How Colorado can get real serious about reducing its carbon footprint — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In Colorado, as elsewhere, recent polling by Yale University shows strong recognition that climate change is real, the result of human activity, and something that we must address.

But do it now? Really shake things up? Well, maybe it can wait. It ranks very low on the list of priorities for most people. Kick that can down the road.

A report released [September 20, 2017] by Western Resource Advocates and Conservation Colorado called Colorado’s Climate Blueprint argues that Colorado must seize very tool available to do its part in holding temperature increases to no more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius.

“We need to reduce our carbon pollution very quickly,” says Stacy Tellinghuisen, a co-author of the report. “We can’t wait for the federal government to take action. So we have laid out a blueprint for a three-legged stool of action.”

Colorado has been doing things. Emissions in the electrical sector has fallen, since 2007, the result of switching from coal-fired generation to cleaner-burning natural gas but also as a result of the deepening penetration of renewables. Transportation sector emissions have also declined.

But the growing evidence uncovered by scientists argues that, if anything, their assessment of the risk has been conservative. Temperatures are rising, and so are sea levels. Coral reef is disappearing. If the hurricanes and bark beetle epidemics are not directly a result of the warming climate, their severity may well be exacerbated.

And if they’ve tended toward conservative predictions, what does that say about when they believe the spit really hits the fan within a few decades?

All of this argues for rapid reduction, not just stabilizing, of emissions.

Gov. John Hickenlooper in July announced a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025 as compared to 2005 base levels. He did not, however, identify exactly how to achieve this, as I wrote in an article for the Colorado Independent. See: “What will it take to reach the climate change goals set by Gov. Hickenlooper?

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

These two groups, arguably Colorado’s most influential environmental organizations, want significant reductions beyond Hickenlooper’s 2025 goals. By 2030, as compared to 2005 levels, they want a goal of 45 percent reduction in emissions and a 90 percent reduction by mid-century.

Unlike Hickenlooper’s order, they go into depth. Some are the the usual suspects. For example, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission can push the shift already underway from coal, in particular, to renewable sources. Colorado legislators need to ensure new buildings better maximize energy efficiency.

But the report points to several levers that the Air Quality Control Commission can pull to achieve action. One is advanced regulations that reduce the venting and flaring of methane, as is commonly done in the Wattenberg and other natural gas fields.

Tellinghuisen says the gasfield emissions of methane are among the most difficult areas for regulation. In 2010, they represented almost 8 percent of Colorado’s total carbon pollution. Colorado subsequently became a national leader in its regulation of methane emissions after the state’s two largest operators, Anadarko and Noble, working with the Environmental Defense Fund, emerged with an agreement. But more methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, remains to be captured instead of being allowed to be wasted. If prices of natural gas were higher, producers would have more incentive to attend to leaks and capture what is now being flared. Methane has 22 to 28 times the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide.

The two groups would also like to see more stringent fuel economy standards for vehicles, similar to what California and 10 other states have adopted. Colorado, they say, should adopt policies that yield one million electric cars by 2030. It ranked 12th in the nation in sales of EVs from 2011 through 2016.

What may be most notable about the report is the embrace of market-based solutions. The power of markets has been proven frequently in solving environmental problems. Markets, by definition, must have incentives, in this case a price on carbon in this case. This could be achieved through a cap-and-trade regime or the more straight-forward carbon tax.

California has adopted a cap-and-trade system, and several states in the northeast have cap-and-trade as it applies to electrical production. British Columbia has a carbon tax. That province adopted a tax of 410 in 2008 and, as previously planned, elevated it to $30 in 2012. As the New York Times noted in a March 2016 story, that was then the equivalent of $22.20 in U.S. dollars. Economists at Duke University and the University of Ottawa in a 2015 study concluded that the carbon tax had reduced emission by 5 to 15 percent with “negligible effects on aggregate economic performance.”

The tax proceeds are rebated to the public in the form of other tax reductions. A group called Citizens’ Climate Lobby advocates the same revenue-neutral approach in advocating for what it calls a carbon fee and dividend.

From her study, Tellinghuisen believes a higher tax is needed to motivate changes in the transportation and other sectors. A tax of $20 per ton of CO2 emissions would result in a price increase of only 20 cents per gallon on gasoline. That, Tellinghuisen points out, would likely be lost in the noise of price fluctuations at the gas pump. It’s not enough to motivate changes such as, for example, cause people to ride light rail.

A constitutional provision in Colorado would also pose a challenge to automatic price increases in carbon prices if Colorado should follow the British Columbia model. The Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, or TABOR, requires specific voter approval for many specific tax increases.

Many economists say the minimum starting price for a carbon tax would be $40, if it is to produce significant changes, elevating to about $75 a ton.

Voters in Washington state, belying their reputation for liberal instincts, rejected a proposed carbon tax there last November. Among the arguments was that the tax is regressive, hurting poor people more than other sectors of society.

About Allen Best
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.

@EPA delays coal plant wastewater rule #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

Diagram of a typical steam-cycle coal power plant (proceeding from left to right). Graphic credit: Wikipedia.

From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The rule requires steam electric power plants to control the amount of coal ash-contaminated wastewater flushed from their plants.

The water contains toxic heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury, and while it’s pumped to holding ponds it often ends up in rivers and lakes. The rule sets the first specific limits on those toxins.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says postponing the rule for two years would give utilities relief from deadlines to upgrade pollution-control equipment while the agency revisits the requirements.

Environmental groups sued over an earlier effort to postpone the rule. They say they’ll challenge this move as well.

Mining jobs at West Elk without methane emissions? — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #keepitintheground

West Elk Mine. Photo/WildEarth Guardians via The Mountain Town News.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Solomon-like wisdom in methane emissions or something else?

One of Colorado’s larger sources of greenhouse gas emissions is something few people see, a coal mine located an hour or two from both Crested Butte and Aspen.

There, invisibly, methane wafts into the atmosphere, trapping heat. That methane has now become a major issue as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper tries to balance economic and environmental goals.

He did so last week with a Solomon-like gesture. He endorsed a proposal to approve a royalty rate reduction at the West Elk Mine from 8 to 5 percent for operations in a new coal seam that Arch Coal, the operator, says will be economically challenging.

But in return for that royalty reduction, Hickenlooper wants to see a “good-faith commitment to dedicating significant time and resources” to an effort to capture methane vented from the mine and possibly put it to beneficial use.

Arch plans to bore holes from the surface into the mine to release methane gas. Without venting, miners would be endangered.

A precedent exists for methane capture. In a complicated financing deal, the methane coming from the nearby Elk Creek mine was captured several years ago and is being burned to generate electricity. It still produces carbon dioxide, but methane as measured over the course of a century has 23 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.

Craig Station is the No. 2 source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, behind Comanche station at Pueblo. Photo/Allen Best

The West Elk alone is responsible for 0.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, according to the calculations of Ted Zukoski, an attorney for Earthjustice, which represents various groups that oppose the mine expansion. The North Fork mines are said to be among the gassiest in the world.

As of 2015, West Elk’s methane emission were the equivalent of half a million tons of carbon dioxide. Colorado’s largest CO2 producers that same year were the Comanche and Craig power plants, which produced 8.4 million tons and 8.2 million tons of CO2.

This royalty reduction will cost the state, but just how much will depend upon how much coal ends up being mined. Hickenlooper estimated $4 million over a five-year period. Environmentalists, however, calculated lost royalties of up to $12 million.

The Crested Butte-based High Country Conservation Advocates expressed frustration with Hickenlooper’s stance. Matt Reed, the public lands director for the HCCA, said the governor’s office holds that it has little power to limit methane pollution from the mine in cases such as this one, where the federal government is the ultimate decision-maker.

Reed tells the Crested Butte News his group disagrees. The state has power under current law to require permits for coal mine emissions because of its authority to regulate emissions of both volatile organic compounds, which are ozone (smog) precursors, and hazardous air pollutants. They are emitted along with methane. As recently as January, state health regulators said they reserved the right to undertake enforcement action.

The Crested Butte group also points to state law that it says authorizes rules be created to control for emissions of hydrocarbons … and any other chemical substance.”

But Gunnison County Commissioner John Messner sees the Hickenlooper letter sending a “strong message that the analysis, development and implementation of a methane capture and utilization plan is to be expected in the North Fork of Gunnison County and the key word here is that it is to be implemented.”

For the coal mine expansion to go forward, Arch Coal will need a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to build temporary roads into what is now a designated roadless area. That agency’s decision will be posted Friday, Sept. 8, in the Federal Register.

In an editorial a week before the governor’s letter was released, the Grand Junction Sentinel said the “coal industry has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.” It urged him to take exactly the position that he took.

The newspaper—located in a fossil-fuel-friendly-town—went on to urge Hickenlooper to “use the mine as an example of why Colorado needs a carbon credit cap-and-trade market to monetize waste methane.”

In an editorial a week before the governor’s letter was released, the Grand Junction Sentinel said the “coal industry has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.” It urged him to take exactly the position that he took.

The newspaper—located in a fossil-fuel-friendly-town—went on to urge Hickenlooper to “use the mine as an example of why Colorado needs a carbon credit cap-and-trade market to monetize waste methane.”

Ironically, California’s cap-and-trade is partly the reason why electricity is now being generated from the Elk Creek Mine. Tom Vessels, who put the generating system together, secured money from California, because he is reducing a greenhouse gas. But Holy Cross Energy—which serves Aspen and Vail areas—also is paying a premium for the electricity, and Aspen Skiing Co. provided money to ensure that deal happened.

About Allen Best
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.

The Navajo Nation is negotiating for water rights and access to Navajo Generating station facilities

From The Arizona Republic (Ryan Randazzo):

The Navajo Nation will earn $110 million in lease payments over 35 years if the deal is approved, as the owners will be required to monitor the land after the facilities are removed. But the deal includes other financial benefits for the tribe.

The Navajo Nation has identified several pieces of the operation it wants to keep when the plant closes, according to the legislation. They include the railroad between the plant and coal mine, valued at $120 million; the lake pump facility and electrical switch yard, valued at $41 million; and access to major transmission lines leading from the plant, which SRP values at about $80 million.

The access to the power lines would allow for solar or wind projects on the reservation to get their power to market.

The tribe hopes to negotiate with the state to acquire 50,000 acre-feet of water from the lake annually once the power plant no longer uses that allotment.

If the Navajo Nation Council approves the deal by July 1, any amendments the tribe makes will have to be considered and approved by the plant owners.

Colorado Coal Country Sees Economic Salvation In Solar, Organic Farming — @NewsCPR

West Elk Mine. Photo credit Division of Reclamation Mining & Safety

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

Workers at the last mine standing in the region, West Elk, met President Donald Trump’s executive order with cautious optimism. But travel to the west central Colorado region, it’s clear that the area isn’t banking on coal coming back to what it used to be. And the decline is clear. It’s meant a few empty storefronts in Paonia, a drop in Delta County School District students, and fewer fully ensured health care patients in the region.

And there’s another challenge: In contrast to big coal producers such as Wyoming and the Appalachia region back East, federal grant dollars to ease the transition away from coal aren’t flowing as freely into Colorado. That’s according to Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan, who represents Delta County.

“I think what’s unique about Colorado is it’s not thought of as coal country, Donovan said. “Those federal programs have focused on the more traditional West Virginia, Appalachia communities that we think of as coal country. So I think in Colorado it’s going to fall more on the shoulders of the state.”

[…]

With planning help from state economic developers, Delta County Economic Development Inc. drew up its future plans in 2016. Here’s a look at the key items.

  • Solar: With the help of training school Solar Energy International, the North Fork Valley could see more rooftop solar. Delta County’s high poverty rate has translated into low demand for rooftop panels. With Solarize Delta County, SEI plans to make the energy more accessible and affordable by spurring more local investment. SEI has also launched efforts to retrain coal workers, although SEI Director of Operations Kris Sutton said the effort has been slow going in the short term: “If coal miners here want to pursue solar jobs. They’re going to have to probably move,” Sutton said, referring to the fact that most solar installation jobs are along the Front Range.
  • A specialty food manufacturing incubator: Delta County School District, which runs the region’s technical college, purchased a 22,000 square foot building that will eventually house classrooms, a commercial kitchen and a warehouse. Entrepreneurs could get classes, marketing assistance and a space that helps them create food products out of regional produce from the valley, including organic foods, Ventrello said. “It’s value added. Rather than just selling tomatoes, can you make a high end salsa?”
  • Organic food: In Hotchkiss, Big B’s Juices has evolved from from a shed that sold organic fruit to an outfit that sells juice and a hard cider line across the country. Ventrello says the incubator could help existing businesses like Big B’s expand their business, and hire more folks including out-of-work miners. Shawn Larson, who moved to the area from Utah in 2010 to help start Big B’s hard cider line says every extra job helps. ““We sell products nationwide. You know, we have that reach, but also affect our community,” he said.
  • Recreation and tourism: In its economic blueprint, the county’s economic development group plans to beef up its Gunnison Riverfront property with more access points for water sports, trails and picnic areas. It also calls for a hotel and conference center to make the city more of a destination for travelers.
  • Broadband: Delta-Montrose Electric Association will spend up to $125 million on high-speed broadband internet to the region in the coming years, which includes the towns of Paonia and Hotchkiss. Paonia was one of the first towns to be fully wired with the broadband. Mayor Charles Stewart said it will be one key to recruiting new businesses and drawing more residents to the region. “People like those amenities. When you can say to folks, ‘Yes, you can live in the North Fork and still have high-speed internet access,’ that’s a positive,” said Stewart.
  • Other renewables: It’s not just individual homeowners that could see more solar in Delta County. The region’s electricity provider, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, is also seeking to add more solar and hydroelectric power to its grid. Meantime, regional economic development leaders like Tom Huerkamp are eyeing the region’s shuttered mines and seeing another economic opportunity: generating power from methane that naturally vents from shuttered underground mines. “If we tap the old coal mines, this community has the ability in the next maybe five to 10 years to disconnect from the grid,” Huerkamp said.

U.S. coal use falls 9 percent in 2016 #ActOnClimate

One of the generating units at the power plant at Kemmerer, Wyo., is being shut down this year to reduce emissions that are causing regional haze. 2009 photo/Allen Best

From Climate Central (Bobby Magill):

…it was little surprise when the federal government reported this week that U.S. coal use fell 9 percent in 2016, even as Americans consumed more energy overall. The U.S. used more natural gas and renewables last year than ever before, while oil use and even nuclear power were on the rise, too…

Coal use fell last year for the third year in a row — after slight increases in 2012 and 2013 — and has been steadily declining in the U.S. since it peaked a decade ago, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data…

Part of the problem for coal, however, is that Americans aren’t as hungry for electricity as they used to be, thanks in part to more energy efficient buildings and appliances…

Cheap prices along with federal mercury emissions regulations became big incentives for electric companies to build natural gas power plants and shut down their coal-fired power plants, or run them using natural gas instead of coal.

The fallacy of Trump’s vow to restore the coal economy — The Mountain Town News

One of the generating units at the power plant at Kemmerer, Wyo., is being shut down this year to reduce emissions that are causing regional haze. 2009 photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Trump vows to bring back coal, but coal has lost favor for many reasons

With coal miners at his side, President Donald Trump last week signed an executive order that seeks to undo the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

In coal towns, there was rejoicing. The plan requires a gradual switching of power sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 32 percent by 2030. Unless carbon capture and storage technology advances rapidly, this puts coal at a great disadvantage.

Coal plants were already closing in droves. They’ve been losing out to cheaper natural gas, which has fewer greenhouse gas emissions and can be dispatched in a matter of minutes, unlike coal plants, which take about a day to crank up. This makes natural gas a better fit with renewables, whose prices have tumbled dramatically in the last five years.

But coal plants in the Rocky Mountains have also been closing because of their dirty environmental footprint, not even considering greenhouse gas emissions. The sulfur dioxide and other emissions contribute heavily to regional haze, also called smog.

For example, PacifiCorp announced it would close one of its generating units at its power plant at Kemmerer, Wyo., located south of Jackson Hole. The plant provides power for Park City. The reason: the electricity wasn’t needed, because of improved energy efficiency, and to upgrade the plants to reduce pollutants was too expensive.

In northwest Colorado, Tri-State Generation and Transmission and other electrical providers have agreed to shut down a 427-megawatt power plant at Craig by 2025. This is 42 miles west of Steamboat Springs. Again, the problem is regional haze and other environmental pollutants.

The Four Corners power plant, in northwestern New Mexico. Photo/Allen Best

In New Mexico, it’s the same story. There, two units of the San Juan Generating Station are to be shut down by the end of this year, notes the Durango (Colo.) Herald.

The Herald says Public Service Co. of New Mexico is deciding whether the remaining units at the San Juan complex will operate beyond 2022.

The New York Times today makes the same point in this story by Coral Davenport: “Coal is on the Way Out at Electric Utilities, No Matter What Trump Says.”

At the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association conference, former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter pointed to action at state and local levels, along with that of private companies, all aiming to clean up energy sources. Among those pushing are a variety of Republican governors in an organization called the Conservative Energy Network.

“What this makes me believe is that no matter what happens at the federal level for the time being, there are opportunities,” said Ritter.

Wyoming didn’t join that coalition, even if Gov. Matt Mead continues to prod his state into making changes.

Coal trains await loading in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. Photo/Allen Best

Jonathan Schechter, writing in the Jackson Hole News & Guide, while pondering his own mortality, wants Wyoming to similarly quit denying that the day for the end of coal is drawing nigh. Wyoming has been living high as the go-to source for low-sulfur coal since the 1980s. You can still see mile-long coal trains grinding their way through Denver’s booming LoDo section on their way to plants as distant as Texas, Mississippi and even, for a time, Florida.

Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s coal-fired power plants closed between 2006 and 2016, and most remaining plants are on the verge of functional obsolescence. In 20 years, Schechter observes, nearly 90 percent of the plants will be 40 years old or older. As these plants close down – likely to be replaced by natural gas and renewables – “so too will the market for Wyoming’s coal, and with it the economic benefits coal has bestowed upon our state.”

Wyoming has no income tax. That simple fact, as much as the amazing sight of the Teton Range, may explain why Jackson Hole rivals Aspen for billionaires per capita. “When the day comes that income is taxed, Jackson Hole will start to become home to a much different demographic,” Schechter concludes.

As for Trump’s vow to bring back coal, the logical question in the face of all this evidence is, will the president also promise to bring back cheap gas, like the 18.9 cents per gallon of his youth?