Reckoning time on the #ColoradoRiver (and its tributaries): “Now there’s an awareness in the public of the brittleness of the hydraulic empire created in the 20th century in Southwest states” — @BigPivots #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir in September 2021. Dave Bowden/SustainableMedia.net

From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

A Colorado water seminar always had climatechange on the agenda, but the tone was different this year, more alarmed, more worried, if still optimistic

What a flip-flop from 2001. We were going to war in Afghanistan, worrying about terrorists in our midst, and anthrax arriving in the mail.

The reservoirs of the Colorado River were close to full.

At the time I had given little thought to climate change, other than to be somewhat skeptical about the alarm. That changed in 2003, when I was given an assignment by the editor of Ski Area Management to round up what was being said. I read a year’s worth of articles in the New York Times and then—my eyes widened considerably—set out to find much more. It has been front and center for me ever since.

Brad Udall also immersed himself in climate change beginning in 2003. He had been trying to preserve open space in Eagle County for a few years but then returned to the Front Range. There, he directed the Western Water Assessment in Boulder and, more recently, joined the staff of the Colorado State University Water Institute as a scholar and scientist. He has expertise in hydrology but also in crunching numbers.

Over the years, Udall has distinguished himself as an expert on the effects of the warming climate on the Colorado River. His most prominent insight was a paper published in 2017 by the prestigious journal Science. Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, who also was originally schooled in Boulder and I believe still has a cabin in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride, sifted through the data before concluding that at least a third of the reduced flows in the Colorado River should be attributed to heat, not reduced precipitation.

The paper was titled “The twenty-first century Colorado River hot drought and implications for the future.”

On Oct. 1, speaking to the Colorado River District’s annual seminar in Grand Junction remotely from Boulder, Udall described the strengthened evidence that half of the reduced flows could be explained by rising temperatures. He calls it aridification.

Much worse, he said, is yet to come.

Lake Mead was 40% full and the surface was at 1090 feet in elevation when this photo was taken in December 2019. As of Saturday it had dropped 23 feet. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued a model in September that projected a 66% chance that the reservoir level will drop below 1,025 within the next 5 years. That would put the reservoir level 75 feet below what you see in this photo. Photo/Allen Best

Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based River District, had introduced the session, using words of greater alarm than I had heard at the annual seminar—and I’ve attended most, in person or virtually, since the first session in 2003. He used the metaphor of a train wreck.

“For a decade or more, we have seen the train wreck slowly moving this way,” he reiterated afterwards when I spoke to him for a story published by Fresh Water News. “It has picked up speed pretty significantly in the last couple of years. The question is how do we avert the train wreck (from coming into our station).”

Mueller had described reduced flows and warm temperatures in the Yampa River as it flows through Steamboat Springs that have caused the river to be closed to recreation something like 8 of the last 14 years. There were fish kills in the Colorado River this year. He told of shortening ski seasons and warned lower-elevation ski areas may not make it in the future.

He had also told the audience in Grand Junction that adaptations to lower flows would be necessary. Farmer and ranchers might have to cut irrigation to marginal areas, forego low-income crops. He vowed that Front Range cities would have to conserve and not expect the Western Slope to bear the burden.

Climate change has never been a verboten word at River District seminars, even if this is from an area that elected Lauren Boebert to Congress. Udall, for example, has spoken at least three times in my memory and probably more.

This year’s outlook was different, less cautious, more worried. The tone was reflected in the seminar title: “Wake-Up Call on the Colorado River.”
National publications this summer brimmed with stories about the distress of the Colorado River, especially after the Bureau of Reclamation on Aug. 16 issued a shortage declaration. Arizona is most immediately affected, but this is huge for the five other basin states, including Colorado.

Mueller agreed with me when we talked by phone that none of what happened this year was surprising. Most people involved with the river saw it coming.

I remember talking with Udall in 2019 (for a story in Headwaters, the magazine), when something called the Drought Contingency Plan was completed. That agreement tightened the belt of Arizona but kicked the fundamental decisions down the road to a plan projected to be implemented in 2026. Udall was skeptical that the emergency would be that slow to arrive.

Now there’s an awareness in the public of the brittleness of the hydraulic empire created in the 20th century in Southwest states, including Colorado. A decade, ago, there was hope that some big snow years like we had in the ‘80s and ‘90s would fill the reservoirs. We’ve had some big snow years, but the runoff doesn’t show it.

Now, one major question is whether they will go so low as to make it impossible to generate electricity.

I asked Mueller about his remarks, the tone of this year’s session. “The tone has to reflect the reality on the ground,” he said.

“I think at every level our folks who are paying attention to the science and the hydrology, there is an increasing sense of urgency in the Colorado River Basin, and it’s shared by folks on the ground today, from ranchers in the Yampa River Valley to farmers in the Uncompahgre Valley to major urban providers like Denver Water. We all recognize there is something very different going on than there was 10 years ago in the Colorado River,” he said.

“People like Brad have been saying for years that this is coming. I have seen lots of people in power turn their backs to Brad when he’s talking,” he said, likely meaning that metaphorically. “They’re not doing that so much anymore.”

What is happening is complex but understandable. There is drought, as conventionally understood, but then the overlay of higher temperatures. The warmer temperatures cause more evaporation. They cause more transpiration from plants. More precipitation can overcome this, but particularly in Southern Colorado, there’s actually been less.

The most interesting slide Udall showed compared the runoff of several rivers over time. The San Juan River—which originates in Colorado, near Pagosa Springs—had 30% less water in 2000-2019 at Bluff, Utah, as compared to 1906-1999. The decline of the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs was 6%.

Another compelling statistic reported during the seminar was about soil moisture. Dry soil sops up snowmelt before it can get to the stream. Runoff from deep snows can be lost to the previous years’ dry soils.

In 2020, the snowpack was 100% but the runoff was 50%. That soil-moisture deficit played into this year’s even worse runoff, 30% of average from a snowpack that was 90% of average.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation during the Trump years operated well, although I do remember a session at the Colorado River Water Users Association in December 2019 of top Trump water officials who sat on a panel and patted themselves on the back for the better part of an hour, seemingly oblivious to the big issue of that day. It was like the famous Trump cabinet meeting where the cabinet heads took turns praising Trump like he was the North Korean dictator.

Udall, in his presentation to the River District seminar, pointed to the tremendous drop in storage. The two giant reservoirs, Mead and Powell, in January 2020 were 90% full and held 47 million acre-feet. They are projected to fall to 15 million acre-feet combined by April 22, leaving them 30% full.

This has manifold implications—including for Colorado. In 2009, I wrote my first story about Colorado’s possible need to curtail diversions in order to comply with the Colorado River Compact. That possibility is far more concrete now, and Udall mentioned it in his presentation.

But even when it was more remote, water managers in Colorado were talking about various programs that could allow cities to pay farmers and ranchers, especially on the Western Slope, to use their water (for a price, of course). The farmers and ranchers tend to have the oldest and most senior water rights; the cities tend to have the more junior rights – almost exclusively junior to the Colorado River Compact.

Looking around me on the Front Range, I don’t see a response that I think the situation justifies. From Pueblo to Fort Collins, we all depend greatly upon imported water. That will almost certainly change. We’re going to see a very different water paradigm a decade from now. Predicting the changes is beyond me, but the water in the 21st century isn’t there to satisfy 20th century expectations.

This is from Big Pivots 46, an e-journal devoted to the water and energy transitions in Colorado and beyond. Please consider subscribing or sharing this story with associates.

There may be implications in other realms. I am reminded what Colorado State Sen. Chris Hansen said at a fundraiser this summer, about the growing room for new alliances with conservatives to move forward on climate action. The evidence—wildfires, heat waves, the drying of the Colorado River – is becoming overwhelming.

Visiting Greeley to attend the Energy and Environmental Leadership Symposium on Oct 8-9, I was struck by the shift. This is in Weld County, where 90% of oil and gas production occurs in Colorado. The keynote speaker, Chris Wright, the chief executive of Liberty Oilfield Services, downplayed the risks and costs of climate change and emphasized the cost of trying to shift from fossil fuels. This will be a 200-year journey, he said, not something done in 30 years.

But for the next day and a half, whether talking about fossil fuels or renewables, all the sessions in some way had to do with a carbon-constrained world.

To modify Mueller’s cliché about the train, it seems like the train has left the station on this energy transition and it’s picking up speed. This train will have to move a lot quicker. Just what value will those giant reservoirs built during the 20th century on the Colorado River have in the 21st century? It’s an open question.

See also: A deep rethink of the Colorado River

Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

How the climate crisis is transforming the meaning of ‘sustainability’ in business — The Conversation


Businesses tend to value profit over people and planet. Climate change is forcing them to evolve.
elenabs via Getty Images

Raz Godelnik, The New School

In his 2021 letter to CEOs, Larry Fink, the CEO and chairman of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment manager, wrote: “No issue ranks higher than climate change on our clients’ lists of priorities.”

His comment reflected a growing unease with how the climate crisis is already disrupting businesses.

Companies’ concerns about climate change have typically been focused on their operational, financial and reputational risks, the latter associated with the growing importance of the issue among young people. Now, climate change is calling into question the traditional paradigm of corporate sustainability and how companies address their impacts on society and the planet overall.

As a professor working in strategic design, innovation, business models and sustainability, I’ve been tracking how climate change is transforming the meaning of “sustainability” in business, and I’m starting to see early signs of change.

The sustainability gap

Over the past few decades, many companies came to embrace sustainability. It became the corporate norm to seek ways to reduce a company’s negative impacts on society and the planet and operate more responsibly.

Sustainability reporting is probably the clearest evidence of this trend. In 2020, 96% of the world’s largest companies by revenue, known as the G250, released details about their sustainability efforts. But that rise in sustainability reporting was not accompanied by actual improvement in key environmental and social issues. Global greenhouse gas emissions continued to grow, as did the pay gap between CEOs and employees, for example.

As I suggest in my new book, “Rethinking Corporate Sustainability in the Era of Climate Crisis – A Strategic Design Approach,” this gap between companies’ growing attention to sustainability and the minimal change produced is driven by their approach, which I call “sustainability-as-usual.”

Sustainability-as-usual is the slow and voluntary adoption of sustainability in business, where companies commit to changes they feel comfortable making. It’s not necessarily the same as what science shows is needed to slow climate change, or what the United Nations recommends for an equitable society. Businesses’ response to both will be drawing global attention in November when world leaders gather for the annual U.N. climate conference.

The problem with sustainability-as-usual

Companies have taken this incremental approach because while they have paid more attention to social and environmental issues, their first priority has remained maximizing profit for their shareholders.

Take, for example, companies’ focus on improving the recyclability of single-use products instead of considering new business models that could have greater positive impact, such as shifting to reusable packaging or eliminating it altogether.

One notable example is Heinz. The ketchup maker announced a cap for its ketchup bottle that is 100% recyclable. It was the outcome of $1.2 million invested and 185,000 hours of work over eight years, according to the company.

Climate change requires a new approach

While companies appear to grasp the magnitude of the climate crisis, they have been trying to address it mainly in a sustainability-as-usual fashion – one ketchup bottle cap at a time.

Consider emissions reductions. Companies have been slow to commit to reducing their emissions to zero no later than mid-century, a target that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change considers necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – roughly 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit – and avoid the worst effects of climate change. Only about one-fifth of the major companies have 2030 goals that are in line with reaching net-zero goals by 2050 at the latest.

The companies that do set net-zero targets often do so in ways that lack the necessary robustness and allow them to continue emitting greenhouse gases, as recent reports point out. One concern, for example, is their dependence on carbon offsets, which allow them to pay for potential carbon reductions elsewhere without making any real changes in their own value chain.




Read more:
Why corporate climate pledges of ‘net-zero’ emissions should trigger a healthy dose of skepticism


How to transform business sustainability

Companies have tried to rebrand their efforts in ways that sound more sophisticated, moving from terms like “corporate social responsibility (CSR)” to “environmental, social and governance (ESG),” “purposeful companies” and “carbon-neutral products.”

But when companies don’t put actions with their words, they increasingly meet resistance from activists, investors and governmental and regulatory bodies. One example is the growing scrutiny of companies that promote themselves as climate leaders but at the same time donate money to politicians opposing climate policies. Public relations and advertising employees called out their own industry in a report exposing 90 agencies working with fossil fuel companies.

Business is at a strategic inflection point, which Andy Grove, the former CEO of computer chip-maker Intel, described as “a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change.”

This transformation could evolve in different ways, but as I suggest in my book, fighting climate change effectively requires a new mindset that shifts the relationships between profit maximization and sustainability to prioritize sustainability over profit.

Early signs of evolution

There are early signs of evolution, both within companies and from the forces that shape the environment in which companies operate.

One example is how other industries are reassessing their relationship with fossil fuel companies. Some newspapers, including The Guardian, have banned advertising from fossil fuel companies. A growing number of insurance companies and banks have stopped financing coal projects. The French bank Crédit Mutuel said it saw the impact of climate change on its customers and was willing to lose money “in the short term” to respond to the risk.

Another example is changes in companies’ relationships with suppliers – for example, the business software company Salesforce added a sustainability clause to its contracts requiring suppliers to set carbon reduction goals.

And investors are moving for the first time from just urging companies to take bolder action on climate change to using sticks. Fidelity announced that it would vote against corporate directors whose companies don’t disclose their emissions or have a policy on climate change.

Add to these bright spots changes in regulation and policy worldwide that aim to put in place key sustainability principles and push to cut emissions at a faster pace, plus the changing expectations of young job seekers when it comes to environmental and social issues, such as inclusion and diversity, and you can start to see how the end of sustainability-as-usual may be closer than many people think. Due to climate change, the question is more “when” than “if” it will happen.

[Over 110,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]The Conversation

Raz Godelnik, Assistant Professor of Strategic Design & Management, The New School

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can Tri-State clean up its power faster and even deeper?: We’re moving as fast as we possibly can, says Colorado’s second largest electrical utility in filings with state regulators — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Laramie River Station. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

Colorado’s second largest electrical utility has committed to 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 as compared to 2005. But can it cut even deeper, faster?

Filings with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in late September offer a peek into the thinking of both that utility, Tri-State Generation & Transmission, and various other groups at the table.

“It is not reasonable to construct and integrate the sheer quantity of modeled new resources under this scenario,” says Tri-State in a filing submitted on Sept. 28. “The extent of the resources called for in eastern Colorado and Wyoming before 2028 are not physically possible on Tri-State’s transmission system.”

Tri-State was responding to a scenario called Roadmap, which calls for early retirement of 800 megawatts of coal generation—including the final unit at the Craig Generation Station in Colorado by 2028, ahead of Tri-State’s current plans of New Year’s Eve 2029.

That same Roadmap scenario would also have Tri-State curtail its use of a coal-fired power plant in Arizona called Springerville, cutting off production from the plant altogether in 2028 and also idling its share of Wyoming’s Laramie River Station coal plant for three to five months at a time.

Tri-State supplies electricity to 18 of Colorado’s 22 electrical cooperatives as well as 24 others in New Mexico, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Unlike Colorado’s two investor-owned electrical utilities, Xcel Energy and Black Hills, it had not been required to submit electric resource plans to the state regulatory body until a 2019 state law said it must.

In practice, Tri-State operated much like the private companies even if it is a non-profit cooperative, a creation of its member cooperatives. Individual cooperatives as well as municipal utilities still are not required to submit such plans.

In general, Tri-State wants to go slower in shifting off its coal plants. To go quicker means adding more natural-gas fired generation more rapidly, and the time for permitting such plants remains an unknown.

Several times, Tri-State says it wants to give time for other technologies to become more competitive. In other words, don’t rush the solutions. At least in its rebuttal document filed on Sept. 28, it does not describe those other technologies. It is known to be interested in both hydrogen storage and advanced nuclear technology—as, for that matter, most other utilities also are.

The filing also contains information about how it intends to assist the Craig community as it exits coal. The filings also emphasize the importance of a regional transportation organization, or RTO, in decarbonizing electricity while ensuring reliability and lower costs.

In this inaugural voyage under the 2019 law, Tri-State submitted its electric resource plan in December 2020. Tri-State promises 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 as compared to 2005 (and 70% renewables). Xcel, the state’s largest utility, says it can achieve an 85% reduction (and 80% renewables).

Tri-State sees its path forward including more than 2,000 megawatts of new renewables, both wind and solar, as well as energy storage, by 2030.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission has a power-purchase agreement for 104 megawatts of generating capacity from the Crossing Trails Wind Farm, a wind farm between Seibert and Kit Carson, in eastern Colorado, on Oct. 3. Photo/Allen Best

Stakeholders have alternative ideas about how Tri-State should move forward, most calling for a more rapid retreat from coal. Their proposed scenarios have been modeled by Tri-State with aid of its new modeling software developed for utility planning.

Those stakeholders—who didn’t necessarily agree with each other in all cases—consist of the Colorado Energy Office, Colorado Independent Energy Association; the staff of the PUC; the Conservation Coalition (including Sierra Club and Natural Resource Defense Council); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 111; Interwest Energy Alliance; Southwest Energy Efficiency Project; Western Resource Advocates; and Wyoming Rural Electric Cooperatives.

One of the disagreements involves the schedule for closing the units at Craig. Tri-State plans to close the first unit by the end of 2025, the second unit in September 2028, and then the third unit on New Year’s Eve 2029. It proposes to operate the coal units at lower levels during the latter part of the decade as it brings on renewables.

Three of the six alternative scenarios would have the final unit at Craig closed by the end of 2025.

Disagreements are also found in the sequence for closing the Arizona coal plant, Springerville. Tri-State has a contract through 2036 to lease 100% of the power generated by a 420-megawatt unit at the coal plant. Tri-State says it would be costly to escape that commitment quickly, although the details are blacked out in the public version of the filing.

Another point of contention is Laramie River Station in Wyoming. Tri-State is a partial owner as a result of its ownership in the Missouri River Power Project but has not had discussions with its partners. “Therefore, the costs are assumed to be immitigable in the modeling,” Tri-State says, using a word that means unable to be made less severe or serious.

This is from Big Pivots 46, an e-magazine that covers energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Please consider subscribing and donating—and sharing this story on social media.

A separate statement posted by Tri-State on its website notes that Tri-State is actually lowering rates, with a 2% reduction in March to be followed by another 2% in 2022.

Eric Frankowski, executive director of the Western Clean Energy Campaign, a group premised in a more rapid retreat from fossil fuels by utilities, found the latest filing by Tri-State to be lacking critical information. “Where is the explanation for why they want to operate Craig (unit 3) until 2029 while the modeling shows it would be better for customers to operate until only 2025. I don’t see that explanation in there.”

Also absent is any exploration of what it would take to close the coal plants in Arizona and Wyoming.

“With the exception of some new gas being delayed, (Tri-State’s revised preferred alternative) doesn’t do a whole lot to move the needle on retiring coal early and getting customers away from one of its most expensive generating sources.”
The other stakeholders have until November to respond to Tri-State’s latest filing. This is the way of the long, drawn-out process for creating the electrical grid of the future.

See also: Can Tri-State and other G&Ts serve a useful purpose in the fast-changing world of energy?

Opinion: A clean electricity grid is possible, if Colorado and federal lawmakers follow through — The #Colorado Sun #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

The Dixie Fire destroys a home in the Plumas County town of Greenville, Aug. 4, 2021. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

Here’s a guest column from Maria Nájera that’s running in The Colorado Sun:

Across Colorado and the West, the intensifying effects of climate change are evident, from record-breaking heat to prolonged drought, erratic weather patterns, intense wildfires, and toxic air pollution that blots the sunlight and catches in our throats. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of global scientists convened by the United Nations, noted in its major new report released in September that some of the devastating impacts of climate change cannot be averted, due to our decades of fossil-fuel use.

But we still have a small window of time to act and take steps that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst impacts of climate crisis.

Colorado and the rest of the nation must shift away from fossil-fuel reliance and cut the harmful carbon emissions that are heating our planet. Colorado has taken important steps to address climate change, and federal support for clean energy and climate action will help Colorado achieve its science-based climate goals.

The Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan is a much needed, pivotal set of federal actions and includes significant provisions we need to address climate change.

Tesla Power Wall.

A crucial part of Build Back Better is the American Jobs Plan’s Clean Electricity Standard, which would put the United States on a path to achieving, by 2035, a clean and reliable electricity system, by which we mean one free of greenhouse-gas emissions, and preferably powered by renewable sources. A June survey by Data for Progress and Western Resource Advocates shows that a large majority of Colorado voters support the key climate and clean energy provisions in the American Jobs Plan, and 73% of those voters support the plan’s provisions to transition to a 100% clean electricity grid.

The Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, a Colorado bill signed into law in 2019, sets science-based targets of reducing statewide greenhouse-gas pollution 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050 from 2005 levels. Earlier this year, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis released his Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap outlining a plan to reach those targets. And Colorado legislators this year passed measures to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution from most electricity production 80% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, as well as cut energy waste and power homes and businesses with clean electricity.

But further emissions reduction work at Colorado’s regulatory agencies and in future legislative sessions is needed to get the state on track to reach its climate goals. Complementary federal action will help Colorado achieve its climate commitments.

The Build Back Better plan aims to invest in creating a resilient grid, lowering energy bills for middle class Americans, improving air quality, and creating good-paying jobs on the path to achieving carbon-free electricity by 2035. Importantly, the plan would provide tax credits to incentivize the building of high-capacity power transmission lines that would help make the grid stronger.

Communities that have disproportionately borne the effects of climate change would benefit from billions of federal dollars as part of a framework called Justice40 – a plan that prioritizes investing in communities impacted by environmental racism. Under the initiative, the federal government would ensure 40% of climate and clean energy investments are directed to communities that have historically been marginalized. This includes funding for programs to clean up hazardous brownfield and Superfund sites, replace lead pipes, and invest in zero-emission public transit. Workers and communities who have relied on fossil-fuel extraction and power generation would have a path forward to new economic opportunities through the plan’s job-creation provisions.

Wind turbines on the Cheyenne Ridge. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

Colorado and the West need significant federal investment to accelerate our clean energy transition. While Colorado has passed some important legislation and regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas pollution, a substantial gap remains between our current emissions and our science-based climate goals.

Federal funding can support and accelerate state efforts, by providing necessary resources to supplement state and local budgets for activities like constructing clean energy projects, plugging abandoned oil and gas wells, or building electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Significant federal spending also can speed deployment of emerging technologies, which brings down costs for everyone through economies of scale.

We face the increasing and devastating effects of climate change every day, and the science is clear: We must act now to protect Colorado.

We urge our federal lawmakers to take the courageous action needed in these pivotal times. Passage of the Build Back Better plan’s provisions would provide a much needed tailwind to accelerate Colorado’s existing efforts and address the climate challenges ahead.

Maria Nájera, of Denver, is government affairs director for Western Resource Advocates.

Coyote Gulch’s excellent EV Adventure, Grand Valley edition

Buffalo Mountain from the Frisco Town Center September 30, 2021.

I’m in Fruita this morning. I’ll be heading for a nice bicycle ride along the Riverfront Trail to Colorado Mesa University for the Colorado River District’s seminar today, “Wake up Call on the Colorado River.”

I drove the EV over to check out the charging infrastructure available for my Leaf and its nearly 5-year old battery. The addition of DC Fast charging made the trip much more convenient than it would have been. The pull over the Continental Divide of the Americas from Idaho Springs was a concern but I pulled into Silverthorne with charge to spare thanks to the regenerative braking system in the Leaf. The only DC Fast charger in Frisco was down (Electrify America) so I was using the Level 2 chargers at the Frisco Town Center (Chargepoint).

Leaf charging in Frisco September 30, 2021.

Vail has DC fast chargers at the Lion’s Head Parking facility, also Chargepoint.

Leaf charging at the Lionshead parking facility in Vail September 30, 2021.

I bumped the charge at the DC fast charger (Chargepoint) in Edwards for the longish run to Rifle.

Leaf charging in Edwards September 30, 2021.

The Rifle Chargepoint installation is sweet and very fast. The run from there into Grand Junction went well.

Leaf charging in Rifle September 30, 2021.

I did check out the charger at the Debeque Fire District (Level 2) where it started raining. The beautiful rain continued all the way to Fruita. The final charge was on Horizon Drive in Grand Junction but I didn’t get a photo since it was dark and raining.

Colorado National Monument from the Riverfront Trail near Fruita September 2018.

Opinion: The time is now for oil and gas bonding reform — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Don Lumbardy):

Making a living as a rancher on the Western Slope isn’t easy. Working the land in an arid environment, keeping livestock, and negotiating in turbulent market conditions is hard work at the best of times. Yet over the past 50 years that I’ve raised cattle and grown crops in Mesa County, I have witnessed the days growing hotter and drier with each passing year.

For many like myself who sought to build a career feeding our community from the land that I call home, drought is threatening to wither our way of life. Protecting what little water we have and taking action to slow the change in climate is vital to sustaining agriculture in Western Colorado, which is why we must urge state and federal decision makers to adopt protective rules that require oil and gas operators to set aside enough money to clean up their oil and gas wells after they are finished with production.

When a well that is drilled to extract oil or gas has no operator responsible for it (due to bankruptcy, etc.), it is referred to as an “orphaned well.” Orphaned wells result in many problems for public health and the environment, including venting harmful chemicals into the air, polluting groundwater with toxic sludge, creating dangerous conditions for wildlife, and releasing plumes of methane.

Large operators will frequently drill wells, extract most of the resource, and then sell them off to smaller operators towards the end of the well’s productive life. After the small operator pumps the last dredges, they often declare bankruptcy, and leave the orphaned wells for the government (that is, taxpayers) to clean up.

Unfortunately, we already have a number of these orphaned wells here in Mesa County’s own backyard. For example, Fram Operating LLC has left a number of wells orphaned in the Grand Junction watershed. Fram only posted some $310,000 in bonds to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, despite the total bill for cleanup being about $5 million. These wells are a direct threat to the community’s water supply.

In my own experience, Fram has tried to strong-arm landowners such as myself into allowing them to drill on their property without regard to the potential impacts that their extraction might have on our water supply. Despite my protests and explanation that any drilling could divert away water that I needed to grow crops and raise cattle, their landman told me that my concerns didn’t matter, and that they would drill anyway. Fortunately, this did not come to pass, but there is no doubt in my mind that if they hadn’t filed for bankruptcy, they would have tried.

My story is just one example of what is happening across our state, and the real threat that orphaned oil and gas wells pose to us all. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, hunting, fishing, and animal watching contribute about $800 million to the economy of western Colorado, and $5.7 billion statewide. Colorado’s agricultural sector creates an additional $47 billion. Protecting these industries from disruptive changes in weather patterns, habitat loss, and soil degradation that orphaned wells contribute to is vital to protecting over 124,000 jobs throughout our state.

But it’s not just jobs on the line; it’s also our tax dollars. Of the approximately 52,000 producing wells in Colorado, about half produce less than 5 barrels of oil or equivalent in [methane] gas per day. Should the operators walk away from their obligations to plug and reclaim them, it will be Colorado taxpayers left to foot the bill for the billions of dollars in cleanup costs they represent.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take right now to prevent the orphaned well crisis we are facing from festering any longer. Presently, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is seeking to craft new financial assurance rules. They need to hear from the public that we expect operators to post a bond for the full cost of plugging and reclamation for each well up front before they are allowed to drill. At the federal level, we must encourage Sens. Hickenlooper and Bennet to push for the latter’s Oil and Gas Bonding Reform and Orphaned Well Remediation Act, which would provide billions of dollars to clean up orphaned wells and modernize bonding rates, to be passed by Congress as soon as possible.

For those of us on the Western Slope working in agriculture, science has produced technological advances that have made our work easier and level of crop production possible. Now, science is telling us that we have to protect our environment, health, and water from orphaned oil and gas wells. By working together, we can confront this threat to our health, economy, and tax dollars, and protect this vibrant, beautiful state for Coloradans now and in the future.

Don Lumbardy is a fourth-generation rancher born in Mesa County, just 20 miles west of the ranch he lives on today. Don has been ranching in western Colorado for nearly 50 years, and works to help the public understand the importance of food, water, and protecting the environment that sustains them.

United Nations Warns of ‘Catastrophic Pathway’ With Current #Climate Pledges — The New York Times #ActOnClimate

The coal-fired Tri-State Generation and Transmission plant in Craig provides much of the power used in Western Colorado, including in Aspen and Pitkin County. Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office has a plan to move the state’s electric grid to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The New York Times (Somini Sengupta):

The global average temperature will rise 2.7 degrees Celsius by century’s end even if all countries meet their promised emissions cuts, a rise that is likely to worsen extreme wildfires, droughts and floods, the United Nations said in a report on Friday.

That level of warming, measured against preindustrial levels, is likely to increase the frequency of deadly heat waves and threaten coastal cities with rising sea levels, the country-by-country analysis concluded.

The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said it shows “the world is on a catastrophic pathway.”

Perhaps most starkly, the new report displayed the large gap between what the scientific consensus urges world leaders to do and what those leaders have been willing to do so far. Emissions of planet-warming gases are poised to grow by 16 percent during this decade compared with 2010 levels, even as the latest scientific research indicates that they need to decrease by at least a quarter by 2030 to avert the worst impacts of global warming.

Mr. Guterres is likely to drive home the sense of urgency next week when the world’s presidents and prime ministers gather for the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. It will continue to loom over the meeting of the 20 largest economies, known as the Group of 20, at their gathering in Rome in late October, and then be the focus of the United Nations-led international climate talks in November in Scotland.

#ClimateChange tops talk during Senator Michael Bennet’s telephone town hall September 3, 2021 — The #FortMorgan Times

The graph shows average annual global temperatures since 1880 (source data) compared to the long-term average (1901-2000). The zero line represents the long-term average temperature for the whole planet; blue and red bars show the difference above or below average for each year. (These data were among the sources of data used in the State of the Climate in 2020’s temperature analysis, but here are compared to the 20th-century average. In the report, they are compared to the 1981-2010 average.)

From The Fort Morgan Times (Katie Roth):

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet held a telephone town hall event on Friday, Sept. 3 to answer questions and address concerns for Coloradoans. Though Bennet spends a lot of time in Washington D.C., he has been back in Colorado for the past few weeks. He has held 30 events in 13 different counties across the state and came away observing three things in need of attention: climate change, both man-made and natural infrastructure, and affordable healthcare, housing and education.

“I think the United States has not been investing in our people or our infrastructure for a very, very long time, and it shows. But things are beginning to change. Last month, the Senate passed a historic $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on a bipartisan vote,” said Bennet…

Bennet is focusing on both paid family leave and climate change, as well. He advocates for paid parent leave so Coloradoans can stay home with a sick child or an elderly family member without losing his or her job.

As for climate change, Bennet recognizes the problems at hand: “We’ve got to act urgently on climate. If we don’t, I really worry that we’re not going to recognize our own state in a few years, and I think all of us refuse to hand our kids and grandkids a state where you can’t see the mountains or you can’t go outside half the summer and families live in fear of wildfire… droughts… There’s a lot of work to do ahead, and I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time that the agenda in Washington (D.C.) reflects our priorities in Colorado. And that’s, in large part, thanks to the feedback I receive in conversations like this that I can carry back to Washington (D.C.).”

[…]

A caller from Westminster in Adams County, Ellen, expressed her disappointment in Bennet’s lack of actions taken to combat climate change: “I appreciate you saying you feel urgency over the climate crisis, but you need to act in line with that urgency. Your vote to prohibit banning fossil fuel development on public lands and your vote to support a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Texas (were) so unacceptable. To prevent more severe climate crises than we already face, we have to end extracting and burning fossil fuels.”

While Bennet made it clear he did not regret those votes, he did explain his reasoning for them: “I believe very strongly that if we are ever going to actually get off of fossil fuels, we have to have a plan to transition off of fossil fuels. I don’t believe that we could just get off them tomorrow and be done with it without driving energy prices through the roof… what we need is a thoughtful approach over the next 10, 20, 30 years to get this economy to a net zero carbon economy. If we don’t have a plan to get to net zero by 2050, then we’re not ever going to do it.”

[…]

A woman named Irma submitted an online question asking Bennet how he is protecting Colorado’s watershed and water supply.

From his research over the past year or so, Bennet discovered that it would cost $60 billion to protect the west’s watershed. While that seems like a steep price, Colorado has spent $60 billion in the past four to five years fighting fires. Bennet wrote a bill called the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act which pushes to use funds for forest mitigation and watershed restoration. Bennet sits on the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, and he hopes his bill will be passed as part of the reconciliation package…

Marti from Lafayette in Boulder County, originally from Ohio, moved to Colorado to be closer to her family and enjoys the Colorado weather. She called with a question about poor air quality and frequent ozone alerts. More specifically, she shared her research on Suncor Energy in Denver and how it has not met federal admission standards for toxic gasses. She questioned how the company could be held accountable. Bennet was not as familiar with Suncor and made a note to look into whether or not that problem could be solved on a state or federal level or instead handled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bennet also shared his wish to reinstate a law from when Hickenlooper was in office with a goal to capture fugitive methane from pipelines and drilling rigs, a law which President Trump removed.

Are ‘water positive’ pledges from tech companies just a new kind of greenwashing? In response to historic droughts, Google and Facebook say they want to use less water at their data centers — Popular Science #ActOnClimate

Google Data Center, The Dalles, Oregon. By Visitor7 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16564116

From Popular Science (Angely Mercado):

Corporate America is making a new kind of climate pledge. In recent months, multiple tech giants have pledged to use their reach and resources to join the fight for water conservation. Facebook made an announcement at the end of August declaring their efforts to “be water positive by 2030.” And just this week, Google made a similar announcement to make its data centers more efficient and support water security in the communities it operates in.

Google, Facebook, and several other companies have promised to put more water back into the environment than they pipe in—an exchange they call “water positive.” This means they plan to cut the amount of water needed to run their facilities, while protecting natural waterways and preserving access to clean drinking water in drought-prone areas. The math is based on the number of gallons they want to restore, not newly produced H2O. Both Facebook and Google have also promised to share their conservation research and tech with others…

Given the current state of the planet, it’s only fitting that corporations like Facebook and Google change how they use up water and other vital resources, says Pamela Chasek, a professor and chair of the political science department of Manhattan College, who has also commented on past corporate climate pledges…

A 2020 report by Data Center Knowledge found that Google operates more than 20 data centers around the world. Facebook, meanwhile, has seven data centers in the US. The social media company has also announced that it will open more data centers this year.

“The typical data center uses about 3-5 million gallons of water per day—the same amount of water as a city of 30,000-50,000 people,” Venkatesh Uddameri, professor and director of the Water Resources Center at Texas Tech University told NBC News earlier this year. Much of it is used to chill the giant servers, machine learning systems, and other hardware the companies run around the clock.

Both Facebook and Google say they’re testing out ways to cut down the water used to cool these data centers. “For example, we deployed technology that uses reclaimed wastewater to cool our data center in Douglas County, Georgia,” Google Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt writes in an email to PopSci. “At our office campuses in the San Francisco Bay Area, we worked with ecologists and landscape architects to develop an ecological design strategy and habitat guidelines to improve the resiliency of landscapes and nearby watershed health.”

In its pledge post, Facebook noted that it uses “onsite recycled water systems” at some global offices. The company also stated that it’s developed technology that enables “data centers to be cooled with outside air,” allowing them “to operate 80 percent more water efficiently on average compared to the industry standard.”

For the other end of the “water positive” equation, both companies say they’ve sought out local partners to meet their new water sustainability goals. Google writes that it’s “working with the Colorado River Indian Tribes project to reduce the amount of water that is withdrawn from Lake Mead reservoir on the Colorado River in Nevada and Arizona.” Meanwhile, Facebook points out that it’s providing funding “to the Rio Grande Water Fund to restore the connection between the stressed Cedro Creek and its historic floodplain.”

Water usage has long been a concern as large tech offices and data centers compete with area residents (people and wildlife) over limited water supplies in drought-prone areas. The friction has only intensified in recent years. In 2017, multiple South Carolina-based conservation groups criticized Google for its plans to draw more than a million gallons of water per day from the depleted Goose Creek watershed. The corporation ultimately struck a deal to draw 5 million gallons per day from another aquifer.

When asked if the water pledges felt like greenwashing, Chasek says it’ll depend on how Facebook and Google are held accountable and how transparent both companies are when implementing the actions behind their promises.

“One of the interesting things with the Facebook project is that they’re working with NGOs and other organizations in terms of partnerships,” she explains. “These partnerships can determine where best to do water-restoration work, [which] is one piece of that accountability. How are they investing in these water restoration projects … particularly like in the western US where we’re seeing the highest amount of water stress? Those projects need to see a lot of scrutiny.”

Jim Murphy, an assistant professor and the environmental advocacy clinic director at the Vermont Law School, agrees that major tech companies should be held accountable for their sustainability claims by outside organizations or even governmental agencies. But he argues that while it makes sense for powerful industries to help with water management, policy is the best way to manage responsible use of natural resources, especially in communities hard hit by climate change.

“The problem with private companies, even if they’re publicly owned … is they have certain obligations to their shareholders,” he says. “These are not accountable entities or entities that are created [through] public interest.”

That kind of decoupling is especially important as fossil fuel companies like BP, which helped to exacerbate climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, launch “water positive” campaigns of their own.

“Making sure that we properly protect the entire watershed from pollution and destruction is paramount,” Murphy continues. “The Biden administration has taken some steps in this direction, and they really need to continue that through.”

To Meet Paris Accord Goal, Most of the World’s #FossilFuel Reserves Must Stay in the Ground — Inside #Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

From Inside Climate News (Nicholas Kusnetz):

A new study in Nature reports that oil, gas and coal production must begin falling immediately to have even a 50 percent chance of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

After a summer of weather extremes that highlighted the urgency of limiting global warming in starkly human terms, new research is clarifying what it will take to do so. In order to have just a 50 percent chance of meeting the most ambitious climate target, the study found, the production of all fossil fuels will need to start declining immediately, and a significant majority of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves will have to remain underground over the next few decades.

While the research, published Wednesday [September 8, 2021] in the journal Nature, is only the latest to argue that meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement goals to limit warming requires a rapid pivot to clean energy, it lays out with clear and specific figures exactly how far from those targets the world remains.

“The inescapable evidence that hopefully we’ve shown and that successive reports have shown is that if you want to meet 1.5 degrees, then global production has to start declining,” said Daniel Welsby, a researcher at University College London, in the United Kingdom, and the study’s lead author. As part of the Paris Agreement, nations agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

The study found that nearly 60 percent of global oil and gas reserves and about 90 percent of coal reserves must be left unexploited by 2050, though a portion of those fuels could be produced in the second half of the century. Total oil and gas production must begin declining immediately, the research said, and continue falling at about 3 percent annually through 2050. Coal production must fall at an even steeper rate.

While the authors noted a few signs of change, including that coal production is already on the decline, the current course is far off what’s needed. In March, the International Energy Agency warned that oil production was on track to rebound from a pandemic-driven dip and would surpass 2019 levels within a couple of years. That projection came on the heels of a separate report in December by the United Nations Environment Program, which said energy producing countries are set to expand fossil fuel output for years.

The new paper builds on these studies and other related work to estimate the “unextractable” portion of the fossil fuel stores that are currently considered profitable to exploit—so-called proven reserves. Put another way, the research effectively says that most of the fossil fuels that energy companies currently list as financial assets, or that governments report as strategic ones, would be rendered worthless if the world is to have a shot at limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Click to enlarge.

Drake Power Plant shutdown marks latest step in #Colorado’s shift off #FossilFuels — The #Denver Post #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Martin Drake Coal Plant Colorado Springs. The coal plant in downtown Colorado Springs will be closed by 2023 and 7 gas-fired generators moved in to generate power until 2030. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Eighteen coal-fired power plants down. Another dozen to go as Colorado shifts its electricity supply system off fossil fuels.

The latest shutdown at the massive Martin Drake Power Plant in downtown Colorado Springs last week brings the share of electricity generated by burning coal statewide to less than 36%, federal Energy Information Administration data shows. That’s down from 68% a decade ago, though Colorado still lags behind the national 19% share. The state’s remaining coal plants are scheduled to close by 2040.

“If we can do this in the heart of the West, in a state that used to be one of the most reliant on coal generation, states across the nation can do it too,” Colorado Energy Office director Will Toor said.

A growing reliance on solar and wind energy alternatives “can be leveraged,” Toor said, for electric vehicles and electric-powered heating of buildings.

Air along Colorado’s Front Range no longer will be infused with the pollution that for nearly 100 years has risen from Drake’s towering chimneys. This means 201 tons a year less sulfur dioxide, 25 tons less lung-clogging particulates, 257 tons less carbon monoxide, and 1,007 tons less nitrogen oxides that lead to ozone smog, according to data from state air quality control officials.

Drake emitted more than 1.3 million tons a year of pollutants overall, including carbon dioxide and smaller amounts of benzene, hydrogen chloride, sulfuric acid and chloroform, state data shows.

Shifting beyond coal “will help improve air quality nearby and across the state,” Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment director Jill Hunsaker Ryan said.

Drake for decades has loomed as one of the nation’s last urban industrial coal plants. City-run utility crews relied on coal, burning up to 3,000 tons a day, to handle up to a third of local electricity demands. For now, utility workers are focusing on a delicate transition. They’ll supply electricity temporarily using portable natural gas generators, along with coal-fired power from the Ray Nixon power plant southeast of the city. The coal unit there isn’t scheduled to close until 2029…

America The Beautiful Park, photo by James Van Hoy via The City of Colorado Springs

Dismantling Drake will open about 50 acres along Fountain Creek in the heart of Colorado Springs, where leaders have created the America the Beautiful Park, a new soccer stadium and the Olympics Museum just north of the plant.

Future uses of that site depend on cleanup, followed by land and creek habitat restoration. When the chimneys come down, contractors will inject bleach 18 inches deep in the ground, and soil will be imported to the site, Colorado Springs Utilities chief executive Aram Benyamin said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state health officials and community groups for years have pressed Colorado Springs leaders to cut pollution from Drake, particularly the sulfur dioxide. But government agencies never ordered a shutdown. In the end cost as well as the environment played a role, as city council members last year voted to close Drake ahead of their previously scheduled deadline of 2035.

Water expert found his roots in #water scarcity — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District in Palisade. (Photo by Osha Gray Davidson)

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Sam Klomhaus):

[Max] Schmidt, 72, has managed the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District since 2009. Before that, he spent almost 20 years with the Natural Resource Conservation Service designing irrigation systems. And, before that, he was a produce farmer in West Texas.

In Texas, Schmidt cultivated cabbage, carrots, watermelon, broccoli, spinach, sweet corn, cantaloupe and peppers.

When he was 40, Schmidt realized he was working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and he wanted to watch his three children grow up, so he packed up and headed to the Grand Valley. He loves it here, and so do his kids…

Schmidt says he thoroughly enjoyed farming when he did it, and he misses it sometimes, but “I like watching other people farm.”

Agriculture is very important to Schmidt, and it’s clear that’s one of the things he likes best about his job and living in Western Colorado…

Working in water means Schmidt understands the complicated subject of water rights better than most.

“Colorado’s water history is really interesting,” he said. Some of the buildings he manages are 110 years old…

Orchard Mesa Irrigation District power plant near Palisade. Water from Colorado’s snowpack is distributed across the region through a complex network of dams, pipelines and irrigation canals. Photo credit: Orchard Mesa Irrigation District

The Orchard Mesa irrigation District and Grand Valley Water Users Association are looking to build a new hydro plant adjacent to the current one in Orchard Mesa, to the tune of about $10 million.

Schmidt said he plans to retire after the new plant is completed. After that, he wants to travel. He said he’s going to start with all the national parks, and maybe ride some trains around.

Our new age of fire — Writers on the Range #ActOnClimate

From Writers on the Range (Steve Pyne):

Fire in the West is expected, and not so long ago, it seemed something the West experienced more than anywhere else. Nationally, big fires were treated as another freak of regional violence, like a grizzly bear attack, or another California quirk like Esalen and avocados.

Now wildland fires flare up everywhere. There are fires in Algeria and Turkey, Amazonia and Indonesia, and France, Canada and Australia. Last year even Greenland burned.

Fire seasons have lengthened, fires have gotten meaner and bigger; fires have begun not just gorging on logging slash and prowling the mountainous backcountry, but also burning right into and across towns. Three years ago in northern California, the Camp fire broke out along the Feather River and, burning southwest, incinerated the town of Paradise. This summer’s Dixie fire, starting 20 miles north in the same drainage, is burning in the opposite direction, after taking out the historic town of Greenville. The fires have us coming and going, and now Lake Tahoe is under the gun.

The causes have been analyzed and reanalyzed, like placer miners washing and rewashing tailings. Likewise, the solutions have been reworked and polished until they have become clichés, ready to spill into the culture wars.

The news media have fire season branded into their almanac of annual events. Scientific disciplines are publishing reports and data sets at an exponential rate. So far as understanding the fire scene, we’ve hit field capacity. What more can we say?

Fires rage across continents, sparking panic and discord among the public, scientists, and media alike.
(Photo Credit: Michael Held via Unsplash)

One trend is to go small and find meaning in the personal. But there is also an argument to go big and frame the story at a planetary scale that can shuffle all the survival memoirs, smoke palls that travel across the continent, melting ice packs, lost and disappearing species and sprawling frontiers of flame, in much the way we organize the swarm of starlight in a night sky into constellations.

I’m a fire guy. I take fire not just as a random happening, but as an emergent property that’s intrinsic to life on Earth.

So I expect fires. All those savanna fires in Africa, the land-clearing fires in Brazil and Sumatra, the boreal blowouts in Siberia and British Columbia, the megafires in the Pacific Northwest — all the flames we see.

But then there are fires that should be present and aren’t — the fires that once renewed and stabilized most of the land all over our planet. These are the fires that humanity, with its species monopoly on combustion, deliberately set to make living landscapes into what the ancients termed “a second nature.”

But it was not enough. We wanted yet more power without the constraints of living landscapes that restricted what and when we could burn. We turned to fossil fuels to burn through day and night, winter and summer, drought and deluge. With our unbounded firepower we remade second nature into “a third nature,” one organized around industrial combustion.

Humans and fire have coexisted for years. But reorganizing our society around constant combustion may burn it to the ground.
(Photo Credit: Issy Bailey, @bailey_i, via Unsplash)

Our fires in living landscapes and those made with fossil fuels have been reshaping the Earth. The result is too much bad fire and too little good, and way too much combustion overall.

Add up all those varieties of burning, and we seem to be creating the fire equivalent of an Ice Age, with continental shifts in geography, radical changes in climate, rising sea level, a mass extinction, and a planet whose air, water, soil and life are being refashioned at a breakneck pace.

It’s said that every model fails but some are useful. The same holds true for metaphors. What the concept of a planetary Fire Age — a Pyrocene — gives us, is a sense of the scale of our fire-powered impact. It suggests how the parts might interact and who is responsible. It allows us to reimagine the issues and perhaps stand outside our entrenched perspectives.

Steve Pyne via Writers on the Range

What we have made — if with unintended consequences — we can unmake, though we should expect more unknown consequences.

We have a lot of fire in our future, and a lot to learn about living with it.

Steve Pyne is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is the author of The Pyrocene. How We Created an Age of Fire, and What Happens Next.

Electric costs in #Colorado set to surge as #LakePowell struggles to produce hydropower — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam is used to produce hydropower that is delivered over a 17,000-mile transmission grid, reaching six states and 5 million people. Photo courtesy Western Area Power Administration.

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

The federal agency that distributes electricity from hydropower plants in the Upper Colorado River Basin will ask its customers, including more than 50 here in Colorado, to help offset rising costs linked to Lake Powell’s inability to produce as much power due to drought.

The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), which distributes Lake Powell’s electricity, is gathering public comments and asking its customers how best to cope with long-term drought conditions that have pushed Powell and other reservoirs to historically low levels.

As flows in the Colorado River have declined due to climate change and a 20-year megadrought, there is less water in its storage reservoirs and, therefore, less pressure to power the turbines, causing them to generate less electricity.

WAPA has had to nearly double the amount of extra power it has had to buy this year to ensure it can meet its contract obligations to its customers.

“It’s all bad news, but it isn’t necessarily unexpected,” said WAPA spokesperson Lisa Meiman.

WAPA power is among the most sought-after in Western states because it is sold at cost and because it is a renewable power resource, something highly valued in places such as Colorado, where utilities are working to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

WAPA often buys extra power if for some reason its customers’ electricity needs don’t match up with its hydropower production on a given day. It delivers power over a 17,000-mile transmission grid to six states and 5 million people.

But as flows in the Colorado River have shrunk, those purchases have become larger and more frequent.

Last year it bought an extra 413,000 megawatts of power. This year it has already purchased 833,000 megawatts of additional power, according to Meiman, and the agency expects that number to grow this year and likely again next year as the drought continues with no relief in sight.

These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

This year, because of the power demands of the West’s growing population and the need for air conditioning to combat ultra-high temperatures, power costs are already soaring.

Last year WAPA paid $25 per megawatt for its replacement power, Meiman said. This year it is paying $33 per megawatt, a 30% jump.

In Colorado, WAPA sells power to some of the state’s largest electric utilities, such as Tri-State Generation and Transmission, as well as cities, small towns and rural electric co-ops.

“We’re watching the situation closely,” said Natalie Eckhart, a spokesperson for Colorado Springs Utilities, which is a WAPA electric customer and which also draws a significant portion of its water from the Colorado River system.

“The bottom line is we care about this on all fronts,” Eckhart said.

Few expected power generation at Lake Powell to decline so quickly. The Colorado River Basin serves seven U.S. states and 30 Native American Tribes. For months, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming have been nervously watching what’s known as the minimum power pool level at Powell, the lowest elevation at which power can be produced, which is 3,490 feet. If the reservoir drops lower than that, all hydropower production will stop.

In July, as water levels at Powell continued to plummet, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, as part of the Upper Basin’s Drought Contingency Plan, began emergency releases of water from Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa, and New Mexico’s Navajo reservoirs to boost levels and protect Powell’s hydropower production.

And while those releases are expected to help keep the turbines functioning, the releases won’t be enough to restore them to full production, leaving WAPA little choice but to look at restructuring the way it sells power and to raise its prices.

WAPA is forecasting a 35% increase in its costs, but is working to minimize the impact on utilities that purchase its power and anticipates a 12% to 14% rate increase as early as December. Some utilities are preparing to buy power elsewhere, when possible, to reduce their costs.

Holy Cross Energy, a rural electric co-op based in Glenwood Springs that is also a WAPA customer, has spent years converting its power portfolio from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources including wind, solar and biomass, as well as hydropower.

While WAPA electricity comprises just 3% of its power portfolio, Holy Cross CEO Bryan Hannegan is worried that this renewable, low-cost power source is in jeopardy if flows from the Colorado River into Lake Powell continue to decline, as they are projected to do.

“It’s one of the cleanest and lowest-cost sources of power for a whole range of utilities,” Hannegan said. “It’s been a bedrock on which we built the West. For it not to be available … it’s a big deal.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Opinion: Put the cost of oil and gas clean-up back where it belongs — #Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

If there’s one thing most Coloradans can agree on, it’s that our communities and public lands need to be protected. Laws and regulations are there to make that happen, but there are instances where the federal government could be doing more.

One example: The federal oil and gas program has been failing Coloradans, undermining our communities, and harming our public lands. Fortunately, there are aspects of the program our leaders in Congress can fix right now.

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To start, they can address the growing number of orphaned oil and gas wells on our public lands that will cost taxpayers millions, if not billions, to clean up. Putting these costs back where they belong — on the oil and gas companies who made the mess — is something Congress can do today by strengthening the financial assurance requirements for drilling on public lands.

They can also update the more than 60-year-old rates oil and gas companies are required to pay when they lease public lands, which have cost all of us billions in lost revenues over the last decade. Updating these requirements will finally hold irresponsible oil and gas companies accountable. Instead of Coloradans paying to cap orphaned wells, we can invest that money in schools, health care, and other priorities.

According to the Government Accountability Office, as many as 99% of the bonds posted by oil and gas companies are inadequate, leaving taxpayers with billions of dollars in potential clean-up costs when companies go bankrupt due to the highly volatile oil market.

It’s not right that oil and gas companies get to extract resources from publicly owned lands, profit on them for years, then leave behind toxic wells that we, the owners of the lands, must pay to clean up. By a conservative estimate, there are more than 600 wells on federal public lands in Colorado that are at risk of being orphaned. We shouldn’t be left with that tab.

According to the Government Accountability Office, as many as 99% of the bonds posted by oil and gas companies are inadequate, leaving taxpayers with billions of dollars in potential clean-up costs.

Colorado is working to fix this problem at the state level but needs the federal government to do its part and adopt solutions. Luckily, Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are two of the champions in Congress working on a fix.

Bennet recently introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Hickenlooper, that would require oil and gas companies to actually set aside enough money to clean up wells before they start drilling. Bennet’s bill would also provide federal funding to address wells that are already orphaned.

Congress has a great opportunity to step up and get common-sense reforms like these done, and it’s critically important they do so now. The Department of the Interior recently announced that it will resume oil and gas leasing on federal public lands. If the government continues to let oil and gas companies off the hook, nothing will prevent this problem from getting much worse. It’s not enough to just provide funding to clean up wells, as the bipartisan infrastructure deal did. Congress must also modernize bonding rates, as outlined in Bennet’s bill, so that Coloradans aren’t using our valuable public dollars to pay for a mess we didn’t create.

Coloradans and our neighbors across the West deserve federal leasing policies that serve our best interests, not those of irresponsible actors in the oil and gas industry. These federal oil and gas leasing program reforms should be a priority for Congress and the White House, and we’re all counting on Bennet and Hickenlooper to make it happen.

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Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

After a century, no more #coal burning in downtown #ColoradoSprings. But what comes next? — @BigPivots

Martin Drake Coal Plant Colorado Springs. The coal plant in downtown Colorado Springs will be closed by 2023 and 7 gas-fired generators moved in to generate power until 2030. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

The Martin Drake Power Plant will burn its last load of coal this Friday, Aug. 27, ending more than a century of coal-burning near downtown Colorado Springs for electrical generation.

Closing of coal plants will become a regular thing in coming years. By decade’s end, only one plant, Comanche 3, is scheduled to remain in operation in Colorado, if at much reduced capacity. Even that limited use scenario remains in doubt.

What will replace the electricity generated by coal combustion in times when neither the wind blows nor the sun shines or—increasingly problematic—the dams that produce hydroelectric generation whither to dead pool?

The answers remain unclear. In the case of Colorado Springs, six natural gas-burning units have been erected at the power plant along Interstate 25. But as Colorado Springs Utilities has made clear, these units costing $100 million, are to be temporary, while energy technology and economics shift further.

Like Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission and other utilities, Colorado Springs continues to wait for technological and perhaps political breakthroughs.

Coal has been a mainstay for the last century. At first, the plants were small. A practiced eye can see those brick buildings erected along rivers in Fort Morgan and Fort Collins.

Cameo power plant circa 2010. Photo via Big Pivots

Then, coal plants became larger and then larger yet. Cameo Station, located along the Colorado River east of Grand Junction, had generating capacity of 73 megawatts when it went on line in the late 1950s. At Hayden, the two units that went on line in the ‘60s and ‘70s together have 441 megawatts of capacity. Then came the true behemoths at Craig and Pueblo, the former with 1,283 megawatts of generating capacity and the latter, called Comanche, with 1,410 megawatts.

Now, the closings have started. The smaller and older ones came first, and Cherokee, located north of downtown Denver, was converted from coal to burn natural gas. Hayden will be shut down by 2028 and Craig by 2030.

What a lot of change. In 2010, utilities were still very tentatively clinging to the past, unsure how much renewable generation they could absorb and still ensure your refrigerator had juice. Too, renewables were still expensive.

Then came 2014-2018, during which a profound shift occurred as wind generation became the lost cost resource, but solar prices rapidly declined, too, both aided by federal tax policies. And now coal has become the expensive fuel in almost all cases.

Utilities also were learning to integrate higher levels of renewables without sacrificing reliability. This was easier done in the middle of the night, when wind was blowing hard across Colorado’s eastern plains, but it applied to all hours of the day, too.

A hallmark of this progression came in December 2018, when Xcel Energy assembled Colorado’s political leaders, reporters and others at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to announce a goal worthy of national attention. The company said it would cut carbon emissions from its electrical generation 80% by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels.

Days later, directors of Platte River Power Authority—the power provider for Fort Collins, Longmont, Loveland and Estes Park—announced a 100% goal for 2030, if with a list of caveats.

Tri-State, Colorado’s second largest electrical distributor, with 18 member cooperatives from Cortez to Holyoke, in January 2020 announced closings that will allow it to reduce emissions 80%.

Colorado Springs is a microcosm of this expansion of more than a century and now rapid shrinking of coal-based electrical generation. Electricity was introduced into the town in the 1880s, a light bulb at the end of a dangling cord representing the ritziest convenience in the city, a later brochure said. It was enormously expensive to operate, 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Demand was small: a 60-kilowatt-generation plant met the needs of the 350 customers.

In 1968, when the Drake plant was dedicated, cost of electricity has declined to 2 cents per kilowatt hour, but demand had grown, as a brochure noted, to include everything from color TVs to electric blankets.

In June 2020, Colorado Springs Utilities announced that first Drake and then the Ray Nixon Plant, the latter a newer power plant, would close. The passage of Drake will be marked Friday afternoon with remarks by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and Aram Benyamin, the chief executive of Colorado Springs Utilities since 2015.

Colorado Springs has been adding solar and wind generation but, at least during the coming decade, expects to remain reliant on natural gas. Natural gas in 2020 was responsible for 49% of electrical generation. In 2030, according to the municipal utility’s current plan, it will still be 42%. But on that, refer back to 2011 when some utilities were still theoretically planning to build more coal plants. It is, at this point, a placeholder.

What will it take to decarbonize electricity completely? Xcel says it believes it can hit 100% emissions-free energy by mid-century if the answers are not yet clear about that last 10% to 20%. Holy Cross Energy, the electrical cooperative serving Vail, Aspen, and Rifle areas, made its goal of 100% by 2030 unconditional.

Answers must be found. The vulnerability of the electrical grid was exposed by the windless days of February. That winter storm paralyzed Texas, exposing the fallacy of short cuts no matter what the fuel source. Colorado was not immune, though. Xcel Energy spent $600 million buying suddenly expensive natural gas. Tri-State spent only $11 million in extra costs, but turned to burning fuel oil when wind farms that produced an average of 51.2 megawatts of electricity fell to just 0.9 megawatts.

Storage has become the Holy Grail of the 100% quests. Lithium-ion batteries, which have about a four-hour storage life, will be inadequate when the wind doesn’t blow several days in a row on the Eastern Plains.

A regional transmission organization that allows Colorado to use electricity being generated in California or Arizona or even wind from Iowa, might help a lot. Tri-State wants such an organization. So does Holy Cross Energy—and, it would appear, Colorado Springs Utilities. In 2021 Colorado legislators approved a bill that requires integration of the state’s utilities into such an organization within a decade. One energy attorney, Mark Detzsky, calls it the most important energy or climate bill among Colorado’s 30-plus bills adopted in the 2021.

Other storage technologies may deliver the answers. Xcel Energy says molten salt tops the list of storage technologies when it closes its coal units at Hayden in 2027 and 2028. It also is considering green hydrogen, which can use electricity—presumably from renewable sources—to create hydrogen from water (venting the oxygen into the atmosphere). That technology faces cost and other hurdles.

Tri-State has the backing of Colorado’s state government in seeking to make the power plant at Craig a demonstration site for research and development of green hydrogen, as I explained in some detail in a recent story. See: Will green hydrogen research at Craig be part of the answer to the big question?

As for Comanche 3, Colorado’s youngest coal plant, completed in 2010, and also its largest. Xcel Energy wants to keep it operating until 2040 at about a third of capacity or just seasonally. Pueblo and Pueblo County have also registered their support. They want the tax base.

But will a new energy storage technology make Comanche 3 obsolete? Maybe not, but that’s a bet I’d take.

State monitoring finds elevated air pollution levels near Suncor refinery in #CommerceCity — #Colorado Newsline

The Suncor oil refinery, located just north of Denver city limits, is one of the region’s largest sources of toxic air pollution. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

A state effort to measure air pollution levels near the Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City found elevated levels of hazardous particulate matter in the area, officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a communication to residents Thursday.

The new data were collected by CDPHE’s mobile air monitoring lab, which was stationed at the Eagle Pointe Recreation Center in Commerce City between May 14 and July 17. They showed that levels of fine particle pollution — an air pollutant known as PM2.5 because it consists of tiny particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter — were higher in the Commerce City and north Denver area in early summer than at many other monitoring stations along the Front Range.

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“CDPHE sent the mobile lab to the area because of department and community concerns regarding air quality in the area,” the department said. “Fine particle pollution in the area comes from local sources, such as Suncor and vehicles, and more distant sources, such as wildfire smoke. The mobile lab is not able to determine the sources of pollution it measures.”

The mobile lab was stationed less than a mile from the boundaries of the Suncor refinery, closer than any of the state’s permanent monitoring stations are located. The refinery and other industrial facilities in the north Denver metro area are known to emit high levels of pollutants, but environmental activists and residents, many of whom are low-income and people of color, have long complained that the area has lacked adequate air-quality monitoring.

The results of the state’s air monitoring investigation suggest that PM2.5 is the “most prominent pollutant of health concern in the area,” CDPHE said. Levels of another common pollutant, ozone, were lower on average than in many other parts of the Denver metro area.

The effort also found that levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, “did not reach levels experts expect would cause health impacts,” though CDPHE officials cautioned that scientists don’t yet fully understand how VOCs may interact with each other or other pollutants to cause or exacerbate health impacts. “Whether someone might experience health impacts depends on many factors, including the amount they are exposed to and for how long,” said a CDPHE website showing the results of the investigation.

The department says that it’s planning to send the mobile lab back to the Commerce City area in the future. It’s one of several efforts to improve air monitoring in the area surrounding the Suncor facility, including a grant-funded community program operated by the nonprofit Cultivando; new requirements for “fenceline” monitoring mandated by legislation passed earlier this year; and a voluntary monitoring website recently launched by Suncor itself.

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Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

Surface #Water Vulnerable to Widespread Pollution From Fracking, a New Study Finds — Inside #Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Oil and gas drilling derrick. Photo credit: Colorado State University

From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn):

Fossil fuels don’t just damage the planet by emitting climate-warming greenhouse gases when they are burned. Extracting coal, oil and gas has a huge impact on the surface of the earth, including strip mines the size of cities and offshore oil spills that pollute country-sized swaths of ocean.

Years of research has shown how the fracking boom has contaminated groundwater in some areas. But a study published on Thursday in the journal Science suggests there is also a previously undocumented risk to surface water in streams, rivers and lakes.

After analyzing 11 years of data, including surface water measurements in 408 watersheds and information about more than 40,000 fracking wells, the researchers found a very small but consistent increase in three salt compounds—barium, chloride and strontium—in watersheds with new wells that were fracked. While concentrations of the three elements were elevated, they remained below the levels considered harmful by the EPA.

Such salts are commonly found in water coming from newly fracked wells, making changes in their levels good markers for fracking impacts on surface water, said co-author Christian Leuz, professor of international economics at the University of Chicago. The three economists who did the research specialize in studying the effectiveness of environmental regulations.

Though the impact the researchers detected was small, the data came from diluted water in rivers and streams that were often far from wells, Leuz said, so the concentrations could be higher farther upstream and closer to the fracking operations.

The findings suggest that the rapid pace of “unconventional oil and gas development,” like fracking, may be outrunning scientists’ ability to monitor its impacts on surface water. “Better and more frequent water measurement is needed to fully understand the surface water impact of unconventional oil and gas development,” said economist co-author Pietro Bonetti, with the University of Navarra, Spain.

The researchers said they couldn’t determine human health impacts from the elements for two reasons, Leuz said.

First, “there is not enough public data to analyze potentially more dangerous substances,” he said, and second, ”there are limitations in available water-quality measurements.” Even though some states require fracking companies to disclose chemicals in their fluids, they aren’t always listed in public water monitoring databases, Leuz added.

The 2005 amendment to the Safe Water Drinking Act, known as the Halliburton Loophole, also made tracking harder by exempting hydraulic fracturing fluids from the Safe Drinking Water Act, preventing the EPA from regulating fracking fluids…

Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

The data needs to be further analyzed to understand if requiring drilling companies to be transparent about what’s in their fracking fluids led them to clean up their operations, she said, but the study published today also provides important information for drafting regulations and focusing future monitoring and research on potential trouble spots that are more vulnerable to pollution.

Early research on fracking impacts was mostly on groundwater contamination, but in 2016, the EPA published a report with a “more complete record of localized evidence,” that found the potential for surface water pollution under certain circumstances, Michelon said.

Tri-State, Xcel, #Colorado eye #YampaRiver water for “green #hydrogen” projects — @WaterEdCO #ActOnClimate #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Yampa River. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From Water Education Colorado (Allen Best):

Utilities with goals of producing 100 percent renewable energy in Colorado must figure out how to reliably deliver electricity when relying upon resources, primarily wind and sunshine, that aren’t always reliable.

The answer may lie in water, and some of that water may come from Colorado’s Yampa River.

Colorado’s two largest electrical utilities, Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission, are talking about the potential for green hydrogen and other possible storage technologies associated with their existing coal-fired power plants, at Hayden and Craig, in the Yampa Valley. Both plants are scheduled to shut down, with Hayden slated to close by 2028 and Craig by 2030.

Duane Highley, the chief executive of Tri-State, told member cooperatives in a meeting Aug. 4 that Tri-State and the State of Colorado have partnered in a proposed Craig Energy Research Station.

Hydrogen has been described as the missing link in the transition away from fossil fuels. It can be produced in several ways. Green hydrogen, the subject of the proposal at Craig, is made from water using electrolysis. The oxygen separated from the H2O can be vented, leaving the hydrogen, a fluid that can be stored in tanks or, as is in a demonstration project in Utah, in salt caverns. The hydrogen can then be tapped later as a fuel source to produce electricity or, for that matter, put into pipelines for distribution to fueling stations.

How much water will be required to produce green hydrogen isn’t clear. But the Yampa Valley’s existing coal-fired plants have strong water portfolios that could be used to create green hydrogen or another storage technology called molten salt. The latter is the leading candidate at the Hayden plant, co-owned by Xcel Energy and its partners.

Craig Generating Station in 2021 is projected to use 7,394 acre-feet of water, according to a Tri-State filing with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. By 2029, the last year of coal generation at Craig, Tri-State projects water use will decline to 4,270 acre-feet.

Xcel Energy also has water rights associated with its somewhat smaller two-unit Hayden Generating Station.

When Tri-State first announced last year its plans to close its coal units, some hoped the utility would allow the water to continue downstream, aiding fish and habitat in the Yampa Valley. The Yampa, arguably Colorado’s least trammeled river, since 2018 has been plagued by drought. In early August, water managers placed a call on the middle section of the Yampa River for only the third time ever.

Western Resource Advocates, which works in both energy and water, has supported the green hydrogen proposal. But there’s also hope that a water dividend will still be realized in this transition, resulting in more water available for the Yampa, which is a major tributary to the Colorado River.

“If we do it right, we have the chance to equitably share the impacts and solutions to climate change all across Colorado and the West, with benefits for communities, economies and the environment,” says Bart Miller, director of the Healthy Rivers Program for Western Resource Advocates.

Green hydrogen, similar to wind and solar in the past, has a cost hurdle that research at Craig, if it happens, will seek to dismantle. The federal government’s Energy Earthshots Initiative announced in June hopes to drive the costs down 80% by the end of the decade. That is the program in which Tri-State hopes to participate.

Tri-State’s Highley suggested at the meeting last Thursday that the Craig site should swim to the top of the proposals, because it is an existing industrial site, and the Craig and Hayden units also have high-voltage transmission lines. This is crucial. Those lines dispatch electricity to the Front Range and other markets but they can also be used to import electricity from the giant wind farms being erected on Colorado’s Eastern Plains as well as solar collectors on rooftops and in backyards.

In addition, Craig and Hayden have workforces that, at least in theory, could be transitioned to work in energy storage projects.

Western Resource Advocates, in a June 30 letter to the Department of Energy, made note of that consideration. “A green, zero-carbon hydrogen project at Craig Station is an opportunity to demonstrate how the clean energy transition can also be a just transition for fossil fuel-producing communities,” said the letter signed by Erin Overturf, the Clean Energy Program director.

Several state agencies will likely play a role, said Dominique Gomez, deputy director of the Colorado Energy Office, including the Office of Just Transition that was established in 2019 and the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Craig Station in northwest Colorado is a coal-fired power plant operated by Tri-State Generation & Transmission. Photo credit: Allen Best

At Craig, the vision is “to provide researchers access to the key resources necessary to perform their research, including water, transmission and site space,” Tri-State spokesman Mark Stutz said in an e-mail. “As the initial step, Tri-State and the state plan to engage a group of stakeholders to facilitate the development of the center.”

The Department of Energy has not indicated when it expects to announce the finalists or grant funding.

Hayden Station. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

At Hayden, where the coal units are scheduled to close in 2028, Xcel Energy says it is in the early stages of studying potential for molten salt, the leading energy storage technology at this time, but also green hydrogen.

Water use will depend upon the size of the projects, said Xcel representative Michelle Aguayo in a statement. “It’s important to remember the amount of water used in power generation in Colorado is relatively small, representing 0.3% of water diversion in the state.”

Xcel already participates in a hydrogen pilot project in Minnesota, its home state for operations, and has proposed natural gas plants in North Dakota and Minnesota that are to be designed to use hydrogen technology when it becomes viable and cost-effective.

“As we’ve said before, we’re focused on identifying and exploring technologies that will allow us to bring our customers carbon-free energy by 2050, technologies that are not available or cost effective today,” she said.

Long-time Colorado journalist Allen Best publishes Big Pivots, an e-magazine that covers the energy and other transitions in Colorado. He can be reached at allen@bigpivots.com and allen.best@comcast.net

Two western states (#NewMexico/#Colorado) act to control #methane — Writers on the Range #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Methane contributes to climate change and ground-level ozone, leading to environmental, economic, and public health issues.
(Photo Credit: Delfino Barboza via Unsplash) via Writers on the Range

From Writers on the Range (Tim Lydon):

Tim Lydon via Writers on the Range.

New Mexico, the third-ranking U.S. oil producer, has moved to curtail methane pollution from the oil and gas industry, moving it closer to neighboring Colorado’s leadership. Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and also damages human health.

With the United States among the world’s top methane polluters and the Biden administration promising tighter nationwide rules, these two Western states set a bar for other states to follow.

For decades, the oil and gas industry has freely discharged the colorless pollutant from tens of thousands of wells as a cost-savings measure. Then, this March, New Mexico banned the wasteful venting and flaring of natural gas, which is comprised almost entirely of methane. New Mexico is only the third state, after Colorado and Alaska, to ban the practice.

This May, New Mexico also proposed a final rule to staunch the leaking of methane from across the state’s oil and gas supply chain, which includes part of the mammoth Permian Basin it shares with Texas. The leaking occurs at well pads, pipelines, compressors, storage facilities, and more.

It’s a system-wide problem that generates methane plumes large enough to detect from space.

The proposed rule on leaking, now up for public comment, improves on a December draft that offered broad loopholes. When it’s made final, it will require regular inspection and repair of leaky equipment, which today goes largely unmitigated as yet another industry cost-savings measure.

The United States is among the world’s top methane producers, and methane hotspots are prevalent in the oil-rich West.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) via Writers on the Range

The state effort means New Mexico is catching up with Colorado. In 2014, Colorado became the first state to regulate methane and has twice strengthened its original rule. Colorado has also modernized its oil and gas regulatory agency’s mission so that it includes safeguarding public health. And it is reworking oil and gas bonding requirements so taxpayers don’t get burdened with plugging leaky “orphan wells” abandoned by producers.

Colorado’s rules were a model for the first national methane regulations, implemented under President Obama in 2016. Unfortunately, the Trump administration dismantled those rules.

Controlling methane is a climate imperative. Because the gas has 80 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide, it’s a potent driver of climate change. NASA says it has fueled a whopping 25 percent of the human-caused global warming that today increasingly jeopardizes Western water, agriculture, and recreation.

Research also shows that methane is entering the atmosphere from sources such as wetlands or thawing permafrost. In the latter, warming tied to methane begets more methane. It is the ominous type of feedback loop that global warming alarmists have warned us about for decades.

But the good news is that methane only survives in the atmosphere for about 10 years, unlike the centuries-long lifespan of carbon dioxide. Consequently, methane rules today could produce swift returns on climate as the world grapples with the harder problem of carbon dioxide.

But methane and associated pollutants also contribute to harmful ground-level ozone, which is linked to premature birth, respiratory sickness, and other illnesses. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made this part of her campaign for regulation, pointing out that poor air quality disproportionately harms poor communities.

That concern helped build support from Indigenous and other groups, outweighing fears that new regulations would detract from drilling royalties, which provide over a third of New Mexico’s revenue for education, health, and other services.

Part of the New Mexico governor’s strategy in winning support for methane control was focusing on fiscal accountability. Venting, flaring, and leaking — all monumentally wasteful practices — send an estimated $43 million in potential state revenue into New Mexico’s thin air every year.

At the national level, President Biden campaigned on restoring federal methane regulations rolled back under Trump. Biden issued executive orders on his first day in office that set a September goal for proposing a new strategy. Crafting new federal rules is expected to take years, but New Mexico and Colorado now offer strong examples. By applying rules to both new and existing oil and gas infrastructure, they exceed the original Obama regulations, which only addressed new permits.

Today, Western states, along with heavy oil producers Texas and North Dakota, offer only a patchwork of tax incentives and voluntary targets. Limited rules, however, often tilt in industry’s favor. Now, with fossil fuel production ramping back up and global temperatures rising, New Mexico and Colorado show that tougher regulations are the way to go.

Tim Lydon is a contributor to Writers on the Range, http://writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He writes from Alaska.

Two Years After Declaring #ClimateEmergency, Scientists Say It’s Even Worse — #Wyoming Public Radio #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Time series of climate-related global human activities. In panels (a), (d), (e), (i), and (m), the most recent data point(s) are a projection or preliminary estimate (see the supplemental material); in panel (f), tree cover loss does not account for forest gain and includes loss due to any cause. With the exception of panel (p), data obtained since the publication of Ripple and colleagues (2020) are shown in red. In panel (h), hydroelectricity and nuclear energy are shown in figure S1. Sources and additional details about each variable are provided in the supplemental material. Complete time series are shown in supplemental figure S2.

From Wyoming Public Radio (Maggie Mullen):

Two years ago, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries declared a climate emergency. They did so in a report that said scientists have “a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to ‘tell it like it is.'”

Now, they say things look even worse.

On Wednesday, an updated version of the report was published in the journal BioScience, and included an additional 2,800 scientists’ signatures.

The study evaluated 31 variables, like ocean changes and energy use. It found that over half are at new all-time record lows or highs.

For example, in April 2021, carbon dioxide concentration reached 416 parts per million—the highest monthly global average concentration ever recorded. Glaciers are losing 31% more snow and ice per year than they did just 15 years ago, a rate that is much faster than previously believed.

And for the first time, the world’s ruminant livestock (cattle, sheep, and goats) passed four billion, which represents much more mass than all humans and wild mammals combined.

The findings were shocking to lead author William Ripple of Oregon State University…

With so many variables moving in the wrong direction, the paper calls for big, transformative changes. That includes eliminating fossil fuels and switching to mostly plant-based diets.

The group plans to update its findings on a regular basis.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

#LittleColoradoRiver Dam Developer Surrenders Two of Three Dam Proposals — The #GrandCanyon Trust #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Carbonate blue water near Salt Trail campground on the Little Colorado river. Photo credit: Adam Haydock via the Grand Canyon Trust

From The Grand Canyon Trust (Amanda Podmore):

Good news! After two years of tireless advocacy led by the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, and Hualapai Tribe, a would-be hydroelectric dam developer has requested the cancellation of two preliminary permits for dams on the lower Little Colorado River above the confluence with the Colorado River inside the Grand Canyon.

Pumped Hydro Storage LLC sent two letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requesting the permits for its Little Colorado River and Salt Trail Canyon proposals be surrendered, citing strong opposition from the Navajo Nation, environmentalists, and others, as well as investment risks. This news comes two years after the developer first proposed the projects on Navajo Nation land in a region of deep cultural importance to many tribes.

Developer failed to work with tribes

Despite community opposition to the two dam proposals and interventions and objections from the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the Hualapai Tribe, Native organizations like Save the Confluence, and conservation organizations including the Grand Canyon Trust, FERC awarded preliminary permits for both the Little Colorado River and Salt Trail Canyon dam proposals. The developer was not required to get consent from the Navajo Nation or even consult with tribes, underscoring deep flaws in the permitting process. The company’s decision to surrender the permits for these two projects is a testament to the hard work of tribes, community organizers, and concerned citizens like you who took action and submitted comments. Thank you.

A river too fragile for dams

Had these hydroelectric dam proposals moved forward, the consequences on this arid landscape would have been severe. The lower Little Colorado River flows perennially into the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, and its warm turquoise-blue waters shelter the endangered humpback chub when it is spawning.

The lower Little Colorado River is a spiritual place best left untouched by development, as grassroots community members and tribes have requested. It is home to the Hopi place of emergence along with innumerable other cultural sites. Upstream dams could alter this place of reverence and beauty.

Two down, one more dam to go

Map credit: The Grand Canyon Trust

Unfortunately, the developer’s request to surrender these two permits is a reminder of the work ahead. The developer is still waiting to hear back on a preliminary permit for the Big Canyon dam proposal on a tributary to the Little Colorado River. The Big Canyon dam remains the developer’s priority — and our biggest concern. The Big Canyon dam proposal, which is also on Navajo Nation land and opposed by many tribes, would require pumping groundwater and likely alter the blue waters of the Little Colorado River.

West Drought Monitor map July 27, 2021.

Drought underlines the imprudence of the Big Canyon dam

The developer is proposing to pump about 44,000 acre feet (about 14.3 billion gallons) of groundwater, plus an additional 10,000 to 15,000 acre feet (3.2 to 4.8 billion gallons) per year to make up for water lost to evaporation in order to fill the Big Canyon dam in an arid landscape already facing extreme drought and water restrictions. Currently, there are potable water restrictions across the Navajo Nation. It is alarming that the developer is continuing to push a proposal to pump additional groundwater to power this project in order to produce electricity for distant city centers in the middle of this drought.

It is unknown when FERC will make a decision on the Big Canyon dam proposal’s preliminary permit application, which, if granted, would initiate a 3-year period for a feasibility study. What we do know is we will continue to stand with local communities and fight this unwanted and inappropriate proposal tooth and nail. If you haven’t already, please sign the petition to Keep the Canyon Grand and join our action alert network. We’ll let you know when there’s an opportunity to speak up.

An 80×30 Clean Electricity Standard: Carbon, Costs, and Health Benefits — Harvard Chan C-CHANGE/Clean Energy Futures #ActOnClimate

Here’s the release from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health:

Download the report

This report analyzes the energy, economic, environmental, and health outcomes of an illustrative clean energy standard (CES) design that reaches 80% clean electricity by 2030, and offers important information on the costs and benefits of such a policy.

The analysis is the first to map at a county scale the changes in air quality and related health benefits for the lower 48 states. It compares an 80×30 policy scenario to a range of alternative policies for reducing carbon from the energy sector and finds it is the top performer in terms of net climate benefits (climate benefits minus costs) and total health benefits. The analysis is also the first to look at the health impacts of projected air quality improvements by racial and ethnic groups.

The analyses in this brief were conducted over the last two years as part of the Clean Energy Futures project, an independent collaboration with researchers from Syracuse University; the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Georgia Institute of Technology; and Resources for the Future.

Key Takeaways
The 80×30 CES has the largest net benefits of the 8 policies examined
: The illustrative 80×30 CES has the largest estimated total and climate-related net benefits of other policies analyzed in the Clean Energy Futures project

Nationally, the estimated climate benefits of an 80×30 CES are large and outweigh the costs: Estimated climate benefits are $637 billion; estimated costs are $342 billion and include the cost of fuel, building new capital projects and retrofitting existing facilities, and operating energy facilities.

The additional health benefits from cleaner air would be immediate, substantial, and widespread.

  • Estimated 317,500 lives saved from 2020-2050 from reduced exposure to fine particulate matter and ozone
  • 9,200 premature deaths avoided in 2030 when the policy reaches 80% clean electricity
  • Estimated $1.13 trillion in health savings due to cleaner air between now and 2050
  • Air quality improvements occur in every state by 2030
  • Air quality improvements are projected to occur for all racial and ethnic groups. Nationally, non-Hispanic Black people are estimated to experience the largest reductions in average population-weighted pollution exposures.
  • Top Ten States for Premature Deaths Avoided in the Year 2030: Ohio (771), Texas (737), Pennsylvania (582), Illinois (529), Florida (463), North Carolina (453), Indiana (441), Tennessee (424), Michigan (396), Georgia (377)

    Authors and Clean Energy Futures Team

  • Charles Driscoll*, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Syracuse University
  • Kathy Fallon Lambert*, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Center for Climate Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE)
  • Peter Wilcoxen*, The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
  • Armistead (Ted) Russell, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Dallas Burtraw, Resources for the Future
  • Maya Domeshek, Resources for the Future
  • Qasim Mehdi, The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
  • Huizhong Shen, School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Southern University of Science and Technology
  • Petros Vasilakos, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • California is planning floating wind farms offshore to boost its power supply – here’s how they work — The Conversation


    Equinor’s Hywind Scotland became the world’s first floating wind farm in 2017.
    Øyvind Gravås/Woldcam via Equinor

    Matthew Lackner, University of Massachusetts Amherst

    Northern California has some of the strongest offshore winds in the U.S., with immense potential to produce clean energy. But it has a problem. Its continental shelf drops off quickly, making building traditional wind turbines directly on the seafloor costly if not impossible.

    Once water gets more than about 200 feet deep – roughly the height of an 18-story building – these “monopile” structures are pretty much out of the question.

    A solution has emerged that’s being tested in several locations around the world: making wind turbines that float. In fact, in California, where drought is putting pressure on the hydropower supply and fires have threatened electricity imports from the Pacific Northwest, the state is moving forward on plans to develop the nation’s first floating offshore wind farms as we speak.

    So how do they work?

    Three main ways to float a turbine

    A floating wind turbine works just like other wind turbines – wind pushes on the blades, causing the rotor to turn, which drives a generator that creates electricity. But instead of having its tower embedded directly into the ground or the sea floor, a floating wind turbine sits on a platform with mooring lines, such as chains or ropes, that connect to anchors in the seabed below.

    These mooring lines hold the turbine in place against the wind and keep it connected to the cable that sends its electricity back to shore.

    Most of the stability is provided by the floating platform itself. The trick is to design the platform so the turbine doesn’t tip too far in strong winds or storms.

    An illustration of each in an ocean, showing how lines anchor it to the sea floor.
    Three of the common types of floating wind turbine platform.
    Josh Bauer/NREL

    There are three main types of platforms:

    • A spar buoy platform is a long hollow cylinder that extends downwards from the turbine tower. It floats vertically in deep water, weighted with ballast in the bottom of the cylinder to lower its center of gravity. It’s then anchored in place, but with slack lines that allow it to move with the water to avoid damage. Spar buoys have been used by the oil and gas industry for years for offshore operations.

    • Semi-submersible platforms have large floating hulls that spread out from the tower, also anchored to prevent drifting. Designers have been experimenting with multiple turbines on some of these hulls.

    • Tension leg platforms have smaller platforms with taut lines running straight to the floor below. These are lighter but more vulnerable to earthquakes or tsunamis because they rely more on the mooring lines and anchors for stability.

    Each platform must support the weight of the turbine and remain stable while the turbine operates. It can do this in part because the hollow platform, often made of large steel or concrete structures, provides buoyancy to support the turbine. Since some can be fully assembled in port and towed out for installation, they might be far cheaper than fixed-bottom structures, which requires specialty boats for installation on site.

    People stand next to a small wind turbine held by a crane. Just the base is three times higher than a human.
    The University of Maine has been experimenting with a small floating wind turbine, about one-eighth scale, on a semi-submersible platform. It plans to launch a full-scale version with corporate partners in 2023.
    AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

    Floating platforms can support wind turbines that can produce 10 megawatts or more of power – that’s similar in size to other offshore wind turbines and several times larger than the capacity of a typical onshore wind turbine you might see in a field.

    Why do we need floating turbines?

    Some of the strongest wind resources are away from shore in locations with hundreds of feet of water below, such as off the U.S. West Coast, the Great Lakes, the Mediterranean Sea, and the coast of Japan.

    In May 2021, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to open up parts of the West Coast, off central California’s Morro Bay and near the Oregon state line, for offshore wind power. The water there gets deep quickly, so any wind farm that is even a few miles from shore will require floating turbines. Newsom said the area could initially provide 4.6 gigawatts of clean energy, enough to power 1.6 million homes. That’s more than 100 times the total U.S. offshore wind power today.

    Map showing offshore wind potential
    Some of the strongest offshore wind power potential in the U.S. is in areas where the water is too deep for fixed turbines, including off the West Coast and offshore from Maine.
    NREL

    Globally, several full-scale demonstration projects are already operating in Europe and Asia. The Hywind Scotland project became the first commercial-scale offshore floating wind farm in 2017, with five 6-megawatt turbines supported by spar buoys designed by the Norwegian energy company Equinor.

    While floating offshore wind farms are becoming a commercial technology, there are still technical challenges that need to be solved. The platform motion may cause higher forces on the blades and tower, and more complicated and unsteady aerodynamics. Also, as water depths get very deep, the cost of the mooring lines, anchors, and electrical cabling may become very high, so cheaper but still reliable technologies will be needed.

    Expect to see more offshore turbines supported by floating structures in the near future.The Conversation

    Matthew Lackner, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Massachusetts Amherst

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Navajo-Gallup #Water Supply Project completion expected to move from 2024 to 2029 — The #Farmington Daily Times #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Pipes are laid for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments via The High Country News

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

    Completion of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is expected to move back a few years since the project intends to use facilities at the San Juan Generating Station for its future water delivery.

    Members of a state legislative committee were told this week by a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation official that the bureau decided to use the existing system that intakes water from the San Juan River to help deliver water to the Navajo Nation and the City of Gallup once the pipeline is completed and operational.

    Pat Page, manager of the Bureau’s Four Corners Construction Office, explained that among the apparatuses that will be acquired are the diversion dam, pumping plant and reservoir.

    The tribe is the primary beneficiary of the project through its water settlement for the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico. The project will also serve Gallup and the Jicarilla Apache Nation – through a separate lateral…

    Extension of the project’s completion date from 2024 to 2029 is due to upgrades of existing structures and construction at the site, he explained.

    However, it is also viewed as a cost savings because the original plan was to build a new diversion system off an irrigation cancel downstream, Page added.

    The bureau is continuing negotiations to acquire the facilities from the power plant’s owners.

    San Juan Generating Station. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Cities Confront #Climate Challenge: How to Move from Gas to Electricity? — YaleEnvironment360 #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From Yale Environment 360 (Jonathan Mingle):

    Ending the use of fossil fuels to heat homes and buildings is a key challenge for cities hoping to achieve net-zero emissions. Nowhere is that more evident than in Philadelphia, where technical and financial hurdles and a reluctant gas company stand in the way of decarbonization.

    In 1836, Philadelphians mostly used whale oil and candles to light their homes and businesses. That year, the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works caused a stir when it lit 46 downtown street lamps with gas made from coal in its plant on the Schuylkill River. By the end of the Civil War, public thoroughfares and private dwellings in the core of most large Eastern cities were illuminated by gas, supplied through cast iron pipes buried beneath the busy streets — and the whale oil lighting industry was nearly dead.

    Philadelphia’s own pipe network has expanded over the past 185 years to encompass 6,000 miles of gas mains and service lines. But today, Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) — the largest municipal gas utility in the country — is the incumbent business staring down existential threats, facing challenges from new technologies, upstart rivals, and a quickening 21st-century energy transition that aims to convert many buildings from gas to electricity.

    In recognition of these forces and the city’s own climate action plan, Philadelphia has commissioned a “diversification study” to find a new low-carbon business model for the nation’s oldest gas utility, which delivers natural gas to 510,000 customers.

    Earlier this year, Philadelphia announced a target of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “There’s just no way that can happen without PGW changing,” said Tom Shuster, clean energy program director of the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania chapter, which advocates for wider building electrification. Gas sold by the utility is the single biggest source of the city’s climate-warming pollution, accounting for 22 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions.

    Charting a path forward that ensures both PGW’s survival and the city’s carbon neutrality will be a heavy lift, many advocates acknowledge. The task is even more daunting when considered on a national scale. While many cities are adopting or considering rules that require new construction to be all-electric, the much thornier problem is how to get fossil fuels out of existing buildings, which account for about 30 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

    Of the country’s 120 million households, about 58 percent are heated primarily with natural gas. To zero out carbon emissions from those homes, all of their furnaces, water heaters, and other appliances will have to be fueled with “green molecules” (such as biogas, hydrogen, and synthetic gases) instead of fossil gas, or swapped out for heat pumps and other devices powered by renewable electricity.

    Several states have already begun formally planning their long-term transition away from natural gas. Last June, the attorney general of Massachusetts petitioned the state’s utility regulators to investigate how to transition away from natural gas. Spurred by their own climate action goals, California and New York have launched similar efforts. New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan has set a goal of electrifying 90 percent of buildings’ heating and cooling demand by 2050.

    The menu for building decarbonization includes heat pumps powered with renewable electricity, geothermal systems, hydrogen fuels, and biogas generated from organic waste. Some of these solutions are in the early stages of development and deployment. Air-source heat pumps are the most mature technology, with decades of use in parts of Europe and Japan, and in the U.S. South, where heat pumps make up more than 20 percent of building heating systems. A few gas utilities are experimenting with blending hydrogen into their gas mix and testing how appliances handle it, in the hopes that “green hydrogen,” created with renewable electricity, will help them wring the carbon out of their operations. And Eversource, New England’s largest energy utility, is partnering with Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), a Massachusetts-based nonprofit focused on cutting emissions from the building sector, to build an innovative pilot geothermal district heating and cooling system in the Boston area this summer.

    Students flip the switch to turn on rooftop solar installed on a rowhouse as part of the Solarize Philly program in 2018. JARED PIPER/PHLCOUNCIL via Yale Environment 360

    In any scenario, a massive transformation of the way we use energy in buildings will be required to meet ambitious city, state, and federal emissions targets. Perhaps nowhere are these challenges as stark as in older cities in the Northeast, which remain heavily reliant on natural gas for heating and have some of the oldest, least energy-efficient housing stock.

    In Philadelphia, overhauling PGW entails navigating a thicket of competing imperatives beyond cutting greenhouse gas emissions: plugging dangerous methane leaks, retaining or retraining the utility’s 1,600-strong workforce, and ensuring that the most vulnerable Philadelphians aren’t left carrying the burden of propping up an increasingly expensive gas grid.

    Even before the pandemic led to a recent spike in unpaid bills, many Philadelphians faced an energy affordability crisis. Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of any major U.S. city; roughly one third of PGW’s customers are low-income. To be equitable, any transition for the utility must “make sure every last person reliant on natural gas has a way to keep warm in winter, cook their food, and heat their water,” said Elizabeth Marx, executive director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project, which represents the interests of low-income utility customers. “If you’re talking about shifting away from a system that’s been built out with ratepayers for decades, you can’t shift away easily without leaving people behind.”

    As more affluent customers abandon gas to install heat pumps and other clean-energy upgrades with higher upfront costs, many advocates for a “just transition” worry that lower-income ratepayers will be left to foot the bill for maintaining PGW’s aging gas infrastructure.

    “What you want to avoid is the situation where you have to maintain and spend money on the whole system, even while you sell less gas,” said Mike Henchen, who leads the building decarbonization program at the energy thinktank RMI.

    Meanwhile, some of that maintenance can’t wait, for safety and environmental reasons. In December 2019, a leak from a 92-year-old gas main caused an explosion that killed two people and leveled five rowhouses in South Philadelphia. The methane in those leaks is also a potent climate-warming agent; a 2019 study that sampled air over Philadelphia and five other East Coast cities found methane levels 2.5 times higher than suggested by emissions inventories from the Environmental Protection Agency.

    “Gas utilities are in a difficult bind,” said Audrey Schulman, the founder and co-executive director of HEET, the nonprofit that initiated the Massachusetts geothermal project. “At the same time that they have to decarbonize, they have to replace these aging gas pipes.”

    The larger dilemma for Philadelphia’s officials — and for other municipal leaders around the country — is how long, and how much, to keep spending on gas infrastructure before “leapfrogging” to wider building electrification.

    When Philadelphia Gas Works applied for an increase in its base rate to the state’s Public Utility Commission last year, the Sierra Club intervened, claiming that spending on pipe maintenance beyond what’s required by immediate safety concerns is unwise. “You’re asking for money to replace this entire system,” said the Sierra Club’s Shuster, “but in doing so you are likely putting in infrastructure that will not see the end of its useful life before it’s taken offline.”

    The city commissioned the diversification study to address those kinds of tough tradeoffs. “There’s no clean silver bullet,” said Christine Knapp, director of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability. “It will probably wind up being a piecemeal strategy that gets us to our goals — a certain amount of renewable natural gas, geothermal, electrification, and weatherization, for example, that add up to having a bigger impact.”

    Philadelphia Gas Works did not respond to requests for comment. But in testimony at a 2019 City Council hearing about the proposed diversification study, a PGW official emphasized regulatory and legal limits on the utility’s ability to evolve beyond its narrow mission of delivering natural gas. Through its own direct advocacy and its membership in the American Gas Association, an industry trade group, the utility has opposed the updating of building codes that would have encouraged state and city governments to require more efficient appliances and electrification-ready wiring.

    In one of the paths being studied, PGW would keep its pipe-based system and simply add more low-carbon gas molecules to its fuel mix. For instance, SoCalGas, the nation’s largest gas utility, has heavily pushed the promise of wider use of biogas (also known as “renewable natural gas”) made from organic waste as a rationale for preserving and expanding gas infrastructure, and for resisting calls to ban the use of gas in new construction. Many other gas utilities have been promoting their nascent efforts to decarbonize by blending biogas and hydrogen into their natural gas supply.

    But that path would still mean pumping molecules of climate-warming methane through leak-prone pipes. And there are physical and financial limits on how much hydrogen and biogas could substitute for fossil gas. Various estimates peg the total potential supply of renewable natural gas at anywhere from 2 to 12 percent of total natural gas demand. Renewable natural gas and hydrogen are also still expensive fuels to manufacture.

    Several recent studies have found that fully electrifying buildings is a lower-cost way to decarbonize than going the “green molecules” route. In one, researchers estimated that the monthly cost of running a heat pump would range from $34 to $53, whereas running a gas furnace on renewable natural gas would cost $160 to $263. Heat pumps’ appeal to both homeowners and policymakers is on the rise even in the cold Northeast: Maine, for example, has a mandate to install 100,000 heat pumps in homes and businesses by 2025.

    But even if operating a heat pump is likely cheaper over the long run than firing a furnace with biogas, the upfront cost of buying and installing one — including upgrading wiring and circuit breakers to handle heavier loads — remains high relative to a conventional gas heater. Those costs are still well beyond what many Philadelphians can afford.

    One company is advancing a new way to overcome that hurdle. BlocPower is a Brooklyn-based startup that specializes in energy retrofits of large urban buildings, with a focus on converting affordable housing and multi-family buildings from fossil fuel heating to renewably powered heat pumps. With over 1,000 building retrofits in New York under its belt, BlocPower is expanding to cities across the country, including Los Angeles and Chicago. The company sees Philadelphia as fertile terrain.

    “Philadelphia has many pre-war-era walkups and multifamily buildings in dense areas that we deem to be very similar and applicable to the work we’ve been doing to date,” said Ian Harris, BlocPower’s business manager.

    Solar panels on a residential building near Philadelphia’s downtown. ARIELLA MARON via Yale Environment 360

    BlocPower began working with Philadelphia in 2014, participating in a multi-family housing pilot project led by the Philadelphia Energy Authority. This month it plans to launch BlocMaps Philly, a software tool that helps city planners and individual building owners model the potential for reducing both emissions and energy bills by installing air-source heat pumps and other systems, such as batteries and solar microgrids. Within the next 12 months, the company aims to complete 500 projects in Philadelphia.

    BlocPower manages every stage of the project, from design to installation, and offers building owners the option to lease the system. BlocPower’s model seeks to remove the traditional barriers to greening low-income urban housing, including the challenge of securing loans. The company uses algorithms to estimate a building’s potential energy savings, and then uses those projected savings to secure financing from institutions like the New York Green Bank and Goldman Sachs. It aims to demonstrate that investors can earn stable, long-term returns on investments in urban heat pumps, not unlike what they would expect from municipal infrastructure bonds.

    “We see a great opportunity to transition as many as people as possible off fossil fuels in Philadelphia,” said Harris.

    Others still see a role for pipes in the city’s energy future. This summer, Eversource Gas, the investor-owned private utility in the Boston area, will break ground on the first demonstration of HEET’s innovation. The nonprofit has developed a concept called the GeoMicroDistrict, which would link buildings on a given street or block into a networked geothermal energy system. The system is powered by ground-source heat pumps, extremely energy-efficient devices that use water as a medium for sharing thermal energy between buildings, sending heat where it’s needed and away from where it isn’t. The geothermal districts tap the constant temperature of the ground, and can themselves be further linked together into larger networks.

    The biggest upfront costs are associated with installing the system, including the drilling of shallow, six-inch-wide boreholes; after that, operating costs are low. Utilities like PGW could absorb those steep capital costs and spread them out over time and over their wide user base, taking advantage of economies of scale, said Zeyneb Magavi, the co-executive director of HEET. The geothermal pipes could be laid in the same rights-of-way already used for gas pipes. Geothermal systems could also preserve more jobs, she added, leveraging the expertise of utility workers, many of whom are trained to install the same kind of plastic pipes.

    “We have to work with the pieces we have,” said Magavi. “The fastest way forward is to flip utilities’ financing mechanisms and customer networks, all these pieces that we can redirect toward building a better energy system.”

    Whatever decarbonization path Philadelphia chooses, as a first step Mike Henchen of RMI would like to see PGW identify one segment of the city’s gas network — a neighborhood, a street, a discrete block of buildings — to shut off. “They can work to support every building served by that portion to convert to a carbon-free alternative to gas, and then decommission an actual pipe in the ground,” Henchen said. “Close the valve.”

    This kind of strategic abandonment, he argues, would be the most transformative step that PGW could take — one that would acknowledge that a smaller gas delivery system is needed in any likely scenario, and that would signal to city, state, and utility leaders around the country where the future is heading for the entire gas distribution industry. “If they could do that,” said Henchen, “that would really be ground-breaking.”

    Reporting for this story was made possible through a grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation.

    What new Permian research means for U.S. #methane policy — Environmental Defense Fund

    From the Environmental Defense Fund blog (Dan Grossman and Ben Hmiel):

    Newly released research is shedding more light on the largest sources of methane emissions in the nation’s largest oilfield.

    Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas and has a huge impact on the current rate of global warming. The oil and gas industry is one of the biggest emitters.

    Using a helicopter equipped with an infrared camera, we surveyed over a thousand sites across the Permian Basin to get specific information about the types of facilities, equipment and events that make the Permian Basin the highest-polluting oilfield in the country. Three things immediately stood out.

    More equipment equals more emissions

    We wanted to learn more about emissions from “marginal wells” — those that typically produce less than 15 barrels of oil or 60,000 cubic feet of gas a day. Despite the fact that marginal wells make up the vast majority of wells across the country, operators often seek to have them exempted from emissions standards. The argument is based on an assumption that because they produce less, they pollute less. But that is not the case. Our research indicates it is the volume of equipment — not the volume of production — that is likely to impact emissions levels.

    We looked at two types of marginal well sites:

    • Simple sites — those with just a pumpjack or well head and no other equipment.
    • Complex sites — those with tanks, flares, compressors and other machinery.

    The simple sites with fewer pieces of equipment had virtually no large emissions. Comparatively, we measured emissions at about 16% of more complex sites, and about 80% of the emissions were coming from tanks. Cumulatively, these emissions add up. About half of emissions from the Permian Basin well sites come from these smaller, lower producing wells.

    Flares malfunction at a much higher rate than previously thought

    We also examined emissions from flares. Our previous surveys of Permian flares indicated that about 10% are malfunctioning — leading to large emissions of methane. However, those surveys mostly looked at high-production sites that rely upon routine flaring. When we expanded our survey to include marginal wells with more intermittent flares, we found that number tripled. Approximately 30% of flares were pumping methane emissions into the air rather than burning the methane as they are designed to do. Regularly checking these marginal facilities for equipment failures could help substantially reduce the rate of flare malfunctions.

    Oil and gas production is not the only problem

    The other significant finding from this research confirms that the midstream sector — sites that process and move oil and gas through the system — is just as much of an emitter as the production sites. We detected large emissions at nearly 40% of midstream sites surveyed. Data released last week from researchers at the University of Arizona and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory similarly confirmed that about half of all Permian emissions are from the midstream sector.

    Explore all the new data and findings.

    Click here for mobile friendly version.

    Policy implications

    Congress is currently debating whether it should use the Congressional Review Act to reinstate sensible methane standards that would limit this pollution from newer well sites and lay the groundwork for next-generation standards for new and existing facilities. Doing so would be an important step to help address this pollution.

    Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose new rules this fall that could and should go even further to reduce emissions. Applying these rules to older facilities, complex marginal well sites and midstream operations will be necessary for the U.S. to meet its climate goals.

    A sensible path forward

    Reducing emissions from oil and gas facilities is one of the fastest, cheapest and most effective ways to slow the rate of climate change. Many reduction measures pay for themselves, since they result in more gas being captured and delivered to customers.

    Methane mitigation is also a huge job creator. Research shows that policies requiring companies to reduce emissions produce a net increase in jobs. In fact, the methane mitigation industry already employs thousands of high-paying individuals across the country and is projected to grow as companies and regulators increase their focus on methane reductions.

    The good news is we know that programs designed to reduce emissions are incredibly effective. In 2014, Colorado started regulating methane from its oil and gas industry, and in the year after regulations were implemented, operators reported a 75% drop in the number of methane leaks detected during routine field surveys.

    Strong, national standards to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is achievable and is supported by some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Ensuring that methane standards are as effective and encompassing as possible is critical to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

    Related Posts

    A year of data and one clear message: Permian flaring remains a major problem

    New report: Routine flaring in Texas’ Permian can be eliminated at little to no costAnother study reveals Permian methane levels are abnormally high, reinforcing need for action

    Another study reveals Permian methane levels are abnormally high, reinforcing need for action

    2021 #COleg: #Colorado First State to Pass Labor-Backed #Electrification Policy — Natural Resources Defense Council

    Top view of an induction cooktop. By Erik1980, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1835324

    Here’s the release from the Natural Resources Defense Council:

    Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed SB21-246 [Electric Utility Promote Beneficial Electrification] today, making his state the first in the nation to pass an electrification policy with support from organized labor. The Colorado BlueGreen Alliance-backed legislation will help Coloradans upgrade to efficient electric appliances, furnaces, and water heaters that keep their bills low and air clean.

    “Colorado has done a great job setting up tools for building owners to make their homes and businesses more efficient and climate-friendly,” said BlueGreen Alliance Director of Colorado and State Economic Transition Policy Chris Markuson. “The Colorado Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program, which allows homeowners to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements, is another great example of our state making it easy to upgrade. This bill will make efficient electric appliances even more affordable and help households and businesses connect with local qualified contractors to get the job done.”

    The Colorado BlueGreen Alliance unites 20+ labor unions and environmental organizations committed to creating clean energy jobs and preserving a healthy and livable climate. SB21-246, which was sponsored by Senator Stephen Fenberg and Representatives Alex Valdez and Meg Froelich, works toward these goals in 3 key ways:

  • Saving money: SB21-246 will direct utilities to create incentives for households and businesses to upgrade to efficient electric appliances that reduce their bills—especially critical support for low-income families and seniors on fixed incomes
  • Reducing air pollution: By choosing to upgrade their appliances, households and businesses can eliminate a major source of indoor air pollution that is uniquely harmful for children, the elderly, and people with asthma
  • Creating good jobs: When households and businesses take advantage of these new incentives, they will support local family-sustaining jobs at a time when the economy needs them the most
  • “Colorado union members are hard at work fitting Colorado homes and businesses for the climate-friendly, cost-saving technologies of the future,” said Colorado AFL-CIO Executive Director Dennis Dougherty. “Because this legislation ensures that Coloradans participating in new upgrade programs work with licensed contractors who adhere to strong workforce standards like good training programs and livable wages, we can create new union jobs and new work for our existing union members at the same time.”

    “The success of new climate-friendly technologies such as heat pumps and other heat transfer systems hinges on quality installation,” said Pipefitters Local 208 Business Manager Gary Arnold. “Pipefitters and plumbers have been helping Coloradans improve their household energy efficiency and reduce their utility bills for many years. This bill will help us bring our technical expertise to support even more homeowner investments, ensure optimal performance, and continue to guide the state in the transition to the clean energy economy.”

    “The transition to pollution-free buildings is a once-in-a-generation job creation opportunity for our members,” said IBEW Local 68 Business Manager Jeremy Ross. “As businesses and industry take advantage of new rebates and incentives to upgrade to modern and clean electric systems, they create demand for local, qualified electrical workers.”

    “Apprenticeship programs and living wages are two building blocks of a qualified local workforce,” said International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) Local 9 Business Manager Dwayne Stephens. “With this legislation in place, businesses looking for efficient and electric heating, cooling, and ventilation systems can trust that we’ll have a qualified contractor on the job.”

    “Our members are ready to rebuild Colorado for a clean energy future,” said Colorado Building and Construction Trades Council Business Manager Jason Wardrip. “We’ve been equipping local homes and businesses with efficient electric appliances for a while now, and we feel confident that the new incentive programs and labor protections in this legislation will kick our work into high gear.”

    “Partnerships between clean energy advocates and organized labor are essential for bold climate action,” said NRDC Building Decarbonization Advocate Alejandra Mejia Cunningham. “Climate policy is job creation policy, and climate progress relies entirely on the workers who are swapping out our old appliances, improving our energy efficiency, and producing the homegrown clean energy we need to power our future. When we coordinate with our partners in organized labor to write worker protections right into the legislation—from guaranteeing family-sustaining wages and benefits to creating workforce development opportunities—we can make sure our transition to pollution-free homes and buildings best serves Colorado’s rapidly-growing clean energy workforce.”

    More information about this historic legislation is available here.

    #Climate and nature crises: solve both or solve neither, say experts — The Guardian #ActOnClimate

    Like many Westerners, giant sequoias came recently from farther east. Of course, “recent” is a relative term. “You’re talking millions of years (ago),” William Libby said. The retired University of California, Berkeley, plant geneticist has been studying the West Coast’s towering trees for more than half a century. Needing cooler, wetter climates, the tree species arrived at their current locations some 4,500 years ago — about two generations. “They left behind all kinds of Eastern species that did not make it with them, and encountered all kinds of new things in their environment,” Libby said. Today, sequoias grow on the western slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada.

    From The Guardian (Damian Carrington):

    Humanity must solve the climate and nature crises together or solve neither, according to a report from 50 of the world’s leading scientists.

    Global heating and the destruction of wildlife is wreaking increasing damage on the natural world, which humanity depends on for food, water and clean air. Many of the human activities causing the crises are the same and the scientists said increased use of nature as a solution was vital.

    The devastation of forests, peatlands, mangroves and other ecosystems has decimated wildlife populations and released huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Rising temperatures and extreme weather are, in turn increasingly damaging biodiversity.

    But restoring and protecting nature boosts biodiversity and the ecosystems that can rapidly and cheaply absorb carbon again, the researchers said. While this is crucial, the scientists emphasise that rapid cuts in fossil fuel burning is also essential to ending the climate emergency.

    They also warned against action on one crisis inadvertently aggravating the other, such as creating monoculture tree plantations that store carbon but are wildlife deserts and more vulnerable to extreme weather.

    “It is clear that we cannot solve [the global biodiversity and climate crises] in isolation – we either solve both or we solve neither,” said Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway’s climate and environment minister.

    The peer-reviewed report was produced by the world’s leading biodiversity and climate experts, who were convened by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, both which report to the world’s political leaders.

    The report identified actions to simultaneously fight the climate and nature crises, including expanding nature reserves and restoring – or halting the loss of – ecosystems rich in species and carbon, such as forests, natural grasslands and kelp forests.

    Food systems cause a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and more sustainable farming is another important action, helped by the ending of destructive subsidies and rich nations eating less meat and cutting food waste…

    Protecting and restoring natural ecosystems was the fastest and cheapest way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the scientists said. Cutting fossil fuel emissions was essential, but not enough at this point in the climate crisis, said Parmesan. “We cannot avoid dangerous climate change without soaking up some of the carbon that we’ve already put into the atmosphere and the best way to suck up carbon is using the power of plants,” she said.

    “The science of restoration of ecosystems has really blossomed over the last 40 years. We are now able to efficiently and effectively restore complex systems, tropical rainforest, coastal wetlands, kelp forests and seagrass meadows, natural American prairie, and UK meadows back to their near historical diversity.”

    Prof Mark Maslin, of University College London, said the report was seminal: “The science is very clear that climate change and biodiversity are inseparable. To stabilise climate change we need massive rewilding and reforestation.”

    The UK environment minister, Zac Goldsmith, said: “This is an absolutely critical year for nature and climate. With the UN biodiversity [and climate summits], we have an opportunity and responsibility to put the world on a path to recovery. This hugely valuable report makes it clear that addressing biodiversity loss and climate change together offers our best chance of doing so.”

    Why this mid-June stretch of hot temperatures in #Colorado is different — TheDenverChannel.com #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    The carbon dioxide data on Mauna Loa constitute the longest record of direct measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. C. David Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography began measurements in 1958 at the NOAA weather station. NOAA started its own CO2 measurements in May of 1974, and they have run in parallel with those made by Scripps since then. Credit: NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

    From TheDenverChannel.com (Mike Nelson):

    Temperatures soared to 98 degrees in Denver Monday afternoon – way above the average high of 82 degrees for mid-June, but shy of the record of 102 degrees, set on June 14, 2006.

    Colorado is on the eastern edge of a huge bubble of hot, dry air that covers all of the southwestern United States. This hot, dry airmass has little thunderstorm potential, just a few hit or miss storms to bring brief relief from the heat…

    US Drought Monitor map June 8, 2021.

    Western Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California are all experiencing extreme drought conditions. The drought exacerbates the heat wave as the sun’s heat is simply heating up ground as opposed to evaporating water. This compounds the cycle of heat and dryness and is not likely to break for most of the summer.

    The hottest weather of the year is typically in mid-July, so this is an early heatwave. With global warming we are seeing hotter weather earlier, so this type of event will become more frequent…

    If we reach 100 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday, it would be the earliest ever Denver has had two straight days of triple digits.

    June 2012 had 6 days of 100 degrees or hotter, with 2 days reaching 105 degrees – the all-time hottest temperature for Denver. (It has been reached several different days in June, July and August.)

    Our hottest weather is typically in July, but we are seeing heatwaves coming earlier in the warm season, while our mid-summer heatwaves are tending to become longer and hotter in recent decades.

    The role of climate change cannot be left out of the equation in this weather pattern. As the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) increases in our atmosphere, our world is getting warmer. The effect of increased CO2 in our atmosphere is well understood and has been known for over 150 years…

    The role of carbon dioxide (CO2) in determining the temperature of our planet is established science, regardless of efforts to discount the impact of CO2.

    In 1825, a French mathematician — Joseph Fourier — calculated that given the distance from the Sun, the Earth should be much colder. He theorized that it was the atmosphere that trapped enough heat to make our planet habitable.

    In 1856, Eunice Foote, an American researcher, filled glass jars with different gases and set them in the sun. The jar filled with CO2 warmed the most.

    In 1863, John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, did more elaborate experiments with carbon dioxide and discovered that CO2 was very effective at trapping long-wave or Earth energy.

    In 1895, a Swedish researcher named Svante Arrhenius theorized that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause the Earth’s average temperature to increase by several degrees. The greatest impact would be in the far northern latitudes – which is exactly what we are seeing!

    In the 1970s – CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who was famously known as the most trusted man in America, reported on the threat of global warming.

    The basic explanation for why CO2 and other greenhouse gases warm the planet is so simple and has been known science for more than a century. Our atmosphere is transparent to visible light — the rainbow of colors from red to violet that make up natural sunlight. When the sun shines, its light passes right through the atmosphere to warm the Earth.
    The warm Earth then radiates some of its energy back upward in the form of infrared radiation — the “color” of light that lies just beyond red that our eyes can’t see (unless we’re wearing infrared-sensitive night-vision goggles). If all of that infrared radiation escaped back into space, the Earth would be frozen solid. However, naturally occurring greenhouse gas molecules, including not just CO2 but also methane and water vapor, intercept some of it — re-emitting the infrared radiation in all directions, including back to Earth. That keeps us warm.
    When we add extra greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, though, we increase the atmosphere’s heat-trapping capacity. Less heat escapes to space, more returns to Earth, and the planet warms.

    Even though CO2 is a TRACE gas in our atmosphere, it is highly effective at capturing infrared (Earth) energy from escaping into space. The CO2 molecule vibrates a little when infrared energy passes by, this tiny “wiggle” serves to trap that energy in the atmosphere instead of letting it pass through into outer space…

    On timescales of millions of years, CO2 is mostly a balance between volcanoes that create it and “chemical weathering” (dissolving) of rocks that destroy it. The weathering of rocks creates calcium carbonate that returns the carbon to the soil, the oceans and the Earth’s crust.

    When volcanic emissions exceed rock dissolving, CO2 increases and vice versa when volcanic emissions decline.

    CO2 was extremely high (maybe 5 times current levels!) 55 million years ago (more volcanoes than dissolving rocks), and it fell steadily for 50 million years straight.

    The main reason that CO2 dropped was that India crashed into Asia, raising the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau. All that fresh rock dissolved fast, sucking down CO2.

    When the CO2 got low enough about 2 million years ago (about 300 ppm), we started having ice ages. We have had at least 20 since then.

    During ice ages, about ⅓ of all the CO2 dissolves into the oceans, so CO2 drops to around 200 ppm. Then, when the ice melts, it shoots back up to about 300 ppm again. It’s done this 20 times in 2 million years.

    During the last great global warming, CO2 rose from 180 to 280 ppm between 18,000 years ago and 8,000 years ago. That’s a rise of 0.01 ppm per century.

    Now, as we dig up fossil carbon and light it on fire, the CO2 rises 3 ppm per year, 300 times as fast as it during deglaciation! It is not just the fact that the world is getting warmer, it really is the rate at which the warming is occurring. Since 1800, the CO2 has risen more than it did in 100 centuries after 16,000 BC.

    With things changing so quickly, the big concern is how will we deal with the rapid change and whether many species will be able to survive, as there is not time for them to evolve…

    Even though an individual severe weather event cannot be blamed on Global Warming, a warmer climate adds energy to the system — “juicing up” the atmosphere and will cause more frequent and extreme severe weather events in the future.

    We can expect more intense rain events, such as the Front Range Flood in September 2013, but also more wildfires as the changing climate creates stress on our forests.

    Our Colorado climate will become warmer over the next 100 years. Denver will have temperatures more like Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    The result will be less snowpack, lower reservoirs and more frequent droughts. We know the population will increase and therefore the demand for water – we need to plan ahead! We have been blessed to have a few big snow years recently, the long-term prospects may not be so rosy.

    [Natural] “Gas should be stopped in new developments…We have to learn to live in fully electric homes” — Norbert Klebl #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Photo credit: Geos Neighborhood

    From Colorado Public Radio (Sam Brasch):

    The Geos Neighborhood packs dense, energy-smart homes against a forested creek in Arvada. Some of its green design elements are obvious. Unlike hulking mansions nearby, the units are long and narrow, so large windows can soak up winter sunshine. Each roof boasts a solar array. A herd of goats even grazes a shared open space…

    Less noticeable is the complete lack of natural gas hookups. Klebl smiled as he opened the door to the utility closet in his townhome. Inside is an all-electric climate control system, which the Austrian-born engineer designed and perfected himself.

    “Gas should be stopped in new developments,” Klebl said. “We have to learn to live in fully electric homes.”

    Many energy experts have come to a similar conclusion. To meet international climate goals, a recent International Energy Agency report found almost all gas appliances must be replaced with electric alternatives. The thinking is electric stoves and water heaters can take advantage of renewable energy. Without rapid development of technologies like “renewable natural gas,” anything with a burner tip guarantees emissions.

    Klebl said the Geos Neighborhood shows the transition is possible, but some recent events at the housing project show it won’t be easy. A divorce forced Klebl to sell the 25-acre site last year, where he has only built 28 of 282 planned homes.

    The new developer has committed to carry out Klebl’s vision with one major exception. Despite objections from residents, the remaining units will likely include natural gas hookups.

    An All-Electric Community

    Jim Horan, a retired [fuel] cell researcher who lives in the Geos Neighborhood, said the concerns about natural gas hookups started after another resident spotted a worker with Xcel Energy. A conversation revealed the utility was looking for the best place to bring in gas lines.

    Residents and Klebl quickly sought answers from the new developer.

    Peak Development Group, a Denver-based housing developer, bought the land. In a press release last November, owner Chad Ellington said he planned “to build upon the project’s sustainability-driven vision” by building additional net-zero homes.

    A group of residents wrote Ellington a letter last May to express their frustration. In correspondence shared with CPR News, Ellington explained he had conducted an “exhaustive process” to survey the market for home builders. All required natural gas to be part of the development.

    He also noted the addition would not violate the design book used for the initial block of homes, which he had committed to follow. While it said the neighborhood should aspire to avoid fossil fuels, nothing in the standards forbids natural gas lines.

    “The very passionate existing residents were apparently misled by the prior developer about what are ‘requirements’ vs. ‘goals,” Ellington later wrote in an email to CPR News.

    Ellington added Dream Finders, a major national homebuilder, had been selected to build the remaining homes. Matt Childers, a vice president for the company’s Colorado division, declined to explain why the company had insisted on natural gas service but said it would include other green-building elements like solar panels and south-facing windows.

    Many of the residents aren’t convinced all builders would require new natural gas hookups. In the last few weeks, they have pushed Ellington to consider some smaller local home builders, but he said those companies lack the “financial capacity” to take on the project.

    Petrochemicals in #water near Suncor refinery raise concerns about the state of underground wall – EMINETRA #Aurora #Denver #Colorado #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

    Sand Creek EPA sampling locations December 2, 2011.

    From Emnetra:

    Two oil stains within eight days at Sand Creek near the Sankoa Energy Refinery have caused state health officials to worry that the 20-year-old underground clay wall containing toxic chemicals isn’t working. ing.

    More than a year ago, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment ordered Sanko to replace a wall that stretched about 2,000 feet below about 30 feet parallel to Commerce City’s creek, records show. That mission came after a similar oil slick, And Suncor is set to begin designing wall modifications at the end of July.

    “The refinery is in the final stages of planning to improve the boundary barrier system and is working with CDPHE on these plans. Work is expected to be completed in 2021 and will be more effective along Sand Creek. A barrier system will be built, “said Suncor spokeswoman Mita Adesanya in an email.

    This is a sensitive moment for Suncor.Colorado officials Review Company application to update Outdated business license. Due to equipment failures and other failures at the refinery, 15 accidents occurred between March 27 and April 22 this year, and more than 100 failures occurred at the refinery in the last five years. , Air pollution has exceeded the permissible range. Since 2011, Colorado has settled at least 10 proceedings against Suncor.

    A Sanko official said in an email on Friday that he was investigating the cause of the recent oil slick. On May 22 and May 31, Sand Creek’s public bike paths and green roads popular for fishing Occurred along.

    Sanko and state officials do not expect permanent effects on creeks and wildlife, but “trends in groundwater data indicate that walls are less effective.” Was sent by director Jennifer Opira, according to a June 2 email received by The Denver Post, to local government officials in CDPHE’s Hazardous and Waste Management Department.

    The cause of the May 22 spill has not been identified, Opila said in an email, but said it could have been due to a “May 20 power outage.” The refinery side of the wall, she said.

    “It’s likely that groundwater levels have risen during this closure,” she wrote, and petrochemicals “flowed on and through walls,” she wrote. An emergency generator was installed to pump contaminated groundwater from the refinery side of the wall.

    On May 31, a fuel leak at the refinery flowed down the road into an outdoor basin and then reached a stream, according to state officials. Suncor deployed three orange booms and vacuum trucks to clean them.

    Along the green road on Thursday, fisherman Mike Medina threw a fishing line for carp in a Burlington irrigation ditch near the spill site…

    According to state records, benzene levels at the time of the spill were as high as 3,900 ppb in refinery groundwater. This is more than the federal drinking water standard of 5 ppb. Colorado’s current water quality standards have been relaxed in industrial areas, allowing up to 5,300 ppb of benzene in Sand Creek.

    Benzene levels found in pipes discharged to Sand Creek first soared beyond Sanko’s permit limits in the first week of June, but soon disappeared, according to state officials.

    TerraPower, #WY Governor and PacifiCorp announce efforts to advance nuclear technology in Wyoming

    With a sodium fast reactor, integrated energy storage and flexible power production, the Natrium technology offers carbon-free energy at a competitive cost and is ready to integrate seamlessly into electric grids with high levels of renewables. Graphic credit: http://NatriumPower.com

    Here’s the release from Governor Gordon’s office (Michael Perlman):

    Natrium™ Reactor Demonstration Project will bring new energy development and jobs to the state

    TerraPower and PacifiCorp, today announced efforts to advance a Natrium™ reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The companies are evaluating several potential locations in the state.

    “I am thrilled to see Wyoming selected for this demonstration pilot project, as our great state is the perfect place for this type of innovative utility facility and our coal-experienced workforce is looking forward to the jobs this project will provide,” said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. “I have always supported an all-of-the-above energy portfolio for our electric utilities. Our state continues to pave the way for the future of energy, and Wyoming should be the place where innovative energy technologies are taken to commercialization.”

    The development of a nuclear energy facility will bring welcome tax revenue to Wyoming’s state budget, which has seen a significant decline in recent years. This demonstration project creates opportunities for both PacifiCorp and local communities to provide well-paying and long-term jobs for workers in Wyoming communities that have decades of energy expertise.

    “This project is an exciting economic opportunity for Wyoming. Siting a Natrium advanced reactor at a retiring Wyoming coal plant could ensure that a formerly productive coal generation site continues to produce reliable power for our customers,” said Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, a business unit of PacifiCorp. “We are currently conducting joint due diligence to ensure this opportunity is cost-effective for our customers and a great fit for Wyoming and the communities we serve.”

    “I commend Rocky Mountain Power for joining with TerraPower in helping Wyoming develop solutions so that our communities remain viable and continue to thrive in a changing economy, while keeping the state at the forefront of energy solutions,” said Wyoming Senate President Dan Dockstader.

    “Wyoming has long been a headwaters state for baseload energy. This role is proving to be ever more important. This effort takes partnerships, and we welcome those willing to step up and embrace these opportunities with us,” said Wyoming Speaker of the House Eric Barlow.

    The location of the Natrium demonstration plant is expected to be announced by the end of 2021. The demonstration project is intended to validate the design, construction and operational features of the Natrium technology, which is a TerraPower and GE Hitachi technology.

    “Together with PacifiCorp, we’re creating the energy grid of the future where advanced nuclear technologies provide good-paying jobs and clean energy for years to come,” said Chris Levesque, president and CEO of TerraPower. “The Natrium technology was designed to solve a challenge utilities face as they work to enhance grid reliability and stability while meeting decarbonization and emissions-reduction goals.”

    Wyoming’s Governor Gordon committed in early 2021 to lead the state in becoming carbon net negative while continuing to use fossil fuels through the advancement and utilization of next-generation technologies that can provide baseload power to the grid, including nuclear and carbon capture solutions. Wyoming is the largest net energy exporter in the United States and finding carbon solutions will ensure the state continues to provide energy to consumers across the nation while decreasing CO2 emissions.

    In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), through its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate the Natrium technology. TerraPower signed the cooperative agreement with DOE in May 2021. Next steps include further project evaluation, education and outreach as well as state and federal regulatory approvals, prior to the acquisition of a Natrium facility.

    Learn more about this project and the Natrium technology at http://wyadvancedenergy.com

    Biden administration suspends oil and gas leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — The Washington Post

    Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit:
    Steven Chase, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    From The Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin and Joshua Partlow):

    The Biden administration on Tuesday suspended oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, targeting one of President Donald Trump’s most significant environmental acts during his last days in office.

    The move by the Interior Department, which could spark a major legal battle, dims the prospect of oil drilling in a pristine and politically charged expanse of Alaskan wilderness that Republicans and Democrats have fought over for four decades. The Trump administration auctioned off the right to drill in the refuge’s coastal plain — home to hundreds of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl as well as the southern Beaufort Sea’s remaining polar bears — just two weeks before President Biden was inaugurated.

    Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – http://arctic.fws.gov/maps.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34787873

    Now the Biden administration is taking steps to block those leases, citing problems with the environmental review process. In Tuesday’s Interior Department order, Secretary Deb Haaland said that a review of the Trump administration’s leasing program in the wildlife refuge found “multiple legal deficiencies” including “insufficient analysis” required by environmental laws and a failure to assess other alternatives. Haaland’s order calls for a temporary moratorium on all activities related to those leases in order to conduct “a new, comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program.”

    The step, coming just days after the Justice Department defended another drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, underscores the balancing act the new administration aims to strike as it slows fossil fuel development on public lands. While Biden has paused new federal oil and gas leasing and pledged to drastically cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, he has taken a much more cautious approach toward most oil and gas operations approved under his predecessor.

    Last week, Justice Department attorneys filed a brief defending ConocoPhillips’s Willow project, an oil reservoir on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that could hold up to 300 million barrels of oil. The administration also has defended the Trump administration’s decision to issue oil and gas leases in Wyoming and declined to press for the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline, a project Haaland protested while serving in Congress.

    But Tuesday’s move signaled that the new administration was willing to take aggressive action in an area that has been a rallying cry for environmentalists for decades.

    Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, looking south toward the Brooks Range. By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – images.fws.gov (image description page), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5787251

    #ColoradoSprings Utilities looking to boost resiliency through microgrids — The Colorado Springs Gazette #ActOnClimate

    Courtesy of Microgrid Knowledge

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    Small subsets of the electrical grid, or microgrids, that can stand alone in an emergency and keep critical services or businesses going, could be integrated into the Colorado Springs Utilities system in the coming years.

    Utilities is working with Quanta Technology to identify the best locations for microgrids that could keep community services such as fire stations or wastewater treatment plants operational in a larger power outage, said Gabriel Caunt, principal engineer for the demand side management and distributed energy group within Utilities. The microgrids could also serve businesses with data centers that suffer major financial ramifications in a power outage, he said. Microgrids have been employed by military bases like Fort Carson for years to ensure power is available even when the larger grid goes down.

    Fort Carson, which is home to several solar power projects, has a battery bank on the post that can supply power for several hours if electricity goes out.

    The Utilities study will help determine “where the community can gain true resiliency value” from such grids, he said.

    The microgrids include stand-alone generation, such as a solar array and battery, to provide power when the other parts of the grid are down.

    The systems’ can also ensure excess electricity from renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, don’t have to be cut back because it is not meeting an immediate demand, Caunt said. Instead the electricity generation could be stored in batteries, he said.

    Storing renewable electricity for peak demand times, such as when everyone is running their air conditioners, can help limit the need to build new power plants, said Keith Hay, director of policy and the Colorado Energy Office. As electric cars become more common, their batteries could help store electricity generated from renewable sources until it’s needed, he said.

    Utilities granted Quanta a $398,000 contract to develop the Community Microgrid and Distributed Generation Plan by October and as part of that work the company will identify five candidate sites for a microgrid and design one, Caunt said. The work will be partially paid for by a $150,000 grant, said Natalie Watts, a spokeswoman for Utilities.

    The city-owned utility has set an ambitious goal to cut its carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 and that could be reached without new microgrids, Caunt said. But the smaller grids will help Utilities make the most of solar panels that private companies are installing to meet their own sustainability goals.

    #Climate of Resistance: The public is owed a fair share of natural resources wealth — #Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Oil and gas drilling derrick. Photo credit: Colorado State University

    From Colorado Newsline (Quentin Young):

    The three biggest wildfires in Colorado history all occurred last year. The biggest fire in 2020 — that is, the state’s biggest fire ever — was more than 50% bigger than the biggest fire in any other year in the state’s history. The 20 biggest fires in state history have all occurred in the past 20 years.

    And it’s no secret why: climate change.

    Fire officials say a decades-long regional drought and forests plagued by bark beetles were largely to blame for the ferocious fire season, and those conditions, according to scientists, in turn are attributable to rising average temperatures. Many parts of Colorado have gotten hotter by almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

    Climate change has battered the state in other ways. Warming can cause river flows to decrease, and nowhere is this phenomenon a greater emergency than in the Colorado River, the headwaters of which are near Grand Lake. The river supplies water for more than 5 million acres of farmland and about 40 million people in seven states, including Colorado. But it’s drying up. It could lose a quarter of its flow by 2050, scientists say. So little water is expected to run down through the Southwest states this year that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation could declare the first official shortage for the river.

    Wildlife populations throughout the country are suffering from drought and other climate change impacts. In Colorado, climate change threatens deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, birds and other familiar creatures. Birds are especially vulnerable. Half of the birds in Colorado are said to be in decline because of changing climate conditions.

    This is all due to human activity, mostly related to oil and gas extraction and consumption, which releases greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Colorado is one of the country’s top five oil-producing states and among the top natural gas producing states. The scale of fossil fuel production that occurs in Colorado gives the state a colossal carbon footprint.

    That’s why Colorado has an administrative and moral duty to rigorously regulate oil and gas extraction. Available to Coloradans are at least three avenues by which to better resist this toxic industry — local fracking bans, robust severance taxes, and more money for environmental clean-up…

    If oil and gas companies are going to rip natural resources from the Earth and pollute public spaces, it’s only fair for the public to ask those companies for just compensation. “What we are talking about is the oil and gas industry’s social license to operate — if they are using public resources and polluting a public good, our environment, our communities, they need to be paying into the system,” said Jessica Goad, the deputy director of Conservation Colorado, according to The Colorado Sun.

    But these companies don’t pay a fair amount. Not in Colorado.

    The minimal sums Colorado collects from oil and gas companies in the form of severance taxes was detailed in stark terms early last year when the Colorado Office of the State Auditor released a report on severance taxes. For years extraction companies have received hundreds of millions of dollars in savings due both to government leniency and systemic problems. The audit found that Colorado offers enormous gifts to fossil fuel interests in the form of exemptions, credits and deductions.

    When a company takes something of nonrenewable value from the Earth, such as oil and gas, coal and metals, that value is lost to the public and accrues to private interests in the form of profits. Governments apply severance taxes to capture some of that lost wealth.

    Colorado’s severance tax system imposes rates between 2% and 5%, depending on gross income, against oil and gas sales. These rates roughly align with those found in other comparable states. However, the state’s severance tax system is objectionable in ways that go beyond the base rates. The auditor’s office found that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission failed to collect from extraction operators tens of thousands of required monthly well production reports, and some submitted reports were incomplete. The reports are a key component in the severance tax calculation system.

    Furthermore, state rules call for a fine of $200 a day per well for missing reports, but for the years reviewed — 2016 to 2018 — the commission demanded no fines. The auditor’s office estimated that the failure to fine companies for delinquent reports alone amounted to a loss of more than $300 million.

    A bigger giveaway to oil and gas companies comes in the form of an ad valorem tax credit, which allows company owners to claim a credit against their severance tax bill at a rate of 87.5% of the ad valorem property taxes they paid to local governments. Only two other oil and gas-producing states allow for this type of credit against the severance tax. And Colorado’s method of calculating the credit is extremely complex, which itself leads to problems. The auditors wrote that “the application of the ad valorem tax credit is the most problematic aspect of severance tax returns and frequently contributes to taxpayer noncompliance.”

    This table from the January 2020 severance taxes audit from the Colorado Office of the State Auditor shows the average effective oil and gas severance tax rates from 2016 to 2018 in Colorado and eight other peer states. Colorado’s, at 0.54%, was the lowest. (Colorado Office of the State Auditor)

    Colorado allows a severance-tax exemption for low-producing wells, also known as “stripper” wells. This equates to a massive gift to the industry. The auditor’s report found that 70% of the wells in Colorado in 2016 met state law’s definition of a stripper well. Exempting all these producing wells cost the state up to $55 million that year. This isn’t some industry norm — few states offer such special treatment of polluters, according to the report.

    All together, the exemptions, credits and deductions that Colorado grants to industry meant the state’s effective severance tax rate was estimated in the report at only 0.54%. That was the lowest effective severance tax rate among nine oil and gas-producing states analyzed by the auditor.

    Some lawmakers have long understood the untenable state of severance taxes in Colorado, but a combination of ineffective leadership, complications foisted by the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and the deep-pocketed industry lobby so far has put reform out of reach. Early last year members of the General Assembly had planned to convene a study committee to examine oil and gas taxes. But such committees were canceled due to COVID-19, and none are planned for this year, according to a spokesperson for Colorado Senate Democrats.

    Following the audit, the oil and gas commission implemented an automated system that sends an email to operators when a well production report is overdue. But the commission has yet to issue any fines for delinquent reports. In the current state legislative session, House Bill 21-1312 and Senate Bill 21-281 propose improvements to the way the severance tax is applied. But even if they become law they’re tweaks, not reform. The stupendously generous ad valorem tax credit remains Colorado law, as does the freebie on stripper wells.

    It is intolerable for the state to behave with such generosity and permissiveness toward a whole industry, but it is also self-destructive when that industry is responsible for planet-wide ruin. State lawmakers must not put off severance tax reform any longer.

    Can natural gas be eased, not shoved, from buildings in #Colorado? — The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    State utility regulators study options

    Big Pivots

    In squeezing natural gas from the built environment, Colorado is unlikely to adopt hard mandates, as have been enacted by local governments in California and a few other states. But can Colorado figure out a gentler approach that achieves the same results?

    Members of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission didn’t get any simple instructions along the lines of “just-add-water” during a meeting on May 20 with experts from the Environmental Defense Fund and the Regulatory Assistance Project, two national organizations engaged in the transition from natural gas.

    ”I am sorry I am not giving you a simple answer,” they were told at one point by Meghan Anderson of the Washington state-based Regulatory Assistance Project. “There are lot of things coming together.”

    That was in response to a question from Commissioner John Gavan. He had alluded to SB21-200, the bill submitted by Sen. Faith Winter and others that would give the state’s Air Quality Control Commission more authority to achieve greenhouse gas reductions through new regulations.

    Environmental groups have insisted that Colorado needs to move more rapidly in wringing out greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s economy. A 2019 law specified targets of 50% by 2030 and 90% by mid-century.

    Gov. Jared Polis has vowed to veto the bill if it lands on his desk. Despite running on a platform of 100% renewables, Polis argues for an approach that is not seen as heavy handed regulation. He’s not against prodding the market, as was evident in a legislative hearing on the same day as the PUC meeting. Will Toor, the director of the state energy office, testified in support of a bill that would steer state funding toward building materials with lower carbon emissions embedded in their production or extraction.

    “We have this raging battle going on in Colorado on that issue, do we do it through mandates or market forces?” Gavan said at the PUC session. “What do you see from around the country and the world?”

    Colorado most certainly needs both mandates and market forces, Christie Hicks, the lead counsel for energy markets and utility regulation with the Environmental Defense Fund, said in response to the question by Gavan. She emphasized the importance of transparency and accountability in a stakeholder processes with utilities and others.

    In Washington state, demand for natural gas has actually dropped, the result of improved energy efficiency, more stringent building codes, and deliberate efforts to displace fossil fuels in buildings with electricity.

    This house in Candelas, a development in Arvada, is among the 40,000 a year being constructed in Colorado, very nearly all of them connected to natural gas lines. Photo/Allen Best

    Colorado’s largest gas-distribution utility, Xcel Energy, said in a PUC filing that it expects a 1% annual growth in demand for natural gas for building use. Xcel, in a November position paper titled “Transitioning Natural Gas for a Low-Carbon Future,” also argued against too aggressively transitioning from natural gas to electricity, even though it will sell more electricity.

    For Colorado to meet its decarbonization targets, it must shut down coal plants and aggressively electrify transportation. More difficult yet will be the weaning of buildings from their dependence on natural gas—and, in some places, propane—for space heating, warming of water and appliances such as kitchen stoves.

    The PUC commissioners were told that natural gas combustion in buildings causes 10% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

    Eric Blank, the PUC chairman, asked the same question in a different way. Even before joining the PUC, he has been talking about the 40,000 to 50,000 housing units being built each year in Colorado along with perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 commercial units, virtually all with natural gas hookups.

    Even beyond what the PUC can do, he asked, do you have any advice about what Colorado can do as we begin shifting toward all-electric, particularly with deployment of incentives?

    Colorado very definitely is not California, he said, a reference to the natural gas bans in new construction by local governments in California, led by Berkeley beginning in 2019.

    “It’s just not how Colorado operates,” said Blank.

    Education will be foundational, answered Natalie Karas, also of the Environmental Defense Fund. She pointed to a website-based planning device created by a utility in New York that can instantly spit out the emissions associated with fuel decisions.

    And can the natural gas lines be repurposed, say to hydrogen? “We have a 50- or 60-year gas system, and to keep that system safe requires hundreds of millions of dollars of ongoing investment in coming months and years,” Blank pointed out. “Is there any clean energy value in those assets going forward in terms of using it for hydrogen or other clean energy molecules?”

    Blank got an indirect answer. “It’s all about meeting end uses,” said Megan Anderson of the Regulatory Assistance Project. The question, she said, is whether it’s good idea to make upgrades or are there better ways to meet customer needs.

    This is from Big Pivots, an e-journal that tracks the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. To subscribe, go to http://BigPivots.com.

    PUC Commissioner Megan Gilman, who assembled the session, asked a central question about motivations and accountability. Current models used in Colorado and elsewhere reward investor-owned utilities with returns based on investments they make in energy generation and distribution. That gives utilities incentives to make investments that don’t necessarily align with climate goals. “That’s a fundamental problem,” she said.

    Hicks said the best example of using regulation to achieve broad societal goals can be found in the electric sector, where states have been nudging utilities firmly to abandon coal-fired generation in favor of those that cause less pollution.

    One technique is called performance-based ratemaking. Rates the privately-owned utilities are allowed to charge customers depend upon utilities achieving social goals. In this case, the allowed utility revenues would be tied to reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

    Hicks also urged a wholistic view of energy systems, seeing natural gas along with electric—which, in a way, is exactly what the Xcel position document issued in November urged.

    The EDF’s Karas talked about the need for “rigorous analysis” of “every new piece of gas infrastructure being put into the ground. The experts all talked about the importance of planning.

    See also:

    Colorado’s debate about natural gas March 11, 2021

    Natural gas under the microscope October 16, 2020

    Colorado’s natural gas pivot July 31,2020

    Natural gas questions and tensions July 14, 2020

    Replacing natural gas in Denver July 8, 2020

    Cost and comfort emphasized instead of climate as natural gas lines stubbed March 25, 2020

    The future of energy illustrated by Basalt Vista October 19, 2019

    Also explored during the session was the question that Blank described as the “economic rock.” In short, how does this transition from natural gas in buildings occur across all economic sectors, not just among the well-heeled or, for that matter, not just in new homes and buildings?

    The Xcel paper in November also drew attention to this problem. The scenario is what if only those of most modest means, unable to retrofit their homes, are left holding the bag of the stranded asset and hence required to pay much higher cost.

    If there are no easy answers, the best equity will be borne of both well-crafted.

    Paths to a 100% clean energy grid — The Mountain Town News

    Transmission towers near Thornton. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    To decarbonize grid, keep the nukes, say 2 Colorado researchers

    Two Colorado researchers on renewable energy have a recommendation that might surprise some who embrace goals of 100% renewable or, at least, emission-free electricity.

    Keep the existing nuclear reactors on line as long as possible, say Charles Kutscher, a fellow at the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Jeffrey Logan, the associate director of the institute.

    Writing in The Hill, the two Coloradans say that creating an emissions-free electric grid in the United States won’t be easy. 2020 was a record year for new U.S. wind and solar electricity capacity additions, but to achieve a carbon-free grid by 2035, annual installations of solar and wind must double or triple.

    They also urge wringing as much efficiency out of transportation, buildings, and industrial sectors, hence lessening the amount of electricity that will be needed. But they also say it’s important to keep the existing nuclear fleet operating for as long as it’s safe to do so.

    This is from Big Pivots, an e-journal that tracks the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. To subscribe, go to http://BigPivots.com.

    They note that many analysts see a clear path to achieving 80 to 90% renewable electricity grid.

    “Addressing that last 10 to 20% will also likely require long-term storage as well as grid modernization including improved market design.”

    But if there are challenges and difficulties, they say, mostly it’s a matter of doing.

    “Although some observers have called for a massive R&D effort to develop innovative solutions to the climate crisis, the truth is that we already have the technologies we need to solve most of the problem, and our chief focus must be on enabling and deploying them.”

    What new NREL study says about achieving 100% renewable grids

    While we might all like a definitive answer on what it will take to achieve an emission-free grid, a new study produced by 17 researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, both federal labs, offers a more squishy answer.

    The study carefully works through the challenges, identifying three key ones:

    1) the short-term variability problem, which has largely been solved;

    2) the diurnal mismatch problem, which is partially solved, so further research is needed; and

    3) the seasonal problem remains largely unsolved although some pathways have been proposed. Additional research is also needed.

    Locally, yes, deep, deep penetration is possible, but getting close to achieving 100% renewables at a national scale for all hours of the year—well, there are significant unanswered questions.

    “There is no simple answer to how far we can increase renewable deployment before costs rise dramatically or reliability becomes compromised,” said Paul Denholm, the principal energy analyst at NREL and lead author of the paper that was published in Joule, an energy journal.

    “As far as the last few percent’ of the path to 100%, there is no consensus on a clear cost-effective pathway to address both the Balance Challenge and the Inverter Challenge at the national scale,” he said in a statement distributed by NREL.

    “Studies have found no specific technical threshold at which the grid ‘breaks,’ and we can’t just extrapolate from previous cost analyses because, when it comes to the future, there are many non-linearities and unknown unknowns—things we don’t even know we don’t know yet.”

    Richest nations agree to end support for #coal production overseas — The Guardian #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Cars pass the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Power Generator Company coal power plant in Shanghai on March 22, 2016. – Environmental watchdog Greenpeace warned on March 22, 2019 the world’s coal plants are “deepening” the global water crisis as the water consumed by them can meet the basic needs of one billion people. China, the world’s largest emitter, has promised to reach zero net carbon emissions by 2060. (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE / AFP) via Voice of America

    From The Guardian (Fiona Harvey):

    G7 countries reaffirm commitment to limit global heating to 1.5C after nearly two days of wrangling

    The world’s richest nations have agreed to end their financial support for coal development overseas, in a major step towards phasing out the dirtiest fossil fuel.

    After nearly two days of wrangling at a meeting of the G7 environment and energy ministers, hosted virtually by the UK on Thursday and Friday, all reaffirmed their commitment to limiting global heating to 1.5C, and committed to phasing out coal and fully decarbonising their energy sectors in the 2030s.

    Japan, one of the world’s biggest sources of finance for coal power, along with China, held out on agreeing to stop helping to build until the final stages of the two-day virtual meeting. Japan’s government raised concerns that if it halted the financing, China would step in and build coal-fired power plants overseas that were less efficient than Japanese designs.

    The other G7 members – the UK, the US, the EU, France, Italy, Germany, and Canada – were all united in calling for an end to such financing. The rich countries that make up the G7, along with other major non-G7 economies such as China and South Korea, have played a major role in the past in financing fossil fuel development in poorer countries. Japan, China and South Korea in particular have offered to help build coal-fired power plants in cash-strapped developing countries.

    #Colorado’s Untapped $7.5 Billion Economic Opportunity: Ambitious #Climate Policy — Forbes #ActOnClimate

    Projected GHG emissions by sector in the Colorado EPS BAU Scenario

    From Forbes (Silvio Marcacci):

    Colorado has some of the United States’ most ambitious climate goals, targeting 50% remissions reductions in 2030 and 90% emissions reductions by 2050. These goals are bolstered by sector-specific policies enacted in 2019 including legislation requiring the state’s dominant utility Xcel to cut emissions 80% by 2030, along with tax credits and partnerships to build charging stations and accelerate the zero-emission vehicle transition.

    But new research shows the state’s existing policies, excluding those that are planned but not enacted as part of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Roadmap, will only reduce emissions 18% by 2050 – falling far short of Colorado’s climate ambition.

    Colorado straddles one of the fastest-warming regions in the U.S. and climate impacts like record wildfires, dwindling snowpack, and severe drought are already harming its economy and communities. With less than a decade left to avoid locking in the worst climate damages, state policymakers must move quickly to cut emissions and transition to a clean energy economy.

    As debate intensifies around Colorado’s next steps on climate policy, new modeling from Energy Innovation and RMI shows implementing stronger policies, many of which are included as part of the state’s GHG Roadmap, can be a climate and economic boon. Ambitious decarbonization of the state’s electricity, transportation, industry, building, and land-use sectors can help limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius while adding more than 20,000 new jobs and $3.5 billion in economic activity per year by 2030 – and up to 36,000 jobs and $7.5 billion annually by 2050.

    The time between rainfalls has become longer and the rains occurred more erratically in the Southwest during the last 50 years.. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

    Cheap clean energy empowers decarbonization – but policy still needed

    Colorado embodies the clean energy transition accelerating across the U.S. – a state where fossil fuels once underpinned energy supply and economic activity, but where fast-falling clean energy prices have made decarbonization the cheapest option.

    Wind energy has been cheaper than coal for years, and building new renewables now costs less than continuing to operate six of Colorado’s seven remaining coal plants. Plummeting battery prices have now made owning an electric vehicle cheaper for consumers compared to internal combustion engines, and living in an all-electric home presents thousands in savings on up-front costs and utility bills compared to fossil-fueled homes in Denver.

    Those favorable economics have made Colorado’s climate ambition possible, but the state is now embarking on the tougher task of determining how to achieve its emissions reductions goals..

    Colorado could reap billions in economic growth from its climate ambition

    So how can Colorado meet its climate action goals and build a clean energy economy? New modeling using the Colorado Energy Policy Simulator (EPS) developed by Energy Innovation and Colorado-based RMI outlines a policy package that can decarbonize the state’s economy and put it on a pathway to achieve the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommended target of limiting warming to 1.5°C – while generating sustainable economic growth. Some of these policies overlap with those outlined in the state’s GHG Roadmap.

    The free, open-source, peer-reviewed Colorado EPS empowers users to estimate climate and energy policy impacts on emissions, the economy, and public health through 2050 using publicly available data. All model assumptions, key data sources, and scenario development used by the EPS are documented online for full transparency. EPS models have been developed for nearly a dozen countries and several subnational regions, including California, Minnesota, Nevada, and Virginia. The Colorado EPS is one of at least 20 planned state-level EPS models being developed by EI and RMI…

    Fortunately, the Colorado EPS finds implementing stronger policies across the state’s electricity, transportation, buildings, industrial, land-use, and agricultural sectors can put it on a 1.5°C -compliant pathway that meets Colorado’s emissions reductions goals. The associated air pollution reductions would also prevent 350 deaths and more than 10,000 asthma attacks per year by 2030, and more than 1,400 deaths and nearly 44,000 asthma attacks per year by 2050 – even with a conservative estimate, these monetized health and social benefits reach $21 billion annually by 2050.

    This low-carbon transition would supercharge the state’s economy, generating more than 20,000 new jobs and $3.5 billion in economic activity per year by 2030, and adding nearly 36,000 new jobs and more than $7.5 billion to the economy per year by 2050. These jobs would be created by building new solar and wind projects, retrofitting buildings, installing vehicle charging infrastructure, and more. Increased economic activity would come from new jobs paying wages 25% higher than the national media wage, as well as savings from reduced expenditures on volatile fossil fuel supplies.

    Projected changes in jobs relative to BAU in the 1.5°C Scenario

    A policy pathway for Colorado to achieve its climate goals

    The 1.5°C policy package introduced by the Colorado EPS incorporates all existing state policy that has been enacted into law, legally enforceable power plant retirements, improvements in building and transportation energy efficiency, and electric vehicle adoption; it then goes further to address the state’s unique emissions profile.

    While electricity and transportation lead emissions in most states, industry generates the largest percentage of emissions with 32 percent, primarily from oil and gas production. A mix of electrification, energy efficiency, hydrogen fuel switching, and methane leak reduction drive industrial emissions reductions under this 1.5°C Scenario. Several regulations have been proposed and legislation has been introduced in the state legislature to address these sectors, particularly methane leak reduction and beneficial electrification.

    Rapid decarbonization of the state’s electricity sector is foundational to reducing emissions across all other sectors as an increasingly clean grid powers electrification of demand from buildings, industry, and transportation. The 1.5°C Scenario implements an 80% clean electricity standard by 2030 which rises to 100 percent by 2035. This would expand Xcel’s 80% emissions reduction target to cover all state utilities, accelerate the target date from 2035, and make the target legally enforceable – in line with Biden administration efforts to implement an 80% by 2030 clean energy standard. Under this scenario battery storage would increase seven-fold over existing state targets, transmission capacity would double, and additional demand response capacity would increase grid flexibility and reliability.

    Colorado is already targeting a 40% reduction in transportation emissions by 2030, which would add 940,000 light-duty electric vehicles on the road. The 1.5°C Scenario would go even further, primarily by requiring all new passenger car and SUV sales be electric by 2035 and all new freight truck sales be electric by 2045. These goals align with ambitious zero-emission light-duty vehicle goals adopted by 10 states as well as the multi-state agreement targeting zero-emission medium- and heavy-vehicles signed by 15 states (including Colorado) and the District of Columbia, would add nearly 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2030, and ensure most on-road vehicles are electric by 2050.

    Buildings would be transitioned away from fossil fuels through increased efficiency targets for new buildings and deep efficiency retrofits of existing buildings, along with a sales standard requiring all new building equipment sales be fully electric by 2030 to shift gas heating and cooking equipment to highly efficient electric alternatives.

    This wedge chart aggregates some policy levers to improve figure readability; a full interactive wedge graph is available on the Colorado EPS

    Pathway to critical and formidable goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is narrow but brings huge benefits, according to IEA special report

    Here’s the release from the International Energy Agency:

    World’s first comprehensive energy roadmap shows government actions to rapidly boost clean energy and reduce fossil fuel use can create millions of jobs, lift economic growth and keep net zero in reach

    The world has a viable pathway to building a global energy sector with net-zero emissions in 2050, but it is narrow and requires an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally, the International Energy Agency said in a landmark special report released today.

    Climate pledges by governments to date – even if fully achieved – would fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C, according to the new report, Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.

    The report is the world’s first comprehensive study of how to transition to a net zero energy system by 2050 while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth. It sets out a cost-effective and economically productive pathway, resulting in a clean, dynamic and resilient energy economy dominated by renewables like solar and wind instead of fossil fuels. The report also examines key uncertainties, such as the roles of bioenergy, carbon capture and behavioural changes in reaching net zero.

    “Our Roadmap shows the priority actions that are needed today to ensure the opportunity of net-zero emissions by 2050 – narrow but still achievable – is not lost. The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal – our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5 °C – make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “The IEA’s pathway to this brighter future brings a historic surge in clean energy investment that creates millions of new jobs and lifts global economic growth. Moving the world onto that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation.”

    Building on the IEA’s unrivalled energy modelling tools and expertise, the Roadmap sets out more than 400 milestones to guide the global journey to net zero by 2050. These include, from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants. By 2035, there are no sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars, and by 2040, the global electricity sector has already reached net-zero emissions.

    In the near term, the report describes a net zero pathway that requires the immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies, combined with a major global push to accelerate innovation. The pathway calls for annual additions of solar PV to reach 630 gigawatts by 2030, and those of wind power to reach 390 gigawatts. Together, this is four times the record level set in 2020. For solar PV, it is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day. A major worldwide push to increase energy efficiency is also an essential part of these efforts, resulting in the global rate of energy efficiency improvements averaging 4% a year through 2030 – about three times the average over the last two decades.

    Most of the global reductions in CO2 emissions between now and 2030 in the net zero pathway come from technologies readily available today. But in 2050, almost half the reductions come from technologies that are currently only at the demonstration or prototype phase. This demands that governments quickly increase and reprioritise their spending on research and development – as well as on demonstrating and deploying clean energy technologies – putting them at the core of energy and climate policy. Progress in the areas of advanced batteries, electrolysers for hydrogen, and direct air capture and storage can be particularly impactful.

    A transition of such scale and speed cannot be achieved without sustained support and participation from citizens, whose lives will be affected in multiple ways.

    “The clean energy transition is for and about people,” said Dr Birol. “Our Roadmap shows that the enormous challenge of rapidly transitioning to a net zero energy system is also a huge opportunity for our economies. The transition must be fair and inclusive, leaving nobody behind. We have to ensure that developing economies receive the financing and technological know-how they need to build out their energy systems to meet the needs of their expanding populations and economies in a sustainable way.”

    Providing electricity to around 785 million people who have no access to it and clean cooking solutions to 2.6 billion people who lack them is an integral part of the Roadmap’s net zero pathway. This costs around $40 billion a year, equal to around 1% of average annual energy sector investment. It also brings major health benefits through reductions in indoor air pollution, cutting the number of premature deaths by 2.5 million a year.

    Total annual energy investment surges to USD 5 trillion by 2030 in the net zero pathway, adding an extra 0.4 percentage points a year to global GDP growth, based on a joint analysis with the International Monetary Fund. The jump in private and government spending creates millions of jobs in clean energy, including energy efficiency, as well as in the engineering, manufacturing and construction industries. All of this puts global GDP 4% higher in 2030 than it would reach based on current trends.

    By 2050, the energy world looks completely different. Global energy demand is around 8% smaller than today, but it serves an economy more than twice as big and a population with 2 billion more people. Almost 90% of electricity generation comes from renewable sources, with wind and solar PV together accounting for almost 70%. Most of the remainder comes from nuclear power. Solar is the world’s single largest source of total energy supply. Fossil fuels fall from almost four-fifths of total energy supply today to slightly over one-fifth. Fossil fuels that remain are used in goods where the carbon is embodied in the product such as plastics, in facilities fitted with carbon capture, and in sectors where low-emissions technology options are scarce.

    “The pathway laid out in our Roadmap is global in scope, but each country will need to design its own strategy, taking into account its own specific circumstances,” said Dr Birol. “Plans need to reflect countries’ differing stages of economic development: in our pathway, advanced economies reach net zero before developing economies. The IEA stands ready to support governments in preparing their own national and regional roadmaps, to provide guidance and assistance in implementing them, and to promote international cooperation on accelerating the energy transition worldwide.”

    The special report is designed to inform the high-level negotiations that will take place at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention in Glasgow in November. It was requested as input to the negotiations by the UK government’s COP26 Presidency.

    “I welcome this report, which sets out a clear roadmap to net-zero emissions and shares many of the priorities we have set as the incoming COP Presidency – that we must act now to scale up clean technologies in all sectors and phase out both coal power and polluting vehicles in the coming decade,” said COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma. “I am encouraged that it underlines the great value of international collaboration, without which the transition to global net zero could be delayed by decades. Our first goal for the UK as COP26 Presidency is to put the world on a path to driving down emissions, until they reach net zero by the middle of this century.”

    New energy security challenges will emerge on the way to net zero by 2050 while longstanding ones will remain, even as the role of oil and gas diminishes. The contraction of oil and natural gas production will have far-reaching implications for all the countries and companies that produce these fuels. No new oil and natural gas fields are needed in the net zero pathway, and supplies become increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers. OPEC’s share of a much-reduced global oil supply grows from around 37% in recent years to 52% in 2050, a level higher than at any point in the history of oil markets.

    Growing energy security challenges that result from the increasing importance of electricity include the variability of supply from some renewables and cybersecurity risks. In addition, the rising dependence on critical minerals required for key clean energy technologies and infrastructure brings risks of price volatility and supply disruptions that could hinder the transition.

    “Since the IEA’s founding in 1974, one of its core missions has been to promote secure and affordable energy supplies to foster economic growth. This has remained a key concern of our Net Zero Roadmap,” Dr Birol said. “Governments need to create markets for investments in batteries, digital solutions and electricity grids that reward flexibility and enable adequate and reliable supplies of electricity. The rapidly growing role of critical minerals calls for new international mechanisms to ensure both the timely availability of supplies and sustainable production.”

    The full report is available for free on the IEA’s website along with an online interactive that highlights some of the key milestones in the pathway that must be achieved in the next three decades to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

    Click here to read the report.

    #Colorado’s #coal country searches for “the next thing” to keep communities afloat — The #Denver Post #ActOnClimate

    One coal mine remains open in the North Fork Valley. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Denver Post (Alex Burness):

    The state embarks on a years-long effort to protect people, main streets and budgets

    Colorado’s state government has made a promise not to leave behind the more than 1,000 people directly impacted by coal closures — and the thousands more indirectly affected, like electricians, truck drivers, security workers and others who serve the mines and plants. It approved the Office of Just Transition in 2019 to help with retraining or relocating coal workers, or paying them to retire early. (The office plans to expand into oil and gas in coming years.)

    But this project isn’t something many people in coal-mining areas are even aware of, according to interviews with workers around the state. In fact, it’s only now getting any real resources: a couple employees approved in the 2021-22 state budget; a possible $15 million in seed funding through HB21-1290; and an extra $5 million annually through HB21-1312’s proposed elimination of corporate tax breaks.

    “We are not going to insulate the state from change. Let’s be very clear about that,” said Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat who works closely at the Capitol on energy policy. “This is not going to be, ‘Hey, we want everything to be like it was in 1975 and it’ll always be that way.’ We have to help communities reinvent themselves, find the next thing.”

    “Still trying to get our arms around it”

    Colorado currently has seven coal-fired power plants and six coal mines, the largest of which is West Elk in Somerset, just east of Paonia. By 2030, the state expects there will be just one unit of one coal-fired power plant left — Comanche 3 in Pueblo — and anywhere from one to three mines.

    It’s Wade Buchanan’s job to oversee the Office of Just Transition and figure out, among other things, how many workers the state will need to help across the 11 counties that are most likely to see the impacts. The state has no working estimate for how many will be indirectly affected by the coming job losses.

    Montrose, Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Morgan and Pueblo counties are the highest priority, and there are 1,129 coal workers in those places now, the state estimates. The second tier includes 562 people in Delta (home to the North Fork Valley), El Paso, Larimer, Gunnison and La Plata counties…

    here’s real urgency in the counties seeing the decline. Take Rick McGaughey, who on May 7 shut down Hays Drug Store, a prominent feature of Paonia’s main drag. For the first time in 115 years, Paonia doesn’t have a pharmacy, and the owners aren’t sure where they fit in…

    Unlike other coal towns, this one isn’t dying. Paonia’s housing market is hot as retirees, second-home owners and remote workers have moved in, driving up prices by double from a decade ago. There’s a vibrant agribusiness and tourism scene, with fruit orchards and wineries and ranching…

    “This has killed my district”

    A hot housing market means stable property tax revenues, but not every town has that. State Rep. Perry Will serves Moffat, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, north of Paonia, and has seen what happens when coal declines and new business and people don’t move in.

    “This has killed my district,” the Republican said flatly. He has little hope where he lives for the kind of reinvigoration happening now in Paonia.

    In some counties, the coal industry is the largest taxpayer among all residential and commercial plots. It accounts for nearly half of property tax revenues in Moffat County. The state estimates it will take nearly $3.2 billion in new commercial property value — 10 times the value of the Denver Broncos’ stadium — to replace the cumulative tax revenue losses in Colorado’s coal counties.

    Other Republicans who mainly represent the affected areas initially scoffed at the idea of an Office of Just Transition, calling it an insult and rejecting that a renewable-energy transition was inevitable. Now they’re coming around, with Will and Republican Sen. Bob Rankin of Carbondale sponsoring the funding bill. It’s the best available option and fighting the transition has proved pointless, they said.

    The few left in the mining business want to stick around — people like Mike Ludlow, president of Oxbow Mining outside Paonia. He’s one of three workers at the shuttered Elk Creek Mine. There used to be 380.

    It’ll take several years for those three to restore the former mine site to its original state before closing entirely. His colleague, Doug Smith, stood next to him outside of a large office on site that’s filled with a lot of empty space and photos of the old days…

    “This is not a dodge”

    For all the fears already realized and families displaced, Colorado is at the vanguard of a national “just transition” effort, which is gaining popularity among unions. Colorado’s is a first-of-its-kind project, said Dennis Dougherty, executive director of the AFL-CIO of Colorado and chair of the Just Transition Advisory Committee…

    Much of the $15 million pending in the legislature would be put to stimulate economic transitions in local communities. House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar from Pueblo said Colorado needs to support those communities hiring people like Wade Buchanan to figure out their respective next thing. Rankin said it’s critical the state let the locals lead on that, not the other way around.

    Spreading $15 million around the state won’t go far. Even the bill sponsors acknowledge that. A report released Dec. 31 by the state’s Just Transition Advisory Committee made no illusions about the state’s readiness, or lack thereof, to cure coal country.

    2021 #COleg: #Climate, congestion and compromise in #Colorado transportation bill — The Mountain Town News

    Truck on I-70 at sunset. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    The social cost of carbon is mentioned twice in the 196-page transportation bill that was introduced into the Colorado’s legislative session in early May. It’s not clear exactly how it will have any more effect than the 55-mph speed limit on one of the interstate highways through Denver. Likely, if this bill passes, it’s part of a bigger puzzle.

    But the mention frames transportation differently than ever before in Colorado. Transportation always was about the balance between mobility and the ding to the public treasury, the taxes we pay. This adds a new metric to the discussion, a new dimension of costs.

    I wouldn’t advise wading through the 107-word sentence in Senate Bill 21-260 where social cost of carbon is first mentioned. It’s not exactly the sort that Gabriel Garcia Marquez would craft. The gist is that our vehicles pollute, and the pollution has a social cost. It goes on to instruct the methodology of the social cost of carbon be employed, to get an assessment of the environmental costs over time and put into dollar figures. Alone, this does not alter Colorado’s path on transportation, but it does set a new tone.

    More telling is “greenhouse,” a word that shows up 42 times in the bill along with 3 mentions of “ozone,” a component greenhouse gas and part of the unhealthy air found along the northern Front Range.

    A mountain jam near Telluride. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    This is a climate bill. It has to be. Transportation will become the No.1 source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado as the big coal-fired power plants begin closing in 2022. Gina McCarthy, speaking at the recent 21st Century Energy Transition Symposium, called transportation the “big kahuna.” She was speaking from her federal perch as Biden’s climate advisor, but it’s also true in Colorado.

    Colorado has taken steps to produce small waves in decarbonization of transportation. Now it needs a big wave, say those involved in transportation efforts, and this is it.

    It’s also a congestion bill. I’m guessing I heard the word “congestion” used or alluded to a dozen times when Gov. Jared Polis, legislators, and several others spoke on the interior steps of the Capitol on May 4. Alec Garnett, the House speaker, talked about the ability to immediately tell you’re leaving Utah or Wyoming when entering Colorado. This bill provides for new funding sources that aim to deliver more asphalt and concrete.

    The bill is also a compromise, as was best described by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, a Republican. He talked about highway expansions he wants to see in Colorado Springs, the widening of Powers Boulevard and more. “These simply cannot be accomplished without a much greater infusion of state and federal dollars,” he said. Suthers, a former state attorney general in Colorado, also said he is a political realist—suggesting compromise is inevitable.

    “Transportation can’t be a partisan issue. It’s too important to the quality of life of our residents in Colorado Springs,” he said.

    Kevin Priola, a Republican state legislator from the Brighton area, also spoke on behalf of the bill. He’s been a big booster of transportation electrification in Colorado, showing up at a bill signing with Gov. Jared Polis in 2019 near East High School in Denver.

    At the Capitol, he spoke about congestion on Interstate 76, now bumper to bumper instead of the occasional car that he saw from his grandfather’s farm when he was a boy. But highway widening cannot be the whole answer. “We can’t just continue to bulldoze mountains and widen lanes,” he said.

    Most bills run 10 to 20 pages. This one runs to 196 pages. This is Longs Peak, not Rabbit Mountain outside of Lyons. Or, for those in Durango, Engineer Mountain instead of Perins Peak. It’s sweeping, with a little bit for everybody, most fundamentally new ways to collect revenue. But there’s a distinct shift in direction, a big pivot, if you will.

    Are there comparable pivots? Others might point to funding changes of the last 30 years, including 1992, the last time Colorado passed a gas tax increase. A case may be made for 1973, the year when the first bore of the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel Complex was opened, followed by the second bore in 1978.

    This is from the May 12, 2021, issue of Big Pivots, an e-journal. To sign up, go to http://BigPivots.com

    I’d make the argument for 1930. That’s the year that the state began plowing snow on Berthoud Pass, a clear recognition of the ascendancy of the automobile. Before, there was no way to drive across the Continental Divide during winter.

    Now the pivot is toward electrification and, more broadly yet, decarbonization through a variety of pathways. And, in an odd reversal of my thesis about 1930, it opens the door partway to the idea of a Front Range passenger train. Carl Smith, representing the railway workers’ union, pointed out that rail workers losing their jobs on ferrying coal from mines to markets could transfer their skills to passenger rail.

    Elise Jones, executive director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, emphasized electrification of transportation. The bill proposes to put more than $730 million toward electric vehicle solutions. That, she said, represents “one of the biggest investments in transportation electrification by any state anywhere in the country.”

    The bill, said Jones, recognizes the scale of the challenge as Colorado seeks to expand the number of electric vehicles – currently 36,000 on state highways – to nearly a million by the end of the decade.

    “To support these new EVS, Colorado will need 111 times more charging stations by 2030, and this bill would put a significant down payment on that infrastructure,” she said.

    Part of the Amazon fleet at a warehouse along I-70. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    Jones also noted the funding proposed by the bill for all types of electric mobility, from electric bikes and transit to school buses and trucks, but also rideshare vehicles like Uber and Lyft. “It includes money to replace the dirtiest vehicles on the road with zero-emissions buses and delivery trucks.”

    Travis Madsen, who runs the transportation program at SWEEP, elaborated on this theme when I talked to him. “I think the bill is an essential piece of achieving Colorado’s climate targets,” he said.

    “We need to step up the pace, and this bill will provide some needed juice to get this (transition) moving faster,” he said.

    Madsen directed my attention beyond our cars to the fleets of trucks and delivery vehicles. Section 11 of the bill proposes a clean-fleet enterprise within the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment – the agency given the most significant responsibility for creating rules to decarbonize the economy – to provide incentives for the shift in fuels. This new clean-fleet enterprise will be allowed to “impose a delivery fee to be paid” by those getting the goods by delivery of motor vehicle. Nudge, nudge.

    A personal aside here: I live on the edge of one of metropolitan Denver’s small but up-and-coming commercial areas. There’s a daily parade of diesel-powered trucks delivering wine, beer, fruits, and all other manner of items to be consumed in the restaurants of Olde Town Arvada. Moreover, I have wheeled around the warehouse districts along I-70 and I-76 on Denver’s east and north side. The size of the fleets of Amazon and others astound me.

    But then there’s the issue of how we wheel about on a daily basis. In September 2020 the Denver Regional Council of Governments issued the 2019 Annual Report on Roadway Traffic Congestion in the Denver Region, which noted that vehicles miles traveled per capita had actually declined in 2019, a second straight year. On weekends, the VMT per person was down to 25.4 miles.

    Of course, with population growth of 1.4%, there was just as much travel.

    Some people seem to think covid will dent this, perhaps permanently. I’m skeptical.

    This transportation bill aims to deliver leverage. Section 28 would require the Colorado Department of Transportation and metropolitan planning organizations (think RTD) to “engage in an enhanced level of planning, analysis, community engagement, and monitoring with respect to transportation capacity projects and specifies what that entails and also requires CDOT to conduct a road usage charge study and an autonomous vehicle study.”

    To me, this doesn’t say I’ll have to ditch my car. But there’s some jostling here.

    Madsen sees this as a crucial section, along with the AQCC rulemaking on transportation emissions that is expected this summer. “I think there’s going to be a lot of push and pull over whether and how Colorado invests in transportation differently to reach the GHG roadmap targets,” he says. He points out that the state roadmap calls for growth in vehicle travel to be cut in half.

    In Denver itself, densification is rapidly underway. Some people don’t feel the need to have their own cars. “That will be an important way we can accommodate more people without causing a dramatic increase in everyone driving,” says Madsen.

    I’m skeptical—not about the goals, but whether local governments can be nudged into making land use decisions that actually impact greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. I’ve been hearing this conversation for decades with no real gain.

    Middle-class mini-mansions at Leyden Ranch, in Arvada. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain News

    A couple of weeks ago I drove to the western precincts of Arvada amid the rolling hills just short of Highway 93, the road between Golden and Boulder. These huge projects — Candelas and Leyden Ranch—have wonderful open spaces and uplifting views, exactly what people from elsewhere expect in Colorado. (If you don’t mind some wind occasionally).

    These housing projects are also absolutely car centric. They’re VMT disasters. In this, they are more typical than not among the 40,000 to 50,000 houses being built in Colorado annually, the number of which have been going up during the last 4 or 5 years.

    The bill got its first legislative hearing on [May 10, 2021], dragging on for 7.5 hours in the Senate Finance Committee before being passed, with amendments, on a 4-3 party-line vote. So much for Sutherland’s pitch for bipartisanship.

    The social cost of carbon mention remained intact. Colorado first began using that metric as a result of 2019 legislation, which requires the Public Utilities Commission to evaluate electrical generation projects with the federal social cost of carbon, which was then $46 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions. This tilts the table against coal generation, although as a practical matter, the table is heavily tilted toward lower cost renewables. Two other bills being considered by legislators this session would also add social cost of carbon to the PUC matrix when evaluating programs that would reduce natural gas use in buildings and elsewhere.

    But the practical effect of social cost of carbon in the transportation bill?

    In response to my questions, Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, said the goal of the social cost of carbon is to provide “a consistent approach across relevant agencies. We are ensuring that we are doing cost benefit analyses and accounting using an appropriate social cost of carbon and making sure in multiple pieces of legislation that we use the same social cost of carbon at the PUC, C-DOT, CDPHE, etc.”

    Madsen—who took Toor’s job at SWEEP when Toor joined the Polis administration in early 2019—said he thinks the practical effect will depend on a future rulemaking at the Air Quality Control Commission. That may occur later this year.

    “The social cost of carbon will help illustrate the value of reducing emissions (either through transportation and land-use planning to reduce overall vehicle travel, or through electrification measures),” he said.

    Have a different take on this transportation bill? Happy to publish other viewpoints. allen.best@comcast.net.