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New West Daily Roundup for Aug. 11, 2016

Today in New West news: California puts regional grid plan on hold, New York teens in Montana, and pumpkins in the Treasure Valley.

Over the past few months, we’ve been reporting on an initiative from The Golden State to create a regional grid for energy, which would allow states to “exchange” renewable energy based on need. For instance, in a regional grid, California could transfer some of its solar power to Wyoming or Utah, while the latter could transfer wind power back to California when they need it. That’s the dream, anyhow. And according to the L.A. Times, the dream has been put on hold for now:

[California Governor Jerry Brown] and state regulators hope more interstate cooperation would eventually help spread clean energy through the region, increasing the market for renewable sources such as solar and wind. But there have been persistent concerns about whether the plan would undermine California’s environmental efforts or reduce its control over the grid, a residual worry a little more than a decade since the state’s energy crisis.

“While very significant progress has been made … there remain some important unresolved questions that would be difficult to answer in the remainder of this legislative session,” Brown wrote in a letter to top lawmakers Monday.

The plan would have allowed PacifiCorp, a utility that operates in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and parts of Northern California, to merge with California’s electricity grid. The integration would have saved customers $1.5 billion a year by 2030, according to the California Independent System Operator, or Cal-ISO, a Folsom-based nonprofit that manages electricity markets and transmission for most of the state.


Although legislation passed last year included a provision expressing support for the big-grid idea, lawmakers would need to approve a new measure to allow the state to move forward. That’s now on hold until next year, and in the meantime Brown said his administration would keep working with lawmakers.

“The goal is to develop a strong proposal that the Legislature can consider in January,” he wrote in his letter. “I’m confident that by working together we can get the job done.”

Expansion of Cal-ISO’s authority would likely require a structuring of the agency’s governing board to include members from other states, meaning California would possibly surrender some of its control.

Control was one aspect that Utah legislators (including Governor Gary Herbert) cited in their opposition to the grid.

Up in Montana, the state’s scenic and animal treasures draw appreciators from across the globe. Some, however, do more than appreciate. Like William Quizhpi of the Bronx who, according to the Billings Gazette, spent some time in the Treasure State as part of an academic outreach program, and learned more about himself in the process:

Quizhpi visited the American Prairie Reserve south of Malta for 10 days in July as part of an SEO Scholars trip. SEO, Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, is an academic program that helps low-income high school students attend college.

American Prairie Reserve first partnered with SEO last year to give the city students an immersive introduction to rural life, the Montana prairie, bison, dinosaurs, prairie dogs, a rodeo, county fair and American Indians.

“It’s directly in line with our goal for public access and enjoyment of that biosphere,” said Hilary Parker, communications and outreach manager for American Prairie Reserve.

Founded in 2004, the nonprofit American Prairie Reserve is working to create the largest nature reserve in the United States by purchasing ranches in central Montana. As part of that goal the group is also working to restore native species, such as bison, to the prairie.

It’s a place that appealed to Quizhpi, despite its removal from anything he has ever known or experienced.

“I miss it very much,” he said. “I had never been to the Mountain West, and I just imagined it was going to be in the middle of nowhere. There was some of that, but it was also really beautiful. I loved the prairie, hiking and the wildlife. Around here in New York we don’t have such beautiful landscapes.”

Quizhpi moved to the United States from Ecuador when he was 8 to join his parents, who had immigrated north in search of “the American dream,” he said. Because of his native heritage, Quizhpi was especially intrigued by the SEO group’s trip to the Fort Belknap Indian Community.

During that portion of the visit, Quizhpi said the group helped a tribal medicine woman collect medicinal plants such as sweetgrass and yarrow. The lesson he took away from the experience was that the plants had given up their lives for him, so he should give thanks to the plants.

The visit for the high school senior was so transformative that he’s now considering “taking the risk” to attend college at the University of Montana and expanding his studies to include field biology after his contact with a variety of scientists during the APR trip.

“It felt welcoming,” he said. “The people there were really friendly and open.”

Finally, over in Idaho, the Snake River Economic Development Alliance are trying to germinate a new industry in the Treasure Valley, one they say could yield big payoffs: pumpkin seeds. According to the Idaho Business Review, Kit Kamo, the Alliance’s executive director, is coordinating with six farmers between Boise and Ontario, Oregon to plant 30 acres of pumpkins in a trial harvest. The dream? To eventually produce upward of five million pounds of pumpkin seeds per annum and attract pumpkin seed processors to the Valley. From the Review:

The Snake River region now produces 25 percent of the U.S. supply of onions, as well as potatoes, corn, wheat, barley, alfalfa, grass hay, beans, sugar beets, and peppers. It also produces seed crops such as turnip, onion, lettuce, kale, alfalfa, clover, corn, and radish.

Naked, or hull-less, pumpkin seeds are now grown in western Oregon, northern California, New York, and a few other areas. But there aren’t enough grown to keep up with demand for domestic seeds, Kamo said. She said the Snake River region is a good fit because of its rich soil, longer growing season and irrigation water.

“We also have a large number of farmers who are innovative and are trying to push the industry forward,” Kamo said. She’s working with a researcher at the University of New Hampshire to get Idaho and Oregon farmers the information they need for success with pumpkin seeds.


Kamo got the idea for the venture at a natural food conference three years ago in Oregon, where she learned from seed processors including Skout from Portland, Ore. and SuperSeedz from North Haven, Conn. that natural grocers such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods were trying to find domestic pumpkin seeds instead of seeds from China, where most pumpkin seeds are now grown.

“We know we can grow most pumpkin varieties here, but we do not know if it will be profitable and if we can build or retrofit for the necessary harvesting and processing equipment,” Kamo said. “If we are able to grow and process them, then it would make sense to recruit the end users to our area! Why ship them to other states for seasoning and roasting?”

According to the Review, Idaho currently does not have the capability to gather pumpkin seeds on a large scale. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, announced it was awarding the Alliance $91,000 in grant money to purchase equipment.

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