Environmental groups sue state oil and gas commission over Greeley drilling proposal — @COindependent

From The Colorado Independent (Kelsey Ray):

Environmental and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Tuesday, alleging that the regulatory agency violated its responsibility to protect public health and the environment when it approved a 24-well fracking site near Bella Romero Middle School in Greeley.

The plaintiffs, which include the Sierra Club, Weld Air and Water, the NAACP Colorado State Conference and Wall of Women, also say that the COGCC failed to adequately assess whether the site in question was as far as possible from the school and from nearby homes.

Denver-based driller Extraction Oil and Gas is preparing to drill 24 new oil and gas wells in Greeley, located about 1,350 feet from the walls of Bella Romero. The project complies with state law requiring that drilling operations be at least 1,000 feet from schools. But critics say the COGCC did not sufficiently evaluate alternative locations for the development.

“The State of Colorado is failing to protect our children,” said resident and environmentalist Therese Gilbert. “We are subjecting children to conditions that are dangerous at their point in physical development, and then expecting them to actively play in those conditions.”

In an emailed statement, an Extraction spokesman wrote that the company “engaged in both an inclusive and very comprehensive process to obtain permits” for the site, and “that process was completed in compliance with all COGCC regulatory guidelines.” The location, he added, “was part of a series of alternative locations that were identified by Extraction to replace several older-vintage permitted locations, including the Gilbert, Sheep Draw and South Greeley sites.”

State Rep. Mike Foote of Denver proposed a bill that would have required oil and gas setbacks to be 1,000 feet from school property boundaries, not just school buildings. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy postponed that bill indefinitely Wednesday afternoon.

Some critics are concerned that Extraction’s proposed project represents a threat to environmental justice, as it will significantly impact a low-income community of color. Bella Romero’s student body is 82 percent Hispanic or Latino.

“Communities of color are already disproportionately burdened by pollution and this is another example,” said Rosemary Lytle, State President of the NAACP Colorado State Conference. “No group of people should bear more than their share of impacts from industrial activities, yet it seems the COGCC does not even consider this.”

Todd Hartman, spokesman for the COGCC, says the agency is currently reviewing the lawsuit and does not yet have a comment.

Colorado Coal Country Sees Economic Salvation In Solar, Organic Farming — @NewsCPR

West Elk Mine. Photo credit Division of Reclamation Mining & Safety

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

Workers at the last mine standing in the region, West Elk, met President Donald Trump’s executive order with cautious optimism. But travel to the west central Colorado region, it’s clear that the area isn’t banking on coal coming back to what it used to be. And the decline is clear. It’s meant a few empty storefronts in Paonia, a drop in Delta County School District students, and fewer fully ensured health care patients in the region.

And there’s another challenge: In contrast to big coal producers such as Wyoming and the Appalachia region back East, federal grant dollars to ease the transition away from coal aren’t flowing as freely into Colorado. That’s according to Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan, who represents Delta County.

“I think what’s unique about Colorado is it’s not thought of as coal country, Donovan said. “Those federal programs have focused on the more traditional West Virginia, Appalachia communities that we think of as coal country. So I think in Colorado it’s going to fall more on the shoulders of the state.”

[…]

With planning help from state economic developers, Delta County Economic Development Inc. drew up its future plans in 2016. Here’s a look at the key items.

  • Solar: With the help of training school Solar Energy International, the North Fork Valley could see more rooftop solar. Delta County’s high poverty rate has translated into low demand for rooftop panels. With Solarize Delta County, SEI plans to make the energy more accessible and affordable by spurring more local investment. SEI has also launched efforts to retrain coal workers, although SEI Director of Operations Kris Sutton said the effort has been slow going in the short term: “If coal miners here want to pursue solar jobs. They’re going to have to probably move,” Sutton said, referring to the fact that most solar installation jobs are along the Front Range.
  • A specialty food manufacturing incubator: Delta County School District, which runs the region’s technical college, purchased a 22,000 square foot building that will eventually house classrooms, a commercial kitchen and a warehouse. Entrepreneurs could get classes, marketing assistance and a space that helps them create food products out of regional produce from the valley, including organic foods, Ventrello said. “It’s value added. Rather than just selling tomatoes, can you make a high end salsa?”
  • Organic food: In Hotchkiss, Big B’s Juices has evolved from from a shed that sold organic fruit to an outfit that sells juice and a hard cider line across the country. Ventrello says the incubator could help existing businesses like Big B’s expand their business, and hire more folks including out-of-work miners. Shawn Larson, who moved to the area from Utah in 2010 to help start Big B’s hard cider line says every extra job helps. ““We sell products nationwide. You know, we have that reach, but also affect our community,” he said.
  • Recreation and tourism: In its economic blueprint, the county’s economic development group plans to beef up its Gunnison Riverfront property with more access points for water sports, trails and picnic areas. It also calls for a hotel and conference center to make the city more of a destination for travelers.
  • Broadband: Delta-Montrose Electric Association will spend up to $125 million on high-speed broadband internet to the region in the coming years, which includes the towns of Paonia and Hotchkiss. Paonia was one of the first towns to be fully wired with the broadband. Mayor Charles Stewart said it will be one key to recruiting new businesses and drawing more residents to the region. “People like those amenities. When you can say to folks, ‘Yes, you can live in the North Fork and still have high-speed internet access,’ that’s a positive,” said Stewart.
  • Other renewables: It’s not just individual homeowners that could see more solar in Delta County. The region’s electricity provider, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, is also seeking to add more solar and hydroelectric power to its grid. Meantime, regional economic development leaders like Tom Huerkamp are eyeing the region’s shuttered mines and seeing another economic opportunity: generating power from methane that naturally vents from shuttered underground mines. “If we tap the old coal mines, this community has the ability in the next maybe five to 10 years to disconnect from the grid,” Huerkamp said.

Record 2016 Renewable Energy Levels Came 23% Cheaper Than 2015 — Clean Technica #ActOnClimate

From Clean Technica (Joshua S. Hill):

Specifically, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), global investment in renewable energy for 2016 came in at $241.6 billion, 23% less than in 2015, but nevertheless helped to deploy 138.5 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable energy capacity (excluding large-hydro), a figure up 8% from the 127.5 GW installed in 2015. The new report UNEP report, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2017, found that the total investment level was the lowest it has been since 2013, due in large part to falling costs, rather than a drop in demand.

“Ever-cheaper clean tech provides a real opportunity for investors to get more for less,” said Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment. “This is exactly the kind of situation, where the needs of profit and people meet, that will drive the shift to a better world for all.”

U.S. coal use falls 9 percent in 2016 #ActOnClimate

One of the generating units at the power plant at Kemmerer, Wyo., is being shut down this year to reduce emissions that are causing regional haze. 2009 photo/Allen Best

From Climate Central (Bobby Magill):

…it was little surprise when the federal government reported this week that U.S. coal use fell 9 percent in 2016, even as Americans consumed more energy overall. The U.S. used more natural gas and renewables last year than ever before, while oil use and even nuclear power were on the rise, too…

Coal use fell last year for the third year in a row — after slight increases in 2012 and 2013 — and has been steadily declining in the U.S. since it peaked a decade ago, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data…

Part of the problem for coal, however, is that Americans aren’t as hungry for electricity as they used to be, thanks in part to more energy efficient buildings and appliances…

Cheap prices along with federal mercury emissions regulations became big incentives for electric companies to build natural gas power plants and shut down their coal-fired power plants, or run them using natural gas instead of coal.

The fallacy of Trump’s vow to restore the coal economy — The Mountain Town News

One of the generating units at the power plant at Kemmerer, Wyo., is being shut down this year to reduce emissions that are causing regional haze. 2009 photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Trump vows to bring back coal, but coal has lost favor for many reasons

With coal miners at his side, President Donald Trump last week signed an executive order that seeks to undo the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

In coal towns, there was rejoicing. The plan requires a gradual switching of power sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 32 percent by 2030. Unless carbon capture and storage technology advances rapidly, this puts coal at a great disadvantage.

Coal plants were already closing in droves. They’ve been losing out to cheaper natural gas, which has fewer greenhouse gas emissions and can be dispatched in a matter of minutes, unlike coal plants, which take about a day to crank up. This makes natural gas a better fit with renewables, whose prices have tumbled dramatically in the last five years.

But coal plants in the Rocky Mountains have also been closing because of their dirty environmental footprint, not even considering greenhouse gas emissions. The sulfur dioxide and other emissions contribute heavily to regional haze, also called smog.

For example, PacifiCorp announced it would close one of its generating units at its power plant at Kemmerer, Wyo., located south of Jackson Hole. The plant provides power for Park City. The reason: the electricity wasn’t needed, because of improved energy efficiency, and to upgrade the plants to reduce pollutants was too expensive.

In northwest Colorado, Tri-State Generation and Transmission and other electrical providers have agreed to shut down a 427-megawatt power plant at Craig by 2025. This is 42 miles west of Steamboat Springs. Again, the problem is regional haze and other environmental pollutants.

The Four Corners power plant, in northwestern New Mexico. Photo/Allen Best

In New Mexico, it’s the same story. There, two units of the San Juan Generating Station are to be shut down by the end of this year, notes the Durango (Colo.) Herald.

The Herald says Public Service Co. of New Mexico is deciding whether the remaining units at the San Juan complex will operate beyond 2022.

The New York Times today makes the same point in this story by Coral Davenport: “Coal is on the Way Out at Electric Utilities, No Matter What Trump Says.”

At the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association conference, former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter pointed to action at state and local levels, along with that of private companies, all aiming to clean up energy sources. Among those pushing are a variety of Republican governors in an organization called the Conservative Energy Network.

“What this makes me believe is that no matter what happens at the federal level for the time being, there are opportunities,” said Ritter.

Wyoming didn’t join that coalition, even if Gov. Matt Mead continues to prod his state into making changes.

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

Jonathan Schechter, writing in the Jackson Hole News & Guide, while pondering his own mortality, wants Wyoming to similarly quit denying that the day for the end of coal is drawing nigh. Wyoming has been living high as the go-to source for low-sulfur coal since the 1980s. You can still see mile-long coal trains grinding their way through Denver’s booming LoDo section on their way to plants as distant as Texas, Mississippi and even, for a time, Florida.

Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s coal-fired power plants closed between 2006 and 2016, and most remaining plants are on the verge of functional obsolescence. In 20 years, Schechter observes, nearly 90 percent of the plants will be 40 years old or older. As these plants close down – likely to be replaced by natural gas and renewables – “so too will the market for Wyoming’s coal, and with it the economic benefits coal has bestowed upon our state.”

Wyoming has no income tax. That simple fact, as much as the amazing sight of the Teton Range, may explain why Jackson Hole rivals Aspen for billionaires per capita. “When the day comes that income is taxed, Jackson Hole will start to become home to a much different demographic,” Schechter concludes.

As for Trump’s vow to bring back coal, the logical question in the face of all this evidence is, will the president also promise to bring back cheap gas, like the 18.9 cents per gallon of his youth?

The economics of solar energy #ActOnClimate @ClimateReality

Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

From EcoWatch (Emma Gilchrist):

The solar industry was responsible for creating one out of every 50 new jobs in the U.S. last year and the country’s fastest-growing occupation is wind turbine technician—so no matter one’s feelings on climate change, the renewable energy train has left the station, according to a new report.

“It’s at the point of great return. It’s irreversible. There is no stopping this train,” said Merran Smith, author of Tracking the Energy Revolution 2017 by Clean Energy Canada. “Even Donald Trump can’t kill it.”

More than 260,000 Americans are now employed in the solar industry, more than double the 2010 figures. Meanwhile, the top five wind-energy producing congressional districts are represented by Republicans…

“Global trends show some renewable energy technologies have reached ‘grid parity’ with fossil fuels—thanks to falling technology costs—meaning no financial support is required to make their cost equal to, or cheaper than, their fossil fuel competitors,” reads the report.

The European Union led the pack, with 86 percent of its new electricity capacity coming from renewable sources in 2016.

In 2016, China added 30 GW of new solar capacity—or roughly enough solar panels to cover three soccer fields every hour, according to the report.

By 2015, renewable electricity employment is estimated to have grown to 6.7 million direct and indirect jobs globally, with solar PV the leading technology, employing nearly 2.8 million people. It is estimated that in 2015 Canada was home to 10,500 jobs in wind and 8,100 in solar PV.

The cost of renewables is expected to continue to come down, leading to further job creation. Between 2015 and 2025, the International Renewable Energy Agency projects generation costs for onshore wind to fall another 26 percent, while offshore wind generation costs fall 35 percent and utility-scale solar PV costs drop 57 percent.

I will speaking about the climate crisis in Thornton on Monday. Click here for the details.

Boulder County adopts new oil and gas regulations

From KUNC (Jackie Fortier):

The county calls them the “most restrictive” of such regulations in Colorado. They are about 60 pages and require a much higher environmental and public health standard than the state. Boulder County began the new rule process following two state Supreme Court decisions in 2016 that invalidated hydraulic fracking bans or long term moratoriums.

“In light of those decisions, the board terminated our moratorium that was in effect until 2018, and established a new moratorium until May 1, 2017, for the purpose of allowing us [Boulder County planning department] to update the regulations that we had adopted in 2012 and prepare for their implementation,” said Kim Sanchez, chief planner for the county.

Now that the commissioners have adopted these regulations, here are three key takeaways:

These regulations are ‘the most restrictive’ in Colorado

Boulder County wants to push the envelope. For example, an oil or gas company that wants to drill in unincorporated Boulder County would have to give notice to surrounding landowners and residents, have multiple public meetings, and do soil and water testing, which could be a very long and probably more expensive process than anywhere else in Colorado. State officials told Boulder County it is overstepping their local authority, a position that Commissioner Elise Jones said they would defend.

“Our focus is on adopting regulations that we think are the strongest possible, for our citizens and the environment, and our understanding of the law as we see it,” she said. “If the state disagrees well, so be it, we’ll deal with that. If the state wants to pre-empt local governments, on oil and gas then they need to do their job and protect us from the impacts of oil and gas, and they are not doing that. And until they do that, local jurisdictions like Boulder County will continue to push to do that work themselves.”

What can the state regulate and what can local governments like Boulder County regulate?

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulates location and construction of drill sites and associated equipment, for example what machinery is used. Local governments like Boulder County have substantial regulatory authority through their land use code, such as building permits for structures, traffic impact fees, and inspecting for compliance with local codes and standards related to water quality and wildlife impacts. Boulder County’s new regulations are the most stringent in terms of land use.

You could get paid to live by oil and gas drilling

One of Boulder County’s regulations could require a company to pay residents “disruption payments.” Not every company would have to do this; it’s an option for the county to require. Within a mile radius of the drill site, companies would need to pay residents enough money to move and pay rent somewhere else during some operations. The closer you are to the drill site, the more money you would get. The amount would be calculated based on federal data for the area. Every month residents would get a check. It would be up to them if they would want to move temporarily or just keep the money.

Commissioner Jones said they thought disruption payments were necessary to include.

“Industry has never been required to say ‘Yes, I’m impacting those people’s lives and I’m going to pay to help move them to a place so their quality of life isn’t diminished by my noise and my dust and my vibrations and my emissions,’ Jones said. “We think that it’s an important first step in industry taking ownership of the significant impacts that drilling has, particularly when you’re drilling near homes and schools and the like.”