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?

The American West from the air — @publicbooks @EcoFlight

From Public Books (Laura Pritchett):

I recently found myself 1,500 feet above ground, traveling at 180 mph. When I wiped away the breath-mist from the window, I could see the American West in the chill of November: snowy mountain ranges, high alpine, high desert, waves of blue mountains, the shocking red rocks of Utah, the undulations of landscape as it bore out its transformation from range to basin and back again. If I peered closer, the details revealed themselves: the way snow had blown itself into watersheds, the paths I’d hiked winding up mountains, the glint on the curves of some of the nation’s best cutthroat trout streams.

I also saw the unbeautiful: spiderwebs of fracking roads, missing mountainsides, uranium mines, orange ponds for storing tailings and dust, stands of felled trees, the white puffs and yellow haze from coal-fired power plants.

My ticket to this view was a program called “Flight Across America,” which gives college-age and early professional folks the chance to see the West from the air. It’s a program of EcoFlight, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for environmental issues from the air. Ecoflight was started by Bruce Gordon (good friend to the late John Denver, another pilot-conservationist) 13 years ago; since then, EcoFlight has flown politicians, conservation groups, media, scientists, and celebrities.

In three small Cessnas, we took off from little airports in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico: Grand Junction, Farmington, Cortez, Durango, Moab, Walden. We crammed into these 1970s-era planes with recording gear and notebooks and cameras, with hats and gloves, with headsets for communicating both within the plane and to the other planes, and with curiosity.

Below, we saw Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming; saw the Navajo nation, site of the most polluting coal-fired power plant in the United States; saw the West’s many rivers and diversions; saw the Roan Plateau of western Colorado, a major drilling site. We flew over the proposed Hermosa Wilderness Area in southern Colorado; we camped in freezing temperatures at the Hovenweep National Monument near the ruins of the ancestral Pueblo; we hiked in the heat of Moab and in a blizzard at the Maroon Bells. We also met with an array of experts representing Colorado’s politicians, ranchers, mountain bikers, conservationists, and photographers.

The amount of information we absorbed from our pilots and guest speakers was immense. But perhaps the most important discovery—for those of us who hadn’t flown like this before—was the simple but essential confirmation that the landscape is a whole. Despite the state lines, designations, management agencies, political jurisdictions, and roads, the planet Earth is the planet Earth, a continuous entity. As the snowy peaks morphed into plateaus and into high desert, it was clear that the natural world does not segment or cut herself up at all…

Every day, we witnessed yet more instances of ecological and political interconnectedness; each night, the students would gather around and discuss the questions these examples raised: How can we see the West as a whole, and act accordingly? And how does one action influence others? Indeed, was this very trip culpable in some way? Was using up fuel to see these areas worth it? When I posed that question to Bruce Gordon, the program founder, he said, “That’s always a tough question, but we do our best to offset our carbon footprint as much as possible through various carbon savings in other areas. We work diligently to minimize flight times. We ensure that on each and every mission the value added of empowering our passenger participants and the subsequent outreach is worth the cost in adding to a carbon footprint. We aren’t against oil and gas, but we feel it can and should be done properly, and there are some places it just shouldn’t be done.

Black Hills Energy donates water rights and infrastructure to Pueblo Water for the Arkansas River Walk

Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (John Pompia):

At the El Pomar Fountain in the shadow of the Union Avenue bridge, Christopher Burke, vice president of Colorado Utility Operations for Black Hills Energy, officially transferred ownership of water rights and water diversion infrastructure to officials representing Pueblo Water, the city of Pueblo and Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo.

The water rights, appraised at $280,000, were donated to Pueblo Water. To the city were given water diversion infrastructure — head gates, tunnels, diversion dams, ponds, etc. — and the pipeline that carries water from the Arkansas River to the HARP channel.

Formerly, this system was used to transmit cooling water to the now-decommissioned power plant but now has become an essential part of the operation of HARP’s water course.

While the water infrastructure is nearly a century old and is fully depreciated, the hypothetical cost of replacing these assets critical to properly operate the water flows would be substantial

Senate confirms Zinke as Interior Secretary

Arizona Water News

The new Zinke team, including appointments to Bureau of Reclamation, will need to learn quickly about the complexities of Colorado River water law and the drought-induced woes facing Lake Mead

zinke-confirmation-photo

By a comfortable 68-31 margin, the U.S. Senate today confirmed President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

The former Montana member of Congress will head a department that manages around 500 million acres of land and waterways in the United States.

Zinke’s department also includes the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for the system of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River, the waterway that is integral to the livelihood of 40 million U.S. citizens living in the Southwest.

In a statement declaring his approval of the appointment, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said he looked forward to working with Zinke’s department, notably on behalf of Arizona’s Colorado River allotment.

“I was pleased to vote to…

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@Colorado_TU: Lessons of the battle over the Roan Plateau

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona
Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

Here’s guest column from David Nickum writing in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

For more than a decade, the battle over Colorado’s Roan Plateau — a beautiful green oasis surrounded by oil and gas development — raged in meetings and in courtrooms. At issue: Would the “drill, baby, drill” approach to public lands carry the day and the path of unrestrained energy development run over one of Colorado’s most valuable wildlife areas? Or would “lock it up” advocates preclude all development of the Roan’s major natural gas reserves?

Luckily, this story has a happy ending — and a lesson for Colorado and other states in the West struggling with how to balance the need for energy development with conservation of public lands and irreplaceable natural resources.

The Bureau of Land Management recently issued its final plan for the Roan Plateau, closing the most valuable habitat on top of the plateau to oil and gas leases. The plan, which will guide management of the area for the next 20 years, also acknowledges the importance of wildlife habitat corridors connecting to winter range at the base of the plateau.

At the same time, the BLM management plan allows responsible development to proceed in less-sensitive areas of the plateau that harbor promising natural gas reserves and can help meet our domestic energy needs.

What happened? After years of acrimony and lawsuits, stakeholders on all side of the issue sat down and hammered out a balanced solution. Everyone won. It’s too bad it took lawsuits and years of impasse to get all sides to do what they could have done early on: Listen to each other. We all could have saved a lot of time, money and tears.

The Roan example is a lesson to remember, as the incoming administration looks at how to tackle the issue of energy development on public lands. There’s a better way, and it’s working in Colorado.

The BLM also this month, incorporating stakeholder input, closed oil and gas leasing in several critical habitat areas in the Thompson Divide — another Colorado last best place — while permitting leasing to go ahead in adjacent areas.

That plan also represents an acknowledgment that some places are too special to drill, while others can be an important part of meeting our energy needs.

And in the South Park area — a vast recreational playground for the Front Range and an important source of drinking water for Denver and the Front Range — the BLM is moving ahead with a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the area that would identify, from the outset, both those places and natural resources that need to be protected and the best places for energy leasing to proceed.

We have said that we want federal agencies in charge of public lands to involve local and state stakeholders more closely in land management planning — that perceived disconnect has been the source of criticism and conflict in the West regarding federal oversight of public lands.

The MLP process is a new tool that promises to address some of that top-down, fragmented approach to public land management. To their credit, the BLM is listening and incorporating suggestions from local ranchers, conservation groups and elected officials into their leasing plan for South Park.

This landscape level, “smart from the start” approach is one way for stakeholders to find consensus on commonsense, balanced solutions that allow careful, responsible energy development to occur while protecting our most valuable natural resources.

The lesson I take from the Roan? We can find solutions through respectful dialogue—and we shouldn’t wait for litigation to do so. [ed. emphasis mine] Coloradoans can meet our needs for energy development and for preserving healthy rivers and lands by talking earlier to each other and looking for common ground.

David Nickum is executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

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