — unveiled Tuesday at the convention bureau’s annual meeting — charts the next decade of tourism growth. The plan aims to grow total visitation to 50 million from 28.4 million, increase the number of overnight visitors from 16.4 million to 25 million and grow the spending by those overnight visitors by $4 billion.

“With Denver’s growing supply of new hotel rooms, airline seats, restaurants and attractions, it’s hard to overstate the significance of tourism as an economic driver,” Visit Denver president Richard Scharf said in a statement. “The Denver Tourism Roadmap provides a smart growth strategy to drive demand for new tourists while enhancing the quality of life for our residents.”

“Responsible tourism” is the new buzz for tourism cheerleaders in Colorado. It’s not about just any heads in beds. It’s about the right heads. The Colorado Tourism Office is pushing sustainable tourism as a way to direct the state’s swelling number of visitors and vacationing residents toward the overlooked corners of the state.

Visit Denver’s plan hinges on the planned expansion of the Colorado Convention Center and the National Western Center, as well as signature events to lure more overnight visitors. Attracting more business travelers attending conferences and vacationers hitting events like the Great American Beer Festival are cornerstones of the new strategy.

Other highlighted components among the 70 initiatives planned for the next decade include promoting the city’s attractions and creating branded tours showcasing the city’s culture; expanding international air service and improving connections between downtown and Denver’s neighborhoods; improving the 16th Street Mall experience and bolstering the city’s brand as a vacation destination.

Up in Montana, the question of growth in Bozeman has been a hot button issue for many residents and city officials, with especial focus on housing density. Another facet of the growth question: wages. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, citing information from Portland, Oregon-based Leland Consulting Group, Bozeman isn’t big enough at the moment to offer industries enough incentive to grant raises, leaving skilled worked between a rock and a hard place:

The conversation came as commissioners discussed a new economic development plan for the city, prepared by the consulting group as an update to the city’s previous guiding document, which dated to 2009.

With a critical mass of companies in particular sectors such as software development or outdoor gear manufacturing, employers often offer higher wages to keep employees from jumping ship to another job in their field.

Having more robust industry clusters would also make relocating to Bozeman an easier sell to highly skilled workers, [Leland employee Alisa] Pyszka said, because they would have other local options if their initial job doesn’t work out.

She also said the city should think about its economy in terms of “local sector” companies whose primary customers are locals and who circulate money within the regional economy, and “traded sector” companies with products that generate revenue from other places.

In terms of economic development, she said, it makes sense for the city to focus on boosting clusters of traded sector firms, as they can pull money into the local economy and provide high-paying jobs. In turn, the employees of those firms can spend their wages locally, boosting local sector businesses such as restaurants and construction operations.

The new economic plan doesn’t represent a significant shift for the city and its two-person economic development staff, commissioners said, with city efforts remaining focused less on recruiting businesses from elsewhere than nurturing home-grown industries, as well as investing in infrastructure like the Bozeman Fiber network.

Commissioner Jeff Krauss said he appreciates that the city is working at being less passive when it comes to economic development, saying that historical plans have amounted to “If we have nice trails, people will come.”

Finally, keeping with Montana, we have an update regarding drilling leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area located in northern Montana. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the Interior Department has canceled 15 oil and gas leases held by Oklahoma-based Devon Energy since the 1980s. The Badger-Two Medicine area, long held sacred by the Blackfoot tribes, is also located near Glacier National Park.

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