Colorado River District lays out framework for new taxpayer-funded grant program — @AspenJournalism

The dam at Windy Gap Reservoir. The dam that forms Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River, just below its confluence with the Fraser River in Grand County. A project to build a connectivity channel for the Colorado River is included in the River District’s fiscal implementation plan and could be on the short list for funding through the organization’s new Partnership Project Funding Program. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Colorado River Water Conservation District officials have laid out a framework for how they will spend their new tax revenue with an emphasis on equity across water sectors and gaining the support of local government.

At a Dec. 3 board meeting, River District General Manager Andy Mueller presented a framework for the organization’s new Partnership Project Funding Program, which creates a system for how entities can apply for funding and how River District staff and board members will evaluate those applications.

In November, an overwhelming 72% of voters approved ballot measure 7A, which raises property taxes across the district and will add about $5 million annually to the River District’s coffers. Eighty-six percent, or $4.2 million, of that will go toward funding water projects.

The new program is designed to be more nimble and responsive than other federal or state grant programs, with the River District board considering projects on a rolling basis throughout the year. It also gives Mueller the power to approve smaller amounts of project funds without the board’s involvement.

The River District plans to doll out funding for projects in five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

Each of these categories will receive roughly equal funding on a five-year running average. The project money also will be distributed as evenly as possible across the district’s 15-county region. River District staff will evaluate project applications and decide which ones to bring to the board for approval.

Mueller said he wants “to memorialize within this program our commitments that we made to the voters with respect to how we are going to spend the money. … I think it’s really critical going forward that future board members, future staff members, members of the public can turn to a document and find what it is we have committed to and what are the guiding principles of our program.”

Water travels through a roller dam, generating power, then continues downstream. Roller Dam near Palisade. The Grand Valley Diversion Dam in DeBeque Canyon sends water from the Colorado River into the Grand Valley Project Canal. Rehabilitation of the structure could be one of the projects funded by the River District’s new Partnership Project Funding Program. Photo credit: Hutchinson Water Center

Local support requirement

The River District also is making good on a commitment laid out in the ballot measure’s fiscal implementation plan: that it funds projects that have the backing of local elected officials.

According to the framework, project proponents should get buy-in from local governments in the form of a letter of support from the board of county commissioners in the county in which the project is located. If proponents can’t get a letter of support, they must explain why not.

Mueller said the requirement does not amount to veto power for local governments, but whether a project has the backing of local officials could be a deciding factor in the River District’s choice to fund that project.

“We want to make sure our projects are aligning with the priorities of our local communities,” he said in a separate interview.

Mueller’s initial framework proposed that he, as general manager, be allowed to greenlight projects of as much as $25,000 with an annual cap of $250,000 without board approval. But directors at last week’s meeting said they wanted to up those numbers.

“I think it should be increased to $50,000,” said board president and Garfield County representative Dave Merritt. “We have the criteria laid out here, and if the board is going to get down into the weeds, we will never get through what we need to get through as a board. We’ve got a lot of money that needs to get expended with these partnership programs.”

The board is scheduled to adopt the framework at its January meeting, at which time Mueller said it also will consider the first projects for funding.

According to Jim Pokrandt, the River District’s director of community affairs, no entities have officially applied for grants yet and the grant application is still being developed. Examples of projects that could get funding as laid out in the fiscal implementation plan include forest restoration on the Yampa River, rehabilitation for the Grand Valley Roller Dam, and the Windy Gap Reservoir Connectivity Channel project, which would reconnect the Colorado River through the reservoir.

Mueller said he is excited that the infusion of tax money will allow the River District to remain fully staffed and thrive as an organization. But he acknowledged the new grant program still won’t solve the biggest problem on the Colorado River.

“All the money in the world is not going to solve the diminishing flows in the river caused by our warming temperatures and by climate change,” he said. “We can mitigate, we can adapt, we can make our communities more resilient, but it’s a daunting challenge we are all going to face in the next 20 years.”

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Dec. 10 edition of The Aspen Times.

A US District Court judge has ruled in favor of the Windy Gap Firming Project, clearing the way for construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir — @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Here’s the release from Northern Water (Jeff Stahla):

A United States District Court judge has ruled in favor of the Windy Gap Firming Project, clearing the way for construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud. This ruling should also make it possible to move forward with environmental mitigation and enhancements related to the project, including construction of the Colorado River Connectivity Channel near Granby.

Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich dismissed a 2017 lawsuit filed by environmental groups led by Save the Colorado against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers. The ruling holds that those federal agencies complied with federal law in issuing a Record of Decision that authorizes the Windy Gap Firming Project.

The Windy Gap Firming Project includes the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which will be located in a dry valley just west of Carter Lake in southwest Larimer County. The reservoir will store 90,000 acre-feet of water from the Windy Gap Project for use by 12 participants, including Broomfield, Platte River Power Authority, Longmont, Loveland, Greeley, Erie, Little Thompson Water District, Superior, Louisville, Fort Lupton, Lafayette and the Central Weld County Water District. Chimney Hollow Reservoir will make the Windy Gap water supply serving those participants more reliable and help them meet a portion of their long-term water supply needs. Each participant has also enacted a water conservation plan to comply with the Record of Decision.

Environmental measures related to the Project also include the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, a newly proposed channel around Windy Gap Reservoir to reconnect the Colorado River above and below the reservoir. The channel will restore the ability for fish, macroinvertebrates, nutrients and sediment in the river to bypass the reservoir.

The Record of Decision also mandates many other environmental protections, including improving streamflow and aquatic habitat, addressing water quality issues, providing West Slope water supplies and more. Northern Water and its Municipal Subdistrict negotiated with Colorado River stakeholders to develop this package of environmental protections and received a permit from Grand County and approvals from others, including Trout Unlimited and the State of Colorado, to move forward with the Project.

Water storage such as Chimney Hollow Reservoir was specifically identified in the Colorado Water Plan as a necessary component for Colorado’s long-term water future. It joins conservation, land use planning and other solutions to meet future water needs in the state.

“This ruling marks an important milestone for the participants in the Windy Gap Firming Project,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind. “Chimney Hollow Reservoir and the Colorado River Connectivity Channel will serve as examples of how statewide cooperation can produce water supply solutions and environmental improvements that benefit everyone.”

Barnard Construction Co. Inc. has been chosen as the contractor to build Chimney Hollow Reservoir, and work will commence on the project in 2021. Design work is well under way for the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, and construction is anticipated to begin there in 2022.

How Holy Cross Energy intends to deepen penetration of renewables — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #solar

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Six home battery among strategies to contour demand around intermittent resources

On the cusp of deep penetration of renewable energy that most would have thought impossible just a decade ago, Holy Cross Energy has now started working to contour demands around those intermittent renewables.

Consider the six Tesla Powerwall battery packs installed in recent months in the homes of Holy Cross Energy members. They look vaguely like sleek, slender, and small refrigerators. They serve a similar purpose, storing a perishable, renewable energy, to be tapped when demand peaks.

Peak demand in the Holy Cross service area between Vail, Aspen, and Parachute typically occurs during winter evenings. If tests in coming months bear out expectations, Holy Cross hopes to have 100 more batteries installed among its 55,000 metered members by the end of 2021.

Power+, as the pilot project is called, is among several programs launched by Holy Cross Energy to juggle demand to better match supplies of renewables.

This transition to clean energy has been accelerating. In 2019, renewables were responsible for 44% of electrical generation consumed by Holy Cross members. By the end of 2022, renewables may have delivered more than 70% of electricity for the year.

The biggest single stride will come from a wind farm near Arriba, located about 120 miles east of Denver along Interstate 70. This wind farm will deliver 100 megawatts for Holy Cross, enough to supply a third of total demand. It’s slated for completion by New Year’s Eve 2021. Hunter Solar, a solar installation near Bennett, 35 miles southeast of Denver, will deliver another 30 megawatts by July 2022.

Construction of a 5-megawatt solar farm near the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport is expected to begin when the snow melts next spring, with service beginning next summer.

The three projects together will get Holy Cross to 70% renewables of annual energy production in 2022.

Next comes the work to reach 80%. Holy Cross expects to hit that level by the end of 2024—and perhaps even 85%.

And this just in: a press conference on Monday, Dec. 14, for “a special announcement regarding the next chapter in HCE’s commitment to a clean energy future.”

In early 2020, Holy Cross invited proposals for new electrical generation. This time, it said, it favored local sources. Too, the projects needed to lower costs, with the savings to be transferred to Holy Cross customers.

That invitation yielded 51 proposals. Among the first chosen was a 4.5-megawatt solar array to be constructed near the Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley Campus, between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. Several other projects chosen have not been announced pending final scrutiny of contract details.

In deciding which projects to pursue, Steve Beuning, the vice president for power supply and programs at Holy Cross, describes several considerations:

Steve Beuning. Photo via The Mountain News.

First, does the new generating source create a situation of over-supply? “Over-supply is when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing and our members aren’t using much energy,” explains Beuning.

An office building sitting empty is costing somebody lots of money. Ditto for a rarely used wind farm or solar array. Construction is not cheap, even if the wind and sunshine are free. Best is when demand can take full advantage of all renewable resource production.

Second, does the proposed solar farm or other resource clash with the utility’s existing contract with Public Service Co. of Colorado, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy? Xcel is a major provider of electricity for Holy Cross. The contract, which was initiated in the early 1990s, specifies the circumstances under which Holy Cross can substitute supplies against those contractually committed to Holy Cross by Xcel.

“What we don’t want to do is buy energy twice,” says Beuning.

Third, what Impacts will occur to the delivery system of Holy Cross? Will the electrical wires already strung accommodate the new energy? A related but more abstract consideration has to do with reliability. How does this new generation affect grid stability? For example, will the loss of generation cause the lights to flicker or, worse yet, cause your computer to crash—causing you to lose that document you had slaved on for an hour but forgot to save!

One solution to this need to maintain steady deliveries may be through development of autonomous, local, so-called micro-grids. The Power+ program from Holy Cross is an example of a micro-grid that helps a single retail customer. In the future the concepts behind this program could be expanded to cover multiple customers with backup supply.

Power+ is one among several programs that seeks to buffer these rough edges between demand by consumers and new renewable energy supplies. Take Power+, the program that will put Tesla batteries into homes. During times of oversupply, they provide storage for consumption later, when renewable production is less but demand may be more.

Holy Cross offers incentives for those participating, but other members benefit, too, as the storage allows members, not just those houses with batteries, to take full advantage of lower-cost renewable energy.

Peak Time Payback, another voluntary program, also works at the fulcrum of supply and demand. Those members participating agree to get messages that request deferring electrical demand. Participants could then choose to delay using their washers and dryers during the evening, Presidents’ Weekend or some other time when Vail and Aspen are bustling and everybody is getting ready to watch the latest Netflix offering. The same thing can be achieved during a time of hot weather by moving the thermostat of an air conditioner up a few degrees, to reduce electricity use.

The intent of this program is to shave peak demand, typically during two or three hours blocks. This averts the need for Holy Cross to buy electric capacity on the open market at its most expensive moments. Participating Holy Cross members can, to the extent they alter their demands, benefit from preferred rates.

GreenUp, another pilot program, provides the flip-side to Peak Time Paybacks. It is premised on the fact that there are blocks of time when wind and solar forecasters predict an abundance of renewable energy. Again, there are financial incentives, but this time inverse to those intended to shave peak demand. In this case, consumers are encouraged through lower costs to actually use electricity when its plentiful.

“We will make the decisions to trigger the program based on our forecast for wind and solar, and the member would make the decisions about any behavior changes to access the reduced rates,” says Beuning. “We will communicate the program timing through a text or e-mail.”

Other utilities offer similar demand-side management programs in an effort to contour supplies with demands more efficiently. It made sense even when most electricity was generated by burning fossil fuels. Deepening penetration of intermittent renewables will require even greater juggling of demand.

The arrival of electric cars and other vehicles will pose both additional challenges but also offer opportunities for optimizing the balance between supplies and demands.

Holy Cross in recent years has gained a national reputation for innovation and boldness. Platte River Power Authority, which serves four member cities along the northern Front Range, has also started to turn heads.

In 2018, both Colorado utilities adopted ambitious goals for 2030. Holy Cross was first, with its target of 70% renewables and 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in its generating portfolio by 2030. Just a few months later, Platte River Power Authority adopted a resolution calling for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030.

Now, the two utilities face many of the same challenges, as do other utilities. Platte River’s directors noted that 10 conditions would have to be addressed to achieve its 2030 target. Among those conditions is the need for matured battery storage technology along with steep cost declines.

Another is for a regional transmission organization, or RTO. An RTO enables more efficient access to the electric grid and pairs demands with renewables across a broader geographic area. The idea of improved dispatch and transmission is to allow Colorado and California to work more in tandem, along with Utah and Arizona and other states. An alternate idea would have Colorado sharing energy and demands with states in the Great Plains and their bounteous supplies of wind.

Integration of geographically diverse markets will give Holy Cross greater flexibility, says Beuning, allowing it to deepen the penetration of renewable energy. Think of using California sun to heat water in the late afternoon, or Colorado wind helping address the evening reduction in solar generation in the desert Southwest.

Twenty-five years ago, changes were few from year to year. Now, they’re happening at an almost blinding pace.

The race is on toward 100% carbon-free electricity, but there’s a lot of hard work ahead.

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 303.463.8630.

The latest #ENSO Diagnostic Discussion is hot off the presses from the Climate Predication Center

Click here to read the discussion and to check out their graphical figures:

EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) DIAGNOSTIC DISCUSSION
issued-by
CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/NWS
and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society 10 December 2020
ENSO Alert System Status: La Niña Advisory

Synopsis: La Niña is likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2020-21 (~95% chance during January-March), with a potential transition during the spring 2021 (~50% chance of Neutral during April-June).

La Niña persisted during November, as indicated by well below-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) extending from the Date Line to the eastern Pacific Ocean. Most of the weekly indices fluctuated through the month, with the westernmost Niño regions Niño-4 and Niño-3.4 ending up around -1.0oC. The negative equatorial subsurface temperature anomalies (averaged from 180°-100°W) weakened slightly last month, but continued to reflect below-average temperatures from the surface to 200m depth in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The atmospheric circulation over the tropical Pacific Ocean remained consistent with La Niña. Over the western and central tropical Pacific Ocean, low-level wind anomalies were easterly and upper-level wind anomalies were westerly. Tropical convection continued to be suppressed from the western Pacific to the Date Line. Also,both the Southern Oscillation and Equatorial Southern Oscillation indices were positive. Overall, the coupled ocean-atmosphere system indicates the continuation of La Niña.

A majority of the models in the IRI/CPC plume predict La Niña (Niño-3.4 index less than -0.5°C) to persist through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2020-21 and to weaken through the spring. Supported by the latest forecasts from several models, the forecaster consensus is for a moderate strength La Niña (Niño-3.4 index values between -1.0oC and -1.5oC) during the peak November-January season. In summary, La Niña is likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2020-21 (~95% chance for January-March), with a potential transition during the spring 2021 (~50% chance of Neutral during Apr-Jun; click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chances in each 3-month period).

La Niña is anticipated to affect climate across the United States during the upcoming months. The 3-month seasonal temperature and precipitation outlooks will be updated on Thursday December 17th.