In the West, #climate action falters on the ballot — @HighCountryNews

Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

From The High Country News (Kate Schimel):

In an upstairs ballroom of downtown Seattle’s Arctic Club, where polar bears and maps of the Arctic decorate the walls, volunteers and activists who campaigned for Washington’s first carbon fee waited cheerfully for election results on Tuesday night. Just after 8 p.m., a first wash of returns that had the initiative on track to pass sent ripples through the room. But as more counties reported in, the likelihood dropped. By 9 p.m., the mood turned, and clusters of supporters retreated to bars across downtown to mourn. On Wednesday morning, 56 percent of Washington voters had rejected the state’s second attempt to tax carbon emissions.

As the U.S. has stepped back from federal commitments to limit carbon pollution, activists have called on states and local governments to fill the void. It’s an approach that could prove effective, according to a report released in September by Data-Driven Yale: Existing state, local and corporate commitments could take the U.S. halfway to meeting its Paris Agreement goals, designed to limit global warming to 2 degrees and avoid the most catastrophic effects.

Tuesday night’s returns offered a mixed message on whether states have the momentum to regulate fossil fuels without federal backing. Candidates who support action on climate change won gubernatorial races in Colorado and Oregon, while in Washington, Democratic incumbent Sen. Maria Cantwell, who has backed climate initiatives in the Senate, held her seat by a comfortable margin. But ballot initiatives intended to regulate fossil fuel emissions and boost renewable energy sources fell flat.

The nation’s first carbon fee fails
Initiative 1631, which was crafted by a coalition of labor, social justice and environmental groups and tribal nations, would have taxed every metric ton of carbon produced by most of the state’s largest polluters at a rate of $15; some sectors were exempted, including fuel used in agricultural production and coal plants slated for closure. A prior initiative to tax carbon emissions while lowering other taxes and boosting low-income tax credits failed in 2016. The 2018 initiative, which would have used the funds raised by the tax to pay for climate mitigation and response, drew well-funded opposition from oil and gas interests.

The result: Projected to fail. Only three counties, Seattle’s King County, Port Townsend’s Jefferson County and the San Juan Islands, voted for passage.

Arizona’s push for renewables stalls
Proposition 127 would have required electric utilities to purchase 50 percent of their power from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. It excluded nuclear power as a renewable source, which stoked fears that its passage would lead to the closure of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. A lawsuit from the state’s largest utility muddied Proposition 127’s progress to the ballot, while out-of-state money helped make it the most expensive proposition in state history. A group backed by California-based billionaire Tom Steyer’s political action committee, NextGen Climate Action, poured $23.2 million into efforts to pass the initiative; Arizona utilities, as well as the Navajo Nation, spent nearly $30 million to oppose it.

The result: Failed. As of Wednesday morning, 70 percent of voters had rejected the measure.

Background reading: Dark money is re-shaping Arizona’s energy fights, Elizabeth Shogren

Colorado won’t tighten fracking restrictions
A pair of dueling initiatives, Proposition 112 and Amendment 74, dealt with regulating the state’s fracking boom, which has butted up against sprawling suburbs. Proposition 112 would have required new oil and gas wells and production facilities to be built at least 2,500 feet away from schools, drinking water sources and homes, a significant increase from current set-back requirements. Amendment 74 would have required payments for any lost property values due to government action, including regulations that affect mineral rights – like Proposition 112.

The result: Both initiatives failed, leaving the state where it started on oil and gas regulations.

Background reading: The rising risks of the West’s latest gas boom, Daniel Glick and Jason Plautz

A federal judge in Montana on Thursday blocked all further work on the Keystone XL pipeline, says #ClimateChange can’t be ignored #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Trucks hauling tar sands material for processing in Alberta.

From Inside Climate News (Phil McKenna):

A federal judge in Montana on Thursday blocked all further work on the Keystone XL pipeline, saying the Trump administration had failed to justify its decision to reverse a prior decision by the Obama administration and to approve the tar sands oil delivery project.

It was a striking victory for environmental advocates who have spent over a decade fighting the project to carry tar sands oil from Canada to markets in the United States and had turned the KXL line into a litmus test for climate action.

Environmental advocates, landowners along the pipeline’s route and indigenous rights groups hailed the ruling. They called it a major setback—if not a permanent defeat—for the long-contested crude oil pipeline. The Obama administration had determined that the pipeline was not in the national interest, and President Barack Obama had cited its potential climate impact in rejecting it.

Drilling Application Under Standley Lake Withdrawn

Standley Lake sunset. Photo credit Blogspot.com.

From CBS4 Denver (Rick Sallinger):

Highlands Natural Resources announced on Thursday afternoon that it had withdrawn its application from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission relating to Standley Lake.

Many of those who live around Standley Lake were not thrilled with the idea of drilling beneath the lake…

Fant claimed it wasn’t worth the risk of drilling, “Standley Lake provides water for 300,000 in Thornton, Northglenn and Westminster. To me that doesn’t make it worth the risk for small profits for a London based foreign drilling company.”

[…]

Highlands Natural Resources CEO, Robert Price, released this statement, “Through the process of communicating with various stakeholders and upon further consideration of its development plans in Jefferson County, Highlands Natural Resources has withdrawn its drilling and spacing unit application, Form 2A, and all Applications for Permit to Drill from the COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) relating to Standley Lake.”

[…]

While the withdrawal may include the state’s largest dog park, plans for drilling under Rocky Flats, the former nuclear weapons site, are still on.

That has neighbors like Walker worried, “If you are going to disturb it and especially underground I’m worried about the plutonium.”

The battle of Standley Lake may be over, but others may be yet to come.

The City of Westminster issued the following statement, “The City of Westminster is truly appreciative of the level of engagement we saw from our residents as they made their concerns known to the COGCC. We also want to assure them that the city will always work to protect the interests of our citizens, our water supply and our open spaces.”

Ballot measures taking aim at #climatechange fall short — The Washington Post

Karley Robinson with newborn son Quill on their back proch in Windsor, CO. A multi-well oil and gas site sits less than 100 feet from their back door, with holding tanks and combustor towers that burn off excess gases. Quill was born 4 weeks premature. Pictured here at 6 weeks old.

From The Washington Post ( Brady Dennis and Dino Grandoni):

Initiatives in Arizona, Colorado and Washington that would have propped up renewable energy and tamped down on fossil fuels failed to garner enough votes.

Voters in Arizona, one of the nation’s most sun-soaked states, shot down a measure that would have accelerated its shift toward generating electricity from sunlight. Residents in oil- and gas-rich Colorado defeated a measure to sharply limit drilling on state-owned land.

Even in the solidly blue state of Washington, initial results were poor for perhaps the most consequential climate-related ballot measure in the country this fall: A statewide initiative that would have imposed a first-in-the-nation fee on emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming.

The failure of the ballot measures underscores the difficulty of tackling a global problem like climate change policy at the local level, even as environmental advocates and lawmakers have turned to state governments to counter the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era efforts to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and as scientists warn the world has only a bit more than a decade to keep global warming to moderate levels…

But elsewhere on the ballot in Colorado, environmental advocates failed to pass a measure known as Proposition 112. The initiative would have required new wells to be at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and other “vulnerable areas” such as parks and irrigation canals — a distance several times that of existing regulations. It also allows local governments to require even longer setbacks.

As oil production has soared in Colorado in recent years and the population has grown, more and more residents are living near oil and gas facilities. Those who supported the ballot measure argued it was necessary to reduce potential health risks and the noise and other nuisances of living near drilling sites. Opponents countered that the proposal would virtually eliminate new oil and gas drilling on non-federal land in the state — they have derided it as an “anti-fracking” push — and claimed it would cost jobs and deprive local governments of tax revenue.

The industry-backed group, Protect Colorado, raised roughly $38 million this year as it opposed the controversial measure, which it says would “wipe out thousands of jobs and devastate Colorado’s economy for years to come.” By contrast, the main group backing the proposal, known as Colorado Rising for Health and Safety, raised about $1 million…

Meanwhile in the state of Washington, the effort to put a price on carbon emissions is on the verge of defeat, with 56.3 percent of voters rejecting the measure and 43.7 percent supporting it as of Tuesday evening, when two-thirds of the votes were counted. An official at the Washington secretary of state’s office said Monday the vote-by-mail system in the state means it could take several days for a final vote tally.

With the measure known as Initiative 1631, Washington would become the first state in the nation to tax carbon dioxide — an approach many scientists, environmental advocates and policymakers argue will be essential on a broad scale to nudge the world away from its reliance on fossil fuels and to combat climate change.

But that proposal, like other environmental initiatives across the country, had come with a fight, pitting big oil refiners against a collection of advocates that includes unions, Native American groups, business leaders like Bill Gates and former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, as well as the state’s Democratic governor, Jay Inslee…

Florida voters, likely with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill still fresh in mind, decided to amend the state constitution to ban offshore oil and gas in state waters.

That decision served as another blow to efforts by the Trump administration and the oil industry to expand offshore drilling nationwide. While Trump’s Interior Department initially suggested allowing drilling across 90 percent of the outer continental shelf, oil lobbyists eyed the section of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida as one of the biggest prizes.

Floating #Solar Is Best Solution For Walden’s High Electric Bills — CleanTechnica.com #ActOnClimate

From CleanTechnica.com (Charles W. Thurston):

When a town has high electric bills and no available land for a solar farm, a floating solar plant on the pond of a waste water plant makes great sense. Walden, Colorado, population 750, elevation 8,000 feet plus, and land area of 0.34 square miles, is such a town.

Photo credit: CleanTechnica.com

“We were spending about $22,000 a month for electricity for the water treatment facility, and this 75 kW solar installation will save us $10,000 a month,” says Jim Dustin, mayor of Walden, Colo. “We’ll pay for the plant in 20 years, and it is still expected to run 10 more years after that,” he says.

The plant technology was furnished by floating solar specialists Ciel & Terre USA and was installed by GRID Specialists. The $400,000 cost of the plant was offset by a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, which manages revenues earned by oil and gas development tax in the state. The project also was supported by the Colorado Energy Office.

“The Energy Office is interested in this installation because it gets down to minus 40 or 50 degrees in the winter, and we have very high winds. They want to know if the technology will work, because there are irrigation ponds and unused water bodies all over this state,” says Dustin. The energy office has offered $120,000 to move the installation to another location if it doesn’t work in Walden, he adds.

The Energy Office is also interested in conserving water in the state, where evaporation reduces holding pond levels by up to 90 inches per year, according to Taylor Lewis, a program engineer at the agency. “We have 2,000 man-made reservoirs in the state to keep water so if we can identify a few where it makes sense to cover them with solar, there could be a double benefit of water savings and electricity generation,” he says.

The concept of covering drinking water bodies to reduce evaporation is not new. “I’ve been looking at claims by the City of Los Angeles that they have saved billions of gallons of water over the past 10 years at four reservoirs, using black floating plastic balls,” Lewis says. “We’re interested in studying the impact with floating solar here,” he adds.

Johnson Controls came up with the initial idea of a floating solar array for Walden, says Dustin. “The floating solar array is a milestone for the Town of Walden and highlights the potential for Colorado’s overall energy efforts,” said Rowena Adams, a Performance Infrastructure account executive at Johnson Controls, in a statement.

“It was a practical choice for Walden given the surrounding bodies of water and the town’s energy resiliency efforts at the Town Water Treatment Facility, as well as the desire to conserve water and minimize algae growth,” Adams said.

Ciel & Terre, the technology provider, has more water projects in mind for Colorado. “With demand for solar power continuing to rise and available real estate becoming more expensive, floating solar is the ideal solution for anyone with a manmade pond or body of water. It’s cost-effective, quick to install, easy to maintain, and offers a variety of environmental benefits,” said Eva Pauly-Bowles, the representative director for the US office of the French company.

“Floating solar is no longer an exotic niche in the US, but a rapidly growing sector of the solar market. Ciel & Terre USA has other larger floating solar projects under construction and planned across the country,” Papuly-Bowles said.

Deploying a floating solar array on manmade bodies of water improves energy production by keeping the solar system cooler, Ciel & Terre says. At the same time it reduces evaporation, controls algae growth, and reduces water movement to minimize bank erosion, it says. Floating solar arrays also make optimal use of pond surfaces, providing clean solar energy without committing expensive real estate or requiring rooftop installations, the company adds.

Established in 2006 as a renewable Independent Power Producer (IPP), Ciel & Terre has been fully devoted to floating solar PV since 2011. The French company pioneered Hydrelio, the first specific and industrialized system to make solar panels float on water, with criteria such as cost-effectiveness, safety, longevity, resistance to winds and waves, simplicity, drinking water compliance, and optimized electrical yield, the company states in its profile.

Ciel & Terre has floating solar installations in Japan, Korea, China, UK, France, Brazil, Singapore, Malaysia, Italy, and Taiwan as well as the United States. The company has its United States headquarters in Petaluma, California.

Large #hydropower dams ‘not sustainable’ in the developing world — BBC

Click here to read the paper. Here’s the abstract:

Abstract

Hydropower has been the leading source of renewable energy across the world, accounting for up to 71% of this supply as of 2016. This capacity was built up in North America and Europe between 1920 and 1970 when thousands of dams were built. Big dams stopped being built in developed nations, because the best sites for dams were already developed and environmental and social concerns made the costs unacceptable. Nowadays, more dams are being removed in North America and Europe than are being built. The hydropower industry moved to building dams in the developing world and since the 1970s, began to build even larger hydropower dams along the Mekong River Basin, the Amazon River Basin, and the Congo River Basin. The same problems are being repeated: disrupting river ecology, deforestation, losing aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, releasing substantial greenhouse gases, displacing thousands of people, and altering people’s livelihoods plus affecting the food systems, water quality, and agriculture near them. This paper studies the proliferation of large dams in developing countries and the importance of incorporating climate change into considerations of whether to build a dam along with some of the governance and compensation challenges. We also examine the overestimation of benefits and underestimation of costs along with changes that are needed to address the legitimate social and environmental concerns of people living in areas where dams are planned. Finally, we propose innovative solutions that can move hydropower toward sustainable practices together with solar, wind, and other renewable sources.

We need innovative sustainable solutions to meet energy demands, guarantee food security, and ensure water availability around the globe. Over the years, dams have been used for land management and flood control; to store water for irrigation and agriculture; to provide recreation and navigation, and to address management of aquatic resources. There are over 82,000 large dams in the United States alone. In addition, over 2 million small low-head dams fragment US rivers, and their cumulative impacts are largely unknown, since they have escaped careful environmental assessment.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the first hydroturbines were invented to power a theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan and then, to power streetlights in Niagara Falls, New York. Alternating current then made possible the first hydropower plant at Redlands Power Plant, California in 1893. Beginning in the 1920s, the US Army Core of Engineers began to build hydropower plants. The Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 developed hydropower in the Tennessee River with the clearly stated goal of promoting rural electrification, later widely imitated throughout the country—the most notable being the Hoover Dam in 1937. The New Deal gave an enormous boost to hydropower construction, tripling output in 20 years until it accounted for 40% of electrical use in the United States. Hydropower dams were an important part of North American and European energy development.

Starting in the late 1960s, big dams stopped being built in developed nations, because the best sites for dams were already developed, the costs became too high, and most importantly, growing environmental and social concerns made the costs unacceptable. Since then, the contribution of hydropower to the United States’ electrical supply has steadily declined to 6.1% of energy consumption, and other energy sources, such as nuclear, gas, coal, solar, and wind, began to replace it. Dam removal rather than construction has become the norm in North America and Europe, because many that were built before 1950 are at the end of their useful lives, they would be too costly to repair, many no longer serve their initial purpose, and their social and environmental negative externalities became unacceptable. European countries with favorable topography and rain patterns, such as France and Switzerland, continue to have hydropower as an important part of their energy mix through technological innovations at existing dams. In contrast, 3,450 dams have been removed to date in Sweden, Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and France (https://www.damremoval.eu). Hundreds of dams were removed in the United States (546 from 2006 to 2014) and Europe at enormous financial cost. This situation contrasts with what is happening in developing countries.

Developing countries, where millions of people are still not connected to the electric grid, have been ramping up hydroelectric dam construction for decades. These often involve megaprojects, which repeat the problems identified with big dams built in the past by the United States and European nations: disrupting river ecology, causing substantial deforestation, generating loss of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases, displacing thousands of people, and affecting the food systems, water quality, and agriculture near them. The sustainability of these undertakings is commonly insufficiently scrutinized by those promoting them. The priority in large dam construction is to generate energy to serve growing industries and urban populations—these two things often overwhelm socioeconomic and environmental considerations. Left behind are local communities saddled with socioenvironmental damages and loss of livelihoods. Often, they do not even gain access to electricity, because they are not provided the power from the large dams, and they are not sufficiently compensated for their disrupted lives. All countries need renewable energy, and hydropower should be part of this portfolio. However, there is a need to find sustainable and innovative solutions that combine hydropower development with other energy sources, thus providing benefits that will outweigh, reduce, or even eliminate the negative environmental, behavioral, cultural, and socioeconomic externalities resulting from large dams.

Here, we review the socioeconomic and environmental situation in several major river basins where dams are being built. We examine the proliferation of large dams in developing countries, the lack of attention to climate change in the decision of whether to build a dam, some of the governance and compensation challenges, and the overestimation of benefits and underestimation of costs. We also identify changes that are needed to address the legitimate social and environmental concerns of people living in areas where dams are planned and propose innovative solutions to meet the food, water, and energy needs of citizens in those regions. These solutions have relevance worldwide, as hydropower can also contribute to meeting goals of reducing fossil fuel emissions and building sustainable communities with diversified energy sources.

From the BBC (Matt McGrath):

A new study says that many large-scale hydropower projects in Europe and the US have been disastrous for the environment.

Dozens of these dams are being removed every year, with many considered dangerous and uneconomic.

But the authors fear that the unsustainable nature of these projects has not been recognised in the developing world.

Thousands of new dams are now being planned for rivers in Africa and Asia.

Hydropower is the source of 71% of renewable energy throughout the world and has played a major role in the development of many countries.

But researchers say the building of dams in Europe and the US reached a peak in the 1960s and has been in decline since then, with more now being dismantled than installed. Hydropower only supplies approximately 6% of US electricity.

Dams are now being removed at a rate of more than one a week on both sides of the Atlantic.
The problem, say the authors of this new paper, is that governments were blindsided by the prospect of cheap electricity without taking into account the full environmental and social costs of these installations.

More than 90% of dams built since the 1930s were more expensive than anticipated. They have damaged river ecology, displaced millions of people and have contributed to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases from the decomposition of flooded lands and forests.

Elwha River. By Elwhajeff at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9740555

“They make a rosy picture of the benefits, which are not fulfilled and the costs are ignored and passed on to society much later,” lead author Prof Emilio Moran, from Michigan State University, told BBC News.

His report cites the example of two dams on the Madeira river in Brazil, which were finished only five years ago, and are predicted to produce only a fraction of the power expected because of climate change.

In the developing world, an estimated 3,700 dams, large and small, are now in various stages of development.

The authors say their big worry is that many of the bigger projects will do irreparable damage to the major rivers on which they are likely to be built.

On the Congo river, the Grand Inga project is expected to produce more than a third of the total electricity currently being generated in Africa.

However, the new study points out that the main goal for the $80bn installation will be to provide electricity to industry.

“Over 90% of the energy from this project is going to go to South Africa for mining and the people in the Congo will not get that power,” said Prof Moran.

“The people that I study in Brazil, the power line goes over their heads and goes 4,000km from the area and none of the energy is being given to them locally.”

Reservoir levels in Lake Mead continue to decline and were down to 37 percent of capacity recently. December 2015 photo/Allen Best

“The nice goal of rural electrification has become completely subverted by large-scale interests who are pushing this technology, and governments are open to being convinced by them that this is the way to go.”

The report points our that the large installations on these great rivers will destroy food sources, with 60 million people who live off the fisheries along the Mekong likely to be impacted with potential loss of livelihoods greater than $2bn. The authors also believe that dams will destroy thousands of species in these biodiversity hotspots.
In Brazil, which gets 67% of its electricity from hydropower, the response to reduced water capacity because of climate change is to build more dams.

With the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, a temporary halt to building new hydro projects is likely to be overturned. Plans for 60 new dams are already in place.

The authors say that with huge pressure on countries to press ahead with renewable energy developments, a mix of energy sources including hydro is the most sustainable approach.

“Large hydropower doesn’t have a future, that is our blunt conclusion,” said Prof Moran.

“To keep hydropower as part of the mix in the 21st Century we should combine multiple sources of renewable energy,” said Prof Moran.

“There should be more investment in solar, wind and biomass, and hydro when appropriate – as long as we hold them to rigorous standards where the costs and benefits are truly transparent.”

The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Gov. Hickenlooper joins western governors in continued commitment to uphold standards of the Clean Air and Water Acts

Mount Rainier and Seattle Skyline July 22 2017.

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today joined governors from California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington in signing a letter committing to upholding the standards set forth in the Clean Air and Water Acts, despite changes to federal standards in Washington D.C.

“We will not run from our responsibility to protect and improve clean air and water for future generations,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “We know it will take collaboration just like this to make it happen. Changes at the federal level will not distract from our goals.”

Colorado continues efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as outlined by the state’s Colorado Climate Plan. Last week Colorado submitted comments pushing back on the Trump administration’s proposal to weaken federal auto standards. State agencies continue work on finalizing a low emissions vehicle plan by the end of the year.

In their letter, the governors wrote “Each of our states has a unique administrative and regulatory structure established to protect clean air and clean water, but we share a commitment to science-based standards that protect human health and the environment. As governors, we pledge to be diligent environmental stewards of our natural resources to ensure that current and future generations can enjoy the bounty of clean air, clean water and the highest quality of life.”

View the full letter here.