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Old Stoney

Sundance residents plan to renovate Old Stoney, shown in an undated photo, and move the museum along with a new cultural center there, which they hope will once again put the town on the map. Powder River Energy Corporation recently granted $13,000 from its renewable energy credit program towards Old Stoney's rehabilitation. 

In 1922, Old Stoney first opened its doors as an innovative learning center to help high school students become teachers.

It shuttered in 1972, but now plans call for the three-story, sandstone building nestled in downtown Sundance to reopen, thanks in part to 25,000 megawatts of wind power.

Powder River Energy Cooperative recently donated about $13,000 in revenue from its renewable energy credit program to rehabilitate Old Stoney, a local landmark that residents have been working to repurpose for about a decade.

Renewable energy credits are certificates that prove one megawatt of electricity has been generated from a renewable resource like wind and solar farms. They can then be bought and sold like a commodity, intended as an indirect investment in the renewable sector.

Powder River’s WyREC program, initiated with support from the Wyoming Business Council, devotes the income from the sale of its credits toward community development projects. When a data center in Cheyenne recently bought 25,000 megawatts worth of credits from Powder River as a commitment to sustainable energy in Wyoming, it meant $13,000 worth of wind energy went into Old Stoney.

The former school is the first recipient of the power cooperative’s WyREC program.

Powder River Energy Corporation buys all its power from Basin Electric Power Cooperative. For each renewable megawatt Basin generates and sends out on the grid, the company can receive a certificate for that power that has a monetary value in the form of a credit.

The various providers that buy power from Basin, like Powder River, can then sell their portion of the credits as they see fit. A similar program by the utility Rocky Mountain Power uses the revenue for other renewable goals, like a grant for Sweetwater Airport last year to install solar panels on their new buildings. For Powder River, that means community projects.

“The (renewable energy credits) are a way to strengthen the renewable energy economy, as more businesses can make the case for contributing in a meaningful way,” said the power cooperative’s CEO, Mike Easley, in a recent statement.

Renewable energy credits are an indirect way for businesses to support green energy.

For Green House Data, the business whose purchase is helping to fund Old Stoney, the credits are an additional expense for their electricity costs, but a badge of honor for their company’s reputation.

The Cheyenne-based firm houses data from a variety of business and agencies like Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Sierra Trading Post. It owns and operates nine data centers across the U.S., including two in Wyoming, and has a sustainability charter.

“The renewable power piece is a big deal for us,” said Wendy Fox, vice president for Green House

Data centers burn a lot of electricity and generate intense heat as their servers purr through 24 hours of the day.

Green House uses a cooling system that avoids the chemicals found in traditional air conditioning. And it depends on Wyoming’s cool dry climate to help increase efficiency.

However, the company’s goal of 100 percent green energy isn’t possible in Wyoming.

“In Wyoming, a lot of grid power is actually coal,” Fox said. “So we buy into the renewable energy credit market in order to invest in the continued development of sustainable power and ensure that that sustainable power stays in the grid.”

Back in Sundance, the $13,000 of wind power means one more step toward opening Old Stoney. It means a museum, office spaces and live music on summer nights.

Rocky Courchaine was an elementary student at Old Stoney, as were many of the older locals in the isolated ranching community in Wyoming’s northeast corner. Courchaine now runs the Crook County Museum and Art Gallery from the basement of the county courthouse.

When Old Stoney is ready, Courchaine will bring 14,000 artifacts of local history to its new home in the historic building.

Created to turn high schoolers into teachers, the school offered courses students could only get at universities elsewhere. Officials marketed the school through the Great Depression as a grand opportunity. It was, Courchaine said.

“Everything was crumbling and they built this icon of a building and brought pride back into the community,” he said.

Locals saved the building from being demolished in the 1980s, but fixing it up has been expensive. The county sought grants. The community held benefits and fundraisers, making gradual improvements to the empty structure.

They are currently short about $300,000.

“So many people graduated from that school and went on to better things,” Courchaine said. “We’d just like to keep that alive.”

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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