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New West Daily Roundup for June 3, 2016

Today in New West news: Next Frontier Capital raises $21M for Montana companies, an update on Bears Ears, and Boulder wants to intervene in Xcel’s planned $1B wind farm.

Next Frontier Capital, a Bozeman-based venture capital firm, just closed its inaugural fundraising—and the results are pretty spectacular. All told, the firm raised $21,125,000 million—to be put toward the Treasure State’s technology and healthcare industry, according to general partners Will Price and Richard Harjes. From a Next Frontier press release:

Will and Richard bring experience and expertise in venture capital, investment management, and in starting and growing successful technology-driven companies. Next Frontier Capital seeks to lead or co-lead venture investments in Montana industries and expects to invest $200,000 to $1,500,000 in promising ventures. The Fund has made three Montana investments over the last year, in biotech, software and clean water technology – firms connected by traits of high intellectual property, capital efficiency and fast growth, addressing markets at a national and global scale.

“In Montana, we have a tradition of entrepreneurship, high university and commercial research activity and quality venture investment candidates,” said Price and Harjes. “Yet, Montana is severely undercapitalized, oftentimes leaving opportunity for innovation, job creation and economic growth unrealized. At Next Frontier Capital, we understand this opportunity to serve as a trusted, local syndicate partner to non-Montana venture capital firms, while providing Montana entrepreneurs with company formation, growth expertise and accelerated access to talent, partners, and customers. This positions Next Frontier Capital to consider non-Montana investment candidates on a select basis, as well.”

Founded in 2015, Next Frontier Capital has already placed several prominent investments with three Montana companies:

• SiteOne Therapeutics, a Bozeman-based pain therapy company, aimed at treating acute and chronic pain without the use of opioids and NSAIDs.
• Submittable, a Missoula-based online document manager, often use to securely submit to publishers, publications, and other organizations.
• Clearas: a Missoula-based water treatment company centered on using algae-based biotech to treat municipal and industrial wastewater discharge.

Over in Utah, we’ve been following developments in the Bears Ears National Monument story. For quick summary: a coalition of tribal nations formed last year have petitioned President Obama to designate 1.9 million acres of Utah land around Bears Ears buttes, which encompasses innumerable artifacts and five sacred areas. The coalition is calling for a national monument because they feel it’s the only way to guarantee protection of the region’s cultural treasures, which have been the subject of looting and vandalism.

We previously reported that U.S. Representatives Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop (both R-UT) were seeking to incorporate most of the coalition’s proposed monument into their Public Lands Initiative—as a 1.2 million acre National Conservation Area, not a monument. The coalition has also drawn criticism from select quarters of the Navajo Nation, alleging a national monument designation would prevent tribes from wood-gathering and other traditions, something the coalition flatly denies. We also reported that Utah legislators were accusing the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition as being a front for environmentalists, something the Coalition has, once again, denied outright.

Further, according to Phoenix New Times, an unknown entity has been circulating fliers which purport, among other things, that if Bears Ears becomes a national monument, tribes will be barred from entering the area to conduct traditional activities and ceremonies. Further, the fliers allege the Department of the Interior is planning to downsize the Navajo Nation by four million acres. And, to cap it off, one flier says when the monument is designated, Navajo tribe members will be banned from attending the ceremony. Needless to say, these documents are forged.

It seems unlikely that opposition to the project will curb in the short term. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah Governor Gary Herbert and U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) visited the area to meet with “opponents” of the Coalition’s proposal, saying a national monument would be against everyone’s interests. Indeed, one of the most prominent opponents—Rebecca Benally, a San Juan County commissioner and Navajo Nation member—has said the Coalition is deceiving tribe members; she even accused proponents of looting gravesites to drum up sympathy for the proposal. From the Tribune:

Benally said most Navajos want to see the land protected, but as a National Conservation Area that could be created under the Public Lands Initiative that would provide a lower level of protection to an area of about 1.2 million acres.

Herbert argued the Public Lands Initiative would not only protect the Bears Ears, but would resolve nagging land management issues on 18 million acres of Utah land.

Hatch said the White House and Interior Department have expressed a willingness to let the Public Lands Initiative run its course, but he acknowledged that there isn’t much time to get the bill through Congress.

Chaffetz’s chief of staff, Fred Ferguson, said staff members are revising the lands bill based on feedback from stakeholders to an earlier version and working closely with White House and Interior staff. A new, refined version of the proposal may be out in the near future, possibly just a few weeks.

But Ferguson says if the Public Lands Initiative doesn’t pass by the end of the year, it’s likely that Obama will use his power under the Antiquities Act to create the monument before leaving office.

Finally, over in Colorado, we previously reported Xcel Energy had filed paperwork to build a $1 billion wind warm in eastern Colorado, spanning 90,000 acres, with the intent of producing enough power for 180,000 homes. If approved, the farm could be up and running by late 2018. According to the Boulder Daily Camera, however, the city of Boulder (along with a dozen agencies/government bodies) have filed a petition asking to intervene in the project. Boulder, of course, is seeking to separate from Xcel and generate their own power through a municipal electric utility. According to Boulder spokeswoman Sarah Huntley, the city wants a say in how the project develops, saying they don’t oppose the wind farm but have questions about the process. From the Daily Camera:

If Boulder is granted intervener status, the city would essentially win a voice during evidentiary hearings on the matter, which are expected to run until early next year, at the latest. Boulder would have the right to cross-examine witnesses and conduct discovery with other parties — a privilege that many others also seek in this case.

To achieve that, the city must prove it has a financial stake in the outcome.

“If Xcel Energy owns this wind farm, they get to charge a 10 percent return on investment,” Huntley said, “and they charge it back to ratepayers. If they own this facility, there will be an impact on rates that all customers share,” including Boulder’s — particularly if the city’s bid to municipalize fails.

The other prospective interveners include the city and county of Denver, Interwest Energy Alliance and four electric associations — Intermountain Rural, Yampa Valley, Holy Cross Energy and Grand Valley Power — jointly filing. The PUC staff, which can intervene by right and has a trial staff that does so in most cases, is also on the list, as are at least five others.

[…]

Huntley said the city has not yet taken a formal position on the wind farm project.

“We haven’t decided,” she said. “We’re just saying, ‘Hold on a minute.’ It doesn’t make sense that they’re filing this as a separate proceeding 18 days before they knew they’d be filing a new [Electric Resources Plan].

“We want a chance to intervene because we want to make sure that this decision is made both in context of their larger ERP and with an understanding that demand for Xcel Energy could go down if we end up creating the utility and we don’t want to purchase as much from them.”

Meanwhile, Boulder remains in the midst of evaluation of data Xcel gave the city May 19 as part of a discovery process allowed by the PUC after it ruled in November that Boulder can’t acquire Xcel facilities that exclusively serve customers outside city limits.

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