The Navajo Generating Station goes dark #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From the Associated Press (Felicia Fonseca):

A massive coal-fired power plant that served customers in the West for nearly 50 years shut down Monday, the latest closure in a shift away from coal and toward renewable energy and cheaper power.

The Navajo Generating Station near the Arizona-Utah line was expected to shutter by the end of the year, but the exact day hadn’t been certain as the plant worked to deplete a stockpile of coal.

It stopped producing electricity shortly after noon Monday when shift supervisor Fred Larson, a 41-year employee, put the plant permanently offline…

Coal was delivered to the power plant by a dedicated, electric railway that snakes 78 miles (126 kilometers) through the high desert in the Navajo Nation. By next fall, the poles and overhead electrical lines that served the railway will be gone. The Navajo Nation has not decided whether to keep the railway and use it for tourism or sell it.

A trio of towering concrete stacks with flashing lights that served as a beacon in the community will be demolished by next fall.

Decommissioning will take up to three years, after which the land is supposed to be returned to the condition it was before the plant was built.

Steve Yazzie, a former power plant employee who now works for a tribal energy company, said biologists from the Navajo Nation and the Salt River Project, which operates the plant, recently met to talk about reseeding the land with plants used for dying wool, making tea and traditional medicines.

Reclamation work also is being done at Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine, which pulled coal from land owned by the Navajo and Hopi tribes. It closed months ahead of the power plant because it had no other customers.

Navajo Generating Station and the cloud of smog with which it blankets the region. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson via The High Country News

Aurora Organic Dairy commits to 100% carbon-neutral energy in its fourth Sustainability Report #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Here’s the release from Aurora Organic Dairy:

Aurora Organic Dairy today published its 2019 Sustainability Report. The report provides a detailed and transparent update on the Company and its progress toward goals to improve its sustainability performance around three core pillars of Animals, People and Planet.

The Company announced updated goals that encompass three key areas:

  • Caring for the comfort and well-being of its cows and calves, always putting animal care at the forefront of farming practices.
  • Employee safety and wellness, and local community support.
  • Commitments to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction, water efficiency and waste reduction, and one important new goal to commit to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020.
  • “At Aurora Organic Dairy, we have a longstanding commitment to continuous improvement when it comes to our animals, people and planet,” said Scott McGinty, CEO of Aurora Organic Dairy. “While we are proud of our achievements, in today’s world, we cannot rest. We must continue to do more to support our animals and people, the environment and our local communities. Our updated sustainability goals strengthen this commitment.”

    The Company’s sustainability goals – established against 2012 baseline data – include many initiatives that have bolstered Aurora Organic Dairy’s sustainability performance:

  • Aurora Organic Dairy farms improved the overall welfare of its animals through goals to reduce lameness, to perform fewer dehorning procedures, to used paired calf housing and to increase video monitoring.
  • Significant progress against People goals was made with increased training programs, communications around the value of benefits, bilingual communication and community centers in remote farm locations. Going forward, Aurora Organic Dairy will continue its focus on safety and on employee volunteerism.
  • For the Planet, Aurora Organic Dairy achieved significant reductions in water and energy. Its milk plant achieved a 71% solid waste landfill diversion rate, and normalized GHG emissions were down 11%. The Company is committed to reducing its GHG emissions by 30% by 2025. Given the urgent need to address climate change globally, Aurora Organic Dairy has made an important commitment to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020.
  • “This last year was a milestone for Aurora Organic Dairy in terms of environmental stewardship,” said Craig Edwards, Director of Sustainability for Aurora Organic Dairy. “We installed solar arrays at our High Plains and High Ridge Dairies in Gill, Colo. and we committed to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020. To get there, we will invest in renewable energy projects directly and will support additional projects by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates and Verified Emission Reductions to address 100% of our electricity and fuels use across our Company farms, raw milk transport, milk plants and headquarters.”

    Court halts mine expansion over methane flaring issue — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    One coal mine remains open in the North Fork Valley. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The decision Friday by Judge R. Brooke Jackson in the U.S. District Court of Colorado applies to the West Elk Mine’s efforts to begin mining as early as January beneath some 2,000 acres in what’s known as the Sunset Roadless Area in the Gunnison National Forest.

    Ruling in a lawsuit brought by conservation groups, Jackson found that the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement violated federal law by failing to consider requiring the mine to burn off the methane produced during mining operations. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. A supplemental environmental impact statement issued by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had estimated that flaring could reduce the total global warming potential of the gas by about 87%.

    That document didn’t draw conclusions about the feasibility or economic viability of flaring, saying it was premature to consider at the coal leasing stage and should be considered later.

    But in recommending that the Interior Department approve the mining plan for the expansion, the mining reclamation office said the earlier environmental document sufficiently addressed the methane flaring alternative.

    Jackson found that neither the mining reclamation office, the BLM or the Forest Service “put on the record any conclusions that justify excluding methane flaring from consideration as an alternative. Instead, it appears that one agency drew a faulty conclusion on the basis of other agencies’ explicit lack of conclusion.”

    The mine is the largest single industrial point source of methane pollution in the state. The Forest Service has estimated the mine expansion would result in the release of nearly 12 million tons of methane. While the mining will take place underground, the mine has begun surface work in the roadless area, where it plans to build about 8.4 miles of roads and install 43 methane drainage wells.

    The mine is owned by Arch Coal. It began pursuing the expansion a decade ago but has faced protracted legal challenges.

    Jackson previously ruled that federal agencies failed to account for the environmental costs of leasing and other decisions related to the mine expansion. That led to the supplemental environmental document being released.

    Conservation groups then sued to challenge that new environmental analysis and another federal judge ruled against them. That ruling is under appeal.

    Jackson also ruled Friday in favor of conservationists over their contention that the mining reclamation office didn’t take a hard look at impacts to water resources from mining activities. The mining reclamation office both relied on the supplemental environmental review’s conclusion that there are no known perennial springs in the expansion area, and said perennial springs likely exist there.

    Electric vehicles can reduce the #Colorado’s emissions more than anything else #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Leaf, Berthoud Pass Summit, August 21, 2017.

    From Vox (David Roberts):

    The Colorado legislature has had an extraordinarily productive year so far, passing a stunning array of climate and clean energy bills covering everything from clean electricity to utilities, energy efficiency, and a just transition. The list is really pretty amazing…

    It got me thinking: Just how big a role are EVs going to play in decarbonization? How should policymakers be prioritizing them relative to, say, renewable energy? Obviously, every state and country is going to need to do both eventually — fully electrify transportation and fully decarbonize electricity — but it would still be helpful to better understand their relative impacts.

    Nerds to the rescue!

    A new bit of research commissioned by Community Energy (a renewable energy project developer) casts light on this question. It models the carbon and financial impacts of large-scale vehicle electrification in Colorado and comes to two main conclusions.

    First, electrifying vehicles would reduce carbon more than completely decarbonizing the state electricity sector, pushing state emissions down 42 percent from 2018 levels by 2040 — not enough to hit the targets on its own, but a huge chunk. Second, electrifying vehicles saves consumers money by reducing the cost of transportation almost $600 a year on average.

    Rapid electrification is a win-win for Colorado, a driver of decarbonization and a transfer of wealth from oil companies to consumers — but only if charging is managed intelligently.

    EVs bring carbon and consumer benefits

    First, the headline: Electrifying EVs…reduces emissions a lot.

    In the EV-grid scenario, electricity sector emissions fall 46 percent — the number is lower because about a third of the additional electricity demand from EVs is satisfied by natural gas — but overall state emissions drop 42 percent, more than two and a half times as much, representing 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s thanks to an 80 percent drop in transportation emissions…

    As I said, that in itself is not enough to meet the state’s emissions target. The state will have to force some additional cleaning of the electricity sector (and deal with other sectors) to do that, as this year’s package of legislation reflects. (I asked Clack if Vibrant ran a scenario without any new natural gas. Yes, he said. “It was $1 billion per year more expensive [around 1¢/kWh, or 15.9 percent more] and decreased emissions by an additional 14.8 metric tons per year.”)

    But the drop in transportation emissions in the EV-grid scenario is sufficient to reduce more overall emissions than the entire Colorado electricity sector produces. EVs are a vital piece of the decarbonization puzzle.

    The effect of all the new EVs on electricity generation is pretty simple: There will be more of it…

    As you can see, in the cleaner-grid scenario, lost coal generation is replaced by a mix of natural gas, wind, and solar. In the EV-grid scenario, it’s roughly the same mix, just a little more of each — the addition of EVs raises total electricity demand by about 20 percent.

    Bonus result: “The increase in generation capacity increases employment in Colorado’s electricity sector by approximately 68 percent by 2040.”

    […]

    And now, here are the fun parts.

    Shifting from internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV) to EVs would save Colorado consumers a whole boatload of money, for the simple reason that electricity is a cheaper fuel than gasoline. Here are the average savings for a Coloradan that switches from ICEV to EV between 2018 and 2040…

    So the average Coloradan will save between $590 and $645 a year — nothing to sneeze at. “The total savings between 2018 and 2040 are estimated to be $16 billion,” Vibrant says, “which equates to a savings of almost $700 million per year.”

    You might think, with all the new EV demand added to the grid, electricity rates would go up. In fact, relative to the cleaner-grid scenario, the EV-grid scenario has an extremely small impact on rates (0.7 percent difference at the extreme)…

    EVs are a climate triple threat

    What this modeling makes clear is that when it comes to clean energy policy, EVs are a triple threat for Colorado (and, obviously, for other states, though the impacts will vary with weather and electricity mix).

    For the electricity sector, as long as their charging is properly managed, EVs can provide much-needed new tools to help manage the influx of renewable energy…

    For the transportation sector, EVs can radically reduce carbon emissions and local pollution. (Yes, EVs reduce carbon emissions even in areas with lots of coal on the grid.)

    And for consumers, EVs save money, not only because the fuel is cheaper (and getting cheaper all the time) but because EVs are much simpler machines, with fewer moving parts and much lower maintenance costs.

    Especially in states with electricity sector emissions that are already low or falling, transportation is the next big place to look for emission reductions, and EVs are one of the few options that can reduce emissions at the necessary scale and speed. Colorado is right to encourage them.

    Delta-Montrose and Tri-State reach exit agreement — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate

    Craig Station in northwest Colorado is a coal-fired power plant operated by Tri-State Generation & Transmission. Photo credit: Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Deal sealed for electrical co-op’s exit from Tri-State but the fee unknown

    Tri-State Generation and Transmission and one of its 43 member co-operatives, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, have come to terms. Delta-Montrose will be leaving the “family,” as Tri-State members are sometimes called, on about May 1, 2022.

    What it cost Delta-Montrose to exit its all-requirements contract with Tri-State, however, will remain a secret until then. The figure was redacted in the settlement agreement filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission last Friday. The figure can become public after the split occurs next year, according to Virginia Harman, the chief operating officer for Delta-Montrose.

    See filing with the PUC: PUC filing attachment 7.19.19

    Delta-Montrose will then be supplied by Guzman Energy, although the power purchase agreement has yet to be completed, Harman said.

    Guzman also supplies energy to Kit Carson Electrical Cooperative, which is based in Taos, N.M., as well as the small town of Aztec, N.M.

    In May, Guzman also revealed it was offering to buy several of Tri-State’s coal plants, close them down, and replace the lost generation from other sources. See: A small Colorado company sees opportunity in revolutionizing Colorado’s energy supply.

    The split reflects a fundamental disagreement over the future of electrical generation and the pace of change that has festered for about 15 years. Those different visions became apparent in about 2005 as Tri-State managers sought to build a major new coal plant near Holcomb, Kan., in partnership with Sunflower Electric.

    The utilities were shocked when Kansas denied a permit for the plant, based on the time at the still-novel grounds of its carbon dioxide pollution. When Tri-State finally got its permit for the coal plant in 2017, it had spent nearly $100 million with nothing to show.

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

    Meanwhile, the electrical world had turned upside down. Wind had become the cheap energy, not coal, and it was being integrated into power supplies effectively. Even solar was in cost competitive in places.

    Along among the then 44 member cooperatives, only Kit Carson and Delta-Montrose had refused the 10-year contact extensions to 2050 that Tri-State had wanted to satisfy money markets for long-term loans. Their contracts remained at 2040. The contracts of other member co-ops—including those serving Durango, Telluride, Crested Butte and Winter Park—go until 2050.

    Kit Carson was the first to get out. In 2016, assisted by Guzman, it paid the $37 million exit fee required by Tri-State and set out, also with the assistance of Guzman, to develop solar farms in dispersed parts of its service territory in northern New Mexico. It aims to have 100% solar capability by the end of 2022.

    See: Is Kit Carson’s renewable goal also the answer to rural America’s woes?

    In November 2016, Delta-Montrose informed Tri-State it wanted to buy out its contract, too. It asked for exit figure. The negotiations did not yield an acceptable number to both, and in December Delta-Montrose asked the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to arbitrate. The PUC agreed over protests by Tri-State that the PUC had no authority. A week was set aside in June, later delayed to begin Aug. 12, for the case.

    No figures have ever been publicly revealed by either Tri-State or Delta-Montrose, although a court document filed early in July reported that Tri-State’s price had been reduced 40%.

    Meanwhile, Tri-State got approval from its members to seek regulation for rate making by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That could possibly have moved the jurisdiction over the Delta-Montrose exit to Washington. It would not affect review by Colorado, New Mexico or other states in which Tri-State operators of resource planning.

    Delta-Montrose and Guzman have not completed plans for how the co-operative may develop its local energy resources. The co-op had reached Tri-State’s 5% allowance for local generation by harnessing of fast-moving water in an irrigation conveyance called the South Canal.

    For Tri-State’s new chief executive, Duane Highley, the task at hand may be how to discourage more exits by other member co-op. Tri-State has argued that it moved slowly but has now is in a position to realize much lower prices for renewable energy generation. It is moving forward on both wind and solar projects in eastern Colorado.

    Delta-Montrose, with 33,000 members, is among the larger co-ops in Tri-State. But even larger one, who together represent nearly half the electrical load supplied by Tri-STate have all dissatisfaction with Tri-State’s slow movement away from coal-fired generation.

    In Southwestern Colorado, Durango-based La Plata Electric recently asked for an exit figure, too.

    Along the Front Range of Colorado, United Power, by far the largest-coop, with 91,000 members and booming demand from oil and gas operators north of Denver, has wanted more renewable energy and greater ability to develop its own resources. Poudre Valley has adopted a 100% clean energy goal.

    Delta-Montrose, with 33,000 members, is easily among the 10 largest co-ops.

    The settlement agreement filed with the PUC says DMEA “shall not assist any other Tri-State member in pursuing withdrawal from Tri-State. The agreement also says that DMEA and Tri-State agree to not disparage each other.

    More than 30% of Tri-State’s generation comes from renewables, mostly from hydropower. This total is little different from that of Xcel Energy. But Xcel in 2017 announced plans to close two of its aging coal plants, leaving it at 55 percent renewable generation in Colorado.

    Tri-State, too, is closing coal plants. A coal plant at Nucla, in southwestern Colorado, west of Telluride, will close early next year, several years earlier than previously scheduled. However, it’s small by coal plant standards, with a nameplate capacity of 114 megawatts, and operates only part time.

    A larger reduction is scheduled to occur by 2025 when one of three coal units at Craig, in northwestern Colorado, will be retired. But a Tri-State official, speaking at a beneficial electrification conference in Denver during June, suggested that a second coal plant could also be retired early. That second coal unit is co-owned with other utilities in Colorado and other states, all of whom have indicated plans to hasten their retreats from coal.

    Tri-State last week also announced a partnership with former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s Center for the New Energy Economy to facilitate a stakeholder process intended to help define what Tri-State calls a Responsible Energy Plan. See: Tri-State Announces Responsible Energy Plan 20190717

    From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

    A long-standing legal dispute in the Colorado energy industry came to an end Monday when Delta-Montrose Electric Association announced it would withdraw from its membership in Tri-State Generation & Transmission, effective May 1, 2020.

    The early withdrawal is part of a definitive settlement agreement between the two energy companies.

    Delta-Montrose Electric Association, a rural utility provider on the Western Slope, said it underwent the effort to secure cheaper rates for customers and purchase more renewable energy.

    With coal in free-fall, Wyoming faces an uncertain future — @HighCountryNews #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

    From the High Country News (Carl Segerstrom):

    As demand shrinks and the industry retracts, counties and the state are in an untenable situation.

    Over the last few months, Wyoming’s struggling coal industry has gone from bad to worse. In May, the third-largest mining company, Cloud Peak, filed for bankruptcy, leaving the pensions and future of hundreds of employees in jeopardy. Less than two months later, Blackjewel, Wyoming’s fourth-largest coal company, abruptly declared bankruptcy, idling mines and putting hundreds out of work.

    As the hits against coal pile up, so do questions about the future of Wyoming’s coal mines and the economy they support. With even the Trump administration’s regulatory rollback’s offering no relief, the largest coal-producing state in the country is being forced to grapple with the decline of the industry that has long undergirded its economy.

    Spring Creek Coal Mine. Photo credit: Cloud Peak Energy

    Wyoming’s politicians have gone to considerable lengths to prop up the coal industry. Now, the state is walking an increasingly threadbare tightrope as it manages coal’s future. Lean too far towards promoting mining, with lax tax collection standards and cleanup requirements, and state and local governments may get stuck with cleaning up the mess the failed businesses leave behind. Tilt towards proactive tax collection and strong reclamation requirements, and risk becoming another factor pushing the coal economy into oblivion.

    The depth of the current downturn was unforeseen even a couple years ago, said University of Wyoming economist Rob Godby. The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sought carbon emission reductions from the power sector, was expected to deal the industry a blow, and it was discarded by the Trump administration, anyway. Instead, it was cheap natural gas and to a lesser extent renewable energy sources — and the resulting shrink in demand for coal — that ended up knocking coal companies to their knees, said Godby.

    The diminishing value of coal draws ominous parallels to the subprime mortgage bubble that precipitated the Great Recession of 2008. But the coal free-fall is likely to be even worse than the housing market crash, because houses always retained some value, while coal mines could end up worthless if investors see costs that outstrip potential income, said energy analyst Clark Williams-Derry of the Sightline Institute, a sustainability think tank.

    With mines likely to close, Wyoming is entering a new and untested paradigm for coal — reclamation without production. Typically, mines clean up their mess as they go; if they don’t, then the state can shut down operations until they do. But once a company goes broke and the mine shuts down, the only funds for cleanup are reclamation bonds, which critics say are inadequate in Wyoming.

    The Powder River Basin Resource Council has been pushing Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality to look harder at the balance sheet of companies before it allows them to buy mines. This effort has kept cleanup obligations from being transferred to Blackjewel and then possibly going unfunded during the company’s bankruptcy. Williams-Derry called that a “heroically smart move,” because now the cleanup costs are staying with the mines’ former owner instead of potentially ending up with the state.

    In pushing for strong cleanup requirements, resource council Executive Director Joyce Evans said that requiring mines to do proper reclamation would create more jobs for out-of-work miners. Still, she said she doesn’t expect miners to embrace the prospect, even if the reclamation jobs pay just as well as mining, because of Wyoming’s history of “social dependency on coal and energy.”

    Meanwhile, coal’s collapse is delivering a one-two punch of unemployment and unpaid taxes to Campbell County, where more than one-third of all coal in the U.S. is mined from the Powder River Basin. The Blackjewel bankruptcy put nearly 600 miners out of work, and the county may never get $37 million in taxes owed by the company, which was run by Appalachian coal executive Jeff Hoops. This is partly because of the county’s lenient approach to collecting back taxes. “We’ve been dealing with delinquent taxes and Mr. Hoops for several months in an amicable way to try and resolve (the unpaid taxes) without pushing them into what has happened now and keep our miners working,” said County Commissioner Del Shelstad in a July 3 meeting in Gillette.

    Now, creditors are in line before the county to collect in bankruptcy court. For Gillette’s state Sen. Michael Von Flatern, an ex-coal miner, the delayed county tax payments and ongoing dependence on minerals “is starting not to make sense.” He described the current bankruptcies as the canary in the coal mine for the industry’s long-term decline. “We need to truly diversify our economy,” Von Flatern said. “We have a minerals, minerals, minerals economy.” But over next couple decades, it’s possible that there won’t be a market for Wyoming coal anymore, he said. “If Wyoming can’t do what we need to do to diversify our economy and change our tax structure, then we’ll be in the same place next time we go bust.”

    Carl Segerstrom is an assistant editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, Washington. Email him at carls@hcn.org.

    2019 #COleg: Colorado lawmakers approve a bevy of energy bills — The Denver Post #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Coyote Gulch’s Leaf charging at campsite near Steamboat Springs August 21, 2017.

    From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler):

    “If I had to sum it up in a word, I think I’d say ‘transformative.’ It’s a real shift in our policy, and I think it really shows the direction that Colorado is headed,” said Erin Overturf, chief energy counsel for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates. “I think it shows that we’re starting to take climate change seriously and recognize the task that’s truly ahead of us if we’re going to do our part to help solve this problem.”

    The bills include efforts to make houses and appliances — from refrigerators, to light bulbs to air conditioners and furnaces — more energy-efficient…

    Lawmakers extended state tax credits for buying electric vehicles and allowed regulated electric utilities to own and operate vehicle charging stations to try to encourage people to buy and drive zero-emission vehicles.

    One of the things that sets Colorado apart from other states working to boost the use of renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is its efforts to look out for affected workers and communities, said Anna McDevitt, an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

    The bill reauthorizing the PUC has a provision requiring utilities to include a workforce transition plan when they propose shutting down a power plant. Another section on low-cost bonds to retire power plants for cleaner, cheaper alternatives also provides that a portion of the proceeds helps workers and communities affected by the closures…

    Referring to the PUC bill and its carbon-reduction targets, Xcel Energy said in a statement Friday that the legislation was “heavily negotiated with a broad set of stakeholders” and protects safety reliability and customer costs…

    One bill expands the size of community solar gardens, which are centralized arrays of solar panels that users “subscribe” to. They are intended for people who want to use solar power but whose roofs aren’t suitable, who live in an apartment or can’t afford to install a system.

    Other legislation directs the PUC to study regional transmission organizations that would make it easier for utilities or municipalities to buy wholesale power. Another section requires regulators to take on planning to help facilitate rooftop solar and other distributed-energy installations.

    The PUC also will have to look into so-called “performance-based ratemaking.” That would allow utilities to earn a certain rate of return on things such as increasing energy efficiency or installing a certain amount of rooftop solar rather than just on construction of plants or other infrastructure.