Energy (and money) for ‘epicenter’ plan

The grant program announced Monday by the Mesa County Federal Mineral Lease District board is an innovative means of using money from regional mineral development to help improve the economic outlook for this community.

The fact that the group is specifically looking for grant applications for projects that will help Mesa County become an “epicenter for energy innovation” is particularly welcome.

The idea of developing this community as a center of energy innovation — working both on conventional fossil-fuel energy and alternative forms of energy such as solar and wind — is the priority of Mesa County’s economic development plan created as part of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s “bottom up” economic development planning process earlier this year.

There is $1.6 million available for these grants due to a unique set of circumstances. Legislation passed by Colorado lawmakers last year allows energy-impacted counties, such as Mesa, to set up federal mineral lease districts to distribute the counties’ share of funds from oil, gas and coal royalties on federal lands. In return, counties hope to get additional money from another federal program known as payment in lieu of taxes.

Historically, counties have use their federal mineral leasing money for things like roads and bridges, aiding municipalities with water projects or school districts in building new schools. Those are all worthy projects that help communities cope with the impacts of mineral development.

However, the newly formed board of the Mesa County Federal Lease District is taking a different approach. If it can use the grant money to foster programs or research that helps the county develop into a nationally recognized center for energy innovation, it will strengthen the local economy for the long term, not simply address current physical needs.

We applaud the local Federal Mineral Lease District for its creative and forward-thinking approach to the mineral lease funds.


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