A statewide anti-fracking group looked to Aurora when crafting more efforts to keep fossil fuel drilling away from homes and schools — and now, Superfund sites.
Activist group Colorado Rising submitted six possible ballot initiatives to the Secretary of State’s office earlier this week. Voters could decide in November on one these six proposals. All are variations of Colorado Rising’s earlier ballot initiative to increase drilling setbacks in 2018, Proposition 112, which voters turned down by a wide margin.
The next year, however, Senate Bill 181 was passed into law, ceding regulation to local governments, now able to increase setback distances and more…
Currently, the statewide setback between drilling and homes is 500 feet, but local governments, such as Aurora and other counties or municipalities, have the power to increase that distance.
Now, Colorado Rising wants to protect Superfund sites from drilling — a move partially inspired by drilling around the Lowry Landfill Superfund site in Aurora, said spokeswoman Anne Lee Foster.
The 507-acre Superfund site contained about 138 million gallons of toxic waste dumped there for decades, although some has leaked out in what scientists call a “plume.” Activists fear more drilling could disrupt the area geology and release waste.
Aurora Councilwoman Nicole Johnston, who represents the region near the Lowry Landfill, said she supports the decision to include Superfund sites in the list of possible ballot initiatives. Of the six proposed initiatives, four would create a 2,500-foot buffer zone between well pads and Superfund sites.
A Sentinel review did not find active oil and gas wells within the proposed buffer zone from the Lowry Landfill border.
The closet oil and gas well is about 2 miles away from the site boundary, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission data. However, the buffer zone proposals would still allow for horizontal drilling underneath the Lowry Landfill surface and toxic waste if the well was drilled outside the buffer.
FromThe New Mexico Political Report (Kendra Chamberlain):
NMED announced late Thursday that the department issued an administrative compliance order to the Air Force for unlawfully discharging wastewater without a groundwater permit at Cannon Air Force Base since April 1, 2019…
“The Air Force continues to ignore New Mexico’s environmental laws,” said NMED Sec. James Kenney in a statement. “Rather than address PFAS contamination, the Department of Defense shows no interest in helping afflicted communities and impacted natural resources.”
Cannon Air Force Base is one of two military installations in the state where PFAS chemicals have contaminated groundwater. The base’s groundwater discharge permit expired at the end of March 2019 and has not been renewed.
In January 2019, the Air Force sued NMED after the department issued a notice of violation for PFAS contamination of groundwater at Cannon. In March 2019, NMED and the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General filed a complaint in federal district court, asking a judge to compel the Air Force to cleanup PFAS contamination at both Cannon and Holloman Air Force Base. The Air Force did not renew its groundwater discharge permit after entering into litigation with NMED.
NMED is now asking the Air Force to pay $1,699,872.60 in civil penalties and submit a discharge permit application within 30 days. The department said it may assess penalties of up to $25,000 per day for “continued noncompliance.”
Fred Stone hasn’t been able sell his milk since November 2016 because his longtime buyer said it was too contaminated with so-called forever chemicals.
But to the federal government, it isn’t contaminated enough to qualify him for a disaster aid program that’s supposed to pay farmers whose milk is polluted through no fault of their own.
And now, Stone says, he can’t afford to keep testing his milk, at $600 a pop, to show it’s either sufficiently contaminated for federal aid, or cleaned up enough to get back the Maine state dairy license he lost last year…
Art Schaap, owner of Highland Dairy in Clovis, N.M., also can’t sell any milk because his cow’s water is contaminated with PFAS from uses at the nearby Cannon Air Force Base. He’s gotten aid from the indemnity program and is grateful for it.
But he’s angry that both he and Stone have had their livelihoods taken from them. Industries and the military that released these chemicals into the environment need to be held accountable, Schaap said.
Federal agencies are “not doing their jobs. They’re kicking the can down the road like this problem is going to go away,” he said. “This stuff just doesn’t go away.”
“The milk industry does not want this in their milk, period,” Schaap said.
Why Tri-State will shelve coal in Colorado and New Mexico and the big challenges that remain: Will Tri-State ‘family’ stay intact?
Tri-State Generation and Transmission announced [January 9, 2020] that it will close its Escalante Station coal-burning units in New Mexico in 2020 and all of its coal-burning units at the Craig Station in Colorado by 2030. One and probably two coal mines near the Craig units will be closed.
Sharply widened price disparities between aging coal plants and new renewable resources play a prominent role in the closures. So do the growing pressures of member cooperatives to decarbonize and take advantage of lower-cost and more distributed renewable resources. Yet another factor was the pressure exerted by advocacy groups, including the Sierra Club, with its extensive grassroots-organizing efforts.
New laws setting decarbonization goals in both Colorado and New Mexico figure into the closures. Legislatures in both states adopted laws last year calling for economy wide decarbonization, in Colorado’s case a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and 95% by 2050. New Mexico’s law requires 80% electrical generation be renewable by 2040 and 100% carbon free by 2045.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, in his State-of-the-State address Thursday morning, said Tri-State’s plans within Colorado will reduce the utility’s greenhouse gas emissions 90% by 2030.
As of 2018, renewables—including hydropower—constituted 32% of Tri-States sales to members, while coal represented at least 47% and possibly more, depending upon the source of electricity purchased from other sources. Tri-State expects to be at 50% by 2024 and higher yet by 2030, said Duane Highley, the chief executive of Tri-State, at a Thursday tele-press conference.
The closures were not particularly surprising. Highley, who took the reins at Tri-State last April, told Colorado Public Utilities Commissioners in October to “watch our feet” while promising decarbonization by 2030.
But major questions remain for Tri-State, including perceptions of its long-term financial viability. S&P Global Ratings in November lowered ratings for Tri-State and for Moffat County, where Craig Station is located, from A to A-. Reading the news, some were reminded of another Colorado wholesale supplier, Colorado Ute. Overbuilt in coal generation, it went into a death spiral and then bankruptcy in 1991. Tri-State got the Craig units from that bankruptcy
Most prominent of Tri-State’s challenges will be to hang onto its existing members in what in the past has been described as a family. The family has been squabbling, particularly among Colorado’s 18 member cooperatives. One will soon leave, two more are negotiating to leave, and a fourth has informally asked for a buy-out number. Together, they represent 33% of Tri-State’s electrical demand.
Next Wednesday, Tri-State will announce details of what it calls its aggressive and transformative Responsible Energy Plan. The plan results from a process convened in July 2019 and overseen by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s Center for the New Energy Economy. The task force included multiple environmental groups as well as Tri-State.
The extent and location of new local resources in Tri-State’s generating portfolio may not be answered immediately, says Erin Overturf, deputy director Western Resource Advocates’ clean energy program. The group was among those who participated in development of the Responsible Energy Plan.
Some of those not at the table remain unhappy that they were not.
“From our perspective, we want Tri-State to clean up their carbon footprint, but we would like to be part of this,” said Jessica Matlock, the chief executive of Durango-based La Plata Electric, one of two co-ops that have formally asked the price of breaking their current all-requirements contracts. “We haven’t been involved in any of the discussions, the formulation of strategies. We would actually like to develop a large amount of renewable energy in the Four Corners and supply that to Tri-State. We don’t think they should just develop large-scale resources on the Eastern Slope. They should diversify their resources and look to the co-ops to be partners.”
While the Four Corners has what Matlock describes as “phenomenal” solar potential, land in the United Power service territory north and east of Denver has become too valuable for 200-megawatts solar farms, says John Parker, chief executive of the 93,000-member cooperative. He’s more interested in seeing whether Tri-State can execute its energy pivot without raising rates.
Rates of Tri-State going forward matter entirely to United, says Parker, whose co-operative now is responsible for 19% of Tri-State’s total electrical demand. He said United charges 20% more for residential electricity than does Xcel Energy, a neighboring and sometimes competing utility. United has somewhat higher costs for distribution of electricity to customers owing to the more rural nature of its service territory But Tri-State’s wholesale cost to United provides the larger explanation. “Tri-State is 75% of our cost of doing business,” says Parker.
But will new transmission be needed to access new renewable supplies, as Tri-State representatives have indicated previously? If so, that could cause rates to rise further, Parker fears.
“I think the biggest question that we have as far as this announcement is how are they going to pay for it,” says Kathleen Staks, director of external affairs for Guzman Energy.
Highley, in the teleconference, repeatedly said that rates will remain stable and might even decline even as Tri-State accelerates deprecation on its plants in the two states. Asked specifically if his guarantees of stable rates also applies to the cost of new generation, he replied that yes, it does. The costs of renewable generation are just that good.
Guzman Energy financed the exit of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in 2016 from its all-requirements contract, which had been set to expire in 2040. It was the first Tri-State member to leave, a dispute that began in 2005 when Tri-State first asked members for contract extensions in order to build another coal plant, this one in Kansas. Guzman has since helped the cooperative based in Taos N.M., to build its solar potential. Luis Reyes, Kit Carson’s chief executive, says that Kit Carson will to be able to meet its peak day-time demand from locally generated solar resources by 2021. Kit Carson, says Matlock, provides La Plata the blueprint for what it hopes to achieve.
In closing the plants early, Tri-State will accelerate their financial depreciation. Value of the two generating stations at Craig at $400 million. Their original end-of-life dates were 2038 and 2044. The depreciation of those units is being accelerated to 2030. Highley suggested that retirement of one of those units, Craig Unit 2, which is co-owned with four other utility partners, could happen earlier.
Tri-State owns the 253-megawatt Escalante Generating Station without partners and values it at $270 million. Its original end of life had been put at 2045.
Still standing will be the two major generating stations in which it has a minority interest. It has 464 megawatts of the total 1,710 megawatts of capacity at Laramie River Station near Wheatland, Wyo., and 419 megawatts of the 1,629 megawatts at Springerville, in eastern Arizona. As for the future of those plants, said Highley, look at what happens legislatively in Arizona and Wyoming.
Evidence had been mounting that Tri-State, despite several relatively small additions of renewable, was being bypassed by the energy transition. The first evidence came in late 2017, after Xcel Energy had announced plans to retire Comanche 1 and 2, two aging coal-burning units at Pueblo, Colo. The bids it had received by that December for wind, solar and even storage shocked most energy analysts, drawing national attention. Conveniently, most of that new generation approved by the Colorado PUC will be located relatively close to existing transmission.
Then, in August 2018, the Rocky Mountain Institute released a report, “A Low-Cost Energy Future for Western Cooperatives,” which examined the Tri-State fleet in terms of risks, including a carbon price and load defection. That analysis concluded only the Laramie River Station in Wyoming made sense economically going forward. Key to the lower-cost of the Wyoming plant is the relative proximity to the Powder River Basin, lowering transportation costs, and a low-price contract continuing into the 2030s.
Since that 2018 study, says Mark Dyson, a co-author, prices of renewables have continued to dive. He cites one example of a project approved late last year that will deliver solar plus storage at a price of around $25 a megawatt. In some cases, he said, that’s lower the cost of coal itself delivered to a plant. And solar itself now is commonly in the lower $20s per megawatt-hour, a price unheard of even two years ago.
Tri-State in 2019 rebuffed an offer from Guzman to buy three Tri-State units (two at Craig, one at Escalante) and shut them down, replacing the 800 megawatts of lost generating capacity with wind, solar and natural gas generation.
“We would finance the early shutdown of these coal plants, giving Tri-State a substantial cash infusion, in the vicinity of a half-billion dollars, and we would replace the portfolio (that would be lost) with in excess of 70% renewables,” said Chris Riley, president of Guzman Energy, in an interview for Energy News Network. The offer included purchase of the Colowyo Mine.
Guzman said it would also cover the costs of dismantling the three units as well as remediation costs, which are expected to be substantial. The remediation, however, would be subject to negotiation, Riley said. In addition, Guzman offers to assist communities that would be affected by early retirement of the coal units. At least part of Guzman’s sources of funding were foundations.
In its announcement, Tri-State pledged $5 million in local community support in New Mexico to the affected communities, including Grants and Gallup.
It made no similar offer for the Craig community. And, some observers have noted, Tri-State has made little outreach to the affected communities under Highley. However, he said he planned to meet with community members next week. The Craig Daly Press reports that the news hit the Yampa Valley hard.
Highley also promised to continue work Gov. Jared Polis and legislative leaders in terms of the transition but did not say exactly what Tri-State is seeking with legislators. Colorado legislators last session created a Just Transition office, but the agency still lacks an executive director and also funding. Meetings of the advisory committee, which consists of state officials and legislators and local representatives, were held in October and December.
Ultimately 600 Tri-State employees directly involved in the extraction or burning of coal will be directly impacted along with 100 employees who are not directly involved in mining or combustion. It will, said Highley, “result in a significant downsizing of our company.”
However, Tri-State now expects to expand markets to accommodate the application of energy to other uses, including transportation and home heating, a concept called beneficial electrification. Just what it has in mind there will become more clear next week.
This expansion could partially offset loss of members. Delta-Montrose Electric, which represents 4% of Tri-State’s load, will leave Tri-State in May and will instead be supplied by Guzman Energy. Poudre Valley REA, the second-largest member cooperative in terms of demand, at 8%, informally asked for a buy-out number in 2018 but, unlike United and La Plata, has taken no additional action. Directors adopted a goal of 80% carbon-free electricity by 2030.
Both United and La Plata are skirmishing legally with Tri-State at both the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They have asked the Colorado PUC to determine a fair and just exit fee.
Tri-State’s response to the complaints is an offer to provide a partial-requirements contract, one that allows greater ability of local co-ops to generate their own resources. At the press conference, Highley said he is confident that the committee tasked with the details will deliver an acceptable product by April. But patience is publicly wearing thin at United Power. “We’ve spent 18 months trying to change this contract, and all that we have gotten from Tri-State is delays, evasions and excuses,” Parker said in press release issued last week.