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Home » Northern Idaho » Business » New West Daily Roundup for Oct. 18, 2016
Courtesy of Solar Roadways

New West Daily Roundup for Oct. 18, 2016

Today in New West news: Solar Roadways in Idaho, pallid sturgeon vs. dam along the Yellowstone River, PillPack eyes Utah expansion, and BLM tables Wyoming wild horse gathering.

With America’s energy future shaping up to be a battle between older sources such as coal and oil and newer potentials like wind and solar, many people are looking to make their mark in the debate by providing innovative answers to the energy needs of millions. One potential, intriguing solution? Solar panels you can walk on.

According to the Idaho Statesman, Scott Brusaw of Sandpoint-based Solar Roadways has an ambitious goal: to replace all of America’s concrete and asphalt with “solar-powered glass pavers.” If the proposal sounds farfetched, Brewsaw’s got numbers to back him up. From the Statesman:


Solar Roadways is among a growing number of companies embracing renewable energy as the U.S. aims to reduce carbon emissions by one-third from 2005 levels by 2030.

But it is the only business receiving federal highway research money in pursuit of solar road panels, part of the Federal Highway Administration’s efforts to fight climate change, said Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the agency in Washington, D.C.

Brusaw and his wife, Julie, got the idea for their Idaho business after watching the Al Gore movie “An Inconvenient Truth” and deciding they also wanted to join the battle against global warming.

They aren’t the only ones eyeing roads and sidewalks as a potential energy source. A solar bike path was built in the Netherlands in 2014, and Germany and France have announced plans to build solar roads in the future.

The Brusaws hope to beat them into mass production. Incorporated in 2006, Solar Roadways has received three FHA grants, totaling $1.6 million, and funding from the state and a local economic development agency. It also drew 50,000 donors who raised $2.2 million on Indiegogo, a crowd-sourcing site.


Solar Roadways has been testing the strength of its half-inch-thick glass by dropping 1-pound steel balls on it from a height of 8 feet, a standard test for concrete. So far, the tests have been successful, Brusaw said.

The glass has a traction surface that is equivalent to asphalt. In tests, vehicles are able to stop in the required distance, he said.

In strength tests, the panels can hold 250,000 pounds, three times the legal limit for a semitrailer.

Brusaw adds the panels, weighing about 70 pounds each and measuring 31 inches point-to-point, can be easily replaced if damaged, are warm enough to melt snow and ice while operating, and are safe for use in sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots.

Over in Montana, according to the Flathead Beacon, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation have announced their intention to proceed with a controversial, $57 million dam and fish bypass plan for the Yellowstone River. The dam, northeast of Glendive, aims to fulfill two purposes: 1) provide irrigation for over 50,000 acres of cropland spread across Montana and North Dakota and 2) allow pallid sturgeon to reach upstream spawning grounds through a short secondary channel.

The debate is an old one, stemming from a rock weir erected across the Yellowstone over a century ago. From the Beacon:

But an independent scientific-review panel and Montana wildlife officials have questioned whether it would work, since no such project has been built with sturgeon in mind.

In response to those concerns, government officials cited research that showed pallid sturgeon elsewhere in the country successfully using natural side channels and bypasses that were built for other purposes. That suggests “a high likelihood” the new bypass would work, according to the government study.

Its design would mimic the characteristics of a natural channel.

Since early last century a rock weir across the Yellowstone has blocked sturgeon in the Yellowstone from moving upstream, preventing them from reproducing even as the population dwindled to just 125 fish. The dam and bypass, first proposed in 2010, were meant to solve that dilemma.

Pallid sturgeon was listed as an endangered species in 1990. Believed to date to the days when Tyrannosaurus rex walked the Earth, the population has declined sharply as dams and other obstructions were built along the Missouri River system, which includes the Yellowstone.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris blocked construction of the dam and bypass as it was set to begin last year, forcing the agencies involved to do an extensive environmental impact analysis.

Government attorneys must take the finalized proposal back to Morris before construction proceeds, said Army Corps project manager Tiffany Vanosdall.

Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council have sued to stop the project. They argue the best option would be to remove the existing rock weir and provide irrigation to area farmers using pumps in the river.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the study and expects to make a final announcement in December.

Over in Utah, New Hampshire-based pharmaceutical company PillPack have announced their intention to expand services in Utah. The decision, heralded by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, will bring “hundreds of jobs and tens-of-millions in capital investment to the community,” according to Utah Business:

“Utah is a strategic location for businesses aiming to increase national growth,” said Val Hale, executive director of GOED. “PillPack has grown rapidly and will benefit from the state’s location and also from our well-trained workforce.”

PillPack is a modern day pharmacy designed specifically for customers who are managing complex or chronic conditions and are on regular medication schedules. The service individually packages medications organized by time and day and conveniently delivers the medications directly to your home. PillPack takes a proactive approach to pharmacy by removing the friction of managing and sorting multiple medications. They are an accredited pharmacy that provides pharmacists on call 24 hours a day through email, phone or online chat.

“We’ve created a new type of pharmacy that makes it simple for people to manage their medications,” said Geoff Swindle, chief business officer of PillPack. “We are seeing rapid adoption of our products and services nationwide, and we want to align our growth plans with the progressive business environment the state has created. As a native of this state, I am personally excited to build a substantial presence in Utah.”

The PillPack expansion will create up to 300 jobs over the next five years. The total wages in aggregate are required to exceed 110 percent of the county average wage. The projected new state wages over the life of the agreement are expected to be approximately $50,057,832. Projected new state tax revenues, as a result of corporate, payroll and sales taxes, are estimated to be $2,053,229 over five years.

“PillPack is a highly innovative, fast-growing company with the means and ability to expand anywhere,” said Jeff Edwards, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. “Their decision to put roots down in Utah is an endorsement of our robust life sciences industry, and of all the hard work that goes into making an announcement like this possible. We congratulate them on their decision, and welcome them to the state.”

Finally, over in Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management has tabled a planned wild horse gathering on the state’s “checkerboard” land, after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state couldn’t compel the agency to gather said horses. The ruling in question stemmed from a lawsuit filed by wildlife advocates; the State of Wyoming wanted the BLM to conduct a survey so they could cull some of the wild horse population. For the time being, according to the Wyoming Business Report, there will be no survey—and no culling:

The BLM had planned on gathering approximately 484 wild horses from checkerboard lands in the Great Divide Basin, Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town Herd Management Areas.

“The BLM is currently reviewing today’s ruling by a 10th circuit court,” Tony Brown, public affairs specialist for the BLM in Wyoming, said. “At this time we will not conduct the 2016 Checkerboard Wild Horse gather. Going forward, our goal remains to have healthy horses on healthy rangelands.”

The BLM’s decision stems from a federal appeals court ruling last week that determined the state could not compel the BLM to remove wild horses from federal land unless the agency itself determined such action was necessary. That ruling was in response to a lawsuit that Wyoming filed last year to force the BLM to remove what the state considered excess horses from federal land in the southwestern part of the state.

This announcement is not to be confused with the recently announced partnership between the University of Wyoming and the BLM. That project involves the use of radio collars on about thirty wild mares, but did not necessitate their removal.

“Our project is completely separate,” Derek Scasta, assistant professor and extension rangeland apecialist for the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management at the University of Wyoming, said. “Our project never had any removal aspect, so any horses that would be gathered would be turned back out. From what I know right now, we’re still moving forward.”

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