Renewable energy tops 18 percent of U.S. electricity grid, rivaling nuclear

Chron.com (James Osborne):

Solar farms, wind turbines and hydroelectric dams are getting close to surpassing nuclear power plants contribution to the U.S. electrical grid, according to a new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Last year 18 percent of electrical generation came from renewable energy sources – more than double what they did a decade ago – the report said. Nuclear power plants represent 19.7 percent of the generation on the grid, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, surpassed only by coal and natural gas plants.

“The massive and historic transformation of the U.S. energy sector clicked into a higher gear in 2017, despite some new headwinds including policy uncertainties,” the report entitled “Sustainable Energy in America: 2018 Factbook” read. “Renewable deployment grew at a near- record pace.”

The growth comes even as the Trump administration has curtailed or eliminated restrictions on greenhouse gas restrictions while also trying to expand fossil-fuel production in the United States.

But so far it has done little to turn investors away from renewable energy, which is widely seen as an area of growth in the decades to come as countries try to limit the damage of climate change.

Investment in wind, solar and other renewable technologies totaled $333 billion in 2017, the second highest level on record, according to the Bloomberg report.

The impact on the atmosphere can already be seen. The expansion of renewables, as well as the shift away from coal to natural gas, has sent the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since 1991, according to Bloomberg.

The 26,000 tons of radioactive waste under #LakePowell — @HighCountryNews #ColoradoRiver #COriver

San Juan Smelter Durango back in the day

Here’s a report from Jonathan Thompson writing in The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Beneath the murky green waters on the north end of Lake Powell, entombed within the tons of silt that have been carried down the Colorado River over the years, lies a 26,000-ton pile of unremediated uranium-mill tailings. It’s just one radium-tainted reminder of the way the uranium industry, enabled by the federal government, ravaged the West and its people for decades.

In 1949, the Vanadium Corporation of America built a small mill at the confluence of White Canyon and the Colorado River to process uranium ore from the nearby Happy Jack Mine, located upstream in the White Canyon drainage (and just within the Obama-drawn Bears Ears National Monument boundaries). For the next four years, the mill went through about 20 tons of ore per day, crushing and grinding it up, then treating it with sulfuric acid, tributyl phosphate and other nastiness. One ton of ore yielded about five or six pounds of uranium, meaning that each day some 39,900 pounds of tailings were piled up outside the mill on the banks of the river.

In 1953 the mill was closed, and the tailings were left where they sat, uncovered, as was the practice of the day. Ten years later, water began backing up behind the newly built Glen Canyon Dam; federal officials decided to let the reservoir’s waters inundate the tailings. There they remain today.

If you’re one of the millions of people downstream from Lake Powell who rely on Colorado River water and this worries you, consider this: Those 26,000 tons of tailings likely make up just a fraction of the radioactive material contained in the silt of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

During the uranium days of the West, more than a dozen mills — all with processing capacities at least ten times larger than the one at White Canyon — sat on the banks of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Mill locations included Shiprock, New Mexico, and Mexican Hat, Utah, on the San Juan River; Rifle and Grand Junction, Colorado, and Moab on the Colorado; and in Uravan, Colorado, along the San Miguel River, just above its confluence with the Dolores. They did not exactly dispose of their tailings in a responsible way.

At the Durango mill the tailings were piled into a hill-sized mound just a stone’s throw from the Animas River. They weren’t covered or otherwise contained, so when it rained tailings simply washed into the river. Worse, the mill’s liquid waste stream poured directly into the river at a rate of some 340 gallons per minute, or half-a-million gallons per day. It was laced not only with highly toxic chemicals used to leach uranium from the ore and iron-aluminum sludge (a milling byproduct), but also radium-tainted ore solids.

Radium is a highly radioactive “bone-seeker.” That means that when it’s ingested it makes its way to the skeleton, where it decays into other radioactive daughter elements, including radon, and bombards the surrounding tissue with alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. According to the Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry, exposure leads to “anemia, cataracts, fractured teeth, cancer (especially bone cancer), and death.”

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Superfund site cleanup update

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

From The Canoñ City Daily Record (Sara Knuth):

The Denver-based Colorado Legacy Land, which has been in negotiations with Cotter since July, received a conditional approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Nov. 8 to take over the defunct uranium mill’s radioactive materials license.

But the company still has a few more obstacles to cross before the deal is final.

During a Community Advisory Group meeting Thursday, Paul Newman of Colorado Legacy Land said the company is waiting for approvals from the state.

Colorado Legacy Land, which is part of environmental cleanup companies Legacy Land Stewardship and Alexco, also is seeking to take over Cotter’s

Schwartzwalder Mine via Division of Reclamation and MIning
Mine near Golden. The project, included in the same transaction as the Cañon City site, still needs a mine permit transfer from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

“The DRMS is taking a bit more time in their evaluation and approval of that transfer,” Newman said. “Hopefully, we can get that resolved and that one transferred here shortly.”

The company also met with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and Environmental Protection Agency attorneys to get assigned an administrative order on consent. That process also is still pending.

But if all goes according to plan, Newman said, Colorado Legacy Land hopes to close the deal by the middle of December. From there, the company would “come in where Cotter left off,” Newman said. “So, we have the whole clean-up process in front of us.”

The first major step toward cleanup, he said, would be working through a remedial investigation, a deep look into how far the contamination goes.

Cotter, which opened the Cañon City site in 1958 to process uranium for weapons and fuel, was found in the 1980s to have contaminated nearby wells. It was placed on the U.S. list of Superfund sites, putting Cotter in charge of cleanup efforts. In 2011, Cotter decided to put a halt to uranium production altogether.

Newman, the executive vice president of Legacy Land Stewardship, said Cotter approached Alexco — a company that has been working on the Schwartzwalder Mine for four years — to step in. Colorado Legacy Land was formed by Alexco and Legacy Land Stewardship specifically to take over the cleanup process.

If the state approves the final requirements, the company will own the land. Additionally, Newman said, Colorado Legacy Land is planning to open offices in Cañon City.

As part of requirements outlined in the CDPHE’s conditional license approval, Colorado Legacy Land will need to inform the department of the closing date in writing.

“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.”

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 Wikipedia.com.

“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.”

Groundwater testing perimeter around Rulison site reduced

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The area subject to testing has been reduced from 25 square miles, encompassing a circular area extending three miles in all directions from what’s known as the Project Rulison blast site, to an oval area of just under 6.3 square miles, and ranging from 1.5 to two miles away from the site.

The revised plan also gets rid of a limit on the number of drilling rigs concurrently operating in the monitoring zone “because this has not been an administrative problem in recent years,” it says.

Project Rulison involved the explosion of a nuclear bomb more than 8,000 feet underground in the mountains south of Rulison in a federal/private experiment to try to boost natural gas production in the Williams Fork sandstone formation. The project succeeded in producing gas, but it was radioactive and was flared off as part of the experiment.

More recently, energy companies have extensively produced gas in the Williams Fork formation through the use of hydraulic fracturing to crack open the sandstone and foster gas flow.

The federal government restricts drilling deeper than 6,000 feet in a 40-acre area at the blast site. Currently there are no wells within a half-mile of Project Rulison, and any applications to drill that close would be subject to a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearing process.

The state also subjects companies to two levels of sampling and testing requirements for radioactivity when it comes to things such drilling cuttings, produced gas and produced water. One level has applied to wells within a mile of the blast site, and it continues to apply under the new plan.

The second level had applied to an arbitrary circular testing area having a three-mile radius, but the revised plan says it now applies to a smaller ellipse aligned with the pattern for fractures in the Williams Fork formation in the area of the blast site.

The plan also eliminates an environmental monitoring program for ground and surface water, stating that “there is no credible mechanism to transport Rulison-related activity to the surface except through natural gas production,” which the sampling plan already covers.

The plan says numerous monitoring studies conducted by federal agencies and oil and gas companies show that “no known release of radionuclides has occurred from Project Rulison,” except during natural gas flaring and production tests immediately following the blast.

The monitoring program is intended to protect workers, the public and the environment during oil and gas operations, the plan says.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

From KOAA.com:

The uranium mill was declared a Superfund environmental disaster more than 20 years ago after contamination was discovered in both well water and soil in Cañon City.

We weren’t allowed to film or take pictures on the tour but we did get to ask some questions.

The site manager says they’re trying to determine the usability of the mill in the future and are waiting on a quality assurance plan. Next, they’ll have to draft what’s called a remedial investigation report.

Before they’re able to recommend a clean-up plan which would be in 2020 at the earliest.