New Mexico’s ‘mini’ Green New Deal, dissected — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

The Energy Transition Act could be a model for ambitious policies of the future.

On March 23, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law the Energy Transition Act, a complex bill that will move the state toward cleaner electricity generation, clear the way for the state’s biggest utility to shutter one of the West’s largest coal-fired power plants in 2022, and provide mechanisms for a just transition for economically affected communities.

The bill has the support of the state’s biggest utility — Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM — as well as environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Western Resource Advocates and the San Juan Citizens Alliance. National media are hailing it as a mini-Green New Deal.

San Juan Generating Station. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

Here’s a breakdown of what the bill does — and doesn’t — do:

Perhaps most significantly, the bill mandates that New Mexico electricity providers get 80 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2040, and 100 percent from carbon-free sources by 2045. Those are ambitious goals that will result in huge cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in a state that currently gets half its electricity from coal and a third from natural gas.

That said, it’s important to remember that “carbon-free” and “renewable” are not synonyms. The 20 percent of carbon-free electricity can include nuclear, since no greenhouse gases are emitted during fission, as well as coal and natural gas equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technologies. Carbon capture is prohibitively expensive — and unproven — but nuclear power is readily available from Palo Verde Generating Station in Arizona, where PNM currently gets about 18 percent of its power.

Also, “electricity” and “energy” are two distinct concepts — a common source of confusion. This bill applies only to electricity consumed by New Mexicans and has no direct bearing on the state’s burgeoning oil or natural gas production. Meanwhile, the Four Corners Power Plant, located in New Mexico but owned by Arizona Public Service, can continue to burn coal under the renewable standards as long as the electricity is exported to other states. But PNM plans to divest its 13 percent ownership in Four Corners Power Plant in 2031, leaving the plant on shakier economic ground.

The bill helps pave the way for the planned closure of San Juan Generating Station, located just north of the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico.

The station’s owner, PNM, announced two years ago that it would likely shut down the plant in 2022 because it was no longer economically viable. Many aspects of this bill are a direct reaction to the pending closure, particularly the sections that allow the utility to take out “energy transition bonds” to cover costs associated with abandonment. Those bonds will be paid off by ratepayers, but not taxpayers.

This has irked New Energy Economy, a Santa Fe-based group that has been pushing PNM to clean up its act for years. The group, a critic of the bill, would rather see PNM’s investors shoulder the cost of the bonds. After all, the investors are the ones who have profited handsomely off the power plant for nearly half a century, even as it pumped millions of tons of climate warming gases into the air, along with acid rain-forming sulfur dioxide, health-harming particulates, mercury, arsenic and other toxic materials.

While the bill does not specifically force the plant’s closure, it does mandate the creation of standards that limit carbon dioxide emissions from large coal-burning plants to about half of what coal emits per megawatt-hour — effectively killing any possibility of keeping the generating station operating.

The energy transition bonds will help fund a just transition away from coal. Some 450 jobs— about one-fourth of them held by Native Americans — will be lost when the San Juan Generating Station and the associated San Juan Mine close, together with an estimated $356 million in economic activity annually.

The bill allocates up to $30 million for reclamation costs, and up to $40 million to help displaced workers and affected communities, to be shared by the Energy Transition Indian Affairs Fund, Economic Development Assistance Fund and Displaced Worker Assistance Fund. The Indian Affairs Fund will be spent according to a plan developed by the state, in consultation with area tribal governments and with input from affected communities, and the economic development fund will help local officials diversify the local economy. The bill also requires PNM to replace a portion of the area’s lost generation capacity, in the process creating jobs and tax revenue.

The new bill has some missing elements. There’s no provision for making amends to the people who have lived near the plant for years and suffered ill health, such as high asthma rates, as a result. It won’t stop Four Corners Power Plant, located just 10 miles from San Juan Generating Station, from belching out pollution (though it does provide for a just transition away from that plant if it closes by 2031), and it doesn’t address the massive climate impact from oil and gas development or transportation. The act is merely an official acknowledgment that coal is dying, and that coal communities could die, too, without help.

Nevertheless, the Energy Transition Act is remarkable in that it promises to totally decarbonize electricity in a state that has leaned heavily on fossil fuel for decades, while also lending a hand to communities that would otherwise be left behind. It is a good template, or at least a decent sketch, for a national Green New Deal.

Extra: Listen to High Country News Contributing Editor Cally Carswell’s new Hot & Dry Podcast for even more context on New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act:

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at jonathan@hcn.org.

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is building a $2 million solar array to lower energy costs for members

Sleeping Ute Mountain via the Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Ute Mountain Ute tribe broke ground [March 13, 2019] on a $2 million solar project that will be used to lower electricity bills for tribal residents in Towaoc.

An 8-acre hayfield west of the Ute Mountain Casino will be transformed into a 1 megawatt solar array with 3,500 panels facing skyward. Construction is expected to take six to eight weeks, and after testing, the switch will be flipped on in June or July…

“This as a step forward for the tribe to become energy independent and self-reliant,” said Bernadette Cuthair, tribal community services director. “We want our tribal members to sign up to learn the solar trade.”

The project was funded by a $973,000 grant from the Department of Energy and a $1 million match from the tribe. It will be the largest solar array in Montezuma County.

The tribe partnered with Grid Alternatives, an organization that works to provide renewable energy to low-income communities.

“We believe the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy should include everyone,” said Brittney Heller, workforce organizer for Grid Alternatives.

Tribal members must sign up to receive solar discounts on their electric bill by April 30. They will bring their Empire Electric Association account information to the tribe’s planning department or environmental office, and reduced bills will start to show up in July or August.

An opportunity to sign up for discounts will happen every year. Government offices will also see electric bill savings from the project.

The project will create 13 temporary jobs and offer free training in the solar industry. Volunteer days allow tribal members to help build the project and learn skills.

Four three-month paid internships are being offered for tribal members to work on the project and receive training. Applications are being accepted. Workers will also be recruited from the tribe’s job force division.

Effort to win Congressional support for the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans begins in earnest on Wednesday

Arizona Water News

DCP Signing-19 Signers of the March 19 Letter to Congress urging federal support for the Drought Contingency Plans, with Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. From left: Peter Nelson, California; John Entsminger, Nevada; James Eklund, Colorado; Tom Buschatzke, Arizona; Commissioner Burman; John D’Antonio, Jr., New Mexico; Norm Johnson, Utah; and, Pat Tyrrell, Wyoming. Buschatzke, Entsminger and Tyrrell will join the Commissioner before the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power on March 27.

Advocates for the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans will begin making their case to Congress on Wednesday, March 27, when four officials deeply involved in the effort to stabilize the system are scheduled to address the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water and Power.

The witness panel includes Brenda Burman, Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources; John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada…

View original post 122 more words

The latest “Headwaters Pulse” is hot off the presses from @WaterEdCO

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

2019 President’s Reception May 3
Join us for our annual awards dinner and fundraiser as we honor Jennifer Pitt with the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award and Celene Hawkins with the Emerging Leader Award. Enjoy a sit-down dinner and fun-filled evening in celebration of water education and water leadership in Colorado.

Puchase tickets here.

Is Denver’s water safe to drink? – News on TAP

Ongoing testing and treatment ensure a high-quality supply for the Mile High City, although concerns persist nationwide.

Source: Is Denver’s water safe to drink? – News on TAP

#Snowpack/#Runoff news: @CSUtilities expects storage vessels to fill this season

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

Snow in Colorado’s high country starts the transition into water-supply in just weeks. This year, the run-off is going to be above normal.

Water managers with Colorado Springs Utilities want to know just how much water. “We do a snow read twice a month. Mid month and then the end of the month,” said Josh Propernick with Colorado Springs Utilities. The measurements happen from January through April. Crews head deep into the mountains at the Continental Divide to find out how much to expect.

The measurements done by hand, add detail to other measurements done by automated sensors. “We really do depend on this data to help us kind of plan our operations for the year,” said Colorado Springs Utilities, Water Planning Supervisor, Kalsoum Abbasi, “Figure out how much room we need to make in our downstream reservoirs.”

Depth, density and weight of snow are calculated. “What I’m interested in when I’m looking at these reads, is what’s called snow-water equivalent,” said Abbasi, “So that’s how much water in inches would there be if you melted that snow column down.”

[…]

The amount of run-off from snowpack this year will be more than reservoirs in the Colorado Spring Utilities system can hold. Excess water ends up going down stream. It is a preferred scenario compared to a year ago when snowpack was well below normal because of drought conditions.

From Weather Nation:

In some of Utah, California and Colorado’s ski resorts, a full season’s snow has already been observed, with several weeks still to go in the winter snow season…

California snowpack, meanwhile, is running at an incredible 154 percent of season-to-date levels. California’s snowpack is a vital source of drinking water and helps stave off wildfires…

Colorado, meanwhile, is also enjoying a boom snow season. Buoyed by some parts of southern Colorado running at 150 percent or more of average, the Centennial State is enjoying a terrific winter filled with plenty of snow. This is particularly important for the Colorado River, which starts in the state of its namesake and provides drinking water for California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada.

From The Provers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

AGRICULTURAL

At or above normal precipitation over the last 6 months across most of South Central and Southeast Colorado has helped to improve soil moisture, especially across southeastern portions of the state, where latest Vic Soil Moisture data indicating surplus soil moisture at this time. Winter precipitation has also helped to improve conditions across South Central Colorado; however, some long term dryness continues to be indicated.

HYDROLOGIC

Latest NRCS data indicates statewide precipitation for the month of February came in at 138 percent of average, which got a boost from abundant and widespread precipitation across southwestern portions of the Colorado, where some basins indicated over 200 percent of average precipitation for the month. For the 2019 Water Year thus far, statewide precipitation is at 110 percent of average overall.

In the Arkansas Basin, February precipitation was 124 percent of average, which brings water year to date precipitation to 110 percent of average overall.

In the Rio Grande Basin, February precipitation was 175 percent of average, which brings water year to date precipitation to 109 percent of average overall.

NRCS data indicated statewide snowpack on March 1st came in at 112 percent of average overall, compared to only 73 percent of average snowpack available at this same time last year. In stark contrast to last year, the northern and southern basins across the state are at or above normal levels.

In the Arkansas Basin, March 1st snowpack came in at 128 percent of average overall, compared to only 64 percent of average snowpack available at this same time last year. Again, in stark contrast to last year, the northern and southern portions of the Arkansas Basin are at or above normal levels.

In the Rio Grande Basin, March 1st snowpack came in at 115 percent of average overall, compared to only 59 percent of the available snowpack at this same time last year.

NRCS data indicated statewide water storage came in at 83 percent of average overall at the end of February, as compared to 115 percent of average storage available statewide at this same time last year.

In the Arkansas Basin, water storage at the end of February came in at 87 percent of average overall, as compared to 134 percent of average storage available at this same time last year.

From The Summit Daily (Deepak Dutta) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The state now stands at 140 percent of normal snowpack. Southwest Colorado, which suffered the most from last year’s arid summer, is seeing anywhere from 150 to 157 percent average snowpack…

Pokrandt said that since 2000, Colorado has only had four years at or above average levels. The 2018-19 winter will be the fifth, but he said one big year does not end a long-term drought.

“If we have three or four more of these years of average snowpack, we might talk differently,” Pokrandt said. “But I would not say the drought’s back is broken.”

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 26, 2019 via the NRCS.

@EPA provides update on Bonita Peak Superfund site water treatment plant and sampling data — Global Mining Review #AnimasRiver

The EPA’s wastewater treatment plant near Silverton, Colorado, on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2015 — photo via Grace Hood Colorado Public Radio

From the EPA via Global Mining Review:

Yesterday, EPA released preliminary water quality sampling data related to the temporary shutdown of the interim water treatment plant at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site at Gladstone (Colorado). EPA’s analysis confirms that there were no adverse impacts to downstream drinking water or agricultural users associated with the short-term shutdown of the plant based on data that indicate minimal to no changes in water quality at sampling points downstream of Silverton in Durango. There were no observed impacts to aquatic life. Any impacts to aquatic life would be limited to the Animas River near Silverton.

The water treatment plant went offline on the evening of 14 March due to extreme weather conditions resulting in a power surge that tripped critical circuit breakers at the facility. The same weather event triggered an avalanche and several snow slides across the county road and prevented access to the plant. After a period of less than 48 hours, EPA brought plant back online and resumed normal operations on the afternoon of 16 March.

“EPA appreciates the efforts of our partners in San Juan County Colorado and the water plant operators for working quickly to minimise the length of time the facility was out of operation and limit any localised impacts to water quality,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento.

“During and after the treatment plant shutdown, real time measurements of turbidity, pH and electrical conductivity from sondes in the Animas River provided no indication that downstream water users would be adversely impacted,” said New Mexico Environment Department Chief Scientist Dennis McQuillan.

“EPA’s laboratory test results confirm the interpretation of real time sonde data.”

EPA collected water samples at four locations along the Animas River from Cement Creek to Durango from 15 – 21 March. A preliminary analysis of the sampling data from 15 – 20 March shows a measurable elevation of metals concentrations, particularly copper, at the confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River, about six miles below Gladstone. Levels of metals were slightly elevated at a location on the Animas River approximately one mile south of Silverton.

Heavy metal concentrations in the Animas River at two sampling locations in Durango were well within the range of concentrations previously observed when the treatment plant is operating. The detections of low concentrations of metals in the Animas River may be associated with the temporary closure of the plant, but they may also be related to several other factors that should be considered when evaluating these data.

These include snow and avalanche debris being deposited in Cement Creek, the Animas River and local waterways which potentially introduced metals containing soils and sediments. There is also the potential for the ongoing rain and runoff at lower elevations to mobilise metals containing sediments from the 416 fire at locations below the confluence of Hermosa Creek and the Animas River.

Preliminary data can be viewed at https://response.epa.gov/GladstoneWTP. Data from samples collected on 21 March will available on this website later this week.