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.

From (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.

A time of inflection for rural America’s energy paradigms — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Twilight of an energy era as supplier of rural co-ops turns back on coal plant

This story is adapted from the Dec. 28, 2017, issue of Mountain Town News. Subscriptions are $45 per year.

In March 2017, a decade after it first applied, wholesale electrical supplier Tri-State Generation & Transmission and its Kansas-based utility partner received approval to build a major new coal-fired power plant at Holcomb, Kan. It will almost certainly never get built.

The energy world turned upside down in the 10 years between first application and final approval. Electrical demand, rising steadily at the turn of the century, flattened. Prices of other forms of generation, including natural gas and renewables, tumbled. Had the two plants originally proposed been built, they might have displaced older, less-efficient coal-fired power plants. But such plants are built to last 40 years or more.

If not immediately, the Holcomb plant would have quickly become a stranded asset. Think of the value of a computer purchased in 2007.

Tri-State still has not formally pulled the plug. A 10Q report to the Securities and Exchange Commission in September noted that the air permit granted by Kansas in March expires if construction does not begin in 18 months. “We have assessed the probability of us entering into construction … as remote,” said the filing.

The SEC filing reported $93.5 million had been invested in the Holcomb project through 2016, not including land and water. Those costs, said the filing, are “impaired and not recoverable.”

Ratepayers, most of them in rural areas of four states, will be apportioned the cost. Terms have not yet been defined.

The ambition to build a coal plant at Holcomb reflected the technology and mentality of an era that now seems past. An August 2017 analysis of the future of coal by the consulting firm MJ Bradley & Associates reported that at least 420 coal-burning units, mostly smaller and older, had been retired since 2010 in the United States. But the fall-off in coal production was far sharper than that. Analyzing Energy Information Administration data, the firm estimated that 80 percent of the decline in coal generation was the result of utilities choosing not to use their coal units.

If the era of big coal is ending, the future energy paradigms are not entirely clear for members of Tri-State and other co-operatives across rural America. Aside from amenity-laden places with ski areas nearby, rural American has generally not shared the

prosperity of urban America. That dissatisfaction was evident in the last presidential election. With some exceptions, the ski towns like Crested Butte or broad swathes of northern New Mexico, it was Trump country.

As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to bring back coal and turn back the environmental regulations of the Obama administration. Repealing regulations is one thing, turning back technology quite another. It’s a wonder he didn’t promise to restore flip-phones or, better yet, rotary phones.

That comparison is not an idle one. We are at the early stages of a transformation in how we produce and consume energy no less sweeping than those in telecommunications and computers during the last 30 years.

Only recently have we replaced the incandescent light bulb invented by Thomas Edison with new varieties that are cheaper and far more energy efficient. The business models for delivering electricity have changed very little in the last century.

This point was made recently by a member of an electrical co-operative in Western Colorado in response to doubts about the technological ability to integrate renewables.

“I find it hard to think of another industry that has had such a lack of innovation and change for the past 100 years,” said John Gavan, an elected director of Delta-Montrose Electric Association, a co-op serving west-center Colorado. “This sector is extremely ripe for innovation, and there is a huge amount of low-hanging fruit to go after.”

The question, said Gavan, is whether Tri-State will recognize this shift and react accordingly. If not, “they, too, will be left behind.”

That’s the question for rural America, too. Even if no plant is built at Holcomb, will the leaders of rural America realize the opportunities for innovation and how those changes can benefit their constituents? Or will they continue to plow money into technologies and business models that have had their day, as Tri-State did for a decade at Holcomb?

In 2015, signs supporting coal were abundant in Craig, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

Coal, it kept the lights on

Tri-State Generation & Transmission is the result of New Deal legislation passed in 1935. Investor-owned utilities had shunned rural areas because of the high cost of transmission and distribution. George Norris, a senator from Nebraska, shepherded the legislation that delivered low-cost federal loans to electrical co-operatives that were created to generate and distribute power in rural areas.

That legislation still defines the nation’s electrical landscape: 864 electrical cooperatives together provide electricity to 70 percent of the land mass in America, delivering about 11 percent of the nation’s power.

By the 1950s, rural co-ops were unable to keep up with growing demand from their small towns, farms and ranches. Tri-State was formed by co-ops to transmit electricity from the giant new dams being constructed on major rivers of the West. It also built giant new coal-fired power plants of its own. In time, it became a vertically integrated wholesale provider, owning a coal mine and rail cars. It was in the coal business, not just the business of delivering power.

By 2006, when the plants at Holcomb were first proposed, Tri-State had grown to include 44 member co-operatives in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Demand was growing at 6 percent a year. Even then, there were calls for energy efficiency as a way of reining in demand growth. Tri-State resisted, suggesting that this was better left to member co-operatives. The local distribution co-ops tended not to have the expertise for their own programs. What Tri-State did understand, though, was what had worked in the past: two 700-megawatt coal-fired power plants.

That squared with the narrative of the Bush administration. In 2001, a Dick Cheney-led energy task force called for a wave of new power plants lest the nation suffer the rolling blackouts that California had experienced in 2000. Utilities responded with proposals for 200 new coal plants.

A rendering of what was proposed at Holcomb adjoining an existing plant. Source: Sunflower Electric website.

For its new plants, Tri-State chose Holcomb, located along the Arkansas River in southwest Kansas, about 30 minutes from the Colorado border. It has a railroad, able to deliver coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin or, perhaps, from Tri-State’s own coal mines near Craig, Colo. It has water, and it had an existing power plant operated by Sunflower Electric, a smaller electrical wholesaler serving co-ops in Kansas. Estimated costs were $3.7 billion.

To ensure markets for the new power, Tri-State asked for 10-year extensions of the 40-year contracts. Only 2 of the 44 co-ops refused.

In western Colorado, directors of Delta-Montrose Electric remembered the fallout of another period of enthusiastic coal-plant building 1979 to 1982. An oil-shale boom that the plants anticipated failed to materialize and the utility that built them, Colorado-Ute, went into bankruptcy in 1991. When that happened, Tri-State picked up Delta-Montrose and other co-ops supplied by the bankrupt utility but also ownership stake in those coal plants at Craig, in northwest Colorado.

In Northern New Mexico, Taos-based Kit Carson Electric Cooperative also refused the extension. Almost a decade later, in 2016, it finally got a divorce from Tri-State. Another electrical provider, Guzman Energy, paid the $37 million severance fee and pledged to assemble a portfolio heavy in local renewables.

In Kansas, there was opposition, too. Why did Tri-State want to build its plant in Kansas? After all, Kansas is on a different grid than Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states. The two grids can be bridged, and they are in several places. But there’s additional cost. Given that additional cost, some environmentalists suspected that Tri-State chose Holcomb and Sunflower as its partner with the expectation that the regulatory bar would not be as high in Kansas.

They were wrong.

Shocking decision

In October 2007, Roderick Bremby, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, issued a denial that drew national attention. The grounds were believed to be unique at the time: carbon dioxide emissions.

“It would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing,” Bremby wrote in his decision. Carbon dioxide was not then regulated under the federal Clean Air Act.

Bremby’s ruling drew fierce response. “Without new coal-fueled plants in our state, experts predict that electric bills will skyrocket and Kansans will be more dependent than ever on hostile, foreign energy sources,” said an ad funded in part by Peabody Coal, a major operator of mines in Colorado, Wyoming and elsewhere.

Earl Watkins Jr. then the head of Sunflower Electric Power, insisted that two plants, not just one, had to be built, as just one plant was insufficient to meet the needs of Sunflower’s 400,000 customers.

This claim was made in response to an offer by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, to allow one plant if the utility committed to developing wind farms and energy conservation programs.

Kathleen Sebelius

It was a bruising battle in Kansas, one barely noticed in Colorado. Opponents of the plant remember threats. The split in Kansas was defined primarily by geography. Sebelius enjoyed her strongest support in eastern Kansas, where cities and university towns are located. Sunflower serves western Kansas, a place of wheat fields and oil derricks.

Three times, lawmakers in Kansas sent legislation to Sebelius that would have removed her administrator’s authority over the air-quality permit. Just as many times she vetoed the legislation. Once, legislators came within a single vote of overturning her veto.

In her third veto, Sebelius pointed out that Sunflower didn’t actually need as much power as it claimed.

“Kansas would be creating massive new emissions for power we don’t need,” she wrote. She also noted the recent election of President Barack Obama and his plans to regulate carbon dioxide.

“What was a bad idea last year is an even worse idea today,” she said. She instead urged legislators to look into new business models for producing power by Kansas wind and other renewables as well as improving energy efficiency.

One advocate who fought the Holcomb proposal says it was almost like the fight was never actually about energy. Instead, Tri-State’s vertical integration predisposed its solution. “It was like burning coal to make money, not burning coal to make electricity.”

Finally, in May 2009, Sunflower agreed to a compromise with Gov. Mark Parkinson, the successor to Sebelius. Instead of two plants generating 1,400 megawatts, Sunflower was left with a single, 895-megawatt plant with improved coal-burning technology. These changes pared greenhouse gas emissions from 11 million tons of carbon dioxide a year in the original proposal to 3.6 million tons. The compromise also included a provision for net-metering, allowing producers of wind and solar power to send energy over Sunflower’s lines.

A penny saved …

Even then, the energy world had shifted dramatically. Natural gas prices had also tumbled. In Colorado, lawmakers passed legislation outlining a shift from coal to natural gas by the state’s largest electrical provider, Xcel Energy. Underlying the legislation was strong confidence in the abundance of natural gas at low prices.

Prices of renewables had also started dropping. Utilities were learning to integrate intermittent sources into electrical supplies with greater ease than expected.

But demand growth had also stalled when the Great Recession arrived. When economic activity picked up, demand for electricity stayed flat.

This disconnect between economic growth and increased energy use has profound but diffuse consequences.

Brian Deese photo credit

At a forum in Colorado during September, former Obama aide Brian Deese recalled informing the president that economic growth had returned without a concurrent increase in energy demand. For decades, economists had been confident that economic growth and energy demand came together, holding hands. When first told the news, Deese related, Obama refused to believe it. Deese rechecked his sources. Indeed, it was a new day in energy, and it still is.

This day had been foreseen decades earlier by Amory Lovins. Then a scholar at Cambridge who had been fond of loping along on hikes with David Brower of the Sierra Club, he wrote a profoundly influential essay in the October 1976 issue of Foreign Affairs called “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken.”

Lovins—who in 1982 built a passive-solar home at Old Snowmass, near Aspen—argued in that essay that the dominant energy paradigm was a costly mistake. He rejected the assumption embraced by both government and industry that economic growth correlated directly to increased consumption of energy.

In his essay, Lovins articulated the case for ramped-up energy efficiency, much greater pursuit of renewable energy, and of more local or distributed energy resources. In all this, he argued the case for profit as the driver.

In the 41 years since then, Lovins has never strayed from his core arguments. At long last, efficiency has begun to take hold. It’s just getting started, he said at a conference in October sponsored by the Center for the New Energy Economy.

All of this is pertinent to the role of Tri-State and its member co-ops going forward. They’ve been in the business of selling electrons. Lovins argued that it’s the wrong business model. You don’t care how much electricity it took to chill your beer, he said, only that your beer is cold. If utilities made their money on services, not bulk sales, they would operate very differently.

We’re still coming to grips with the distinction.

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

Renewables have continued to tumble. Lazard, which calls itself the world’s leading financial advisory and asset management firm, in early November issued a report about the levelized cost of energy. That is to say, energy costs without subsidies. The report was full of disclaimers. For example, direct comparisons must take into account issues such as location and dispatch characteristics.

Still, without subsidies, renewables stand on their own very well in this asterisk-ridden comparison sheet:

On-shore wind: $32 to $62

Gas combined cycle: $48 to $78

Coal: $60 to $143

Nuclear: $96 to $137.

Solar PV: $46 to $222.

In future years, solar prices are expected to continue to drop sharply.

Forward looking

Tri-State acknowledges a new order to its world, but only begrudgingly so. Telling was the response of Barbara Walz, Tri-State’s senior vice president for policy and compliance, during a panel discussion at the Western Power Summit, an energy conference in October. When Holcomb was proposed, she said, growth in electrical demand by Tri-State averaged 6 percent annually. Now, it has flattened.

In retrospect, did the Sebelius administration do ratepayers an economic favor by denying the Holcomb power plant on environmental grounds? I asked.

No, she said, Tri-State needs the ability to plan, she said.

That sort of dig-in-your-heels resistance plays well in places like Craig, Colo., where Tri-State still operates three coal plants. Early in his campaign, the reality television star Donald Trump spun out his easy message of bringing back coal by “getting rid of job-killing EPA regulations.”

Craig and Moffat County cast 81 percent of their votes for Trump, a proportion not all that different from the wheat- and corn-growing countries of other parts of co-op country in Colorado.

Tri-State’s distrust of change contrasts sharply with the strategy of investor-owned Xcel Energy, which operates across eight states, including Colorado, where it does business as Public Service Co. of Colorado. Early in the 21st century, it was also moving briskly forward with the old energy paradigm. In 2004, it reached agreement with environmental groups to push energy efficiency more actively while going forward with a major new coal-fired power plant at Pueblo, Colo. Holy Cross Energy, which serves Aspen and Vail, is a minority investor in that plant and its production. The plant began operations in 2010. It was the last coal plant in the United States to begin operations.

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

But in 2004, Xcel also suffered a defeat in Colorado. State voters approved the nation’s first state-wide renewable energy mandate. Xcel had opposed the mandate but then embraced rising levels of renewables with gusto. Many of the wind turbines erected to meet those mandates are located on land owned by members of Tri-State’s co-operatives.

In August, Xcel announced it was ready for more. Subject to approval by state regulators, Xcel will close down two aging coal-fired power plants at Pueblo and replace the lost generation with primarily wind and solar, but also natural gas. By 2025, this will push Xcel’s renewable portfolio to 55 percent.

In making the announcement, David Eves, chief executive of Public Service Co. of Colorado, said the fuel switching is expected to result in rates that will be no higher and could be lower than existing rates.

Several months later, at the Center for the New Energy Economy conference, Eves spoke to the rapid changes in the business of generating and delivering electricity. “It’s here, it’s happening faster and faster. We don’t know where it will go,” said Eves. “This is very different than even five years ago.”

Xcel has its critics. It’s like Tri-State in a fundamental way in that it wants to preserve its role as the energy provider. The difference is on the margins. It recognizes that a new day has arrived. It is experimenting with microgrids and increased use of demand-side management programs. In short, it is a ballroom dancer compared to the heel-heavy stance taken by most co-ops and their wholesale suppliers, including Tri-State.

Electrical co-ops have no oversight from state regulators and, if in the case of Tri-State, no oversight from federal regulators if federal loans have been paid. The sole oversight comes in cases that go before the Federal Energy Regulatory Policy.

Not all co-ops have been so devoted to coal and so resistant to change.

For the last decade, Holy Cross Energy has been carving a somewhat different path. Based in Glenwood Springs, the co-operative serves the Aspen and Vail areas but also the Grand Valley to Rifle and Battlement Mesa. It has its feet in both renewables and coal-fired generation at Pueblo.

Earlier this year, directors from the Vail, Aspen and Glenwood Springs areas plucked a new manager, Bryan Henegan, from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Among his work there, he co-founded the Integration Laboratory, described as the place where all the technologies and business models are coming together.

At the annual conference of the Colorado Rural Electric Association on Oct. 30, Henegan—who has a doctorate—showed charts about cost and cumulative capacity for wind utility-scale and charts for LED adoption, expanding electric vehicle sales and declining battery costs and other manifestations of this evolving transformation in energy.

None of these models showed new coal-fired power plants.

Somewhat surprising, perhaps, Xcel, Tri-State and Holy Cross may start sharing electrical generation in the future. They have been operating their own electrical systems, in a somewhat Balkanized manner. This is true of most the West altogether. Elsewhere in the country power supplies are pooled into regional markets, to more efficiently match supplies of lowest-cost electricity with demands. Lately, power providers in the Rocky Mountains have been talking about joining the Southwest Power Pool, helping distribute electricity most efficiently and most economically. This is considered one way to move around low-cost renewable energy most efficiently.

Even in rural areas, change is coming.

Some foresee a reordering of the power around power. Instead of being passive consumers of power, farmers, ranchers and others can be producers, too. This is distributed generation but also it’s part of a broader concept called the democratization of energy.

This idea, not unique to rural areas, should perhaps also be overlaid with the concept of resilience. Both should play well to red-state, libertarian and conservative America.

This is a time of inflection, of change. It’s just not clear where this story about energy models will bend and what role it may play in our Grand Canyon-sized national political divisions.

A center-pivot sprinkler near Wray, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

Rhetoric and reality

Ultimately Holcomb should be seen as an early episode in what will be an extended last-gasp effort by fossil fuel interests to extend their future just a few decades longer. The presidency of Donald Trump is part of that.

Consider the Trump administration proposal in October to prop up failing coal and nuclear power producers with a $10.6 billion bailout through surcharges on the monthly energy bills of ratepayers. The presumed goal was to ensure security against power outages. But as analysts were quick to point out, only a tiny, minuscule percentage of shortages on the nation’s electric grid are due to fuel supply problems. Instead, power outages are almost entirely the result of distribution-level problems, like poles falling over.

Whether that plan goes forward is still to be determined. But note how contrary it is to the principle of competition and open markets that Trump and his supporters have heralded. However, it does coincide with Trump’s vow to bring back coal. The Associated Press reveals communication by coal-producer Robert Murray in which he made a desperate plea for just such help. Murray owns coal mines in Utah and elsewhere.

Rhetoric does not match reality. Republican leaders continue to recite messages taken from their talking-points of a decade ago. Perhaps some actually believe what they say. It seems more to be out of political expedience, a way of telling their followers want they want to hear, not what they need to hear.

The remarks last summer of U.S. Senator Cory Gardner come to mind. He still lives in the same town he grew up in, Yuma, located in Colorado’s northeastern corner, a region almost exclusively served by co-ops and also a region where counties gave up to 85 percent of their votes to Trump last year.

Gardner, at an oil-and-gas conference in downtown Denver, noted that he had supported wind energy in the past but then warned against over-reaching of renewables to the detriment of people on fixed incomes or of farmers irrigating corn and alfalfa fields.

“You don’t have to go so far as to cause economic collapse,” he said.

But is exactly the reverse the greater worry: That by failing to take advantage of new technologies and business models, will the poor and the giant irrigators be hurt?

In this, as in other things, have facts become useless, to be discarded if they don’t fit the narrative? Trump’s campaign illustrated how little facts actually mattered. Whether tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans or health care, facts get run over by the bus of narrative. It’s a narrative that Trump rode to the White house by corralling the electoral votes of farm country allied with the rust-belt regions.

Gardner maintains a home in Yuma, the town of his origin. It’s along Highway 34, which crosses the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park 300 miles to the west. It’s also along the Republican River.

George Norris

In McCook, Neb., two hours downstream along this same river and highway, is a memorial to the George Norris, the Senate sponsor of the legislation in 1935 that yielded the electrical co-ops. He was called the last of the progressive Republicans.

Rural America needs a George Norris or three today, politicians who can look forward, not pay mindless tribute to those things of the past that were never good or have outlived their usefulness. Greenhouse gas emissions pose a real economic and social risk. New technologies have come along to compete with those of old.

Co-ops were created to serve the interest of their members/customers. There’s a good question whether they still do. In an essay published circa 2008, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee, made his skepticism large in his title: “Electrical Co-operatives: From New Deal to Bad Deal?

In McCook, Neb., two hours downstream along this same river and highway, is a memorial to the George Norris, the Senate sponsor of the legislation in 1935 that yielded the electrical co-ops. He was called the last of the progressive Republicans.

Rural America needs a George Norris or three today, politicians who can look forward, not pay mindless tribute to those things of the past that were never good or have outlived their usefulness. Greenhouse gas emissions pose a real economic and social risk. New technologies have come along to compete with those of old.

Co-ops were created to serve the interest of their members/customers. There’s a good question whether they still do. In an essay published circa 2008, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee, made his skepticism large in his title: “Electrical Co-operatives: From New Deal to Bad Deal?”

Tri-State may have moved on from giant coal plants at Holcomb, but the larger question is whether it will help its member co-ops move briskly into the future of microgrids and other cutting-edge, decentralized technology.

As Gavan, the director at DMEA, the co-op long at odds with Tri-State said recently, Tri-State will have to change or cease to be relevant.

Utah national monuments face dramatic reductions — @HighCountryNews

The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.

Here’s a report about the proposed reductions at Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments from Rebecca Worby writing for The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Trump’s executive orders scale back Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly 50 percent and slice away roughly 85 percent of Bears Ears. Grand Staircase-Escalante, a monument designated over two decades ago but still locally contentious, will consist of three separate units totaling just over a million acres. Bears Ears will be reduced to two areas totaling just 228,700 acres. The monument was designated by President Barack Obama late last year and holds great cultural and historical significance to the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.

These controversial monuments became focal points in the Interior Department’s review of 27 national monuments designated since 1996. The president spent less than three hours in Salt Lake before returning to Washington D.C. “I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to (Utah’s) citizens,” he said.

The announcement came amid criticism that Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke did not take into account the concerns of supporters of the monuments, including tribes, conservationists, business owners in gateway communities and other concerned citizens locally and nationwide. “Secretary Zinke and Utah politicians say that they have talked to tribes about the president’s decision, but none of our Council leaders, executives, or our Commissioners were contacted,” Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Tribe Cultural Preservation Office and a member of the Bears Ears Commission of Tribes, said in a statement. An outspoken faction of Utahns, including state lawmakers and county commissioners, strongly opposes the monuments, and those voices ultimately drove the president’s decision.

Thousands of monument supporters protested the reductions in front of the Capitol, both during Trump’s remarks and at a larger planned protest two days earlier. Utahns who support the reductions assembled to celebrate on Saturday in Monticello, county seat of San Juan County, where Bears Ears is located.

Inside the Capitol, Utahns — including many conservative state and local leaders — filled the marbled rotunda, where murals depicting the state’s history reach the high ceiling. The audience, dotted with cowboy hats and red “Make America Great Again” caps, greeted Trump’s announcement with loud cheers. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who recently introduced a bill to overhaul the Antiquities Act, said this was “just the beginning.”

“Building #solar and #wind farms has started to become a cheaper proposition than running aging #coal and #nuclear generators” — Bloomberg

Graph showing the decline in costs for large lithium ion batteries in US dollars per kilowatt-hour (kWh), 2006-2016. Graphic via the Climate Reality Project.

From Bloomberg (Naureen S Malik):

Building solar and wind farms has started to become a cheaper proposition than running aging coal and nuclear generators in parts of the U.S., according to financial adviser Lazard Ltd.

Take wind: Building and operating a utility-scale farm costs $30 to $60 a megawatt-hour over its lifetime, and that can drop to as low as $14 when factoring in subsidies, according an annual analysis that Lazard’s been performing for a decade. Meanwhile, just keeping an existing coal plant running can cost $26 to $39 and a nuclear one $25 to $32.

Two years ago, “what was interesting to us was the lifetime cost of renewables on an energy basis reached parity with conventional resources in a bunch of geographies in the U.S.,” said Jonathan Mir, head of the North American power group at Lazard. “Now, what we are seeing is that renewable technologies on a fully loaded basis are beating” existing coal and nuclear plants in some regions.

The report by Lazard, whose estimates are widely used in the power sector as benchmarks, comes as President Donald Trump’s administration is vowing to stop the “war on coal” and put America’s miners back to work. Hundreds of power plants burning the fuel have shut in recent years amid escalating competition from natural gas, wind and solar. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has proposed rewarding coal and nuclear plants with extra payments for their dependability, touching off a national debate over the country’s future power mix.

“We still need, in a modern grid, fuel diversification and a diverse generation stack,” Mir said. “So someone has to think hard about how to organize this transition.”

Report: Blocking the Sun — @EnvAm

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

Executive Summary

Solar power is clean, affordable and popular with the American people. The amount of solar energy currently installed in the U.S. can power one in 14 American homes; that amount is expected to triple within the next ve years.

The growth of American solar energy in the past decade has been the result of smart solar-friendly state policies like net metering and tax incentives for solar infrastructure, putting clean energy within nancial reach of millions more Americans. The recent appointment of officials favored by electric utilities and fossil fuel interests to key positions within the Department of Energy and other federal agencies makes the preservation of strong solar policies in the states more important than ever.

In 2017, utilities continue to chip away at key state policies that put rooftop solar on the map in the United States, making it harder for Americans to invest in clean energy.

This report documents 20 fossil fuel-backed groups and electric utilities running some of the nation’s most aggressive campaigns to slow the growth of solar energy in 12 states, including eight attempts to reduce net metering bene ts and seven attempts to create demand charges for customers with solar power. Citizens and policy-makers must be aware of the tools that utilities are using to undermine solar energy across America and redouble their commitment to strong policies that move the nation toward a clean energy future.

A national network of utility interest groups and fossil fuel-backed think tanks has provided the funding, model legislation and political cover to discourage the growth of rooftop solar power.

• The Edison Electric Institute, the trade group that represents U.S. investor-owned electric utilities, launched the current wave of attacks on solar in 2012. Since then, EEI has worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council to create model legislation to repeal state renewable electricity standards and attack net metering.
• The American Legislative Exchange Council also provides utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislators, and its anti-net metering policy resolution has inspired legislation in states like Washington and Utah.
• The Koch brothers have provided funding to the national fight against solar by funneling tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonpro ts. The Koch-funded campaign organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has carried out anti-solar organizing exorts.
• The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) is a Houston-based front group for the utility and fossil fuel industry, representing companies like Florida Power and Light, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell Oil. CEA has spent resources and shipped representatives across the country to help utilities fight their battles in states like Florida, Indiana, Maine and Utah.
• The state industry group Indiana Energy Association successfully lobbied on behalf of the state’s biggest electric utilities to end net metering, replacing it instead with a new solar policy that limits consumer compensation for generating rooftop power.

At the state level, electric utilities have used the support provided by national anti-solar interests, as well as their own ample resources, to attack key solar energy policies.

• In Florida, Florida Power and Light, Gulf Power Electric, Tampa Electric Company and Duke Energy, the largest utility in the U.S., spent millions of dollars funding the front group, Consumers for Smart Solar, which was the primary backer of a failed 2016 ballot initiative that would have restricted rooftop solar growth. In 2017, Florida Power and Light drafted language for a new bill to restrict solar growth in Florida.
• Two major Arizona utilities – Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project – have success- fully pushed for anti-rooftop solar policies. Arizona Public Service, the biggest utility in Arizona, has also been accused of improperly cultivating in influence with the state commission that regulates utilities and funneling dark money into recent commissioner elections.
• In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power tried once again to eliminate net metering and charge additional fees to its 20,000 customers that generate rooftop power. Public outcry from ratepayers and the solar industry forced Rocky Mountain Power to settle, grandfathering all current solar customers into net metering.
• In Texas, El Paso Electric renewed its past attempt to create a separate, and more expensive, rate class for solar customers. In 2015, the utility spent $3.1 million on filing and negotiating fees, an amount ultimately charged to ratepayers, before dropping the proposal, only to pick it up again this year.
• In 2015, Nevada Energy successfully campaigned the Nevada utilities commission to eliminate net metering, a move that e ectively halted the growth of rooftop solar in its service territory for two years. After widespread public protest, state legislators e ectively reinstated net metering in 2017.

As of mid-2017, there were at least 90 ongoing policy actions in U.S. states with the potential to a ect the growth of rooftop generation, such as limits on net metering or new utility fees that make solar power less a affordable.

State decision-makers should resist utility and fossil fuel industry in influence, and reject policies such as

• Elimination of, restrictions on, or unfair caps on net metering;
• Discriminatory surcharges or tariffs for solar customers;
• Utility rate designs that discourage solar adoption;
• Unnecessary regulatory burdens on solar energy; and
• Rollbacks of renewable electricity standards.

In addition, state leaders should embrace ambitious goals for solar energy and adopt policies that will help meet them, including:

• Considering the bene ts of distributed solar energy to the grid, to ratepayers and to society in any rate making or policy decisions about solar energy;
• Implementing strong net metering and interconnection standards, which enable many customers to meet their own electricity needs with solar power;
• Encouraging community shared solar projects and virtual net metering, which can expand solar access to more customers;
• Enacting or expanding solar or distributed renewable carve-outs and renewable electricity standards;
• Enabling financing mechanisms to allow for greater solar access to businesses and residents;
• Allowing companies other than utilities to sell or lease solar to residents and businesses; and
• Making smart investments to move toward a more intelligent electric grid that will enable distributed sources of energy such as solar power to play a larger role.

Policymakers should also uphold our country’s commitment to reduce carbon pollution. Solar power will play a major role in any strategy to reduce global warming pollution and the carbon footprint of the energy we generate and consume.

Three reasons for optimism about climate change — The Mountain Town News

Coyote Gulch’s Leaf connected in the parking garage in Winter Park, August 21, 2017.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Despite Trump, train has already left the station, says former Obama aide

U.S. President Donald Trump has initiated steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and end the Clean Power Plan. But a former advisor to President Barack Obama was anything but gloomy recently as he cited three major reasons for optimism.

Brian Deese said one reason was that economic growth has been decoupled from growth in carbon emissions. This was discovered as the United States emerged from the recession. Obama was in Hawaii when Deese informed him of the paradigm shift that had been observed.

Brian Deese photo credit

“I don’t believe you,” Obama said, according to the story Deese told in a forum on the University of Colorado campus that was sponsored by the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.

Chastened, Deese double-checked his sources. He had been right. Always before, when the economy grew, so did greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the two have been decoupled. This decoupling blunts the old argument that you couldn’t have economic growth while tackling climate change. The new evidence is that you can have growth and reverse emissions.

The second reason for optimism, despite the U.S. exit from Paris, is that other countries have stepped up. Before, there was a battle between the developed countries, including the United States, and China, Indian and other still-developing countries. Those developing countries said they shouldn’t have to bear the same burden in emissions reductions.

But now, those same countries — Chna, India and others — want to keep going with emissions reductions even as the United States falters. They want to become the clean-energy superpowers.

“China, India and others are trying to become the global leaders in climate change. They see this as enhancing their economic and political interests,” he said. “They want to win the race.”

That same day, the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story that China plans to force automakers to accelerate production of electric vehicles by 2019. The move, said the newspaper, is the “latest signal that officials across the globe are determined to phase out traditional internal combustion engines that use gasoline and diesel fuels in favor of environmentally friendly vehicles powered by batteries, despite consumer reservations.”

The story went on to note that India has a goal to sell only electric vehicles by 2030 while the U.K. and France are aiming to end sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040.

In the telling of the change Deese said this shift came about at least partly as the result of an unintended action — and, ironically, one by the United States. Because of China’s fouled air, the U.S. embassy in Beijing and other diplomatic offices in China had installed air quality monitors, to guide U.S. personnel in decisions regarding their own health.

Enter the smart phone, which became ubiquitous in China around 2011 to 2012. The Chinese became aware of a simple app that could be downloaded to gain access to the air quality information. In a short time, he said, tens and then hundreds of millions of Chinese began agitating about addressing globalized air pollution, including emissions that are warming the climate.

A third reason for optimism, said Deese, is that Trump’s blustery rhetoric has galvanized support for addressing climate change. Some 1,700 businesses, including Vail Resorts, have committed to changes and 244 cities, representing 143 million people, have also said they want to briskly move toward renewable energy generation.

To this, Deese would like to add the conservation community, by which he seemed to mean hunters and fishermen. “In the United States, we need to reach people where they are, and communicate to them how they are being affected by climate change,” he said.

He also thinks scientists need to step up to advocate. “Use your voice,” said Deese, now a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The rest of the world is there.”