Pagosa Springs: #Geothermal Resource Workshop set for May 23, 2018

Photo credit: Colorado.com

From the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (Sally High) via The Pagosa Sun:

Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) welcomes Colorado School of Mines (CSM) and Colorado Geologic Survey back to Pagosa Springs this week.

CSM’s seventh Geophysics Field Camp builds on previous years’ research into Archuleta County’s geothermal plumbing.

The GGP invites the public to a scientific retrospective of collected data and updated interpretations of the local geothermal resource on
Wednesday, May 23. The workshop is at the Archuleta County CSU Extension building from 6 to 8 p.m. The GGP workshop contains two presentations.

Dr. Andrei Swidinsky and Stephen Cuttler of CSM will present a seven-year retrospective of the geophysical data collected by CSM students. Each year’s field camp adds to our understanding of the underground structure of our geothermal aquifer.

Dr. Paul Morgan is senior geo- thermal geologist at Colorado Geological Survey. In 2017, Morgan published Origins and Geothermal Potential of Thermal Springs in Archuleta County, including Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA (Revisited). The paper was first presented at the international Geothermal Resource Council’s 2017 conference. The Archuleta County public can hear Morgan’s revised interpretations at the GGP workshop.
The GGP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit operating an educational park in downtown Pagosa Springs. The nonprofit park demonstrates geothermal direct energy use, year-round horticulture and environmental awareness. Twenty-first century water conservation and geothermal potential are priorities of GGP’s mission.

GGP’s Education Dome is busy with student and volunteer activity, and the Community Garden Dome and Innovation Dome are being constructed. Pagosa Springs Centennial Park’s Riverwalk is the site of the GGP project.

There is no charge for the GGP’s geothermal resource update work- shop, although donations to the nonprofit are accepted. The public is welcome.

Two companies contact the Dolores Water Conservancy District on potential pump-back hydroelectric power facility at McPhee Reservoir

Pumped storage hydro electric.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Pump-back storage systems utilize two reservoirs at different elevations. To generate power, water is released from the upper reservoir to the lower, powering a turbine on the way down that is connected to the grid.

In 2014, the Dolores Water Conservancy District released an investor’s memorandum on the potential for a project at Plateau Creek to inform energy companies and investors of the opportunity. The canyon’s steep vertical drop in a short distance makes it a good location.

District General Manager Mike Preston, speaking at Thursday’s board meeting, described pump-back storage plant idea as giant battery that is part of a green energy power grid.

When electric prices are high, the water is released from the upper reservoir through a turbine, and the power is sold to the grid to meet demand. When electric prices are low, the water is pumped back to the upper reservoir through a tunnel, recharging the battery.

Preston recently toured the Plateau Creek site by plane with Carl Borquist, president of Absaroka Energy, of Montana. The company proposed to build a pump-back hydroelectric facility at Gordon Butte, northwest of Billings, Montana…

The Dolores Water Conservancy District holds the water rights for the potential Plateau Creek project, estimated to cost $1 billion, based on the 2014 study. It would require environmental reviews and approval because it would be on San Juan National Forest land. McPhee could be used as the lower reservoir, with a small reservoir built above Plateau Canyon.

The project needs investors before it could get off the ground, but once online, it would generate an estimated $100 million per year in electricity sales. As the holder of the water rights, the district could benefit financially from the deal.

“We have the site, and if we could realize a revenue stream, it would help the district financially,” Preston said.

Shortly after Absaroka Energy’s visit, the district received a letter from Matthew Shapiro, CEO of Gridflex Energy, based in Boise, Idaho, expressing interest in exploring a pump-back storage system at McPhee.

“We recently developed a concept for this site that the district may not have considered before, one which we believe would have greater viability than the prior concept,” he stated. “We believe that the timing for this particular project is promising.”

Pump-back hydroelectric storage is considered a nonconsumptive, green energy power source. Energy companies are potential investors in hydro projects as they expand their portfolios to include green energy. They need supplemental sources to meet demand when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow.

The Dolores Water Conservancy District had obtained a preliminary permit for a facility at Plateau Creek from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but it was not renewed in 2016 because the project had not moved forward enough.

A revolution in hydropower makes waves in rural Colorado — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Carl Segerstrom):

Big dams were the hydro giants of yesteryear. The future of hydropower is small.

This story is a part of the ongoing Back 40 series, where HCN reporters look at national trends and their impacts close to home.

On the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies, winter opens the door to spring as fruit tree buds flit away and green shoots emerge from their slumber — that fish-dark sound of slow-moving water returns to the hillsides. Moving water is how the arid West has been brought to bear fruit. Now people are eyeing the irrigation works of the past as clean electricity sources for the future.

Around three thousand years ago the San Pedro people brought water from nearby streams to maize fields near modern-day Tucson, Arizona. As waves of European settlers pushed west they introduced different technologies to irrigate the thirsty land. Beginning in 1909, canal projects in the Uncompahgre Valley, of southwest Colorado, moved water from the mighty Rockies, greening the arid lands below. For a century these canals made agriculture possible in the high desert. But only in the last five years have they started to bring electricity to the communities of Delta and Montrose.

The big hydroelectric dams of the 20th century put the rivers of the West under their imposing concrete thumbs, but their unintended consequences have water managers and entrepreneurs thinking the future of hydroelectric power is small. Advances in technology, federal reforms and Colorado’s ideal geography and friendly policies are paving the way for a new wave of small hydropower projects in the state that could be the template for a new generation of hydroelectric power.

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In Montrose, Colorado, in the shadows of the Elk and San Juan mountain ranges, five small hydroelectric facilities are now incorporated into a canal system that delivers water to more than 83,000 acres of farmland for the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. The hydroelectric generators combine a diversion from the canal with metal gates and a large metal pipe that carries water into what from the outside looks like an average metal storage shed. Inside the shed the deafening drone of the turbine equipment hums along during the seven months of the year when water moves through these irrigation canals.

One of the major selling points of this technology is that it takes advantage of the power generating potential of water that is already moving through man-made infrastructure. “It’s the same amount of water as if (the turbines) weren’t there,” says Steve Anderson, who was born about 30 miles from Montrose and is following in his father’s footsteps as the manager of the UVWUA. Anderson, who is in his sixties, wears overalls, a long-sleeved maroon shirt and a black baseball hat and “loves showing off our hydros.” He says that if for some reason the hydroelectric facilities stopped working, it wouldn’t affect the delivery of irrigation water that the surrounding communities depend on. For the stakeholders in the irrigation association, the projects have become a source of income without any sacrifice of water delivery.

Projects like the hydroelectric facilities in Montrose are popping up across the West — in part thanks to a lobbying effort by hydroelectric interests and the advocacy group American Rivers. These groups came together in support of a 2013 bill, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, which passed the house by a unanimous vote and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The bill encourages new projects by lessening the regulatory and permitting hurdles for hydroelectric installations. In the past small projects like these were subject to a lengthy Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permitting process that, according to small hydro advocate Kurt Johnson, could be more expensive than the hydroelectric hardware itself. He says the new law is a “game changing improvement” for developing these projects on private water infrastructure.

The Montrose hydroelectric facilites, which are part of a Bureau of Reclamation water system, have different permitting requirements. Anderson says that the permits for their hydro projects went through in about two months and were a simple process because they only affect man-made infrastructure.

Small hydroelectric installations, like the ones in Montrose, hit a sweet spot for water managers and conservationists. These so-called conduit hydropower projects don’t inherently disrupt natural river systems and instead use existing off-stream infrastructure. Conduit hydropower can take different forms, from diversion and turbine systems on irrigation canals to micro-hydro installations that are inserted in the place of pressure-reducing valves, which are a necessary and ubiquitous component of water delivery and treatment infrastructure. Kelly Catlett, with the advocacy group Hydropower Reform Coalition, says that from an ecosystem and watershed health standpoint the only real worries are making sure that diversion points from rivers have proper fish screens and that new conduit hydropower projects aren’t used to justify larger diversions of water. Catlett says that as long as those issues are addressed, “this is one area a lot of us can agree on and be supportive of.”

But not all of the small hydro projects promoted by the 2013 law hit this sweet spot, because the law also allows the electrification of on-stream dams that don’t already have turbines. American Rivers, which lobbied for the bill but also promotes the removal of some dams, got pushback in the conservation community for supporting the bill. Matt Rice, the program director for American Rivers in the Colorado Basin, says updating old dams and adding energy producing turbines can ultimately help improve ecosystem conditions like dissolved oxygen and stream flow, and in some cases prevent the building of additional dams on free-flowing rivers. Other river advocates see the powering of unpowered dams as a potential roadblock to restoration. Eric Wesselman, the executive director of the California-based advocacy group Friends of the River, says he’s concerned about expedited reviews of small hydropower projects because “the influence of power production could delay dam removal in the future.”

The combination of extensive irrigation works, mountainous terrain and friendly state policies make Colorado an epicenter for the growth of small hydroelectric projects in the United States. The state is second only to California in small hydro installations and is pushing to expand in the future. Colorado Energy Office analyst Samantha Reifer says that the state is promoting small hydro projects through a combination of outreach, assistance with navigating regulatory barriers and low-interest finance programs. “Hydropower isn’t people’s first idea because in the past it’s been giant dams,” Reifer says. “We are working to raise awareness that this is an opportunity on existing water infrastructure.”

Kurt Johnson has been at the forefront of lobbying for regulatory reform, advising Colorado on hydropower policies, and facilitating small hydropower projects as the president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association and CEO of Telluride Energy. He foresees the future of hydropower being in smaller installations more akin to rooftop solar than the large dams of the past. “It’s a political slam dunk because the industry and the environment are hand-in-hand,” Johnson says.

Small hydropower is not a silver bullet to sate our energy appetite. But in places like Montrose and Delta counties it is already playing an important role. The five hydropower projects of the UVWUA are generating about half a million dollars of annual profit for the water users association, which it uses to keep rates low and reinvest in improving water infrastructure. The facilities, which the association is eyeing to add to in the future, account for about 13 percent of the power used by the roughly 70,000 people served by the Delta-Montrose Electric Association. “An old cowboy once told me every blade of grass is important,” Anderson says. “Well, every electron is, too.”

Natural gas and wind energy killed coal, not ‘war on coal’ — @CUBoulderNews

Colorado Green, located between Springfield and Lamar, was Colorado’s first, large wind farm. Photo/Allen Best

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Andrew Sorensen):

Cheap natural gas prices and the increasing availability of wind energy are pummeling the coal industry more than regulation, according to a new economic analysis from the University of Colorado Boulder and North Carolina State University.

Co-lead author Daniel Kaffine, CU Boulder associate professor in economics, looked at natural gas, wind and coal-fired power generation across 20 U.S. states from 2008 to 2013 in the study, which was published in the American Economic Journal this month.

The study found a “significant” link between plummeting natural gas prices, increased wind generation capability and the drop-off in U.S. coal burning.

“While either factor in isolation would have cut into coal’s share of the market, the combination of the two factors proved to be a potent one-two punch,” Kaffine said.

When the researchers applied 2013 natural gas prices and wind generation levels to the 2008 energy market, they found utilities likely would have cut coal-fired generation overnight. That suggests federal regulations like the 2014 Clean Power Plan have not been main drivers in the decline of coal-generated electricity in the U.S.

“The biggest single factor here is the decline in natural gas prices due to advances in drilling and production technologies used in natural gas extraction,” Kaffine said. “To the extent there is a ‘war on coal’, it’s a war being fought primarily in the marketplace between gas and coal.”

Coal-fired generation, according to the paper, dropped roughly 25 percent from 2007 to 2013, while natural gas prices decreased dramatically, largely due to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Wind generation increased over that period thanks to state-level renewable energy portfolio standards and declining costs.

The study, The Fall of Coal: Joint Impacts of Fuel Prices and Renewables on Generation and Emissions, found natural gas prices had a larger impact on nationwide coal-fired generation than wind, but geography plays a factor Kaffine said.

“In the eastern U.S., where wind generation is less prominent and natural gas was particularly cheap, the fall in coal generation is almost completely driven by declining natural gas prices,” Kaffine explained. “However, in the central part of the U.S., wind played a more important role, though was still relatively less important than falling gas prices.”

Along with the blame for killing coal, natural gas and renewables also deserve some credit. According to the study, the decrease in coal burning from 2007 to 2013 curbed carbon dioxide emissions by 500 million tons annually, the equivalent of taking more than 100 million cars off the road each year.

Kaffine and his co-author Harrison Fell plan to follow up their research by diving into the local environmental impacts of wind generation in densely populated areas.

Colorado lawmakers should nurture the electric vehicle market, not punish it

Leaf, Berthoud Pass Summint, August 21, 2017.

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Will Toor):

EVs improve our air quality. Vehicles are one of the two largest sources of air pollution, and a majority of Colorado residents live in areas of the Front Range that violate federal air quality standards. Dirty air is unhealthy for all of us, and it has a particularly negative impact on children, the elderly, and people suffering from asthma or lung disease. Electric vehicles have no emissions from the tailpipe and are so much more efficient than gas cars. A 2017 study for the Regional Air Quality Council found that EVs emit 99 percent less volatile organic compounds and 30 percent less nitrogen oxides than a new gas car today.

EVs bring real economic benefits to consumers. Fuel cost savings can approach $1,000 per year for every electric vehicle. If Colorado is able to achieve the goals set out in the state’s recently adopted EV plan, consumers will save over $500 million per year by 2030. Those consumer dollars will be reinvested in our communities, supporting local businesses and creating jobs…

But the economic benefits don’t just help EV drivers; getting more EVs on the road also will lower everyone’s electric bills. EVs help utilities make more efficient use of their existing power plants and grid infrastructure (which all of us have to pay for), thereby spreading out the costs more and reducing the share that each of us pay.

Here’s how that works. Utilities have to build their power plants for peak electrical use, which normally happens during the day – and all of us pay a portion of that infrastructure cost. But most EV drivers charge at night in preparation for the next morning’s drive, and night is when other electrical demands are low and power plants have excess capacity. So by charging their cars at night, EV drivers help utilities pay down their fixed costs. A study by a national consulting firm found that every EV on the road drives down the total electricity costs paid by other customers by $650 — and by 2030, ratepayers could be saving $70 million per year! The same study found that high levels of EV adoption would lead to total net economic benefits across Colorado of $43 billion by 2050.

Despite all of these benefits, the state Senate recently voted in a party line vote to end the state electric vehicle tax credits (the House rejected this bill). Others have called for new fees on EVs, based on the argument that EV drivers don’t pay gas tax. But EV owners already pay an extra vehicle registration fee, that is designed to pay the same amount into the highway fund as a gasoline vehicle that is as efficient as an EV would pay. It doesn’t make sense to add even more fees at a time when EVs still make up a very small part of the market.

If we want to achieve all the benefits that EVs bring, we need to get a lot more on the road. Because Colorado has supported EVs with a tax credit and state investment in charging stations, the EV market here is one of the best in the country, with the sixth-highest market share of any state in 2017. Sales are growing by over 50 percent per year.

CDPHE revokes Piñon Ridge uranium mill license

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The decision to pull the license came after a five-year legal challenge from environmental groups including the Sheep Mountain Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild and Center for Biologic Diversity. The groups have long opposed a plan hatched in 2009 by Energy Fuels Inc., of Toronto, Canada, to build a uranium mill on 880 acres in Paradox Valley, west of Nucla in Montrose County.

They filed a legal challenge against a key radioactive materials license granted for the project in 2013 by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

Energy Fuels has since sold the assets of the mill project, including the radioactive license, a company spokesman said Friday. Documents show the license was being held by Piñon Ridge Resources Corp.

On April 17, District Court Judge Richard W. Dana recommended the proposed mill’s radioactive license be revoked after concluding that Energy Fuels failed to demonstrate adequate environmental protections, including prevention of wind-dispersed radioactive materials, contamination of groundwater and protection of plants and wildlife. The ruling also questioned whether there was adequate water to operate the mill and tailings ponds.

Two days later, in an April 26 letter, the Colorado Department of Health informed Piñon Ridge Corp. CEO George Glasier that its radioactive materials license has been revoked.

“Although the Department believes the original decision on the license application was appropriate, the department has elected not to challenge Judge Dana’s decision. As such, this decision provides the Department with the rationale to revoke the license,” wrote Jennifer Opila, Radiation Program Manager for the health department’s hazardous materials division.

Environmental groups applauded the decision.

“We were extremely concerned with the impacts that a new uranium mill would have on the delicate sagebrush ecosystem of the Paradox Valley and the impacts downstream to endangered Colorado River fish,” said Matt Sandler, staff attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild. “Those impacts were simply unacceptable, and we’re happy to know that corporations who want to revive the uranium industry in Colorado will be required to fully comply with the laws aimed at protecting the environment.”

[…]

Lexi Tuddenham, executive director or Sheep Mountain Alliance, based in San Miguel County, said the decision helps to resolve the uncertainty about the project in the community and encourages a more diversified economic future that does not rely on the toxic uranium industry.

“The decision is a long time coming,” she said. “The impacts to the ecosystem and public were unacceptable. The mill was really a pipe dream, more speculation that contributes to the historic boom and bust cycle of mining that has been difficult for this area’s economy.”

The region is turning to hemp farming and outdoor recreation because they are more sustainable and do not pollute the environment, she said.

This is the second time the CDPHE granted, then revoked the radioactive license for Piñon Ridge. After it was granted in 2011, environmental groups challenged it, pointing out that the state had not held a public hearing as required. A judge agreed and invalidated the permit. After a five-day hearing in Nucla, the state reapproved the license in 2013, which was again revoked this week.

Travis Stills, an attorney with Energy and Conservation Law in Durango, represented the environmental groups in the case.

He said Dana’s ruling was based on community testimony and scientific evidence that indicated the mill plan questionable.

“The project plan had big holes in it and did not protect water, life and air,” he said. “Experts testified that micro-climates and inversions would have caused the valley to be socked in with industrial emissions.”

The towns of Telluride and Ophir also objected to the mill, fearing that prevailing winds would carry radioactive pollution onto the local snowpack and San Miguel watershed, Stills said.

4 States Get Over 30 Percent of Power from Wind — Inside Climate News

Colorado Green, located between Springfield and Lamar, was Colorado’s first, large wind farm. Photo/Allen Best

From Inside Climate News (Nicholas Kusnetz):

Even though new U.S. wind power installations were down in 2017, wind energy is expected to pass hydro as the nation’s top renewable energy source this year.

A new report underscores that even as Republican leaders remain resistant or even hostile to action on climate change, their states and districts are adopting renewable energy at some of the fastest rates in the country.

Four states—Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota—now get more than 30 percent of their in-state electricity production from wind, according a new report by the American Wind Energy Association…

While the U.S. wind power industry continued to expand last year, however, its growth rate slowed, with 7 gigawatts of capacity added in 2017, down from more than 8 gigawatts added in 2016.

The slower growth likely was due in part to changes in tax credits. Developers could take full advantage of the federal Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit for wind energy through the end of 2016, but it began phasing down starting in 2017. And the governor of Oklahoma, the state with the second-highest wind power capacity, signed legislation in 2017 to end state tax incentives for the industry three years early amid a budget crisis…

But the total slice of renewables—which provide about 17 percent of the nation’s electricity—is far short of the energy transition experts say is needed to avoid dangerous warming. A paper last year by some of the world’s leading climate change experts said renewables need to make up 30 percent of the global electricity supply by 2020 in order to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

Credit: American Wind Energy Association