Greenhouse gas pollution trapped 49% more heat in 2021 than in 1990, NOAA finds

Click the link to read the release on the NOAA website:

Greenhouse gas pollution caused by human activities trapped 49% more heat in the atmosphere in 2021 than they did in 1990, according to NOAA scientists.

NOAA’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, known as the AGGI, tracks increases in the warming influence of human emissions of heat-trapping gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and 16 other chemicals. The AGGI converts the complex scientific computations of how much extra heat these gases capture into a single number that can easily be compared to previous years and tracks the rate of change.

This graph depicts the relative contributions of the major greenhouse gas pollutants to global warming, in watts per square meter along the left axis. The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) is shown on the right axis. Credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory

The AGGI is indexed to 1990, the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol and the year the first IPCC Scientific Assessment of Climate Change was published.

“The AGGI tells us the rate at which we are driving global warming,” said Ariel Stein, the acting director of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory (GML). “Our measurements show the primary gases responsible for climate change continue rising rapidly, even as the damage caused by climate change becomes more and more clear. The scientific conclusion that humans are responsible for their increase is irrefutable.”

In 2021, the AGGI reached a value of 1.49, which means that human-emitted greenhouse gases trapped 49% more heat in the atmosphere than in 1990. Because it is based primarily on highly accurate measurements of greenhouse gases in air samples collected around the globe, the result contains little uncertainty.

Global average abundances of the major, well-mixed, long-lived greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, CFC-12 and CFC-11 – from the NOAA global air sampling network since the beginning of 1979 are depicted here. These five gases account for about 96% of the direct radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases since 1750. The remaining 4% is contributed by 15 other halogenated gases including HCFC-22 and HFC-134a, for which NOAA observations are also shown here. Credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory

The biggest culprit

Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is by far the most abundant human-emitted greenhouse gas. Roughly 36 billion metric tons of CO2 are emitted each year by transportation, electrical generation, cement manufacturing, deforestation, agriculture, and many other practices. A substantial fraction of CO2 emitted today will persist in the atmosphere for more than 1,000 years. Not surprisingly, it is also the largest contributor to the AGGI in terms of both amount and rate of increase.

NOAA measurements showed the global average concentration of CO2 in 2021 was 414.7 parts per million (ppm). The annual increase was 2.6 ppm during this year, about the average annual increase for the previous decade, and much higher than the increase measured during 2000-2009. CO2 levels have risen by 61 ppm since 1990, accounting for 80% of the increased heat tracked by the AGGI since that year.

“CO2 is the main player because it stays in the atmosphere and oceans for thousands of years and it is by far the largest contributor to global warming,” said GML Senior Scientist Pieter Tans. “Eliminating CO2 pollution has to be front and center in any efforts to deal with climate change.”

This graphic shows the increasing warming influence over time of CO2 and non-CO2 greenhouse gases, in CO2 equivalents, on the left axis. The corresponding increase in the AGGI is shown on the right axis. Credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory.

Methane: Is warming feeding warming?

One of the most important scientific questions for climate scientists is what’s been driving the sharp, sustained increase of the second-most important greenhouse gas – methane – since 2006.

Levels of atmospheric methane, or CH4, averaged 1,895.7 parts per billion during 2021. The 16.9 ppb increase recorded for 2021 was the fastest observed since the early 1980s, when a more rigorous measurement regime was initiated. Methane levels are currently around 162% greater than pre-industrial levels. From NOAA’s observations, scientists estimate the amount of methane emitted in 2021 was 15% greater than the 1984-2006 period.

Methane is the second-most important greenhouse gas in warming the globe. The warming influence of CH4 since pre-industrial times is about a quarter of that from CO2. Causes for the dramatic post-2007 increase are not fully understood, but NOAA scientists have concluded that changes in isotopic composition of atmospheric methane over time point to microbial sources, likely from wetlands, agriculture and landfills, as the dominant driver. Fossil fuel emissions, they suggest, have made a smaller contribution.

“We should absolutely target man-made methane emissions – especially those from fossil fuel – because it is technologically feasible to control them,” said Xin Lan, a CIRES scientist working in the Global Monitoring Lab. “If wetlands are giving off more methane because of warming and changes in global precipitation caused by rising CO2 levels , that’s something we can’t control directly. And that would be very concerning.”

No laughing matter

The third-most important greenhouse gas is one you may have encountered as an anesthesia in the dentist’s chair. Nitrous oxide, or N2O, is another long-lived climate forcing pollutant primarily emitted by people. It is rising every year. But it’s different in that it’s being driven by expanding populations, not energy demands. N2O pollution is primarily a result of fertilizer use to support agriculture and food production, especially for an expanding global population .

“We can find alternative energy sources to replace fossil fuels,” said Stephen Montzka, the GML scientist who leads the AGGI report each year, “but cutting emissions associated with producing food is a very difficult task.”

These three greenhouse gases, plus two banned ozone-depleting chemicals, account for about 96% of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere due to human activity since 1750. The remaining 4% is from 16 other greenhouse gases also tracked by the AGGI. In aggregate, they trapped an amount of heat equivalent to 508 ppm of CO2 in 2021.

One number to track human impact on climate

NOAA scientists released the first AGGI in 2006 as a way to help policymakers, educators, and the public understand the cumulative impact of greenhouse gases on climate over time.

Scientists benchmarked the AGGI to the year 1750, the onset of the Industrial Revolution, assigning it a value of zero. An AGGI value of 1.0 was assigned to 1990.

The AGGI is based on thousands of air samples collected from sites around the world each year from NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network. Concentrations of these greenhouse gases and other chemicals are determined through the analysis of those samples at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. Scientists then calculate the amount of extra heat being trapped in the Earth system by these gases and how much that has changed over time to understand the contribution from human activity.

For more information, contact Theo Stein, NOAA Communications, at theo.stein@noaa.gov.

We’re catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene — @rahmstorf #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

The #Climate Fight Isn’t Lost. Here Are 10 Ways to Win — Rolling Stone Magazine #ActOnClimate

Click the link to read the article on the Rolling Stone website (Jeff Goodell). Here’s an excerpt:

The clock is running on the climate crisis, but we have the tools and knowledge — and the crickets — that we need

The climate crisis is here, and heartbreak is all around us. The early promise of dramatic action from President Biden is sinking in the old mud bog of fossil-fuel politics. Meanwhile, despite 40 years of warnings from scientists and the decline in the cost of clean energy, carbon pollution is still increasing and the world is heating up as fast as ever. The final sentence of last February’s U.N.’s latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the impacts of that warming is stark and unequivocal: “Climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.” Or as U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres put it after an IPCC report on the mitigation of climate change was released this month: “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

[…]

1. Tax carbon.
In February, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse took to the Senate floor for his 280th “Time to Wake Up!” speech about the climate crisis. The centerpiece of Whitehouse’s plan was the need for a tax on fossil fuels. It is an argument that speaks to a truism of economics: to make something scarce, tax it…

Leaf charging at the Lionshead parking facility in Vail September 30, 2021.

2. Electrify everything.
In the U.S. there are roughly 290 million cars and trucks, 70 million fossil-fueled furnaces, 60 million fossil-fueled water heaters, 20 million gas dryers, and 50 million gas stoves. What if all those were electrified? Saul Griffith, an Australian American engineer and author of Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future, thinks electrification can reduce 80 percent of U.S. emissions by 2035…

A solar parking facility at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, with an output of 8 megawatts of electricity.

3. Go local with solar.
It’s now obvious: The future is solar on homes, solar on apartment buildings, solar on malls, solar on parking lots, solar on fast-food joints, burrito stands, and strip clubs. With the sun, small is beautiful. Wasted space becomes a platform for power generation. With solar, cost has always been a problem, but that is ending now as the price of solar panels has plummeted over the past decade. Nobody pretends that you are going to make steel from solar, or that it will be the best way to generate power in every situation,but it is clean and reliable and won’t go down in a blackout like the one in 2021 that left 11 millions Texans freezing in the dark for days and was responsible for as many as 700 deaths…

Xcel Energy proposes to close two of its coal-fired generating units at Comanche, indicated by smokestacks at right. The stack at left, for the plant completed in 2010, provides energy for a portion of Aspen and for the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys. In the foreground is the largest solar farm east of the Rocky Mountains at its opening. Photo/Allen Best

4. Buy out coal plants.
Coal is the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, responsible for 30 percent of global carbon emissions. The biggest coal burner is China, which consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined. Here in the U.S., coal is slowly being displaced by cheap gas, wind, and solar. But there are still 179 active coal plants, generating 20 percent of U.S. electricity. Shutting them down and replacing them with cleaner, cheaper energy is the fastest way to lower carbon emissions and slow the climate crisis. “The transition beyond coal is inevitable,” says Justin Guay, director for global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project. “But the timeline on which it happens isn’t.”

[…]

Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

5. Start telling the truth about the climate crisis.
How much is that $2 million house on the beach going to be worth when there’s an octopus swimming through the living room? What’s going to happen to all those refineries on the Gulf Coast as the demand for oil plummets? Banks and corporations face huge financial risks as the age of climate disruption accelerates. One just-published report found around $343 billion in weather- and climate-related economic losses in 2021 alone, the third-costliest year on record. A 2019 study concluded that 215 of the world’s largest companies face nearly $1 trillion in climate-related risk as soon as 2024. Very little of this is disclosed in corporate financial reports. “The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare just how vulnerable the United States is to sudden, catastrophic shocks,” Sarah Bloom Raskin, Biden’s nominee to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, wrote in The New York Times. “Climate change poses the next big threat.”

[…]

Denver Water’s planned new administration building via the Denver Business Journal

6. Build denser, fairer, more humane cities.
Urban life is far gentler on the planet than suburban life. People who live in cities spend less time stuck in traffic in their SUVs; they have better access to local food; they live in buildings that are more efficient. But cities need a climate upgrade too: more bikes, better public transit, more green space…

Bears Ears Protest in Salt Lake December 2, 2017. Photo credit: Mother Jones Magazine

7. Get loud and hit them where it hurts.
The biggest roadblock to climate action has always been the cowardice and complicity of our political leaders. For many, the lack of significant accomplishments at last year’s Glasgow climate talks and the failure of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda have been a brutal awakening. “Activists have become jaded because there’s been a lot of promises from politicians without a lot of action to back it up,” says Dana Fisher, an environmental-activism expert at the University of Maryland and author of American Resistance. “A lot of young people are looking at other tactics now.”

[…]

Graphic credit: The Nature Conservancy

8. Fund small-scale geo-engineering research.
Maybe Dr. Evil wants to deliberately fuck with the Earth’s climate, but nobody else does. Nevertheless, it’s probably inevitable, given the risks we face. There are many potential forms of geoengineering, from brightening clouds to stabilizing glaciers, but the technology that gets the most attention is solar engineering, which amounts to scattering particles in the stratosphere to reflect away sunlight and cool the Earth. Scientists know it works because it’s essentially what volcanoes do (particles injected into the stratosphere from Mount Pinatubo, which erupted in 1991, cooled the planet 0.6 C for more than a year, until they rained out of the sky)…

Deep-fried house crickets (Acheta domesticus) at a market in Thailand. By Takeaway – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26774492

9. Eat crickets!
America’s (and, increasingly, the world’s) appetite for meat is barbecuing the planet. Livestock eat up a lot of land, drive deforestation, and are carbon-intensive in their own right. Without reforming industrial agriculture and reducing meat consumption, it will be virtually impossible to limit warming to 2 C, much less 1.5 C…

Protest against Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. Photo: Dio Cramer

10. Fight and win the culture war.
Much has been said about the failure of Big Media to cover the climate crisis. It’s too often pigeonholed as an environmental issue rather than a slow-rolling planet-wide catastrophe. Or it’s infused with “both-sidesism,” in which journalists are duped into the false idea that there is any real debate about the fundamentals of climate science. Or it’s just not discussed at all. When Hurricane Ida slammed into the Gulf Coast late last summer, six of the biggest commercial TV networks in the U.S. — ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC, and MSNBC — ran 774 stories about Ida, an analysis by the watchdog group Media Matters found. Only 34 of those stories mentioned climate change. Mark Hertsgaard, the executive director of Covering Climate Now, an initiative dedicated to improving climate reporting, calls it “media malpractice.”

Air-source heat pumps at the home of Joe Smyth and Kristen Taddonio in Fraser, Colo. Photo/Joe Smyth

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

The coldest temperature this winter at the new home of Joe Smyth and Kristen Taddonio was 17 below. They live in Fraser, the Colorado town that used to get far, far colder.

Still, that February night was cold enough to test the design and technologies employed in construction of the couple’s 1,176-square-foot house. They insulated carefully, of course, and have solar panels. Even after charging their electric car, their house produces more energy than it consumes.

An air-source heat pump was central to their mission in creating a net-zero home, one gutted of emissions from fossil fuels. It extracts heat from outside, even on chilly nights, to warm the interior.

The Mitsubishi model used at the Fraser house promises to deliver the necessary indoor heat even when outside temperatures dip to 13 below. To supplement the air-source heat pump should temperatures dive to 30 below, as was once common, the couple also installed electrical-resistance heating. It wasn’t needed.

Colorado needs many more air-source heat pumps — and fewer carbon emissions from buildings — to meet its mid-century decarbonization target goals of 90%.

Getting this right during housing construction costs less in the not-very-long term. Building permits for 48,200 housing units, both single-family and multi-family, were issued last year, according to the Colorado Business Economic Outlook. That’s like adding a new Greeley each year along with a few small towns.

Retrofitting our older buildings is laborious and expensive. I know, because my house was built in 1889. You don’t swap out buildings the way you would computers or cars.

Several bills working their way through the Colorado Legislature this spring would nudge Coloradans toward low- and no-carbon technologies. All cost more upfront, but save money, sometimes lots of it, over time, while reducing or eliminating emissions.

Carrots would be offered by SB22-051 to those who purchase air- and ground-source heat pumps. Purchasers would be allowed income-tax exemptions of up to 10% of the purchase price.

Other provisions in the bill approved by the House Energy and Environment Committee offer tax incentives for energy storage and buildings materials with low levels of embodied carbon.

Christine Brinker, representing the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, testified that her family’s air-source heat pump paid for itself in six years because of lower energy costs. Air-source heat pumps help residents of Geos, a project in Arvada, to pay as little as $6 a month in energy costs.

“It is just more efficient to move heat than to create heat,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, a Democrat from Louisville and a bill supporter. “I think we can do some good here by amending that pay-off time curve just a little bit. That’s something that we need to do to facilitate our transition” from fossil fuels.

Air-source heat pumps can also move heat from inside buildings during summer, effectively becoming air conditioners. Even in Winter Park, real estate buyers expect air conditioning.

The second bill, HB-1362, would require towns, cities, and counties to adopt the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code before 2025. This latest code advances efficiency 8% to 9% compared to the 2018 iteration.

Natural gas will still be allowed, but air-source heat pumps more efficiently meet the 2021 code’s elevated standards.

The Colorado Municipal League objected to loss of local control. Two representatives of rural areas described it as onerous for small towns despite $3 million earmarked for training. Homebuilders argued that the advanced standards would make already expensive housing less affordable.

Howard Geller, representing the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, cited a study from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that found the latest code would indeed add $200 to the cost of an average mortgage in Colorado built to this latest code. Lower energy costs will more than recoup that extra cost, he said, even in the first year.

Rep. Tracey Bernett, a Democrat from Longmont whose district includes nearly half the 1,084 homes destroyed by the Marshall Fire, said she sponsored the bill with full confidence it will help, not harm, her constituents.

These bills both moved from the House committee on strictly party-line votes, Democrats in support. A third bill, HB22-1381, has bipartisan sponsors — and bipartisan support. It would allocate $20 million for grants to further geothermal development by tapping the year-round heat of 55 degrees found 8 to 10 feet below the surface.

As with air-source heat pumps, sponsors said the market needs to be nudged to adopt technology that costs more upfront than installing natural gas infrastructure but pays off in the long term. “This is something we don’t do enough of,” said Rep. Hugh McKean, a Republican from Loveland, who is installing geothermal in a house he is constructing.

“I really like this bill,” said Perry Will, a Republican from New Castle, citing the experiences of family members with the technology at Rulison and elsewhere.

A sharper pivot for Xcel Energy — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Pawnee, a coal-burning plant near Brush, in northeastern Colorado, would be converted to natural gas no later than 2026, according to a proposal submitted to state regulators yesterday., It’s located a mile from where this writer and photographer emerged into the world. Photo/Allen Best

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

A settlement agreement proposes an earlier coal plant retirement and a way way to evaluate need for new natural gas plants. It also punts some key decisions.

An agreement filed Tuesday with state regulators proposes a sharper, faster pivot by Colorado’s largest electrical utility from coal to renewables and alternative technologies.

The settlement agreement filed by Xcel Energy and other parties calls for retirement of Comanche 3, the state’s youngest and most powerful coal plant, “no later than” Jan. 1, 2031. Retirement could actually occur sooner.

As for new natural gas generation, the agreement calls for a new measuring stick: How cost-effective can the gas plant be if it operates only 25 years?

This could potentially result in Xcel Energy reducing carbon emissions from its electrical generation 88% by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. As of 2021 Xcel’s electrical generation in Colorado was 39% carbon free.

But the proposal would also kick some major decisions down the road to 2024 and 2025. “The modeling and technologies need just a little more time to improve,” said Gwen Farnsworth, managing senior policy advisor in Colorado for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

Among the items almost certain to be taken up in 2024 are questions of whether new programs and business models can be used to configure demand for electricity to better match supplies. For example, can batteries of electric cars be charged during the middle of night, when wind turbines in eastern Colorado most reliably whirl? Can peak demand be shaved more on hot summer afternoons? Such strategies and new technologies could reduce need for new generation, both fossil and renewables,

Those decisions include when exactly Comanche 3 needs to close. When the $1 billion plant opened in 2010, it was projected to operate until 2070. It has had a troubled history, a largely unreliable source of electricity with massive amounts of debt remaining. The 750-megawatt plant has been idled – again – since January, with no certain date for reopening.

Noting that lack of reliability, two of the three PUC commissioners in March indicated that they saw no good reason for the plant to remain operational beyond 2029.

Xcel last year proposed continuing operations to 2040, then agreed to a 2034 closing. This moves up the no-later-than date to the end of 2030.

“No-later-than is a key phrase, because it allows for flexibility and even improving the results of this settlement over time,” said Farnsworth. She said the accelerated retirement of Comanche 3 by just four years will save Xcel ratepayers up to $39 million.

And having Comanche off-line this year has helped save money because otherwise production from wind farms and other renewable generation would have been curtailed.

As for new natural gas, Xcel originally proposed 1,300 megawatts of “dispatchable” resources, meaning natural gas or other fossil fuels. Dispatchable resources can – at least in theory – be turned on quickly to meet demand. In practice, it’s more complicated. See Comanche 3.

How much natural gas?

Some of Xcel’s plans for natural gas remain. The coal-burning Pawnee Power Plant near Brush, about 90 miles northeast of Denver, is to be converted to natural gas no later than January 2026. Still in question is how much additional natural gas generation Xcel will acquire.

Xcel could still propose new burn natural gas plants to go on line in 2030, for example, but they would have to cease producing emissions by 2050.

But the settlement agreement also will result in new modeling that the Sierra Club’s Anna McDevitt says will allow battery storage coupled with renewable generation to better compete with natural gas in giving Xcel the confidence it can meet demands. Previous modeling used what the Sierra Club believes were flawed assumptions that favored natural gas.

“There is much in the settlement that will result in less likelihood of building new gas plants,” she said.

Xcel, in a presentation to investors in November 2021, estimated its Colorado division, would spend $9.9 billion from 2022 through 2026, not quite two-thirds for electric distribution and transmission but almost a quarter for natural gas.

Another major component of the plan calls for Xcel to continue property tax payments to Pueblo and Pueblo County districts from 2031 through 2040, the previous retirement date.

The proposal would have Xcel continue tax payments to Pueblo and Pueblo County until 2040.

Holy Cross Energy, the electrical cooperative serving the Vail and Aspen areas, owns 8% of Comanche 3. That translates to a potential 60 megawatts of production.

The agreement specifies that Holy Cross will be able to continue to use Xcel Energy’s transmission lines from eastern Colorado for an equal amount of electrical production, either from the resources owned by Holy Cross or from the new generating resources being brought on-line by Xcel in coming years.

Xcel’s plans for new generation, to be determined by competitive bidding, are estimated to include 2,400 megawatts of new wind, 1,600 megawatts of large-scale solar, 400 megawatts of energy storage, and nearly 1,200 megawatts of distributed solar resources.

“In a way, we are held harmless by the early retirement” of Comanche 3, said Bryan Hannegan, the chief executive of Holy Cross.

Holy Cross is currently projected to pay off its portion of the Comanche 3 debt in 2042.

Sedalia-based CORE Electric Cooperative, the state’s largest electrical cooperative, which serves Castle Rock and other suburban and exurban communities on the south flanks of metropolitan Denver, owns 25% of Comanche 3.

Hannegan and many others credited Xcel with a major achievement in getting a diverse set of parties – Boulder, Pueblo and other cities, as well as labor and business groups, environmental organizations, and still others – to come to a compromise.

Release of the agreement was accompanied by press releases from many organizations with a chorus of hosannahs.

“This agreement is a significant step toward meeting Colorado’s climate goals,” said Will Toor, chief executive of the Colorado Energy Office. “We’re so proud to lead the charge on reducing carbon emissions in Colorado,” said Alice Jackson, president of Xcel’s Colorado division. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Noah Long also saluted a future of “savings for Xcel Energy customers and cleaner skies for Colorado.”

Farnsworth, of Western Resource Advocates, offered similar praise, but also pointed to a strong motivation: “I think the parties all made it possible because there’s a common understanding of the urgency of addressing climate change and also the urgency of moving this resource planning process forward in time to benefit from the federal tax credits for wind and solar.”
That, she added, made everybody want to reach compromise and avoid litigation.

The key word used by many was “flexible.”

Forward movement, but…

Not all were equally enthused. “Any date for shutting Pueblo unit 3 that isn’t 2022 is the wrong date,” said Leslie Glustrom of Boulder-based Clean Energy Action, referring to Comanche 3. “The climate crisis now clear to everyone.”

The Colorado Renewable Energy Society policy committee members were miffed that the social cost of methane was not used in the agreement as they had advocated.

“A big move forward, but there are pieces missing,” said the group’s Laurent Meillon. He charged that the plan still favors Xcel building generating facilities – that it can then use to justify higher rates to customers than necessary.

CH4 trend: This graph shows globally-averaged, monthly mean atmospheric methane abundance determined from marine surface sites since 1983. Values for the last year are preliminary. (NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory)

“Xcel is orienting itself toward the construction of unnecessary gas plants, thus maximizing its investments and profits, right before it becomes entirely too obvious that only renewables and efficiencies are worthy of more investments. A repeat of its profitable coal mistakes, despite the current early coal closures with decades left to amortize those stranded assets,” he wrote in an e-mail.

CRES members, Glustrom and others say that Xcel must more aggressively pursue strategies that shave peak demands. Others involved in the agreement said they believe that those programs will become a central component of discussions in the middle of this decade. Xcel is beginning an update this summer of the thinking behind its programs.

All in all, how might this settlement be seen in a broader context – say, the United States? Farnsworth offers what must be considered a hometown view but one worth considering.

“Colorado might be on a smaller scale than some other states, but Xcel and this settlement are really on the leading edge.”

Solar installation in the San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Western Resource Advocates

Click the link to read the release on the Western Resource Advocates website (
Julianne Basinger):

Western Resource Advocates signed on to a revised settlement agreement filed today in Xcel Energy’s Electric Resource and Clean Energy Plan proceeding before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. The new settlement includes accelerated dates for retiring the Comanche 3 coal unit, helps avoid building unnecessary and potentially stranded new fossil gas generation, and establishes commitments to achieve interim carbon emission reductions in 2024 and 2027.

“If approved, this settlement secures the next stage of Colorado’s energy transition, ensuring commitments from Xcel to reduce its harmful fossil-fuel emissions that contribute to climate change,” said Gwen Farnsworth, Western Resource Advocates’ managing senior policy advisor in Colorado. “The earlier date for retiring Comanche 3, plus cutting the assumed lifetime for any new fossil gas generation and establishing interim targets for reducing carbon emissions, will all help Colorado reach its climate goals. Important provisions also extend community assistance to the Pueblo community for 10 years and will help in the transition to new economic opportunities as the coal-fired Comanche unit closes.”

These are all key improvements to the settlement WRA has advocated for during the commission proceeding on Xcel’s plan. WRA opposed a previous version of the settlement signed by other parties late last year. Specifically, the new settlement calls for Xcel to:

  • Retire Comanche 3 by January 1, 2031 — four years earlier than the original settlement, which will avoid an additional 3.5 million tons of carbon emissions compared to the original settlement filed in November and will cut toxic local air pollutants in Pueblo;
  • Commit to interim reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, with targets of a 50% reduction by 2024 and 65% by 2027, compared with the utility’s 2005 levels;
  • Cut the modeled lifetime for any new fossil gas generation to 25 years; and
  • Expand Xcel’s Just Transition Plan, by extending the community assistance benefits for Pueblo to 10 years.
  • The settlement overall will provide more than 17 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions reductions. Reducing these fossil-fuel emissions will help curb the harmful effects of climate change. The Comanche generating station is also responsible for over 80% of all toxic chemicals released into the surrounding community of Pueblo.

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    Several provisions in the revised settlement reduce the utility’s expected future reliance on fossil-fuel gas generation. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reducing methane emissions from fossil-fuel gas is one of the biggest and fastest strategies for slowing climate change.

    The Xcel settlement today follows the utility’s February 2021 announcement of its Clean Energy Plan committing to achieve an 85% reduction in carbon emissions and 80% renewable energy generation by 2030, as well as 100% clean energy by 2050. A 2019 Colorado law requires Xcel to reduce its emissions by 80% below 2005 levels by 2030. In 2019, the Colorado Legislature also passed House Bill 1261, requiring the state to reduce its economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

    We’re into that time of year again where the #CO2 at Mauna Loa is higher than last year’s peak – so we’re now seeing the highest CO2 ever recorded — @chrisd_jones

    3 big reasons why the Biden #climate agenda is floundering — #Colorado Newsline

    Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, left, and Sen Joe Manchin participated in a roundtable event hosted by the White House Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities, on March 18, 2022. (Interior Department via Flickr/Public domain)

    President Joe Biden’s climate agenda took a hit this month when the Interior Department said it would open 144,000 acres of federal land up for oil and gas development to comply with a court order to restart fossil fuel development.

    The announcement marked yet another setback for a presidential climate plan that was once seen as historically ambitious. 

    Biden’s signature climate bill has gone nowhere in the U.S. Senate, he’s called for more domestic fossil fuel production to combat rising gas prices, and members of his own party doubt whether he can meet goals for a U.S. transition to electric vehicles.

    GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

    After noting climate as one of four crises facing the nation during his 2020 campaign, Biden gave it only a passing mention in his State of the Union address in March.

    The White House defense on the oil and gas leases is that a court order forced adoption of a policy contrary to Biden’s climate objectives. Accompanying the move was a raise in the royalty rates for energy companies drilling on federal land, a reform long sought by environmental advocates. 

    But it still represented a departure from the president’s campaign rhetoric that promised no more drilling on federal lands, and it was met with derision by some environmental advocates. 

    Randi Spivak, the public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, called it “a reckless failure of climate leadership.”

    Other advocacy groups were more understanding — the National Wildlife Federation, for example, stressed provisions of the restart that raised rates for fossil fuel development and limited the area that would be available.

    As the nation having celebrated Earth Day on Friday, the administration has said it is still committed to climate action. 

    The evidence? Biden’s move to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, funding to target carbon reduction and electric vehicles in last year’s transportation infrastructure law, and a goal set to reduce carbon emissions by 50 to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.

    “The press and the pundits may want to declare President Biden’s climate agenda dead,” an administration official said at a press briefing Monday. “But this week, we will show how it is very much alive and well.”

    Thursday, the Transportation Department announced a $6.4 billion program funded by the infrastructure law to help state transportation departments limit greenhouse gases from vehicles. Biden addressed climate issues in an Earth Day speech in Seattle Friday.

    Here are three big reasons why the White House has struggled with its climate agenda:

    Court decisions

    During the presidential campaign, Biden pledged to end new fossil fuel development on federal lands. He followed through on that promise on his first day in office, issuing an executive order to pause new oil and gas leases as the administration reviewed the program and its impact on climate change.

    A federal judge, though, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Louisiana, found the executive order was illegal and ordered the administration to restart leasing.

    In a tweet, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said that the order forced the new oil and gas lease sales. 

    She noted the parcels available for lease were decreased 80% from what had been nominated for leases in 2021 and touted the raise in royalty rates from 12.5% to 18.75%.

    Oil and gas infrastructure is seen on the Roan Plateau in far western Colorado. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

    White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the move “was the result of a court injunction that we continue to appeal. And it’s not in line with the president’s policy.” 

    House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and former chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who has pushed the Biden administration for more ambitious climate action, accepted that the court order forced the administration’s hand and credited Haaland with the reforms. 

    “I’m glad we finally have an administration that recognizes that the status quo for our oil and gas leasing program is a rip-off for the American people,” Chair Grijalva said.

    But some outside groups called it a violation of Biden’s campaign pledge.

    Kyle Tisdel, director of energy and climate at the environmental legal group Western Environmental Law Center, said in an interview the administration had options, even after the “flawed” injunction from Doughty.

    The court order only said the administration could not issue a blanket pause on new leases, he said. But the Bureau of Land Management could still decline to issues new leases on a case-by-case basis, he said.

    Congress

    Bipartisan members of the House and Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that the administration helped steer and Biden signed last year.

    A group of progressive lawmakers almost sank the measure over concerns it would exacerbate — not solve — the climate crisis. The administration and congressional leaders promised to pair the infrastructure bill with a sweeping $3.5 trillion bill that would include major climate provisions.

    The House passed the larger bill, but the Senate never took it up. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III came out against the legislation in December. With no Republican support, Manchin’s opposition doomed the bill in the evenly divided Senate.

    “What the last year has shown us is that the Biden administration trying to calibrate action to the whims of certain senators or congresspeople or midterm elections has been sort of a fool’s errand,” Tisdel said.

    Some members of Congress remain optimistic that a climate bill can be passed. Manchin has indicated an openness to supporting the clean energy tax credits in the Biden plan, but also has said that negotiations on the so-called Build Back Better plan must start from scratch.

    U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who earlier this year called for passing the climate provisions of the Biden spending plan, said in a Thursday statement he remained focused on expanding clean energy, funding conservation work and supporting fish and wildlife protections.

    “All eyes are rightly on the Biden administration and on Congress to pass transformative climate investments,” Heinrich said. “We need to deliver.”

    War and spiraling gas prices

    Biden’s State of the Union address this year focused on the war in Ukraine, then just days old, and spiking prices for consumer goods — including energy. 

    His top priority, he said, was “getting prices under control.”

    The drive to cut costs seemed to displace climate action, which he only mentioned twice, once in the context of lowering energy prices.

    To address rising prices in the short term, Biden has also called on domestic producers to pump more oil and has released millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a complex of underground storage caverns in Louisiana and Texas. 

    Biden, in Iowa, also waived a regulation banning sales of the ethanol blend E15 during the summer months. The Environmental Protection Agency normally doesn’t allow sales from June to mid-September due to concerns over air pollution.

    Julie McNamara, a deputy policy director with the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a climate advocacy group, said using rising energy prices to make the case should be an opportunity to hasten a transition away from fossil fuels to less volatile energy sources.

    “We’re seeing a push from the fossil fuel industry and their supporters to increase our dependence on fossil fuels, to increase production and fighting back against clean energy,” she said.

     “When every indicator says now is the time to be doubling down on our commitment to this clean energy transition.”



    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    Home court for #Colorado #climate lawsuits — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate

    Suncor refinery Commerce City. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

    San Miguel County and Boulder lawsuits against two oil companies will be heard in Colorado. That helps. But these cases will still have an uphill struggle to prove damages that might seem obvious.

    Colorado has abundant evidence of destruction caused by the warming, and more volatile, climate. Wildfires, ever larger and more destructive, now happen year-round, including the ghastly Marshall Fire of late December and the much smaller fires of recent weeks. Rising temperatures have robbed flows from the Colorado River, from which Boulder and Boulder County get substantial amounts of water. Air conditioning has become more necessity than luxury.

    But can Boulder and other jurisdictions show harm from burning of fossil fuels — the primary cause of warming — in their climate liability lawsuits against oil companies?

    Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County

    In 2018, Boulder (both the city and the county) as well as San Miguel County sued two oil giants, ExxonMobil and Suncor. These Colorado cases are among more than 20 climate lawsuits now in courts from Hawaii to Massachusetts. They’re the only cases from an inland state claiming actual damages from climate change — and after a recent legal victory, they could be among the first where substantive arguments are heard in court. (Only Honolulu’s case is on a faster track.)

    Despite all the evidence of climate destruction, the legal case will be challenging, according to Pat Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at Vermont Law School.

    “In a court of law, you have to prove by the preponderance of evidence and you have to convince the jury, all 12 of them,” says Parenteau, who has advised some parties who filed similar lawsuits, but is not currently involved directly in the litigation.

    He points to the difficulty of pinning health impacts on tobacco companies in the 1990s. “Cigarettes kill people. Global warming, per se, kills people: Heat waves kill people. High tides kill people.”

    Proving responsibility in a courtroom will be the tricky part. “There are multiple links in the causal change that you have to prove with climate change,” Parenteau says. “It was difficult enough to prove with tobacco. It never was proven [in court]. It was just settled. Just imagine how difficult it is for climate change.”

    Suncor operates a refinery in Commerce City northeast of downtown Denver that processes 98,000 barrels of oil daily. “We purchase crude oil from the Denver-Julesburg Basin, process it in Commerce City, and sell nearly 95% of our products within the state,” Suncor’s website says.

    Exxon’s private prediction of the future growth of carbon dioxide levels (left axis) and global temperature relative to 1982 (right axis). Elsewhere in its report, Exxon noted that the most widely accepted science at the time indicated that doubling carbon dioxide levels would cause a global warming of 3°C. Illustration: 1982 Exxon internal briefing document

    Exxon has no refinery in Colorado, but it does sell fuel in the state.

    “They are the two most consequential oil companies in Colorado, given their local operations,” says Marco Simons, the lead attorney with EarthRights International, the organization representing the three jurisdictions in Colorado.

    So far, the arguments in the Colorado cases (and others) have been about process, namely where the cases should be tried.

    In legal cases, as in basketball, home court matters. This is likely why Exxon and Suncor wanted lawsuits filed against them by Boulder and San Miguel heard in federal courts instead of Colorado district courts.
    “Basically, their argument was that you can’t let state law allow these people to seek remedy before climate change injury when federal law doesn’t provide that remedy,” Simons explains.

    The oil companies lost that round. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled on Feb. 8 that the two lawsuits should be heard in Colorado. The court then ordered, on March 2, for that mandate to take effect.

    “The court is basically saying there’s nothing wrong with using ordinary state law to hold oil companies accountable to their contribution to climate change,’” says Simons. “That does not in any way violate federal law. It’s not something inappropriate for states to do.”

    arenteau agrees there is value to the climate cases being heard in state courts. The empirical evidence is clear: “Where do the states and cities find the best success? It’s in their own courts. The faster these cases get back to state courts from federal courts, the better.”

    Colorado’s cases, originally filed as one, have been separated. San Miguel County’s case is to be heard in Denver District Court, and the Boulder and Boulder County case in Boulder County District Court.

    Telluride. San Miguel County alleges damages to its skiing economy at Telluride. The case will be heard in Denver District Court.

    Home-court advantage goes only so far. Attorneys for EarthRights International must now prove that the fossil fuels sold by Suncor and ExxonMobil in Colorado have produced damages from a changing climate to the local jurisdictions.

    While many legal analysts say that will be difficult to prove, some observers think the Colorado lawsuits could be successful, even short of total courtroom victories.

    One of those making that case is Cara Horowitz, co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change & the Environment, a program embedded in the law school at the University of California Los Angeles. She has coordinated with counsel for several jurisdictions in California that filed climate change lawsuits in 2017, but is no longer involved in those other climate liability cases.

    “On an even more deep level, one goal that the plaintiffs have across the set of cases is undermining the social license of the corporations to do what they have been doing for decades,” says Horowitz. “They just need one good victory to hang their hats on.”

    That could help supporters of these suits win verdicts in the court of public opinion.

    Neither Suncor nor Exxon responded to requests for comment, but the premise of the fossil fuel companies is that they have been doing nothing wrong by peddling gasoline, diesel and other fossil fuel products.

    Climate change-related lawsuits have been filed since the mid-1980s. Early lawsuits generally sought to force actions by state governments and federal agencies. The most notable such case is Massachusetts v. EPA, which resulted in the Supreme Court’s landmark 2007 decision that gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. Other lawsuits, such as Connecticut vs. American Electric Power in 2011, targeted energy companies. For complex legal reasons, these cases using federal courts have struggled to go forward.

    Investigative reports in 2015 by Inside Climate News and independent work by the Los Angeles Times about ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil and gas company, were important in triggering the wave of lawsuits of the last five years. The journalists showed that the oil giant misled the public about what it knew about climate change and the risks posed by fossil fuel emissions decades ago. The investigative series were based largely on the company’s internal records.

    Since then have come a wave of lawsuits by state and local governments.

    California jurisdictions — first Marin and San Mateo counties along with the city of Imperial Beach in July 2017, followed by Oakland and San Francisco that September — were at the forefront of suits by state and local governments. Currently pending are lawsuits filed by seven states and the District of Columbia and 19 by cities and counties, according to the Center for Climate Integrity.

    These lawsuits fall into primarily two overlapping buckets. The two cases in Colorado fall into both.

    In one bucket of lawsuits are claims of fraud and deception by oil companies, primarily by Exxon. The second bucket consists of suits alleging the oil companies have created “nuisances” that have caused damages. In the Colorado cases, local governments have suffered harm as a result, the lawsuits say.

    “It’s about fundamental principles of tort law that basically boil down to, ‘If you harm someone, you have to pay for it,’” explains Simons, the EarthRights attorney.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck.

    The 2018 lawsuits for the Colorado jurisdictions cite many climate impacts from fossil fuels. Rising temperatures will affect water supplies. Emergency management services will have to be ramped up because of increased wildfires, heavy rainfall and other extreme weather events. Warmer temperatures will worsen the already problematic ground-level ozone in Boulder County.

    This car in Superior was among the victims of the Marshall Fire in late December 2021 that burned 1,084 homes and caused 30,000 residents of Superior and Louisville to flee. Photo/Allen Best

    Some increased costs have already occurred, the lawsuit filed by the three Colorado jurisdictions in 2018 says. It points to the West Nile virus spread by mosquitoes amid rising temperatures. Prior to 2002, Boulder had no mosquito control program. That was the year the virus first appeared in Colorado. After that, costs of mosquito abatement grew steadily. By 2018 mosquito management nicked the city budget roughly $250,000. In Boulder County, the cost approached $400,000.

    Buildings will have to be modified, the lawsuit says. “Due to the expected continued heat rise in Boulder County, a place that historically rarely saw days above 95 degrees, Boulder County and the City of Boulder are expected to see increased public health heat risks, such as heat stroke, and their associated costs,” the lawsuit filed in 2018 says.

    This increasing heat, the lawsuit continues, will drive up costs, such as that of cooling infrastructure for buildings. “Cooling centers that are available during heat waves, and/or assisting with home air-conditioning installation, could cost Boulder County and the City of Boulder millions of dollars by mid-century.”

    The lawsuit cites the $37.7 million of a $575.5 school construction bond for the Boulder Valley School District used for air-conditioning and better ventilation.

    How the Colorado cases are different

    Colorado’s lawsuits were the first filed in an interior state. Even now, the only other states without coastlines to have filed climate change lawsuits against oil companies are Minnesota and Vermont. They claim fraud. That makes the Colorado cases the only ones claiming damages.

    This duality, an inland state claiming actual damages from climate change, sets Colorado’s cases apart from all others.

    “It’s easy to imagine a city like Miami or other coastal cities being imperiled by climate change,” says Horowitz, the UCLA law professor. “The Boulder case is helping to illustrate that even inland cities, cities in the middle of America, are being harmed by climate change.”

    One long-sought goal of the litigation is getting to what in courts is called the discovery phase. That’s the stage where documents, emails, other correspondence and information related to the suits could reach the public and prove devastating to the company. (That is essentially what happened to the tobacco industry, with the release of memos and documents in discovery.)

    Horowitz, the law professor in Los Angeles, expects the filings and rulings to accelerate. “You will start to get state court decisions sooner rather than later, by which I mean probably in the next year,” she says. Appeals will follow, but these Colorado cases — and those similarly proceeding in other states — will move along.

    “I wouldn’t think it will take five to 10 years,” she says.
    And the fact that Colorado has no beach-front property could spur other similar cases. Sea level rise is not imminently threatening Boulder the way it is in Imperial Beach, a city of 26,000 people near San Diego that has also filed a climate change lawsuit.

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if more jurisdictions realize they will need help in funding climate change adaptation,” Horowitz says, “and the fossil fuel companies are logical places to look as sources for that funding.”

    This story was prepared in collaboration with the Boulder Reporting Lab, whose editing and suggestions enormously improved the story.

    Animation showing the strong correlation between recent increases in carbon dioxide and changes in global mean temperature, as well as projected future changes — @RARohde

    Suing over #ClimateChange: Taking #FossilFuel companies to court — CBS News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Change in sea level since the 1993. Blue indicates places where sea level has increased by up to 20 centimeters (8 inches); brown indicates places where sea level has dropped by the same amount. NOAA Climate.gov image, based on data from P. Thompson, UHSLC.

    Click the link to read the article on the CBS News website. Here’s an excerpt:

    If climate change were a disaster film, it would likely be accused of being too over-the-top: wildfires reducing entire towns to ashes, hurricanes swamping cities, droughts draining lakes and withering fields, and raging oceans redrawing the very maps of our coasts. And now, many cities and states are asking, who’s going to pay for all of this?

    “This is real; we’re on the front line of climate change right here in Charleston,” said John Tecklenburg, the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. The city’s been battered by an endless parade of floods due to sea level rise. Some desperate homeowners have resorted to raising their homes by several feet. So, the city is raising large parts of its existing sea wall, and the Army Corps of Engineers says Charleston should build another eight miles of wall. The city expects an estimated $3 billion in climate change-related costs…

    Study after study has shown the companies’ carbon emissions from oil, coal and gas are major contributors to climate change. Charleston is one of more than two dozen cities, counties and states that are suing these companies (including ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips)…

    Exxon’s private prediction of the future growth of carbon dioxide levels (left axis) and global temperature relative to 1982 (right axis). Elsewhere in its report, Exxon noted that the most widely accepted science at the time indicated that doubling carbon dioxide levels would cause a global warming of 3°C. Illustration: 1982 Exxon internal briefing document

    The suits are modeled after the “Big Tobacco” cases of the 1990s, and accuse the companies and industry groups of making false and misleading claims about climate change…

    William Tong, attorney general of Connecticut, said, “I’m suing ExxonMobil because they lied to us.”

    Tong is suing ExxonMobil under the state’s consumer protection laws. He said internal company research done by Exxon and Mobil (which used to be separate companies) shows they were aware of the dangers of climate change since at least the 1980s.

    “There’s a study from, I think, 1982 in which they produce a chart that shows, as the levels of carbon dioxide rise, the temperature of our atmosphere will rise,” said Tong. “And that chart is almost exactly right.”

    And the suit also cites a 1988 internal draft memo from an Exxon spokesperson advising the company “emphasize the uncertainty” of climate science…He points to ads that look like editorials from ExxonMobil, as well as their executives’ own words, including the 1996 statement by Lee Raymond (then the CEO of Exxon) that “the scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect the global climate.”

    Putin’s war shows autocracies and #FossilFuels go hand in hand. Here’s how to tackle both — The Guardian #ActOnClimatae

    Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

    Click the link to read the article on The Guardian website (Bill McKibben). Here’s an excerpt:

    Democracies are making more progress than autocracies when it comes to climate action. But divestment campaigns can put pressure on the most recalcitrant of political leaders

    At first glance, last autumn’s Glasgow climate summit looked a lot like its 25 predecessors. It had:

  • A conference hall the size of an aircraft carrier stuffed with displays from problematic parties (the Saudis, for example, with a giant pavilion saluting their efforts at promoting a “circular carbon economy agenda”).
  • Squadrons of delegates rushing constantly to mysterious sessions (“Showcasing achievements of TBTTP and Protected Areas Initiative of GoP”) while actual negotiations took place in a few back rooms.
  • Earnest protesters with excellent signs (“The wrong Amazon is burning”).
  • But as I wandered the halls and the streets outside, it struck me again and again that a good deal had changed since the last big climate confab in Paris in 2015 – and not just because carbon levels and the temperature had risen ever higher. The biggest shift was in the political climate. Over those few years the world seemed to have swerved sharply away from democracy and toward autocracy – and in the process dramatically limited our ability to fight the climate crisis. Oligarchs of many kinds had grabbed power and were using it to uphold the status quo; there was a Potemkin quality to the whole gathering, as if everyone was reciting a script that no longer reflected the actual politics of the planet.

    Now that we’ve watched Russia launch an oil-fired invasion of Ukraine, it’s a little easier to see this trend in high relief – but Putin is far from the only case…

    The cost of energy delivered by the sun has not risen this year, and it will not rise next year…

    As a general rule of thumb, those territories with the healthiest, least-captive-to-vested-interest democracies are making the most progress on climate change. Look around the world at Iceland or Costa Rica, around Europe at Finland or Spain, around the US at California or New York. So part of the job for climate campaigners is to work for functioning democratic states, where people’s demands for a working future will be prioritized over vested interest, ideology and personal fiefdoms. But given the time constraints that physics impose – the need for rapid action everywhere – that can’t be the whole strategy. In fact, activists have arguably been a little too focused on politics as a source of change, and paid not quite enough attention to the other power center in our civilization: money. If we could somehow persuade or force the world’s financial giants to change, that would yield quick progress as well. Maybe quicker, since speed is more a hallmark of stock exchanges than parliaments.

    And here the news is a little better. Take my country as an example. Political power has come to rest in the reddest, most corrupt parts of America. The senators representing a relative handful of people in sparsely populated western states are able to tie up our political life, and those senators are almost all on the payroll of big oil. But money has collected in the blue parts of the country – Biden-voting counties account for 70% of the country’s economy. That’s one reason some of us have worked so hard on campaigns like fossil fuel divestment – we won big victories with New York’s pension funds and with California’s vast university system, and so were able to put real pressure on big oil. Now we’re doing the same with the huge banks that are the industry’s financial lifeline. We’re well aware that we may never win over Montana or Mississippi, so we better have some solutions that don’t depend on doing so. The same thing’s true globally. We may not be able to advocate in Beijing or Moscow or, increasingly, in Delhi. So, at least for these purposes, it’s useful that the biggest pots of money remain in Manhattan, in London, in Frankfurt, in Tokyo. These are places we still can make some noise.

    One Last #Climate Warning in New IPCC Report: ‘Now or Never’ — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    A forest fire next to the Bitterroot River in Montana. UCLA-led research revealed that larger fires tend to be followed by larger increases in streamflow. | Photo by John MacColgan/Creative Commons

    Click the link to read the article on the Inside Climate News website (Bob Berwyn). Here’s an excerpt:

    The world will probably burn through its carbon budget before the global climate panel issues its next update on mitigation

    Whatever words and phrases the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have been parsing late into Sunday night, its new report, issued Monday, boils down to yet another dire scientific warning. Greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2025 to limit global warming close to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), as targeted by the Paris Agreement, the report says. In a way, it’s a final warning, because at the IPCC’s pace, the world most likely will have burned through its carbon budget by the time the panel releases its next climate mitigation report in about five or six years. Even with the climate clock so close to a deadline, it’s not surprising that the IPCC struggled to find consensus during the two-week approval session, said Paul Maidowski, an independent Berlin-based climate policy researcher and activist. The mitigation report may be the most challenging of the three climate assessments that are done every five to seven years under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, he said.

    The first two reports of each IPCC assessment cycle, one on the physical basis of climate science, and another about impacts and adaptation, are mostly based on unyielding physics, like how much global temperature goes up for every added increment of CO2, and how fast and high sea level will rise based on that warming.

    But the mitigation report, which outlines choices society can make to affect the trajectory of climate change, has to reconcile those scientific realities with economic and political assumptions that are not constrained by physics, Maidowski said. Other researchers have described the IPCC report as a mechanism to determine what is politically possible, he added. If those assumptions—for example about future availability of carbon dioxide removal technology—don’t materialize, “then you are left with illusions, essentially,” he said. The IPCC has “blinded itself” to deeper questions of sustainability and is thus asking the wrong questions, like how to decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, he added. Instead, it should be more up front about acknowledging the physical limits of the planet, and start asking how to downscale current resource consumption to a sustainable level.

    The report found that “without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach.”

    On the hopeful side, the panel noted that renewable energy costs have dropped by as much as 85 percent in the past decade, and that new policies in many countries have accelerated deployment of wind and solar power.

    Comanche 3’s shaky reason to exist: Xcel Energy wants to keep Colorado’s youngest coal plant operating until 2034. But what is the evidence it can deliver power when it’s needed? — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Comanche Generating Station. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

    For all electrical utilities, R is the first letter of the alphabet. Reliability, keeping the lights on, comes before A, affordability.
    Colorado’s utility regulators soon will decide the role of Comanche 3, the state’s youngest but most unreliable coal-fired power plant, in ensuring reliability, and whether more natural gas generation will be required.

    Xcel Energy, the operator and primary owner of the 750-megawatt coal plant, wants to keep the plant operating on limited, then seasonal-only, terms until 2034. It says the plant will meet peak demands during winter and summer. Several state agencies plus other groups have concurred.

    Evidence for Comanche 3 serving this purpose is thin. All fossil fuel plants must occasionally be idled for repairs and maintenance. Comanche 3 has been first in this class. A 2021 report by the Public Utilities Commission staff found the coal unit from 2010 to 2020 “had the lowest availability” of all of Xcel’s coal and gas-fueled units in Colorado.

    Comanche 3 was down for most of 2020. It’s down again this year, and until June at the earliest it won’t be generating any more electricity than a solar panel at midnight. At least the solar panels that now surround the plant on the edge of Pueblo generate electricity when the sun shines.

    This should provide no comfort to people in Grand Junction, Denver, and other cities who expect air conditioning if temperatures soar to 116 degrees as happened in Portland last summer.

    In a March meeting, two of the three PUC commissioners reported seeing no good argument for the plant operating beyond 2029. John Gavan, the commissioner from Paonia, was adamant in that. Megan Gilman, the commissioner from Edwards, was more inclined to kick the decision down the road until next year. Eric Blank, the chair of the PUC, who is from Boulder, observed that requiring the early retirement would in effect make the PUC responsible for ensuring reliability.

    What may matter immensely is that Comanche 3 still hasn’t been paid off.
    How different from just 18 years ago, when Comanche 3 was approved unanimously by a different set of PUC commissioners. Utilities and their regulators in 2004 saw a future that looked much like the past, giant coal plants gobbled coal delivered by a virtual conveyor belt from mines in Wyoming and Colorado. The plant that PUC commissioners approved was expected to continue operations until 2070.

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

    Winds of change were even then picking up. Colorado Green, the state’s first wind farm, had begun operations between Lamar and Springfield earlier that year. That November, voters approved the state’s first renewable portfolio standard. Xcel easily met that initial 10% requirement years in advance of the deadline.

    Today, Comanche 3 looks like a billion-dollar blunder. If ensuring winter lights or summer chillers is the goal, the relative grandfathers of Xcel’s coal-burning fleet, Hayden 1 and 2, completed in 1965 and 1976 respectively, might be better options for ensuring reliability. They’re currently scheduled to close in 2027 and 2028.

    Xcel and other Colorado utilities now say with confidence they can achieve 80% carbon-free energy by 2030. Nobody, however, claims complete confidence in existing technologies and business models to go even higher than 90%. Holy Cross, the electrical provider for the Aspen and Vail areas, has a goal of 100%. Inconveniently, it also owns 8% of Comanche 3.

    Xcel wants more natural gas generation to ensure reliability. This could potentially result in the better part of $1 billion in new infrastructure. But would those assets be stranded by new technology in another 20 years?

    A decision may not be immediately necessary. In 2016, the last time Xcel submitted a plan to state regulators, it also wanted a ton of new natural gas generation. When it went shopping, it got bids for renewable generation in late 2017 that dropped jaws across the nation. The economics of renewables had become compelling.

    Now, reliability remains a concern, but many ideas are percolating. Homes will likely become energy sources, the batteries of electric vehicles supplying household needs when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. The grid increasingly will be two-way and with dispersed energy sources. Today’s electric grid that relies on a few big coal plants in a decade will look as quaint as a desk phone from … well, 2004.

    By late next year we’ll have a much better idea whether new natural gas plants will be needed for reliability. As for Comanche 3, if it were a car, it’d already be in the automotive graveyard.

    Scientists To Biden: Don’t Ramp Up #FossilFuels — Food & #Water Watch #ActOnClimate

    Click the link to read the release on the Food & Water Watch website (Mark Schlosberg):

    In recent weeks President Biden and his administration have moved to increase fossil fuel production and infrastructure. These actions fly in the face of climate science, which mandates a transition off of fossil fuels right away. Now scientists are speaking out, imploring President Biden to follow through on his commitments. As a candidate, Biden promised to listen to science, but his recent actions suggest the opposite.

    The increased drought, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods that we’ve experienced recently would have been reason enough to curb this plan. But the Ukraine crisis has brought into full view the dangers of continued reliance on fossil fuels. Europe is planning for dramatic cuts in Russian gas and looking toward new sources. Rather than going all-in on renewable energy, Europe wants increased U.S. gas imports — for over a decade to come. This is a recipe for climate disaster.

    A Broken Promise — President Biden Moves to Increase Fossil Fuel Production and Infrastructure

    When President Biden ran for office, he pledged to listen to science. He also pledged to stop new drilling on federal lands, and initiate a transition off of fossil fuels. He was already falling massively short on these promises before the Ukraine crisis, but now he has reversed course completely. He and his administration have urged increased fossil fuel production, rush approvals of its infrastructure, and ramped-up exports to Europe. And his plan envisions a huge increase of gas exports by 2030 — more than tripling a big increase this year.

    What these exports mean for the U.S. is more drilling, fracking, pipelines through communities and massive, polluting industrial facilities. These come with a litany of safety risks and local pollution, which have devastating environmental justice and health impacts.

    It also will have monumental climate impacts, according to the most recent IPCC scientific report. Global emissions continue to increase and the very narrow window to avoid even 2 degrees of warming is rapidly closing. Building more infrastructure will certainly lock us into decades of more emissions.

    As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said upon the release of the IPCC report: “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

    Failing on Climate: Lies From Leaders Will Be “Catastrophic”

    The Biden approach to climate is, unfortunately, not unique. As the IPCC report highlights, governments worldwide have broken prior commitments even though those fell far short of requirements.

    The only way to avert even worse impacts is to embrace scientific reality and adopt policies matching the rapidly escalating climate emergency. This means confronting hard truths and paying the crisis more than lip service. The only way to really achieve energy independence and security is to move off of fossil fuels. That means making quick, bold investments in renewable energy and immediately halting and rolling back fossil fuels and its infrastructure. To do otherwise fails to confront what is happening. Secretary-General Guterres said: “Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another…Simply put, they are lying, and the results will be catastrophic.”

    Scientists Implore Biden to Reverse Course Before It’s Too Late

    While President Biden has charted a perilous course, there’s still time to reverse and confront the reality of the climate crisis. Over 275 scientists wrote Biden to implore him to act. This is directly in response to his announced plans to double down on fossil fuels and the IPCC report release. They urged him to instead take bold action to move off fossil fuels and infrastructure and reject the mad dash to increase production and exports.

    The initiative for this letter is led by scientists Bob Howarth, Mark Jacobson, Michael Mann, Sandra Steingraber, and Peter Kalmus. The message is prophetic and clear in its call to action. It concludes:

    “As scientists who look at data every day, we implore you to keep this promise and listen to what the scientific community is saying about fossil fuels and the climate crisis. Do not facilitate more fuel extraction and infrastructure. The impacts of climate change are already significant and we have a very narrow window to avoid runaway climate chaos. We urge you to lead boldly, take on the fossil fuel titans, and rally the country towards a renewable energy future.”

    Help amplify this call to action. Join them, and all of us at Food & Water Watch in calling on President Biden to reject fossil fuels — now.

    One Last #Climate Warning in New IPCC Report: ‘Now or Never’ — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County

    Click the link to read the article on the Inside Climate News website (Bob Berwyn). Here’s an excerpt:

    Whatever words and phrases the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have been parsing late into Sunday night, its new report, issued Monday, boils down to yet another dire scientific warning. Greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2025 to limit global warming close to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), as targeted by the Paris Agreement, the report says.

    In a way, it’s a final warning, because at the IPCC’s pace, the world most likely will have burned through its carbon budget by the time the panel releases its next climate mitigation report in about five or six years.

    Even with the climate clock so close to a deadline, it’s not surprising that the IPCC struggled to find consensus during the two-week approval session, said Paul Maidowski, an independent Berlin-based climate policy researcher and activist. The mitigation report may be the most challenging of the three climate assessments that are done every five to seven years under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, he said.

    The first two reports of each IPCC assessment cycle, one on the physical basis of climate science, and another about impacts and adaptation, are mostly based on unyielding physics, like how much global temperature goes up for every added increment of CO2, and how fast and high sea level will rise based on that warming.

    But the mitigation report, which outlines choices society can make to affect the trajectory of climate change, has to reconcile those scientific realities with economic and political assumptions that are not constrained by physics, Maidowski said. Other researchers have described the IPCC report as a mechanism to determine what is politically possible, he added. If those assumptions—for example about future availability of carbon dioxide removal technology—don’t materialize, “then you are left with illusions, essentially,” he said.

    The IPCC has “blinded itself” to deeper questions of sustainability and is thus asking the wrong questions, like how to decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, he added. Instead, it should be more up front about acknowledging the physical limits of the planet, and start asking how to downscale current resource consumption to a sustainable level.

    The report found that “without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach.”

    […]

    On the hopeful side, the panel noted that renewable energy costs have dropped by as much as 85 percent in the past decade, and that new policies in many countries have accelerated deployment of wind and solar power…

    An Unrealistic Leap of Faith

    The contradictions between scientific reality and hopeful political assumptions identified by Maidowski are clear in the new report, which says, on the one hand, that greenhouse emissions need to peak in the next three years, while also finding that average annual greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 to 2019 were higher than in any previous decade.

    Believing that emissions can peak by 2025 on that trajectory requires an enormous and unrealistic leap of faith, and many climate scientists, including NASA researcher Peter Kalmus, are not buying it.

    “This IPCC report is absolutely harrowing. Wake up everyone,” Kalmus wrote on Twitter. “Brief summary of the new IPCC report: We know what to do, we know how to do it, it requires taking toys away from the rich, and world leaders aren’t doing it,” he continued.

    Governor Polis, Legislative Leadership & Community Leaders Take Bold #Climate Action, Unveil Transformative Legislation to Fight for Clean Air & a Healthier, Cleaner #Colorado #ActOnClimte #KeepItInTheGround

    West Grand School District electric school bus. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

    Click the link to read the release on Governor Polis’ website:

    Today, Governor Polis joined legislative leadership, bill sponsors, and community leaders to unveil comprehensive legislation to preserve and protect Colorado’s air quality, and ensure Coloradans are healthy, safe, and can thrive. The Polis Administration has made record investments to improve air quality since day one, and the newly unveiled legislation is a critical step forward towards achieving a healthier, cleaner Colorado.

    “We are fighting for a cleaner, healthier Colorado. I am proud that in partnership with the legislature, we are moving forward on a comprehensive plan for clean air that will benefit Colorado for years to come while helping save people and businesses money. The time is now for bold action,” said Gov. Polis.

    The historic package of bills includes record investments in clean transportation, energy efficient buildings, and air quality monitoring, regulation, and incentives. The electrification of school bus fleets will protect Colorado kids from harmful pollutant exposure and save Colorado schools money on both expensive fuel and maintenance costs.

    Denver smog. Photo credit: NOAA

    “Cleaning up our air and building a healthier Colorado requires all hands on deck,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder. “That’s why we’re taking a comprehensive approach to ensure every Coloradan, particularly communities who have historically borne the brunt of air pollution, can breathe clean air. With transformative investments to reduce industrial emissions, initiatives to clean up our transportation system, and plans to improve air monitoring, we’re putting Colorado on the path to a cleaner future for all.”

    The newly introduced legislation supports good-paying jobs for drivers, mechanics, and construction workers with bold investments in expanded public transit service and energy efficient buildings.

    “This legislation will improve our air quality, save people money and create jobs in Colorado,” said Rep. Alex Valdez, D-Denver. “By investing in new technologies, we will reduce harmful industrial emissions, and our air will be cleaner. Our kids deserve a smog free ride to school, and electric school buses will reduce emissions and protect students’ health. I’m excited that we are taking significant action to reduce pollution and create good jobs in critical industries.”

    “Every Coloradan deserves safe and healthy air to breathe, but too often we are exposed to dangerous emissions and high ozone levels that threaten our health and hit disadvantaged communities the hardest,” said Senator Julie Gonzales, D-Denver. “This legislation represents an important step toward reducing those harmful emissions and achieving true environmental justice for all.”

    “Last summer Colorado had the worst air quality in the world, and we must take immediate action to address it,” said Senator Faith Winter, D-Westminster. “That’s why I am proud to bring this legislation to reduce local air pollution by offering free transit rides during peak ozone season. This commonsense bill will encourage transit ridership, reduce harmful emissions, and help us further our climate goals while giving Colorado families cleaner, healthier air to breathe.”

    “The future is coming, and we want Colorado homes to be ready so consumers don’t have to spend thousands retrofitting their properties for the technologies we know are going to be commonplace in just a few years,” said Rep. Tracey Bernett, D-Louisville. “Our building codes need to be forward looking, and with this bill, new homes are going to be ready for clean heat, solar power and electric vehicles. With these codes in place, Coloradans will benefit from cleaner indoor air and save money on their utility bills.”

    “For too long, we’ve suffered from unhealthy, unsafe air in Colorado, and it’s only getting worse. That’s why I am proud to champion this legislation that will help upgrade our homes and buildings to reduce emissions throughout Colorado,” said Senator Chris Hansen, D-Denver. “This $22 million investment will help families, businesses, and communities improve buildings to reduce energy use and pollution, improve our indoor air quality, and help give more Coloradans a cleaner, healthier future.”

    #Climate timidity rules in #Colorado: The state must act quicker to shut down #coal-fired power plants — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate

    Comanche Solar Farm near Pueblo April 6, 2016. Photo credit: Reuters via The Climate Reality Project

    Every climate-enabled fire in Colorado should spark fury at the timidity that inhibits the state from taking serious climate action.

    Every instance of climate blowback should prompt fierce campaigns of accountability.

    Every time lives and property are threatened due to human-caused warming in the West, Colorado residents should demand a change in approach or, absent that, a change in leadership.

    Another instance arrived last weekend.

    The NCAR Fire south of Boulder ignited Saturday afternoon and forced the evacuation of an estimated 19,000 people in 8,000 homes. Severely drought-stressed fuels played a role in the fire’s advance on the city. Only three months ago, Boulder County was the site of the most destructive fire in state history — the Marshall Fire devoured more than a thousand homes, and was propelled by human-caused climate change. Extreme fires are becoming the norm in Colorado, which, along with other states in the Southwest, is facing climate-caused water shortages.

    This was all predicted.

    Human activity is to blame.

    And — in the face of massive property loss, threatened public health, and loss of life — leaders in Colorado are proving unequal to the crisis.

    GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

    The state’s climate response looks comparatively good on paper. Its 2019 greenhouse gas emissions law, House Bill 19-1261, is one of the strongest in the country. It sets clear reduction targets compared to 2005 levels that the state must hit — 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. Gov. Jared Polis and members of his administration often employ the right rhetoric. During his State of the State address in January, Polis talked about “meeting the climate crisis head on.”

    But in practice Polis prefers to meet the climate crisis only around the edges. The state is not on track to meet its own emission reduction targets, and even if it were, the targets increasingly appear too relaxed in light of the accelerating catastrophic effects of climate change throughout the world.

    The Polis administration notes certain big-ticket climate-action achievements as evidence it is taking meaningful action. These include Xcel Energy’s Clean Energy Plan, new rules adopted last year that reduce dangerous methane emissions at oil and gas operations, and the state’s zero-emission vehicle standard, meant to ensure electric vehicles are available for sale in Colorado. This week Polis and several Democratic lawmakers announced a package of proposed air-quality measures at the Legislature.

    But the state has delayed climate action, such as an Advanced Clean Trucks rule, or abandoned it, such as the Employee Traffic Reduction Program, on a comparable scale. The Polis administration has a maddening predilection for a “market-driven transition” to renewable energy and a feckless preference for voluntary industry action. The state is preparing for a dramatic increase in oil and gas production through about 2030. The result is that, at the current trajectory, the state likely won’t hit its own emission reduction targets. 

    The state must stop issuing new oil and gas drilling permits, and it must mandate a faster transition to renewable energy.

    An Environmental Defense Fund analysis about a year ago concluded that the state was on track to achieve at best 16% reductions — not 26% — by 2025, and at best 26% — not 50% by 2030. Alex DeGolia, who leads EDF’s state climate strategy in Colorado and other states, told Newsline this week that a forthcoming updated analysis that accounts for the latest climate action in Colorado will show the state is still “well short of meeting its targets.”

    We know what must happen if climate action is to measure up to the climate emergency.

    The state must stop issuing new oil and gas drilling permits, and it must mandate a faster transition to renewable energy.

    Several coal-fired power plants in the state continue to churn out pollution, and at least one coal-fired unit is projected to remain in operation beyond 2030. The state should not allow that to occur. Every coal-fired unit should be fast-tracked for closure at a quicker pace than currently planned, yet the Polis administration has an alarming tendency to favor the preferences of utilities over the health of the planet.

    There are statewide efforts to encourage more electric vehicles, public transit, the electrification of home heating and appliances, and other areas that involve the participation of millions of individuals and properties. These are all worthy programs, but a transition to renewable energy would target several large sources of pollution; it’s cost-effective and it can yield significant short-term emissions reduction. What’s required to achieve such a transition is the willingness of Polis and climate advocates in the General Assembly to be bold. So far they instead have prioritized corporate interests and cowered before opposition from industry lobbyists and business advocates.

    Opponents of a rapid, regulated transition to renewable energy argue that it could lead to higher costs and economic disruptions. Even if this were true in the short-term, the long-term costs of a failure to implement immediate and immense changes are incalculable, and the disruptions that should really command our attention are those endured by so many Boulder County families displaced by fire, and other climate victims throughout the state and the world. Climate action must also be more robust at the federal level and in other developed countries. But Coloradans have a responsibility to hold state leaders to account.

    There will be another destructive wildfire. Drought will continue to pummel the West. Climate change will increasingly threaten public health. And with each new climate-enabled disaster, Coloradans should recall that state leaders chose half-measures and lip service over leadership.

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    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    Rapid Growth of #Wind and #Solar Could Help Limit Warming to 1.5 degrees C — Yale Environment 360 #ActOnClimate

    NREL researcher Jordan Macknick and Michael Lehan discuss solar panel orientation and spacing. The project is seeking to improve the environmental compatibility and mutual benefits of solar development with agriculture and native landscapes. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

    Click the link to read the article on the Yale Environment 360 website:

    If wind and solar power continue the rapid growth they achieved over the last decade, rising by 20 percent annually until 2030, the global electricity sector will do its part to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C, according to a new report from climate think tank Ember.

    In 2021, solar power grew by 23 percent worldwide, while wind power grew by 14 percent, close to the 20 percent average yearly growth seen in recent years. The Netherlands, Australia, and Vietnam saw the biggest renewable energy gains last year, with solar growing by 337 percent in Vietnam.

    “If these trends can be replicated globally, and sustained, the power sector would be on track for 1.5 C,” the report said. “But those shifts aren’t happening fast enough across all countries, and we’re far off-track in reducing power sector emissions. The result in 2021 was coal’s rise, at a time when it needs to be falling rapidly.”

    The pace of renewable energy growth needed to stay on track for 1.5 degrees C of warming. EMBER

    Coal power grew 9 percent last year, its biggest gain since 1985, as a swift economic recovery drove up demand for power, and a spike in natural gas prices made coal more cost-competitive.

    To keep warming under 1.5 degrees C, wind and solar will need provide 40 percent of the world’s power by 2030 and close to 70 percent by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Today, they supply just 10 percent of the world’s electricity.

    Dave Jones, global lead at Ember, said that “with sustained high gas prices amid Russia’s war with Ukraine, there is a real risk of relapse into coal, threatening the global 1.5 degrees climate goal. Clean electricity now needs to be built on a heroic scale.”

    A new study finds that the world can make the changes needed to keep warming under 1.5 degrees C while also maintaining economic growth. In one scenario modeled by researchers, renewables provide seven times as much power by the end of this century as they did in 2010, with the global economy growing by a little less than 2 percent a year from now until 2100. The paper was published in the journal Oxford Open Energy.

    “Continuing global economic growth is clearly compatible with achieving the temperature target in the Paris Agreement,” said Paul Ekins, an economist at University College London and lead author of the study. “Governments now need to step up to put in place the policies to stimulate the investments that are required to turn these projections into reality.”

    A turbine whirls on a farm east of Burlington, Colo. Colorado’s eastern plains already have many wind farms—but it may look like a pin cushion during the next several years. Photo/Allen Best

    Film: Craig, America — @AmericanRivers #YampaRiver #ActOnClimate

    Learn more about the Yampa River at https://www.americanrivers.org/river/…
    Read about one person’s first trip down the Yampa – https://www.americanrivers.org/2016/0…
    Support American Rivers and our work across the country – https://act.americanrivers.org/page/2…

    A story of transition and renewal in the rural west, Craig, America shares the many perspectives that encompass a community upheld by coal but looks towards a future without it. It brings to life the unique story of Craig, Colorado, and how its people, economy, and community are both resilient and adaptive.

    Craig, Colorado is a small town in Northwest Colorado, about 40 miles west of Steamboat Springs. While Craig lies in the high mountain plains above the meandering Yampa River, it is a case study as a town, and region, that is in transition. Craig has traditionally been a town defined by the extraction of fossil fuels and ranching. There are multiple coal mines, and energy generating stations (power plants) in the area. Under pressure from environmental groups and government agencies state-wide and nationally, the owners of Craig Station voted unanimously to close all three units of Craig Station, one of Colorado’s largest coal-fired power plants, by 2030. The decision to close the plant will send waves of change across the city of Craig and surrounding Moffat Country for decades to come, costing the region hundreds of high-paying jobs, removing an estimated 60% of the town’s tax revenue, and forcing a reckoning with its future.

    Fortunately, Craig sits in a region of abundant beauty, and accessible opportunities for outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing, rafting, hiking and mountain biking and other pursuits or plentiful. As the recreation economy grows, Craig is in an ideal position to make that transition as well. As Jennifer Holloway, the new Executive Director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce puts it, “Craig is a community with a lot of opportunities, and in a unique moment to seize them.” As the town reckons with the closure of the plant and surrounding mines, a growing coalition of leaders and community advocates are working to save their town and move from a extraction based economy to one focused in recreation, tourism, and that centers the health and well being of our planet and its inhabitants.

    This situation in Craig is one in which we are currently seeing across the United States. As renewable sources of energy continue to grow in demand and the profitability of coal continues to plummet in tandem with its role in climate change, small towns and cities that depend on these industries are questioning their future. The story of Craig can be a moment of hope for many regions across the country, and potentially a guidepost for how they can embrace the natural beauty of their regions, rather than think of them only for extraction and consumption.

    In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things: The truth is new and counterintuitive; we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch #FossilFuels — @BillMcKibben in the @NewYorker

    The coal-fired Tri-State Generation and Transmission plant in Craig provides much of the power used in Western Colorado, including in Aspen and Pitkin County. Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office has a plan to move the state’s electric grid to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click the link to read this important article that’s running on the New Yorker website (Bill McKibben). Here’s an excerpt:

    On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Then, just a few hours later, at the opening of a rare emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly, he catalogued the horrors of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and declared, “Enough is enough.” Citing Putin’s declaration of a nuclear alert, the war could, Guterres said, turn into an atomic conflict, “with potentially disastrous implications for us all.”

    What unites these two crises is combustion. Burning fossil fuel has driven the temperature of the planet ever higher, melting most of the sea ice in the summer Arctic, bending the jet stream, and slowing the Gulf Stream. And selling fossil fuel has given Putin both the money to equip an army (oil and gas account for sixty per cent of Russia’s export earnings) and the power to intimidate Europe by threatening to turn off its supply. Fossil fuel has been the dominant factor on the planet for centuries, and so far nothing has been able to profoundly alter that. After Putin invaded, the American Petroleum Institute insisted that our best way out of the predicament was to pump more oil. The climate talks in Glasgow last fall, which John Kerry, the U.S. envoy, had called the “last best hope” for the Earth, provided mostly vague promises about going “net-zero by 2050”; it was a festival of obscurantism, euphemism, and greenwashing, which the young climate activist Greta Thunberg summed up as “blah, blah, blah.” Even people trying to pay attention can’t really keep track of what should be the most compelling battle in human history…

    …the era of large-scale combustion has to come to a rapid close. If we understand that as the goal, we might be able to keep score, and be able to finally get somewhere. Last Tuesday, President Biden banned the importation of Russian oil. This year, we may need to compensate for that with American hydrocarbons, but, as a senior Administration official put it,“the only way to eliminate Putin’s and every other producing country’s ability to use oil as an economic weapon is to reduce our dependency on oil.” As we are one of the largest oil-and-gas producers in the world, that is a remarkable statement. It’s a call for an end of fire.

    We don’t know when or where humans started building fires; as with all things primordial there are disputes. But there is no question of the moment’s significance. Fire let us cook food, and cooked food delivers far more energy than raw; our brains grew even as our guts, with less processing work to do, shrank. Fire kept us warm, and human enterprise expanded to regions that were otherwise too cold. And, as we gathered around fires, we bonded in ways that set us on the path to forming societies. No wonder Darwin wrote that fire was “the greatest discovery ever made by man, excepting language.”

    2022 #COleg: Filling in #Colorado’s decarbonization gaps — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate

    Denver smog. Photo credit: NOAA

    Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

    Legislators are considering how to nudge emissions from buildings, clean up Front Range air, and bring agriculture into the decarbonization effort

    Conventional wisdom holds that politicians shy away from major initiatives in election years. Some think that is at play in Colorado this year. After all, inflation is at work, energy prices are rising, and analysts predict a rough election year for Democrats in Congress.

    But if Colorado’s 2022 climate and energy legislative agenda certainly won’t match that of 2019, nor of 2021, it’s shaping up as an impressive year to advance the work on achieving economy-wide decarbonization goals of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

    “This is probably not going to be a session filled with transformation legislation on climate change as 2019 and 2021 were, but there are some really good bills,” says Jacob Smith executive director of Colorado Communities for Climate Action, a coalition of 40 local governments.

    An all-electric house. Credit: REWIRING AMERICA

    Legislators are considering bills that seek to advance Colorado’s efforts to reduce emissions associated with buildings, clean up the crappy air quality along the northern Front Range, and bring the agriculture sector into the decarbonization effort.

    Courtesy of Microgrid Knowledge

    Others address microgrids, the potential for carbon storage, and funding for the state’s Office of Just Transition, the agency crafted in 2019 for coal communities and workers to reinvent themselves.

    Legislators in 2019 adopted a remarkable set of bills that essentially pivoted Colorado’s energy system in a way that had never been done. Most prominent were the economy wide decarbonization goals.

    Only 2004, when Colorado voters adopted the first renewable energy portfolio standard, comes close to the same pivot in energy.

    The 2019 tsunami was made possible by heightened worries about climate change but also a shift in the Colorado Senate that gave Democrats majorities in both chambers. This came concurrently with the arrival of Jared Polis as governor after his campaign on a platform of 100% renewable electricity by 2040.

    Then came 2020—and the covid shutdown, followed by the flood of even more powerful bills in 2021, including several that targeted methane from extraction to end-use in buildings. At least one of the ideas adopted in 2021 had been first proposed in 2007 but never got close to the finish line.

    Now is catch-up time, a filling in of the gaps.

    “Last year we essentially had two legislative sessions in one, and we accomplished a lot, and now we need to work on the implementation of it,” says Mike Kruger, chief executive of Colorado Solar and Storage AssociationThat won’t require as much legislation,” he points out. “That’s more regulatory work.”

    Still, even as they waited the governor’s signature on many of the 30-plus bills that had been passed, state legislators indicated they knew there was still major work ahead. State Sen. Steve Feinberg, then the majority leader (and now the Senate president), said a major priority in the 2022 session would be legislation to improve air quality along the Front Range. Sen. Chris Hansen said he was thinking about how to integrate agriculture into Colorado’s decarbonization.

    In September, Hansen revealed at a fundraiser that he intended to introduce legislation that would set interim decarbonization targets for Colorado. Those new targets—for 2028 and for 2040—are intended to create a steady trajectory for Colorado’s decarbonization efforts, to avoid the tendency to punt the decarbonization can down the road until a last-night cram session before the test.

    When did Hansen decide this was needed?

    “I think it was part of what I do essentially every summer and fall, which is really try to think about the important gaps, where they are and which ones, if you were to address them, you’d get the most bang for the buck when it comes to decarbonization,” said Hansen in an interview.

    “So I’m always trying to think about that supply curve, of carbon abatement opportunities, let’s do the cheapest, easiest ones as fast as we can. And that is really kind of driving my policy development process.”

    Meanwhile, in Boulder, State Rep. Edie Hooton was thinking about microgrids, and in Longmont, Rep. Tracey Bernett was thinking about both air quality and buildings.

    This week, the bills having to do with buildings.

    See: Colorado’s carrots and sticks for buildings

    Next week, air quality, agriculture and other bills.

    The Latest IPCC Report: What is it and why does it matter? The UN released a new #climate report—here’s what it says, and what we can do about it — The Nature Conservancy #ActOnClimate

    Click the link to read the article on the Nature Conservancy website:

    The IPCC released a new climate report. But what exactly is the IPCC? What does this report mean? How is this report different from the previous reports? Is our situation as grim as some of the news headlines make it sound?

    We’ve prepared this guide to help you understand what this new climate report is, what its findings mean for our world and what we can do about them.

    What is the IPCC and what do they do?

    IPCC stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC is the scientific group assembled by the United Nations to monitor and assess all global science related to climate change. Every IPCC report focuses on different aspects of climate change.

    This latest report is the second part of the IPCC’s 6th Assessment report (AR6 WGII). It compiles the latest knowledge on climate change, the threats we’re already facing today, and what we can do to limit further temperature rises and the dangers that poses for the whole planet. This report focuses on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

    What should I know about the latest IPCC report?

    This most recent IPCC report shows some similar things as the last reports which you may already know about: that climate change is already causing more frequent and more severe storms, floods, droughts, wildfires and other extreme weather events.

    What makes this report different is that it includes more recent science, allowing it to describe the effects of climate change with greater accuracy. The increased frequency and severity of these events threaten the health and safety of millions of people around the world, both through direct impacts and by making it harder to produce food and access clean water.

    What’s particularly troubling about the latest IPCC report is that the scientists say that warming temperatures are leading to more “compound extremes.” This is when multiple climate hazards (such as extreme temperature and precipitation) occur simultaneously in the same place, affect multiple regions at the same time, or occur in a sequence. For example, sustained higher temperatures can decrease soil moisture, which will suppress plant growth, which in turn reduces local rainfall, which leads to more drought in an escalating feedback loop.

    Is there any hope then?

    Yes. Climate change is here today, reshaping our world in ways big and small. But that doesn’t mean our future is predetermined. Every fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference when it comes to the future impacts of climate change. We still have the ability to limit further warming, and to help communities around the world adapt to the changes that have already occurred. Every action counts.

    What can we do to stop climate change?

    When every fraction of a degree counts, we must use every tool available to us. That means accelerating the global transition to clean energy and doing more to leverage nature’s ability to fight climate. It also means finding more climate-friendly ways to produce food and creating climate-resilient water sources.

    We also need to learn how to adapt to the effects of climate change that are already here—and provide assistance to the marginalized communities that are hit the hardest. Doing all of this requires more investments in climate action—both through greater public funding and through innovative private funding strategies, such as the use of carbon markets.

    What can I do about climate change as an individual?

  • Learn how to talk about climate change: We can all help by engaging and educating others. Our guide will help you feel comfortable raising these topics at the dinner table with your friends and family. Download our guide to talk about climate change.
  • Share your thoughts: Share this page on your social channels so others know what they can do, too. Here are some hashtags to join the conversation: #IPCC #ClimateAction #NatureNow
  • Join collective action: By speaking collectively, we can influence climate action at the national and global levels. You can add your name to stand with The Nature Conservancy in calling for real solutions now.
  • Keep learning: Educate yourself and share the knowledge—you can start with some of these articles, videos, and other resources.
  • #ClimateChange: a threat to human wellbeing and health of the planet. Taking action now can secure our future — @IPCC #ActOnClimate

    Click the link to read the release from the IPCC:

    Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released today.

    “This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”

    The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C (2.7°F). Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.

    The Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability was approved on Sunday, February 27 2022, by 195 member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that was held over two weeks starting on February 14.

    Urgent action required to deal with increasing risks

    Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on Small Islands and in the Arctic.

    Daytime high temperatures across the western United States on June 23-28, 2021, according to data from NOAA’s Real-Time Mesoscale Analysis/URMA. Climate.gov animation based on NOAA URMA data.

    To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, ambitious, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. So far, progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks, the new report finds. These gaps are largest among lower-income populations.

    The Working Group II report is the second instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed this year.

    “This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments,” said Hoesung Lee. “It emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”

    Safeguarding and strengthening nature is key to securing a liveable future

    There are options to adapt to a changing climate. This report provides new insights into nature’s potential not only to reduce climate risks but also to improve people’s lives.

    A healthy riparian corridor includes native trees and minimal disturbance within 100 feet of the streambank. Waccamaw River photo by Charles Slate.

    “Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”

    Scientists point out that climate change interacts with global trends such as unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanization, social inequalities, losses and damages from extreme events and a pandemic, jeopardizing future development.

    “Our assessment clearly shows that tackling all these different challenges involves everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society – working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts.

    “In this way, different interests, values and world views can be reconciled. By bringing together scientific and technological know-how as well as Indigenous and local knowledge, solutions will be more effective. Failure to achieve climate resilient and sustainable development will result in a sub-optimal future for people and nature.”

    Cities: Hotspots of impacts and risks, but also a crucial part of the solution

    North American Drought Monitor map January 2022

    This report provides a detailed assessment of climate change impacts, risks and adaptation in cities, where more than half the world’s population lives. People’s health, lives and livelihoods, as well as property and critical infrastructure, including energy and transportation systems, are being increasingly adversely affected by hazards from heatwaves, storms, drought and flooding as well as slow-onset changes, including sea level rise.

    “Together, growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks, especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services,” Debra Roberts said.

    Water-efficient garden, in Israel. Photo: Paul Andersen/Aspen Journalism

    “But cities also provide opportunities for climate action – green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society.”

    There is increasing evidence of adaptation that has caused unintended consequences, for example destroying nature, putting peoples’ lives at risk or increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This can be avoided by involving everyone in planning, attention to equity and justice, and drawing on Indigenous and local knowledge.

    A narrowing window for action

    Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

    Climate change is a global challenge that requires local solutions and that’s why the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) provides extensive regional information to enable Climate Resilient Development.

    The report clearly states Climate Resilient Development is already challenging at current warming levels. It will become more limited if global warming exceeds 1.5°C (2.7°F). In some regions it will be impossible if global warming exceeds 2°C (3.6°F). This key finding underlines the urgency for climate action, focusing on equity and justice. Adequate funding, technology transfer, political commitment and partnership lead to more effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions.

    “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner.

    For more information, please contact:

    IPCC Press Office, Email: ipcc-media@wmo.int IPCC Working Group II:
    Sina Löschke, Komila Nabiyeva: comms@ipcc-wg2.awi.de

    Photo credit: Elisa Stone via the World Weather Attribution

    Click the link to read “Humanity has a ‘brief and rapidly closing window’ to avoid a hotter, deadly future, U.N. climate report says: Latest IPCC report details escalating toll — but top scientists say the world still can choose a less catastrophic path” from The Washington Post (Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis). Here’s an excerpt:

    Atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa Observatory August 7, 2021.

    Unchecked greenhouse gas emissions will raise sea levels several feet, swallowing small island nations and overwhelming even the world’s wealthiest coastal regions. Drought, heat, hunger and disaster may force millions of people from their homes. Coral reefs could vanish, along with a growing number of animal species. Disease-carrying insects would proliferate. Deaths — from malnutrition, extreme heat, pollution — will surge.

    These are some of the grim projections detailed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body dedicated to providing policymakers with regular assessments of the warming world…

    Low-income countries, which generate only a tiny fraction of global emissions, will experience the vast majority of deaths and displacement from the worst-case warming scenarios, the IPCC warns. Yet these nations have the least capacity to adapt — a disparity that extends to even the basic research needed to understand looming risks.

    “I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement. Noting the litany of devastating impacts that already are unfolding, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

    […]

    Yet if there is a glimmer of hope in the more than 3,500-page report, it is that the world still has a chance to choose a less catastrophic path. While some climate impacts are destined to worsen, the amount that Earth ultimately warms is not yet written in stone.

    The report makes clear, however, that averting the worst-case scenarios will require nothing less than transformational change on a global scale.

    Denver City Park sunrise

    The world will need to overhaul energy systems, redesign cities and revolutionize how humans grow food. Rather than reacting to climate disturbances after they happen, the IPCC says, communities must more aggressively adapt for the changes they know are coming. These investments could save trillions of dollars and millions of lives, but they have so far been in short supply.

    The IPCC report is a warning letter to a world on the brink. The urgency and escalating toll of climate change has never been clearer, it says. Humanity can’t afford to wait one more day to take action — otherwise we may miss the “brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”

    Despite uptick, record prices, #Wyoming #coal’s outlook still grim: One major Wyoming coal producer is using the temporary surge in coal production and pricing as an opportunity to pay for planned mine closures — WyoFile #ActOnClimate

    A coal haul truck at the North Antelope Rochelle mine heads to the pit for another load in July 2019. (Alan Nash/WyoFile)

    Click the link to read the article on WyoFile (Dustin Bleizeffer):

    Wyoming coal mines boosted production by 9% and added more than 200 employees in 2021, taking advantage of a rebounding economy and a competitive edge against rising natural gas prices while securing future coal sales at record-high prices.

    Arch Resources, for example, has booked all of its 2022 Wyoming and Colorado volumes at prices averaging $16.30 per ton, according to its 2021 fourth-quarter report. Powder River Basin coal has ranged from less than $4 per ton in the 1990s to about $10 a year ago.

    “​​It’s an amazing position,” Arch Resources CEO and President Paul Lang said during a press call Tuesday. “What’s more amazing is these are prices that we’ve never seen, frankly, in 20-plus years. It’s an amazing position to be in, and it really took a lot of risk out of the thermal assets for us as we looked at our options down the road.”

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

    Arch and Peabody Energy are the two largest Wyoming coal producers and the only publicly traded coal operators in the basin. Combined, they make up 53% of Wyoming Powder River Basin coal production and 51% of coal production statewide. Both saw their stocks rally after fourth-quarter 2021 reports to investors this month, based on strong earnings that mostly erased 2020 losses and painted a bright outlook for 2022.

    A truck-and-shovel crew removes overburden at the North Antelope Rochelle mine in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin in January 2020, as a coal shovel works below. (Alan Nash/WyoFile)

    Navajo Transitional Energy Co., LLC and Eagle Specialty Materials, LLC also saw production gains and added employees in 2021, while results for Wyoming coal producers outside the Powder River Basin were mixed.

    Yet even with a rosy outlook for the near term, the market conditions that lifted producers out of the pandemic doldrums are not expected to sustain under the larger market and policy trends that industry analysts say will dramatically shrink the state’s coal industry within the next decade.

    “The projection, short term, it’s going to be pretty good for next year and going into 2023,” Wyoming Mining Association Executive Director Travis Deti said. “But the overall macro-trend is we’re [the U.S.] not building any more coal plants. We’re still dealing with the issue of premature [coal-fired power plant] retirements. So the larger issue remains.”

    Too little, too late

    Wyoming mines scooped 239.1 million tons of coal in 2021, according to WyoFile’s analysis of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data. But the 9% year-over-year increase still falls far short of pre-pandemic production levels. The 239.1 million tons in 2021 represents just 86.5% of the 276.4 million tons produced in 2019.

    Wyoming shipped 9% more coal in 2021 compared with 2020, but the gains were not nearly enough to make up for recent or long-term losses. (WyoFile/MSHA.gov)

    The current surge in production is a relief to miners, operators and state coffers, but it’s a small reprieve from the even larger production decline that has reshaped the industry as well as Wyoming’s budget over the past 13 years. Wyoming shipped 465 million tons of coal at the industry’s peak in 2008. The 49% decline since then has wreaked havoc on county and state coffers; Wyoming relies on revenue from federal coal, oil and natural gas for more than half its annual budget, according to the Wyoming Taxpayers Association.

    While the latest coal uptick contributed to Wyoming’s improved budget outlook, the rebound is mostly attributable to resurging oil and gas production and pricing. “Coal production is forecast to continue its overall downward trend, despite the current, temporary increase in production and pricing,” according to the Wyoming Consensus Revenue Estimating Group’s October report.

    Wyoming’s 2021 coal production increase “can be misleading in the sense that it’s just a little blip-up on the long road down,” said Seth Feaster, an energy data analyst for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. About half of the remaining coal-fired power capacity in the U.S. will be retired by 2030, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts. Wyoming coal is almost entirely dependent on that U.S. utility market.

    “So even if you’ve got some resurgence in demand for coal now, the overall market is absolutely going to shrink,” Feaster said, adding that there are no plans to add new coal-fired power in the U.S. “Once plants are closed, there’s no more potential market there. It’s gone.”

    The good and the bad

    Compounding the grim forecast for Wyoming coal is the current surge in pricing, according to Feaster. The 50-70% bump — albeit temporary, according to industry forecasters — makes Wyoming coal an even less attractive fuel source as utilities consider whether to replace aging coal-fired power plants with cheaper renewable sources.

    “So the coal companies are facing this real dilemma,” Feaster said. “If coal prices are down, they’re not in good financial health. But if coal prices go up, the way they have, [coal] becomes less competitive in the marketplace.”

    A pair of coal trains idle at a switchyard near a coal loadout facility in northeast Wyoming. (Alan Nash/WyoFile)

    Arch CEO Lang said his company is following markets to their logical conclusion. Arch remains “unwavering” in its pivot from thermal coal — its Wyoming mines — to “a pure-play coking coal producer as we harvest the remaining and still significant value of our legacy thermal assets, continue to shrink their operational footprint and drive forward with pre-funding of their final closure costs.”

    In other words, Arch is using the current demand and pricing windfall to help pay down its reclamation liabilities and closing costs as it plans to exit Powder River Basin and western coal. Arch’s pivot focuses capital investments in its eastern metallurgical and coking coal operations to serve the steelmaking market, Lang said.

    Arch reported that it paid down $40 million — or 20% — of its mine reclamation and retirement obligations in the Powder River Basin in recent months, to close its Coal Creek mine in the Powder River Basin by year’s end. The company also plans to close its flagship Black Thunder mine — the second largest surface coal mine in North America, although Arch has not set a target closing date. The current surge in Powder River Basin coal profitability will pay for closing both the Coal Creek and Black Thunder mines, or make them more attractive for a sale, Lang said.

    Yet for now, coal mines in the Powder River Basin are still looking to add miners to their rosters to take advantage of current market conditions. Though they’ve added some 200 miners in the past year, the pandemic remains a limiting factor at mines and for the railroads that ship Wyoming coal, according to industry officials.

    A coal train moves in front of the Black Thunder mine outside Wright in October, 2016. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

    “We could probably still use another 200 miners up there [in the Powder River Basin],” Deti of the Wyoming Mining Association said.

    Arch’s Wyoming operations, which are non-union, are well-staffed to meet demand in the coming year, Lang said. But current labor market conditions require increasingly competitive compensation. “You know, I would hate to be in a position this year where I’m trying to go out and look for a couple hundred people,” he said

    Current Powder River Basin dynamics exemplify the short window of opportunity for Wyoming coal communities to transition to an economy that’s no longer primarily reliant on coal, Feaster said.

    “We’ve seen this in the past in places that didn’t want to believe that their local coal plant or local local mine is going to shut down, and they fought it,” Feaster said. “These regions have a window of opportunity to try and realign their economy a little bit so they’re not so dependent on one industry. Communities have an opportunity to really start realistically planning for where things are going, because that window is going to close and things are going to start going down again before too long.”

    WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

    Do you want to keep up with the evolving energy news in #Colorado? — Subscribe to @BigPivots

    A turbine whirls on a farm east of Burlington, Colo. Colorado’s eastern plains already have many wind farms—but it may look like a pin cushion during the next several years. Photo/Allen Best

    From email from Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    Big Pivots 52 has been posted, and you can download the e-journal by going here.

    This issue is rich with content about our giant energy pivot underway in Colorado and beyond, the one made necessary—despite the cold and snow today—of the climate crisis.

    In this issue are 15 stories, from Lamar to Craig, some short and some long, about transmission lines loping across eastern Colorado’s wind-swept prairies, La Plata Energy’s “monumental” pivot in southwestern Colorado; batteries and buildings in Aspen, and other topics. Some are already posted at http://BigPivots.com; others will be soon.

    Also in this issue is a story about Comanche 3, which is down—again. Will this coal plant, still a relative youngster, remain standing to 2034, even with reduced operations? It sure looks like a stranded asset.

    How will coal-dependent towns and cities transition to life beyond? The proponent of a nuclear study made the case to a Colorado legislative committee this week that modular nuclear reactors can help Colorado achieve 100% emissions-free electricity while easing those coal communities to a life beyond. Be assured, all the answers in this energy pivot have not arrived, as that state senator observed.

    Now a question before state regulators is how best to avoid stranded assets as we nudge emissions from fossil fuels burned for heating and other purposes in buildings. The 2021 laws requiring this are relatively clear, but the precise pathway far from certain. PUC commissioners, led by Megan Gilman, have been asking good questions as they conferred with representatives of utilities, unions, and others engaged in creating solutions.

    Sparking the most interest is the proposal to end the subsidies for extension of natural gas lines. Right now, if you live in a new subdivision, you’re not paying the full cost of the extension of the natural gas line. It’s being financed by existing customers. The cost is socialized. This is a hot issue—and will get hotter. The optics on this are really, really interesting. Boulder argues against socialism and Grand Junction argues for it (along with Aurora, by the way). Some of this will be hashed out in a special day-long session of the PUC on March 7.

    Meanwhile, we have a $24-$25 million natural gas line proposed to the Sloans Lake area west of downtown Denver that, under normal depreciation schedules, will not be paid off until after 2050—when Colorado’s economy is supposed to be substantially decarbonized.

    Comanche 3 was approved 18 years ago, and we’re 28 years away from that decarbonization target.

    Do trust Big Pivots to keep following this and other conversations.

    Also, I ask you respectfully to encourage others to join the “subscription list by signing up here. Want off this mailing list for Big Pivots? Let me know.

    Allen Best
    Big Pivots
    https://bigpivots.com

    720.415.9308
    allen.best@comcast.net

    How poisonous mercury gets from coal-fired power plants into the fish you eat — The Conversation

    Coal-fired power plants are a source of mercury that people can ingest by eating fish.
    Mark Wilson/Getty Images

    Gabriel Filippelli, IUPUI

    People fishing along the banks of the White River as it winds through Indianapolis sometimes pass by ominous signs warning about eating the fish they catch.

    One of the risks they have faced is mercury poisoning.

    Mercury is a neurotoxic metal that can cause irreparable harm to human health – especially the brain development of young children. It is tied to lower IQ and results in decreased earning potential, as well as higher health costs. Lost productivity from mercury alone was calculated in 2005 to reach almost $9 billion per year.

    One way mercury gets into river fish is with the gases that rise up the smokestacks of coal-burning power plants.

    The Environmental Protection Agency has had a rule since 2012 limiting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. But the Trump administration stopped enforcing it, arguing that the costs to industry outweighed the health benefit.

    Now, the Biden administration is moving to reassert it.

    I study mercury and its sources as a biogeochemist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Before the EPA’s original mercury rule went into effect, my students and I launched a project to track how Indianapolis-area power plants were increasing mercury in the rivers and soil.

    Mercury bioaccumulates in the food chain

    The risks from eating a fish from a river downwind from a coal-burning power plant depends on both the type of fish caught and the age and condition of the person consuming it.

    Mercury is a bioaccumulative toxin, meaning that it increasingly concentrates in the flesh of organisms as it makes its way up the food chain.

    A person's hands old a smallmouth bass, with the fish's mouth open
    Mercury accumulates as it moves up the food chain.
    doug4537 via Getty Images

    The mercury emitted from coal-burning power plants falls onto soils and washes into waterways. There, the moderately benign mercury is transformed by bacteria into a toxic organic form called methylmercury.

    Each bacterium might contain only one unit of toxic methylmercury, but a worm chewing through sediment and eating 1,000 of those bacteria now contains 1,000 doses of mercury. The catfish that eats the worm then get more doses, and so on up the food chain to humans.

    In this way, top-level predator fishes, such as smallmouth bass, walleye, largemouth bass, lake trout and Northern pike, typically contain the highest amounts of mercury in aquatic ecosystems. On average, one of these fish contains enough to make eating only one serving of them per month dangerous for the developing fetuses of pregnant women and for children.

    How coal plant mercury rains down

    In our study, we wanted to answer a simple question: Did the local coal-burning power plants, known to be major emitters of toxic mercury, have an impact on the local environment?

    The obvious answer seems to be yes, they do. But in fact, quite a bit of research – and coal industry advertising – noted that mercury is a “global pollutant” and could not necessarily be traced to a local source. A recurring argument is that mercury deposited on the landscape came from coal-burning power plants in China, so why regulate local emissions if others were still burning coal?

    That justification was based on the unique chemistry of this element. It is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, and when heated just to a moderate level, will evaporate into mercury vapor. Thus, when coal is burned in a power plant, the mercury that is present in it is released through the smokestacks as a gas and dilutes as it travels. Low levels of mercury also occur naturally.

    Although this argument was technically true, we found it obscured the bigger picture.

    A view of the river with a bridge and the city in the background.
    People sometimes fish along the White River where it flows through Indianapolis.
    alexeys via Getty Images

    We found the overwhelming source of mercury was within sight of the White River fishermen – a large coal-burning power plant on the edge of the city.

    This power plant emitted vaporous mercury at the time, though it has since switched to natural gas. We found that much of the plant’s mercury rapidly reacted with other atmospheric constituents and water vapor to “wash out” over the city. It was raining down mercury on the landscape.

    Traveling by air and water, miles from the source

    Mercury emitted from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants can fall from the atmosphere with rain, mist or chemical reactions. Several studies have shown elevated levels of mercury in soils and plants near power plants, with much of the mercury falling within about 9 miles (15 kilometers) of the smokestack.

    When we surveyed hundreds of surface soils ranging from about 1 to 31 miles (2 to 50 km) from the coal-fired power plant, then the single largest emitter of mercury in central Indiana, we were shocked. We found a clear “plume” of elevated mercury in Indianapolis, with much higher values near the power plant tailing off to almost background values 31 miles downwind.

    The White River flows from the northeast to the southwest through Indianapolis, opposite the wind patterns. When we sampled sediments from most of its course through central Indiana, we found that mercury levels started low well upstream of Indianapolis, but increased substantially as the river flowed through downtown, apparently accumulating deposited mercury along its flow path.

    [Understand developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]

    We also found high levels well downstream of the city. Thus a fisherman out in the countryside, far away from the city, was still at significant risk of catching, and eating, high-mercury fish.

    The region’s fish advisories still recommend sharply limiting the amount of fish eaten from the White River. In Indianapolis, for example, pregnant women are advised to avoid eating some fish from the river altogether.

    Reviving the MATS rule

    The EPA announced the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards rule in 2011 to deal with the exact health risk Indianapolis was facing.

    The rule stipulated that mercury sources had to be sharply reduced. For coal-fired power plants, this meant either installing costly mercury-capturing filters in the smokestacks or converting to another energy source. Many converted to natural gas, which reduces the mercury risk but still contributes to health problems and global warming.

    The MATS rule helped tilt the national energy playing field away from coal, until the Trump Administration attempted to weaken the rule in 2020 to try to bolster the declining U.S. coal industry. The administration rescinded a “supplemental finding” that determined it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury from power plants.

    On Jan. 31, 2022, the Biden Administration moved to reaffirm that supplemental finding and effectively restore the standards.

    More than a quarter of U.S. coal-fired power plants currently operating were scheduled as of 2021 to be retired by 2035.
    EIA

    Some economists have calculated the net cost of the MATS rule to the U.S. electricity sector to be about $9.6 billion per year. This is roughly equal to the earlier estimates of productivity loss from the harm mercury emissions cause.

    To a public health expert, this math problem is a no-brainer, and I am pleased to see the rule back in place, protecting the health of generations of future Americans.The Conversation

    Gabriel Filippelli, Chancellor’s Professor of Earth Sciences and Executive Director, Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute, IUPUI

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    End in sight for natural gas bridge?: Filings by #Colorado’s two largest utilities reveal debate about how much longer natural gas will be vital to ensuring reliable electrical deliveries — @BigPivots

    Hydrocarbon processing in the Wattenberg Field east of Fort Lupton, Colo., on July 2, 2020. Photo/Allen Best

    From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    Natural gas a decade ago was being called the bridge fuel. Burning it produces half the emissions of coal, yet it can be tapped to ensure reliable delivery of electricity. It was the bridge to a low-emissions future.

    Today, natural gas is where coal was 10 or 15 years ago. We still need it for electrical generation, but the bridge no longer seems endless. But will new natural gas plants end up being like many coal plants, assets stranded long before the debt is paid?

    The role of natural gas in Colorado’s energy future is being sorted out in proposals submitted to state regulators by Colorado’s two largest electrical utilities: Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Together, they deliver 71% of electricity.

    These utilities expect to achieve 80% and even higher reductions in emissions associated with electrical generation by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. Both the technology and economics of renewables and now storage align with these goals.

    The preferred plan by Tri-State, the wholesaler for 17 of Colorado’s 22 electrical cooperatives, takes a wait-and-see position about new natural gas-fired generation during the next few years.

    In a September filing, Lisa Tiffin, the senior manager for analytics and forecasting, explained that this will “allow emerging technologies to become more competitive in the interim and potentially displace the need” for new natural gas generation.

    Most people, when buying a house, take on a 30-year mortgage. An agreement filed with state regulators last week by Tri-State, along with environmental groups, state agencies and others, calls for a shorter depreciation of just 20 years when evaluating the cost of any potential new natural gas plant.

    This makes new natural gas much more difficult to justify. This shorter timeline also accords with Colorado’s statutory timeline for achieving a 100% near carbon-free electrical generation by 2050.

    But what will be needed to meet demand if, for example, Colorado has a heat dome type of event in 2030 similar to that which baked people to death in Portland last June? Air conditioners would be blasting — and the wind turbines may be motionless.

    That’s a central question in the plans for Xcel Energy. In addition to its own customers, the utility delivers wholesale power to utilities that serve Aspen, Vail, plus Steamboat Springs and Craig.

    Xcel wants to install natural gas generation at an existing coal plant in Pawnee, which is in northeastern Colorado, beginning Jan. 1, 2026. Environmental groups are on board with this, although some want an even earlier switch.

    Western Resource Advocates and other environmental groups, however, are not on board with Xcel building other new gas plants. Xcel estimates it will invest $1 billion in natural gas capacity. Those gas plants, it says, will be used rarely but necessarily to ensure reliability.

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Association supports Xcel’s plans and wants to see no time wasted. Natural gas, it said in a filing last week, will “play this critical reliability and resilience role that makes renewable energy possible.”

    The industry group also supports Xcel’s argument that the natural gas infrastructure can later be adapted to use green hydrogen, if and when that technology becomes affordable. Renewable energy and water are used to create green hydrogen, which can be stored. COGA and Xcel say another potential path is to use natural gas plants retrofitted with carbon capture and storage technology. That technology also cannot yet compete in cost or scale.

    Environmental groups argue instead for battery storage, already part of Xcel’s plans, playing an even larger role. Interwest Energy Alliance, representing primarily wind developers, accused Xcel last week of old-school thinking: “The technological changes that are coming to the entire utility industry are unfathomable to those stuck in the central station combustion thought paradigm.” Batteries, though, remain an imperfect solution.

    The Colorado Energy Office wants Xcel to be required to invest in demand-response programs, shifting demand and suppressing it through energy efficiency. This, it points out, will be less expensive than Xcel investing in up to 300 megawatts of additional gas generation.

    What all agree is that Xcel’s filing constitutes a landmark. Perhaps never before has the state’s Public Utilities Commission seen a proposal for so much rapid change. One example: the social cost of carbon is being used for the first time to evaluate proposals. Xcel, in a related proposal, wants to spend $2 billion alone on new transmission. The energy landscape has changed — and likely will change just as dramatically in the next decade.

    The state’s three PUC commissioners are expected to issue a decision sometime in March about both the Tri-State and Xcel pivots. Part of those big decisions will be about the role of natural gas.

    The Power Grid: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

    Transmission tower near Firestone. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    John Oliver discusses the current state of the nation’s power grid, why it needs fixing, and, of course, how fun balloons are.

    The magic 1.5C: What’s behind #climate talks’ key elusive goal — The #Pueblo Chieftain #COP26

    From The Associated Press (Seth Borenstein) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    One phrase, really just a number, dominates climate talks in Glasgow: the magic and elusive 1.5.

    That stands for the international goal of trying to limit future warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times. It’s a somewhat confusing number in some ways that wasn’t a major part of negotiations just seven years ago and was a political suggestion that later proved to be incredibly important scientifically. Stopping warming at 1.5 or so can avoid or at least lessen some of the most catastrophic future climate change scenarios and for some people is a life-ordeath matter, scientists have found in many reports.

    The 1.5 figure now it is the “overarching objective” of the Glasgow climate talks, called COP26, conference President Alok Sharma said on the first day of meetings. On Saturday, he said the conference, which took a break Sunday, was still trying “to keep 1.5 alive.” For protesters and activists, the phrase is “1.5 to stay alive.” And 1.5 is closer than it sounds. That’s because it may sound like another 1.5 degrees from now, but because it is since preindustrial times, it’s actually only 0.4 degrees (0.7 degrees Fahrenheit) from now. The world has warmed 1.1 degrees (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times. The issue isn’t about the one year when the world first averages 1.5 more than preindustrial times. Scientists usually mean a multiyear average of over 1.5 because temperatures – while rising over the long term like on an escalator – do have small jags up and down above the long-term trend, much like taking a step up or down on the escalator.

    But it’s coming fast.

    Scientists calculate carbon pollution the burning of fossil fuels can produce before 1.5 degrees is baked in. A report a few days ago from Global Carbon Project found that there are 420 billion tons of carbon dioxide left in that budget, and this year humanity spewed 36.4 billion tons. That’s about 11 years’ worth left at current levels – which are rising, not falling – the report found.

    To get there, scientists and the United Nations say the world needs to cut its current emissions by about half as of 2030. That’s one of the three goals the U.N. has set for success in Glasgow.

    “It’s physically possible (to limit warming to 1.5 degrees), but I think it is close to politically impossible in the real world barring miracles,” Columbia University climate scientist Adam Sobel said. “Of course we should not give up advocating for it.” A dozen other climate scientists told the Associated Press essentially the same thing – that if dramatic emission reductions start immediately the world can keep within 1.5 degrees. But they don’t see signs of that happening.

    That 1.5 figure may be the big number now but that’s not how it started.
    At the insistence of small island nations who said it was a matter of survival, 1.5 was put in near the end of negotiations into the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement. It is mentioned only once in the deal’s text. And that part lists the primary goal to limit warming to “2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.” The 2-degree goal was the existing goal from 2009’s failed Copenhagen conference. The goal was initially interpreted as 2 degrees or substantially lower if possible.

    But in a way both the “1.5 and 2 degree C thresholds are somewhat arbitrary,” Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson said in an email. “Every tenth of a degree matters!” The 2 degrees was chosen because it “is the warmest temperature that you can infer that the planet has ever seen in the last million years or so,” University of East Anglia climate scientist Corinne LeQuere, who helped write the carbon budget study, said at the Glasgow climate talks. When the Paris agreement threw in the 1.5 figure, the United Nations tasked its Nobel Prizewinning group of scientists – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC – to study on what difference there would be an Earth between 1.5 degrees of warming and 2 degrees of warming.

    The 2018 IPCC report found that compared to 2 degrees, stopping warming at 1.5 would mean:

  • Fewer deaths and illnesses from heat, smog and infectious diseases.
  • Half as many people would suffer from lack of water.
  • Some coral reefs may survive.
  • There’s less chance for summers without sea ice in the Arctic.
  • The West Antarctic ice sheet might not kick into irreversible melting.
  • Seas would rise nearly 4 inches less.
  • Half as many animals with back bones and plants would lose the majority of their habitats.
  • There would be substantially fewer heat waves, downpours and droughts.
  • “For some people this is a life-or-death situation without a doubt,” report lead author Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald said at the time.

    That finding that there’s a massive difference to Earth with far less damage at 1.5 is the biggest climate science finding in the last six years, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research Director Johan Rockstrom said in an interview at the Glasgow conference.

    “It gets worse and worse as you exceed beyond 1.5,” Rockstrom said. “We have more scientific evidence than ever that we need to really aim for landing at 1.5, which is the safe climate planetary boundary.” “Once we pass 1.5 we enter a scientific danger zone in terms of heightened risk,” Rockstrom said. In a new IPCC report in August, the world hit 1.5 in the 2030s in each of the four main carbon emissions scenarios they looked out.

    Even when scientists and politicians talk about 1.5 they usually talk about “overshoot” in which for a decade or so the temperature hits or passes 1.5, but then goes back down usually with some kind of technology that sucks carbon out of the air, Stanford’s Jackson and others said.

    As hard as it is, negotiators can’t give up on 1.5, said Canadian Member of Parliament Elizabeth May, who is at her 16th climate negotiations.
    “If we don’t hang on to 1.5 while it is technically feasible, we are almost criminal,” May said.

    Guest Opinion: Will Toor: There’s a lot being done in #Colorado to address climate crisis — The #Boulder Daily Camera

    Leaf charging at the Beau Jo’s charger in idaho Springs August 23, 2021.

    From The Boulder Daily Camera (Will Toor):

    Right now, leaders from across the world are gathered in Scotland for the latest UN climate conference, seeking to address the climate crisis. Here in Colorado, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change, with the largest wildfires in state history, air quality impacts from wildfires across the west, and the closure this summer of I-70 due to mudslides following last year’s Glenwood Canyon fires.

    Luckily, there is a LOT being done here in Colorado to address these challenges. Three years ago, Gov. Jared Polis campaigned on a platform of 100% clean electricity generation by 2040 and bold climate action, and in the intervening period the state has vaulted to the forefront of climate action. Through legislation, regulations, public investment and partnerships with local government, unions and the private sector, we have made real progress on an equitable transition towards a low carbon, clean energy future — all while strengthening the economy, addressing inequities, and working to improve local air quality.

    Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office via State of Colorado.

    In 2019 Gov. Polis signed legislation establishing science-based targets to reduce GHG pollution 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 90% by 2050. For a sense of scale, this means cutting annual GHG pollution by 70 million tons by 2030. We immediately got to work on both implementing obvious “no regrets” strategies and developing a strategic GHG roadmap to determine the most important actions to take to achieve the 2030 targets.

    The first big area we focused on was electricity generation, one of the two largest sources of GHG pollution. We got commitments from utilities representing 99% of the fossil fuel generation in the state to achieve at least 80% reduction in pollution by 2030. We have locked these commitments in through legislative requirements and action by state air and utility regulators. In practice, it looks like we will exceed these targets. Xcel Energy, the largest utility in the state, filed a plan at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to achieve 85% by 2030, and based on our analysis, we are advocating for the PUC to approve a plan that gets to 90%. The second largest utility, Tri-State, has a plan to close every coal plant they have in Colorado and replace them primarily with wind and solar. All of this is enabled by the remarkable advances in cheap renewables, in which the cost per kilowatt hour of NEW wind and solar is often about half the cost for just operating and maintaining EXISTING coal plants.

    We also worked with the Colorado Legislature this year to pass binding requirements on industry to achieve the sector-specific targets set in the GHG roadmap. State air regulators are now required to adopt new rules that will reduce pollution from the oil and gas industry by 60%, and from the rest of industry by 20% by 2030. State air regulators are already in the process of adopting rules for oil and gas, and a first set of industrial rules focused on steel mills and cement plants. And regulators have already adopted a phaseout of superpolluting hydrofluorocarbons.

    Burning natural gas in buildings is another one of the top sources of GHG pollution. Legislation passed this year will expand gas and electric utility programs to help their customers electrify heating and improve efficiency, require large commercial buildings to improve their energy performance, expand investment in low income weatherization, and create new financing tools for building upgrades. Tying all of this together is a first in the nation requirement for gas utilities to develop “clean heat plans” that will achieve at least 22% reduction in pollution by 2030.

    Transportation is the largest single source of GHG pollution. The state has already adopted low and zero emission vehicle regulations, and has taken major steps on supporting the transition to electric cars, trucks and buses, including through the legislation requiring utility investment in EV infrastructure, and to invest new state transportation revenue in EV infrastructure and incentives. Together, these will invest about $1 billion in EV infrastructure and programs, to support a million EVs on the road by 2030. And the state is adopting an innovative new GHG pollution standard which will require state and regional transportation plans to shift funding towards public transit and walkable, bikeable communities.

    The net effect of these policies is projected to achieve 95 % of the 70 million ton target, while improving air quality. And we have big plans to do more in the coming year. We need to work with local governments to reform exclusionary zoning that keeps housing out of our prosperous cities, harming low and middle income workers while forcing far longer drives that contribute to pollution. The governor is proposing a half-a-billion dollars of investments in this year’s budget to improve air quality and reduce GHG emissions – accelerating adoption of electric school buses, supporting industrial emissions reduction, rebates for Ebikes, expanding public transit, making fares free during the high ozone season, and more. We will be finalizing the state clean trucking strategy this winter, and considering zero emission vehicle standards for trucks next spring. This just touches the surface — there is action on carbon capture, green hydrogen, improved building codes, natural and working land… this is an all-of-government effort.

    The work isn’t over. In many ways, it is just beginning: addressing climate change is the great work of our time, and will be an ongoing effort through our lifetimes and our children’s lifetimes. But I couldn’t be prouder of the innovation and leadership of the state of Colorado over the last three years.

    Will Toor is Executive Director of the Colorado Energy Office. It’s mission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and consumer energy costs by advancing clean energy, energy efficiency and zero emission vehicles to benefit all Coloradans.

    #FossilFuels Received $5.9 Trillion In Subsidies in 2020, Report Finds — Yale Environment 360

    An open-pit coal mine in Garzweiler, Germany. PIXABAY

    From Yale Environment 360:

    Coal, oil, and natural gas received $5.9 trillion in subsidies in 2020 — or roughly $11 million every minute — according to a new analysis from the International Monetary Fund.

    Explicit subsidies accounted for only 8 percent of the total. The remaining 92 percent were implicit subsidies, which took the form of tax breaks or, to a much larger degree, health and environmental damages that were not priced into the cost of fossil fuels, according to the analysis.

    “Underpricing leads to overconsumption of fossil fuels, which accelerates global warming and exacerbates domestic environmental problems including losses to human life from local air pollution and excessive and road congestion and accidents,” authors wrote. “This has long been recognized, but globally countries are still a long way from getting energy prices right.”

    The report found that 47 percent of natural gas and 99 percent of coal is priced at less than half its true cost, and that just five countries — China, the United States, Russia, India, and Japan — account for two-thirds of subsidies globally. All five countries belong to the G20, which in 2009 agreed to phase out “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies “over the medium term.”

    Setting the price of coal, oil, gas to reflect their true cost — say, with a carbon tax — would cut carbon dioxide emissions by around a third, helping to put the world on a path to keeping warming below 1.5 degrees C. Such policies would also raise revenues equal to 3.8 percent of global GDP and prevent close to 1 million deaths from local air pollution yearly.

    “There would be enormous benefits from reform, so there’s an enormous amount at stake,” Ian Parry, an environmental policy expert and lead author of the report, told the Guardian. “Some countries are reluctant to raise energy prices because they think it will harm the poor. But holding down fossil fuel prices is a highly inefficient way to help the poor, because most of the benefits accrue to wealthier households. It would be better to target resources towards helping poor and vulnerable people directly.”

    #Climate protesters target London banks on #fossilfuel support — The #Pueblo Chieftain #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Photo credit: @GretaThunberg on Twitter

    From The Associated Press (Khadija Kothia and Pan Pylas) via The Pueblo Chieftain

    Protesters took to the streets Friday in London’s historic financial district to lobby against the use of fossil fuels ahead of the start of the U.N. climate summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

    The protests in London, which were joined by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, as well as many other young campaigners from around the world, are part of a global day of action before leaders head to Glasgow for the U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP26. Many environmentalists are calling the Oct. 31-Nov. 12 gathering the world’s last best chance to turn the tide in the fight against climate change.

    The protesters included Friday for Future activists from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, who called out the banks for financing activities such as deforestation, mining and polluting industries, which they blame for the destruction of their homes and their futures. “As much as we are passionate to be here, we shouldn’t have to be here,” said Brianna Fruean from Samoa. “Our pain, our suffering, our tears and our sorrows shouldn’t be what it takes to take action. We already know what we need to do: we need to phase out of the fossil fuel era, we need to divest from these industries that are causing this harm and despair.” The mood music ahead of the climate talks appears fairly downbeat, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the summit’s host, saying it’s “touch and go” whether there will be a positive outcome. On Friday, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned at the Group of 20 summit of leading industrial and developing nations that “there is a serious risk that Glasgow will not deliver.” He said that despite updated climate targets by many countries, the world is “still careening towards climate catastrophe.” The protest in London began at the Climate Justice Memorial outside the insurance marketplace of Lloyd’s of London, where red flowers spelling out “Rise Remember Resist” were laid.

    The focus later centered on the headquarters of international bank Standard Chartered, where the few dozen protesters, including Thunberg, chanted “Keep it, Keep it, Keep it in the ground!” and “Ensure our future, not pollution!”

    At #Climate Summit, Can the World Move from Talk to Action? — Yale Environment 360 #ActOnClimate #COP26

    Cars pass the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Power Generator Company coal power plant in Shanghai on March 22, 2016. – Environmental watchdog Greenpeace warned on March 22, 2019 the world’s coal plants are “deepening” the global water crisis as the water consumed by them can meet the basic needs of one billion people. China, the world’s largest emitter, has promised to reach zero net carbon emissions by 2060. (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE / AFP) via Voice of America

    From Yale Environment 360 (Fred Pearce):

    Negotiators at the Glasgow climate conference will face a critical choice: Set firm emissions targets for 2030, or settle for goals of achieving “net zero” by 2050? The course they set could determine if we have a shot at avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

    Glasgow, once the second city of the British Empire and the biggest shipbuilder on the planet, next month hosts the 26th conference of nations aiming to halt dangerous climate change. The negotiators face the challenge of turning the aspiration of the 2015 Paris Agreement to achieve “net zero” emissions by mid-century into the detailed near-term action plans necessary to turn those hopes into reality in time to halt warming at or near 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

    Sadly, while aspiration is going well, progress on action is slow, say scientists. Most big emitters have in recent months promised to achieve national net-zero targets by 2050, allowing the British hosts to claim that Glasgow will “keep 1.5 alive.” But scientists warn that such ambition remains hot air. They say we have to all but halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, or net zero by 2050 will slip out of sight. Yet most of the national plans unveiled so far do little more than prevent further rises in emissions over the coming decade.

    The question for delegates meeting in Scotland comes down to this: Should the focus be on 2050 aspiration or 2030 action, on “keeping 1.5 alive” or on delivering credible plans to make it happen?

    It is six years now since governments meeting in Paris committed to restricting warming to “well below” 2 degrees C from pre-industrial levels while “pursuing efforts” to cap it at 1.5 degrees. They agreed that would require bringing net greenhouse-gas emissions (total emissions less any agreed carbon capture) to zero by mid-century.

    But even amid the euphoria, negotiators recognized that there was a gap between national emissions pledges on the table in Paris and the declared goal. So they set up a timetable for ratcheting up commitments and for taking account of emerging science. The first deadline for new pledges, known as nationally determined contributions, was set for 2020 and postponed until 2021 because of the pandemic.

    So the Glasgow Conference of Parties (COP26) should be high noon for delivery — for turning aspiration into action.

    Its importance has grown because it is the first COP since the return of the United States to the negotiating table after the Trump years. And the urgency has been reinforced by escalating extreme weather events — wildfires, floods, droughts, and extreme heat waves — and by modeling studies suggesting such extremes will increase sharply if global temperatures rise beyond 1.5 degrees C.

    The potential for achieving the ambition of Paris has improved since that conference, because of the advance of technology. Electric cars were barely on the horizon in 2015. And solar power and battery prices have more than halved since then.

    So how are we doing? More than 130 countries have made net-zero pledges since Paris. Those nations are collectively responsible for more than 70 percent of current global emissions. That is a diplomatic triumph of sorts. But pledges are no substitute for action. And with warming already above 1 degree C, time is short.

    In a 2018 assessment, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that if current trends continue, 1.5 degrees would be reached about 2040, but potentially as early as 2030 or as late as 2052. It found that for a 50-50 chance of halting warming at that point, the world has to reduce emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and then go on to reach net zero by 2050. For climate scientists, securing that trajectory is the benchmark for success in Glasgow.

    But national pledges to make the required 45 percent cut by 2030 remain a distant prospect (only the United Kingdom comes close). And since the Paris Agreement is based on voluntary targets, there is no legal means for closing the gap or sanctioning backsliders.

    The most definitive assessment of where the world stands came in a detailed comparison of climate models and national pledges published in the journal Nature Climate Change last month. It found that emissions in 2030 are set to be almost the same as today — almost double what is needed to be on target for net zero.

    2100 warming projections. Graphic credit: Yale Environment 360

    The prognosis for temperatures will be devastating. The report found that policies currently in place will lead to a rise of around 3 degrees C. If pledges for 2030 so far submitted for Glasgow were implemented in full, they would limit the rise to 2.4 degrees, at best. And even if there were a systematic advance toward net zero, it would deliver only a 50-50 chance of keeping warming to below 2 degrees, according to one method used in the study.

    “The good news is that the 2050 net-zero targets for the first time put the ‘well below’ 2 degrees and 1.5 limits of the Paris Agreement within reach,” the study’s chief author, Niklas Hohne of the NewClimate Institute in Cologne, Germany, told Yale Environment 360. “But the bad news is that no single country is on target to implement the short-term 2030 policies needed to be on track to meet their own net-zero targets.”

    The paper is optimistically titled: “Wave of net-zero emissions targets opens window to meeting the Paris Agreement.” But the current pledges, Hohne says, “will lead to roughly stable emissions from now until 2030,” not the required 45 percent cut. Co-author Joeri Rogelj of Imperial College London agrees that the national pledges to date are “not at all consistent” with reaching net zero.

    So can the tide be turned? Will climate diplomacy and public pressure force delegates in Glasgow to up their game? The British government’s chief negotiator, former business secretary Alok Sharma, who will be president of the COP, conceded in March that current 2030 targets were “nowhere near enough,” but declared that “the UK is using the COP presidency to urge all countries to set 2030 emissions reductions targets that put us on a path to net zero.”

    Six months on, his advisors are now reported to privately concede that the hoped-for big improvements won’t happen on anything like the scale needed. Probably in consequence, the hosts’ narrative has shifted.

    Sharma has been traveling the world in recent months, pushing countries such as Russia and Australia to join others in committing to net zero. But he has been downplaying the importance of 2030 targets. He no longer talks of putting the world “on a path” to net zero. Rather he speaks repeatedly of aiming to “keep 1.5 alive” through 2050 pledges.

    Perhaps, say optimists, national emissions pledges at big UN negotiating events matter less now that there is more potential economic gain from switching to cheap low-carbon technologies. “The world has changed a lot since Paris,” economists Kingsmill Bond and Sam Butler-Sloss of the UK-based think tank Carbon Tracker noted last month. “The old trade-off between development and climate mitigation … has been solved.” Shifting to the new technologies was now about “gain not pain,” since that would give nations a head start on the low-cost energy technologies of the future.

    Maybe so, but despite apparent technological tipping points, overall carbon dioxide emissions have continued to rise since Paris. The main obstacle, Bond and Butler-Sloss argue, comes from “the forces of incumbency and inertia,” reflected in government subsidies for fossil fuels that a report published by the International Monetary Fund this month estimates at $11 million every minute.

    Glasgow will debate many issues besides national emissions targets. Sharma’s agenda has broadened in recent months to embrace commitments phasing out coal, promoting electric vehicles, reducing non-CO2 greenhouse-gas emissions such as methane, and funding both for forest planting to keep more carbon in natural ecosystems and for helping developing countries adapt to future extreme weather.

    Alok Sharma, Britain’s chief climate negotiator and president of COP26, leaving 10 Downing Street in March. WIKTOR SZYMANOWICZ / NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES

    The push to banish coal burning in power stations may have triggered China’s September promise to end all funding for overseas coal power stations. It is also behind a recently announced plan for rich nations to provide funding to South Africa to end its reliance on coal burning.

    But of much greater moment for many of the developing-world governments, whose votes will dominate in Glasgow, is finance. Twelve years ago, at the otherwise failed Copenhagen COP, developed nations promised that by 2020 they would collectively provide an annual $100 billion to developing countries to help them both bring down their own emissions and adapt to climate change.

    Those promises were reaffirmed in Paris. The UN’s chief Paris negotiator, Christiana Figueres, says that the risk of missing this target “looms the largest” for her successors. Delivering this funding is a prerequisite for a successful conference for countries whose contribution to climate change is very small compared to that of rich industrialized nations. “Promises must be kept,” says Figueres, “otherwise a lack of trust undermines the whole process.”

    But faith and trust are in short supply. The formal accounting process on the 2020 financial payments will not be completed until next year, but sources familiar with the process told Bloomberg that payments fell at least $10 billion short. And there are continuing concerns about how the money is being allocated by donors. Most of it has so far funded reducing emissions, with only a small portion going for helping countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts.

    Other outstanding business for Glasgow includes completing the technical rules for implementing the Paris deal. Delegates still have to decide how often countries should report and update their pledges in the future. The European Union this month agreed to join the U.S. and many poor climate-vulnerable nations in pushing for updating targets every five years. But others want a 10-year cycle, and China and India oppose any internationally agreed time frame. Some observers say that without synchronized reporting, it will be impossible to align national targets with the changing science of climate change.

    There is continuing controversy too over rules on accounting for, and trading in, credits for carbon captured by forest conservation and planting. These “nature-based solutions” are seen as a crucial element in achieving net-zero emissions, which will allow countries to continue greenhouse-gas emissions provided they are offset by carbon-uptake elsewhere. But nobody is sure how to prevent bogus offsets and carbon fraud.

    Though apparently technical issues, rule-book resolution depends a lot on political goodwill. A big unknown here remains the role that China will take, and how its diplomatic relations with the U.S. will play out on the conference floor.

    There is history here. A major cause of failure in Copenhagen in 2009 was a stand-off between the two nations; but Paris succeeded in part because of a deal on climate reached between the two nations in Washington the previous year.

    John Kerry, then U.S. secretary of state, with China’s special representative on climate change, Xie Zhenhua, at the 2015 Paris climate conference. FRANCOIS MORI / AP PHOTO

    In recent months, diplomatic relations between the China and the U.S. have been increasingly frosty, leading to Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry pleading with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua to separate climate from other issues.

    But China has rejected such overtures. It has committed in advance of Glasgow to what it believes is a generous pledge for a still-developing nation, by promising to peak emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2060. But the West is not satisfied. In September, Sharma publicly called for China to “pick up the pace” and present “more detailed plans.” And Kerry’s chief negotiator Todd Stern, a veteran of the process, called testily on Twitter for China to “pledge a major cut in its emissions now, in this decade.”

    Such calls may seem unfair, given the much greater responsibility for overloading the atmosphere with CO2 born by early-industrializing nations such as the U.S. and UK. This “carbon debt” is an increasingly hot topic as the world edges towards its carbon limits.

    So, how should we judge the success or failure of the Glasgow COP? The hosts appear tempted to paint aspiration as victory. They may hope that delegates less versed in the science of climate change will fly home satisfied that they have delivered a “wave” of net-zero pledges for 2050 and “kept 1.5 alive.” For others, an absence of concrete plans for 2030 would make the aspirations look like delusion.

    Almost 30 years ago, at the Earth Summit in Rio, nations agreed to a convention that promised to prevent “dangerous” climate change. The Glasgow COP is the 26th conference of the parties to that treaty. If it can deliver on 1.5 degrees, it will be the most important. But it could be another 30 years before we know for sure.

    Fred Pearce is a freelance author and journalist based in the U.K. He is a contributing writer for Yale Environment 360 and is the author of numerous books, including The Land Grabbers, Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World, and The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming.

    Reckoning time on the #ColoradoRiver (and its tributaries): “Now there’s an awareness in the public of the brittleness of the hydraulic empire created in the 20th century in Southwest states” — @BigPivots #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

    The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    A Colorado water seminar always had climatechange on the agenda, but the tone was different this year, more alarmed, more worried, if still optimistic

    What a flip-flop from 2001. We were going to war in Afghanistan, worrying about terrorists in our midst, and anthrax arriving in the mail.

    The reservoirs of the Colorado River were close to full.

    At the time I had given little thought to climate change, other than to be somewhat skeptical about the alarm. That changed in 2003, when I was given an assignment by the editor of Ski Area Management to round up what was being said. I read a year’s worth of articles in the New York Times and then—my eyes widened considerably—set out to find much more. It has been front and center for me ever since.

    Brad Udall also immersed himself in climate change beginning in 2003. He had been trying to preserve open space in Eagle County for a few years but then returned to the Front Range. There, he directed the Western Water Assessment in Boulder and, more recently, joined the staff of the Colorado State University Water Institute as a scholar and scientist. He has expertise in hydrology but also in crunching numbers.

    Over the years, Udall has distinguished himself as an expert on the effects of the warming climate on the Colorado River. His most prominent insight was a paper published in 2017 by the prestigious journal Science. Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, who also was originally schooled in Boulder and I believe still has a cabin in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride, sifted through the data before concluding that at least a third of the reduced flows in the Colorado River should be attributed to heat, not reduced precipitation.

    The paper was titled “The twenty-first century Colorado River hot drought and implications for the future.”

    On Oct. 1, speaking to the Colorado River District’s annual seminar in Grand Junction remotely from Boulder, Udall described the strengthened evidence that half of the reduced flows could be explained by rising temperatures. He calls it aridification.

    Much worse, he said, is yet to come.

    Lake Mead was 40% full and the surface was at 1090 feet in elevation when this photo was taken in December 2019. As of Saturday it had dropped 23 feet. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued a model in September that projected a 66% chance that the reservoir level will drop below 1,025 within the next 5 years. That would put the reservoir level 75 feet below what you see in this photo. Photo/Allen Best

    Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based River District, had introduced the session, using words of greater alarm than I had heard at the annual seminar—and I’ve attended most, in person or virtually, since the first session in 2003. He used the metaphor of a train wreck.

    “For a decade or more, we have seen the train wreck slowly moving this way,” he reiterated afterwards when I spoke to him for a story published by Fresh Water News. “It has picked up speed pretty significantly in the last couple of years. The question is how do we avert the train wreck (from coming into our station).”

    Mueller had described reduced flows and warm temperatures in the Yampa River as it flows through Steamboat Springs that have caused the river to be closed to recreation something like 8 of the last 14 years. There were fish kills in the Colorado River this year. He told of shortening ski seasons and warned lower-elevation ski areas may not make it in the future.

    He had also told the audience in Grand Junction that adaptations to lower flows would be necessary. Farmer and ranchers might have to cut irrigation to marginal areas, forego low-income crops. He vowed that Front Range cities would have to conserve and not expect the Western Slope to bear the burden.

    Climate change has never been a verboten word at River District seminars, even if this is from an area that elected Lauren Boebert to Congress. Udall, for example, has spoken at least three times in my memory and probably more.

    This year’s outlook was different, less cautious, more worried. The tone was reflected in the seminar title: “Wake-Up Call on the Colorado River.”
    National publications this summer brimmed with stories about the distress of the Colorado River, especially after the Bureau of Reclamation on Aug. 16 issued a shortage declaration. Arizona is most immediately affected, but this is huge for the five other basin states, including Colorado.

    Mueller agreed with me when we talked by phone that none of what happened this year was surprising. Most people involved with the river saw it coming.

    I remember talking with Udall in 2019 (for a story in Headwaters, the magazine), when something called the Drought Contingency Plan was completed. That agreement tightened the belt of Arizona but kicked the fundamental decisions down the road to a plan projected to be implemented in 2026. Udall was skeptical that the emergency would be that slow to arrive.

    Now there’s an awareness in the public of the brittleness of the hydraulic empire created in the 20th century in Southwest states, including Colorado. A decade, ago, there was hope that some big snow years like we had in the ‘80s and ‘90s would fill the reservoirs. We’ve had some big snow years, but the runoff doesn’t show it.

    Now, one major question is whether they will go so low as to make it impossible to generate electricity.

    I asked Mueller about his remarks, the tone of this year’s session. “The tone has to reflect the reality on the ground,” he said.

    “I think at every level our folks who are paying attention to the science and the hydrology, there is an increasing sense of urgency in the Colorado River Basin, and it’s shared by folks on the ground today, from ranchers in the Yampa River Valley to farmers in the Uncompahgre Valley to major urban providers like Denver Water. We all recognize there is something very different going on than there was 10 years ago in the Colorado River,” he said.

    “People like Brad have been saying for years that this is coming. I have seen lots of people in power turn their backs to Brad when he’s talking,” he said, likely meaning that metaphorically. “They’re not doing that so much anymore.”

    What is happening is complex but understandable. There is drought, as conventionally understood, but then the overlay of higher temperatures. The warmer temperatures cause more evaporation. They cause more transpiration from plants. More precipitation can overcome this, but particularly in Southern Colorado, there’s actually been less.

    The most interesting slide Udall showed compared the runoff of several rivers over time. The San Juan River—which originates in Colorado, near Pagosa Springs—had 30% less water in 2000-2019 at Bluff, Utah, as compared to 1906-1999. The decline of the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs was 6%.

    Another compelling statistic reported during the seminar was about soil moisture. Dry soil sops up snowmelt before it can get to the stream. Runoff from deep snows can be lost to the previous years’ dry soils.

    In 2020, the snowpack was 100% but the runoff was 50%. That soil-moisture deficit played into this year’s even worse runoff, 30% of average from a snowpack that was 90% of average.

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation during the Trump years operated well, although I do remember a session at the Colorado River Water Users Association in December 2019 of top Trump water officials who sat on a panel and patted themselves on the back for the better part of an hour, seemingly oblivious to the big issue of that day. It was like the famous Trump cabinet meeting where the cabinet heads took turns praising Trump like he was the North Korean dictator.

    Udall, in his presentation to the River District seminar, pointed to the tremendous drop in storage. The two giant reservoirs, Mead and Powell, in January 2020 were 90% full and held 47 million acre-feet. They are projected to fall to 15 million acre-feet combined by April 22, leaving them 30% full.

    This has manifold implications—including for Colorado. In 2009, I wrote my first story about Colorado’s possible need to curtail diversions in order to comply with the Colorado River Compact. That possibility is far more concrete now, and Udall mentioned it in his presentation.

    But even when it was more remote, water managers in Colorado were talking about various programs that could allow cities to pay farmers and ranchers, especially on the Western Slope, to use their water (for a price, of course). The farmers and ranchers tend to have the oldest and most senior water rights; the cities tend to have the more junior rights – almost exclusively junior to the Colorado River Compact.

    Looking around me on the Front Range, I don’t see a response that I think the situation justifies. From Pueblo to Fort Collins, we all depend greatly upon imported water. That will almost certainly change. We’re going to see a very different water paradigm a decade from now. Predicting the changes is beyond me, but the water in the 21st century isn’t there to satisfy 20th century expectations.

    This is from Big Pivots 46, an e-journal devoted to the water and energy transitions in Colorado and beyond. Please consider subscribing or sharing this story with associates.

    There may be implications in other realms. I am reminded what Colorado State Sen. Chris Hansen said at a fundraiser this summer, about the growing room for new alliances with conservatives to move forward on climate action. The evidence—wildfires, heat waves, the drying of the Colorado River – is becoming overwhelming.

    Visiting Greeley to attend the Energy and Environmental Leadership Symposium on Oct 8-9, I was struck by the shift. This is in Weld County, where 90% of oil and gas production occurs in Colorado. The keynote speaker, Chris Wright, the chief executive of Liberty Oilfield Services, downplayed the risks and costs of climate change and emphasized the cost of trying to shift from fossil fuels. This will be a 200-year journey, he said, not something done in 30 years.

    But for the next day and a half, whether talking about fossil fuels or renewables, all the sessions in some way had to do with a carbon-constrained world.

    To modify Mueller’s cliché about the train, it seems like the train has left the station on this energy transition and it’s picking up speed. This train will have to move a lot quicker. Just what value will those giant reservoirs built during the 20th century on the Colorado River have in the 21st century? It’s an open question.

    See also: A deep rethink of the Colorado River

    Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

    Can Tri-State clean up its power faster and even deeper?: We’re moving as fast as we possibly can, says Colorado’s second largest electrical utility in filings with state regulators — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Laramie River Station. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    Colorado’s second largest electrical utility has committed to 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 as compared to 2005. But can it cut even deeper, faster?

    Filings with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in late September offer a peek into the thinking of both that utility, Tri-State Generation & Transmission, and various other groups at the table.

    “It is not reasonable to construct and integrate the sheer quantity of modeled new resources under this scenario,” says Tri-State in a filing submitted on Sept. 28. “The extent of the resources called for in eastern Colorado and Wyoming before 2028 are not physically possible on Tri-State’s transmission system.”

    Tri-State was responding to a scenario called Roadmap, which calls for early retirement of 800 megawatts of coal generation—including the final unit at the Craig Generation Station in Colorado by 2028, ahead of Tri-State’s current plans of New Year’s Eve 2029.

    That same Roadmap scenario would also have Tri-State curtail its use of a coal-fired power plant in Arizona called Springerville, cutting off production from the plant altogether in 2028 and also idling its share of Wyoming’s Laramie River Station coal plant for three to five months at a time.

    Tri-State supplies electricity to 18 of Colorado’s 22 electrical cooperatives as well as 24 others in New Mexico, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Unlike Colorado’s two investor-owned electrical utilities, Xcel Energy and Black Hills, it had not been required to submit electric resource plans to the state regulatory body until a 2019 state law said it must.

    In practice, Tri-State operated much like the private companies even if it is a non-profit cooperative, a creation of its member cooperatives. Individual cooperatives as well as municipal utilities still are not required to submit such plans.

    In general, Tri-State wants to go slower in shifting off its coal plants. To go quicker means adding more natural-gas fired generation more rapidly, and the time for permitting such plants remains an unknown.

    Several times, Tri-State says it wants to give time for other technologies to become more competitive. In other words, don’t rush the solutions. At least in its rebuttal document filed on Sept. 28, it does not describe those other technologies. It is known to be interested in both hydrogen storage and advanced nuclear technology—as, for that matter, most other utilities also are.

    The filing also contains information about how it intends to assist the Craig community as it exits coal. The filings also emphasize the importance of a regional transportation organization, or RTO, in decarbonizing electricity while ensuring reliability and lower costs.

    In this inaugural voyage under the 2019 law, Tri-State submitted its electric resource plan in December 2020. Tri-State promises 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 as compared to 2005 (and 70% renewables). Xcel, the state’s largest utility, says it can achieve an 85% reduction (and 80% renewables).

    Tri-State sees its path forward including more than 2,000 megawatts of new renewables, both wind and solar, as well as energy storage, by 2030.

    Tri-State Generation and Transmission has a power-purchase agreement for 104 megawatts of generating capacity from the Crossing Trails Wind Farm, a wind farm between Seibert and Kit Carson, in eastern Colorado, on Oct. 3. Photo/Allen Best

    Stakeholders have alternative ideas about how Tri-State should move forward, most calling for a more rapid retreat from coal. Their proposed scenarios have been modeled by Tri-State with aid of its new modeling software developed for utility planning.

    Those stakeholders—who didn’t necessarily agree with each other in all cases—consist of the Colorado Energy Office, Colorado Independent Energy Association; the staff of the PUC; the Conservation Coalition (including Sierra Club and Natural Resource Defense Council); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 111; Interwest Energy Alliance; Southwest Energy Efficiency Project; Western Resource Advocates; and Wyoming Rural Electric Cooperatives.

    One of the disagreements involves the schedule for closing the units at Craig. Tri-State plans to close the first unit by the end of 2025, the second unit in September 2028, and then the third unit on New Year’s Eve 2029. It proposes to operate the coal units at lower levels during the latter part of the decade as it brings on renewables.

    Three of the six alternative scenarios would have the final unit at Craig closed by the end of 2025.

    Disagreements are also found in the sequence for closing the Arizona coal plant, Springerville. Tri-State has a contract through 2036 to lease 100% of the power generated by a 420-megawatt unit at the coal plant. Tri-State says it would be costly to escape that commitment quickly, although the details are blacked out in the public version of the filing.

    Another point of contention is Laramie River Station in Wyoming. Tri-State is a partial owner as a result of its ownership in the Missouri River Power Project but has not had discussions with its partners. “Therefore, the costs are assumed to be immitigable in the modeling,” Tri-State says, using a word that means unable to be made less severe or serious.

    This is from Big Pivots 46, an e-magazine that covers energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Please consider subscribing and donating—and sharing this story on social media.

    A separate statement posted by Tri-State on its website notes that Tri-State is actually lowering rates, with a 2% reduction in March to be followed by another 2% in 2022.

    Eric Frankowski, executive director of the Western Clean Energy Campaign, a group premised in a more rapid retreat from fossil fuels by utilities, found the latest filing by Tri-State to be lacking critical information. “Where is the explanation for why they want to operate Craig (unit 3) until 2029 while the modeling shows it would be better for customers to operate until only 2025. I don’t see that explanation in there.”

    Also absent is any exploration of what it would take to close the coal plants in Arizona and Wyoming.

    “With the exception of some new gas being delayed, (Tri-State’s revised preferred alternative) doesn’t do a whole lot to move the needle on retiring coal early and getting customers away from one of its most expensive generating sources.”
    The other stakeholders have until November to respond to Tri-State’s latest filing. This is the way of the long, drawn-out process for creating the electrical grid of the future.

    See also: Can Tri-State and other G&Ts serve a useful purpose in the fast-changing world of energy?

    Opinion: A clean electricity grid is possible, if Colorado and federal lawmakers follow through — The #Colorado Sun #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    The Dixie Fire destroys a home in the Plumas County town of Greenville, Aug. 4, 2021. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

    Here’s a guest column from Maria Nájera that’s running in The Colorado Sun:

    Across Colorado and the West, the intensifying effects of climate change are evident, from record-breaking heat to prolonged drought, erratic weather patterns, intense wildfires, and toxic air pollution that blots the sunlight and catches in our throats. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of global scientists convened by the United Nations, noted in its major new report released in September that some of the devastating impacts of climate change cannot be averted, due to our decades of fossil-fuel use.

    But we still have a small window of time to act and take steps that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst impacts of climate crisis.

    Colorado and the rest of the nation must shift away from fossil-fuel reliance and cut the harmful carbon emissions that are heating our planet. Colorado has taken important steps to address climate change, and federal support for clean energy and climate action will help Colorado achieve its science-based climate goals.

    The Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan is a much needed, pivotal set of federal actions and includes significant provisions we need to address climate change.

    Tesla Power Wall.

    A crucial part of Build Back Better is the American Jobs Plan’s Clean Electricity Standard, which would put the United States on a path to achieving, by 2035, a clean and reliable electricity system, by which we mean one free of greenhouse-gas emissions, and preferably powered by renewable sources. A June survey by Data for Progress and Western Resource Advocates shows that a large majority of Colorado voters support the key climate and clean energy provisions in the American Jobs Plan, and 73% of those voters support the plan’s provisions to transition to a 100% clean electricity grid.

    The Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, a Colorado bill signed into law in 2019, sets science-based targets of reducing statewide greenhouse-gas pollution 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050 from 2005 levels. Earlier this year, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis released his Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap outlining a plan to reach those targets. And Colorado legislators this year passed measures to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution from most electricity production 80% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, as well as cut energy waste and power homes and businesses with clean electricity.

    But further emissions reduction work at Colorado’s regulatory agencies and in future legislative sessions is needed to get the state on track to reach its climate goals. Complementary federal action will help Colorado achieve its climate commitments.

    The Build Back Better plan aims to invest in creating a resilient grid, lowering energy bills for middle class Americans, improving air quality, and creating good-paying jobs on the path to achieving carbon-free electricity by 2035. Importantly, the plan would provide tax credits to incentivize the building of high-capacity power transmission lines that would help make the grid stronger.

    Communities that have disproportionately borne the effects of climate change would benefit from billions of federal dollars as part of a framework called Justice40 – a plan that prioritizes investing in communities impacted by environmental racism. Under the initiative, the federal government would ensure 40% of climate and clean energy investments are directed to communities that have historically been marginalized. This includes funding for programs to clean up hazardous brownfield and Superfund sites, replace lead pipes, and invest in zero-emission public transit. Workers and communities who have relied on fossil-fuel extraction and power generation would have a path forward to new economic opportunities through the plan’s job-creation provisions.

    Wind turbines on the Cheyenne Ridge. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    Colorado and the West need significant federal investment to accelerate our clean energy transition. While Colorado has passed some important legislation and regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas pollution, a substantial gap remains between our current emissions and our science-based climate goals.

    Federal funding can support and accelerate state efforts, by providing necessary resources to supplement state and local budgets for activities like constructing clean energy projects, plugging abandoned oil and gas wells, or building electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Significant federal spending also can speed deployment of emerging technologies, which brings down costs for everyone through economies of scale.

    We face the increasing and devastating effects of climate change every day, and the science is clear: We must act now to protect Colorado.

    We urge our federal lawmakers to take the courageous action needed in these pivotal times. Passage of the Build Back Better plan’s provisions would provide a much needed tailwind to accelerate Colorado’s existing efforts and address the climate challenges ahead.

    Maria Nájera, of Denver, is government affairs director for Western Resource Advocates.

    #ClimateChange tops talk during Senator Michael Bennet’s telephone town hall September 3, 2021 — The #FortMorgan Times

    The graph shows average annual global temperatures since 1880 (source data) compared to the long-term average (1901-2000). The zero line represents the long-term average temperature for the whole planet; blue and red bars show the difference above or below average for each year. (These data were among the sources of data used in the State of the Climate in 2020’s temperature analysis, but here are compared to the 20th-century average. In the report, they are compared to the 1981-2010 average.)

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Katie Roth):

    U.S. Senator Michael Bennet held a telephone town hall event on Friday, Sept. 3 to answer questions and address concerns for Coloradoans. Though Bennet spends a lot of time in Washington D.C., he has been back in Colorado for the past few weeks. He has held 30 events in 13 different counties across the state and came away observing three things in need of attention: climate change, both man-made and natural infrastructure, and affordable healthcare, housing and education.

    “I think the United States has not been investing in our people or our infrastructure for a very, very long time, and it shows. But things are beginning to change. Last month, the Senate passed a historic $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on a bipartisan vote,” said Bennet…

    Bennet is focusing on both paid family leave and climate change, as well. He advocates for paid parent leave so Coloradoans can stay home with a sick child or an elderly family member without losing his or her job.

    As for climate change, Bennet recognizes the problems at hand: “We’ve got to act urgently on climate. If we don’t, I really worry that we’re not going to recognize our own state in a few years, and I think all of us refuse to hand our kids and grandkids a state where you can’t see the mountains or you can’t go outside half the summer and families live in fear of wildfire… droughts… There’s a lot of work to do ahead, and I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time that the agenda in Washington (D.C.) reflects our priorities in Colorado. And that’s, in large part, thanks to the feedback I receive in conversations like this that I can carry back to Washington (D.C.).”

    […]

    A caller from Westminster in Adams County, Ellen, expressed her disappointment in Bennet’s lack of actions taken to combat climate change: “I appreciate you saying you feel urgency over the climate crisis, but you need to act in line with that urgency. Your vote to prohibit banning fossil fuel development on public lands and your vote to support a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Texas (were) so unacceptable. To prevent more severe climate crises than we already face, we have to end extracting and burning fossil fuels.”

    While Bennet made it clear he did not regret those votes, he did explain his reasoning for them: “I believe very strongly that if we are ever going to actually get off of fossil fuels, we have to have a plan to transition off of fossil fuels. I don’t believe that we could just get off them tomorrow and be done with it without driving energy prices through the roof… what we need is a thoughtful approach over the next 10, 20, 30 years to get this economy to a net zero carbon economy. If we don’t have a plan to get to net zero by 2050, then we’re not ever going to do it.”

    […]

    A woman named Irma submitted an online question asking Bennet how he is protecting Colorado’s watershed and water supply.

    From his research over the past year or so, Bennet discovered that it would cost $60 billion to protect the west’s watershed. While that seems like a steep price, Colorado has spent $60 billion in the past four to five years fighting fires. Bennet wrote a bill called the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act which pushes to use funds for forest mitigation and watershed restoration. Bennet sits on the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, and he hopes his bill will be passed as part of the reconciliation package…

    Marti from Lafayette in Boulder County, originally from Ohio, moved to Colorado to be closer to her family and enjoys the Colorado weather. She called with a question about poor air quality and frequent ozone alerts. More specifically, she shared her research on Suncor Energy in Denver and how it has not met federal admission standards for toxic gasses. She questioned how the company could be held accountable. Bennet was not as familiar with Suncor and made a note to look into whether or not that problem could be solved on a state or federal level or instead handled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bennet also shared his wish to reinstate a law from when Hickenlooper was in office with a goal to capture fugitive methane from pipelines and drilling rigs, a law which President Trump removed.

    To Meet Paris Accord Goal, Most of the World’s #FossilFuel Reserves Must Stay in the Ground — Inside #Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

    From Inside Climate News (Nicholas Kusnetz):

    A new study in Nature reports that oil, gas and coal production must begin falling immediately to have even a 50 percent chance of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    After a summer of weather extremes that highlighted the urgency of limiting global warming in starkly human terms, new research is clarifying what it will take to do so. In order to have just a 50 percent chance of meeting the most ambitious climate target, the study found, the production of all fossil fuels will need to start declining immediately, and a significant majority of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves will have to remain underground over the next few decades.

    While the research, published Wednesday [September 8, 2021] in the journal Nature, is only the latest to argue that meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement goals to limit warming requires a rapid pivot to clean energy, it lays out with clear and specific figures exactly how far from those targets the world remains.

    “The inescapable evidence that hopefully we’ve shown and that successive reports have shown is that if you want to meet 1.5 degrees, then global production has to start declining,” said Daniel Welsby, a researcher at University College London, in the United Kingdom, and the study’s lead author. As part of the Paris Agreement, nations agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

    The study found that nearly 60 percent of global oil and gas reserves and about 90 percent of coal reserves must be left unexploited by 2050, though a portion of those fuels could be produced in the second half of the century. Total oil and gas production must begin declining immediately, the research said, and continue falling at about 3 percent annually through 2050. Coal production must fall at an even steeper rate.

    While the authors noted a few signs of change, including that coal production is already on the decline, the current course is far off what’s needed. In March, the International Energy Agency warned that oil production was on track to rebound from a pandemic-driven dip and would surpass 2019 levels within a couple of years. That projection came on the heels of a separate report in December by the United Nations Environment Program, which said energy producing countries are set to expand fossil fuel output for years.

    The new paper builds on these studies and other related work to estimate the “unextractable” portion of the fossil fuel stores that are currently considered profitable to exploit—so-called proven reserves. Put another way, the research effectively says that most of the fossil fuels that energy companies currently list as financial assets, or that governments report as strategic ones, would be rendered worthless if the world is to have a shot at limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    Click to enlarge.

    Drake Power Plant shutdown marks latest step in #Colorado’s shift off #FossilFuels — The #Denver Post #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Martin Drake Coal Plant Colorado Springs. The coal plant in downtown Colorado Springs will be closed by 2023 and 7 gas-fired generators moved in to generate power until 2030. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Eighteen coal-fired power plants down. Another dozen to go as Colorado shifts its electricity supply system off fossil fuels.

    The latest shutdown at the massive Martin Drake Power Plant in downtown Colorado Springs last week brings the share of electricity generated by burning coal statewide to less than 36%, federal Energy Information Administration data shows. That’s down from 68% a decade ago, though Colorado still lags behind the national 19% share. The state’s remaining coal plants are scheduled to close by 2040.

    “If we can do this in the heart of the West, in a state that used to be one of the most reliant on coal generation, states across the nation can do it too,” Colorado Energy Office director Will Toor said.

    A growing reliance on solar and wind energy alternatives “can be leveraged,” Toor said, for electric vehicles and electric-powered heating of buildings.

    Air along Colorado’s Front Range no longer will be infused with the pollution that for nearly 100 years has risen from Drake’s towering chimneys. This means 201 tons a year less sulfur dioxide, 25 tons less lung-clogging particulates, 257 tons less carbon monoxide, and 1,007 tons less nitrogen oxides that lead to ozone smog, according to data from state air quality control officials.

    Drake emitted more than 1.3 million tons a year of pollutants overall, including carbon dioxide and smaller amounts of benzene, hydrogen chloride, sulfuric acid and chloroform, state data shows.

    Shifting beyond coal “will help improve air quality nearby and across the state,” Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment director Jill Hunsaker Ryan said.

    Drake for decades has loomed as one of the nation’s last urban industrial coal plants. City-run utility crews relied on coal, burning up to 3,000 tons a day, to handle up to a third of local electricity demands. For now, utility workers are focusing on a delicate transition. They’ll supply electricity temporarily using portable natural gas generators, along with coal-fired power from the Ray Nixon power plant southeast of the city. The coal unit there isn’t scheduled to close until 2029…

    America The Beautiful Park, photo by James Van Hoy via The City of Colorado Springs

    Dismantling Drake will open about 50 acres along Fountain Creek in the heart of Colorado Springs, where leaders have created the America the Beautiful Park, a new soccer stadium and the Olympics Museum just north of the plant.

    Future uses of that site depend on cleanup, followed by land and creek habitat restoration. When the chimneys come down, contractors will inject bleach 18 inches deep in the ground, and soil will be imported to the site, Colorado Springs Utilities chief executive Aram Benyamin said.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state health officials and community groups for years have pressed Colorado Springs leaders to cut pollution from Drake, particularly the sulfur dioxide. But government agencies never ordered a shutdown. In the end cost as well as the environment played a role, as city council members last year voted to close Drake ahead of their previously scheduled deadline of 2035.

    Our new age of fire — Writers on the Range #ActOnClimate

    From Writers on the Range (Steve Pyne):

    Fire in the West is expected, and not so long ago, it seemed something the West experienced more than anywhere else. Nationally, big fires were treated as another freak of regional violence, like a grizzly bear attack, or another California quirk like Esalen and avocados.

    Now wildland fires flare up everywhere. There are fires in Algeria and Turkey, Amazonia and Indonesia, and France, Canada and Australia. Last year even Greenland burned.

    Fire seasons have lengthened, fires have gotten meaner and bigger; fires have begun not just gorging on logging slash and prowling the mountainous backcountry, but also burning right into and across towns. Three years ago in northern California, the Camp fire broke out along the Feather River and, burning southwest, incinerated the town of Paradise. This summer’s Dixie fire, starting 20 miles north in the same drainage, is burning in the opposite direction, after taking out the historic town of Greenville. The fires have us coming and going, and now Lake Tahoe is under the gun.

    The causes have been analyzed and reanalyzed, like placer miners washing and rewashing tailings. Likewise, the solutions have been reworked and polished until they have become clichés, ready to spill into the culture wars.

    The news media have fire season branded into their almanac of annual events. Scientific disciplines are publishing reports and data sets at an exponential rate. So far as understanding the fire scene, we’ve hit field capacity. What more can we say?

    Fires rage across continents, sparking panic and discord among the public, scientists, and media alike.
    (Photo Credit: Michael Held via Unsplash)

    One trend is to go small and find meaning in the personal. But there is also an argument to go big and frame the story at a planetary scale that can shuffle all the survival memoirs, smoke palls that travel across the continent, melting ice packs, lost and disappearing species and sprawling frontiers of flame, in much the way we organize the swarm of starlight in a night sky into constellations.

    I’m a fire guy. I take fire not just as a random happening, but as an emergent property that’s intrinsic to life on Earth.

    So I expect fires. All those savanna fires in Africa, the land-clearing fires in Brazil and Sumatra, the boreal blowouts in Siberia and British Columbia, the megafires in the Pacific Northwest — all the flames we see.

    But then there are fires that should be present and aren’t — the fires that once renewed and stabilized most of the land all over our planet. These are the fires that humanity, with its species monopoly on combustion, deliberately set to make living landscapes into what the ancients termed “a second nature.”

    But it was not enough. We wanted yet more power without the constraints of living landscapes that restricted what and when we could burn. We turned to fossil fuels to burn through day and night, winter and summer, drought and deluge. With our unbounded firepower we remade second nature into “a third nature,” one organized around industrial combustion.

    Humans and fire have coexisted for years. But reorganizing our society around constant combustion may burn it to the ground.
    (Photo Credit: Issy Bailey, @bailey_i, via Unsplash)

    Our fires in living landscapes and those made with fossil fuels have been reshaping the Earth. The result is too much bad fire and too little good, and way too much combustion overall.

    Add up all those varieties of burning, and we seem to be creating the fire equivalent of an Ice Age, with continental shifts in geography, radical changes in climate, rising sea level, a mass extinction, and a planet whose air, water, soil and life are being refashioned at a breakneck pace.

    It’s said that every model fails but some are useful. The same holds true for metaphors. What the concept of a planetary Fire Age — a Pyrocene — gives us, is a sense of the scale of our fire-powered impact. It suggests how the parts might interact and who is responsible. It allows us to reimagine the issues and perhaps stand outside our entrenched perspectives.

    Steve Pyne via Writers on the Range

    What we have made — if with unintended consequences — we can unmake, though we should expect more unknown consequences.

    We have a lot of fire in our future, and a lot to learn about living with it.

    Steve Pyne is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is the author of The Pyrocene. How We Created an Age of Fire, and What Happens Next.

    After a century, no more #coal burning in downtown #ColoradoSprings. But what comes next? — @BigPivots

    Martin Drake Coal Plant Colorado Springs. The coal plant in downtown Colorado Springs will be closed by 2023 and 7 gas-fired generators moved in to generate power until 2030. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    The Martin Drake Power Plant will burn its last load of coal this Friday, Aug. 27, ending more than a century of coal-burning near downtown Colorado Springs for electrical generation.

    Closing of coal plants will become a regular thing in coming years. By decade’s end, only one plant, Comanche 3, is scheduled to remain in operation in Colorado, if at much reduced capacity. Even that limited use scenario remains in doubt.

    What will replace the electricity generated by coal combustion in times when neither the wind blows nor the sun shines or—increasingly problematic—the dams that produce hydroelectric generation whither to dead pool?

    The answers remain unclear. In the case of Colorado Springs, six natural gas-burning units have been erected at the power plant along Interstate 25. But as Colorado Springs Utilities has made clear, these units costing $100 million, are to be temporary, while energy technology and economics shift further.

    Like Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission and other utilities, Colorado Springs continues to wait for technological and perhaps political breakthroughs.

    Coal has been a mainstay for the last century. At first, the plants were small. A practiced eye can see those brick buildings erected along rivers in Fort Morgan and Fort Collins.