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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaf, Berthoud Pass Summint, August 21, 2017.

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Will Toor):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

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

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

From ThinkProgress (Joe Romm):

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

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

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

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

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

At Bears Ears, Trump and Zinke ignored everyone but industry @HighCountryNews

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

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

Newly released documents show that locals had little voice in monument decisions.

In April 2017, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said of former President Barack Obama and the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument: “In making this unilateral decision, our former president either failed to heed the concerns of San Juan County residents, or ignored them completely.”

If Hatch were an honest man, he would say exactly the same about President Donald Trump’s drastic shrinkage of the monument late last year. Documents recently released by the Department of Interior show that when drawing the new boundaries, Trump and his Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, ignored not only the pleas of five Native American tribal nations, but also proposals from local county commissioners and the state of Utah.

That’s just one of the takeaways from a trove of documents regarding the Trump administration’s multi-monument review that the Interior Department coughed up to the New York Times. Here are the top 8 nuggets HCN has gleaned so far from the tens of thousands of documents:

1. The shrinkage of Bears Ears hurt Utah schools more than it helped.

Hatch has argued that the monument took needed cash from Utah school children because it “captured” over 100,000 acres of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands (SITLA), which are leased out or sold to help fund schools. But SITLA itself has never outright opposed the monument designation. Why? Because with designation came the promise of a lucrative land exchange with the feds.

When the monument was designated, SITLA officials said they were “disappointed” in the way it was done, but went on to ask Obama “to promptly address the issue by making Utah’s school children whole through an exchange of comparable lands.” In fact, some six months before Obama designated the monument, SITLA already had the details of a swap in mind. The state would give up the land within the proposed monument, most of which had only marginal potential for development, and it would receive oil- and gas-rich federal land, much of it in other counties, in exchange.

A decade earlier, after the designation of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a similar swap proved quite profitable, according to an email in the document dump from SITLA Associate Director John Andrews. Andrews wrote that the exchange netted SITLA $135.2 million in mineral leases alone, plus $50 million in cash from the federal government as part of the deal. Adding in investment earnings and other lease revenues, Andrews concluded that a total haul of $500 million from the exchange would be a “conservative guesstimate.”

So, when Trump set out to shrink the monument, SITLA asked only that a sliver of the monument’s southeast corner be removed so as to keep a block of land near Bluff, Utah, in SITLA hands. A representative from Hatch’s office sent a map showing this change and a message to Interior: “The new boundary depicted on the map would resolve all known mineral conflicts for SITLA within the Bears Ears.”

In the end, Zinke granted this part of SITLA’s wish. Unfortunately for the state’s school children, he did a lot more than that, cutting most of the state lands out of the monument, thus shutting down any hopes for a large-scale land exchange. That leaves the state holding on to more than 80,000 acres of isolated parcels that are unlikely to generate much revenue.

2. Zinke ignored local county commissioners.

Trump ordered the monument review amid claims that local voices had been steamrolled by Obama’s unilateral designation. So when, in March 2017, the San Juan County Commission sent maps to Interior showing their proposed boundaries, they might have expected that it would influence Zinke’s recommended boundaries. It did not.

The commission’s proposed boundaries would have covered 422,600 acres across Cedar Mesa. Cut by spectacular canyons and with a high density of archaeological resources, Cedar Mesa was at the heart of Obama’s Bears Ears designation. Under the commissioners’ plans, the eastern boundary would have been Comb Wash, leaving out the sandstone wave known as Comb Ridge, as well as motorized route up Arch Canyon. Zinke’s boundaries contain only half as much land. They leave Cedar Mesa out entirely, unlike the county commissioners’ plans, but they include as part of the monument Comb Ridge and Arch Canyon. It’s almost as if the new boundaries were drawn in defiance of the county commission’s proposal. So much for local voices.

3. The voice of Energy Fuels, the most active uranium company in the Bears Ears region, appears to have been heard.

Representatives of the Canadian company met with Obama administration officials during the lead-up to designation, and the administration ultimately excluded Energy Fuels’ Daneros uranium mine from the monument. However, the company lamented the fact that seven miles of the mine’s one access road still fell within the boundaries, and that its White Mesa mill property abutted the eastern monument boundary.

Energy Fuels lobbyists, including former U.S. Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., met with Trump administration officials in July 2017, and the company’s official comment on the monument review stated: “There are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the newly created (Bears Ears National Monument) that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future. … EFR respectfully requests that DOI reduce the size of the (Bears Ears National Monument) to only those specific resource areas or sites, if any, deemed to need additional protection beyond what is already available to Federal land management agencies.”

Trump’s shrinkage removed the entire White Canyon uranium district and other known deposits from the monument.

4. The new boundaries correlate closely with known oil, gas, uranium and potash deposits.

During his review last year, Zinke specifically asked for information on mineral extraction potential within the monuments. Uranium mining has long been dormant in the Bears Ears monument due to low prices, and only three of the 250 oil and gas wells drilled within the monument have yielded significant quantities of oil or gas. Nevertheless, industry has nominated some 63,657 acres within the national monument for oil and gas leases since 2014. With the new boundaries drawn to exclude even areas with only marginal potential for oil, gas or uranium, those leases could now go forward.

Proposed Bears Ears National Monument July 2016 via Elizabeth Shogren.

5. At Grand Staircase-Escalante, the new boundaries are mostly about coal.

When the monument was designated, Andalex, a Swiss company, was looking to mine a 23,800-acre swath of the Kaiparowits Plateau, which contains one of the biggest coal deposits in the United States. Clinton’s monument designation didn’t kill those plans, though it did make access and transportation to the deposits more difficult, so the feds used $19 million from the Land and Water Conservation Funds to buy out Andalex’s leases. Now, some 11 billion or more tons of coal are once again accessible. Also freed up with Trump’s monument shrinkage: Up to 10.5 trillion cubic feet of coalbed methane and 550 million barrels of oil from tar sands.

6. Visitation at Bears Ears area ratcheted up alongside the debate over designation.

Since there are no monument headquarters, the best indicator is the number of visitors at Kane Gulch Ranger Station on Cedar Mesa, which nearly doubled between 2013, when Bears Ears was little in the news, and 2017, when it became a signature issue for Trump as he attempted to dismantle many of Obama’s legacies.

Visits per year:

2013: 3,484

2014: 3,730

2015: 4,344

2016: 4,844

2017: 6,535

The jump in visitation in 2017 will be used by both anti- and pro-monument advocates. The former will argue that extra visitors mean extra impacts, the latter that more visitors add up to greater economic benefits for neighboring communities.

7. The designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante didn’t significantly impact grazing.

There were 77,400 active AUMs, or Animal Unit Months, the bureaucrat’s way of counting livestock on public lands, when the monument was designated in 1996. As of 2017, the number had only slightly dropped to 76,957 active AUMs. “Although grazing use levels have varied considerably from year to year due to factors like drought,” an Interior staff report says, “no reductions in permitted livestock grazing use have been made as a result of the Monument designation.” Claims to the contrary have long been used to argue for the monument’s reduction.

8. Obama’s staffers were in constant contact with Utah congressional staffers and other officials for months prior to monument designation.

And they often went out of their way to accommodate them. In fact, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s deputy chief of staff, Nicole Buffa, became quite chummy with Fred Ferguson, the chief of staff for Rep. Jason Chaffetz, and Cody Stewart, policy director for Gov. Gary Herbert.

After Jewell’s visit to southeastern Utah, Buffa wrote to Ferguson, Stewart and others: “I’m looking forward to many more conversations about Utah with each of you, but in far less pretty places.”

As the debate on the ground heated up, Ferguson wrote to Buffa: “I grow more and more frustrated by the day regarding the situation in San Juan County. You and I … have been thrust into this umpire-type-role where we are supposed to determine which group is most sincere, most legit, and most deserving of ‘winning’. We’re witnessing a race to the bottom by all involved as the monument threat heats up and groups are positioning themselves for success. My ultimate thoughts are to do nothing and force all of these players to work together and resolve these issues amongst themselves in the new year when there isn’t an arbitrary deadline driving action.”

Buffa responded: “We can’t get bogged down by the side-shows, and that is what some of this is.”

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster.

Governor’s Forum on Agriculture recap

Colorado Convention Center Solar Power System

From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:

Hickenlooper, speaking to an audience at the 27th annual Governor’s Forum on Agriculture this week, said that the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office met with representatives from recreation offices and outdoor recreation companies from eight states, and the result was something called the Colorado Accord. It’s a nonpartisan effort to work on issues related to clean air, water and public land – areas the trade association strongly supports and part of the reason the trade show moved to Colorado, he said.

This accord is the start of an opportunity for Colorado to be a national leader in outdoor recreation, Hickenlooper said. The companies involved are small – around 10 to 15 employees.

“They don’t want to live in the cities or their businesses to be in the cities,” he said. “These are companies that are naturals for smaller communities … . This is a chance to build a relationship between farms and ranches and outdoor recreation. If you want more jobs in your towns, there will never be a better chance.”

The governor also addressed the ongoing negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the importance of maintaining partnerships with Canada and Mexico, which are NAFTA partners. The renegotiation of the 22-year old agreement hasn’t gone as quickly as he would like, Hickenlooper said.

“Our relationships with Canada and Mexico need to remain strong,” given that more than half of Colorado agricultural exports go to those two countries, he said, adding that NAFTA has the potential to do so many good things for Colorado, and that he has talked with officials from both countries.

“They just want a deal,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper said he recently spoke with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and their positions align on several issues, such as the need for better and faster negotiations with South Korea, China and India on agricultural trade; about volatility in the labor market for ag, and for a more balanced approach on agricultural regulations.

One of the state’s highest priorities for global exports, he said, is to open up Asia. “There’s an insatiable appetite for beef and pork” in South Korea, China and Japan, and the U.S. needs a fair deal with those countries.

Hickenlooper also made a push for a long-term funding solution for the Colorado water plan. Last month, the governor said he favored a change in how the state collects severance taxes on oil and gas, saying, among other things, that Colorado has the lowest severance taxes on oil and gas in the region.

A court case two years ago with oil giant BP dramatically reduced the amount of severance taxes the state can collect, which has been used in the past to mitigate oil and gas activities in rural communities and to pay for water projects around the state. The state had to take money out of its general fund to pay for the property tax deductions the court decided BP was owed. After that, the state’s share of severance taxes dropped from around $150 to $200 million per year in 2016 to about $25 million last year, Hickenlooper said.

Without a structural change in how severance taxes are levied, he warned, severance taxes could come to an end. “But let’s get a referred measure on the ballot” that will provide a fair tax structure for oil and gas, he said. “It’s a social contract with the state of Colorado. If it were presented properly,” voters would not walk away from it.

That didn’t fly with Senate President Pro tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, who was in the audience and is president of the board of the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program, which hosts the annual agriculture forum. Sonnenberg disputed the governor’s claim that Colorado has the lowest severance taxes in the region.

Sonnenberg told Colorado Politics that “we have robbed $400 million from severance taxes” to cover budget shortfalls, including $100 million to pay BP for the lawsuit. “We need to figure out how not to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Sonnenberg added. “If we truly want to do something about severance tax, maybe we add all energy: wind, solar, nuclear and hydroelectric.”

Rural Voices of Colorado forum recap

A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation illustration shows the river’s varying names prior to 1921. The Colorado River began from the confluence of the Green River and Grand River, a fact that irked Colorado congressman Edward Taylor.
CREDIT LIBRARY OF CONGRESS ARCHIVES

From WesternSlopeNow.com (Brandon Thompson):

In day two of the Rural Voices of Colorado forum the groups Action 22, Club 20 and Pro 15 discussed the future of natural resources with several law makers including Lt. Governor Donna Lynne, a democrat, and State Treasurer, Walker Stapleton, a republican. Both are running for their parties respective nomination to be Colorado’s next governor.

“That’s what Club 20 is all about is natural resources and water.” Christian Reece, the executive director of Club 20, said, “Our energy portfolio is a mix. It’s coal, it’s natural gas, it’s oil, it’s renewable energies, it’s wind [and] solar. We’re seeing a change in that mix right now, but we support all of the above.”

Changes, Lynne says, could be market driven.

“Coal is more expensive than some of the other renewable and certainly natural gas.” Lynne said, “We just got to get ready for that, we still have a lot of coal production in this state.”

She proposes training for other energy sectors for former coal workers. Stapleton isn’t ready to call it for coal, but agrees in the need for vocational training and the future of natural gas.

“The western slope, we have an abundance of natural gas resources in the Piceance basin.” Stapleton said, “I think that’s transformative to the economic development of Western Colorado.”

The chief use of one of western Colorado’s largest resources, isn’t energy based yet, but its future could be one of the most pressing issues for the state.

“The Colorado river is the lifeblood of western Colorado.” Reece said, “We need to make sure the flows are high enough so there’s not a call on the Colorado River.”

Colorado doesn’t import any water, only exports, meaning needs balanced between our state and those downstream.

“Colorado, we’re obviously running up a supply and demand gap that’s pretty significant.” Laura Belanger, a water resources engineer for the [Western Resource Advocates] group.

Colorado’s population could double— adding millions of water users across the state and hundreds of thousands on the Western Slope.