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.”

@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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaf, Berthoud Pass Summint, August 21, 2017.

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Will Toor):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down ‘The River Of Lost Souls’ With Jonathan Thompson — Colorado Public Radio

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathan Heffel). Click through to listen to the interview:

A new book puts the Gold King Mine spill within the long history of mining and pollution in Southwest Colorado.

Jonathan Thompson will be at the Book Bar tonight. I wonder if Denver is a bit of a shock to his system even though he’s a sixth-generation Coloradan?

I am so happy to finally get to finally meet Jonathan. His new book, River of Lost Souls, is an important read. Understanding the industrialization of our state over the years will help us chart a less destructive course.

I loved the passages where Jonathan reminisces about spending time around the Four Corners and in the San Juans. He transports you to those times in your life spent next to the river or exploring what sights the land has to offer. He connects you to the Four Corners in a way that only a son of the San Juans could.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

Stunning drops in solar, wind costs mean economic case for coal, gas is ‘crumbling’ — ThinkProgress

Aspen gets more than half of its electricity from wind turbines just north of I-80 in the Nebraska panhandle. Photo credit The Mountain Town News.

From ThinkProgress (Joe Romm):

Prices for solar, wind, and battery storage are dropping so rapidly that renewables are increasingly squeezing out all forms of fossil fuel power, including natural gas.

The cost of new solar plants dropped 20 percent over the past 12 months, while onshore wind prices dropped 12 percent, according to the latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report. Since 2010, the prices for lithium-ion batteries — crucial to energy storage — have plummeted a stunning 79 percent.

“The economic case for building new coal and gas capacity is crumbling,” as BNEF’s chief of energy economics, Elena Giannakopoulou, told Bloomberg.

At the same time, solar and wind plants — which are increasingly being built with battery storage — are eating into the utilization of existing coal and gas plants, making them far less profitable. For instance, the super-efficient combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants that have been popular in recent decades, were designed to be used at full power between 60 percent and 90 percent of the time.

But their actual utilization rate (also called the “capacity factor”) has been plummeting in recent years, and is now close to a mere 20 percent in countries as diverse as China, Germany, and India.