In a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the EPA’s founding, Wheeler said the agency was moving back toward an approach that had long promoted economic growth as well as a healthy environment and drawn bipartisan support.
“Unfortunately, in the past decade or so, some members of former administrations and progressives in Congress have elevated single issue advocacy – in many cases focused just on climate change – to virtue-signal to foreign capitals, over the interests of communities within their own country,” he said.
Environmental groups and former EPA chiefs from both parties have accused Wheeler and his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, of undermining the agency’s mission by weakening or eliminating dozens of regulations intended to protect air and water quality, reduce climate change and protect endangered species.
“EPA was founded to protect people—you, me and our families—but the Trump administration has turned it into an agency to protect polluters.” said Gina McCarthy, who led the agency during the Obama administration and now is president of the NRDC Action Fund, the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Under President Donald Trump, EPA has raised the bar for requiring environmental reviews of highway and pipeline construction; reduced limits and reporting requirements for methane emissions; rolled back vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards; slashed the number of protected streams and wetlands; and repealed federal limits on carbon emissions from power plants.
Courts have blocked some of the changes, but others have taken effect.
In his remarks, Wheeler said that if Trump is re-elected EPA would support “community-driven environmentalism” that emphasizes on-the-ground results such as faster cleanup of Superfund toxic waste dumps and abandoned industrial sites that could be used for new businesses.
He pledged to require cost-benefit analyses for proposed rules and to make public the scientific justification for regulations, saying it would “bring much needed sunlight into our regulatory process” and saying opponents “want decisions to be made behind closed doors.”
Critics say a science “transparency” policy EPA is considering would hamper development of health and safety regulations by preventing consideration of studies with confidential information about patients and businesses.
Wheeler spoke at the Richard Nixon library in Yorba Linda, California. The Republican president established the EPA in 1970 amid public revulsion over smog-choked skies and waterways so laced with toxins they were unfit for swimming or fishing. Some of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, were enacted during his administration.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Historically, water has never been a political issue, but a geographical one, and that axiom was borne out Thursday between Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush and Republican Lauren Boebert in comments at the Colorado Water Congress’ 2020 Summer Conference.
The two candidates agreed on several matters asked during a virtual panel discussion about how each would approach water issues while serving in Congress. Both had advanced knowledge of the questions asked, giving each time to research their answers.
Mitsch Bush said people back East don’t understand how water law works in the West. There, she said, they go by a system known as riparian water rights, which allocates water among those who possess land along its path…
“It’s really, really critical for us, as Coloradans, that we have a representative that understands Colorado water law, that understands the issues of drought and scarcity, and understands what we need in terms of federal funding to deal with them,” she said.
Unlike Mitsch Bush, Boebert has no background in working on water issues. Still, the Silt resident said she’s brought in experts to teach her, and ended up agreeing with much of what Mitsch Bush said.
Both, for example, said it is unlikely the state will be able to get the funding and permits needed to build new water storage projects, such as dams and reservoirs. Instead, it should concentrate on expanding existing reservoirs to increase their storage capacity…
Both also agreed that, should there be a squeeze on Colorado’s water allotment either by the federal government or downstream states, that Colorado should decide for itself where its water allotment goes.
The two also agreed how the state allots any funding for water projects should be dictated by the Colorado Water Plan, and said they would work with anyone in any state regardless of political affiliation who wants to help boost and protect Colorado’s and the West’s existing water supply.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A state agency has informed the West Elk Mine in the North Fork Valley that it may have violated the law by failing to get a stormwater permit when it built a road and well pads in a national forest roadless area this year.
The action by the state Water Quality Control Division comes as the underground coal mine remains under a cessation order by the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety prohibiting further surface-disturbing activities in the roadless area. That agency says the mine has failed to maintain a legal right to enter the roadless area.
The mine has been seeking to expand its operations beneath about 1,700 acres in the Sunset Roadless Area of the Gunnison National Forest. To do so it needs to build roads and drill wells to vent methane produced during mining.
A Colorado-specific Forest Service roadless rule includes an exemption allowing for the possibility of building of temporary roads by coal mines on some 20,000 acres in the North Fork Valley. In March, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Forest Service improperly failed to consider keeping another roadless area out of the exception area, and ordered a district court to vacate the entire exception area. But before a district court judge did that in June, the mine’s owner, Arch Resources, built about a mile of road in the Sunset Roadless Area.
Even with the district judge’s action, the company is continuing to argue to the state and in court that the appeals court upheld its coal lease rights beneath the roadless area and it can keep building roads and pads there. It has warned of a temporary mining shutdown and layoffs if it can’t proceed with that work this year…
This month, an official with the Water Quality Control Division wrote to the mine in a compliance advisory letter that an inspection showed about 3,960 feet of road and two methane vent borehole pads in the roadless area. According to the letter, a stormwater discharge permit is required for those surface disturbances. It said the state had no record of a discharge permit being applied for or obtained, and an existing permit held by the mine doesn’t authorize discharges at those locations. The letter says it “provides notification of potential violations of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act.”
The letter gave the mine until Aug. 20 to apply for a permit or permit modification.
Allison Melton, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity conservation group, said she spoke to the Water Quality Control Division this week and was told the mine submitted that paperwork after receiving the letter. She said she understands the discharge application will be subject to a 30-day public comment period…
The advisory letter the mine received said the letter isn’t a notice of violation, and the Water Quality Control Division will determine if formal enforcement action is deemed necessary.
Accelerating clean energy development is critical—here’s how we do it the right way.
We are at the beginning of an enormous global buildout of clean energy infrastructure. This is good news for climate mitigation—we need at least a nine-fold increase in renewable energy production to meet the Paris Agreement goals. But this buildout must be done fast and smart.
Renewable energy infrastructure requires a lot of land—especially onshore wind and large-scale solar installations, which we will need to meet our ambitious climate goals. Siting renewable energy in areas that support wildlife habitat not only harms nature but also increases the potential for project conflicts that could slow the buildout—a prospect we cannot afford. Building renewables on natural lands can also undermine climate progress by converting forests and other areas that store carbon and serve as natural climate solutions.
Fortunately, there is plenty of previously developed land that can be used to meet our clean energy needs—at least 17 times the amount of land needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals. But accelerating the buildout on these lands requires taking pro-active measures now.
1. Get in the Zone: Identify areas where renewable energy buildout can be accelerated
Establishing renewable energy zones based on both energy development potential and environmental considerations can steer projects away from natural lands and support faster project approval—it’s a win-win for people and nature.
2. Plan Ahead: Consider habitat and species in long-term energy planning and purchasing processes
Governments and utilities make long-term plans to guide how they will meet energy demand and climate goals. They also establish purchasing processes for securing new renewable energy generation and transmission. When nature is considered in this planning and purchasing, renewable energy development can be directed to places that are good for projects and low impact for wildlife and habitat.
Learn More: TNC’s Power of Place project in the U.S. and renewable energy planning initiative in India are demonstrating how to integrate nature into energy planning processes.
3. Site Renewables Right: Develop science-based guidelines for low-impact siting
Siting guidelines help developers evaluate potential impacts to natural habitat and steer projects to low-impact areas. Such guidelines are even more effective when regulators and lenders set clear standards and expectations for their implementation.
4. Choose Brownfields Over Greenfields: Facilitate development on former mine lands and industrial sites
Using former mines, brownfields and other industrial sites for renewable energy development can turn unproductive lands into assets, create jobs and tax revenue for local economies, and support goals for climate and nature. These sites can be ideal for renewable energy projects, as they often have existing transmission infrastructure and enjoy strong local support for redevelopment. It’s an approach that benefits communities, climate and conservation.
Learn More: TNC’s Mining the Sun work in Nevada and West Virginia demonstrates that developing solar on former mining lands can support renewable energy and local redevelopment goals.
5. Buy Renewables Right: Make corporate commitments to buy low-impact renewable energy to meet clean energy goals
Corporate sourcing of renewable energy is growing rapidly around the world. When companies buy renewable energy from projects that avoid impacts to wildlife and habitat, they can support their sustainability goals for climate and nature.
6. Invest for Climate and Nature: Apply lending performance standards to ensure renewable energy investments are clean and green
Financial institutions influence renewable energy siting through their environmental and social performance standards, due diligence processes, and technical assistance, all of which can require or incentivize developers to locate projects in low-impact areas.
Utility plans for EVs align with Colorado’s decarbonization goals, says analyst
Xcel Energy announced Wednesday a vision to drive toward 1.5 million electric vehicles in its service areas—including a large chunk of Colorado—by 2030. The company also operates in seven other states.
In a sense, this announcement merely confirms the legislative marching orders given the utility by Colorado and several other among the eight states in which it operates. In the case of Colorado, SB 19-077 required Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy, the two investor-owned utilities to apply to the state’s Public Utilities Commission to build facilities to support electric vehicles and recover the costs. Xcel in May submitted its plan, which is expected to be approved later this year by PUC commissioners.
The announcement should be seen in an even broader context, says Travis Madsen, transportation program manager for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a major player in driving public policy in the energy sector in Colorado.
“Xcel, he said, “is evolving beyond just being an electricity company. It’s also becoming a transportation company. I am excited that the company is embracing the idea that part of what it’s doing is to enable electric vehicles.”
This is from the Aug. 14, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. Go HERE to subscribe.
Colorado legislators in 2019 adopted a raft of energy legislation, the most over-arching economy wise decarbonization goals: 26% by 2025 and, more challenging by far, 50% by 2030. Gov. Jared Polis reasserted and expanded somewhat the goal adopted by his predecessor, Gov. John Hickenlooper, to have 940,000 EVs on Colorado roads by 2030. Polis expanded the plan by including medium and heavy-duty vehicles, although Colorado does not have tax incentives for them, unlike cars.
Xcel’s ambitions and those of Colorado align very well, says Madsen. He points to an Xcel filing with the PUC of its goal of having roughly 500,000 electric vehicles in its service territory in Colorado. Xcel delivers more than 60% of the state’s electricity.
Madsen says he expects Colorado will meet and then exceed the EV goals because of the simple fact that the economics of vehicle electrification are starting to align. Vehicle costs are changing, and electricity has always been cheaper than petroleum. This was noted by Xcel in the press release posted on its website. “By 2030, an EV would cost $700 less per year to fuel than a gas-powered car, saving customers $1 billion annually.
Xcel’s goals also align with the state’s efforts to decarbonize its electricity. “This activity by Xcel is one of the key ingredients in making that happen,” he says. This vehicle electrification by 2030 will reduce emissions from transportation 40%.
There’s another component: air quality. Air pollution poses a serious health threat to people, and new studies reinforce and expand that understanding. The northern Front Range has had air pollution issues for many decades, less now than 50 years ago, but still dangerous and with a stubborn persistence. There are multiple causes, including oil-and-gas drilling, but transportation exhausts are the single largest cause.
“The more we learn about air pollution and how bad it is, the greater the push to switch,” says Madsen. “The switch to EVs is one of the major tools.”
In its May filings with the PUC, Xcel laid out a multi-pronged approach to aiding the charging of EVs in its Transportation Electrification Plan. It proposes to invest $100 million during three years in electric vehicle infrastructure and programs. See the 48-page plan filed with the PUC here.
These include programs to help people rewire their garages for charging, as most charging is expected to be done at home. The program also calls for efforts to allow those in multi-family housing, such as condominiums and apartments, to have access to charging. Another component addresses fleet-charging. And, if a relatively small part of the program, Xcel proposes how it will figure out where to put expensive fast-chargers in locations that private companies, like EVgo and ChargePoint, do not, because of infrequent use.
Madsen expects PUC approval for Xcel’s plans by early 2021 and the laying out of the programs, which will then accelerate the adoption of EVs in Colorado. The deadline for adoption of the plan was specified by legislators as March 1, 2021.
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at email@example.com or 303.463.8630.
The world’s largest listed oil companies have wiped almost $90bn from the value of their oil and gas assets in the last nine months as the coronavirus pandemic accelerates a global shift away from fossil fuels.
In the last three financial quarters, seven of the largest oil firms have slashed their forecasts for future oil market prices, triggering a wave of downgrades to the value of their oil and gas projects totalling $87bn.
Analysis by the climate finance thinktank Carbon Tracker shows that in the last three month alone, companies including Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total, Chevron, Repsol, Eni and Equinor have reported downgrades on the value of their assets totalling almost $55bn.
The oil valuation impairments began at the end of last year in response to growing political support for transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources, and they have accelerated as the pandemic has taken its toll on the oil industry.
Lockdowns have triggered the sharpest collapse in demand for fossil fuels in 25 years, causing energy commodity markets to crash to historic lows.
The oil market collapse, which reached its nadir in April, has forced companies to reassess their expectations for prices in the coming years.
BP has cut its oil forecasts by almost a third, to an average of $55 a barrel between 2020 and 2050, while Shell has cut its forecasts from $60 a barrel to an average of $35 a barrel this year, rising to $40 next year, $50 in 2022 and $60 from 2023.
Both companies slashed their shareholder payouts after the revisions triggered a $22.3bn downgrade on Shell’s fossil fuel portfolio and a $13.7bn impairment on BP’s oil and gas assets.
Andrew Grant, Carbon Tracker’s head of oil, gas and mining, said the coronavirus had accelerated an inevitable trend towards lower oil prices – a trend that many climate campaigners have warned will lead to stranded assets and a deepening risk for pension funds that invest in oil firms.
Several oil and gas giants opposed loosening restrictions on the ‘super-pollutant,’ a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a long-anticipated rollback of methane emission regulations for the oil and gas industry on Thursday, marking the latest in a long series of attacks on federal climate policy by the Trump administration.
The move, which was opposed by several leading oil and gas companies, could result in a catastrophic increase in the release of a climate “super-pollutant,” at a time when global methane emissions from human activity are already rising yet, to limit future warming, they must be quickly reduced.
A pre-publication draft of the rules released by the EPA on Thursday would weaken Obama-era rules requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and fix points where methane—the second largest driver of human-made climate change after carbon dioxide—leaks from wells and other infrastructure. The change in rules would result in the release of an additional 4.5 million metric tons of preventable methane pollution each year, according to an assessment by the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
EDF President Fred Krupp said in a written statement on Thursday that the organization planned to sue the Trump administration over the rollback…
Reducing methane emissions makes economic sense for oil and gas companies because methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a valuable commodity. Leading oil companies BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil have all urged the Trump administration to maintain strong methane emission regulations…
The rollback comes as global methane emissions caused by humans are rapidly increasing, fueled in part by an increase in emissions from the U.S. oil and gas industry, according to a study Jackson and others published in July in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Anthropogenic methane emissions have gone up by about 13 percent worldwide since the early 2000s, with roughly half the increase coming from fossil fuels in the United States and elsewhere, according to the study. Agriculture, including emissions from rice cultivation and methane emissions from cows and other animals, accounts for the other half of the increase and is a larger overall source of methane emissions, according to the report.
Jackson said the rollbacks would lower the bar for the oil and gas industry, allowing the worst performing companies to continue polluting as they have in the past.
“We want to reward the companies that are doing the most and bring the rest of the market to the same level of environmental stewardship, and that is what we are abandoning here,” he said.
High Emissions from Many Sources
The rollback comes as recent studies show that methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas sector are consistently higher than official EPA estimates.
For example, emissions from the Permian basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, the second largest natural gas production region in the country, are more than two times higher than federal estimates, according to a study published in April in the journal Science Advances.
Methane emissions from coal mines saw some of the largest growth from the early 2000s to 2017, according to the study Jackson and others published in July.
A 2019 report by the International Energy Agency found that coal mine methane emissions in 2018 were roughly equal to the annual emissions from international aviation and shipping combined.
Abandoned oil and gas wells that leak methane are another large source of emissions, and one that could increase as well operations are shuttered in response to plummeting oil demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. EPA data indicates that, as of 2018, there were already 2.1 million unplugged abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States, which emitted an estimated 280,000 tons of methane per year.
The April study looking at the Permian basin estimated that 3.7 percent of all the methane produced from wells in the region was released, unburned, into the atmosphere. While the leakage rate might seem small, methane’s potency as a greenhouse gas means that even a small rate of emissions can have a big impact.
Climate scientists estimate that if as little as 3.2 percent of all the gas brought above ground leaked into the atmosphere rather than being burned to generate electricity, clean-burning natural gas could be worse for the climate over the near term than burning coal.
However, with the time left to address climate change quickly running out, the question of whether burning natural gas or coal is worse for the climate is increasingly irrelevant, said Drew Shindell, an earth science professor at Duke University.
To limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century—the more ambitious of two targets set in the Paris Agreement—developed countries need to reduce their emissions by 40 to 50 percent by the end of the decade, Shindell said.
“That is just inconsistent with building new fossil fuel infrastructure,” he said. “Even if gas is better than coal, it still has a large enough CO2 footprint that it doesn’t get you toward where you want to go.”
Methane emissions also contribute to the formation of ground level ozone, or smog, which causes respiratory and cardiovascular disease, particularly in low income communities and communities of color where ozone levels are disproportionately high, Shindell said…
“That is just inconsistent with building new fossil fuel infrastructure,” he said. “Even if gas is better than coal, it still has a large enough CO2 footprint that it doesn’t get you toward where you want to go.”
Methane emissions also contribute to the formation of ground level ozone, or smog, which causes respiratory and cardiovascular disease, particularly in low income communities and communities of color where ozone levels are disproportionately high, Shindell said.
Methane emissions lead to approximately 165,000 premature deaths worldwide each year, according to a 2017 study Shindell published in the journal Faraday Discussions, looking at the societal costs of methane emissions. The study concluded that the social cost of methane—a tally of the overall damage to public health and reduced yields from farms and forests due to methane emissions—is 50 to 100 times greater than similar costs from carbon dioxide emissions.
“There is a compelling need to reduce emissions of methane,” Shindell said earlier this month in testimony before a U.S. House committee in a hearing on “the devastating health impacts of climate change.”
Ellis of BP America added that reducing methane emissions also made economic sense. “Simply, the more gas we keep in our pipes and equipment, the more we can provide to the market,” Ellis said.
“Unlike many CO2 measures, which can be expensive and challenging, controlling methane is generally a gain financially, that’s why this rollback is so disappointing,” Shindell said.
He added, “Not only would it improve climate change, but it’s actually good for the bottom line of companies that do it. If we can’t even manage that, that’s pretty pathetic and not very optimistic for our future.”
‘It’s crazy to build 40,000 houses a year’ with natural gas infrastructure in Colorado
In 2010, after success as a wind developer, Eric Blank had the idea that the time for solar had come. The Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant near Pueblo had just begun operations. Blank and his company, Community Energy, thought a parcel of sagebrush-covered land across the road from the power plant presented solar opportunities.
At the time, Blank recalled on Wednesday, the largest solar project outside California was less than 5 megawatts. He and his team were looking to develop 120 megawatts.
It didn’t happen overnight. They optioned the land, and several times during the next 3 or 4 years were ready give up. The prices of solar weren’t quite there and, perhaps, the public policies, either. They didn’t give up, though. In 2014 they swung the deal. The site made so much sense because the solar resources at Pueblo are very rich, and the electrical transmission as easy.
Comanche Solar began operations in 2016. It was, at the time, the largest solar project east of the Rocky Mountains and it remains so in Colorado. That distinction will be eclipsed within the next several years by a far bigger solar project at the nearby steel mill.
Now, Blank has moved on to other things. He wants to be engaged in the new cutting edge, the replacement of natural gas in buildings with new heating and cooling technology that uses electricity as the medium.
“There’s too much benefit here for it not to happen,” he said in an interview.
California has led the way, as it so often has in the realm of energy, with a torrent of bans on natural gas infrastructure by cities and counties. Fearing the same thing would happen in Colorado, an arm of the state’s oil-and-gas industry gathered signatures with the intention of asking voter in November to prevent such local initiatives. An intervention by Gov. Jared Polis resulted in competing parties stepping back from their November initiatives.
In Colorado, Blank sees another route. He sees state utility regulators and legislators creating a mix of incentives and at the same time nudging along the conversation about the benefits.
“It will happen because the regulators and the Legislature will make it happen,” he says. Instead of natural gas bans, he sees rebates and other incentives, but also educational outreach. “Maybe someday you need a code change, but to me public policies are in this nuanced dance. The code change is way more acceptable and less traumatic if it is preceded by a bunch of incentives that allow people to get familiar with and understand (alternatives) than just come in from the outside like a hammer.”
Blank says he began understanding the value of replacing natural gas about a year ago, when conducting studies for Chris Clack of Vibrant Clean Energy about how to decarbonize the economy. “This is just another piece of that. I think building electrification is the next frontier.”
And it’s time to get the transition rolling, he says. It just doesn’t make sense to build houses designed for burning natural gas for heating, for producing hot water and for cooking. Retrofitting those houses becomes very expensive.
“It’s crazy to be building 40,000 new homes a year with natural gas,” he says. Once built for natural gas, it’s difficult and expensive to retrofit them to take advantage of new technology. But the economics of avoiding natural gas already exists.
To that end, Blank’s company commissioned a study by Group14 Engineering, a Denver-based firm. The firm set out to document the costs using two case studies. The study examined a newer 3,100-square-foot single-family house located in Arvada, about 10 miles northwest of downtown Denver. Like most houses, it’s heated by natural gas and has a water heater also powered by natural gas.
The study found that employing air-source heat-pumps—the critical technology used at Basalt Vista and a number of other no-gas housing developments—can save money, reducing greenhouse gas emissions—but would best be nudged along by incentives.
“For new construction, the heat pump scenarios have a lower net-present cost for all rates tested,” the report says. “This is due to the substantial savings from the elimination of the natural gas hookup and piping. Although net-present costs are lower, additional incentives will help encourage adoption and lower costs across the market.” The current rebates produce a 14% savings in net-present costs.
The same thing is found in the case study of a 28,000-square-foot office building in Lakewood, another Denver suburb.
The study digs into time-of-use rates, winter peak demand and winter-off peak use, and other elements relevant to the bottom lines.
The bolder bottom line is that there’s good reason to shift incentives now, to start changing what business-as-usual looks like. Blank points out that natural gas in every home was not ordinary at one time, either. It has largely come about in the last 50 to 60 years. With nudges, in the form of incentives, builders and others will see a new way of doing things, and electrification of buildings will become the norm.
Blank says he began to understand how electrification of building and transportation could benefit the electrical system that is heavily reliant on solar and wind and perhaps a little bit of natural gas when conducting studies last year with Clack at Vibrant Clean Energy .
“I was just blown away by the benefits of electrification (of buildings and transportation) to the electric system,” he says.
Greater flexibility will be introduced by the addition of more electric-vehicle charging and water heating by electricity, both of which can be done to take advantage of plentiful wind and solar during times when those resources would otherwise be curtailed, he explains.
Already, California is curtailing solar generation in late spring, during mid-afternoon hours, or paying Arizona to take the excess, because California simply does not have sufficient demand during those hours. Matching flexible demand with that surplus renewable energy allows for materially greater economic penetration of highly cost-effective new solar.
“In our Vibrant Clean Energy study, with building and transport electrification, we found that Colorado could get from roughly 80% to 90% renewables penetration before the lack of demand leading to widespread renewable curtailment makes additional investments in wind and solar uneconomic,” says Blank.
Electrification of new sectors also expands the sales base for distribution, transmission and other costs. Since the marginal cost of meeting this additional demand is low (because wind, solar, and storage are so cheap), this tends to significantly lower all electric rates.”
Colorado, he says, is unusually well positioned to benefit from this transition. It is rich with both wind and solar resources. Coal plants are closing, electricity costs flat or declining. Consumers should benefit. The time, he says, has come.
This is from the Aug. 14, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. To sign up for a free subscription go to BigPivots.com.
FromColorado Politics (Joey Bunch) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
Sun and wind on the wide-open spaces of Colorado could fill a gaping hole in the region’s economy with new opportunities. Late last month, my friends over at The Western Way released a report detailing $9.4 billion in investments in renewable energy on the plains already. The analysis provides kindling for a hot conversation on what more could be done to help the region and its people to prosper from the next big thing.
Political winds of change are powering greener energy to the point that conservative organizations and rural farm interests are certainly paying attention, if not getting on board.
Gov. Jared Polis and the Democrats who control the state House and Senate have the state on course for getting 100% of its energy from renewable resources in just two decades. Those who plan for that will be in the best position to capitalize on the coming opportunities.
The eastern plains, economically wobbly on its feet for years now, doesn’t plan to be left behind any longer. Folks out there, battered by a fading population, years of drought and fewer reasons to hope for better days, are ready to try something new, something with dollars attached to it.
Renewable energy is not the whole answer for what troubles this region, but it’s one answer, said Greg Brophy, the family farmer from Wray, a former state senator and The Western Way’s Colorado director. The Western Way is a conservative group concerned about the best possible outcomes for business and conservation in a changing political and economic landscape…
It also makes a bigger political statement that bears listening to.
“It’s a market-based solution to concerns people have with the environment,” Brophy said. “Whether you share those concerns or not, a lot of people are concerned, and rather than doing some silly Green New Deal, we actually can have a market-based solution that can provide lower-cost electricity.”
Brophy was an early Trump supporter, candidate for governor and chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Ken Buck. He’s dismayed at the president for mocking wind energy. He thinks some healing of our broken nation could take place if people looked more for win-wins…
Renewable energy checks all the boxes. It helps farmers, it helps the planet, and it gives Republicans and Democrats in Denver and D.C. one less thing to argue about.
Largest behind-the-meter solar project in U.S. provides cost edge for steel mill expansion
What might be called the world’s first solar-powered steel mill will be moving forward.
EVRAZ North America plans construction of a long-rail mill at its Rocky Mountain Steel operation in Pueblo, Colo. This decision allows execution of an agreement reached in September 2019 for a 240-megawatt solar facility located on 1,500 acres of land at the steel mill.
It will be the largest on-site solar facility in the United States dedicated to a single customer. Another way of saying it is that it will be the largest behind-the-meter solar project in the nation.
The solar production from the project, called Bighorn Solar, will offset about 90% of the annual electricity demand from the mill.
Lightsource BP will finance, build, own and operate the project and sell all the electricity generated by the 700,000 solar panels to Xcel Energy under a 20-year power-purchase agreement. Lightsource says it is investing $250 million in the solar project.
Kevin B. Smith, chief executive of the Americas for Lightsource BP, said he expects construction to start in October. Commercial operations will begin by the end of 2021. He rates the solar resource at Pueblo as 8 on a scale of 10.
Several states had been vying for the long-rail mill, which will be able to produce rails up to 100 meters long, or about as long as a football field with its end zones, for use in heavy-haul and high-speed railways. The mill uses recycled steel from old cars and other sources. The new mill is to have a production capacity of 670,000 short tons, according to a 2019 release.
The Pueblo Chieftain and other Pueblo media reported the decision to go forward on Thursday evening, citing a report from the Pueblo Economic Development Corp.
The price of the solar energy was crucial to the decision for the siting in Pueblo, says Lightsource BP’s Smith.
“The long-rail mill is a go on the basis of the EVRAZ-Xcel Energy long term electricity agreement for cost-effective electricity,” Smith said in an email interview. “Xcel was able to provide that cost-effective pricing on the basis of the Lightsource BP solar project on the EVRAZ site, which provides cost effective energy to Xcel under a 20-year contract.”
That was also the message from Skip Herald, chief executive of EVRAZ North America in a 2019 release. “This long-term agreement is key to our investment in Colorado’s new sustainable economy,” he said.
Pueblo sweetened the pot, giving EVRAZ an incentive package reported to be worth $100 million, a portion of it to be used for environmental clean up of the site. In turn, EVRAZ needed to commit to keeping 1,000 employees, KOAA News reported in 2019. The new mill was expected to produce 1,000 new jobs that will pay between $60,000 and $65,000.
The solar farm will also help Xcel achieve 55% renewable penetration in its Colorado electrical supply by 2026. By then, two of the three coal-fired Comanche units that serve as a backdrop for the steel mill will have been retired. The new solar farm will surpass in size and production the nearby 156-megawatt Comanche solar project, which currently is the largest solar production facility east of the Rocky Mountains.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued a statement Thursday evening saying that he’s “thrilled that the steel mill’s new expansion has passed this important milestone. Pueblo workers have been making the world’s best steel for nearly 140 years, and with this addition, Pueblo’s next generation of steelworkers can count on good-paying jobs well into the future.”
The new steel mill was still tentative in September 2019 when Polis and various other dignitaries gathered on an asphalt parking lot on the perimeters of the steel mill to announce the solar deal.
With the early-autumn sun beating down, Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar spoke, saying that people had come to Pueblo from all over the world to make the stele that created the American West. For nearly 100 yeas, he said, the mill was the largest employer in the state of Colorado. His family, he said, was part of that story, his grandfather arrived from Slovenia in 1910 and worked at the steel mill for 50 years, while his father worked there for 30 years. (See video here).
Alice Jackson, chief executive of Public Service Co. of Colorado, the Xcel subsidiary, pointed to three years of negotiations that weren’t always easy but lauded the result as “perfective marriage of a variety of parties coming together” to show the world how to use renewable energy.
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner emphasized the combination of recyclable—the mill uses 1.2 million tons of material a year, he said—and renewable energy.
During his turn at the lectern, Polis, who had announced his candidacy for governor the prior year at a coffee shop in downtown Pueblo called Solar Roasters, emphasized the competitive edge that renewable energy provides.
“For those who wonder what a renewable energy future will look like, this is a great example of what that future will look like: low-cost energy for a manufacturing company that will stay in Pueblo and grow jobs for Pueblo residents,” he said.
Polis also pointed to symbolism on the Pueblo skyline, the smoke stacks of the Comanche power plants in the background. The steel mill—which once burned prodigious amounts of coal, with smudges of that past still evident—was the impetus for construction of the Comanche power station in the early 1970s. Now, as two of those three coal-burning units will be retired within a few years, another shift is underway.
“By working together to make change work for us, rather than against us, we can lead boldly in the future, create good jobs, create low-cost energy and cleaner air and do our part on climate,” he said.
Herald, the chief executive of EVRAZ, said his company will be making the “greenest steel products in the world.” It is a change, he said, that amazes him. “Just imagine recycled scrap metal being melted into new steel just a few hundred yards from where we stand in the electric arc furnace powered by the sun,” he said.
It is, he added, “one of the most amazing feats I’ve seen in my 40 years” in the steel industry.
This is from Big Pivots. Go HERE to be put on the mailing list.
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303.463.8630.
Paonia, a small town in western Colorado with a handful of mesas rising above it, wouldn’t green-up without water diverted from a river or mountain springs. The lively water travels through irrigation ditches for miles to gardens and small farms below. But this summer, irrigation ditches were going dry, and one, the Minnesota Canal and Reservoir Company, stopped sending water down to its 100-plus customers as early as July 13.
Drought was hitting the state and much of the West hard, but a local cause was surprising: Water theft.
Longtime residents who gather inside Paonia’s hub of information trading, Reedy’s Service Station, have a fund of stories about water theft. It’s not unusual, they say, that a rock just happens to dam a ditch, steering water toward a homeowner’s field. Sometimes, says farmer Jim Gillespie, 89, that rock even develops feet and crosses a road.
But this is comparatively minor stuff, says North Fork Water Commissioner Luke Reschke, as stealing ditchwater is a civil offense. Stealing water from a natural waterway, however, is a crime that can bring fines of $500 per day and jail time. That’s why what was happening to people who depend on the Minnesota Canal company for their fields or gardens was serious: Water was being taken from Minnesota Creek before it could be legally diverted for irrigation to paying customers.
Once the ditch company “called” for its water as of June 8, only holders of patented water rights could legally touch the creek. Yet during three trips to the creek’s beginning, starting in mid-June, and then in mid-July, I noticed that two ranches – without water rights — were harvesting bumper crops of hay. How could that have happened unless they’d illegally diverted water to their fields?
At first, no one would talk about the early-drying ditch except to hint broadly that it wasn’t normal. Then one man stepped up: Dick Kendall, a longtime board member of the Minnesota canal company, and manager of its reservoir. “On July 5,” he told me, “I saw water diverted from the creek onto one of the rancher’s land. And I wasn’t quiet about it.”
Kendall reported what he saw to Commissioner Luke Reschke, who oversees the area’s 600 springs, ditches and canals. Reschke dismissed it, he told me, because “The rumor mill is something else on Minnesota Creek. The only people who give me trouble are the new people who don’t know how the system works.” But locals say that four years back, Reschke’s predecessor, Steve Tuck, investigated when locals complained.
Though it may not be neighborly, stopping any illegal diversion is important, said Bob Reedy, owner of Reedy’s Station: “Without water, you’ve got nothing around here.” Annual rainfall is just 15 inches per year, and without water flowing into irrigation canals from the 10,000-foot mountains around town, much of the land would look like the high desert it truly is.
But it’s not just a couple of high-elevation ranchers dipping into the creek. The West Elk Coal Mine runs large pumps that supply water for its methane drilling and venting operations in the Minnesota Creek watershed.
Mine spokesperson Kathy Welt, said the diversion is legal, and that they only take early-season water when the creek water isn’t on call. That early water, however, is what begins to fill the Minnesota ditch’s reservoir.
In other ways, the mine has damaged the watershed by building a sprawling network of roads in the Sunset Roadless Area (Threats at West Elk Mine). A cease and desist order from the State Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety on June 10, sought by environmental groups, halted the building of an additional 1.6 miles of new roads this spring (Colorado Sun). Satellite images of the road network resemble a vast KOA Campground: Where trees once held back water and shaded snowpack from early melting, their replacement — gravel roads –- shed water and add to early runoff.
For all of Minnesota Ditch’s challenges, warming temperatures brought about by climate change could be the real challenge. Kendall said that this spring, when he plowed out the Minnesota Reservoir road, dust covered the parched ground beneath the snow.
Water — so precious to grow grapes, hay, organic vegetables and grass-fed beef, and to keep the desert at bay — had vanished early on Lamborn Mesa above Paonia. Farmer Gillespie summed it up, “there’s just no low-snow anymore — and it’s not coming back.”
David Marston is a contributor to Writers on the Range, (writersontherange.com), a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He lives part-time in Colorado.
FromThe High Country News (Jonathan Thompson) [July 23, 2020]:
By February, the spread of COVID-19 was already eroding the global economy. First, global travel restrictions depressed the oil market. Then, as the virus reached pandemic proportions, it began hurting even the healthiest industries, throwing the global economy into the deepest rut since the Great Depression.
The recession has been hard on clean energy, which was thriving at the end of last year despite unhelpful, even hostile, policies from the Trump administration. Between 2009 and 2019, solar and wind generation on the U.S. electrical grid shot up by 400%, even as overall electricity consumption remained fairly flat. Renewable facility construction outpaced all other electricity sources, but the disease’s effects have since rippled through the sector, wiping out much of its previous growth.
Global supply chains for everything from solar panels to electric car components were the earliest victims, as governments shut down factories, first in China, then worldwide, to prevent transmission of the disease. Restrictions on construction further delayed utility-scalesolar and wind installations and hampered rooftop solar installations and energy efficiency projects. The setbacks are especially hard on the wind industry, because new wind farms must be up and running by the end of the year to take advantage of federal tax credits. Meanwhile, the general economic slowdown is diminishing financing for new renewable energy projects.
Clean energy, which has shed more than 600,000 jobs since the pandemic’s onset, is only one of the many economic sectors that are hurting. In just three months, COVID-19 wiped out more than twice as many jobs as were lost during the entire Great Recession of 2008. The impacts have reverberated throughout the Western U.S., from coal mines to tourist towns, and from casinos to dairy farms. Some industries, including clean energy, bounced back slightly in June, as stay-at-home orders were dropped and businesses, factories and supply chains opened back up. But a full recovery — if it happens — will largely depend on government stimulus programs and could take years.
In just three months, COVID-19 wiped out more than twice as many jobs as were lost during the entire Great Recession of 2008.
Infographic design by Luna Anna Archey; Graphics by Minus Plus; Sources: Solar Energy Industries Association, BW Research Partnership, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, New Mexico Workforce Connection, Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at email@example.com.
Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):
In the fight over Colorado River water, senior water rights dictate which direction the river flows: west on its natural route from the Continental Divide or east through tunnels to the Front Range. On the mainstem of the Colorado, the most heavily diverted of the river’s basins, two historic structures have much to say about providing water security for Western Colorado: the Shoshone Hydropower Plant in Glenwood Canyon and the Grand Valley Diversion Dam
in DeBeque Canyon.
The next program in the Colorado River District’s “Water With Your Lunch” webinar series on Zoom will explore the importance of Shoshone and the Grand Valley Roller Dam to all West Slope water users. The webinar is set for noon, Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Panelists for the discussion include Andy Mueller, general manager for the Colorado River District; Mark Harris, manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association in Grand Junction; Fay Hartman, conservation director, Colorado River Basin Program at American Rivers and Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director of the Colorado River District.
The Shoshone Hydropower Plant holds the oldest, major water right on the mainstem of the river, 1,250 cubic feet a second dated 1902. When river flows ebb after the spring runoff, Shoshone contributes most of the Colorado River’s water in Glenwood Canyon. In turn, those flows support year-round recreation opportunities and the economic benefits that come with them on the mainstem of the Colorado. The Roller Dam is where most of a suite of old water rights called the “Cameo call,” are diverted. Much of this water today provides water for both abundant agriculture and municipal water users along the mainstem of the river.
Both structures command the river, pulling water downstream that might otherwise be diverted to the Front Range through transmountain diversion tunnels. Shoshone and Cameo water rights are filled before these diversions under the prior appropriation system. When either or both rights are calling, junior diverters must cease or replace the water they take out of priority, keeping our West Slope water flowing west and benefitting water users, recreation and ecosystems along the way, from Grand County to the Grand Valley.
“The Colorado River District was created in 1937 to protect West Slope water and keep water on the Western Slope,” says Andy Mueller, General Manager for the Colorado River District. “The Shoshone and Cameo calls play a vital role in that effort to keep our rivers flowing and our crops growing.”
The penstocks and main building at the Shoshone hydropower plant, which uses water diverted from the Colorado River to produce electricity. The Shoshone Outage Protocol keeps water flowing down the Colorado River when the hydro plant is inoperable. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Number of days the Shoshone outage protocol, or ShOP, was in effect, and stages of the agreement.
The penstocks feeding the Shoshone hydropower plant on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.
The blown-out penstock in 2007 at the Shoshone plant. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant back in the days before I-70 via Aspen Journalism
Shoshone Falls hydroelectric generation station via USGenWeb
Shoshone hydroelectric generation plant Glenwood Canyon via the Colorado River District
Colorado begins conversation about how to crimp natural gas use in new buildings
Colorado has started talking about how to curtail natural gas in new buildings necessary to achieve the dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions during the next 10 to 30 years as specified by state law.
Agreement has been reached among several state agencies and the four distribution companies regulated by the state’s Public Utilities Commission to conduct discussions about future plans for pipelines and other infrastructure projects of more than $15 million. The agreement proposes to take a long view of 10 to 20 years when considering natural gas infrastructure for use in heating, cooking and hot-water heating.
The four utilities—Xcel Energy, Black Hills Colorado, Atmos Energy, and Colorado Natural Gas—altogether deliver gas to 1.73 million customers, both residential and business.
Unlike a toaster or even a kitchen stove, which you can replace with relative ease and cost, gas infrastructure comes with an enormous price tag—and expectation of a long, long time of use. For example, it would have cost $30,000 per unit to install natural gas pipes at Basalt Vista, an affordable housing project in the Roaring Fork Valley. Alternative technology is being used there.
Gas infrastructure is difficult to replace in buildings where it exists. As such the conversation getting underway is primarily about how to limit additional gas infrastructure.
“Given the long useful lives of natural gas infrastructure investments, the (Colorado Energy Office) suggests that this type of forward-looking assessment should include any significant upgrades to existing natural gas infrastructure or expansion of the gas delivery system to new residential developments,” the state agency said in a June 8 filling.
This is adapted from the July 23, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. Subscribe for free to the e-magazine by going to Big Pivots.
Meanwhile, the three Public Utility Commission plans one or more informational session later this year to learn about expectations of owners of natural gas distribution systems by Colorado’s decarbonization goals and the implications for the capital investments.
HB 19-1261, a Colorado law adopted in May 2019, charged state agencies with using regulatory tools to shrink greenhouse gas emissions from Colorado’s economy 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.
Utilities in Colorado have said they intend to close most of the coal plants now operating no later than 2030. The coal generation will be replaced primarily by renewables. That alone will not be nearly enough to meet the state’s ambitious decarbonization goals. Carbon emissions must also be squeezed from transportation—already the state’s leading source of carbon dioxide— buildings, and other sectors.
“No single strategy or sector will deliver the economy-wide greenhouse gas reductions Colorado needs to meet its science-based goals, but natural gas system planning is part of the silver buckshot that can get us there,” said Keith Hay, director of policy at the Colorado Energy Office in a statement.
“When it comes to gas planning, CEO is focused on opportunities to meet customers’ needs that will lead to a more efficient system, reduce overall costs, and reduce greenhouse gas pollution.”
Roughly 70% of Coloradans use natural gas for heating.
While gas utilities cannot refuse gas to customers, several real estate developers from Arvada to Pueblo and beyond have started crafting homes and other buildings that do not require natural gas. Instead, they can use electricity, passive solar, and a technology called air-source heat pumps to meet heating, cooling and other needs. Heat pumps provide a key enabling technology.
A glimpse of this low-carbon future can be seen at Basalt Vista, a housing project in Pitkin County for employees of the Roaring Fork School District and other local jurisdictions. The concept employed there and elsewhere is called beneficial electrification.
In setting out to ramp down growth in natural gas consumption, Colorado ranks among the front-tier of states, lagging only slightly work already underway in California, Minnesota and New York.
In the background of these discussions are rising tensions. In California, Berkeley a year ago banned natural gas infrastructure in new developments, and several dozen other cities and counties followed suite across the country.
Protect Colorado, an arm of the oil-and-gas industry, had been collecting signatures to put Initiative 284 on the ballot, to prevent restrictions on natural gas in new buildings. The group confirmed to Colorado Public Radio that it was withdrawing that and other proposals after negotiations convened by Gov. Jared Polis and environmental groups.
Emissions of methane—the primary constituent of natural gas and one with high but short-lived heat-trapping properties—can occur at several places along the natural gas supply chain beginning with extraction. Colorado ranked 6th in the nation in natural gas production in 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
In 2017, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States were the result of extraction, transmission, and distribution of natural gas. However, several studies have concluded that the EPA estimate skews low. One 2018 study 2018 estimated that methane emissions from the oil and gas supply chain could be as much as 60% higher than the EPA estimates.
Greenhouse gas emissions also occur when natural gas is burned in houses and other buildings, creating carbon dioxide. An inventory released in December 2019 concluded that combustion of natural gas in houses was responsible for 7.7% of Colorado’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Just how the shift from natural gas to electricity will affect utilities depends upon the company. For Atmos Energy, a company with 120,000 customers in Colorado, from Greeley to Craig, from Salida to Cortez, gas is just about everything.
Xcel’s talking points
Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, sells both gas and electricity. In theory, it will come out whole. But it has been leery about moving too rapidly. Technology advances and costs declines have not yet arrived in the natural gas sector, observed, Jeff Lyng, director of energy and environmental policy for Xcel, in a June 8 filing with the PUC.
Still, Xcel is willing to have the conversation. Lyng pointed to efforts by Xcel to improve efficiency of natural gas use. The company is also participating in industry programs, including One Future, which are trying to limit methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain to less than 1%. For Xcel, he explained, that includes replacing older pipes with new materials that result in fewer emissions. It also means using the company’s purchasing power to push best practices that minimize emissions.
The company intends to offer options to customer, including incentives for electric water heaters programmed to take advantage of renewable energy when it is most readily available. That tends to be at night.
Xcel sees an opportunity to work with builders and developers to design all-electric new building developments to avoid the cost of installing natural gas infrastructure.
“This may require high-performance building envelope design, specifying certain appliances and, especially load management,” Lyng wrote in the filing. “Load management is key to ensuring these new electric devices interact with the power grid and are programmed to operate as much as possible during times when there is excess renewable energy or the lowest cost electricity on the system.”
Not least, Xcel conceded a role for air-source heat pumps, the crucial piece of technology employed in most places to avoid natural gas hookups. Heat pumps can be used to extract both cool and warm air from outdoor air as needed. Xcel sees the technology being an option when customers upgrade air conditioning units with spillover benefits for heating.
“Through this option, given the cooling and heating capacity of air source heat pumps, some portion of customer heating load can be offset through electrification, while maintaining their natural gas furnace or boiler as a back-up.”
Others think air-source heat pumps can have even broader application, especially in warmer areas of the state.
Short-term costs may be higher for electrified buildings. “This will improve over time as electric technologies decline in cost and as the electric system becomes cleaner,” Lyng said. Xcel, he added, favors a voluntary approach: pilot programs that expand.
Lyng, in his testimony, warned against trying to ramp up electrification too quickly. In 2019, he pointed out, the maximum daily demand for natural gas had the energy equivalent of 26,000 megawatts of electricity—more than three times the company’s electrical peak demand.
An unintended consequence may be adverse impacts to people of low income. The thinking is that as the demand for natural gas declines, the cost will actually go up per individual consumer.
“As a smaller and smaller pool of customers is left to pay for infrastructure costs, the large the cost impact will be for each remaining customer,” explained Dr. Scott England, from the state’s Office of Consumer Counsel, in a filing.
Social cost of methane?
Xcel has also explored the opportunities with renewable natural gas. At its most basic level, renewable natural gas involves harvesting biogas from wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairies. In its first such venture in Colorado, Xcel last fall began getting 500,000 cubic-feet per day of methane from the treatment plant serving Englewood, Littleton and smaller jurisdictions along the South Platte River in metropolitan Denver.
A bill introduced in Colorado’s covid-shortened legislative proposed to create a renewable gas standard, similar to that first specified by voters in 2004 for electricity. SB-150 proposed targets of 5%, 10% and 15% for regulated utilities, encouraging greater use of biogas from landfills, dairies and other sources.
The sponsor, Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, said he plans to reintroduce the bill the next session,
Hansen said he may also introduce a bill that would require the PUC to apply the filter of a social cost of methane to its decisions when evaluating alternatives. This would be similar to the cost of carbon, currently at $46 a ton, now applied to resource generating alternatives.
Longer term, Xcel wants to explore opportunities to produce hydrogen from renewable energy to blend into the natural gas distribution system at low levels or converted back to synthetic gas.
The Sierra Club may push back on efforts to convert to synthetic gas. The organization recently released a report that found significant problems with renewable natural gas, a phrase that is now being used by some companies—not necessarily Xcel—to include far more than the biogas from landfills. The Sierra Club estimates that there’s enough “natural” biogas to meet 1% of the nation’s current needs for natural gas. Other estimates put it far higher.
There will be implications left and right from this transition from gas to electricity. Lyng pointed out that solar energy will have lower value, because of its inability to replace natural gas on winter nights.
For the testimony of Jeff Lyng and Keith Hayes and a few dozen more, as well as the filings as of July 29, go to the Colorado PUC website and look up case 20AL-0049G.
Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:
Electricity generation and consumption has changed rapidly over the last ten years, driven by steep price drops for generation and technological innovations impacting utilities and consumers alike. After decades of research and development, market development, and production efficiency gains, renewable energy is now a proven and cost- effective way to deliver electricity across the country.
There is concern that the COVID-19 pandemic could negatively impact current and planned renewable energy facility investments and construction. Indeed, the pandemic is creating challenges to both supply and demand. While the risk to current and planned projects from the pandemic is unclear at this time, existing facilities should not be affected. The expectation is that these facilities will continue to provide a steady source of jobs and tax revenue to communities across the eastern plains. These benefits will prove valuable to communities as the pandemic takes a toll on many other sectors including leisure and hospitality, retail, and health care.
For Colorado’s eastern plains communities, renewable energy and advanced energy technologies have brought thousands of jobs, and investment has supported communities across the region. The intent of this study is to profile the renewable energy industry in Colorado’s eastern plains and measure the economic benefits it provides in terms of construction, investment, employment, and business activity. For the economic benefits estimates, the study not only details construction and operations for the region’s existing renewable facilities but offers a prospective look at the benefits realized by 2024. The following bullets highlight key findings and estimates of the size and growth of these benefits.
In 2018, Colorado’s eastern plains comprised 5.5 percent of the renewable energy capacity in the state and represented all the state’s wind energy and about 55 percent of the state’s solar capacity.
Renewable energy capacity has expanded rapidly in Colorado’s eastern plains. In 2010, there was 1,253 MW of nameplate capacity in nine wind facilities in Colorado’s eastern plains. By the end of 2020, another 3,707 MW of wind and solar capacity is expected to be operable in the eastern plains. By 2024, the eastern plains’ renewable capacity is expected to expand by more than 22 percent, adding 1,109 MW and bringing the region’s wind and solar capacity to 6,069 MW.
By 2024, the state is expected to add its largest solar facilities and first utility-scale battery storage components with the construction of the 250-MW Neptune solar plant and the 200-MW Thunder Wolf solar plant.
Renewable and Advanced Energy Employment
From 2015 to 2019, renewable and advanced energy employment increased by more than 40 percent in Colorado’s eastern plains, growing to an estimated 6,334 workers in 366 business establishments.
Wind is critical to the eastern plains’ employment base, combined with wind facility installation, operations, and maintenance, wind technologies employ about 70 percent of renewable and advanced energy workers on the eastern plains.
Since 2015, job opportunities for solar installation have increased significantly in the eastern plains. Solar installation jobs have risen from an estimated 42 jobs in 2015 to 151 jobs in 2019.
Economic Benefits of Construction and Investment
Renewable energy development on Colorado’s eastern plains has brought significant investment to the state. From 2000 to 2024, there will have been an estimated $9.4 billion in construction and investment activity in the eastern plains. By 2024, investment will have increased by 75 percent since 2016.
Although many purchases for renewable energy facilities are made out-of-state, Colorado has benefited from local spending on equipment, construction materials, design, project management, planning, and local workers. As a result, the direct economic benefit in Colorado of construction and investment in the eastern plains’ renewable facilities will total an estimated $2.7 billion from 2000 to 2024.
By 2024, thousands of Coloradans will have benefited from work supported by renewable energy investments. An estimated 3,158 state workers will be directly employed in the construction of the facilities from 2000 to 2024. In addition, components for a handful of the eastern plains’ wind facilities have either been manufactured or will be manufactured at Vestas plants in the state. These purchases will directly employ another 2,386 workers by 2024.
Beyond direct output and employment, renewable facility construction and investment has supported many ancillary industries throughout the eastern plains since 2000. Combined, the total direct and indirect benefits of renewable energy development in Colorado’s eastern plains will be an estimated 5. billion in total output ($2.7 billion direct output + $3.1 billion indirect and induced output) produced by 12,819 employees (5,544 direct employees + 7,275 indirect employees) earning a total of about $706.9 million ($355.6 million direct earnings + $351.3 million indirect earnings) from 2000 to 2024
Construction benefits are temporary, occurring only during construction. Economic Benefits of Annual Operations by 2024
The ongoing operations and maintenance of renewable facilities on Colorado’s eastern plains support long- term employment opportunities for hundreds of people in the state. By 2024, renewable facilities will support the direct employment of an estimated 352 workers.
By 2024, wind energy facilities will provide farmers, ranchers, and other landowners on Colorado’s eastern plains with $15.2 million in annual lease payments, up from an estimated $7.5 million in 2016.
Renewable energy projects will contribute an estimated $23.1 million in annual property tax revenue throughout districts in the eastern plains by 2024, up from an estimated $7.2 million in 2016.
Therefore, the total direct and indirect benefits in Colorado of annual renewable energy operations in the eastern plains will be an estimated $388.6 million in total output ($214.6 million direct output + $174 million indirect and induced output) produced by 1,089 employees (352 direct employees + 737 indirect employees) earning a total of about $56.7 million ($21.9 million direct earnings + $34.8 million indirect earnings) by 2024.
These benefits are likely to occur annually assuming similar business conditions and project parameters.
Energy policy expert Leah Stokes explains who’s pushing climate delay and denial — it’s not just fossil fuel companies — and what we need to do now
The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14% in April. But the drop won’t last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7% this year.
After that, unless we make substantial changes to global economies, it will be back to business as usual — and a path that leads directly to runaway climate change. If we want to reverse course, say the world’s leading scientists, we have about a decade to right the ship.
That’s because we’ve squandered a lot of time. “The 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s were lost decades for preventing global climate disaster,” political scientist Leah Stokes writes in her new book Short Circuiting Policy, which looks at the history of clean energy policy in the United States.
But we don’t all bear equal responsibility for the tragic delay.
“Some actors in society have more power than others to shape how our economy is fueled,” writes Stokes, an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We are not all equally to blame.”
Short Circuiting Policy focuses on the role of one particularly bad actor: electric utilities. Their history of obstructing a clean-energy transition in the United States has been largely overlooked, with most of the finger-pointing aimed at fossil fuel companies (and for good reason).
We spoke with Stokes about this history of delay and denial from the utility industry, how to accelerate the speed and scale of clean-energy growth, and whether we can get past the polarizing rhetoric and politics around clean energy.
What lessons can we learn from your research to guide us right now, in what seems like a really critical time in the fight to halt climate change?
What a lot of people don’t understand is that to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we actually have to reduce emissions by around 7-8% every single year from now until 2030, which is what the emissions drop is likely to be this year because of the COVID-19 crisis.
So think about what it took to reduce emissions by that much and think about how we have to do that every single year.
It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be some big sacrifice, but it does mean that we need government policy, particularly at the federal level, because state policy can only go so far. We’ve been living off state policy for more than three decades now and we need our federal government to act.
Where are we now, in terms of our progress on renewable energy and how far we need to go?
A lot of people think renewable energy is growing “so fast” and it’s “so amazing.” But first of all, during the coronavirus pandemic, the renewable energy industry is actually doing very poorly. It’s losing a lot of jobs. And secondly, we were not moving fast enough even before the coronavirus crisis, because renewable energy in the best year grew by only 1.3%.
Right now we’re at around 36-37% clean energy. That includes nuclear, hydropower and new renewables like wind, solar and geothermal. But hydropower and nuclear aren’t growing. Nuclear supplies about 20% of the grid and hydro about 5% depending on the year. And then the rest is renewable. So we’re at about 10% renewables, and in the best year, we’re only adding 1% to that.
Generally, we need to be moving about eight times faster than we’ve been moving in our best years. (To visualize this idea, I came up with the narwhal curve.)
How do we overcome these fundamental issues of speed and scale?
We need actual government policy that supports it. We have never had a clean electricity standard or renewable portfolio standard at the federal level. That’s the main law that I write all about at the state level. Where those policies are in place, a lot of progress has been made — places like California and even, to a limited extent, Texas.
We need our federal government to be focusing on this crisis. Even the really small, piecemeal clean-energy policies we have at the federal level are going away. In December Congress didn’t extend the investment tax credit and the production tax credit, just like they didn’t extend or improve the electric vehicle tax credit.
And now during the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of the money going toward the energy sector in the CARES Act is going toward propping up dying fossil fuel companies and not toward supporting the renewable energy industry.
So we are moving in the wrong direction.
Clean energy hasn’t always been such a partisan issue. Why did it become so polarizing?
What I argue in my book, with evidence, is that electric utilities and fossil fuel companies have been intentionally driving polarization. And they’ve done this in part by running challengers in primary elections against Republicans who don’t agree with them.
Basically, fossil fuel companies and electric utilities are telling Republicans that you can’t hold office and support climate action. That has really shifted the incentives within the party in a very short time period.
It’s not like the Democrats have moved so far left on climate. The Democrats have stayed in pretty much the same place and the Republicans have moved to the right. And I argue that that’s because of electric utilities and fossil fuel companies trying to delay action.
And their reason for doing that is simply about their bottom line and keeping their share of the market?
Exactly. You have to remember that delay and denial on climate change is a profitable enterprise for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities. The longer we wait to act on the crisis, the more money they can make because they can extract more fossil fuels from their reserves and they can pay more of their debt at their coal plants and natural gas plants. So delay and denial is a money-making business for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities.
There’s been a lot of research, reporting and even legal action in recent years about the role of fossil fuel companies in discrediting climate science. From reading your book, it seems that electric utilities are just as guilty. Is that right?
Yes, far less attention has been paid to electric utilities, which play a really critical role. They preside over legacy investments into coal and natural gas, and some of them continue to propose building new natural gas.
They were just as involved in promoting climate denial in the 1980s and 90s as fossil fuel companies, as I document in my book. And some of them, like Southern Company, have continued to promote climate denial to basically the present day.
But that’s not the only dark part of their history.
Electric utilities promoted energy systems that are pretty wasteful. They built these centralized fossil fuel power plants rather than having co-generation plants that were onsite at industrial locations where manufacturing is happening, and where you need both steam heat — which is a waste product from electricity — and the electricity itself. That actually created a lot of waste in the system and we burned a lot more fossil fuels than if we had a decentralized system.
The other thing they’ve done in the more modern period is really resisted the energy transition. They’ve resisted renewable portfolio standards and net metering laws that allow for more clean energy to come onto the grid. They’ve tried to roll them back. They’ve been successful in some cases, and they’ve blocked new laws from passing when targets were met.
You wrote that, “Partisan polarization on climate is not inevitable — support could shift back to the bipartisanship we saw before 2008.” What would it take to actually make that happen?
Well, on the one hand, you need to get the Democratic Party to care more about climate change and to really understand the stakes. And if you want to do that, I think the work of the Justice Democrats is important. They have primary-challenged incumbent Democrats who don’t care enough about climate change. That is how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected. She was a primary challenger and she has really championed climate action in the Green New Deal.
The other thing is that the public supports climate action. Democrats do in huge numbers. Independents do. And to some extent Republicans do, particularly young Republicans.
So communicating the extent of public concern on these issues is really important because, as I’ve shown in other research, politicians don’t know how much public concern there is on climate change. They dramatically underestimate support for climate action.
I think the media has a really important role to play because it’s very rare that a climate event, like a disaster that is caused by climate change, is actually linked to climate change in media reporting.
But people might live through a wildfire or a hurricane or a heat wave, but nobody’s going to tell them through the media that this is climate change. So we really need our reporters to be doing a better job linking people’s lived experiences to climate change.
With economic stimulus efforts ramping up because of the COVD-19 pandemic, are we in danger of missing a chance to help boost a clean energy economy?
I think so many people understand that stimulus spending is an opportunity to rebuild our economy in a way that creates good-paying jobs in the clean-energy sector that protects Americans’ health.
We know that breathing dirty air makes people more likely to die from COVID-19. So this is a big opportunity to create an economy that’s more just for all Americans.
But unfortunately, we really are not pivoting toward creating a clean economy, which is what we need to be doing. This is an opportunity to really focus on the climate crisis because we have delayed for more than 30 years. There is not another decade to waste.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan
EVs and internal combustion engine vehicles are likely to reach sticker price parity sometime in the next decade. The timing hinges on one crucial factor: battery cost. An EV’s battery pack accounts for about a quarter of total vehicle cost, making it the most important factor in the sales price.
Battery pack prices have been falling fast. A typical EV battery pack stores 10-100 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity. For example, the Mitsubishi i-MIEV has a battery capacity of 16 kWh and a range of 62 miles, and the Tesla model S has a battery capacity of 100 kWh and a range of 400 miles. In 2010, the price of an EV battery pack was over $1,000 per kWh. That fell to $150 per kWh in 2019. The challenge for the automotive industry is figuring out how to drive the cost down further.
The Department of Energy goal for the industry is to reduce the price of battery packs to less than $100/kWh and ultimately to about $80/kWh. At these battery price points, the sticker price of an EV is likely to be lower than that of a comparable combustion engine vehicle.
Forecasting when that price crossover will occur requires models that account for the cost variables: design, materials, labor, manufacturing capacity and demand. These models also show where researchers and manufacturers are focusing their efforts to reduce battery costs. Our group at Carnegie Mellon University has developed a model of battery costs that accounts for all aspects of EV battery manufacturing.
From the bottom up
Models used for analyzing battery costs are classified either as “top down” or “bottom up.” Top-down models predict cost based primarily on demand and time. One popular top-down model that can forecast battery cost is Wright’s law, which predicts that costs go down as more units are produced. Economies of scale and the experience an industry acquires over time drive down costs.
To build a bottom-up cost model, it’s important to understand what goes into making a battery. Lithium-ion batteries consist of a positive electrode, the cathode, a negative electrode, the anode and an electrolyte, as well as auxiliary components such as terminals and casing.
Each component has a cost associated with its materials, manufacturing, assembly, expenses related to factory maintenance, and overhead costs. For EVs, batteries also need to be integrated into small groups of cells, or modules, which are then combined into packs.
Our open source, bottom-up battery cost model follows the same structure as the battery manufacturing process itself. The model uses inputs to the battery manufacturing process as inputs to the model, including battery design specifications, commodity and labor prices, capital investment requirements like manufacturing plants and equipment, overhead rates and manufacturing volume to account for economies of scale. It uses these inputs to calculate manufacturing costs, material costs and overhead costs, and those costs are summed to arrive at the final cost.
Using our bottom-up cost model, we can break down the contributions of each part of the battery to the total battery cost and use those insights to analyze the impact of battery innovations on EV cost. Materials make up the largest portion of the total battery cost, around 50%. The cathode accounts for around 43% of the materials cost, and other cell materials account for around 36%.
Improvements in cathode materials are the most important innovations, because the cathode is the largest component of battery cost. This drives strong interest in commodity prices.
Nickel cobalt aluminum oxide has the lowest cost-per-energy-content and highest energy-per-unit-mass, or specific energy, of these three materials. A low cost per unit of energy results from a high specific energy because fewer cells are needed to build a battery pack. This results in a lower cost for other cell materials. Cobalt is the most expensive material within the cathode, so formulations of these materials with less cobalt typically lead to cheaper batteries.
Inactive cell materials such as tabs and containers account for roughly 36% of the total cell materials cost. These other cell materials do not add energy content to the battery. Therefore, reducing inactive materials reduces the weight and size of battery cells without reducing energy content. This drives interest in improving cell design with innovations such as tabless batteries like those being teased by Tesla.
The battery pack cost also decreases significantly with an increase in the number of cells manufacturers produce annually. As more EV battery factories come on-line, economies of scale and further improvement in battery manufacturing and design should lead to further cost declines.
Road to price-parity
Predicting a timeline for price parity with ICE vehicles requires forecasting a future trajectory of battery costs. We estimate that reduction in raw material costs, improvements in performance and learning by manufacturing together are likely to lead to batteries with pack costs below $80/kWh by 2025.
Assuming batteries represent a quarter of the EV cost, a 100 kWh battery pack at $75 per kilowatt hour yields a cost of about $30,000. This should result in EV sticker prices that are lower than the sticker prices for comparable models of gas-powered cars.
Abhinav Misalkar contributed to this article while he was a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University.
FromThe High Country News (Carl Segerstrom) [July 22, 2020]:
As extinction and climate crises loom, the Great American Outdoors Act and recreation industry continue to rely on oil money.
On July 22, Congress passed the biggest public-lands spending bill in half a century. The bipartisan bill, called the Great American Outdoors Act, puts nearly $10 billion toward repairing public-lands infrastructure, such as outdated buildings and dysfunctional water systems in national parks. It also guarantees that Congress will spend the $900 million it collects each year through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF. The legislation boosts access to nature, funds city parks and will pay for a significant chunk of the massive maintenance backlog on public lands in the U.S.
But it all comes at a cost to the climate. To pay the bill’s hefty price tag, Congress is tapping revenue from the fossil fuel industry. Though the new law has been cheered by conservation groups, it fails to address either the modern crisis of climate change or the impacts of the West’s growing recreation and tourism economy on wildlife. In this way, the Outdoors Act exposes the gaps between conservation and climate activism, while providing a grim reminder of the complicated entanglements of energy, economics, climate — and now, a pandemic.
The biggest windfall from the Great American Outdoors Act — up to $6.5 billion over five years — will go to the National Park Service. National parks are the public lands’ top tourist attraction, receiving more than 327 million visits in 2019 alone, but dwindling annual funding has left the agency with about $12 billion in overdue projects. These projects include everything from a $100 million pipeline to bring water to visitors and communities on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to routine campground and trail maintenance.
The money will also benefit gateway communities in the West. A National Park Service analysis projects that the new legislation will create an additional 100,000 jobs over the next five years, on top of the 340,500 jobs the parks already support in nearby towns. For many places reeling from the pandemic’s economic toll on tourism, such as Whitefish, Montana, a gateway community to Glacier National Park, the bill will be a shot in the arm. Glacier has more than $100 million in overdue projects, and the infusion of money will bring new jobs after a dismal tourist season.
The impacts also stretch beyond immediate job gains because of the way access to recreation drives economic growth in the rural West. Communities that have more protected lands nearby generally grow faster and have higher income levels, said Mark Haggerty, who researches rural economies for Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit think tank in Montana. That growth is driven by both tourism and new arrivals looking to live closer to the outdoors. “Residents and businesses want to be close to public lands,” Haggerty said. “Recreational amenities can attract high-wage jobs.”
Federal public lands aren’t the only places that will benefit from the bill. Since 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has paid for a variety of outdoor projects around the country with taxes and royalty payments from oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The Outdoors Act obliges the LCWF to spend the entire $900 million it collects each year, something that’s happened only twice in the past 50-plus years.
With full LWCF funding, more money will be flowing from federal coffers to local projects. In urban areas, like the South Park neighborhood in Seattle, the fund recently paid for new playground equipment and a spray zone at a local park. Out in the country, the program typically finances projects to protect habitat and improve public access, as at Tenderfoot Creek in Montana, where the fund paid for more than 8,000 acres to be transferred from private to public ownership by 2015.
BUT RISING RECREATION COMES AT A COST for critters. Recent studies have shown that it poses a serious threat to the very wildlife that draws people to backcountry trails. In Vail, Colorado, a town built around access to nature and outdoor sports, local elk herds have been in precipitous decline, a phenomenon biologists attribute to more people tromping through the woods. In Idaho, snowmobilers and federal land managers are battling over whether to reroute the machines to save wolverines. And a recent review by the California Department of Fish and Game found that vulnerable species can be pushed to extinction by expanding human activity on public lands.
Supporters of the Outdoors Act see securing LWCF funding as vital for conservation. “It’s the best and virtually only tool for protecting land for wildlife,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, the leader of the National Wildlife Federation’s public-lands program. But that doesn’t mean that recreation’s impacts are being ignored, Stone-Manning said. “We need to protect open spaces, then we need to get smart about managing the impact of recreation on wildlife.”
Even as many rural Western communities grapple with an economic future tied to recreation, the Outdoors Act underlines the enduring legacy of American dependence on fossil fuels. The $9.5 billion set aside for the public-lands maintenance backlog will come from revenue paid by private companies that produce energy — from both fossil and renewable sources — on federal lands and waters. At first glance, this appears to be a shift away from the LWCF’s funding model, which depends solely on offshore oil and gas income. But for now at least, most of the money will still come from fossil fuel production: In 2019, for example, federal offshore wind energy generated just over $410 million in revenue, a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $9 billion from fossil fuels on federal land and waters.
Reliance on oil production to pay for parks ignores the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to preserve a livable climate. “You have to give kudos to the Republicans for shifting the conversation so far to the right that the premise has been agreed to that we should fund conservation with the destruction of the earth,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Because they depend on the oil and gas industry, the LWCF and park maintenance are vulnerable should the U.S. transition away from fossil fuels, or if production drops for another reason, like the current pandemic. (Compared to the same time period in 2019, onshore oil and gas royalty receipts dropped 53% and offshore royalties plummeted by 84% in April 2020.) The arrangement also provides rhetorical cover for energy executives. “These programs underscore the need to continue safe development of domestic offshore energy reserves,” said American Petroleum Institute Vice President Lem Smith in a press release cheering the Senate passage of the bill. “Policies that end or limit production in federal waters would put these essential conservation funds in doubt.”
Even as Congress relies on the fossil fuel industry to pay for conservation projects, legislative frameworks that recognize the climate and extinction crises are intertwined are emerging. Recently proposed initiatives like the “roadmap for climate action” put forward by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the 30 by 30 resolution, a Senate push to protect 30% of U.S. land and oceans by 2030, tie climate action to land and wildlife conservation. And proposals for different funding models for conservation, including a “backpack tax” on outdoor apparel and equipment that would shift some conservation costs to recreationists, have been proposed for decades.
All of these plans are a far cry from the bill currently being celebrated as a major win for conservation and public lands. “We need to be sure we’re not pretending our work is done; this money is not a panacea for reaching conservation goals,” said Kate Kelly, the director of public lands for the Center for American Progress and an Obama-era Interior Department senior adviser, who supports the bill. “The funding model needs to be re-examined and reimagined.” Moving forward, addressing climate change and biodiversity loss requires acknowledging that the crises are inextricable. “The climate and conservation communities haven’t always coordinated, and that needs to change,” Kelly said. “They’re two sides of the same coin.”
Carl Segerstrom is an assistant editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, Washington. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A coalition of 20 states is suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a rule that weakens states’ ability to block pipelines and other controversial projects that cross their waterways…
The suit from California and others asks the courts to throw out the rule, which was finalized in June.
The Clean Water Act essentially gave states veto authority over projects by requiring projects to gain state certification under Section 401 of the law.
It applies to a wide variety of projects that could range from power plants to waste water treatment plants to industrial development.
But that portion of the law has been eyed by the Trump administration after two states run by Democrats have recently used the law to sideline major projects.
New York denied a certification for the Constitution Pipeline, a 124-mile natural gas pipeline that would have run from Pennsylvania to New York, crossing rivers more than 200 times. Washington state also denied certification for the Millennium Coal Terminal, a shipping port for large stocks of coal…
The new policy from the Trump administration accelerates timelines under the law, limiting what it sees as state power to keep a project in harmful limbo. The need for a Section 401 certification from the state will be waived if states do not respond within a year.
ut states argue the new rule won’t give them the time necessary to conduct thorough environmental reviews of massive projects.
And on Monday, Becerra complained the Trump administration wants states to evaluate only the most narrow impacts of a project, while issues like downstream flows from a hydroelectric plant or impacts on nearby wetlands are overlooked.
Along with California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin also joined the suit.
A federal court late Wednesday struck down a Trump administration rule that weakened restrictions on methane gas releases from drilling on public land, restoring an Obama-era rule.
In 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rolled back parts of the prior rule that limited the release of the greenhouse gas. The change was expected to allow for more methane leaks in a process called flaring and add to air pollution.
On Wednesday, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers determined that the rulemaking process used by the BLM was “wholly inadequate.”
“In its haste, BLM ignored its statutory mandate under the Mineral Leasing Act, repeatedly failed to justify numerous reversals in policy positions previously taken, and failed to consider scientific findings and institutions relied upon by both prior Republican and Democratic administrations,” wrote the Obama appointee.
“In its zeal, BLM simply engineered a process to ensure a preordained conclusion,” she added in the decision’s conclusion. “Where a court has found such widespread violations, the court must fulfill its duties in striking the defectively promulgated rule.”
A report on the town’s geothermal heating utility was provided to the Pagosa Springs Town Council at a regular meeting on July 7.
The geothermal heating system has been operated and owned by the town since December of 1982, according to Public Works Director Martin Schmidt.
The town put out a bid and Alan Plummer Associates Inc. was awarded with an assessment of the utility, Schmidt explained.
Currently, the geothermal system has 32 customers that range from a school to small residences, Schmidt explained.
The geothermal system is fully operational and the town has not experienced any failures that would inhibit the utility to heat those that the town committed to heating, Schmidt added.
A report from Alan Plummer As- sociates Inc. Project Engineer Steve Omer done for the town touches on the system’s current conditions, ca- pacity and expansion opportunities…
One idea for an expansion opportunity was to cool homes in the summer with the geothermal piping using river water, Schmidt noted.
“When you actually look at theriver data, the average temperature of the river through the summer months is 63 and a half degrees, and 63 and a half degrees doesn’t give us enough of a difference,” he said…
Another expansion opportunity looked into by Omer was the limits of the geothermal system and how many more customers the town could add to the system.
“We found that we could not add a customer like the high school. Just the high school would overwhelm the system.” Schmidt said.
Congratulations to friend of Coyote Gulch, Grace Hood.
Here’s the release From the University of Colorado:
The Center for Environmental Journalism is proud to welcome its 24th class of Ted Scripps Fellows, who will spend nine months at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information working on long-term, in-depth journalistic projects and reflecting on critical questions.
The group brings a depth of experience across a range of media, with backgrounds covering local issues as a public radio reporter and a photojournalist, overseeing a non-profit news organization and a science magazine, and reporting abroad as a Moscow correspondent.
“We’re thrilled to welcome these incredibly accomplished journalists to the Center for Environmental Journalism,” said Tom Yulsman, CEJ director. “We gain as much from their presence as they do from spending a year at the university.”
Stacy Feldman, co-founder of InsideClimate News (ICN), a Pulitzer Prize-winning non-profit news organization providing reporting and analysis on climate change, energy and the environment. Serving as executive editor from 2015 to 2020, she’s spent the past 13 years helping to build and lead ICN as it transformed from a two-person startup to an operation with nearly 20 employees and a model for national and award-winning non-profit climate journalism.
As a fellow, she plans to study new approaches to local journalism that could help people connect environmental harm and injustice to their own health and their communities’ well-being.
Grace Hood, who has covered water, science and energy topics across the American southwest as Colorado Public Radio’s environment and climate reporter since 2015. Throughout more than a decade in public radio, she’s profiled octogenarian voters worried about climate change, scientists tracking underground mine fires, a visually impaired marijuana farmer and a homeowner who lives next door to Colorado’s first underground nuclear fracking experiment.
As a fellow, she plans to study how cities and states monitor air quality near oil and gas sites. She has a particular interest in the rise of citizen science when it comes to measuring air pollution across the West.
Alec Luhn, an independent journalist with a focus on the changing communities and ecosystems of the far north. Previously a Moscow correspondent for The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, he’s been published in The Atlantic, GQ, The Independent, MAXIM, The Nation, The New York Times, POLITICO, Reuters, TIME, Slate and WIRED, among others. During a decade abroad, he’s reported from the coldest permanently inhabited place on earth and covered the conflict in eastern Ukraine, annexed Crimea, war-torn Syria and Chernobyl reactor four, as well as covering oil spills, permafrost thaw, reindeer herding, polar bear patrols, Gulag towns and the world’s only floating nuclear power plant in the Arctic.
As a fellow, he plans to study how climate change and resource extraction are altering the fragile environment of the north, with deep repercussions for reindeer and caribou and the indigenous peoples that depend on them.
Amanda Mascarelli, managing editor of Sapiens, an award-winning digital magazine that covers anthropology and archaeology for the general public. She has led the publication since before its 2016 launch and has overseen the production of hundreds of stories on topics including Holocaust archaeology, schizophrenia, fracking, cultural appropriation, and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, she spent more than a decade as a freelance science journalist specializing in health and the environment. She’s been published by outlets including Audubon, Nature, New Scientist, Science, Science News for Students and The New York Times and worked as a health columnist for the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.
As a fellow, she will study the social inequalities of health in vulnerable communities in the Denver metro region and elsewhere in Colorado, with an eye to exploring the health and social impacts of industrial expansion, fossil fuel extraction, and a planned massive urban redesign.
RJ Sangosti, who has been a photojournalist at The Denver Post since 2004, where he’s covered events spanning from Hurricane Katrina to presidential elections. Over more than a decade, he has documented the people and landscape of eastern Colorado, where years of drought and a loss of agricultural earning power continue to hurt farmers. Most recently, he completed a story about a Denver neighborhood in one of the country’s most polluted urban zip codes, whose residents continue to be impacted by a huge interstate construction project. His work was included in the 2012 Time Magazine top 10 photos of the year, and he was honored to be part of the 2016 jury for the centennial year of The Pulitzer Prizes.
As a fellow, he will report on the effects pesticides and fertilizers have on aquifers and groundwater, and he hopes to gain new skills in research and writing.
A new report insists that ‘renewable natural gas’ has too many problems for widespread use. And in Colorado, natural gas may be on the November ballot
Several years ago, a speaker at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association annual conference became exuberant. At the time, natural gas was hailed as a bridge fuel, one that burned cleaner than coal. That simple fact had produced a tenuous alliance between environmental groups and drillers, who both saw advantages in dismantling coal, with Democratic governors Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper enjoying support in both camps.
Enough talk about natural gas as a bridge, the speaker at the Denver conference exclaimed. It was the future.
Now, that future is being challenged as renewables, not natural gas, fills the void created in the retreat of coal. And, with climate scientists issuing throat-clearing warnings about the grave risk if emission are not tamed rapidly, environmental advocates have turned their attention to gas. The bridge, they say, has been crossed.
This new tension has flared prominently in California, where scores of jurisdictions last year banned natural gas in new buildings. None have done so in Colorado—yet. But the Colorado oil and gas industry has taken preemptory action to ensure it doesn’t, hurrying to get a ballot measure that would preclude local bans of natural gas.
The fundamental problem is the tendency of methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, to leak. Methane is far more potent in the shorter term than carbon dioxide. The report cites research published in the journal Science in 2018 that found the leakage rate in the U.S. gas supply chain equaled 2.3% of U.S. gross gas production, 60% higher than the EPA’s official estimate.
The Sierra Club is particularly worried about the rise of what it calls fossil gas alternatives, including what some companies are calling RNG, or renewable natural gas. RNG can include biogas, such as comes from wastewater treatment plant, landfills and livestock operations, or—using thermal gasification – forest and agriculture residues. There’s also synthetic gas, in which electricity is turned into hydrogen and then synthetic methane.
Of these, the only one that meets the smell test, so to speak, is biogas, as it would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere. But the study estimates that only enough methane from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and similar sources could be captured to meet less than 1% of current gas demand.
“The rest must be intentionally produced and will pose the risk of additional methane leakage that can offset any potential emission reductions.”
The Sierra Club report says these fossil gas alternatives have roles, but very limited ones, such as for delivering high industrial heat for steel production or powering air or marine transportation.
“Biogas and synthetic gas as well as other renewable liquid fuels, have several advantages over electricity. Though costly, limited and inefficient to produce, they are energy dense, can be stored and transported more readily than electricity, and work with existing infrastructure that must rely on combustion,” the report says.
“In optimizing their use, the advantages of renewable fuels (e.g. flexible, combustible, dispatchable) should be weighed against their disadvantages (cost, leakage, limited supply) and the availability of alternatives such as electrification and demand management. Because heat pumps and electric vehicles offer super efficiency and eliminate end-use air pollution, direct use of electricity should be used to the maximum extent feasible in buildings and transport.”
Building electrification is not the same as that which occurred in the 1970s. With the aid of efficient air-source heat pumps, which can extract heat from the outside air, and better understanding of circulation, natural gas is being eliminated from some buildings. Geos neighborhood in Arvada, Colo., is one such project, and the Basalt Vista in Basalt, Colo., another. Boulder and Bouilder County are using a program called Comfort 365 to encourage fuel and technology switching.
Those are voluntary. Now come bans of new natural gas infrastructure. In California, Berkeley in July 2019 adopted the first ban in the country on natural gas in new buildings. By February, when the New York Times took note of the trend, 22 other California cities and counties had also adopted similar bans, as had several jurisdictions across the country.
None have in Colorado, although a climate change task force report to Denver’s elected officials issued last week calls for building electrification when natural gas infrastructure fails but also net-zero homes and buildings being part of all new buildings in the 2027 base building code.
In California, battle lines have been drawn. The Los Angeles Times in October 2019 reported that Southern California Gas Co., which has 22 million customers in California, had already started working to convince local officials that policies aimed at replacing gas with electricity would be wildly unpopular. Called SoCalGas, the company had already released a strategy paper that calls for the company to replace 20% of the fossil gas in the company’s pipelines with renewable gas by 2030 and later adding large amounts of hydrogen and other non-fossil fuels. It makes its case on this web page.
Maximilian Auffhammer, an environmental economist at UC Berkeley, compared SoCalGas’ dilemma to that of a company selling hay to feed horses at a moment in time when horse-drawn carriages were being replaced by cars. Electrification, he said, posed a similarly existential threat to gas utilities.
Colorado looks to be hurrying toward a similar battle over public minds. In a July 6 posting, S&P Global Platts reported that a group backed by the Colorado oil and gas industry is pursuing a ballot initiative meant to prevent local governments from banning the use of natural gas in new residential and commercial developments. The ballot initiative must get signatures from 142,632 registered voters by Aug. 3 to qualify for Colorado’s election ballot in October.
Protect Colorado bundles the ballot initiative as a message for consumer choice.
“Initiative 284 prevents governments from removing your consumer choice when it comes to what energy is used in homes and businesses for cooking, heating homes and water, and generators,” it says on its website. “If passed, local and state governments could not enact any laws banning natural gas usage in new construction.”
The measure has already received support from the dominant newspaper in Colorado Springs, the Gazette. Stop the fringe from prohibiting natural gas.”
But the majority of the Colorado Legislature in 2019 adopted laws calling for rapid decarbonization of Colorado’s economy. The first target of 26% by 2025 can be met by closing coal plants and some other measures. Much harder will be the 50% reduction by 2050. For that, decisive steps will be required in the built environment. This is even more true of the 2050 deadline of 90% reduction.
Even if no local jurisdictions have been reported to be considering natural gas bans, the issues will likely arise in the next legislative session. State Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, says he is considering legislation that would, if adopted, create a social cost of methane, similar to the social cost of carbon adopted by Colorado in 2019. That cost, $46 a ton, has legally become a consideration for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission when considering plans proposed by regulated electrical utilities.
Hansen also expects to reintroduce a bill, SB20-150, which got shelved in the covid-crimped 2020 session. The bill proposed to create a renewable natural gas standard, to spur the use of existing methane emissions from landfills, dairies and other such sources.
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Click here to read the report from the Energy and Policy Institute (Joe Smyth). Here’s the executive summary:
Burning coal to generate electricity consumes large quantities of water, which exposes the electric utilities that operate coal plants to water supply risks. Large coal plants consume millions of gallons of water each day, which can also lead to legal disputes and conflicts with other water users, increased costs when water supplies are disrupted, and other challenges. Those water conflicts and risks are magnified in the American West, where water supplies are already scarce and increasingly threatened by persistent drought and hotter temperatures driven by climate change.
Several utilities have recently announced plans to close coal plants that they operate in order to reduce costs and meet the expectations of their customers, regulators, and investors for a cleaner power supply. Those closures will free up large quantities of water, creating potential economic and environmental benefits while also raising questions among communities, utilities, and regulators over the fate of that newly available water.
Still, many coal plants in the Western U.S. do not yet have clear closure plans, and the utilities that operate them will continue to face water supply risks and conflicts.
Recent reports by Moody’s Investors Service and BlackRock have highlighted the growing risks of climate change impacts to electric utilities and the power plants they operate, including water supply risks and drought. Major electric utilities also acknowledge those risks; in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the largest electric utilities and coal plant operators in the Western United States – including Xcel Energy, PNM, Arizona Public Service Company, Pacificorp, Talen Energy, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association – reported that drought in the region could disrupt water supplies consumed by their coal plants. Utilities that don’t disclose risks in SEC filings, like Basin Electric and Arizona G&T Cooperatives, have nevertheless faced water supply challenges at their coal plants.
Some parties propose keeping coal plants online by installing infrastructure to capture their carbon emissions. Carbon capture infrastructure nearly doubles the water consumption of a coal plant, significantly increasing the water supply risks for companies that pursue carbon capture instead of closing coal plants.
This report explores the water supply risks facing coal plants in the American West, and the conflicts and legal disputes over water that have already arisen between communities and the utilities that operate coal plants. We show how much water each coal plant in the Western U.S. consumed in recent years, and estimate how much more water each will consume until its closure. And we discuss key water supply risks facing particular coal plants in the American West, based on documents filed with the SEC and state utility regulators, annual reports, local news articles, and correspondence with utilities in the region. Those include legal disputes over water rights between Native American communities and utilities, increased water needs of a carbon capture proposal in New Mexico, groundwater consumption by coal plants in Arizona, the impacts of drought on coal plants in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming, and more.
Cumulatively, 30 coal plants in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Montana, and Wyoming consumed 370,555,000,000 gallons [ed. 1,137,190 acre-feet] of water between 2014 and 2018, according to data published by the Energy Information Agency (EIA). On average, that amounts to more than 76 billion gallons of water each year, or 208 million gallons [ed. 638 acre-feet] each day. Coal capacity owned by Pacificorp consumed over 102 billion gallons of water between 2014 and 2018, 27% of the total and the most of any utility in the region.
Combining coal unit water consumption data with coal unit closure dates (announced as of July 2020) shows that coal plants in the Western U.S. could consume 886 billion gallons of water between 2020 and 2040. That figure could be reduced as more utilities announce additional coal plant closures, close coal units before their scheduled retirement dates, and operate coal plants less often.
Most coal plants in the Western U.S. consume surface water, including from the Colorado River, Yellowstone River, Green River, San Juan River, Laramie River, North Platte River, Arkansas River, Yampa River, San Miguel River, Cottonwood Creek, Sevier River, Huntington Creek, Hams Fork River, and the Bighorn River.
Nine coal plants consume groundwater, including in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada, a practice that is rare outside of the Southwest. Two coal plants in Colorado consume reclaimed municipal water, which reduces but does not eliminate water supply risks. Three coal plants in Wyoming use dry cooling systems instead of water-cooled systems, which reduces water consumption but increases costs and air pollution.
A federal appeals court ruled Friday that an emissions-heavy section of northern Weld County that’s currently excluded from limits on air pollution imposed on the Denver metro area should be counted, potentially ratcheting up pressure on the oil and gas industry to operate more cleanly or cut output.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit determined that the Environmental Protection Agency incorrectly left a swath of Weld County abutting the Wyoming state line out of the nine-county “nonattainment” area that centers on Denver, meaning emissions from hundreds of oil and gas wells in that part of the county could soon be added to the metro area for air pollution measurement purposes.
Robert Ukeiley, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the ruling effectively means that Weld County energy operations near the Wyoming border will have to “comply with the more protective standard” that the metro area is under in terms of their emissions output.
“Oil and gas, including in northern Weld County, is responsible for our smog problem, and the court told the EPA enough is enough,” Ukeiley said. “You have to get (the industry) to reduce their pollution.”
The ruling from the appeals court sends the matter back to the EPA for further consideration. The lawsuit against the EPA was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Boulder County Board of Commissioners.
Heat and sunlight bake pollutants, including some of the chemicals emitted by oil and gas operations, to form ozone, or smog. For more than 15 years, Colorado has flunked federal air quality health standards with ozone air pollution exceeding a decade-old federal limit of 75 parts per billion, which was tightened to 70 parts per billion under President Barack Obama.
The World Health Organization recommends no more than 50 parts per billion to protect human health.
The U.S. threshold has placed much of the metro area and areas immediately around it in “nonattainment” status when it comes to meeting the requirements of the Clean Air Act. The EPA in December reclassified Colorado as a “serious” violator of federal air quality laws, forcing stricter state efforts to reduce air pollution…
Friday’s ruling revolved around two primary issues: Weld County’s outsized role in oil and gas production in Colorado — the county has nearly half of the state’s more than 50,000 active wells — and a finding that EPA had erroneously cited a topographical feature, Cheyenne Ridge, as a reason for excluding the northern section of the county from the nonattainment area.
EPA, the court wrote, claimed that the ridge effectively acted as a blockade to emissions emanating from the northern reaches of Weld County. The problem is, Cheyenne Ridge is on the Colorado/Wyoming border, the court said, not further south, as EPA asserted.
“EPA literally moved mountains to try and cut oil and gas a break from having to reduce pollution,” Ukeiley said Friday.
The court also faulted EPA’s reasoning for excluding the northern portion of Weld County based on the federal agency’s conclusion that that section of the county only contributed a quarter of the nitrogen oxide and 18% of the volatile organic compounds that the county overall emits.
“Given that Weld County sources generate exceptionally high amounts of VOCs and NOx — mostly from oil and gas operations — the fact that northern Weld contributed only a quarter of those emissions does not support EPA’s decision not to consider them,” the court ruled.
The court determined that according to 2011 data, Weld County produced approximately six times as many VOCs as the next-highest county included in the Denver nonattainment area. And compared to the lowest-emitting county, Weld County produced about 60 times as many VOCs and 20 times more nitrogen oxide.
Such a short time ago, 80% emissions reduction seemed such a bold goal. A new report says far more is possible.
It seems like many years ago since Ben Fowke, chief executive of Xcel Energy, standing on a podium at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, announced that his company was confident it could decarbonize the electrical generation across its six-state operating area 80% by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. This, he said, could be done using existing technology.
That declaration in December 2018 was national news. So was the company’s disclosure in December 2017 of the bids for renewables to replace the two coal-fired units it intended to retire at Pueblo, Colo. They came in shockingly low.
Now, 80% plans by 2030 are becoming almost commonplace. Consider the trajectory of Colorado Springs. The city council there, acting as a utility board, in June accepted the recommendation of city utility planners to shut down the city’s two coal plants, the first in 2023 and the second in 2030.
That was the easy decision. But the Colorado Springs City Council, in a 7-2 vote, also accepted the recommendation to bypass new natural gas capacity. Xcel is adding natural gas capacity to its portfolio in Colorado, although the plant already exists.
Colorado Springs is now on track to get to 80% reduction by 2030.
As a municipal utility, Colorado Springs was not required by Colorado to reduce its emissions 80% by 2030. That applies to those utilities regulated by the state, and municipalities are exempt. It is subject to broader economy wide goals of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.
A city utility planner says he believes the city can achieve 90% reduction by 2050.
“I do believe personally that in the next 10 years we will see some major advancements in the technology that will allow those technologies to go down and be more competitive,” says Michael Avanzi, manager of energy planning and innovation at Colorado Springs Utilities.
This, the study notes, can be done even while electricity costs decline. This finding contrasts sharply with studies completed more than 5 years ago, which found deep penetration of renewables would elevate costs. These lower costs are being reported across the country, the study found, even in those areas considered resource-poor for renewable energy generation. Colorado is the converse: It has excellent renewables, among the best mix in the nation.
The study is important and rich with detail. Among the seven members of a technical review committee was Steve Beuning, of Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy.
The findings, though, are best understood in terms of the policy assumptions, which are found in a separate study conducted by Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based consultancy. Colorado gets several mentions, and it’s important to note that the chief executive is Hal Harvey, who grew up in Aspen. (Harvey has connections in high places; he inspired a column in late June by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times: “This Should Be Biden’s Bumper Sticker.”)
The conclusions describe an optimal set of policies to get the United States to 90% by 2035, including:
federal clean energy standards and, especially in the absence of that, extension of federal tax credits for wind and solar.
strengthening of federal authority to improve regional transmission planning by the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority.
reform wholesale markets to reward flexibility.
Researchers in California did not specifically examine the case of Colorado Springs but more broadly found that U.S. electrical utilities can tap existing gas-fired plants infrequently along with storage, hydropower, and nuclear power to meet demands even during times of extraordinarily low renewable energy generation or exceptionally high electricity demand. All told, natural gas can contribute 10% of electrical generation in 2035. That would be 70% less than the natural gas generation in 2019.
How did the California researchers decide how much natural gas would be needed to firm supplies? As the saying goes, the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow. And when would these times of low renewables intersect those of high demand? The researchers studied weather records for seven years, 60,000 hours altogether, and in 134 regional zones within the United States, from earlier in this century. That worst-case time, during the seven years examined, was on the evening of Aug. 1, 2007, a time when solar generation had declined to less than 10% of installed solar capacity, and wind generation was 18% below installed capacity
Based on this, they found a maximum need for 360 gigawatts of natural gas capacity. In other words, no new natural gas generation was needed. We have enough already.
Peak demand in Colorado Springs usually occurs late on hot summer afternoons. The all-time record demand of 965 megawatts occurred on July 19, 2019. As Colorado Springs grows during the next three decades, it will possibly become Colorado’s largest city, with demand projected to push 1,200 megawatts (1.2 gigawatts) at mid-century.
For Avanzi and other utility planners charged with creating portfolios for consideration by elected officials, closing coal plants was an easy case to make. Coal has become expensive, severely undercut by renewables.
Also considered were 100% emission-free portfolios by 2030, 2040, and 2050. But they were seen as too risky and too costly, at least at this time.
Portfolio 17, the one ultimately adopted by the city council on June 25, calls for the Martin Drake plant to be closed in 2023 and the Ray Nixon plant in 2030.
Seven portable gas generators are to be installed at the Drake plant for use from 2023 to 2030, a need dictated by the existing transmission and not the inadequacy of renewables. Colorado Springs already has a gas plant, but the city council members accepted the recommendation of utility planners that no new plant will be needed. That vote was 7-2.
Writing in PV Magazine, Jean Haggerty pointed out that Colorado Springs was part of a trend among utilities to avoid building new natural gas bridges to renewable energy. Tucson Electric Power also plans to skip the gas bridge. And, on the East Coast, Florida Power & Light and Jacksonville’s municipal utility reached agreement to rely on existing natural gas and new solar generation when they retire their jointly owned coal plant, the largest in the United States.
In creating the portfolios, Avanzi says he relied upon mostly publicly available reports, especially the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s annual technology baseline and U.S. Energy Information Administration documents. For battery storage, he relied upon a study by energy consultant Lazard.
Colorado Springs’ plan calls for 400 megawatts of battery storage by 2030. Previously plans for a 25-megawatt battery of storage are expected to come on line in 2024.
All types of storage were examined. The single largest storage device in Colorado currently is near Georgetown, where water from two reservoirs can be released to generate up to 324 megawatts of electricity as needed to meet peak demands. The water then can be pumped uphill 2,500 feet to the reservoirs when electricity is readily available.
Colorado Springs studied that option. It has reservoirs in the mountains above the city. It found the regulatory landscape too risky.
The most proven, least risky, technology is lithium-ion batteries that have four-hour capacity and flow batteries with six hours capacity. They can meet the peak demand of those hot, windless summer evenings after the sun has started lessening in intensity.
FromThe New York Times (Hiroko Tabuchi and Brad Plumer):
They are among the nation’s most significant infrastructure projects: More than 9,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in the United States are currently being built or expanded, and another 12,500 miles have been approved or announced — together, almost enough to circle the Earth.
Now, however, pipeline projects like these are being challenged as never before as protests spread, economics shift, environmentalists mount increasingly sophisticated legal attacks and more states seek to reduce their use of fossil fuels to address climate change.
On Monday, a federal judge ruled that the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil route from North Dakota to Illinois that has triggered intense protests from Native American groups, must shut down pending a new environmental review. That same day, the Supreme Court rejected a request by the Trump administration to allow construction of the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would carry crude from Canada to Nebraska and has faced challenges by environmentalists for nearly a decade.
The day before, two of the nation’s largest utilities announced they had canceled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have transported natural gas across the Appalachian Trail and into Virginia and North Carolina, after environmental lawsuits and delays had increased the estimated price tag of the project to $8 billion from $5 billion. And earlier this year, New York State, which is aiming to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, blocked two different proposed natural gas lines into the state by withholding water permits.
The roughly 3,000 miles of affected pipelines represent just a fraction of the planned build-out nationwide. Still, the setbacks underscore the increasing obstacles that pipeline construction faces, particularly in regions like the Northeast where local governments have pushed for a quicker transition to renewable energy. Many of the biggest remaining pipeline projects are in fossil-fuel-friendly states along the Gulf Coast, and even a few there — like the Permian Highway Pipeline in Texas — are now facing backlash.
“You cannot build anything big in energy infrastructure in the United States outside of specific areas like Texas and Louisiana, and you’re not even safe in those jurisdictions,” said Brandon Barnes, a senior litigation analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence…
In recent years…environmental groups have grown increasingly sophisticated at mounting legal challenges to the federal and state permits that these pipelines need for approval, raising objections over a wide variety of issues, such as the pipelines’ effects on waterways or on the endangered species that live in their path…
Strong grass roots coalitions, including many Indigenous groups, that understand both the legal landscape and the intricacies of the pipeline projects have led the pushback. And the Trump administration has moved some of the projects forward on shaky legal ground, making challenging them slightly easier, said Jared M. Margolis, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.
For the Dakota and Keystone XL pipelines in particular, Mr. Margolis said, the federal government approved projects and permits without the complete analyses required under environmental laws. “The lack of compliance from this administration is just so stark, and the violations so clear cut, that courts have no choice but to rule in favor of opponents,” he said…
Between 2009 and 2018, the average amount of time it took for a gas pipeline crossing interstate lines to receive federal approval to begin construction went up sharply, from around 386 days at the beginning of the period to 587 days toward the end. And lengthy delays, Mr. Barnes said, can add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of such projects…
A slump in American exports of liquefied natural gas — natural gas cooled to a liquid state for easier transport — has also weighed heavily on pipeline projects. L.N.G. exports from the United States had boomed in recent years, more than doubling in 2019 and fast making the country the third largest exporter of the fuel in the world, trailing only Qatar and Australia. But the coronavirus health crisis and collapse in demand has cut L.N.G. exports by as much as half, according to data by IHS Markit, a data firm.
Erin M. Blanton, who leads natural gas research at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said the slump would have a long-term effect on investment in export infrastructure. The trade war with China, one of the largest growth markets for L.N.G. exports, has also sapped demand, she said…
Last year in Virginia, a coalition of technology companies including Microsoft and Apple wrote a letter to Dominion, one of the utilities backing the Atlantic Coast pipeline, questioning its plans to build new natural gas power plants in the state, arguing that sources like solar power and battery storage were becoming a viable alternative as their prices fell. And earlier this year, Virginia’s legislature passed a law requiring Dominion to significantly expand its investments in renewable energy.
“As states are pushing to get greener, they’re starting to question whether they really need all this pipeline infrastructure,” said Christine Tezak, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners…
Climate will also play a larger role in future legal challenges, environmental groups said. “The era of multibillion dollar investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is over,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney at the environmental group Earthjustice. “Again and again, we see these projects failing to pass muster legally and economically in light of local opposition.”
Delta-Montrose Electric splits the sheets with Tri-State G&T. Will others follow?
At the stroke of midnight [July 1, 2020], Colorado’s Delta-Montrose Electric Association officially became independent of Tri-State Generation and Transmission.
The electrical cooperative in west-central Colorado is at least $26 million poorer. That was the cost of getting out of its all-requirements for wholesale supplies from Tri-State 20 years early. But Delta-Montrose expects to be richer in coming years as local resources, particularly photovoltaic solar, get developed with the assistance of the new wholesale provider Guzman Energy.
The separation was amicable, the parting announced in a joint press release. But the relationship had grown acrimonious after Delta-Montrose asked Tri-State for an exit fee in early 2017.
Tri-State had asked for $322 million, according to Virginia Harmon, chief operating officer for Delta-Montrose. This figure had not been divulged previously.
The two sides reached a settlement in July 2019 and in April 2020 revealed the terms: Guzman will pay Tri-State $72 million for the right to take over the contract, and Delta-Montrose itself will pay $26 million to Tri-State for transmission assets. In addition, Delta-Montrose forewent $48 million in capital credits.
Under its contract with Guzman, Delta-Montrose has the ability to generate or buy 20% of its own electricity separate from Guzman. In addition, the contract specifies that Guzman will help Delta-Montrose develop 10 megawatts of generation. While much of that can be expected to be photovoltaic, Harmon says all forms of local generation remain on the table: additional small hydro, geothermal, and coal-mine methane. One active coal mine in the co-operative’s service territory near Paonia continues operation.
The dispute began in 2005 when Tri-State asked member cooperatives to extend their contracts from 2040 to 2050 in order for Tri-State to build a coal plant in Kansas. Delta-Montrose refused.
Friction continued as Delta-Montrose set out to develop hydropower on the South Canal, an idea that had been on the table since 1909, when President William Howard Taft arrived to help dedicate the project. Delta-Montrose succeeded but then bumped up against the 5% cap on self-generation that was part of the contract.
This is the second cooperative to leave Tri-State in recent years, but two more are banging on the door to get out. First out was Kit Carson Electrical Cooperative of Taos, N.M. It left in 2016 after Guzman paid the $37 million exit fee. There is general agreement that the Kit Carson exit and that of Delta-Montrose cannot be compared directly, Gala to Gala, or even Honeycrisp to Granny Smith.
Yet direct comparisons were part of the nearly week-long session before a Colorado Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge in May. Two Colorado cooperatives have asked Tri-State what it will cost to break their contracts, which continue until 2050. Brighton-based United Power, with 93,000 customers, is the largest single member of Tri-State and Durango-based La Plata the third largest. Together, the two dissident cooperatives are responsible for 20% of Tri-States total sales.
The co-operatives say they expect a recommendation from the administrative law judge who heard the case at the PUC. The PUC commissioners will then take up the recommendation.
In April, Tri-State members approved a new methodology for determining member exit fees. But United Power said the methodology would make it financially impossible to leave and, if applied to all remaining members, would produce a windfall of several billion dollars for Tri-State. In a lawsuit filed in Adams County District Court, United claims Tri-State crossed the legal line to “imprison” it in a contract to 250.
Tri-State also applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a bid to have that body in Washington D.C. determine exit fees. FERC recently accepted the contract termination payment filing—rejecting arguments that it did not have jurisdiction. Jessica Matlock, general manager of La Plata Electric, said the way FERC accepted the filing does not preclude the case in Colorado from going forward.
Fitch, a credit-rating company, cited the ongoing dispute with two of Tri-State’s largest members among many other factors in downgrading the debate to A-. It previously was A. Fitch also downgraded Tri-State’s $500 million commercial paper program, of which $140 million is currently outstanding, to F1 from F1+.
“The rating downgrades reflect challenging transitions in Tri-State’s operating profile and the related impact on its financial profile,” Fitch said in its report on Friday. It described Tri-State as “stable.”
Closing coal plant is an easy decision. But Colorado Springs also decided against buying a shiny new natural gas plant
Colorado Springs will close down both of its coal-fired power plants within the next decade. That’s not surprising. It’s becoming easier to count the number of coal plants still scheduled to remain standing in 2030 as compared those that will be retired.
The surprise is how quickly the tide has shifted.
Tom Strand, a city councilman, recalled that he was on the utility’s board of directors in 2015-16. Evaluating the Martin Drake plant, which sits near the city’s center, he said, a majority of directors would commit to a statement closing Drake by 2035. He hoped for a closing by the late 2020s.
Instead, the city close by the plant 2023 and the city’s second coal unit, the Ray Nixon plant, no later than 2030.
More noteworthy is the limited role of natural gas that Colorado Springs sees going forward. Six 30-megawatt natural-gas generators will be installed at the site of the Drake plant to take advantage of existing transmission during the next decade.
But the approved plan – unlike the primary alternative—sees no need a new combined cycle natural gas plant. Colorado Springs has one, and this plan sees it as sufficient.
The approach approved by the council on a 7-to-2 vote leaves the city nimble, able to seize opportunities in the rapidly shifting energy landscape—a key point of Aram Benyamin, the chief executive of the city utility since November 2018. The two dissenting members expressed reservations about the city’s ability to ensure reliable power without the additional natural gas generation.
The plan gets Colorado Springs Utilities to 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, in accordance with a state law adopted in 2019, and to 90% by 2050.
Additional modeling and study during the next few years will continue to reveal how new technology and shifted economics may alter what is possible, said Amy Trinidad, public affairs lead at Colorado Springs Utilities.
Colorado Springs will add 500 megawatts of new wind generation plus solar and also 400 megawatts of battery storage. That compares with the 275 megawatts of large-scale battery storage planned by Xcel Energy as it dismantles two of its three coal-burning units at Pueblo as part of its Colorado Energy Plan.
This decision puts Colorado Springs, which drifts hard right politically, in lockstep with Colorado’s most left-leaning neighborhoods. There was nary a mention of climate change by the elected officials, although plenty of talk about environmental quality.
“It strengthens our brand as one of the most desirable places to live and continue to build a city that matches our scenery,” said Mayor John Suthers in a statement.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis nodded at climate change in his statement.
“Colorado continues to set an example for the rest of our country when it comes to renewable energy and climate action, and this announcement comes in the wake of numerous electric utilities across the state committing to a transition to clean energy,” he said. “The pathway toward achieving our goals of protecting our environment and our communities is driven by a bold, swift transition to renewable energy.”
Polis ran for governor in 2018 on a platform of achieving 100% renewable energy in electrical production by 2040.
The shift in the last decade can still astonish. Several city council members, in explaining their positions, referenced a decision made by Colorado Springs in 2011 to retrofit the Drake plant with scrubbers to reduce nitrous oxide and other air pollutants. The eventual cost was $2o2 million.
Some said they were OK with the decision given the context. “Neumann scrubbers for Drake was the right decision at that time,” said Council member David Geislinger. Today, though, the city needs flexibility, he added.
The worry is that natural gas investments now will be stranded by new technologies and economics by the 2030s. “We made that mistake with the Neumann scrubbers,” said Council President Richard Skorman. Council member Yolanda Avila suggested investing “millions and millions of dollars” in a natural gas plant would be unfair to future generations. “It’s not about us. It’s about the babies that are being born and what we’re giving them.”
Natural gas was often touted as a bridge fuel. Several years ago, at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association summer meeting, a speaker who apparently didn’t get the memo about carbon emissions got lathered up and said heck, why does it have to be a bridge fuel? Let it be the fuel of the future.
The vote by the Colorado Springs City Council was a triumph for environmental groups, including 350.org and the Sierra Club. That latter several weeks ago began sending out e-mail blasts to its 1,200 members in its Pikes Peak Chapter urging support for the eventually triumphant portfolio.
Economic groups also supported the less-gas approach, among them the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC. In a message to members, it emphasized “resiliency, reliability, cost, and environmental stewardship.”
Still, Lindsay Facknitz said she found the vote to be a “little bit of a nail-biter.” She’s a member of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign who began attending the monthly planning meetings of the utility in January 2019.
An advisory council composed in part of former utility members favored a major new gas plant to replace the generation from the Nixon plant. This, she suggested, was the thinking of the previous administration at the utility.
In addition to the two plants being retired by Colorado Springs, Tri-State Generation and Transmission in January announced two of its three coal units at Craig will be retired by 2030. One was previously scheduled to shutter by 2025. Platte River Power Authority also announced definitive plans to close its Rawhide plant by 2030.
In previous years, Xcel announced plans to close Comanche 1 and 2 units at Pueblo in 2023 and 2025.
The only units currently scheduled to remain in operation in Colorado beyond 2030 are Pawnee at Brush, the two units at Hayden, and Comanche 3, all of them either fully or primarily owned by Xcel Energy.
That’s ironic, points out the Sierra Club’s Anna McDevitt, senior campaign representative for the Beyond Coal campaign in Colorado and New Mexico, given that Xcel Energy in 2018 drew national attention when it announced it intended to reduce carbon emissions by 80% compared to 2005 levels by 2030 and 101% by mid-century.
Xcel will share its plans in Colorado next spring when it files its electric resource plan with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
“The Drake decision is unbelievably historic,” Colorado Springs Utilities board member Richard Skorman said. “…This is a time for huge celebration.”
The Colorado Springs Utilities Board, which is also Colorado Springs City Council, supported closing the coal-fired generators at the downtown Drake Power Plant 12 years earlier than previously planned because it is no longer economical to operate them…
Utilities plans to replace the coal-fired power at Drake with natural gas generators that will be set up on the power plant site temporarily. Employees working at Drake will be moved into other positions and no layoffs are expected, CEO Aram Benyamin said…
The Utilities Board looked at two plans Friday for future energy. Both set the closure of Drake at 2023; achieve 80% carbon reduction by 2030, as called for under new state rules; and set a course for 90% renewable energy generation by 2050.
The two plans differed in what energy sources will be used to replace the coal-fired generation at Ray Nixon Power Plant near Fountain by 2030, with one relying more heavily on natural gas and the other relying more on renewable energy. The board voted 7 to 2 to back the latter plan, which proposes wind turbines and battery storage.
Board members who backed the greater focus on renewable energy said it provides more flexibility and in the long-term avoids some of the risk associated with the cost of natural gas going up. In the short term, the renewable-energy focused plan is also expected to be slightly cheaper, board members said…
The chosen plan envisions the utility relying much more heavily on wind turbines and large-scale battery storage to help meet the city’s needs…
If battery storage does not develop as expected ,the utility could fall back on natural gas generation, Benyamin said. But the utility needs to be ready to implement the battery storage if it advances as expected, he said. Battery storage is key because it allows excess energy from solar and wind generation to be stored until it’s needed, he said.
Most of the residents who spoke to the board Friday backed greater renewable energy generation, citing the health and climate benefits of moving away from fossil fuels.
“It makes sense to set our sights high and set our sights on technological innovation,” resident Benedict Wright said…
Colorado Springs Utilities is planning to add 180 megawatts of natural gas generation produced by six modular units to the Drake power plant site where they will replace the coal-fired generation, Benyamin said. The units can be maintained by four people, instead of the 80 needed to run the coal-fired generation, thus cutting costs, he said.
The natural gas generators need to be located at the Drake site because the electrical transmission system is set up to carry large amounts of energy from that site out to the city, he said. When the transmission system is upgraded, the new generators will be moved to another site, which could be announced in the next month.
Utilities plans to dismantle Drake completely between 2024 and 2025, if not sooner, Benyamin said. The future appropriate uses of the site are yet to be determined, he said.
“Almost anything would be better than a coal power plant,” Utilities board Chairwoman Jill Gaebler said.
The Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mine Safety (DRMS) issued a cessation order to Mountain Coal Company, a subsidiary of Missouri-based Arch Coal and operator of the West Elk Mine in the North Fork Valley near Paonia, to prevent further road construction or tree removal within the protected Sunset Colorado Roadless Area (CRA). The 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule, one of two state rules adopted by the U.S. Forest Service in lieu of the 2001 federal roadless rule, limits road-building and other activities within undeveloped roadless areas.
The cessation order was issued following the construction of a new road in the Sunset CRA by Mountain Coal Company earlier this month. Mining activities have been allowed in the Sunset CRA in the past as a result of the “North Fork Exception” to the Colorado Roadless Rule.
However, in March, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Forest Service had not followed procedures required by the National Environmental Protection Act when it reinstated the exception in a 2016 land use plan, and ordered the exception be vacated by the District Court of Colorado. On Monday, the District Court issued an order formally vacating the North Fork Exception.
With the North Fork exception to the Colorado Roadless Rule vacated this week, the company must comply with the provisions of the Colorado Roadless Rule which precludes road building, other construction, and most surface disturbance. As a result, DRMS issued an order for the company to cease road building and other associated activities in the Sunset CRA. DRMS’ order does not prohibit the company from continuing its current operations below the surface at the mine.
Platte River Power Authority seeking to define pathway to 100% non-carbon energy
The Platte River Power Authority plans to cease production of electricity from its 280-megawatt Rawhide power plant north of Fort Collins by 2030, 16 years before its original retirement date.
The utility delivers electricity to Fort Collins and also three other owner communities: Loveland, Longmont, and Estes Park.
The decision to set the retirement resulted from a confluence of several factors. One of them, a new survey of customers this spring in the four towns and cities, once again affirmed broad support for non-carbon energy resources. The survey found 63% of residential customers viewed the non-carbon resources as somewhat or very important.
Platte River also has an 18% interest in two coal-burning units at Craig Generating Station. Unit one is scheduled to end production in 2025 and unit 2 no later than 2030.
The stage for today’s announcement was set in December 2018 when Platte River directors adopted a policy calling for 100% non-carbon energy mix by 2030. The resource diversification policy identified nine advancements that must occur in the “near term” to achieve that 2030 goal. They include active participation by Platte River in an organized regional market; matured battery storage performance and declined costs; and increased investment in transmission and distribution infrastructure.
Platte River is among most Colorado utilities who will be joining energy imbalance markets in the next two years. There is common agreement, however, that deep decarbonization such as planned by Platte River and other Colorado utilities will require participation in a robust regional transmission organization, or RTO, such as operate in other parts of the country.
Xcel Energy in December 2018 gained national attention when it announced its intentions to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. It operates in six states and supplies more than 60% of energy consumed in Colorado. Xcel said it planned to achieve emission-free electricity by 2050, but like Platte River, said technology must continue to evolve for it to achieve that goal.
Holy Cross Energy, the co-operative serving Vail and Aspen, has shown innovation that has attracted national attention, but nonetheless has committed only to a 70% carbon-free goal called Seventy70Thirty. It could, however, achieve that in 2021.
Several coal plants in Colorado have already been retired, and many more large units will be retired in the next decade. Only the plants at Hayden and Brush and Comanche 3 at Pueblo are currently scheduled to remain in operation. Xcel is the sole or majority owner of the three plants.
Spread of covid-19 interrupted Platte River’s integrated resource planning process, which had been scheduled to include public meetings. But managers of the utility decided it was best to announce the retirement to support state regulatory timelines. Colorado last year adopted a law that identified a target of 80% emissions reduction from the electrical sector by 2030 and 50% more broadly in the state’s economy.
“Although circumstances associated with the coronavirus prevent us from making this announcement in alignment with our current IRP process, we need to continue moving forward to reach our Resource Diversification Policy’s 100% noncarbon goal,” said Jason Frisbie, chief executive of Platte River.
“Rawhide Unit 1 has served us extremely well for the past 36 years,” said Wade Troxell, Platte River Board chair and Fort Collins mayor, “but the time has come for us to move toward a cleaner future with grid modernization and integration while maintaining our core pillars of providing reliable, financially sustainable and environmentally responsible energy and services.”
Platte River Power projects that 55% of electricity will come from coal this year, supplemented by 19% from hydropower, 17% from wind, 3% from solar. Another 1% comes from natural gas; and 5% comes from purchased power, which could include fossil fuels.
Construction to build Rawhide Unit 1 began in 1979 and commercial operations started in 1984 and has performed with exceptional reliability, capacity and environmental performance. It had been scheduled to retire in 2046.
“Unit 1 has outperformed nearly every other coal plant of its type in the nation and that is a testament not only to its design but also to the people who run it,” noted Frisbie, who began his career at the Rawhide Energy Station and became its plant manager before being promoted to chief operating officer, then general manager and CEO of Platte River.
In addition to Unit 1, the 4,560-acre Rawhide Energy Station also hosts five natural gas combustion turbines and a 30 MW solar farm, along with another 22 MW of solar power (with battery storage) currently under construction. Energy from the 225 MW Roundhouse wind farm located in southern Wyoming will be delivered to the Rawhide Energy Station and then to the owner communities.
Frisbie said plans will be developed to smoothly transition 100 workers to new roles at the other generation resources at Rawhide after the coal-plant closure. Following its retirement, Unit 1 will undergo a lengthy decommissioning process.
Coal for Rawhide comes from the Antelope Mine near Gillette, Wyo.
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at email@example.com or 303.463.8630.
Experts have recommended how the United States can drastically curb the use of throwaway plastics with new federal legislation.
According to legal analysts who advised Congress at a briefing in January, the United States could reduce its contribution to the global plastic pollution crisis by implementing sweeping federal policies that restrict plastic use and hold manufacturers accountable for responsibly handling waste.
The expert group, composed of members from Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic at UCLA and ocean conservation organization Surfrider Foundation, specifically recommended that Congress craft federal legislation banning single-use plastic products such as bags, straws and expanded polystyrene foam food containers. They also called for establishing “extended producer responsibility” schemes, which hold plastic manufacturers responsible for the waste they create.
Their recommendations, along with a new report, drew on research into existing legislation targeting plastic pollution in the United States and across the world. The experts found that the key to reducing plastic pollution is curbing consumption. The report and its presentation resulted from a semester-long project by UCLA students Charoula Melliou and Divya Rao, in collaboration UCLA attorney Julia E. Stein, Surfrider’s legal expert Angela Howe and plastic bag legal expert Jennie Romer…
There are currently no federal laws restricting single-use plastics, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good examples that could serve as useful templates.
According to Stein, Congress could shape federal policy by following existing local and state laws that have already been crafted to tackle plastic problems with bans on all types of single-use plastic items, from bags to expanded polystyrene foam food containers to straws. California made headlines in February after lawmakers proposed a phaseout of all plastic products that aren’t completely recyclable.
Such laws are grounded in scientific evidence that plastics are problematic because they don’t break down in the natural environment and pose a danger to wildlife and probably people.
There’s a precedent for using state and local laws to help craft national legislation: microbeads. After several states and municipalities banned the sale and manufacture of health and beauty products containing these ecologically damaging exfoliating plastic beads, the United States passed a federal act doing the same.
Most experts agree banning single-use plastic products is a more useful strategy for reducing plastic use and pollution than recycling, which is much less effective. A ban also tackles the issue at the source, helping to curb greenhouse gases coming from the rapidly expanding petrochemical industry that uses fossil fuels to produce plastic.
Commonly Used Plastics
With plastic so ubiquitous, where to start? Experts say that banning just the most commonly used and littered items could cut pollution significantly.
That puts single-use plastic bags front and center…
Besides banning common problematic single-use plastic products, the expert group also recommends Congress pass legislation that would hold corporations accountable for handling plastic waste at the end of its life.
Extended producer responsibility regulations require manufacturers of plastic products to take their items back for reuse, recycling or disposal to increase recycling rates and prevent plastic waste from entering landfills and the natural environment. Container-deposit legislation is one example of such a program that’s widespread — though not ubiquitous — around the United States.
Telesetsky says these schemes may be useful when designed to manage long-lasting plastic products, but they’re trickier to implement and incentivize when plastic packaging is involved. “The problem with applying extended producer responsibility principles to existing single-use plastic is that there is simply no market for all of the reprocessed cheap packaging plastics that are being generated,” says Telesetsky. “Cheap plastics have a finite usable life before they are inevitably landfilled or burned.”
Telesetsky praises the new briefing because it raises awareness of a critical problem. But unlike the briefing group, she proposes banning single-use plastic products outright, on a global scale, in addition to incentivizing innovation in creating new biodegradable products and packaging, which she argues would stop plastic pollution more closely to its source. And it would address the issue on what she sees as a more radical and international — and thus more impactful — scale.
Yet Stein emphasizes that while her briefing has a national focus specifically tailored to U.S. Congress, the wider view is international.
“We support international efforts to address plastic pollution, but the United States also needs to take responsibility at home for its own contribution to the problem.”
Will Congress take up that challenge?
Stein says she and other members from the UCLA-Surfrider group who traveled to Washington, D.C. in January held several legislative briefings for Congressional members and staff, including those involved with last year’s 2018 Save Our Seas Act.
The act provides some funding for federal marine cleanup and waste-prevention efforts through NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. Already, two of the bill’s cosponsors, Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), have begun working on a revamped “2.0 version.”
“Overall, we felt the reception was positive — plastic pollution is a topic that is on the minds of the American public and the congresspersons who represent them,” Stein says. “We’re hopeful that Save Our Seas 2.0 legislation in the Senate may provide a chance to think about comprehensive federal strategies to reduce plastic pollution.”
FromThe Denver Post (Judith Kohler) via The Broomfield Enterprise:
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved the rules Wednesday as part of ongoing revisions to oil and gas regulations mandated by Senate Bill 181, approved by the legislature in 2019.
The regulations deal with the well bore, or the hole that’s drilled to access oil or gas as well as the pipes and casings installed to inject fluids to make fractures in rocks and sand and bring up the oil and gas. The casings and cement that are part of the construction are also meant to ensure that no fracking fluids, oil or gas escape and flow into groundwater.
Heading into the hearing, there was general agreement among the parties on the proposed changes. Since the COGCC and the state Air Quality Control Commission began writing new rules, oil and gas industry representatives, community and environmental groups have clashed with each other and with agency staffers in hearings and meetings over how far the regulations should go.
But Julie Murphy, COGCC deputy director, said the agency was able to consider new rules on well bores earlier than expected thanks to a broad consensus among the various parties. She said the “top-line” change is the new requirement that the pressure in all wells across the state be tested annually to ensure that the casings and cement are still in good shape.
The annual testing and regular monitoring approved put Colorado at the head of the pack among oil- and gas-producing states, said Adam Peltz, an attorney with Environmental Defense Fund who has reviewed and worked on similar regulations across the country. He noted that the COGCC has tried to incorporate as many recommendations as possible from a 136-point list put together by a multi-state body of regulators and policy makers.
Another important change is a more precautionary approach to making sure that groundwater no matter, how far down it is located, is protected by isolating the oil, gas and fracking fluids with casings and cement, Murphy said…
The new rule is consistent with Colorado state groundwater standards, Freeman said. The COGCC staff added language saying that groundwater with less than 10,000 parts per million total dissolved solids in it must be protected, Freeman said.
The standard addresses the amount of salt in the water is and is the same one in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and used by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, Freeman said.
Water with 3,000-10,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids is often called “brackish,” or saltier than fresh water, but it can be treated to use for drinking.
We will intervene, again, in the FERC preliminary permit process, but you can help too.
As we wrote in October, a Phoenix-based developer has proposed to build a pumped hydropower facility on and above the Little Colorado River in Arizona, one of the major tributaries to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Because this is an energy-related project, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the federal agency that would permit the project. The developer, Pumped Hydro Storage, LLC, actually applied for preliminary permits for two complete projects within the canyon, holding their place in line for two possible locations in the same area.
In November, we filed our comments with FERC, opposing the projects on a number of grounds. First and foremost, the idea of building new dams, reservoirs, and other related infrastructure (imagine the pipes, wires, roads, and other structures needed for such a facility) on such a major tributary of the Colorado River would be a destructive, resource intensive, and in all likelihood, impossible, endeavor. Secondly, the facilities would be situated firmly within the Navajo Nation, on Navajo land – yet the Navajo were barely even consulted on the project prior to the permit applications being submitted to FERC, and have since come out strongly against the projects being built on their lands, and very close to one of the most significant cultural sites to the Hopi as well. Lastly, the Little Colorado River is home to a major humpback chub recovery project, a fish on the brink of being down-listed from Endangered to Threatened due to the success of the program.
Including from American Rivers, the proposal generated a wide body of opposition from sources who don’t often speak out against projects like this, such as the Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Interior, multiple Tribal Nations and the two local Navajo Chapters in the area, multiple conservation groups, and even Arizona’s Department of Game and Fish. Basically, nobody outside of the developer feels that these projects are warranted, or even a very good idea, let alone feasible.
Now, Pumped Hydro Storage has applied for a new project with FERC (Permit 15024-000), which would be located not within the Little Colorado River, but in Big Canyon, a tributary to the Little Colorado about 23 miles west of Tuba City, Arizona. Unlike the original proposal, in this new one Pumped Hydro Storage is proposing to extract groundwater, bring it to the surface where it would rest in three different surface reservoirs, and build a fourth, lower reservoir and a variety of pipes and penstocks and other infrastructure to generate electricity. Here is how it is described in the permit application:
The proposed project would be located entirely on Navajo Nation land and consist of the following new facilities:
A 450-foot-long, 200-foot-high concrete arch dam (Upper West Dam)
A 1,000-foot-long, 150-foot-high earth filled dam (Middle Dam)
A 10,000-foot-long, 200-foot-high concrete arch dam (Upper East Dam)
each of which would impound three separate upper reservoirs with a combined surface area of 400 acres and a total storage capacity of 29,000 acre-feet of water
A 600-foot-long, 400-foot-high concrete arch dam (Lower Dam) that would impound a lower reservoir with a surface area of 260 acres and a total storage capacity of 44,000 acre-feet of water
Three 10,000-foot-long, 30-foot-diameter reinforced concrete penstocks;
An 1,100-foot-long, 160-foot-wide, 140-foot-high reinforced concrete powerhouse housing nine 400-kilowatt pump-turbine generators
And a whole lot more associated infrastructure, including a new 15-mile paved road, powerlines, a 30-ft diameter tunnel, and more.
Finally, an additional twist, as reported in a recent Associated Press article, the developer concedes that there was overwhelming opposition to his original proposal, and that he would consider pulling the proposals in the Little Colorado River if this Big Canyon proposal were allowed to move forward. From the article:
The article then goes on to say:
Many of the reasons that Pumped Hydro Storage, LLC’s initial proposal shouldn’t move forward apply to this new proposal as well; namely that the project would be built on Navajo Nation lands, and neither the local Chapter, nor the Navajo Nation government, have given their permission to construct the project on their lands. Second, the idea of pumping significant volumes of groundwater from one of the most arid regions of the country to profit from cheap electricity is misguided, at best. And just like the first round of proposals, destruction of significant Hopi holy sites, as well as threatening critical humpback chub and other fish habitat, through the massive extraction of local groundwater, is simply not acceptable.
In addition to how environmentally destructive and wasteful these projects are, this proposal is especially tone-deaf and exploitive at this moment in our history. The Navajo Nation is grappling with some of the highest number of cases, and deaths per capita, from the novel Coronavirus pandemic. One of the reasons why the outbreak has impacted the Navajo so heavily is the lack of readily available clean water. In fact, in the western Navajo Nation, the lack of basic infrastructure to deliver water to people’s homes is sorely lacking, and most of the people in that area have to haul water themselves many miles to have any at all. The idea of building expansive infrastructure to extract scarce groundwater for a hydropower project that extracts the resource and the capital from it, when people around the project who lack that access to that very resource are working hard to defend their communities against a deadly virus, could not be more misguided.
It is important to understand that a preliminary permit only allows the developer to hold a location for a potential future proposal. It is not a license application. In fact, a preliminary permit is not even required to submit a license application or receive a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) hydropower license. To learn more about hydropower licensing, visit the Hydropower Reform Coalition’s website.
We will intervene, again, in the FERC preliminary permit process, but you too can help by taking action here.
Havasupai Vice Chairman Matthew Putesoy is worried that a federal court decision regarding a uranium mine could lead to environmental catastrophe for his community and surrounding lands.
A U.S. District Court judge ruled May 22 against the tribe and two environmental groups in a seven-year-old lawsuit that sought to close the Canyon Mine, a uranium mine located about 10 miles south of the Grand Canyon’s south rim.
Putesoy said the tribe is not prepared to abandon its fight.
“From Havasu Baaja’s point of view,” he said, using the traditional name of his people, “the Guardians of the Grand Canyon will continue to battle the mining companies and someway, somehow, stop the mine from happening. Once the water is gone there’s no replacing it.”
The Canyon Mine lies within 1 million acres of federal lands surrounding the Grand Canyon that was withdrawn from any new mining for 20 years by the Interior Department in 2012.
The ban’s intent was to allow the U.S. Geological Survey to study the effects of such mines in the area to determine if environmental damage was likely to occur. The U.S. Forest Service determined that Canyon Mine, owned by Canadian firm Energy Fuels, could still operate because it could show a profit, as theMining Law of 1872 requires for a valid claim to be honored.
Disturbing reports that Republicans plan to sow fears of climate change solution
Merchants of fear have already been at work, preparing to lather up the masses later this year with disturbing images of hardship and misery. The strategy is to equate job losses with clean air and skies, to link in the public mind the pandemic with strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s as dishonest as the days of May are long.
“This is what a carbon-constrained world looks like,” Michael McKenna, a deputy assistant to Trump on energy and environment issues, told The New York Times.
“If You Like the Pandemic Lockdown, You’re Going to Love the Green New Deal,” warned the Washington Examiner. “Thanks to the pandemic lockdown of society, the public is in a position to judge what the ‘Green New Deal’ revolution would look like,” said the newspaper in an April editorial. “It’s like redoing this global pandemic and economic slump every year.”
What a jarring contrast with what I heard during a webinar conducted in Colorado during early May. Electrical utility executives were asked about what it will take to get to 100% emissions-free generation.
It’s no longer an idle question along the lines of how many angels can dance on a pinhead. The coal plants are rapidly closing down because they’re just too darned expensive to operate. Renewables consistently come in at lower prices. Engineers have figured out how to deal with the intermittency of solar and wind. Utilities believe they can get to 70% and even 80%, perhaps beyond.
Granted, only a few people profess to know how to achieve 100% renewables—yet. Cheap, long-lasting storage has yet to be figured out. Electrical transmission needs to be improved in some areas. Here in the West, the still-Balkanized electrical markets need to be stitched together so that electrons can be moved across states to better match supplies with demands.
This won’t cost body appendages, either. The chief executives predict flat or even declining rates.
Let’s get that straight. Reducing emissions won’t cost more. It might well cost less.
That’s Colorado, sitting on the seam between steady winds of the Great Plains and the sunshine-swathed Southwest. Not every state is so blessed. But the innovators, the engineers, and others, are figuring out things rapidly.
Remember what was said just 15 years ago? You couldn’t run a civilization on windmills! Renewables cost too much. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. You had to burn coal or at least natural gas to keep the lights on and avoid economic collapse. Most preposterous were the ambitions to churn vast mountains to extract kerogen, the vital component of oil shale. This was given serious attention as recently as 2008.
The economics have rapidly turned upside down, and the technology just keeps getting better along with the efficiency of markets.
As detailed in Big Pivots issue No. 10, Colorado utilities are now seriously talking about what it will take to get to 100% emission-free energy. Most of that pathway is defined by lower or at least flattened costs.
Now that same spirit of ingenuity has been turned to redirecting transportation and, more challenging yet, buildings. It will likely be decades before we retrofit our automotive fleet to avoid the carbon emissions and other associated pollution that has made many of our cities borderline unhealthy places to live. Buildings will take longer yet. Few among us trade in our houses every 10 to 15 years.
It’s true that we need to be smarter about our energy. And we are decades away from having answers to the heavy carbon footprint of travel by aircraft.
But run with fright from the challenge? That’s the incipient message I’m hearing from the Republican strategists. These messages are from old and now discredited playbooks of fear. People accuse climate activists of constantly beating the drum of fear, and that’s at least partly accurate. But there’s also a drive to find solutions.
Too bad the contemporary Republican Party dwells in that deep well of fear instead of trying to be a beacon of solutions.
Do you have an opinion you wish to share? Shorter is better, and Colorado is the center of the world but not where the world ends. Write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
FromThe Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Broomfield Enterprise:
Company officials say tests show contaminants did not exceed state standards for surface water
Contaminated water has been seeping into Sand Creek just up from where it meets the South Platte River near the Suncor Energy oil refinery north of Denver, and company officials on Wednesday said they were monitoring conditions and “will make any necessary repairs” to a spill containment pool behind sandbags where crews were pumping out water.
A sheen of benzene and other chemicals was detected on the surface of Sand Creek on May 7 and again on May 15, company officials said.
Sunday’s heavy rains raised water levels along the creek, leading to a breach of the containment area.
Suncor contractors have drawn water samples from Sand Creek and the South Platte, and tested these for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and methyl tertiary butyl ether, company officials said. The results showed concentrations did not exceed state standards for surface water in those waterways, officials said.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials did not respond to queries about conditions at the refinery. It is located just north of Denver in Commerce City, along the creek and the Sand Creek Greenway public bicycle path, near where the creek flows into the South Platte.
“Who is watching this?” Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio said. “I’m concerned about the problems that continue to occur.”
Here’s the release from Phil Weiser’s office (Lawrence Pacheco):
Attorney General Phil Weiser today joined a multistate coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s final rule rolling back the national clean car standards.
“The administration’s illegal rollback rejects sound science, ignores environmental harms caused by carbon pollution, and will cost consumers more at the pump. Colorado is joining this lawsuit challenging the administration’s illegal action in order to defend our state’s fuel emission standards that are stronger than the national standards,” Weiser said. “By making more zero-emission vehicles available to Coloradans, we can address climate change and protect our air quality.”
In 2010, the EPA, states and automakers established a unified national program harmonizing improvements in fuel economy and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from passenger cars and light trucks and then applied those standards to vehicle model years 2017-2025. The administration took its first step toward dismantling the national clean car standards in 2018, alleging that the standards were no longer appropriate or feasible despite the fact that the auto industry was on track to meet them.
On March 31, 2020, the EPA announced its final rule rolling back the clean car standards. The rule takes aim at the corporate average fuel efficiency standards, requiring automakers to make only minimal improvements to fuel economy on the order of 1.5 percent annually instead of the previously anticipated annual increase of 5 percent. The rule also diminishes the requirements to reduce vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions, allowing hundreds of millions of metric tons of avoidable carbon emissions into our atmosphere over the next decade.
In the lawsuit filed today, the coalition argues that the final rule unlawfully violates the Clean Air Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Attorney General Weiser joins the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. The California Air Resources Board and the Cities of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Denver also joined the coalition in filing the lawsuit.
FromThe Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Broomfield Enterprise:
Led by California, the states and major cities — including Denver — have asked federal judges to reverse Trump’s Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicle Rule, which was finalized in March and loosened requirements set under the Obama administration to make cars and light pickup trucks about 5% more efficient each year.
Trump’s rule means vehicles over the next decade would emit hundreds of millions more tons of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Instead of making cars that can cover 54 miles per gallon by 2025, automakers could make cars that cover 40 mpg by 2026.
Federal officials argue this will make new cars more affordable, encouraging more Americans to upgrade to relatively cleaner cars.
This lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, contends the Trump rule violates the Clean Air Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
“We so depend on protecting our land, air and water for our lifestyle,” Weiser said in a conference call Wednesday with attorneys general Xavier Becerra of California and Dana Nessel of Michigan.
“Climate change is not a theoretical, looming challenge. It is there today,” Weiser said, referring to “less natural snowpack than ever before” and a growing burden on future generations to deal with climate change impacts.
He cited a U.S. Supreme Court case that, more than a decade ago, established EPA power to regulate pollution that causes climate change.
“It is the job of the courts to get the EPA on track,” Weiser said.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, in a prepared statement, noted that vehicle emissions are a top contributor to air pollution over the city and are fueling climate change — causing harm to the public’s health and prosperity.
“If these rules are rolled back, the Trump administration will negate the progress that has happened across the country in these areas during a critical point in history,” Hancock said. “We are past due for our country taking more meaningful action, which is why Denver joined this important lawsuit.”
In 2010, EPA officials, state leaders and automakers began working to improve vehicle fuel efficiency and reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases and other pollution from passenger cars and light trucks made after 2017. Automakers have been working to meet these standards. Since 2018, Trump administration officials have been saying the standards are inappropriate and no longer feasible.
Here’s a release about a coalition that has also filed a lawsuit from Environment Colorado (Ellen Montgomery, Hannah Collazo, Mark Morgenstein):
Environment America, an affiliate of Environment Colorado, along with ten other public interest organizations, filed a lawsuit today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit opposing the Trump administration’s action to weaken federal clean car standards. This lawsuit follows litigation that Environment America and the other public interest groups previously filed challenging part one of the action, which attempts to block California and other states from setting stronger tailpipe emissions standards.
The petition challenges a final rule issued jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agencies’ action violates several federal statutes, including the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
“The EPA’s own analysis shows that this will reverse climate progress. The clean car standards should protect our climate, our health and the future of our children and grandchildren,” said Hannah Collazo, State Director with Environment Colorado. “This plan is unacceptable. Not only does it fail to adequately address the climate crisis — it sets us back years when we have no time to lose.”
The previous federal clean car standards would have doubled vehicular fuel economy and would have cut global warming pollution in half for cars sold in 2025. The weakened standards could result in more than 900 million additional metric tons of global warming pollution in our atmosphere.
The other petitioners are the Center for Biological Diversity, Communities for a Better Environment, Consumer Federation of America, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission doesn’t feel a sense of urgency in deciding what will happen to its water rights after 2030, when the plant closes. But it does feel everyone else’s.
“Tri-State and our members are acutely aware of the importance of water to communities,” the company said in a January statement, “as a key element of future economic drivers.”
…Tri-State uses 16,000 acre-feet of water a year…Residents are concerned about it being pumped over to serve the Front Range based on the Western Slopes past water history, and others hope that it’s reserved for local agriculture or even for turning Dinosaur Monument into a national park.
Tri-State had a meeting with those community leaders to start the process of figuring out who may get those water rights and was planning more when the virus hit, meaning things are on hold for now. But that is OK, Stutz said, as he’s reminded officials, repeatedly, that the plant has quite a bit of time to reach a decision.
That’s a decade, if you’re counting, and even after the plant closes, it will need the water to complete reclamation, which should last until early 2030 and maybe longer, Stutz said. That was the tone of the first meeting, said Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck, one of the more heavily involved local officials in Tri-State affairs, as well as one of its biggest supporters…
As with any discussion about water, it’s complicated, as Tri-State’s water rights are junior, meaning others have rights that take priority, and are for industrial purposes and therefore cannot be automatically transferred to another user, Beck said. Tri-State acknowledges that, stating that there’s more than one owner of the station as well as those other water rights to consider.
Federal officials have issued preliminary permits for two hydro-storage proposals on the Little Colorado River. The projects would include four dams and four reservoirs east of Grand Canyon National Park. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval doesn’t allow the Phoenix-based company Pumped Hydro Storage to enter any lands or create ground disturbance. But it does let the company conduct feasibility studies for the combined 4,700-megawatt projects that would include dams up to 240 feet high across the Little Colorado River on the Navajo Nation…
Groups like the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity say it would destroy the Little Colorado’s ecosystem and the habitat of the endangered humpback chub. The U.S. Interior Department has also objected.
The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade announced a total of $7.3 million in Advanced Industries Accelerator grants Thursday to companies and educational institutions around the state, including in Northern Colorado and the Boulder Valley…
Sandbox Solar, Fort Collins — $250,000 — Currently, agriculture and renewable energy compete over the remnants of land space in our urban centers across the U.S. Sandbox Solar is developing a method, service, and technology for the two industries to exist compatibly and enable optimal land use. More distributed solar energy will be able to be deployed in strategic locations that keep agriculture in production. This relationship will increase the overall economics to the farmer and to solar developers…
Why Cycles dba Revel Bikes, Carbondale — $250,000 — Revel Bikes designs and builds the best, and most fun, full-suspension mountain bikes you’ll ever ride, and they do it in the most sustainable way possible. Their bikes, as well as their wheels and other high quality bike products, are created with superior materials for strength and performance, unique engineering for comfort and speed, and cutting edge technology for advancing the industry and diminishing the environmental footprint throughout the process.
A Saturday morning stroll through your local farmers market, is there anything like it? It’s a popular way that many Front Range people decide to spend their weekends, where you get to peruse the abundance and score some of the best food you can buy.
They fill their baskets with organically grown produce, chat with a farmer, walk over to a food truck for a coffee and a pastry and head home with their bounty. These brief interactions allow people to connect with where their food is grown, and put a face to the people who run these farms. But those interactions are threatened, and no, not because of COVID-19.
I am the Board President of the Valley Organic Growers Association (VOGA), representing over 125 farmers, ranchers, vineyard owners and related business operators in the North Fork Valley of western Colorado, many of whom travel to the Front Range to provide food to residents, restaurants, and breweries.
We take pride in being able to grow high-quality food, carefully tended and responsibly grown without additives or chemicals.
We also take pride in providing that food to Coloradans throughout the state. For many of us farmers, the food we grow is an extension of our personalities and represents us and our businesses.
VOGA’s vision is to create a vibrant community of prosperous, local farms that sustain the land and provide healthy agricultural products. To achieve this vision, we are dependent on our public lands.
Earlier this month, the Trump Administration approved a plan that puts the farms in our watershed at serious risk. The Bureau of Land Management’s final plan for the North Fork Valley opens our public lands to oil and gas drilling while removing protections for everything else that matters to us in the North Fork Valley.
For the past 10 years, the Bureau of Land Management has been rewriting a plan to manage the public land in the North Fork Valley. Our area is approximately 40% public land, which includes the headwaters of streams, rivers and ditches that supply irrigation water to our local farms.
VOGA has been participating and commenting on the BLM’s plan every step of the way. We even helped write our own proposal, called the North Fork Alternative, for how public land should be managed in our watershed.
The North Fork Alternative represents a locally grown vision for the North Fork Valley that would keep energy development away from sensitive areas and fosters a diverse, resilient economy. We were glad to see that the BLM included the North Fork Alternative in the planning process in 2016.
In the name of energy dominance, however, the Trump Administration completely dismissed our proposal last week and opened the entirety of our watershed to oil and gas development, without proper restrictions to protect our farms, our food or our livelihoods.
If resource extraction takes off in our watershed, our waterways may become polluted, ruining our region’s model for farm-to-table community agriculture.
Earlier this year, VOGA received a grant to conduct a study on our member’s economic impact within Delta County. For the 167 members of our association, we found the estimated total market value of our farms to be $50-60 million, with estimated annual gross sales to be $4.1 million.
If we want to maintain these numbers and build upon them to support a sustainable, resilient local economy, we need strong protections for our lands, air and water. And that begins with stipulations set forth in the BLM’s plan.
Luckily, Sen. Michael Bennet is on our side. Time and again, his commitment to working with local farmers, ranchers, business owners and conservationists has shined through in the face of this terrible plan.
And now it is no different. Sen. Bennet, thank you for your commitment to protecting the North Fork Valley, and we hope to work with you on a path forward, as farmers and as the local community.
Legislative mandates, plunging costs, but also consumer demand push shift
The rapid shift to renewables has three, and perhaps four powerful guiding forces. First were the legislative mandates to decarbonize electrical supplies. Colorado in 2019 set targets of 50% reduction economy wide by 2030 and 90% by 2040. New Mexico, a second state where Tri-State operates, has comparable goals.
A second and now more powerful driver pushing renewables have been plunging prices.
“It’s no longer just a green movement, it’s an economic movement,” said Duane Highley, chief executive of Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which delivers electricity to 43 member cooperatives in Colorado and three other states.
Tri-State recently signed contracts for 1,000 megawatts of wind and solar energy that will be coming online by 2024 at average price of 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour.
“That’s an amazing price. That’s lower than anything we can generate with fossil fuels. It automatically gives us the head room, because of the savings just on energy, to accelerate the retirement of coal and do that affordably with no increases in rates,” said Highley. “We see downward rate pressure for the next 10 years, and beyond 2030, we see increases below the rate of inflation.”
The economics prevail in states that have not adopted mandates designed to reduce emissions.
“We see a green energy dividend that allows us to accelerate the closure of coal without raising rates. That’s a key and it’s a key for Tri-State to getting support from our board, which covers four states. Nebraska and Wyoming don’t have the same intensity of passion behind the renewable energy movement that New Mexico and Colorado do. But one thing all of our members can agree upon is low rates and low costs.”
At Holy Cross Energy, an electrical cooperative that is not supplied by Tri-State, chief executive Bryan Hannegan sees the same downward price pressures.
“The price of new power supply from the bulk grid is coming in below where we are today in the marketplace. That is actually putting downward pressure on rates,” he said. At Holy Cross, the cost of electricity accounts for half of what consumers pay, with the other half going to the poles, wires, trucks and overhead.
“We at Holy Cross are saying we will get to 70% clean energy by 2030 with no increase in our power supply costs. If we can do it—which is a big if—we will try to do it in a way that keeps our rates predictable and stable.”
A third driver of the move to renewables has been bottom-up pressure from customers. Both Vail Resorts and the Aspen Skiing Co. have pushed Holy Cross Energy to deliver energy untainted by carbon emissions. So have individual communities. Six of the member communities in Colorado Communities for Climate Action are served by Holy Cross. “That is driving us forward. We are hearing it from our customer base,” said Hannegan.
Yet a fourth driver may be choice, as consumers can demand to pick and choose their energy sources as is proposed in a bill about community choice aggregation introduced in the Colorado Legislature this year. Holy Cross has to deliver that clean energy “frankly before somebody else does.”
All three utilities represented on the webinar retain ownership in coal plants. Holy Cross Energy, however, has consigned the production from its small ownership of Comanche 3, located in Pueblo, Colo., to Guzman Energy. Both Tri-State and Platte River have plans to be out of coal in Colorado by 2030, although Tri-State has no plans yet announced to end importing coal from a coal plant at Wheatland, Wyo.
As a teenager, amid the hardwood forests, waterfalls and wildflower meadows of the Parklands of Floyds Fork, Benjamin Myles took a liking to nature.
At the University of Louisville, Myles merged his libertarian-leaning politics with a curiosity about climate change, a subject that kept coming up in English class and in debates with his friends.
Such discussions led him to a new national movement of young conservatives who are working to persuade their Republican elders to put forward a climate agenda, without sacrificing traditional GOP principles like market competition and limited government.
Myles, a junior studying political science and economics, has joined the American Conservation Coalition, which last month unveiled its American Climate Contract, a self-described response to the Green New Deal for the political right.
The coalition has issued its manifesto in a presidential election year, when the stakes couldn’t be higher. While President Trump remains a resolute climate change denier, there is a wide consensus among scientists, and also in the military, that climate change is happening now, causing higher temperatures and heat waves, sea-level rise, an increasing frequency of extreme rains, wetter and more intense hurricanes, and longer droughts.
Myles now finds himself questioning another icon of the Republican party and one of the country’s most powerful political figures: U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader also from Louisville known for working to block the president who achieved the most on climate change, Barack Obama.
Myles, the president of the local college libertarian group, Young Americans for Liberty, is no fan of the Democrats’ approach to the issue, or the Green New Deal’s proposed massive shift in federal spending to create jobs and hasten a transition to clean energy by 2050. But Myles said he is frustrated by any established Republican who does not take climate change seriously, including McConnell.
“There is definitely frustration for myself and younger people who look at this issue and see the Republican Party, especially older GOP members, just ignoring it instead of offering an alternative,” he said.
“Our political system is all about providing multiple options,” Myles said. “But when one side decides it doesn’t want to discuss the truth of the problem at all, it feeds into the other side getting a monopoly on the discussion. That is really damaging.”
Across the South, Climate Change Divides Democrats and Republicans
In the South and across much of the United States, one way to try to tell a Republican from a Democrat is to invite a discussion about climate change.
Pew Research Center polling in February found that a growing number of Americans say tackling climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress. But that change in views is mostly among Democrats: roughly 4 out of 5 say dealing with climate change should be a top priority, compared to just 1 out of 5 Republicans, Pew found.
Climate change wasn’t always so divisive.
In 2008, for example, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, famously sat on a couch in front of the U.S. Capitol, declaring they both agreed the country needed to take action on climate change. And they did it for Al Gore, the former vice president and global warming evangelist from Tennessee, who became conservatives’ climate-change punching bag
Today, young climate activists, led by Greta Thunberg and the Sunrise Movement—a grassroots youth climate action group that formed after Trump’s 2016 election—are the defiant voice for the climate, calling for a transformation of the global economy. They are carrying out global student strikes and persuading mayors to declare climate emergencies.
The demographics of climate politics are shifting, said Ed Maibach, professor and director of the George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communications.
While young Democrats and their parents and grandparents are “more or less all apoplectically concerned” about the climate, he said, a new report from the George Mason center and the Yale Program on Climate Communication identifies how young Republicans are becoming emboldened by the issue. In contrast to older Republicans, they have become more accepting of the human causes of climate change, rejecting the climate science denial that has taken hold in the party, Maibach said.
“The more young Democrats get involved in the issue, the more young Republicans get pulled along,” he added.
Both parties will have plenty to debate this year as voters in November decide whether to give Trump and his fossil fuel agenda another four years. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the former vice president, has described the Green New Deal as “a crucial framework” for climate action as he tries to convince climate voters he’s a true believer.
A Market Approach to Climate Change Mitigation
The American Conservation Coalition was founded in 2017 by Benji Backer, a 22-year-old from Appleton, Wisconsin, who was already a veteran in national political circles.
In 2014, at 16, Backer delivered a fiery speech at the influential American Conservative Union conference, defending former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s bitter and successful battle against unionized teachers and declaring it “OK to stand up to those on the left that would scream us into quiet submission.”
But in September, he testified before Congress with Thunberg, arguing that “we cannot regulate our way out of climate change.”
The group and its climate contract have supporters ranging from natural gas lobbyists and libertarians to conservation and energy efficiency groups.
One of them is the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based clean-energy think tank founded by physicist Amory Lovins. The institute’s Paul Bodner, who worked on energy and climate in the White House for President Obama, is on the coalition’s advisory board. He hopes he can help the young conservatives find their voice on climate issues.
The institute, he said, agrees with the Green New Deal’s “call to action” and shares its vision of “radical decarbonization of the U.S. economy,” but also agrees with the coalition’s “focus on unleashing market forces.”
The Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington based think tank, also supports the young conservatives.
“When we see historically controversial policies that are pushed through by one party in a very politicized or polarized manner, those policies are more at risk of being undone, or vilified, at some point in the future,” said Sasha Mackler, the center’s director of energy projects. “For policies to be enduring over the long term, which is really what we need for a climate solution to be effective, bipartisanship is essential.”
‘We Would Rather Not Get Caught up in Debates’
The young conservatives’ contract makes no mention of the 2016 Paris climate agreement, with its goal of limiting rising global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Nor does it share the sense of urgency expressed by scientists, who, in 2018, concluded that the world had about 12 years to get on a path toward zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Instead, the contract merely acknowledges the need to “move towards the goal of global net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
The Green New Deal envisions a rapid transition to a carbon-free economy, promising jobs and economic security and explicitly supporting an economic transition in communities that have long lived on incomes from fossil fuel industries.
By contrast, the contract modestly calls for “targeted investment and regulatory streamlining;” increasing clean transportation; creating a more energy-saving electrical grid; maximizing carbon storage in forests and farms; planting trees; supporting nuclear power; and establishing private-public partnerships.
“We would rather not get caught up in debates on targets that are too much for one side of the aisle or the other,” said Danielle Butcher, chief operating officer of the American Conservation Coalition. “We view this not as a silver bullet to climate policy.”
The contract also does not recommend a carbon tax, which some moderates and Republicans have begun to embrace as a way to put a price on carbon and steer the economy toward a lower-carbon future.
“We want to focus on the steps we can take right now,” Butcher said.
The contract’s modest scope is its failing, critics counter.
Fighting climate change and economic injustice go hand-in-hand, said Sophie Karasek, a spokeswoman for the Sunrise Movement, which has rallied around the Green New Deal.
“A lot of young people have grown up with the fear of the climate crisis, and we already lived through the great recession, and remember what that felt like,” Karasek said.
What’s needed are “bold solutions from the government at the scale of the problems we face, and right now (with the Covid-19 pandemic) we are facing a great depression while also staring down the barrel of climate change,” she said. “We don’t have time to talk about private-public partnerships, or whatever.”
Mitch McConnell Has Been Setting the GOP Agenda on Climate
In Tennessee, Sage Kafsky, a 23-year-old volunteer with the American Conservation Coalition, echoed her young colleagues’ calls for market based, limited government solutions. But she also declared an admiration for Thunberg, the Swedish teenager whose defiance before the most powerful business and political leaders on the planet became the face of a new generation fighting climate change.
“I 100 percent believe in climate change,” Kafsky said in a telephone interview from her home in Ducktown, Tennessee, in the southern Appalachian Mountains, where she works as a paraprofessional in an elementary school. “I believe in people like Greta, who are having their voice, saying this is a major issue, and we need to fix it.”
But, she went on to say, “how to get there gets lost in translation” amid political polarization, even though “we have similar goals in mind.”
In Washington, D.C., it has been McConnell, 78, the coal-friendly Senate Republican Leader since 2006 and Majority Leader since 2015, who has, in effect, been setting the Republican legislative agenda on climate.
For example, he led the opposition to Obama’s climate and coal policies, then backed Trump on pulling out of the Paris agreement. Last year McConnell went out of his way to force Democrats to make a premature and what he hoped would be a politically damaging vote on the Green New Deal, while not offering alternative climate legislation.
McConnell is up for reelection to a seventh term in November. A spokesman declined to comment on the young conservatives’ efforts, except to say that the way to address climate change “is through technology and innovation.”
But words alone may not be enough for the GOP’s new generation.
Butcher, of the conservation coalition, said the group has met with White House and McConnell staff to find policies that will reduce emissions and create economic prosperity. “Given the overwhelming consensus among young Republicans that climate is a top priority, we expect they’ll increasingly engage on the issue, and if not, we’ll push harder,” she said.
Myles, the libertarian-climate activist from the University of Louisville, came to see climate change as an issue the GOP couldn’t ignore or deny. “Getting into college and seeing how many other people care about it made me realize this is going to be a major issue and something that has the ability to affect all of us,” he said. “The GOP is moving on some issues, as more and more young people get involved. Climate change should be one of them.”
The report by the International Energy Agency points out that South Africa’s lockdown initially disrupted 75% of the global output of platinum, which is used in many clean energy technologies and emissions control devices.
Copper mining in Peru — which accounts for 12% of global production — ground to a halt, according to the report. Indonesia, which is the world’s top supplier of nickel, banned nickel ore exports earlier this year.
The report also points out that when it comes to lithium, cobalt and various rare earth materials, the top three producers control well over three quarters of the global output.
There are also stark vulnerabilities in the geographic concentration of refining operations, with China alone accounting for 50% to 70% of global lithium and cobalt refining. China is also responsible for 85% to 90% of processing rare earth materials into metals and magnets.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is again reinforcing the importance of responsible U.S. mineral development. During trade negotiations in June 2019, China threatened to cut off our access to rare earth minerals. Now, the COVID-19 shines a bright light on China’s dominance of critical mineral and other supply chains,” said the caucus’ executive vice chairman, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo. ”This report should serve as a reality check that supporting a true all-of-the-above energy future in the U.S. will require strong investments in domestic mining,”
The rising installation of clean energy technologies is set to “supercharge” the demand for critical minerals, the agency predicts, and the already rapid growth was putting strains on supply even before the global pandemic.
Clean energy technologies, the report said, generally require more minerals than their fossil fuel counterparts.
As an example, an electric car uses five times as many minerals as a conventional car and an offshore wind plant requires eight times as many minerals as a gas-fired plant of the same capacity…
The most efficient coal-fired power plants, too, require a lot more nickel than the less efficient ones to produce higher combustion temperatures.
Since 2015, the report points out, electric transport and grid storage have become the largest consumers of lithium, accounting for 35% of the demand. And likewise, those users have driven demand for cobalt from 5% to nearly 25% in that same period.
Those demands, however, come with costs.
Congo, which controls the majority of the world’s supply of cobalt, nearly tripled its royalty rate in 2018 and has come under harsh scrutiny for its extraction practices in harsh conditions amid reports it also relies on child labor.
In its report, the agency recommends government and companies take a number of steps to ensure a steady supply chain and greater independence in the arena of critical minerals, including timely investments in new mines, periodic assessments, promotion of recycling of end of life materials to capture valuable minerals, and stepping up research and development in substitution materials…
Utah is the only state in the country that produces magnesium metal and is one of two U.S. states that produces potash.
While lithium is not being mined in Utah at this point, there is potential for U.S. Magnesium to produce it as a byproduct.
In a paper she wrote for the survey on battery metals’ demand, Mills details the potential of some of these elements to be “mined” in Utah as a byproduct of other metals, such as copper or uranium deposits revealing cobalt.
Utah hosts the only operating uranium and vanadium mill in the United States, Mills points out, and while there is not any uranium mining going on, the mill began producing vanadium from stockpiles in 2019. Vanadium can be used in high-capacity batteries used for large-scale energy storage applications.
Finally, Rio Tinto’s Kennecott operations in Utah puts it as the nation’s second largest producer of copper, which is unmatched in its ability to conduct electric currents.
In addition to copper, Kennecott is one of the largest producers of gold, silver, platinum group metals and molybdenum in North America, and could be a potential source of critical minerals such as rhenium and tellurium.
Rio Tinto is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute and is jointly investigating with its experts on ways to extract additional critical minerals from the existing refining and smelting process.
Rhenium, one of the rarest elements, has the third-highest melting point and its nickel-based alloys are used in exhaust nozzles of jet engines. Its alloys are also used in oven heating elements and X-ray machines.
Mills said the state is engaged in research related to the production of tungsten — another critical mineral — which is the only other metal element with a higher melting point than rhenium.
And then a clandestine project, co-named Blue Sky II, which the electrical cooperative United Power claims was the project designed by its wholesale supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, to explore ways to get jurisdiction by regulators in Washington D.C.
To keep United Power, the largest among Tri-State’s 43 members that are spread across Colorado and three adjoining states, as a member—and contributing fistfuls of dollars for decades to come. And also to keep the Colorado Public Utilities Commission from exercising authority over determining what would constitute a fair and reasonable exit fee.
Or so goes the argument in the lawsuit filed by United Power against Tri-State and three of its new, associated members.
This lawsuit adds specificity to the complaints coupled with colorful language.
La Plata Electric is not a party to the lawsuit.
Tri-State dismisses the lawsuit as so much folderol, calling the assertions “false and reckless.”
“United Power’s most recent complaint smacks of desperation and is completely without merit,” the wholesaler said in a statement yesterday evening, after hours after copies of the lawsuit were disseminated by Untied Power.
“Tri-State will vigorously defend its members and its board of director’s lawful, appropriate, and open decisions and actions to seek federal regulation,” the statement added. “Further, United Power’s complaint insults our other cooperative members, who clearly understood the direction of the association.”
It accused United of trying to foist off onto other members $1 billion in costs.
United Power is the largest among the 43 members in Colorado and three adjoining states that together constitute Tri-State, alone responsible for 17% of electrical demand from Tri-State. United serves the fast-growing suburbs north of Denver but also the electricity-heavy hydrocarbon extraction operations in the Wattenberg field.
The lawsuit says that United Power has purchased in excess of $200 million in wholesale electricity annually from Tri-State in recent years that it then distributes to its individual members as well as the oil and gas customers. This power is sold by Tri-State under its “Class A” rate, which is “materially higher now—and has been for years—than what United Power would be required to pay if it purchased electricity on the open market.”
Included in this $200 million per year is a built-in margin, which United Power calls profit. It might also be called overhead. That so-called profit has totaled $45 million to $70 million among all of Tri-State’s members in recent years. United, however, pays the lion’s share, $150 million during the past four years alone, it says.
In the future? More of the same, several hundred million dollars in just the next decade. The current contract does not expire for three decades.
Not a fair deal, says the lawsuit – and to avoid that fair deal Tri-State has “misused the cooperative governance structure in an effort to deprive United Power of its right to exit Tri-State.”
That effort to leave began in August 2018, when United Power asked for a buyout. Tri-State came up with a figure of $1.2 billion. That’s what Tri-State said United Power would have to pay to leave its so-called all-requirements contract before 2050. That contract allows members to procure only 5% or less of their own power.
One other member co-op, Kit Carson Electrical Cooperative in Taos, N.M., had already left in 2016, and Delta-Montrose Electric had started negotiating with Tri-State to leave. That agreement was reached last July and will take effect on July 1, 2020.
United Power didn’t want out. That’s what the lawsuit says, and that’s also consistent with what this writer reported at the time. It only wanted the ability to generate more of its own power and take advantage of emerging opportunities for cleaner and cheaper sources.
Now comes the equine subterfuge. The lawsuit says that Tri-State amended the bylaws to allow for partial requirements contracts, allowing more self-generation than the 5% allowed under the all-requirements contracts. Coupled with this was a new classification proposed by Tri-State managers in April 2019. This new class allowed members who weren’t electrical co-operatives.
To what end the new class of membership?
United alleges duplicitous behavior by Tri-State.
“Tri-State staff knew that Tri-State’s loss of all, or even part, of United Power’s load would have enormous adverse effects on Tri-State’s financial health,” the lawsuit says. “Tri-State staff also knew that other Tri-State member-owners were, for similar reasons, interested in retaining United Power as a Tri-State member. So Tri-State saw its opportunity, using United Power as a Trojan horse to convince Tri-State’s membership to amend Tri-State’s bylaws in a way that members believed would benefit them.”
Tri-State had been consulting with the lawyers, in-house and outside, about becoming FERC jurisdictional for at least six months and possibly much longer. This effort was called Blue Sky II. More about Blue Sky later.
Why did United, as a voting member of Tri-State go along with all this—indeed, by its own admission, champion it? United claims naiveté. Or, more precisely, deception.
“Tri-State concealed the existence of Blue Sky II from its members. By December 2018, Tri-State already had drafted the tariffs that it would need to file with FERC if it were to seek to become FERC regulated. Tri-State concealed from United Power and even from the Colorado PUC the existence of those draft tariffs,” the lawsuit says. The intent of all this was to “displace the Colorado PUC’s jurisdiction over member withdrawals.”
Why did Tri-State want to avoid the Colorado PUC jurisdiction in this matter? That is never explicitly stated.
But United Power says that it believed Tri-State’s good intentions throughout 2018 and 2019, even voting for the new bylaws that are now being used against its own best interests. Those bylaws allowed Tri-State to expand its membership to include:
MIECO, which sold natural gas to Tri-State.
Ellgen, which rented land from Colowyo Coal Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of Tri-State.
Olsons, a greenhouse in Fort Lupton, which purchases steam from Tri-State.
Each “received additional payment from Tri-State for engaging in the scheme to deprive the Colorado PUC of its jurisdiction over Tri-State through purported “patronage capital’ and, in the case of Olson’s, an increased discount in the price it paid for steam.”
Tri-State argues that these new additional members pre-empt the PUC’s jurisdictions over member withdrawals. They are also named as defendants in the lawsuit by United Power.
Tri-State all along has maintained that it added the members in order to gain FERC jurisdiction over rates. Because it has members in four states, it has explained, and so it’s easier to have one rate-reviewing body, even if in Washington D.C., than four in state capitols. However, in practice, Colorado’s jurisdiction is the one that matters. Wyoming and Nebraska do not exercise rate jurisdiction and New Mexico has not consistently done so.
Tri-State explains its case somewhat differently: “Tri-State and its member cooperatives have been open and transparent about their desire to be regulated by the FERC, to eliminate inconsistent rate treatment across the states. In recent years both Colorado and New Mexico have exercised rate jurisdiction, which resulted in increased costs, unrecovered revenue and inconsistent rates to its members.”
And in seeking FERC rate regulation, says Tri-State, it’s doing what almost all “other similarly situated wholesale generation and transmission providers” already do. That also includes Xcel Energy and its contracts with non-Tri-State Colorado cooperatives, which includes Yampa Valley Electric and Holy Cross Energy, among others.
Meanwhile, an administrative law judge at the PUC is scheduled to hear the case of both United Power and La Plata on May 18-22. Tri-State wants the FERC to hurry up and take on the same case. United portrays this as a sinister conspiracy:
“Notwithstanding that imminent proceeding, it has become completely clear that Tri- State has declared war on the Colorado PUC and literally will stop at nothing to try to prevent it from deciding a just, reasonable and non-discriminatory charge for United Power to withdraw as a member-owner of Tri-State. Tri-State’s legion of attorneys―whose fees are paid by Tri-State member-owners―are desperately seeking the expedited assistance of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in creating a conflict that Tri-State will then use to claim that the PUC’s jurisdiction has been pre-empted.”
As for Blue Sky II, if United is correct that it existed, what’s with the name? One hypothesis would be that it alludes to an area of the Vail ski resort, the one newest and most remote from the base-area ski lifts, closer to the town of Red Cliff than to the town of Vail.
Blue sky thinking can refer to brainstorming no limits.
Grace, 16, says in the complaint that drought has dried up the Clark Fork River for rafting.
Georgianna F., 17, fears shortened winters have reduced snow she needs to train for Nordic skiing.
Ruby D., 11, of Crow descent, claims frequent wildfires have scarred lodgepole pines needed for the teepees essential for the ceremonies that are part of her identity.
While lawyers for the state responded last week in briefs that the courts aren’t the right place to fix the climate crisis, attorneys for the children say they are suing Montana not for failing to act on climate change, but for harming the environment by promoting the use of coal, oil and gas.
The Montana case, led by the non-profit public interest firm, Our Children’s Trust, is part of a 50-state campaign to put government policy contributing to climate change before the courts.
A landmark national climate change suit, Juliana v. USA, was thrown out in January by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where judges ruled 2 to 1 that climate change is not an issue for the courts. The plaintiffs, also led by Our Children’s Trust, have since petitioned for a rehearing.
The Montana case is one of seven state actions, including lawsuits filed in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington.
In Montana, lawyers for the plaintiffs offer vivid examples of how their young clients’ lives are being shattered by a warming planet to underscore the state’s failed constitutional obligation: guaranteeing all citizens an inalienable right to a healthy environment.
“What we’re trying to do is uphold our constitutional rights,” said Grace, in an interview. (None of the minor plaintiffs used their last names in the lawsuit).
A sixth-generation Montanan, she spends a lot of time outdoors, playing soccer, rafting nearby rivers and hiking the Rattlesnake Wilderness north of where she lives in Missoula. Perhaps her favorite place is the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, which is sometimes called the American Serengeti because of its rich wildlife: bison, antelope, elk, trout and a famous wolfpack.
But now she’s worried enough about the climate impacts she already sees—the wildfire smoke that nixed soccer practice, the drought that’s dried up the rivers—that she wonders whether her own children will have the chance to experience the place she loves so much, and even whether it’s ethical for her to have children.
“What we want is for the courts to encourage or institute a climate recovery plan that lowers our fossil fuel rates to the point where we’re not harming the environment anymore,” she said, “and to uphold our constitutional rights for a clean environment.”
Nate Bellinger, one of the childrens’ lawyers, acknowledged the storytelling strategy. “A central part of that story is how the youth plaintiffs … are currently being impacted by climate change,” he said, “and how they are expected to be impacted by climate change if it’s not addressed.”
Two brothers, Lander B., 15, and Badge B., 12, say the changing climate is making it harder to hunt the elk and deer that their family depends on for food and that warm temperatures and low stream waters make it harder to fish for cutthroat, rainbow and bull trout.
Kian T., 14, reports in the complaint that trees on his family’s property—birch, spruce, aspen, cottonwood and firs—are dying because warmer winters have led to increased insect activity.
The young plaintiffs’ concerns are exactly the sort of complaint you’d expect from Montanans whose shared identity is bound up in the wildness and beauty of the Big Sky state’s breathtaking mountains and plains.
In some ways, the lawsuit itself is the latest chapter in the 50-state, coming of age story about the legal fight to combat climate change that began eight years ago. In Utah that year, children were among 20 petitioners who pressed environmental regulators to start accounting for climate change in state regulations.
In Wyoming, a case called Kids v. Global Warming pressed environmental agencies to begin restricting and reducing fossil fuel emissions enough to limit CO2 to 350 ppm by 2100. The petitions were denied in both cases.
An earlier Montana case asked the state Supreme Court to rule that the atmosphere should be held in trust for citizens, but justices declined to take up the case.
“We aren’t suing Montana or the other states for their failure to act on climate change,” Bellinger said, trying to correct a misperception about the cases. “It’s because the state is actively harming the environment it’s constitutionally mandated to protect.”
It’s this constitutional provision that gives the Montana suit its unique strength, Bellinger and other legal experts agreed. The preamble to the state’s constitution says: “We the people of Montana grateful to God for the quiet beauty of our state, the grandeur of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains, and desiring to improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations do ordain and establish this constitution.”
Montana’s unique approach to the environment is also part of a learning curve that builds upon the lessons of past setbacks and failures in the youth climate cases, said Richard Frank, a law professor, blogger and director of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center.
The Montana case, he noted, focuses on particular injuries being suffered by the 16 plaintiffs rather than simply making sweeping, heady arguments about violated “atmospheric trust litigation” as past legal and administrative actions did. The more recent cases are also stronger because they rely on new sophisticated, scientific conclusions that were not available to lawyers involved in the earlier cases, he said.
“The key point for me is that it’s a lot more strategic,” Frank said. “It’s more tactical, it’s more science.”
In the Montana lawsuit, the children argue that Montana undermines their birthright in two significant ways: with a state energy policy that explicitly promotes fossil fuels, and a prohibition on accounting for climate change in decision making. As a result, models project annual average daily maximum temperatures in the state will increase by as much as 6.0 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century, “a temperature increase that would imperil human civilization,” and go up by as much as 10 degrees by the end of the century.
“It is as if the Earth has a constant fever,” the lawsuit says, “and just as in the human body, even a slight rise in temperature weakens the organism, increases the vulnerability of the organism, and can have dangerous long-term effects on the system.”
The lawsuit contends that the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation “has authorized, permitted, licensed, and encouraged fossil fuel exploitation, extraction, and production, and forestry practices and activities that have caused and contributed to dangerous concentrations of atmospheric GHGs and the climate crisis and harmed Youth Plaintiffs.”
Allowing refineries to spew millions of tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, permitting the 1,210-mile Keystone XL Pipeline to traverse the state, and approving a 977-acre expansion of the state’s largest coal mine are just some of the ways in which Montana has bowed to fossil fuels, the lawsuit says.
Regulators did not examine emissions impacts for the coal mine, nor did they estimate the climate impact of the 90 percent of Montana-mined coal that was burned out of state, the suit says
“Defendants—who manage, operate, and regulate the energy sector by and through the State Energy Policy—have the authority to produce renewable energy sources,” the lawsuit says, noting that state agencies authorized almost seven times as much fossil fuel energy as renewables. “Nevertheless, Defendants are manifestly indifferent to Youth Plaintiffs’ injuries and continue to authorize energy from fossil fuels as opposed to renewables.”
Bellinger, the childrens’ attorney, pointed out that as early as 1968, Montana leaders were discussing the implications of growing greenhouse gas emissions. “That’s just not really compatible with the future that these youth want to live in Montana and protect the environment,” he said.
Even with the more narrowly drawn claims in the Montana lawsuit, some still doubt it will be successful. Sam Kazman, general counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a non-profit libertarian think tank, cited the state’s constitutional provision when he said: “I think it does have a slightly better shot than the Juliana case.”
But, ultimately, he’s not convinced that the Montana case will go any farther than the better-known national case. In an echo of the criticism leveled against the Juliana case, he said developing and implementing an energy policy is not something that courts are well-equipped to do.
“Ultimately, I think it is still trying to get a court to take over what really is a host of legislative functions,” Kazman said, echoing arguments made by the state’s attorneys.
Montana environmental lawyer Jack Tuholske said the case shines a compelling spotlight on the state constitution’s healthy environment provision. The guarantee of environmental health, he said, was added in 1972 because of historic mining pollution in a state where industry had outsized influence on lawmakers.
“This [case] is very much in a context of the history and culture of the state,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the court approaches this case, based on the Constitution.”
Pueblo voters on May 5 will decide whether to stick with their existing electrical utility, Black Hills Energy, or municipalize operations.
Proponents and opponents frame their arguments in terms of opportunity and risk. The fulcrum for the debate is the high cost of electricity in Pueblo, which is among the highest in Colorado and some say the nation.
The most immediate comparison is to Colorado Springs, which has a municipal utility, similar to what is proposed for Pueblo. Residential rates in Pueblo are 36% higher, 33% higher for large commercial customers, and 41% higher for small commercial.
In metropolitan Denver, rates charged by Xcel Energy are also substantially lower. In fact, nearly all of Colorado’s several dozen utilities charge less than those charged by Black Hills, according to rate surveys conducted by the Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities. Steve Andrews, a proponent of municipalization, says those who get their power from public-power sources across Colorado similar to what he supports in Pueblo paid $82 per 700 kilowatt-hours of electricity compared to $112 for Pueblo.
Could Pueblo residents and businesses do better if the city—through its parallel agency, the Pueblo Board of Water Works—took over operations? That’s what voters must decide.
How much it would cost to take over Black Hills operations depends upon what portion of the service territory is included. A study completed last October by EES Consulting calculated the debt service for Black Hills operations only within Pueblo at $348 million over a 30-year period.
There are also provisions for creating a regional utility to deliver electricity to all of the current Black Hills electrical customers in Colorado, if they want to join Pueblo. All of Pueblo County, including Pueblo, would be $461 million. The estimated cost was $848 million for acquisition of the full Black Hills service territory in Colorado, which stretches from Cripple Creek and Westcliffe on the west to Rocky Ford and beyond to the east.
These figures include Black Hills’ generating assets, but whether they would be acquired would depend upon negotiations.
The Board of Water Works would be responsible for negotiating with Black Hills or, if necessary, for condemning the assets in legal proceedings. The board would also be responsible for financing the acquisition costs and court costs. The board members would continue to be elected by city voters.
The Water Board pointed to relatively simple arithmetic. The city had commissioned two studies. The first one established that a public power utility would reduce rates and costs over time. The Phase 2 study delivered in October offered more specifics. It said Black Hills generates between $250 million and $260 million in revenues, and after expenses, enough revenue would be left to cover bonds of $900 million to $1 billion. It also concluded that a community-owned electric utility could deliver current customer savings of 10% to 14%.
Electrical utilities are wonky things, so a brief primer might be useful. First, Colorado has two investor-owned utilities that deliver electricity: Black Hills and Xcel Energy. The latter serves metropolitan Denver and some other areas in Colorado. The remainder of Coloradans get their electricity from electrical co-ops or municipal providers.
Black Hills, which is based in Rapid City, S.D., in 2008 purchased Aquila, the previous utility serving Pueblo, for $282 million, according to a filing on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission website. It soon got out of coal, replacing that with a gas-fired power plant east of Interstate 25 near the airport and industrial park. Pueblo’s franchise agreement with Black Hills continues to 2030.
Opponents of municipalization have a sturdy voice in the Pueblo Chieftain. Its just-vote-no editorial on April 10 reminded readers of instructions issued by judges in criminal cases: “Don’t vote to convict unless the prosecutors have proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.” Proponents had failed that test, it said. Most of the information came from a single consultant’s report – and one tainted in the Chieftain’s telling by the guidance of the city officials who “were very transparent about their interest in hearing the virtues of municipal electric services,” the newspaper said.
“Relying so heavily on one source of information on a subject this complicated is a bit like reading the CliffsNotes on “Moby Dick” and then claiming to be an expert on whale hunting,” the newspaper said. “Proponents say a municipal electric company would save money, but it’s not clear how.”
Risks outweigh potential rewards, in the newspaper’s view. “It seems extremely unwise to put the city’s future at risk based on some vague hopes that it would all work out well in the end.”
The city council also adopted a resolution, on a 4-3 vote, opposing municipalization. Among those in the majority was Dennis Flores, the city council president. “Do not be fooled. This is not the panacea the other side would have you believe,” he wrote in the Chieftain.