Ireland votes to divest from fossil fuels #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

By Jeff Schmaltz – NASA Earth Observatory, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14627545

From The Guardian (Damian Carrington):

Bill passed by parliament means more than €300m shares in coal, oil, peat and gas will be sold ‘as soon as practicable’

The Republic of Ireland will become the world’s first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament.

The state’s €8bn national investment fund will be required to sell all investments in coal, oil, gas and peat “as soon as is practicable”, which is expected to mean within five years. Norway’s huge $1tn sovereign wealth fund has only partially divested from fossil fuels, targeting some coal companies, and is still considering its oil and gas holdings.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has grown rapidly and trillions of dollars of investment funds have been divested, including large pension funds and insurers, cities such as New York, churches and universities.

Supporters of divestment say existing fossil fuel resources are already far greater than can be burned without causing catastrophic climate change and that exploring and producing more fossil fuels is therefore morally wrong and economically risky… [ed. emphasis mine]

The Irish fossil fuel divestment bill was passed in the lower house of parliament on Thursday and it is expected to pass rapidly through the upper house, meaning it could become law before the end of the year. The Irish state investment fund holds more than €300m in fossil fuel investments in 150 companies.

“The [divestment] movement is highlighting the need to stop investing in the expansion of a global industry which must be brought into managed decline if catastrophic climate change is to be averted,” said Thomas Pringle, the independent member of parliament who introduced the bill. “Ireland by divesting is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short term vested interests.”

Éamonn Meehan, executive director of international development charity Trócaire, said: “Today the Oireachtas [Irish parliament] has sent a powerful signal to the international community about the need to speed up the phase-out of fossil fuels.”

[…]

The bill defines a fossil fuel company as a company that derives 20% or more of its revenue from exploration, extraction or refinement of fossil fuels. The bill also allows investment in Irish fossil fuel companies if this funds their move away from fossil fuels.

Gerry Liston at Global Legal Action Network, who drafted the bill, said: “Governments will not meet their obligations under the Paris agreement on climate change if they continue to financially sustain the fossil fuel industry. Countries the world over must now urgently follow Ireland’s lead and divest from fossil fuels.”

Boulder inks deal to sell hydroelectric power to Tri-State

Small hydroelectric via City of Boulder.

From BizWest (Jensen Werley):

The city of Boulder signed a contract with the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association for the sale of hydroelectric power generated at five of the city’s eight hydroelectric plants.

The deal is a 10-year agreement with an option to renew for another five years. It’s expected to generate about $500,000 per year in revenue, which will offset water utility capital improvements and operating costs that would otherwise be paid through higher water rates for customers.

The city had previously sold hydroelectric power to Tri-State from the Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric plant. This agreement renews the contract for Boulder Canyon and adds four facilities: the Kohler, Maxwell, Orodell and Sunshine plants…

Hydroelectric generation harnesses the energy generated during the downhill trip from water sources to the water distribution system. Boulder’s hydro program consists of eight plants that generate about 37 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power 4,600 households and displace 20,400 tons of coal.

Senior calls on the rivers, fish water in the ‘Pan — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Very low flows in the upper Colorado River system are now expected to trigger calls from senior water rights tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant and irrigators in the Grand Valley. And, starting Friday, more water is to be released from Ruedi Reservoir into the lower Fryingpan River to bolster downstream flows.

The Shoshone plant has two water rights, a very senior 1902 right and a less-senior right for 158 cubic feet per second with a 1929 priority date. A call for the 1929 Shoshone right is expected to take effect on Thursday, meaning those upstream from the Shoshone hydro power plant in Glenwood Canyon who hold junior rights must stop diverting.

On July 1, another, larger call is expected to happen downstream on the Colorado — the Cameo call. The Cameo call is made up of the water rights of agriculture diverters near Palisade, including the Grand Valley Water Users Association and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District.

The Cameo call, which is the second-most senior water right on the Colorado River, calls about 2,200 cfs down through the river system, but the diversion structures tied to the call also have the potential to nearly dry up the Colorado River in a 15-mile reach between the Palisade area and the confluence of the Gunnison River in Grand Junction. This 15-mile reach is critical habitat for endangered fish, including the Humpback Chub.

To help offset the effects of the Cameo call and other diversions on the river system, officials with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program have set a low-flow target of 810 cfs this year.

And, after meeting with other regional water managers on Wednesday, officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to release on Friday 50 cfs of water that has been earmarked specifically for endangered fish from Ruedi Reservoir. Another 100 cfs will be added to the bolstered flows on Monday, bringing releases to about 260 cfs in the river below Ruedi Reservoir.

While a Cameo call is not unusual and often happens in late summer, this is the earliest it has ever taken effect, according to Don Meyer, Senior Water Resources Engineer with the Colorado River District. The previous record was July 14.

“It’s a brutal year,” Meyer said. “I think it’s going to be a dire situation for everybody, but especially the fish down there.”

This year is also the second earliest that “fish water” has been released from Ruedi Reservoir since the endangered fish program was established in 1988. During the most recent drought years, 2002 and 2012, fish water was released on June 24 and July 3, respectively.

Federal officials this year expect to be able to release 16,412.5 acre-feet of fish water from Ruedi Reservoir this year, including from a 5,000 acre-foot pool, a 5,412 acre-foot-pool and 6,000 acre-feet of water owned by Ute Water Conservancy District in the reservoir, which is to be leased for the endangered fish program.

In all, the fish program has a total of 28,000 acre-feet of water it can use from various reservoirs in the upper Colorado River system, including Ruedi, Granby and Wolford reservoirs.

The Cameo call will also put more water into the Roaring Fork River by “calling out” the transmountain diversion through the Twin Lakes tunnel under Independence Pass. The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company can move 625 cfs of water out of the Roaring Fork Basin to the Arkansas Basin, where it is used for East Slope municipal and irrigation purposes.

The tunnel is currently diverting around 50 cfs, but that will come to a halt when the Cameo call goes into effect.

“In one respect it’s a windfall for the Roaring Fork,” said Kevin Lusk, president of Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company. “It’s not good for our customers, but that’s the law. It’s just part of owning a water right on a river in Colorado. This is one of those dry years so we are not surprised to see the Cameo call come on.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Oil and Gas Fields Leak Far More Methane than EPA Reports, Study Finds — Inside Climate News

Colorado has led the way on regulations designed to limit emissions of methane. Photo/Allen Best

From Inside Climate News (Sabrina Shankman):

The amount of methane leaking from the nation’s oil and gas fields may be 60 percent higher than the official estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study in the journal Science.

The study, led by a group of scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), presents some of the most compelling evidence to date that switching to gas from dirtier fuels like coal might not be as effective a climate strategy as its proponents suggest unless the gas industry improves how it controls leaks…

The authors estimated, conservatively, that methane equivalent to 2.3 percent of all the natural gas produced in the nation is leaking during the production, processing and transportation of oil and gas every year. That doesn’t count leaks from local delivery lines, another widespread problem.

This much leaked methane would have roughly the same climate impact in the short-term as emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants, the authors found.

Another way to put it: This rate of leaking methane is just as bad for the climate in the short term as the carbon dioxide that results from burning natural gas for fuel.

@CAPArizona chooses #solar over #coal

From The High Country News (Jessica Kutz):

In one of the latest bids to save the Navajo Generating Station, the West’s largest coal-burning power plant, the Department of Interior has stepped in to try and stave off its closure. Last week, Timothy Petty, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, sent a letter to the Central Arizona Project, a regional water utility, pressuring it to continue purchasing electricity from the power plant, which is slated to close in 2019.

In the past, the water project, which is operated by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, has purchased most of its power from the generating station. However, with the impending closure of the plant, the utility began looking to new and cheaper energy sources, including renewables like solar. On Thursday, despite the Interior Department’s recommendation, CAP’s board voted to sign a 20-year power purchase agreement with a solar company.

Navajo Generating Station. Photo credit: Wolfgang Moroder.

Those working to save the plant fear that CAP’s decision to move forward with alternative suppliers will prevent any potential investors from coming forward to buy the generating station. However, the utility has said it will still consider purchasing electricity from the power plant if a new owner can “provide competitively priced power,” CAP spokeswoman DeEtte Person said in an email.

The battle to keep the coal-fired power plant running is emblematic of a larger national effort to keep coal in operation, despite market forces that favor natural gas. As part of his “energy dominance” mandate, President Donald Trump’s administration has tried to bolster the country’s coal production, moving to lift regulatory burdens to increase the profitability of the energy source. Time and again those efforts have proven inadequate to save the struggling industry.

Several attempts have already been made in the case of the Navajo Generating Station. In April, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that would provide a multi-million dollar tax break for coal in Arizona, as a way to attract a potential buyer for the generating station. A few weeks ago, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., revealed a draft bill that would require the operator of CAP to purchase as “much of its total power requirements as possible” from the station until the utility has paid off its $1.1 billion debt. In addition to that mandate, the bill would temporarily exempt any potential new owner of the plant from having to conduct a National Environmental Policy Act review, and would waive Clean Air Act requirements, according to AZ Central.

If no buyer comes forward — a Chicago-based company has said it might make an offer — the plant will close in December 2019. The generating station supplies over 700 jobs, 90 percent of which are held by citizens of the Navajo Nation. In a statement, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye asked for more time to find a buyer before utilities like the CAP pursue alternatives. “We should continue to work to find solutions to keep the plant operating while supporting both the Navajo economy and families,” he said. Both the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation also receive royalties from coal production, with 85 percent of the Hopi Tribe’s annual budget coming from the generating station.

In the same week that the Interior Department put pressure on the Arizona utility to buy power from the generating station, a leaked White House draft memo directed the Department of Energy to save struggling coal and nuclear plants across the country. The memo described plans to order grid operators to buy energy from coal and nuclear plants for at least two years, allegedly to boost the resilience of the power grid, according to a statement from the White House.

Despite a coal-friendly administration, Thursday’s vote for solar by the CAP board suggests that coal is no longer considered an economically viable option for future energy generation. Addressing representatives from both the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation at Thursday’s board meeting, CAP’s Board President Lisa Atkins stated that the utility was “not at war with coal.” Rather, it was seeking a “long-term, cost-effective, reliable and diverse power portfolio.” Coal, it would appear, no longer has a prime spot in that energy mix.

Jessica Kutz is an editorial intern at High Country News.

This article was first published June 8, 2018 on The High Country News.

Shoshone plant water rights in Glenwood Canyon eyed by Colorado River District — @AspenJournalism

Penstock blowout at Shoshone hydro plant. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett) via The Aspen Times:

The Colorado River District is renewing its efforts at preserving a major Western Slope water right: the Shoshone hydropower plant.

But this time around, under the new leadership of general manager Andy Mueller, the district’s discussions with plant owner Xcel Energy are focusing on finding a way to maintain the water right instead of purchasing outright the plant or associated water rights.

The Shoshone plant is located on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, upstream of Glenwood Springs and the popular Shoshone boating stretch of the river.

The plant began operating in 1909, and has a senior water right dating to 1902. That water right keeps 1,250 cubic feet per second flowing down the Colorado River. That means upstream junior water rights holders must leave enough water in the river for Shoshone to receive its full decreed amount. It also means that full amount becomes available for downstream users.

Some Western Slope water managers fear that if Xcel were to sell the plant or discontinue generating power at the site, the guaranteed 1,250 cfs could be lost. It would be a major blow for Western Slope water users.

At the Colorado River Basin Roundtable’s meeting in May in Glenwood Springs, Colorado River District general counsel Peter Fleming delivered a history of the Shoshone hydropower plant and an update on the efforts of the river district to preserve the flows associated with the plant.

“Simply by virtue of its very senior priority and large size, it is the controlling water right on the river upstream of Glenwood Springs,” Fleming said.

He said river district officials have met with Xcel officials about five times over the past few months to talk about ways to preserve the Shoshone water right for the Western Slope, and he anticipates additional meetings in the future.

In the past, conversations have centered around the Colorado River District potentially purchasing the hydro plant from Xcel. But those talks have shifted to ways of preserving the flow without ownership changing hands.

“A lot of it is explaining to [Xcel] why this is an important issue for the West Slope and that we are not out to interfere with their business,” Fleming said. “We don’t have any interest in operating a power plant. But maybe there’s a win-win concept out there to achieve the permanency of the Shoshone flows.”

Michelle Aguayo, Colorado media relations representative for Xcel, said in a statement the company has begun discussions with the river district, 20 West Slope water providers, and government entities about the possibility of achieving permanent management of the flow of the Colorado River so that it mimics current and historic flows.

“Although Xcel Energy is willing to talk with parties that express interest, Xcel Energy wants to reiterate that this does not signal any desire or commitment to transfer or sell any rights related to the company’s assets,” the statement reads.

Mueller said he does not view Xcel’s statement as a closing of the door and remains optimistic a solution can be found.

The Minneapolis-based energy company provides electricity and natural gas to customers in eight states, including 1.5 million people in Colorado.

Preserving flows of the Shoshone plant has long been priority for Western Slope water managers and the Colorado River District. In 2007, Xcel and Denver Water reached an agreement that during drought conditions, Xcel would “relax” Shoshone’s call on the river down to 704 cfs, cutting it roughly in half. The agreement allows Denver Water to fill its reservoirs earlier, which made some Western Slope water managers nervous.

Then came the 2012 Shoshone Outage Protocol, a 40-year agreement between Front Range and Western Slope water managers. It says that when the Shoshone plant is shut down for repairs, maintenance, or other reasons, the flows must still be maintained.

Colorado River Basin Roundtable member Chuck Ogilby said the Colorado River District should have played a bigger role in negotiating these deals and that the organization has not taken a strong enough lead in protecting the Shoshone flows.

Ogilby would like to see a group of Western Slope water managers attend an Xcel board meeting to lobby for protection of the Shoshone flows.

“It’s maddening to me,” Ogilby said. “They have missed the boat on this entire activity. … Now here we are trying to make up for their lack of engagement. We all pay taxes to the river district and this is the most important thing they can do and they are dragging their feet.”

That may be changing under the new leadership of Mueller, who took over in December.

“I was specifically requested by the board to lead that charge on behalf of the district, so I think yes, the discussions are reinvigorated and we feel reasonably optimistic about it,” Mueller said. “And we appreciate the willingness of Xcel to sit down and have discussions with us.”

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Suddenly, solar energy plus storage is giving conventional fuels a run for their money —

As the owners of the largest coal-burning power plant in the West map out the details of closing in the next two years, the Navajo Nation has taken its next step in its energy development by starting operations at a new 27-megawatt solar farm not far from the source of the coal that fuels Navajo Generating Station. The Kayenta solar project, owned by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and operated by First solar, is the first large-scale solar energy facility on the reservation. The electricity is sold to the Salt River Project for distribution. The project’s 120,000 photovoltaic panels sit on 200 acres and are mounted on single-axis trackers that follow the movement of the sun. It provides enough electricity to power approximately 7,700 households. The tribe entered a lease agreement with NTUA in 2015 for the location, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in April 2016, followed by six months of construction that started last September. The $60 million facility was built using a construction loan from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation.

From ENSIA (Daniel Rothberg):

In December, the state’s largest utility — Xcel Energy — released a short report summarizing the responses to the solicitation it had issued to power suppliers for bids to bring new sources of electricity to the grid. The utility received 430 bids, and 350 of those were for renewable energy projects.

That was remarkable on its own, but what surprised people even more were the bids for projects that added battery storage to the mix. They were cheaper than anyone expected.

“It’s a testament to how quickly the market is changing,” Pierce says.

Changing Attitudes

For years, renewable energy advocates have pushed utilities and regulators to consider adding battery storage to their electrical generation portfolios for flexibility and to reduce intermittency problems that come with solar and wind. Until recently, it wasn’t considered a realistic option: Batteries were expensive and largely untested by utilities, and risk-averse regulators mostly let grid managers ignore them in their bids, statements and long-term planning documents.

Analysts say that’s starting to change as batteries come down in price, as momentum builds behind renewables and as renewables create a natural market for storage. Utilities are increasingly looking at batteries as a tool for leveling out power available over the course of the day and for replacing bulky and expensive peaking power plants that have high costs but only occasionally run at or near full capacity to meet peak demand (in the Southwest, this might be one hot day in the summer when everyone has their air conditioning turned up).

Some see the Xcel Energy report as the most recent case in a growing trend. Xcel’s preliminary analysis from December (a more thorough report is expected to come out June 6) showed that the median bids for battery storage projects coupled with solar and wind generation came in at about US$36 and US$21 per megawatt-hour, respectively. The prices of projects that combined solar or wind with storage, according to the report, were still more expensive than conventional fuels but only marginally more expensive than bids for standalone solar or wind projects. What it shows, analysts say, is that utilities can use batteries without adding huge costs to renewable projects.

Xcel is not alone. Utilities across the country appear to be more receptive to the idea of adding storage to their portfolios. Tucson Electric Power’s decision to build a solar-plus-storage project for US$45 per megawatt-hour generated dozens of headlines last year — and that price-point is higher than the Xcel median. Earlier this year, NV Energy, an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, announced it would include battery storage in its bidding process for the first time. Around the same time, California regulators pushed a utility to procure energy storage as a replacement to natural gas. A few months later, Florida Light & Power announced a project adding storage to an existing solar plant.

Kate McGinnis, the Western U.S. market director for Fluence Energy, a global battery storage provider that Siemens and AES Corporation launched last year, says it’s clear that attitudes toward storage are changing. “We’re seeing utilities talk directly to us to learn more about what storage can do and how it can help them to meet the various grid challenges they are experiencing,” McGinnis says.

But she also offered the following warning: The Xcel numbers, as medians, reveal difficulties in comparing different energy storage projects. Batteries are diverse and complex. Different batteries have different capacities — some might be able to hold enough energy so they could discharge power over five hours. Others might be able to store enough for 10 hours…

Boosting Efficiency, Replacing Gas

A big driver of the shift in energy storage is cost, says Yayoi Sekine, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. She notes that the price of lithium-ion batteries has dropped from about $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to about $209 per kWh in 2017. The decreases came as more batteries were produced at a more efficient scale to accommodate a growing electric vehicle market.

“That’s a massive decrease in prices over not that long of a period,” she says.

Utilities, Sekine says, see an opportunity to use storage to make the grid more efficient. Adding more solar to the grid has created big issues for how grid operators manage a utility’s generation portfolio, the biggest of which is commonly known as the “duck curve” (the name comes from the a graph of net load on the grid; it forms what looks like the outline of a duck). It occurs when so much solar power is produced during the day that it creates a slew of issues for meeting demand at night. The thinking is that if some of that solar power were stored in a battery, it could be dispatched with more flexibility and deployed more gradually to better balance supply and demand.

Others want to take storage and solar a step further. They believe that, as prices become more competitive, the two together can obviate the need for some natural gas plants. According to a new report from Greentech Media, solar and storage together are expected to compete directly with natural gas peakers — plants built to meet peak electricity demand — by 2022.

“That is an application where we think [battery] storage can be highly competitive,” says Ravi Manghani, an industry analyst who directs Greentech Media’s energy storage research.

The industry still faces some headwinds. Analysts say costs need to decrease even more for batteries plus renewables to compete head-on with most conventional fuels. David Hart, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author on a recent working paper on energy storage, says that more research and development is necessary. He proposes that government mechanisms encourage innovation, especially research in battery types other than lithium-ion.

Another challenge, Hart says, is the fact that electricity prices vary based on time and location.