The “energy gap” nobody wants to tussle with — Writers on the Range

Click the link to read the article on the Writers on the Range website (David Marston):

Many Western states have declared they will achieve all-renewable electrical goals in just two decades. Call me naïve, but haven’t energy experts predicted that wind, sun and other alternative energy sources aren’t up to the job?

Alice Jackson, former CEO of Xcel energy’s Colorado operation, was blunt at a renewable energy conference in February 2020: “We can reliably run our grid with up to 70% renewables. Add batteries to the mix and that number goes up to just 72%.”

Grid experts now say that Jackson’s number is 80%, but still, how will that utility and others produce that missing power?

A schematic of TerraPower’s proposed Natrium nuclear power plant. Credit: TerraPower

Bill Gates and a raft of other entrepreneurs see the answer in small, modular nuclear reactors, pointing to the small nuclear engines that have safely run America’s nuclear submarines for decades.

Here’s what we know about these efficient reactors: They’re built in factories, and once in operation they’re cheap to keep going. Each module is typically 50 megawatts, self-contained, and installed underground after being transported to its site. The modular design means that when more power is needed, another reactor can be slotted in.

Breakthrough features include safety valves that automatically send coolant to the reactor if heat spikes. This feature alone could have eliminated disasters like Fukushima or Chernobyl, where water pumps failed and cores started melting down.

If small nuclear modules don’t fill the renewables gap, where else to find the “firm power” that Jackson says is needed? The Sierra Club calls on pumped hydro and geothermal as sources of reliable electricity you can just flip on when renewables slow down. But the best geothermal spots have been taken, and pumped hydro has geographic limits, and environmental resistance.

Another proposal is linking grids across the country for more efficiency. The idea is that excess wind blowing in Texas could be tapped after the sun goes down on California’s solar farms. This holds incremental promise but progress has been routinely blocked by conservative lawmakers.

There’s also the cost argument — that renewables are cheaper. In a fossil-fuel-dominated grid that’s true. However, MIT points out that as renewables dominate the grid, on-demand forms of power rise in value.

The extreme danger to the grid is the dreaded “dunkelflaute,” a German word for cloudy, windless weather that slashes solar and wind power generation for weeks.

So the problem remains: To avoid rolling blackouts, we need reliable power at the right times, which are usually from 5-8 p.m. That’s when people come home and fire up their gadgets and appliances.

The increasing demand for electricity only adds to the problem: A 2020 Washington Post articlepredicted that electrification of the economy by 2050 would result in a usage bump of 38%, mostly from vehicles. Consider Ford’s all-electric F150 Lightning, cousin to the bestselling gasoline F150. The $39,000 entry-level truck was designed to replace gasoline generators at job sites, meaning vehicle recharge happens when workers go home, just as renewables flag.

This calls into question what many experts hope car batteries can provide — doing double duty by furnishing peak power for homes at night.

Longer-lasting storage batteries have long been touted as a savior, though Tara Righetti, co-director of the Nuclear Energy Research Center at the University of Wyoming, has reservations. “There are high hopes that better batteries will be developed. But in terms of what is technically accessible right now? I think nuclear provides an appealing option.”

Kemmerer, Wyoming. By Daniel Mayer – Daniel Mayer, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6038359

Meanwhile, small nuclear reactors are underway, with Bill Gates’ TerraPower building a sodium-cooled fast reactor in the coal town of Kemmerer, Wyoming. One 345-megawatt reactor, which generates enough electricity for 400,000 homes, will be paired with a molten-salt, heat storage facility.

Think of it as a constantly recharging battery in the form of stored heat. In the evening as renewable power flags, it would pump out 500 megawatts of power for up to 5 hours.

These reactors also tackle the little-known problem of cold-starting the electrical grid after an outage. In 2003, suffering a blackout, the Eastern grid could not have restarted with renewables alone.

However we choose to close the energy gap, there’s no time to lose. Wild temperature swings have grid operators increasingly nervous. California has come close to rolling blackouts, and temperatures in the West now break record after record.

As our climate becomes more erratic, reliable electricity is becoming a matter of life and death. 

Dave Marston is the publisher of Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He lives in Colorado.

The Cold War Legacy Lurking in U.S. #Groundwater — ProPublica

Uranium and vanadium radioactive warning sign. Photo credit: Jonathan P Thompson

Click the link to read the article on the PropPublica website Mark Olalde, Mollie Simon and Alex Mierjeski, video by Gerardo del Valle, Liz Moughon and Mauricio Rodríguez Pons

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

In America’s rush to build the nuclear arsenal that won the Cold War, safety was sacrificed for speed.

Uranium mills that helped fuel the weapons also dumped radioactive and toxic waste into rivers like the Cheyenne in South Dakota and the Animas in Colorado. Thousands of sheep turned blue and died after foraging on land tainted by processing sites in North Dakota. And cancer wards across the West swelled with sick uranium workers.

The U.S. government bankrolled the industry, and mining companies rushed to profit, building more than 50 mills and processing sites to refine uranium ore.

But the government didn’t have a plan for the toxic byproducts of this nuclear assembly line. Some of the more than 250 million tons of toxic and radioactive detritus, known as tailings, scattered into nearby communities, some spilled into streams and some leaked into aquifers.

Congress finally created the agency that now oversees uranium mill waste cleanup in 1974 and enacted the law governing that process in 1978, but the industry would soon collapse due to falling uranium prices and rising safety concerns. Most mills closed by the mid-1980s.

When cleanup began, federal regulators first focused on the most immediate public health threat, radiation exposure. Agencies or companies completely covered waste at most mills to halt leaks of the carcinogenic gas radon and moved some waste by truck and train to impoundments specially designed to encapsulate it.

But the government has fallen down in addressing another lingering threat from the industry’s byproducts: widespread water pollution.

Creating a balance of water that’s taken from aquifers and water that replenishes aquifers is an important aspect of making sure water will be available when it’s needed. Image from “Getting down to facts: A Visual Guide to Water in the Pinal Active Management Area,” courtesy of Ashley Hullinger and the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center

Regulators haven’t made a full accounting of whether they properly addressed groundwater contamination. So, for the first time, ProPublica cataloged cleanup efforts at the country’s 48 uranium mills, seven related processing sites and numerous tailings piles.

At least 84% of the sites have polluted groundwater. And nearly 75% still have either no liner or only a partial liner between mill waste and the ground, leaving them susceptible to leaking pollution into groundwater. In the arid West, where most of the sites are located, climate change is drying up surface water, making underground reserves increasingly important.

ProPublica’s review of thousands of pages of government and corporate documents, accompanied by interviews with 100 people, also found that cleanup has been hampered by infighting among regulatory agencies and the frequency with which regulators grant exemptions to their own water quality standards.

The result: a long history of water pollution and sickness.

Reports by government agencies found high concentrations of cancer near a mill in Utah and elevated cancer risks from mill waste in New Mexico that can persist until cleanup is complete. Residents near those sites and others have seen so many cases of cancer and thyroid disease that they believe the mills and waste piles are to blame, although epidemiological studies to prove such a link have rarely been done.

“The government didn’t pay attention up front and make sure it was done right. They just said, ‘Go get uranium,’” said Bill Dixon, who spent decades cleaning up uranium and nuclear sites with the state of Oregon and in the private sector.

Tom Hanrahan grew up near uranium mills in Colorado and New Mexico and watched three of his three brothers contract cancer. He believes his siblings were “casualties” of the war effort.

“Somebody knew that this was a ticking atomic bomb,” Hanrahan said. “But, in military terms, this was the cost of fighting a war.”

A Flawed System

When a uranium mill shuts down, here is what’s supposed to happen: The company demolishes the buildings, decontaminates the surrounding soil and water, and encases the waste to stop it from leaking cancer-causing pollution. The company then asks the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the lead agency monitoring America’s radioactive infrastructure, to approve the handoff of the property and its associated liability to the Department of Energy’s Office of Legacy Management for monitoring and maintenance.

ProPublica’s analysis found that half of the country’s former mills haven’t made it through this process and even many that did have never fully addressed pollution concerns. This is despite the federal government spending billions of dollars on cleanup, in addition to the several hundred million dollars that have been spent by companies.

Often, companies or agencies tasked with cleanup are unable to meet water quality standards, so they request exemptions to bypass them. The NRC or state agencies almost always approve these requests, allowing contaminants like uranium and selenium to be left in the groundwater. When ingested in high quantities, those elements can cause cancer and damage the nervous system, respectively.

The DOE estimates that some sites have individually polluted more than a billion gallons of water.

Bill Dam, who spent decades regulating and researching uranium mill cleanup with the NRC, at the DOE and in the private sector, said water pollution won’t be controlled until all the waste and contaminated material is moved. “The federal government’s taken a Band-Aid approach to groundwater contamination,” he said.

White Mesa Mill. Photo credit: Energy Fuels

The pollution has disproportionately harmed Indian Country.

Six of the mills were built on reservations, and another eight mills are within 5 miles of one, some polluting aquifers used by tribes. And the country’s last conventional uranium mill still in operation — the White Mesa Mill in Utah — sits adjacent to a Ute Mountain Ute community.

So many uranium mines, mills and waste piles pockmark the Navajo Nation that the Environmental Protection Agency created a comic book superhero, Gamma Goat, to warn Diné children away from the sites.

NRC staff acknowledged that the process of cleaning up America’s uranium mills can be slow but said that the agency prioritizes thoroughness over speed, that each site’s groundwater conditions are complex and unique, and that cleanup exemptions are granted only after gathering input from regulators and the public.

“The NRC’s actions provide reasonable assurance of adequate protection of public health and safety and the environment,” David McIntyre, an NRC spokesperson, said in a statement to ProPublica.

“Cleanup Standards Might Suddenly Change”

For all the government’s success in demolishing mills and isolating waste aboveground, regulators failed to protect groundwater.

Between 1958 and 1962, a mill near Gunnison, Colorado, churned through 540,000 tons of ore. The process, one step in concentrating the ore into weapons-grade uranium, leaked uranium and manganese into groundwater, and in 1990, regulators found that residents had been drawing that contaminated water from 22 wells.

The DOE moved the waste and connected residents to clean water. But pollution lingered in the aquifer beneath the growing town where some residents still get their water from private wells. The DOE finally devised a plan in 2000, which the NRC later approved, settling on a strategy called “natural flushing,” essentially waiting for groundwater to dilute the contamination until it reached safe levels.

In 2015, the agency acknowledged that the plan had failed. Sediments absorb and release uranium, so waiting for contamination to be diluted doesn’t solve the problem, said Dam, the former NRC and DOE regulator.

In Wyoming, state regulators wrote to the NRC in 2006 to lambast the agency’s “inadequate” analysis of natural flushing compared to other cleanup options. “Unfortunately, the citizens of Wyoming may likely have to deal with both the consequences and the indirect costs of the NRC’s decisions for generations to come,” the state’s letter said.

ProPublica identified mills in six states — including eight former mill sites in Colorado — where regulators greenlit the strategy as part of a cleanup plan.

When neither water treatment nor nature solves the problem, federal and state regulators can simply relax their water quality standards, allowing harmful levels of pollutants to be left in aquifers.

County officials made a small area near the Gunnison mill off-limits to new wells, and the DOE suggested changing water quality standards to allow uranium concentrations as much as 475 times what naturally occurred in the area. It wouldn’t endanger human health, the agency said, because people wouldn’t come into contact with the water.

ProPublica found that regulators granted groundwater cleanup exemptions at 18 of the 28 sites where cleanup has been deemed complete and liability has been handed over to the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management. Across all former uranium mills, the NRC or state agencies granted at least 34 requests for water quality exemptions while denying as few as three.

“They’re cutting standards, so we’re getting weak cleanup that future generations may not find acceptable,” said Paul Robinson, who spent four decades researching the cleanup of the uranium industry with the Southwest Research and Information Center, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit. “These great mining companies of the world, they got away cheap.”

NRC staffers examine studies that are submitted by companies’ consultants and other agencies to show how cleanup plans will adequately address water contamination. Some companies change their approach in response to feedback from regulators, and the public can view parts of the process in open meetings. Still, the data and groundwater modeling that underpin these requests for water cleanup exemptions are often wrong.

One reason: When mining companies built the mills, they rarely sampled groundwater to determine how much contamination occurred naturally, leaving it open to debate how clean groundwater should be when the companies leave, according to Roberta Hoy, a former uranium program specialist with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. She said federal regulators also haven’t done enough to understand certain contaminants at uranium mills.

In one recent case, the NRC fined a mining company $14,500 for incomplete and inaccurate groundwater modeling data. Companies use such data to prove that pollution won’t spread in the future. Freeport-McMoRan, the corporation that owns the fined mining company, did not respond to a request for comment.

At a 2013 conference co-hosted by the NRC and a mining trade group, a presentation from two consultants compared groundwater modeling to a sorcerer peering at a crystal ball.

ProPublica identified at least seven sites where regulators granted cleanup exemptions based on incorrect groundwater modeling. At these sites, uranium, lead, nitrates, radium and other substances were found at levels higher than models had predicted and regulators had allowed.

McIntyre, the NRC spokesperson, said that groundwater models “inherently include uncertainty,” and the government typically requires sites to be monitored. “The NRC requires conservatism in the review process and groundwater monitoring to verify a model’s accuracy,” he said.

Water quality standards impose specific limits on the allowable concentration of contaminants — for example, the number of micrograms of uranium per liter of water. But ProPublica found that the NRC granted exemptions in at least five states that were so vague they didn’t even include numbers and were instead labeled as “narrative.” The agency justified this by saying the groundwater was not near towns or was naturally unfit for human consumption.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

This system worries residents of Cañon City, Colorado. Emily Tracy, who serves on the City Council, has lived a few miles from the area’s now-demolished uranium mill since the late 1970s and remembers floods and winds carrying mill waste into neighborhoods from the 15.3-million-ton pile, which is now partially covered.

Uranium and other contaminants had for decades tainted private wells that some residents used for drinking water and agriculture, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The company that operated the mill, Cotter Corp., finally connected residents to clean water by the early 1990s and completed cleanup work such as decontaminating soil after the EPA got involved. But the site remains without a final cleanup plan — which the company that now owns the site is drafting — and the state has eased water quality standards for molybdenum, a metal that uranium mining and milling releases into the environment.

“We have great concerns about what it might look like or whether cleanup standards might suddenly change before our eyes,” Tracy said.

Jim Harrington, managing director of the site’s current owner, Colorado Legacy Land, said that a final cleanup strategy has not been selected and that any proposal would need to be approved by both the EPA and the state.

Layers of Regulation

It typically takes 35 years from the day a mill shuts down until the NRC approves or estimates it will approve cleanup as being complete, ProPublica found. Two former mills aren’t expected to finish this process until 2047.

Chad Smith, a DOE spokesperson, said mills that were previously transferred to the government have polluted groundwater more than expected, so regulators are more cautious now.

The involvement of so many regulators can also slow cleanup.

Five sites were so contaminated that the EPA stepped in via its Superfund program, which aims to clean up the most polluted places in the country.

Homestake Mill Milan, New Mexico Zeolite cell construction. Photo credit: EPA

At the Homestake mill in New Mexico, where cleanup is jointly overseen by the NRC and the EPA, Larry Camper, a now-retired NRC division director, acknowledged in a 2011 meeting “that having multiple regulators for the site is not good government” and had complicated the cleanup, according to meeting minutes.

Homestake Mining Company of California did not comment on Camper’s view of the process.

Only one site where the EPA is involved in cleanup has been successfully handed off to the DOE, and even there, uranium may still persist above regulatory limits in groundwater and surface water, according to the agency. An EPA spokesperson said the agency has requested additional safety studies at that site.

“A lot of people make money in the bureaucratic system just pontificating over these things,” said William Turner, a geologist who at different times has worked for mining companies, for the U.S. Geological Survey and as the New Mexico Natural Resources Trustee.

If the waste is on tribal land, it adds another layer of government.

The federal government and the Navajo Nation have long argued over the source of some groundwater contamination at the former Navajo Mill built by Kerr-McGee Corp. in Shiprock, New Mexico, with the tribe pointing to the mill as the key source. Smith of the DOE said the department is guided by water monitoring results “to minimize opportunities for disagreement.”

Tronox, which acquired parts of Kerr-McGee, did not respond to requests for comment.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

All the while, 2.5 million tons of waste sit adjacent to the San Juan River in the town of 8,000 people. Monitoring wells situated between the unlined waste pile and the river have shown nitrate levels as high as 80 times the limit set by regulators to protect human health, uranium levels 30 times the limit and selenium levels 20 times the limit.

“I can’t seem to get the federal agencies to acknowledge the positions of the Navajo Nation,” said Dariel Yazzie, who formerly managed the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Program.

At some sites, overlapping jurisdictions mean even less cleanup gets done.

Such was the case near Griffin, North Dakota, where six cows and 2,500 sheep died in 1973; their bodies emitted a blue glow in the morning light. The animals lay near kilns that once served as rudimentary uranium mills operated by Kerr-McGee. To isolate the element, piles of uranium-laden coal at the kilns were “covered with old tires, doused in diesel fuel, ignited, and left to smolder for a couple of months,” according to the North Dakota Geological Survey.

The flock is believed to have been poisoned by land contaminated with high levels of molybdenum. The danger extended beyond livestock. In a 1989 draft environmental assessment, the DOE found that “fatal cancer from exposure to residual radioactive materials” from the Griffin kilns and another site less than a mile from a town of 1,000 people called Belfield was eight times as high as it would have been if the sites had been decontaminated.

But after agreeing to work with the federal government, North Dakota did an about-face. State officials balked at a requirement to pay 10% of the cleanup cost — the federal government would cover the rest — and in 1995 asked that the sites no longer be regulated under the federal law. The DOE had already issued a report that said doing nothing “would not be consistent” with the law, but the department approved the state’s request and walked away, saying it could only clean a site if the state paid its share.

“North Dakota determined there was minimal risk to public health at that time and disturbing the grounds further would create a potential for increased public health risk,” said David Stradinger, manager of the Radiation Control Program in the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. Contaminated equipment was removed, and the state is reevaluating one of the sites, he said.

“A Problem for the Better Part of 50 Years”

While the process for cleaning up former mills is lengthy and laid out in regulations, regulators and corporations have made questionable and contradictory decisions in their handling of toxic waste and tainted water.

More than 40 million people rely on drinking water from the Colorado River, but the NRC and DOE allowed companies to leak contamination from mill waste directly into the river, arguing that the waterway quickly dilutes it.

Federal regulators relocated tailings at two former mills that processed uranium and vanadium, another heavy metal, on the banks of the Colorado River in Rifle, Colorado, because radiation levels there were deemed too high. Yet they left some waste at one former processing site in a shallow aquifer connected to the river and granted an exemption that allowed cleanup to end and uranium to continue leaking into the waterway.

For a former mill built by the Anaconda Copper Company in Bluewater, New Mexico, the NRC approved the company’s request to hand the site off to the DOE in 1997. About a decade later, the state raised concerns about uranium that had spread several miles in an aquifer that provides drinking water for more than 15,000 people.

The contamination hasn’t reached the wells used by nearby communities, and Smith, the DOE spokesperson, said the department has no plans to treat the uranium in the aquifer. It’s too late for much more cleanup, since the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management’s mission is to monitor and maintain decommissioned sites, not clean them. Flawed cleanup efforts caused problems at several former mills after they were handed off to the agency, according to a 2020 Government Accountability Office report.

“Uranium has been overplayed as a boom,” said Travis Stills, an environmental attorney in Colorado who has sued over the cleanup of old uranium infrastructure. “The boom was a firecracker, and it left a problem for the better part of 50 years now.”

“No Way in Hell We’re Going to Leave This Stuff Here”

Mining companies can’t remove every atom of uranium from groundwater, experts said, but they can do a better job of decommissioning uranium mills. With the federal government yet to take control of half the country’s former mills, regulators still have time to compel some companies to do more cleanup.

Between 1958 and 1961, the Lakeview Mining Company generated 736,000 tons of tailings at a uranium mill in southern Oregon. Like at most sites, uranium and other pollution leaked into an aquifer.

“There’s no way in hell we’re going to leave this stuff here,” Dixon, the nuclear cleanup specialist, remembered thinking. He represented the state of Oregon at the former mill, which was one of the first sites to relocate its waste to a specially engineered disposal cell.

A local advisory committee at the Lakeview site allowed residents and local politicians to offer input to federal regulators. By the end of the process, the government had paid to connect residents to a clean drinking water system and the waste was moved away from the town, where it was contained by a 2-foot-thick clay liner and covered with 3 feet of rocks, soil and vegetation. Local labor got priority for cleanup contracts, and a 170-acre solar farm now stands on the former mill site.

But relocation isn’t required. At some sites, companies and regulators saw a big price tag and either moved residents away or merely left the waste where it was.

“I recognize Lakeview is easy and it’s a drop in the bucket compared to New Mexico,” Dixon said, referring to the nation’s largest waste piles. “But it’s just so sad to see that this hasn’t been taken care of.”

Methodology

To investigate the cleanup of America’s uranium mills, ProPublica assembled a list of uranium processing and disposal sites from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s most recent “Status of the Decommissioning Program” annual reportthe WISE Uranium Project and several federal agencies’ websites. Reporters reviewed fact sheets from the NRC and the Department of Energy before studying the history of each mill contained in thousands of pages of documents that are archived mainly in the NRC’s Agencywide Documents Access and Management System, known as ADAMS.

We solicited feedback on our findings from 10 experts who worked or work at the NRC, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the Southwest Research and Information Center, the University of New Mexico and elsewhere. Additionally, we interviewed dozens of current and former regulators, residents of communities adjacent to mills, representatives of tribes, academics, politicians and activists to better understand the positive and negative impacts of the uranium industry and the bureaucracy that oversees uranium mill cleanup.

We also traveled to observe mill sites in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

#Nuclear industry eyes expansion despite tenuous start: TerraPower and PacifiCorp will consider adding five more Natrium nuclear power plants, targeting #Wyoming and #Utah — @WyoFile

The Kemmerer coal mine (left) and Naughton coal-fired power plant, pictured Jan. 19, 2022. The power plant will be retired in 2028 when TerraPower commences operations for its proposed Natrium nuclear reactor power plant at the same location. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Dustin Bleizeffer):

Having already agreed to take on one nuclear power plant in Wyoming, western utility giant PacifiCorp will now consider adding five more to its electric generation fleet by 2035, by co-locating “small modular reactors” where it plans to retire coal-fired power plants in Wyoming and Utah.

PacifiCorp, which serves customers in six western states and operates as Rocky Mountain Power in Wyoming, will join nuclear energy developer TerraPower to study “the potential for advanced reactors to be located near current fossil-fueled generation sites, enabling the companies to repurpose existing generation and transmission assets for the benefit of [PacifiCorp’s] customers,” the companies announced in a joint statement Oct. 27. 

Before choosing locations, “both companies will engage with local communities.”

“This is just a first step, as advanced nuclear power needs to be evaluated through our resource planning processes as well as receive regulatory approval,” Rocky Mountain Power President and CEO Gary Hoogeveen said in a prepared statement. “But it’s an exciting opportunity that advances us down the path to a net-zero energy future.”

A schematic of TerraPower’s proposed Natrium nuclear power plant. Credit: TerraPower

PacifiCorp entered into a tentative agreement in 2021 to take ownership of TerraPower’s first-of-its-kind Natrium nuclear power facility slated for construction at the Naughton coal-fired plant site outside Kemmerer. The plant is scheduled to begin operations in 2028. PacifiCorp would take ownership sometime thereafter.

Coal-to-nuclear shift

Nuclear power is emerging as a potential strategy to help PacifiCorp meet low-carbon emission standards — particularly in California, Oregon and Washington — while also meeting continuous power reliability and making use of its existing coal-fired power facilities. 

The utility plans to convert fuel sources or retire at least six coal-burning units in Wyoming by 2035, taking offline about 2,691 megawatts of continuous “baseload” power capacity, or more than 36% of the state’s coal-fired power generating capacity, according to PacifiCorp data and WyoFile calculations. It plans to shut down its entire coal-fired power fleet in the state by 2039, according to its 2021 Integrated Resource Plan.

A turbine whirls on a farm east of Burlington, Colo. Colorado’s eastern plains already have many wind farms—but it may look like a pin cushion during the next several years. Photo/Allen Best

Aside from potentially replacing coal plants with nuclear reactors, PacifiCorp plans to add more than 3,700 megawatts of new wind power by 2040 throughout its six-state region, including in Wyoming, while adding commercial-scale solar power and battery storage.

Wyoming lawmakers have passed a suite of bills aimed at delaying coal-plant closures in the state by forcing regulated utilities like PacifiCorp to retrofit coal units with carbon capture utilization and sequestration technologies. But so far, the cost-benefit of CCUS retrofits haven’t penciled out for PacifiCorp or Black Hills Energy, according to the companies. 

Legislators and the state’s top energy officials, however, are also enthusiastic about adding nuclear to the state’s power mix. Not only would it provide replacement jobs for coal-plant workers, but some hope it would also help revive Wyoming’s languishing uranium mining sector.

“Wyoming has been working hard to develop a nuclear industry — from the supply chain via our uranium reserves all the way through the value chain to produce zero-emissions electricity that can then be used as feedstock for other net-negative emission products,” Wyoming Energy Authority Executive Director Glen Murrell wrote WyoFile. “The news that [TerraPower and PacifiCorp are] taking on an additional feasibility study to potentially deploy more reactors in the area will strengthen the industry and create jobs and growth for Wyoming’s benefit.”

TerraPower’s Natrium Project Director Tara Neider visits with Wyoming Rep. Scott Heiner (R-Green River) during a Jan. 19, 2022 meeting with officials from TerraPower and PacifiCorp. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

It makes sense to begin analysis and planning for multiple nuclear power reactors now because TerraPower needs to deploy the technology “at scale” if it’s going to prove the Natrium technology commercially viable, University of Wyoming energy economist Rob Godby said.

“You have to look that far down the road when you’re talking about this sort of technological change if you’re [selling nuclear plants to a utility],” Godby said. “So it makes sense for both TerraPower and PacificCorp.”

Targeting Wyoming

TerraPower, backed by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, selected PacifiCorp’s Naughton power plant at Kemmerer for its demonstration Natrium nuclear power plant in November 2021. Engineering and geologic sampling work is ongoing at the Kemmerer location. Construction is slated to begin in 2024 and bring 2,000 workers to the tiny community.

The company is looking to the U.S. Department of Energy to cover about half of the estimated $4 billion cost of the Kemmerer plant, contingent on a 2028 in-service date.

That schedule, however, was thrown into question after Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year. TerraPower cut ties with the Russian state-owned Tenex — the only facility in the world with the capacity to supply commercial volumes of high-assay, low-enriched uranium fuel. The company is working with DOE and Congress to speed up the development of a domestic HALEU supply chain, including the potential to “downblend” weapons-grade uranium to meet initial fuel needs at Kemmerer by end of 2025, according to TerraPower.

Yet some doubt the viability of adding new nuclear power to the grid under such a time constraint. The Oregon Public Utility Commission in March declined to formally acknowledge PacifiCorp’s plans for Natrium to be a part of its future electrical generation portfolio.

TerraPower is confident of a speedy federal permitting process and that a domestic HALEU supply will come into play, however, and is moving forward with the project as scheduled, a company official told WyoFile.

Kemmerer and PacifiCorp’s Naughton power plant make an ideal location for TerraPower’s demonstration Natrium plant due to “local community support, the physical characteristics of the site, the ability to obtain a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the site, access to existing infrastructure, and the needs of the grid,” the company said.

Those same factors make other locations in Wyoming a prime target for Natrium facilities, according to the company.

In its initial analysis to choose a location for its demonstration plant now slated for Kemmerer, TerraPower had also considered the Jim Bridger plant near Rock Springs, the Dave Johnston plant in Glenrock and the Wyodak plant near Gillette — all owned by PacifiCorp.

“We have been impressed and humbled by our work with the Kemmerer community and PacifiCorp,” TerraPower President and CEO Chris Levesque said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to evaluating new potential sites for Natrium plants that have the same energy expertise and capabilities as our demonstration site.”

.

The mining land rush is on: Lithium and uranium claims are staded en masse in southeastern Utah — @Land_Desk

Sign in the Lisbon Valley of southeastern Utah. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan P. Thompson):

In the spring of 1951, a 31-year-old Texan geologist by the name of Charlie Steen staked 11 mining claims in the Lisbon Valley in southeastern Utah. He was guided to the spot not by a Geiger counter’s reading—he couldn’t afford one of those—but by intuition and his geological knowledge. He was convinced that the Valley, which follows a salt anticline between Moab and Monticello, contained rich uranium ore some 200 feet below the surface.

Steen finally was able to rustle up the funds to explore the claims in July of the following year. And as he drilled into the earth on his Mi Vida claim, he hit a dark gray rock: It turned out to be pitchblende, or high grade uranium ore.

Steen would ultimately become a millionaire, his find would lure prospectors from all over the nation to the Colorado Plateau, and Moab would be transformed from a sleepy Mormon town with a touch of tourism to a boisterous uranium boom town where, according to one account, millionaires were sleeping in Cadillacs and offering hundreds of dollars for lodging in the county jail.

Credit: The Land Desk

As demand for the minerals used in electric vehicles and other clean energy application soars and federal efforts to bolster domestic supply chains intensify, prospectors are again converging on the Western U.S. in search of the next big find. Some are sampling subterranean brines for lithium, others are reviving old copper mines, and still others—banking on geopolitical tensions driving up the price of uranium—are going after their own Mi Vida-like strike.

Passage from a story in the Moab Times-Independent, July 1956, referring to the way the Steen-inspired prospecting frenzy died off within a few years because making millions off uranium mining proved more difficult than it appeared from afar.

To get a sense of if and how this rush might be playing out in the Four Corners region, the Land Desk delved into a year’s worth of new mining claims staked in southeastern Utah and western Colorado. I limited the geographical scope so as not to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of claims, which turned out to be a wise choice: More than 1,200 mining claims were filed with the Bureau of Land Management in Utah’s San Juan and Grand Counties alone over the past 12 months.

My research led me to two conclusions. One is that in a sort of rerun of the 1950s, the Lisbon Valley of southeastern Utah will be a focal point for this 21st century land rush. The other is that Bears Ears National Monument were restored just in the nick of time, as many of the new claims push right up against its boundaries.

While a few individual mining claims were staked, most of the filings were in bulk, where a single claimant located as many as 500 claims at one time. I focused on those for this report. Let’s get into the biggest ones filed between Oct. 13, 2021 and Oct. 13, 2022:

URANIUM

Recoupment Exploration Co. LLC—a wholly owned subsidiary of Atomic Minerals Corporation—filed 324 claims totaling 6,500 acres on Harts Point, which borders Indian Creek outside the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The tribal nations that originally proposed the establishment of Bears Ears National Monument wanted Harts Point to be included. But the Obama administration ultimately left it out, most likely as a concession to uranium and oil and gas interests. Now it forms a sort of peninsula of un-protected land reaching into the national monument where mining claims and oil and gas leasing can continue. In an Atomic Minerals press release, CEO Clive Massey remarked: “The Harts Point area is an excellent exploration target. We staked the ground based on historical drill data indicating Chinle Formation sandstones with significant gamma ray kicks in three holes … ”

White Canyon Uranium LLC filed 33 lode claims of 20.66 acres each on Wingate Mesa in San Juan County, Utah, just southwest of Fry Canyon. These claims lie just outside Bears Ears National Monument. This is another area that was proposed for national monument protection but did not receive it.

While White Canyon Uranium lists a Salt Lake City law firm’s address on its claim filings, it appears to be a branch of Consolidated Uranium (which in August 2021 registered CUR White Canyon Uranium, LLC with the state of Utah). Canada-based Consolidated Uranium, according to its website, recently “completed a transformational strategic acquisition and alliance with Energy Fuels Inc. … and acquired a portfolio of permitted, past-producing conventional uranium and vanadium mines in Utah and Colorado.”

That acquisition included the Daneros Mine, which is in the same area as the new claims. Energy Fuels runs the White Mesa Mill and lobbied both the Obama and Trump administrations to move or shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.

Consolidated Uranium Sage Plain LLC filed 84 lode claims at 20.66 acres each in San Juan County. These are mostly on a mesa between Monticello and the Lisbon Valley and seem to be aimed at adding acreage to an existing Sage Plain and Rim Mine projects. Consolidated Uranium, which is allied with Energy Fuels, also owns the Tony M Mine at the foot of the Henry Mountains and the Daneros Mine in the White Canyon area. 

Clean Nuclear Energy Corp stakes 300 lode claims, each 20.66 acres, in San Juan County, for a total of 6,219 acres. The claims are on Wray Mesa, which is on the southern toe of the La Sal Mountains near the community of La Sal. A few months after the claims were filed, Basin Uranium entered into a letter of intent to acquire 100% interest in the Wray Mesa project. In its news release, Basin noted: “The Property is contiguous to and adjoins Energy Fuel’s fully-permitted and production-ready La Sal projects which includes a number of past-producing uranium and vanadium mines.” Energy Fuels owns the White Mesa Mill. The Vancouver-based company announced in September they received permits to begin exploratory drilling at the project.

Kimmerle Mining LLC out of Moab, which gained notoriety for staking uranium mining claims within Bears Ears National Monument after Trump shrunk the boundaries, filed 47 claims in San Juan and Grand Counties. The claims are scattered about, and some seem to be following or anticipating some of the big bulk claims noted here. At least one is on the northeast slope of the La Sal Mountains, others are west of the town of La Sal, and still others are in the Lisbon Valley. Kimmerle has claims all over the area and has leased some out and worked others in the past.

LITHIUM

Boxscore Brands of Las Vegas, Nevada, file 102 placer claims, at 20 acres each (2,040 acres total) in the Lisbon Valley in San Juan County, Utah. Boxscore Brands is “An American Lithium and New Energy Company” that is looking to extract lithium—used in EV and grid-scale batteries—from ancient subterranean brine deposits. They say their method is “environmentally friendly.” They are probably referring to a form of direct lithium extraction, which pulls geothermal brine from deep underground, filters out the lithium, then re-injects the water. The method requires no strip-mining or evaporation ponds.

The claims were staked for its Lisbon Valley Project, which is in the pre-exploration stages. The company’s website notes: “This asset provides access to the targeted brine deposits. Historical data show a substantial commercially viable concentration of lithium brine.” Read the technical report for the project.

The oil and gas industry is also active in the Lisbon Valley and a copper mine is being revived there, too.

Blackstone Resources Corp. of Midvale, Utah, filed 294 lode claims, at 20.66 acres each, between Moab and Green River south of Dead Horse Point in Grand County. We weren’t able to find much reliable information on Blackstone, in part because it’s a very common name for companies. But it shares a Las Vegas address with A1 Lithium, which is the same as Anson Resources, which recently embarked on a lithium exploration project in the same area. These claims appear to add to existing claims owned by A1/Anson that are part of its Paradox Basin Lithium Project. Anson’s plan can be found here. The odd thing is that these lithium projects typically file placer claims, not lode claims.

OTHER/UNKNOWN

American Potash LLC (based in Vancouver BC) filed128 placer claims in Grand County, Utah, between Moab and Green River. These claims are an extension of the company’s Green River Project.

Potash evaporation ponds in the red rock outside Moab, Utah. Source: Google Earth.

Geobrines International filed 18 claims in Grand County, Utah, near the town of Thompson Springs (which is right off of I-70). Geobrines is a Colorado-based company that says it specializes in providing geothermally sourced brines for use for minerals extraction and geothermal energy applications. Plus, they do something with carbon capture and sequestration. I’m guessing they’re looking to do some lithium extraction on these claims.

TAKEAWAYS

By my estimates, this adds up to more than 20,000 acres of public land that has been “claimed” by corporations for potential mining. But it’s not a reason to panic. At least not yet. It’s so easy and cheap ($165 maintenance fee) to stake a mining claim, thanks to the 1872 Mining Law that still applies, that companies or individuals can literally do so just for the heck of it. And they can’t do much without getting permits first.

That said, this apparent land rush on lithium- and uranium-bearing lands is an indicator in where the industry may be headed (more mining) and which regions it may be targeting (the West). It’s a wake-up call, in other words.

But it’s also incomplete. I found very few new claims in western Colorado, even in the Uravan Mineral Belt. That’s not due to a lack of interest. To the contrary, much of the prime mining land there has already been claimed and even patented, so it can’t be claimed again (only bought or sold, which is something that wouldn’t appear in BLM records). Also, uranium-bearing lands have been withdrawn from the public domain and put under the Department of Energy’s leasing program—those lands can’t be “claimed” under the 1872 Mining Law.

The most emphatic conclusion here is that the 1872 Mining Law should be scrapped and replaced with modern regulations. It’s unconscionable that an individual or corporation can simply claim public land without any advance notice, opportunity for public comment, or tribal consultation and that it can be done for a measly $165. It’s illogical and unfair that companies can rip open the land, extract and profit off Americans’ minerals, and not pay a cent in royalties. Even the inadequate 122-year-old Mineral Leasing Act, which governs oil and gas and coal development on public lands, is an improvement.

A modern mining upsurge is already underway. Isn’t it time to bring mining regulations into the 21st century?

The front sign of the White Mesa Mill located south of Blanding, Utah. It is a uranium ore processing facility operated by Energy Fuels Resources. Photograph taken on 2019-01-22T19:36:57Z. Steven Baltakatei Sandoval – Own work

@GretaThunberg on the #climate delusion: ‘We’ve been greenwashed out of our senses. It’s time to stand our ground’ — The Guardian

Greta Thunberg via her Twitter Feed

Click the link to read the guest column on The Guardian website (Greta Thunberg). Here’s an excerpt:

Governments may say they’re doing all they can to halt the climate crisis. Don’t fall for it – then we might still have time to turn things around

Maybe it is the name that is the problem. Climate change. It doesn’t sound that bad. The word “change” resonates quite pleasantly in our restless world. No matter how fortunate we are, there is always room for the appealing possibility of improvement. Then there is the “climate” part. Again, it does not sound so bad. If you live in many of the high-emitting nations of the global north, the idea of a “changing climate” could well be interpreted as the very opposite of scary and dangerous. A changing world. A warming planet. What’s not to like?

Perhaps that is partly why so many people still think of climate change as a slow, linear and even rather harmless process. But the climate is not just changing. It is destabilising. It is breaking down. The delicately balanced natural patterns and cycles that are a vital part of the systems that sustain life on Earth are being disrupted, and the consequences could be catastrophic. Because there are negative tipping points, points of no return. And we do not know exactly when we might cross them. What we do know, however, is that they are getting awfully close, even the really big ones. Transformation often starts slowly, but then it begins to accelerate.

The German oceanographer and climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf writes: “We have enough ice on Earth to raise sea levels by 65 metres – about the height of a 20-storey building – and, at the end of the last ice age, sea levels rose by 120 metres as a result of about 5C of warming.” Taken together, these figures give us a perspective on the powers we are dealing with. Sea-level rise will not remain a question of centimetres for very long.

The Greenland ice sheet is melting, as are the “doomsday glaciers” of west Antarctica. Recent reports have stated that the tipping points for these two events have already been passed. Other reports say they are imminent. That means we might already have inflicted so much built-in warming that the melting process can no longer be stopped, or that we are very close to that point. Either way, we must do everything in our power to stop the process because, once that invisible line has been crossed, there might be no going back. We can slow it down, but once the snowball has been set in motion it will just keep going…

“This is the new normal” is a phrase we often hear when the rapid changes in our daily weather patterns – wildfires, hurricanes, heatwaves, floods, storms, droughts and so on – are being discussed. These weather events aren’t just increasing in frequency, they are becoming more and more extreme. The weather seems to be on steroids, and natural disasters increasingly appear less and less natural. But this is not the “new normal”. What we are seeing now is only the very beginning of a changing climate, caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. Until now, Earth’s natural systems have been acting as a shock absorber, smoothing out the dramatic transformations that are taking place. But the planetary resilience that has been so vital to us will not last for ever, and the evidence seems to suggest more and more clearly that we are entering a new era of more dramatic change.

Climate change has become a crisis sooner than expected. So many of the researchers I’ve spoken to have said that they were shocked to witness how quickly it is escalating.

A day in Uranium Country — @Land_Desk #DoloresRiver

Hmmm…. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

It’s one of those days when the clouds pile up in the azure blue, their shadows gliding across the sandstone and sage, offering a bit of relief from the late June heat. They also promise rain, but I have my doubts. This is the Paradox Valley, after all, which lives up to its name in more way than one, a place of beauty and brutality.

Manhattan Project 1944, Uravan. Photo credit: Uravan.com

The Uravan Mineral Belt, which roughly follows the lower Dolores River in western Colorado, slices perpendicularly across the Paradox Valley just like the river, giving it its name. The mineral belt, meanwhile, got its name from the elements that lie within: vanadium and uranium. The belt was the center of the radium boom from the early 1900s into the 1920s and was ravaged for uranium from the 1940s into the 1980s. Vanadium was mined here in between. 

Dolores River watershed

Jennifer Thurston, the executive director of the Colorado mining watchdog group INFORM, tells me there are 1,300 mining sites, abandoned and otherwise, in the Dolores and San Miguel River Basins, making it among the most heavily mined sites in the West. And it shows. 

I’m here with Thurston and Soren Jespersen to take a look at myriad wounds inflicted by the mining industry, most still gaping and oozing with uncovered waste rock, rusty equipment, and other detritus decades after they were last active. But this is more than a journey into the past, it’s also a look at what might happen again in the not-so-distant future. A renewed interest in nuclear energy as a low-carbon power source and a desire to source reactor fuel domestically could wake the U.S. uranium industry from its long dormancy and rouse some of the mineral belt mines back into action. 

“Here we go again,” Jespersen, of Colorado Wildlands Project, said earlier in the day, as we examined what looked a tombstone-looking monument marking the internment site of nearly 1 million tons of radioactive tailings from the Naturita Mill. “Are we going to stumble blindly down the same path?” Thurston and Jespersen are both working, in their own way, to prevent that from happening.

Abandoned car and uranium mine in the Uravan Mineral Belt. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

The U.S. uranium industry has been on a downward slide since the eighties. First the 1979 Three Mile Island incident gave Americans the nuclear power jitters (Chernobyl, in ’86, didn’t help matters). Then the Cold War ended, allowing the fissionable material in dismantled nuclear warheads to be downgraded to a concentration that could be used as reactor fuel, and opening up Russian and former Soviet republic markets to the world. Uranium prices dropped significantly, gutting the domestic mining industry. Now at least 95% of all of the uranium used to fuel American reactors is imported from Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia, Russia, and other countries. 

After the Fukushima disaster it seemed as if nuclear power would gradually fade away, at least in the U.S. New conventional reactors are simply too expensive to build and low natural gas prices and a flood of new renewables on the power grid threatened to make the existing, aging nuclear fleet obsolete. But as the effects of climate change become more and more apparent, and the sense of urgency around the need to decarbonize the power sector intensifies, climate hawks are giving nuclear power a new look

The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant outside San Luis Obispo, California, for example, is scheduled to shut down in 2025, but now California Gov. Gavin Newsom is leading a push to keep it open longer. His reasoning: The state’s grid doesn’t have the renewable generation capacity yet to replace the big plant, meaning if it were to close now grid operators would have to rely on carbon-emitting natural gas-fired generation. 

Meanwhile, a Bill Gates-backed firm called TerraPower is working to build an advanced nuclear reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming, and Oregon startup NuScale is looking to install a battery of small modular reactors at the Idaho National Laboratory and sell power to small, Western utilities.

Any of these initiatives, on their own, can’t revive the U.S. uranium industry. But this mild resurgence in nuclear power, paired with the fallout (only figurative, we hope) of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has caused the price of uranium to double over the last couple of years. If that trend continues—and if the federal government pitches in subsidies for the industry—it might be enough to make U.S. uranium mining economically feasible and spark renewed interest in the Uravan Mineral Belt.

The JD-7 open pit mine in the Paradox Valley. The landscape was torn apart to remove the overburden, but the mine never produced any ore. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

“Mining has to be part of this energy solution,” Thurston says. “The problem is, mining is not just about siting, but also bringing regulations into modern times and the future. It’s about convincing the government it’s not 1872 anymore.” 

Thurston has tirelessly worked to bring regulations and regulators out of the 19th century, sometimes by dragging them into court. She was instrumental in the fight to block a proposal to build a uranium mill in the Paradox Valley several years ago and more recently has forced regulators to revoke long-idled mines’ “temporary cessation” status, clearing the way for them to be cleaned up. (For more on her efforts, check out this Land Desk dispatch from March.

Jespersen is taking a different tack, he explains as we stand next to the confluence of the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers, swatting away pesky horse flies. His organization was formed with the aim of achieving landscape level protection for Bureau of Land Management lands on the Colorado Plateau. In this case, they are looking at the Dolores River watershed, specifically the lower, northern end, which manages to be spectacular, remote, and industrialized by uranium mining, all at once.

A piece of that is moving forward. In July, Sen. Michael Bennett introduced a bill that would establish a National Conservation Area along the Dolores River from McPhee Dam to the San Miguel County line, just upstream from Bedrock and the Paradox Valley. That would add a layer of protections to a 76-mile stretch of the river corridor, including prohibiting new mining claims. However, it would not stop mining on existing claims or Department of Energy leases, both of which are abundant.

Looking down the Dolores River from its confluence with the San Miguel. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

But, thanks to local political opposition, Bennett’s bill leaves out the lower 100 river miles—along with serpentine canyons, slickrock expanses, isolated mesas, and the western edge of the Uncompahgre Plateau. Jespersen and Colorado Wildlands Project are looking to up protections on that remaining section, specifically the area from the Dolores River’s confluence with the San Miguel River downstream. During uranium mining times, much of that section of river was dead, thanks to tailings and other waste dumped into the river from the mills and mines. But still other areas remain relatively unmarred and even qualify for wilderness designation.

We drive along the Dolores River, stop for lunch at the Bedrock recreation area, which was once a well-tended and crowded takeout zone for Dolores River rafters. But since McPhee Dam’s operators have released little more than a trickle into the river due to aridification, the picnic area no longer serves much of a purpose and is sad-feeling and overgrown. Thurston tells us mining speculation has picked up in the area, but not much else. And then she explains a sort of ore pre-processing technique called ablation that some mining companies are hoping to use to save costs and maybe get around regulations.

Jennifer Thurston walks near the head frame of the JD-5 mine above the Paradox Valley. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Then we drive into the heart of the wreckage on a nearby mesa. From there we see the JD-7, a big, open pit mine in the Paradox Valley that never even produced ore. Now it sits idle and unreclaimed. We peer down into the darkness of a mine shaft and poke around in a dilapidated building where packrats have taken up residence among old equipment. This is one of the mines that INFORM won a cleanup case against, but regulators haven’t approved a reclamation plan, so nothing’s happened. “This whole formation is basically Swiss cheese,” Thurston says as we ponder yet another abandoned site, replete with a couple of ancient cars with “straight eights” under the hoods. And we go out to a point where we can look out on the landscape and see the web of roads scraped through the piñon, juniper, and sagebrush decades ago to give prospectors access to every inch of this vast space.

It’s heartbreaking to see, but hopeful, too, as the land is slowly healing. Yet it’s infuriating to think that the wounds may one day be torn open again.

Sylvie’s Seat and the La Sal Mountains. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Well how about that. You may remember our story last month about the Horseshoe-Gallup oil field and about how a determined group of activists and land protectors were trying to bring regulators’ attention to the blight there. Not only did they get the Bureau of Land Management’s attention, but they got their boss—Interior Secretary Deb Haaland—to come out and see one of the worst sites. Haaland also announced $25 million in federal funding to plug and reclaim orphaned oil and gas wells in New Mexico during her visit.

An investment to rival those of I-70 and #Denver International Airport — @BigPivots

I-70 on Vail Pass. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on The Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

Most of the $9-$10 billion that Xcel Energy will spend in the next few years will be spent on Colorado’s eastern plains. Why is this such a big deal for Colorado?

Click the image to go to Xcel’s project page and the interactive map.

Colorado will soon embark on a change with few rivals in the last 100 years. Think of the dismantling of geography by construction of Interstate 70 through the tunnels, over Vail Pass, and through Glenwood Canyon. Think of Denver International Airport. Think of the arrival of electricity to farms and small towns in the 1930s and 1940s.

Within a decade, Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electrical utility, will retire all its coal plants, convert one to burn natural gas, and add massive amounts of wind on Colorado’s eastern plains and solar generation, some of it in the Western Slope’s Grand Valley, along with batteries nad perhaps other storage, as it pursues a mid-century goal of net-zero carbon. Combined with potentially 740 miles of new transmission lines looping around eastern Colorado, this investment in new generation could hit $9 billion to $10 billion. Xcel will likely get its final green light from state regulators in the next month, maybe two.

This has repercussions beyond Xcel Energy, which sells more than half the electricity in Colorado. It also delivers wholesale sales to some municipalities and cooperatives, including Holy Cross Energy, Yampa Valley Electric, and Grand Valley Power.

Is this money well spent? If you’re a climate hawk, as I am, convinced we must dramatically reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, this represents a giant step forward. We must immediately reduce emissions from electrical generation and also displace fossil fuels in transportation and buildings.

True, China’s emissions keep growing. But Colorado can lead the United States by example, and the United States can lead the world.

Some people, even champions of this transition, disagree with the precise pathway. For example, if demand were shaved through energy efficiency and other programs, will less investment in new generating resources be needed, says Western Resource Advocates, an environmental group.

From Colorado eastern plains, already dotted with wind turbines, come other complaints about cluttered skylines. This is not universal. Other plainsmen (and women) welcome the property taxes local governments will realize and the lease payments to land owners.

Nuclear power represents another question. Colorado’s lone experiment with nuclear power, at the St. Vrain plant near Greeley, went seriously awry. But now come efforts with presumably smaller and hence lower-risk modular reactors, such as are being planned in Idaho and also Wyoming. Cost, more than safety, is the fulcrum for the debate. Nuclear has had exorbitant cost overruns. Will this new technology be better?

Comanche 3, a coal plant in Pueblo, has become the symbol for this energy transition. It was approved 18 years ago by Colorado regulators, a $1 billion investment (in today’s dollars). Utilities had been building ever-bigger coal-fired coal plants, abetted by natural gas plants to meet peak demands, for a half-century. Few were willing to give credence to the vision of renewable energy. I remember in about 2008, a geologist in Meeker who still hoped for the dream of milking hydrocarbons from the oil shale of northwestern Colorado. “We can’t run a civilization on windmills,” he fumed.

We still can’t. And as somebody pointed out to me, even wind turbines need oil and grease and so forth. But we can do far, far more than Xcel or most others thought just 18 years ago.

Cheyenne Ridge, located between Burlington and Cheyenne Wells, near the Kansas border, is one of many wind projects on Colorado’s eastern plains. Soon, new transmission will enable far more wind and solar projects. Photos/Allen Best Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

This has come in increments. Almost simultaneous with approval of Comanche 3 came Colorado’s first renewable energy mandate. Xcel fought it. Then it set out to comply. Costs of wind tumbled dramatically, and then so did solar. Something of the same thing is now happening with lithium-ion batteries.

It’s not yet possible on a large scale to affordably eliminate all emissions. But also note this. In 2005, when Xcel began building Comanche 3, about two-thirds of its electricity came from coal plants. Within a decade, it will be close to zero. We’re moving fast, because we can and because we must.

Will there be adverse consequences beyond altered prairie vistas on the Great Plains? Quite possibly. With I-70, what once was close to a full-day journey from Grand Junction to Denver was shortened to a long morning. But the highway has made mountain valleys a little less lovely and far more noisy.

This course correction in our energy foundation may also prove to have flaws that may require further altering. And in 18 years we may look back and wonder if we should have held off just a little longer for a technological breakthrough instead of making Colorado’s eastern plains look like Paul Bunyan’s playground for Erector Set creations.

What we cannot afford is to do nothing. Given what we know today, about the cost of energy and the cost of climate change, this massive investment soon to happen looks to be the wisest path forward.

Say hello to Project Drawdown #Climate Solutions 101 #ActOnClimate

Click the link to go to the Project Drawdown website:

Your climate solutions journey begins now. Filled with the latest need-to-know science and fascinating insights from global leaders in climate policy, research, investment, and beyond, this video series is a brain-shift toward a brighter climate reality.

Climate Solutions 101 is the world’s first major educational effort focused solely on solutions. Rather than rehashing well-known climate challenges, Project Drawdown centers game-changing climate action based on its own rigorous scientific research and analysis. This course, presented in video units and in-depth conversations, combines Project Drawdown’s trusted resources with the expertise of several inspiring voices from around the world. Climate solutions become attainable with increased access to free, science-based educational resources, elevated public discourse, and tangible examples of real-world action. Continue your climate solutions journey, today.

The #Climate Fight Isn’t Lost. Here Are 10 Ways to Win — Rolling Stone Magazine #ActOnClimate

Click the link to read the article on the Rolling Stone website (Jeff Goodell). Here’s an excerpt:

The clock is running on the climate crisis, but we have the tools and knowledge — and the crickets — that we need

The climate crisis is here, and heartbreak is all around us. The early promise of dramatic action from President Biden is sinking in the old mud bog of fossil-fuel politics. Meanwhile, despite 40 years of warnings from scientists and the decline in the cost of clean energy, carbon pollution is still increasing and the world is heating up as fast as ever. The final sentence of last February’s U.N.’s latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the impacts of that warming is stark and unequivocal: “Climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.” Or as U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres put it after an IPCC report on the mitigation of climate change was released this month: “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

[…]

1. Tax carbon.
In February, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse took to the Senate floor for his 280th “Time to Wake Up!” speech about the climate crisis. The centerpiece of Whitehouse’s plan was the need for a tax on fossil fuels. It is an argument that speaks to a truism of economics: to make something scarce, tax it…

Leaf charging at the Lionshead parking facility in Vail September 30, 2021.

2. Electrify everything.
In the U.S. there are roughly 290 million cars and trucks, 70 million fossil-fueled furnaces, 60 million fossil-fueled water heaters, 20 million gas dryers, and 50 million gas stoves. What if all those were electrified? Saul Griffith, an Australian American engineer and author of Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future, thinks electrification can reduce 80 percent of U.S. emissions by 2035…

A solar parking facility at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, with an output of 8 megawatts of electricity.

3. Go local with solar.
It’s now obvious: The future is solar on homes, solar on apartment buildings, solar on malls, solar on parking lots, solar on fast-food joints, burrito stands, and strip clubs. With the sun, small is beautiful. Wasted space becomes a platform for power generation. With solar, cost has always been a problem, but that is ending now as the price of solar panels has plummeted over the past decade. Nobody pretends that you are going to make steel from solar, or that it will be the best way to generate power in every situation,but it is clean and reliable and won’t go down in a blackout like the one in 2021 that left 11 millions Texans freezing in the dark for days and was responsible for as many as 700 deaths…

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

4. Buy out coal plants.
Coal is the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, responsible for 30 percent of global carbon emissions. The biggest coal burner is China, which consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined. Here in the U.S., coal is slowly being displaced by cheap gas, wind, and solar. But there are still 179 active coal plants, generating 20 percent of U.S. electricity. Shutting them down and replacing them with cleaner, cheaper energy is the fastest way to lower carbon emissions and slow the climate crisis. “The transition beyond coal is inevitable,” says Justin Guay, director for global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project. “But the timeline on which it happens isn’t.”

[…]

Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

5. Start telling the truth about the climate crisis.
How much is that $2 million house on the beach going to be worth when there’s an octopus swimming through the living room? What’s going to happen to all those refineries on the Gulf Coast as the demand for oil plummets? Banks and corporations face huge financial risks as the age of climate disruption accelerates. One just-published report found around $343 billion in weather- and climate-related economic losses in 2021 alone, the third-costliest year on record. A 2019 study concluded that 215 of the world’s largest companies face nearly $1 trillion in climate-related risk as soon as 2024. Very little of this is disclosed in corporate financial reports. “The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare just how vulnerable the United States is to sudden, catastrophic shocks,” Sarah Bloom Raskin, Biden’s nominee to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, wrote in The New York Times. “Climate change poses the next big threat.”

[…]

Denver Water’s planned new administration building via the Denver Business Journal

6. Build denser, fairer, more humane cities.
Urban life is far gentler on the planet than suburban life. People who live in cities spend less time stuck in traffic in their SUVs; they have better access to local food; they live in buildings that are more efficient. But cities need a climate upgrade too: more bikes, better public transit, more green space…

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

7. Get loud and hit them where it hurts.
The biggest roadblock to climate action has always been the cowardice and complicity of our political leaders. For many, the lack of significant accomplishments at last year’s Glasgow climate talks and the failure of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda have been a brutal awakening. “Activists have become jaded because there’s been a lot of promises from politicians without a lot of action to back it up,” says Dana Fisher, an environmental-activism expert at the University of Maryland and author of American Resistance. “A lot of young people are looking at other tactics now.”

[…]

Graphic credit: The Nature Conservancy

8. Fund small-scale geo-engineering research.
Maybe Dr. Evil wants to deliberately fuck with the Earth’s climate, but nobody else does. Nevertheless, it’s probably inevitable, given the risks we face. There are many potential forms of geoengineering, from brightening clouds to stabilizing glaciers, but the technology that gets the most attention is solar engineering, which amounts to scattering particles in the stratosphere to reflect away sunlight and cool the Earth. Scientists know it works because it’s essentially what volcanoes do (particles injected into the stratosphere from Mount Pinatubo, which erupted in 1991, cooled the planet 0.6 C for more than a year, until they rained out of the sky)…

Deep-fried house crickets (Acheta domesticus) at a market in Thailand. By Takeaway – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26774492

9. Eat crickets!
America’s (and, increasingly, the world’s) appetite for meat is barbecuing the planet. Livestock eat up a lot of land, drive deforestation, and are carbon-intensive in their own right. Without reforming industrial agriculture and reducing meat consumption, it will be virtually impossible to limit warming to 2 C, much less 1.5 C…

Protest against Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. Photo: Dio Cramer

10. Fight and win the culture war.
Much has been said about the failure of Big Media to cover the climate crisis. It’s too often pigeonholed as an environmental issue rather than a slow-rolling planet-wide catastrophe. Or it’s infused with “both-sidesism,” in which journalists are duped into the false idea that there is any real debate about the fundamentals of climate science. Or it’s just not discussed at all. When Hurricane Ida slammed into the Gulf Coast late last summer, six of the biggest commercial TV networks in the U.S. — ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC, and MSNBC — ran 774 stories about Ida, an analysis by the watchdog group Media Matters found. Only 34 of those stories mentioned climate change. Mark Hertsgaard, the executive director of Covering Climate Now, an initiative dedicated to improving climate reporting, calls it “media malpractice.”

#Colorado, #Utah tribe worries nation’s last uranium mill is contaminating water, causing uptick in illness — The #Denver Post #nuclear

Energy Fuels’ White Mesa Mill from inside Bears Ears National Monument. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:

The White Mesa Mill produces refined uranium, vanadium and rare earth compounds used for nuclear fuels, the creation of steel, batteries and electric cars. Toxic compounds left over from the process, called tailings, are poured into massive ponds on site. White Mesa residents take note when smoke rises from the mill and keep close watch over the tailing ponds, Badback said. They cough painfully when the wind blows. Children suffer from respiratory problems and adults worry about cancer. Little information is shared with those in White Mesa, part of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s territory that extends into Colorado and New Mexico, Badback said. Residents are mostly on their own.

Documents obtained and analyzed by The Denver Post show that Utah regulators have cited the mill at least 40 times since 1999 for violations ranging from administrative issues and failures to adequately collect and report data to “discharging pollutants” into the state’s waterways. For all those violations the mill has paid a total of $176,874.91 in penalties. For context, in the third quarter of 2021, Energy Fuels, the company that owns and operates the mill, reported that it had more than $100 million in cash. Monitoring wells at the site show concentrations of uranium, nitrates, cadmium, nickel and more regularly testing above state limits. Uranium levels at one well spiked over 600% higher than acceptable federal limits for drinking water, data collected by the mill shows.

Tribal officials say recent protests and official appeals against contamination in the ground water only resulted in state regulators raising the thresholds for acceptable limits. Experts hired by the tribe caught leaks at the tailing ponds and say other leaks are likely. Ultimately tribal officials and residents in the area say they’re concerned the toxins will seep deeper into the ground and contaminate the Burro Canyon Aquifer — which is already showing signs of contamination — and then into the Navajo Aquifer underneath, on which some 50,000 Native Americans depend.

Opinion: Abandoned mines, wells present vexing problems — The #Durango Herald

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

Click the link to read the opinion piece from the San Juan Citizens Alliance (Mark Pearson) on The Durango Herald website:

Our region hosts an abundance of abandoned mine sites and orphaned oil and gas wells.

They contaminate our water and air with acid mine drainage and leaking methane. They are the legacy of decades of resource extraction, and unfortunately, taxpayers often end up with the liability to reclaim the damage.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act passed in November includes billions of dollars for abandoned mine reclamation and plugging orphaned oil and gas wells. But more importantly, rules are needed to head off the creation of future problems.

Most of us are likely familiar with abandoned mines that dot the hillsides above Silverton and elsewhere, but the ones of most concern are those draining water laden with heavy metals. Our region also contains more 30,000 oil and gas well sites, and a surprising number are inactive with rusted equipment bleeding methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Abandoned mines and orphaned wells are derelicts without any responsible owner willing or financially capable of reclamation. These sites are not intentionally created, but creep up on us as owners change over the decades and lose interest or capacity to keep them operating. An owner might hope that metal or oil prices will spike and lead to a resurgence of extraction, but these sites have marginal reserves to begin with, and eventually owners may just walk away, leaving someone else on the hook for cleanup.

One important means to prevent these liabilities from burdening taxpayers is to require reclamation while a financially viable owner still exists. That’s the basis of Colorado’s Mined Land Reclamation Act, which allows mines to “temporarily” cease production for a limited period. If production does not resume, then it is in the interest of the state and taxpayers to make sure reclamation starts while someone responsible is still around.

Screenshot of Old uranium sites in Colorado via The Denver Post

The uranium mines scattered across the Dolores River basin are a case in point. Most haven’t operated for decades, but over the past 40 years owners kept hoping that uranium prices might reach a level that again spurred production. But at some point, reality needs to set in and owners should start undertaking efforts to reclaim mines. That’s the point of Colorado’s reclamation law.

Orphaned oil well. Photo credit: DroneDJ.com

Orphaned oil and gas wells are similarly vexing. A nearby example is dozens of rusting, derelict, leaking wells west of Farmington in an area called the Hogback. State and federal records list these as active, but the rust and the fact one needs a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle to even reach them is ample evidence the wells haven’t produced in many years. The companies associated with them have long since vanished, with phone numbers disconnected. If today’s price of oil hasn’t spurred any renewed activity, it seems unlikely anything would.

Colorado hopes to prevent additional orphaned wells by increasing bonds posted by oil companies. The bonds ideally should be ample enough to cover the costs of plugging and reclaiming wells in the event the companies disappear, so as to keep taxpayers off the hook.

It seems common sense to head off future problems, and forestall asking for billions in tax dollars like the Infrastructure Act provides, but not all agree. Right now, the mining industry is aggressively opposing rules about temporary cessation at hardrock mines, arguing for loopholes that allow mines to be idled and largely abandoned for decades, just in case someday they might again become profitable.

The plague of abandoned mines and orphaned wells proves the worth of Benjamin Franklin’s adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We can hope state officials to appropriately translate that advice into rules.

Mark Pearson is executive director at San Juan Citizens Alliance. Reach him at mark@sanjuancitizens.org.

Putin’s war shows autocracies and #FossilFuels go hand in hand. Here’s how to tackle both — The Guardian #ActOnClimatae

Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

Click the link to read the article on The Guardian website (Bill McKibben). Here’s an excerpt:

Democracies are making more progress than autocracies when it comes to climate action. But divestment campaigns can put pressure on the most recalcitrant of political leaders

At first glance, last autumn’s Glasgow climate summit looked a lot like its 25 predecessors. It had:

  • A conference hall the size of an aircraft carrier stuffed with displays from problematic parties (the Saudis, for example, with a giant pavilion saluting their efforts at promoting a “circular carbon economy agenda”).
  • Squadrons of delegates rushing constantly to mysterious sessions (“Showcasing achievements of TBTTP and Protected Areas Initiative of GoP”) while actual negotiations took place in a few back rooms.
  • Earnest protesters with excellent signs (“The wrong Amazon is burning”).
  • But as I wandered the halls and the streets outside, it struck me again and again that a good deal had changed since the last big climate confab in Paris in 2015 – and not just because carbon levels and the temperature had risen ever higher. The biggest shift was in the political climate. Over those few years the world seemed to have swerved sharply away from democracy and toward autocracy – and in the process dramatically limited our ability to fight the climate crisis. Oligarchs of many kinds had grabbed power and were using it to uphold the status quo; there was a Potemkin quality to the whole gathering, as if everyone was reciting a script that no longer reflected the actual politics of the planet.

    Now that we’ve watched Russia launch an oil-fired invasion of Ukraine, it’s a little easier to see this trend in high relief – but Putin is far from the only case…

    The cost of energy delivered by the sun has not risen this year, and it will not rise next year…

    As a general rule of thumb, those territories with the healthiest, least-captive-to-vested-interest democracies are making the most progress on climate change. Look around the world at Iceland or Costa Rica, around Europe at Finland or Spain, around the US at California or New York. So part of the job for climate campaigners is to work for functioning democratic states, where people’s demands for a working future will be prioritized over vested interest, ideology and personal fiefdoms. But given the time constraints that physics impose – the need for rapid action everywhere – that can’t be the whole strategy. In fact, activists have arguably been a little too focused on politics as a source of change, and paid not quite enough attention to the other power center in our civilization: money. If we could somehow persuade or force the world’s financial giants to change, that would yield quick progress as well. Maybe quicker, since speed is more a hallmark of stock exchanges than parliaments.

    And here the news is a little better. Take my country as an example. Political power has come to rest in the reddest, most corrupt parts of America. The senators representing a relative handful of people in sparsely populated western states are able to tie up our political life, and those senators are almost all on the payroll of big oil. But money has collected in the blue parts of the country – Biden-voting counties account for 70% of the country’s economy. That’s one reason some of us have worked so hard on campaigns like fossil fuel divestment – we won big victories with New York’s pension funds and with California’s vast university system, and so were able to put real pressure on big oil. Now we’re doing the same with the huge banks that are the industry’s financial lifeline. We’re well aware that we may never win over Montana or Mississippi, so we better have some solutions that don’t depend on doing so. The same thing’s true globally. We may not be able to advocate in Beijing or Moscow or, increasingly, in Delhi. So, at least for these purposes, it’s useful that the biggest pots of money remain in Manhattan, in London, in Frankfurt, in Tokyo. These are places we still can make some noise.

    One Last #Climate Warning in New IPCC Report: ‘Now or Never’ — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    A forest fire next to the Bitterroot River in Montana. UCLA-led research revealed that larger fires tend to be followed by larger increases in streamflow. | Photo by John MacColgan/Creative Commons

    Click the link to read the article on the Inside Climate News website (Bob Berwyn). Here’s an excerpt:

    The world will probably burn through its carbon budget before the global climate panel issues its next update on mitigation

    Whatever words and phrases the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have been parsing late into Sunday night, its new report, issued Monday, boils down to yet another dire scientific warning. Greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2025 to limit global warming close to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), as targeted by the Paris Agreement, the report says. In a way, it’s a final warning, because at the IPCC’s pace, the world most likely will have burned through its carbon budget by the time the panel releases its next climate mitigation report in about five or six years. Even with the climate clock so close to a deadline, it’s not surprising that the IPCC struggled to find consensus during the two-week approval session, said Paul Maidowski, an independent Berlin-based climate policy researcher and activist. The mitigation report may be the most challenging of the three climate assessments that are done every five to seven years under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, he said.

    The first two reports of each IPCC assessment cycle, one on the physical basis of climate science, and another about impacts and adaptation, are mostly based on unyielding physics, like how much global temperature goes up for every added increment of CO2, and how fast and high sea level will rise based on that warming.

    But the mitigation report, which outlines choices society can make to affect the trajectory of climate change, has to reconcile those scientific realities with economic and political assumptions that are not constrained by physics, Maidowski said. Other researchers have described the IPCC report as a mechanism to determine what is politically possible, he added. If those assumptions—for example about future availability of carbon dioxide removal technology—don’t materialize, “then you are left with illusions, essentially,” he said. The IPCC has “blinded itself” to deeper questions of sustainability and is thus asking the wrong questions, like how to decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, he added. Instead, it should be more up front about acknowledging the physical limits of the planet, and start asking how to downscale current resource consumption to a sustainable level.

    The report found that “without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach.”

    On the hopeful side, the panel noted that renewable energy costs have dropped by as much as 85 percent in the past decade, and that new policies in many countries have accelerated deployment of wind and solar power.

    Scientists To Biden: Don’t Ramp Up #FossilFuels — Food & #Water Watch #ActOnClimate

    Click the link to read the release on the Food & Water Watch website (Mark Schlosberg):

    In recent weeks President Biden and his administration have moved to increase fossil fuel production and infrastructure. These actions fly in the face of climate science, which mandates a transition off of fossil fuels right away. Now scientists are speaking out, imploring President Biden to follow through on his commitments. As a candidate, Biden promised to listen to science, but his recent actions suggest the opposite.

    The increased drought, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods that we’ve experienced recently would have been reason enough to curb this plan. But the Ukraine crisis has brought into full view the dangers of continued reliance on fossil fuels. Europe is planning for dramatic cuts in Russian gas and looking toward new sources. Rather than going all-in on renewable energy, Europe wants increased U.S. gas imports — for over a decade to come. This is a recipe for climate disaster.

    A Broken Promise — President Biden Moves to Increase Fossil Fuel Production and Infrastructure

    When President Biden ran for office, he pledged to listen to science. He also pledged to stop new drilling on federal lands, and initiate a transition off of fossil fuels. He was already falling massively short on these promises before the Ukraine crisis, but now he has reversed course completely. He and his administration have urged increased fossil fuel production, rush approvals of its infrastructure, and ramped-up exports to Europe. And his plan envisions a huge increase of gas exports by 2030 — more than tripling a big increase this year.

    What these exports mean for the U.S. is more drilling, fracking, pipelines through communities and massive, polluting industrial facilities. These come with a litany of safety risks and local pollution, which have devastating environmental justice and health impacts.

    It also will have monumental climate impacts, according to the most recent IPCC scientific report. Global emissions continue to increase and the very narrow window to avoid even 2 degrees of warming is rapidly closing. Building more infrastructure will certainly lock us into decades of more emissions.

    As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said upon the release of the IPCC report: “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

    Failing on Climate: Lies From Leaders Will Be “Catastrophic”

    The Biden approach to climate is, unfortunately, not unique. As the IPCC report highlights, governments worldwide have broken prior commitments even though those fell far short of requirements.

    The only way to avert even worse impacts is to embrace scientific reality and adopt policies matching the rapidly escalating climate emergency. This means confronting hard truths and paying the crisis more than lip service. The only way to really achieve energy independence and security is to move off of fossil fuels. That means making quick, bold investments in renewable energy and immediately halting and rolling back fossil fuels and its infrastructure. To do otherwise fails to confront what is happening. Secretary-General Guterres said: “Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another…Simply put, they are lying, and the results will be catastrophic.”

    Scientists Implore Biden to Reverse Course Before It’s Too Late

    While President Biden has charted a perilous course, there’s still time to reverse and confront the reality of the climate crisis. Over 275 scientists wrote Biden to implore him to act. This is directly in response to his announced plans to double down on fossil fuels and the IPCC report release. They urged him to instead take bold action to move off fossil fuels and infrastructure and reject the mad dash to increase production and exports.

    The initiative for this letter is led by scientists Bob Howarth, Mark Jacobson, Michael Mann, Sandra Steingraber, and Peter Kalmus. The message is prophetic and clear in its call to action. It concludes:

    “As scientists who look at data every day, we implore you to keep this promise and listen to what the scientific community is saying about fossil fuels and the climate crisis. Do not facilitate more fuel extraction and infrastructure. The impacts of climate change are already significant and we have a very narrow window to avoid runaway climate chaos. We urge you to lead boldly, take on the fossil fuel titans, and rally the country towards a renewable energy future.”

    Help amplify this call to action. Join them, and all of us at Food & Water Watch in calling on President Biden to reject fossil fuels — now.

    In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things: The truth is new and counterintuitive; we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch #FossilFuels — @BillMcKibben in the @NewYorker

    The coal-fired Tri-State Generation and Transmission plant in Craig provides much of the power used in Western Colorado, including in Aspen and Pitkin County. Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office has a plan to move the state’s electric grid to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click the link to read this important article that’s running on the New Yorker website (Bill McKibben). Here’s an excerpt:

    On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Then, just a few hours later, at the opening of a rare emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly, he catalogued the horrors of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and declared, “Enough is enough.” Citing Putin’s declaration of a nuclear alert, the war could, Guterres said, turn into an atomic conflict, “with potentially disastrous implications for us all.”

    What unites these two crises is combustion. Burning fossil fuel has driven the temperature of the planet ever higher, melting most of the sea ice in the summer Arctic, bending the jet stream, and slowing the Gulf Stream. And selling fossil fuel has given Putin both the money to equip an army (oil and gas account for sixty per cent of Russia’s export earnings) and the power to intimidate Europe by threatening to turn off its supply. Fossil fuel has been the dominant factor on the planet for centuries, and so far nothing has been able to profoundly alter that. After Putin invaded, the American Petroleum Institute insisted that our best way out of the predicament was to pump more oil. The climate talks in Glasgow last fall, which John Kerry, the U.S. envoy, had called the “last best hope” for the Earth, provided mostly vague promises about going “net-zero by 2050”; it was a festival of obscurantism, euphemism, and greenwashing, which the young climate activist Greta Thunberg summed up as “blah, blah, blah.” Even people trying to pay attention can’t really keep track of what should be the most compelling battle in human history…

    …the era of large-scale combustion has to come to a rapid close. If we understand that as the goal, we might be able to keep score, and be able to finally get somewhere. Last Tuesday, President Biden banned the importation of Russian oil. This year, we may need to compensate for that with American hydrocarbons, but, as a senior Administration official put it,“the only way to eliminate Putin’s and every other producing country’s ability to use oil as an economic weapon is to reduce our dependency on oil.” As we are one of the largest oil-and-gas producers in the world, that is a remarkable statement. It’s a call for an end of fire.

    We don’t know when or where humans started building fires; as with all things primordial there are disputes. But there is no question of the moment’s significance. Fire let us cook food, and cooked food delivers far more energy than raw; our brains grew even as our guts, with less processing work to do, shrank. Fire kept us warm, and human enterprise expanded to regions that were otherwise too cold. And, as we gathered around fires, we bonded in ways that set us on the path to forming societies. No wonder Darwin wrote that fire was “the greatest discovery ever made by man, excepting language.”

    #ClimateChange: a threat to human wellbeing and health of the planet. Taking action now can secure our future — @IPCC #ActOnClimate

    Click the link to read the release from the IPCC:

    Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released today.

    “This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”

    The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C (2.7°F). Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.

    The Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability was approved on Sunday, February 27 2022, by 195 member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that was held over two weeks starting on February 14.

    Urgent action required to deal with increasing risks

    Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on Small Islands and in the Arctic.

    Daytime high temperatures across the western United States on June 23-28, 2021, according to data from NOAA’s Real-Time Mesoscale Analysis/URMA. Climate.gov animation based on NOAA URMA data.

    To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, ambitious, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. So far, progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks, the new report finds. These gaps are largest among lower-income populations.

    The Working Group II report is the second instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed this year.

    “This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments,” said Hoesung Lee. “It emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”

    Safeguarding and strengthening nature is key to securing a liveable future

    There are options to adapt to a changing climate. This report provides new insights into nature’s potential not only to reduce climate risks but also to improve people’s lives.

    A healthy riparian corridor includes native trees and minimal disturbance within 100 feet of the streambank. Waccamaw River photo by Charles Slate.

    “Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”

    Scientists point out that climate change interacts with global trends such as unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanization, social inequalities, losses and damages from extreme events and a pandemic, jeopardizing future development.

    “Our assessment clearly shows that tackling all these different challenges involves everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society – working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts.

    “In this way, different interests, values and world views can be reconciled. By bringing together scientific and technological know-how as well as Indigenous and local knowledge, solutions will be more effective. Failure to achieve climate resilient and sustainable development will result in a sub-optimal future for people and nature.”

    Cities: Hotspots of impacts and risks, but also a crucial part of the solution

    North American Drought Monitor map January 2022

    This report provides a detailed assessment of climate change impacts, risks and adaptation in cities, where more than half the world’s population lives. People’s health, lives and livelihoods, as well as property and critical infrastructure, including energy and transportation systems, are being increasingly adversely affected by hazards from heatwaves, storms, drought and flooding as well as slow-onset changes, including sea level rise.

    “Together, growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks, especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services,” Debra Roberts said.

    Water-efficient garden, in Israel. Photo: Paul Andersen/Aspen Journalism

    “But cities also provide opportunities for climate action – green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society.”

    There is increasing evidence of adaptation that has caused unintended consequences, for example destroying nature, putting peoples’ lives at risk or increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This can be avoided by involving everyone in planning, attention to equity and justice, and drawing on Indigenous and local knowledge.

    A narrowing window for action

    Denver School Strike for Climate, September 20, 2019.

    Climate change is a global challenge that requires local solutions and that’s why the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) provides extensive regional information to enable Climate Resilient Development.

    The report clearly states Climate Resilient Development is already challenging at current warming levels. It will become more limited if global warming exceeds 1.5°C (2.7°F). In some regions it will be impossible if global warming exceeds 2°C (3.6°F). This key finding underlines the urgency for climate action, focusing on equity and justice. Adequate funding, technology transfer, political commitment and partnership lead to more effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions.

    “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner.

    For more information, please contact:

    IPCC Press Office, Email: ipcc-media@wmo.int IPCC Working Group II:
    Sina Löschke, Komila Nabiyeva: comms@ipcc-wg2.awi.de

    Photo credit: Elisa Stone via the World Weather Attribution

    Click the link to read “Humanity has a ‘brief and rapidly closing window’ to avoid a hotter, deadly future, U.N. climate report says: Latest IPCC report details escalating toll — but top scientists say the world still can choose a less catastrophic path” from The Washington Post (Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis). Here’s an excerpt:

    Atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa Observatory August 7, 2021.

    Unchecked greenhouse gas emissions will raise sea levels several feet, swallowing small island nations and overwhelming even the world’s wealthiest coastal regions. Drought, heat, hunger and disaster may force millions of people from their homes. Coral reefs could vanish, along with a growing number of animal species. Disease-carrying insects would proliferate. Deaths — from malnutrition, extreme heat, pollution — will surge.

    These are some of the grim projections detailed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body dedicated to providing policymakers with regular assessments of the warming world…

    Low-income countries, which generate only a tiny fraction of global emissions, will experience the vast majority of deaths and displacement from the worst-case warming scenarios, the IPCC warns. Yet these nations have the least capacity to adapt — a disparity that extends to even the basic research needed to understand looming risks.

    “I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement. Noting the litany of devastating impacts that already are unfolding, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

    […]

    Yet if there is a glimmer of hope in the more than 3,500-page report, it is that the world still has a chance to choose a less catastrophic path. While some climate impacts are destined to worsen, the amount that Earth ultimately warms is not yet written in stone.

    The report makes clear, however, that averting the worst-case scenarios will require nothing less than transformational change on a global scale.

    Denver City Park sunrise

    The world will need to overhaul energy systems, redesign cities and revolutionize how humans grow food. Rather than reacting to climate disturbances after they happen, the IPCC says, communities must more aggressively adapt for the changes they know are coming. These investments could save trillions of dollars and millions of lives, but they have so far been in short supply.

    The IPCC report is a warning letter to a world on the brink. The urgency and escalating toll of climate change has never been clearer, it says. Humanity can’t afford to wait one more day to take action — otherwise we may miss the “brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”

    2022 #COleg: #Nuclear bill failed, but the conversation will continue — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate

    Colorado State Capitol. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Click the link to read the article on Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    A bill proposing study of nuclear energy in Colorado was killed in an obscure legislative committee last week by the majority Democrats.

    This debate isn’t over, though, nor will it be until we’ve learned how to store our bounty of renewable energy for weeks or even months.

    We have made huge strides since voters in 2004 mandated Colorado’s largest utilities achieve 10% of their generation from renewables by 2015. Xcel Energy now expects to achieve 86% penetration of renewables by 2030. Nearly all other utilities, large and small, expect to be close behind, or like the Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy, further ahead.

    Sharing of renewables across broad, multi-state areas will be imperative. Smaller, incremental approaches will help. For example, new programs will help us run our dishwashers and charge our electric cars when renewable energy is most abundant.

    This gets utilities to maybe 90% emissions-free electricity without imperiling reliability or jacking up costs. It’s that last 10% that perplexes.

    Possible paths include molten-salt storage. Xcel Energy considers this an option at Hayden, in northwestern Colorado, when it closes those coal units by 2028. Tri-State, operator of the three coal units at Craig, has indicated an openness to all options, including green hydrogen, which is made from renewable electricity and water in a still-expensive process. Some hope for improved batteries.

    Divide West Unaweep Canyon. Photo credit: Atlas Obscura

    Another answer may be pumped-storage hydro, as Xcel has been thinking about in Unaweep Canyon, in western Colorado. Others have similar hydro thoughts for the Yampa Valley.

    State Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale, represents Craig and Hayden. An electrical engineer by training, Rankin had a career in technology, including a stint managing the aerospace division of Ford Motors. He pitched nuclear energy last week to members of the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee as necessary for Colorado to meet its decarbonization goals.

    That a Republican representing coal country accepts that coal is not coming back is itself noteworthy. In Wyoming, many have not.
    The second major component of the bill was the most telling. Rankin initially wanted Colorado’s economic development agency to commission the $500,000 study (pared to $250,000 before the vote). The Colorado Energy Office, the more obvious choice, was too strictly focused on wind and solar, he said.

    That’s not entirely accurate. Wind and solar have been major successes, but just weeks before, the energy office released a study about the legal framework Colorado needs for carbon capture and storage. Carbon capture would allow continued burning of natural gas—a possible way to get to 100%—or, for that matter, burning of coal.

    Rankin was absolutely on target in describing nuclear power as being a way to make use of existing infrastructure, both the coal plant sites at Hayden and Craig and transmission. Nuclear could also produce jobs and tax base for those communities. Just as 100% emissions-free energy (at an affordable price) remains elusive, so do the answers for Craig’s economy once the coal plants close. For the same reasons, commissioners in Pueblo County last summer quietly began pushing the idea of nuclear energy.

    Cost is the conversational crux of nuclear. The technology has a history of high costs for construction. A new generation of small, modular reactors, if done in many places, may be more economical. One such reactor backed financially by Bill Gates is proposed for a Wyoming coal town, but it’s years from breaking ground. It may be the future—but it’s a big gamble.

    Atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa Observatory August 7, 2021.

    Climate change is an even larger, more costly gamble. That’s one reason nuclear power does not fall neatly along a Republican/Democratic divide. One person who testified in support of Rankin’s bill identified himself as a card-carrying Democratic activist.

    Democrats were unpersuaded, even after Rankin moved the study to the energy office. He never explained exactly what answers this study would have delivered that couldn’t be found elsewhere. The bill seemed more intent on making a political statement than delivering useful information. But then Democratic legislative leaders had made a statement themselves by not assigning the bill to the energy committee.

    Had the bill advanced, we would have heard from State Sen. Chris Hansen, a Democrat and a key architect of Colorado’s energy transition. Growing up in a Kansas farm town, Hansen became enamored of nuclear energy. Even as he earned a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering, though, he pivoted his studies to economics, capping it with a Ph.D. The economics of nuclear energy, he told me last June, is why he believes the technology won’t be a major answer to the climate emergency.

    Until we get to 100% renewables, though, it’s likely to be on the table.

    2022 #COleg: Republican state lawmakers look to micro-#nuclear power, #hydroelectricity — #Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate

    Nuclear Power Plant

    Republican state lawmakers say they want to look at cleaner power generation, but not necessarily from wind and solar energy. They’re eyeing nuclear and hydroelectric power instead.

    A proposed law spearheaded by Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, would require the state to study whether small modular nuclear reactors could be used as a carbon-free energy source in Colorado.

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    Senate Bill 22-73 “puts Colorado at the forefront of renewable energy by investigating the possibility of bringing micro-nuclear technology to the state of Colorado,” Rep. Dan Woog, R-Erie, said during a Jan. 12 news conference where Republicans announced their policy priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

    Such “micro-nuclear” technology uses compact nuclear reactors that are small enough to transport by truck, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Micro-reactor designs that are under development in the U.S. could be “ready to roll out within the next decade,” the department’s website says.

    At least one Colorado community has already begun looking into the technology. With a likely early closure of Comanche 3, Pueblo County’s coal-fired power plant, county leaders want a power station that uses small modular reactors to replace the energy production and tax revenue from the coal plant. But some community organizers in Pueblo staunchly oppose that plan, citing health and safety concerns.

    “This issue of renewable energy is not one that we reject,” Rankin said at Republicans’ Jan. 12 news conference. “We do not reject climate change. … We do take the position that our goals are perhaps not realistic, and our pace of moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy has done damage to some communities and some individuals, and that may not have been necessary.”

    SB-73, one of 44 bills that Republicans are pushing as part of their main policy agenda, would allocate $500,000 in the next fiscal year for the micro-nuclear feasibility study. The study would evaluate how current state laws would need to be changed to allow for the construction and operation of small modular nuclear reactors, as well as the economic feasibility of replacing carbon-based energy sources with micro-nuclear technology.

    By July 1, 2024, the director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade would need to provide a written report to state lawmakers based on the study’s findings.

    SB-73 would also change the definition of “recycled energy” in state law to allow greater use of hydroelectric power.

    “What we want to do is we want to emphasize that maybe it’s not all about wind and solar,” Rankin said. “Maybe there are other alternatives. If we’re going to be a part of this goal, and we are, to transition (to renewable energy), then we want to consider all resources.”

    Since Democrats hold the majority in the state Senate and House of Representatives, SB-73 will need Democratic support to pass. The bill was introduced on Wednesday and assigned to the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. A hearing date had not been scheduled as of Friday.

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    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    TerraPower, #WY Governor and PacifiCorp announce efforts to advance nuclear technology in Wyoming

    With a sodium fast reactor, integrated energy storage and flexible power production, the Natrium technology offers carbon-free energy at a competitive cost and is ready to integrate seamlessly into electric grids with high levels of renewables. Graphic credit: http://NatriumPower.com

    Here’s the release from Governor Gordon’s office (Michael Perlman):

    Natrium™ Reactor Demonstration Project will bring new energy development and jobs to the state

    TerraPower and PacifiCorp, today announced efforts to advance a Natrium™ reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The companies are evaluating several potential locations in the state.

    “I am thrilled to see Wyoming selected for this demonstration pilot project, as our great state is the perfect place for this type of innovative utility facility and our coal-experienced workforce is looking forward to the jobs this project will provide,” said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. “I have always supported an all-of-the-above energy portfolio for our electric utilities. Our state continues to pave the way for the future of energy, and Wyoming should be the place where innovative energy technologies are taken to commercialization.”

    The development of a nuclear energy facility will bring welcome tax revenue to Wyoming’s state budget, which has seen a significant decline in recent years. This demonstration project creates opportunities for both PacifiCorp and local communities to provide well-paying and long-term jobs for workers in Wyoming communities that have decades of energy expertise.

    “This project is an exciting economic opportunity for Wyoming. Siting a Natrium advanced reactor at a retiring Wyoming coal plant could ensure that a formerly productive coal generation site continues to produce reliable power for our customers,” said Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, a business unit of PacifiCorp. “We are currently conducting joint due diligence to ensure this opportunity is cost-effective for our customers and a great fit for Wyoming and the communities we serve.”

    “I commend Rocky Mountain Power for joining with TerraPower in helping Wyoming develop solutions so that our communities remain viable and continue to thrive in a changing economy, while keeping the state at the forefront of energy solutions,” said Wyoming Senate President Dan Dockstader.

    “Wyoming has long been a headwaters state for baseload energy. This role is proving to be ever more important. This effort takes partnerships, and we welcome those willing to step up and embrace these opportunities with us,” said Wyoming Speaker of the House Eric Barlow.

    The location of the Natrium demonstration plant is expected to be announced by the end of 2021. The demonstration project is intended to validate the design, construction and operational features of the Natrium technology, which is a TerraPower and GE Hitachi technology.

    “Together with PacifiCorp, we’re creating the energy grid of the future where advanced nuclear technologies provide good-paying jobs and clean energy for years to come,” said Chris Levesque, president and CEO of TerraPower. “The Natrium technology was designed to solve a challenge utilities face as they work to enhance grid reliability and stability while meeting decarbonization and emissions-reduction goals.”

    Wyoming’s Governor Gordon committed in early 2021 to lead the state in becoming carbon net negative while continuing to use fossil fuels through the advancement and utilization of next-generation technologies that can provide baseload power to the grid, including nuclear and carbon capture solutions. Wyoming is the largest net energy exporter in the United States and finding carbon solutions will ensure the state continues to provide energy to consumers across the nation while decreasing CO2 emissions.

    In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), through its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate the Natrium technology. TerraPower signed the cooperative agreement with DOE in May 2021. Next steps include further project evaluation, education and outreach as well as state and federal regulatory approvals, prior to the acquisition of a Natrium facility.

    Learn more about this project and the Natrium technology at http://wyadvancedenergy.com

    Paths to a 100% clean energy grid — The Mountain Town News

    Transmission towers near Thornton. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    To decarbonize grid, keep the nukes, say 2 Colorado researchers

    Two Colorado researchers on renewable energy have a recommendation that might surprise some who embrace goals of 100% renewable or, at least, emission-free electricity.

    Keep the existing nuclear reactors on line as long as possible, say Charles Kutscher, a fellow at the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Jeffrey Logan, the associate director of the institute.

    Writing in The Hill, the two Coloradans say that creating an emissions-free electric grid in the United States won’t be easy. 2020 was a record year for new U.S. wind and solar electricity capacity additions, but to achieve a carbon-free grid by 2035, annual installations of solar and wind must double or triple.

    They also urge wringing as much efficiency out of transportation, buildings, and industrial sectors, hence lessening the amount of electricity that will be needed. But they also say it’s important to keep the existing nuclear fleet operating for as long as it’s safe to do so.

    This is from Big Pivots, an e-journal that tracks the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. To subscribe, go to http://BigPivots.com.

    They note that many analysts see a clear path to achieving 80 to 90% renewable electricity grid.

    “Addressing that last 10 to 20% will also likely require long-term storage as well as grid modernization including improved market design.”

    But if there are challenges and difficulties, they say, mostly it’s a matter of doing.

    “Although some observers have called for a massive R&D effort to develop innovative solutions to the climate crisis, the truth is that we already have the technologies we need to solve most of the problem, and our chief focus must be on enabling and deploying them.”

    What new NREL study says about achieving 100% renewable grids

    While we might all like a definitive answer on what it will take to achieve an emission-free grid, a new study produced by 17 researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, both federal labs, offers a more squishy answer.

    The study carefully works through the challenges, identifying three key ones:

    1) the short-term variability problem, which has largely been solved;

    2) the diurnal mismatch problem, which is partially solved, so further research is needed; and

    3) the seasonal problem remains largely unsolved although some pathways have been proposed. Additional research is also needed.

    Locally, yes, deep, deep penetration is possible, but getting close to achieving 100% renewables at a national scale for all hours of the year—well, there are significant unanswered questions.

    “There is no simple answer to how far we can increase renewable deployment before costs rise dramatically or reliability becomes compromised,” said Paul Denholm, the principal energy analyst at NREL and lead author of the paper that was published in Joule, an energy journal.

    “As far as the last few percent’ of the path to 100%, there is no consensus on a clear cost-effective pathway to address both the Balance Challenge and the Inverter Challenge at the national scale,” he said in a statement distributed by NREL.

    “Studies have found no specific technical threshold at which the grid ‘breaks,’ and we can’t just extrapolate from previous cost analyses because, when it comes to the future, there are many non-linearities and unknown unknowns—things we don’t even know we don’t know yet.”

    Pathway to critical and formidable goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is narrow but brings huge benefits, according to IEA special report

    Here’s the release from the International Energy Agency:

    World’s first comprehensive energy roadmap shows government actions to rapidly boost clean energy and reduce fossil fuel use can create millions of jobs, lift economic growth and keep net zero in reach

    The world has a viable pathway to building a global energy sector with net-zero emissions in 2050, but it is narrow and requires an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally, the International Energy Agency said in a landmark special report released today.

    Climate pledges by governments to date – even if fully achieved – would fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C, according to the new report, Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.

    The report is the world’s first comprehensive study of how to transition to a net zero energy system by 2050 while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth. It sets out a cost-effective and economically productive pathway, resulting in a clean, dynamic and resilient energy economy dominated by renewables like solar and wind instead of fossil fuels. The report also examines key uncertainties, such as the roles of bioenergy, carbon capture and behavioural changes in reaching net zero.

    “Our Roadmap shows the priority actions that are needed today to ensure the opportunity of net-zero emissions by 2050 – narrow but still achievable – is not lost. The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal – our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5 °C – make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “The IEA’s pathway to this brighter future brings a historic surge in clean energy investment that creates millions of new jobs and lifts global economic growth. Moving the world onto that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation.”

    Building on the IEA’s unrivalled energy modelling tools and expertise, the Roadmap sets out more than 400 milestones to guide the global journey to net zero by 2050. These include, from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants. By 2035, there are no sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars, and by 2040, the global electricity sector has already reached net-zero emissions.

    In the near term, the report describes a net zero pathway that requires the immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies, combined with a major global push to accelerate innovation. The pathway calls for annual additions of solar PV to reach 630 gigawatts by 2030, and those of wind power to reach 390 gigawatts. Together, this is four times the record level set in 2020. For solar PV, it is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day. A major worldwide push to increase energy efficiency is also an essential part of these efforts, resulting in the global rate of energy efficiency improvements averaging 4% a year through 2030 – about three times the average over the last two decades.

    Most of the global reductions in CO2 emissions between now and 2030 in the net zero pathway come from technologies readily available today. But in 2050, almost half the reductions come from technologies that are currently only at the demonstration or prototype phase. This demands that governments quickly increase and reprioritise their spending on research and development – as well as on demonstrating and deploying clean energy technologies – putting them at the core of energy and climate policy. Progress in the areas of advanced batteries, electrolysers for hydrogen, and direct air capture and storage can be particularly impactful.

    A transition of such scale and speed cannot be achieved without sustained support and participation from citizens, whose lives will be affected in multiple ways.

    “The clean energy transition is for and about people,” said Dr Birol. “Our Roadmap shows that the enormous challenge of rapidly transitioning to a net zero energy system is also a huge opportunity for our economies. The transition must be fair and inclusive, leaving nobody behind. We have to ensure that developing economies receive the financing and technological know-how they need to build out their energy systems to meet the needs of their expanding populations and economies in a sustainable way.”

    Providing electricity to around 785 million people who have no access to it and clean cooking solutions to 2.6 billion people who lack them is an integral part of the Roadmap’s net zero pathway. This costs around $40 billion a year, equal to around 1% of average annual energy sector investment. It also brings major health benefits through reductions in indoor air pollution, cutting the number of premature deaths by 2.5 million a year.

    Total annual energy investment surges to USD 5 trillion by 2030 in the net zero pathway, adding an extra 0.4 percentage points a year to global GDP growth, based on a joint analysis with the International Monetary Fund. The jump in private and government spending creates millions of jobs in clean energy, including energy efficiency, as well as in the engineering, manufacturing and construction industries. All of this puts global GDP 4% higher in 2030 than it would reach based on current trends.

    By 2050, the energy world looks completely different. Global energy demand is around 8% smaller than today, but it serves an economy more than twice as big and a population with 2 billion more people. Almost 90% of electricity generation comes from renewable sources, with wind and solar PV together accounting for almost 70%. Most of the remainder comes from nuclear power. Solar is the world’s single largest source of total energy supply. Fossil fuels fall from almost four-fifths of total energy supply today to slightly over one-fifth. Fossil fuels that remain are used in goods where the carbon is embodied in the product such as plastics, in facilities fitted with carbon capture, and in sectors where low-emissions technology options are scarce.

    “The pathway laid out in our Roadmap is global in scope, but each country will need to design its own strategy, taking into account its own specific circumstances,” said Dr Birol. “Plans need to reflect countries’ differing stages of economic development: in our pathway, advanced economies reach net zero before developing economies. The IEA stands ready to support governments in preparing their own national and regional roadmaps, to provide guidance and assistance in implementing them, and to promote international cooperation on accelerating the energy transition worldwide.”

    The special report is designed to inform the high-level negotiations that will take place at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention in Glasgow in November. It was requested as input to the negotiations by the UK government’s COP26 Presidency.

    “I welcome this report, which sets out a clear roadmap to net-zero emissions and shares many of the priorities we have set as the incoming COP Presidency – that we must act now to scale up clean technologies in all sectors and phase out both coal power and polluting vehicles in the coming decade,” said COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma. “I am encouraged that it underlines the great value of international collaboration, without which the transition to global net zero could be delayed by decades. Our first goal for the UK as COP26 Presidency is to put the world on a path to driving down emissions, until they reach net zero by the middle of this century.”

    New energy security challenges will emerge on the way to net zero by 2050 while longstanding ones will remain, even as the role of oil and gas diminishes. The contraction of oil and natural gas production will have far-reaching implications for all the countries and companies that produce these fuels. No new oil and natural gas fields are needed in the net zero pathway, and supplies become increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers. OPEC’s share of a much-reduced global oil supply grows from around 37% in recent years to 52% in 2050, a level higher than at any point in the history of oil markets.

    Growing energy security challenges that result from the increasing importance of electricity include the variability of supply from some renewables and cybersecurity risks. In addition, the rising dependence on critical minerals required for key clean energy technologies and infrastructure brings risks of price volatility and supply disruptions that could hinder the transition.

    “Since the IEA’s founding in 1974, one of its core missions has been to promote secure and affordable energy supplies to foster economic growth. This has remained a key concern of our Net Zero Roadmap,” Dr Birol said. “Governments need to create markets for investments in batteries, digital solutions and electricity grids that reward flexibility and enable adequate and reliable supplies of electricity. The rapidly growing role of critical minerals calls for new international mechanisms to ensure both the timely availability of supplies and sustainable production.”

    The full report is available for free on the IEA’s website along with an online interactive that highlights some of the key milestones in the pathway that must be achieved in the next three decades to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

    Click here to read the report.

    No ‘just’ transition yet after 2019 closing of #coal plant and mine in western #Colorado — The Mountain Town News

    Nucla. Photo credit: Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    At Nucla and Naturita, two small communities in Western Colorado, the transition from a coal economy has begun. As for a just transition?

    No, not yet says Sarah Backman, a local attorney who, like many others in these towns an hour west of Telluride, wears a lot of hats.

    Backman and others hope that the proposed Just Transition appropriation bill being heard in the Colorado Legislature for the first time on May 6 will deliver money for their communities, to continue the work already underway.

    “I don’t feel like we have a just transition, but hopefully if this bill passes, (the money) can be allocated quickly so that we can continue our efforts to transition our community,” she says.

    Nucla Station was a 100-megawatt plant that was closed by Tri-State Generation and Transmission in September 2019 in response to anti-haze enforcement by the federal government. The plant faced more stringent regulation of emissions of nitrous oxide, a component in haze, also called smog, and upgrades to the aging plant would have been expensive.

    The first unit at Craig Station will also be closed by the end of 2025 as a result of the same settlement.

    Nucla Station had 76 employees and the accompanying mine 35 at one time. At closing in November 2019, they had 35 and 23, according to Tri-State. Ten remain at work on reclamation of the sites.

    As for the roughly $2 million in property taxes paid annually by Tri-State, that is mostly gone, too. The plant and mine represented about 43% of property tax valuation in the west end of Montrose County, where the communities are located.

    This is from the April 30, 2021, issue of Big Pivots, an e-journal covering the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Sign up at http://Big Pivots.com.

    In small communities, a few people tend to wear a lot of hats. It’s often the same faces on the water districts, chamber, historical society – you name it.

    Backman is one of those in addition to being a young mother. She says that the prevailing vision in the communities is of developing an economy more strongly reliant on tourism. Tourism has its weaknesses, she says, but it’s not boom or bust. And, if far off the beaten paths of Colorado, Nucla and Naturita have much to work with.

    Telluride lies an hour to the east, and some in the community work there or have businesses catering to the Telluride economy. Moab lies 90 minutes to the west, and Grand Junction a little longer to the north.

    There are slickrock canyons of the San Miguel River, the eye-pleasing forests of the Uncompahgre Plateau. In the west end of Montrose County, a place with 2,500 residents in the 2010 census, there is a place called Bedrock, located in the Paradox Valley, so-named for its queer geology. It is bisected by the Dolores River.

    There’s also a place called Uravan, from which the uranium used by Madame Curie in her experiments during the 1920s was mined.

    The Manhattan Project of World War II spurred a boom in uranium mining. That boom petered out in the 1960s and 1970s, leaving widows who, as Peter Hessler documented in his 2010 piece in the New Yorker (and this writer learned in a 2006 visit), pined for the good old days and a return to uranium mining. It hasn’t happened yet. See: “The Uranium Widows

    With this focus on tourism, not uranium, the effort is on drawing visitors for events such as the dark skies festival, scheduled for June. In this, the community will be in the company of Idaho’s Sun Valley and Canada’s Banff resort communities in celebrating dark skies.

    Canyon country abounds west and north of Nucla and Naturita. Photo/West End Economic Development Corporation via The Mountain Town News

    Another multi-hatted community doer is Aimee Tooker, the president of the West End Economic Development Corporation since its founding in 2014.

    “We have been working on economic development ever since then,” she says. In 2017, the group got a $836,000 economic development grant to pay for programming funding., but that grant will be exhausted within the next year. She hopes that Colorado funding will continue to put wind into the sails of this effort.

    The coal plant’s closing was done two years earlier than expected. Tri-State was paying $2 million in property taxes to local jurisdictions. That’s not a huge sum in many places, but these are small places. The population of Nucla is 644, and that of Naturita is 486.

    “This is 67% of the tax base of our emergency services district,” says Tooker.

    Tri-State is providing a $500,000 grant to the communities over the course of five years to West End Pay It Forward Trust. It’s welcome but not enough, say those in the Nucla-Naturita community trying to build a bridge to a new, more diversified economy.

    How will state funding help these two communities? “By keeping our boots on the ground,” replies Tooker. She cites a plan to beautify the main street in Nucla.

    Paul Major has worked with the Nucla-Naturita community. Until recently, he operated the Telluride Foundation, a philanthropy. He remains on Colorado’s Just Transition advisory committee.

    He credits Tooker, Backman, and others for their drive and ambition. Instead of whining about the closing of the plant, he says, they’re working hard to make their community a great place to live. “It’s a cliché, but they are really leaning into it,” he says.

    #Climate expert discusses impacts, February 23, 2021 (“The solution is to stop setting carbon on fire” — Scott Denning) — The #Pueblo Chieftain

    This graph shows the range of average maximum temperature increases projected for Carbondale under both and high and low emissions scenario. Credit: NOAA via Aspen Journalism

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Zach Hillstrom):

    A Colorado expert on climate science will lead a virtual presentation Tuesday evening to discuss the science behind, impacts of, and solutions to address climate change.

    Scott Denning, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University who has authored more than 100 papers on the subject, will deliver remarks over Zoom as the keynote speaker for a virtual event celebrating the third anniversary of the Renewable Energy Owners Coalition of America.

    REOCA, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, formed in Pueblo in February 2018. Its mission is to “protect and promote distributed renewable energy resources for the economy, the environment and a sustainable future,” according to its website.

    Denning’s Tuesday presentation will look at what he calls the, “Three S’s of climate change: simple, serious and solvable.”

    “Simple is, ‘How does it work?’ Serious is, ‘Why is it bad?’ And solvable is, ‘What are you going to do about it?’” Denning said.

    Although there are complex factors that contribute to an increasingly hotter climate, Denning said the phenomenon itself is simple.

    “When you add heat to things, they change their temperature,” Denning said.

    “This is pretty fundamental … You put a pot of water on the stove, you put heat into the bottom of the pot of water and lo and behold, it warms up. The Earth works exactly that same way. If more sun comes into the earth than heat radiation going out, then it warms up.”

    Carbon dioxide (CO2) slows down outgoing heat from the earth. So the more CO2 there is on Earth, Denning said, the warmer it gets. And this poses a serious problem.

    “Unless we stop burning coal, oil and gas, we’ll warm up the world 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the time our children today are old,” Denning said.

    “And 10 degrees Fahrenheit is a lot. That’s like the difference between Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park, or the difference between Pueblo and somewhere down in southern New Mexico — it’s the kind of difference that you would absolutely notice.”

    Denning said in the future, temperatures at the tops of mountains might be similar to current temperatures on the Colorado plains, which has drastic implications for farmers and ranchers.

    In Colorado, some of the most serious impacts will affect the state’s water supply.

    “Depending on where you are in the world, there are different kinds of climate problems. Our problem here is that we don’t have water to spare,” Denning said.

    “In the Mountain West, we support our entire culture here on mountain runoff — on the snowmelt that comes down out of the mountains every spring and fills our reservoirs, and that’s where our cities get water and where our farmers get water,” Denning said.

    “If we swap out the climate of Albuquerque or El Paso (Texas) for the climate of Pueblo, what’s the biggest thing people in Pueblo would notice? Well, besides the fact that it would be hot, you wouldn’t have enough water.”

    Denning said the problem is not so much about water supply, but rather demand.

    “When it’s hot in the summer, our lawns need more water, our crops need more water, our livestock need more water, our forests need more water,” Denning said.

    “And this is a permanent change. If we turn up the thermostat to El Paso levels … people will have to live differently, very differently, than they do today in Colorado.”

    But the positive news, and the third topic of Denning’s discussion, is that climate change is solvable.

    “The solution is to stop setting carbon on fire,” Denning said.

    “That means learning to live well with less energy and learning to make energy that doesn’t involve setting stuff on fire.

    “That means (more energy efficient) houses and lights and cars and all that stuff, it also means using solar, wind, nuclear, hydro, whatever other kinds of energy that don’t involve burning things.”

    Denning said people in 2021 are “very lucky” because sustainable sources of energy are “actually cheaper than the old-fashioned” energy sources.

    “It’s hard to switch off fossil fuels, like it was hard to switch off of land lines. It’s hard to switch to clean energy, like it was hard to build the internet,” Denning said.

    “It’ll cost us money. But just like mobile phones and the internet, switching our energy system will create jobs and prosperity for the next generation.

    “This is basically just what we’ve been doing as a civilization since the end of the middle ages. We swap out old ways of doing things with new ways of doing things, and that’s why we have jobs.”

    “So our kids’ generation will have jobs rolling out new infrastructure for generating energy that doesn’t cook the world.”

    Denning’s presentation, as well as the rest of the REOCA anniversary celebration, can be viewed at 6 p.m. Tuesday evening by visiting http://reoca.org/event/celebrate-reocas-3rd-anniversary/.

    The West badly needs a restoration economy — Writers on the Range

    Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Writers on the Range (Jonathan Thompson):

    Farmington, a city of 45,000 in the northwestern corner of New Mexico, has run on a fossil fuel economy for a century. It is one of the only places on the planet where a 26-kiloton nuclear device was detonated underground to free up natural gas from the rock.

    The city’s baseball team was called the Frackers, and a home run hit out of their practice park was likely to land next to a pack of gas wells. The community’s economy and identity are so tied up with fossil fuels that the place should probably try a new name like Carbonton, Methanedale or Drillsville.

    Over the last decade, however, the oil and gas rollercoaster here has shuddered nearly to a halt, and one of two giant coal-fired power plants is about to shut down. The carbon corporations that have been exploiting the local labor and landscape for decades are fleeing, taking thousands of jobs with them. Left behind are gaping coal-mine wounds, rotting infrastructure and well-pad scars oozing methane.

    The pattern of abandonment is mirrored in communities from Wyoming to Utah to Western Colorado to the Navajo Nation. Community leaders scramble to find solutions. Some cling to what they know, throwing their weight behind schemes to keep coal viable, such as carbon capture, while others bank on outdoor recreation, tourism and cottage industries.

    Yet one solution to the woes rarely comes up in these conversations: Restoration as economic development.

    Why not put unemployed miners and drillers back to work reclaiming closed coal mines and plugging up idled or low-producing oil and gas wells?

    The EPA estimates that there are some 2 million unplugged abandoned wells nationwide, many of them leaking methane, the greenhouse gas with 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, along with health-harming volatile organic compounds and even deadly hydrogen sulfide.

    Hundreds of thousands of additional wells are still active, yet have been idled or are marginal producers, and they will also need plugging and reclaiming.

    Oilfield service companies and their employees have the skills and equipment needed and could go back to work immediately. A 2020 report from the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy found that a nationwide well-plugging program could employ more than 100,000 high-wage workers.

    Massive coal mines are also shutting down and will need to be reclaimed. Northern Arizona’s Kayenta Mine, owned by coal-giant Peabody, shut down in late 2019, along with the Navajo Generating Station, resulting in the loss of nearly 300 jobs. The Western Organization of Resource Councils estimated that proper reclamation of the mine could keep most of those miners employed for an additional two to three years.

    Peabody, however, still has not begun to meet its reclamation obligations. This is a failure not only on Peabody’s part but also of the federal mining regulators who should be holding the company’s feet to the fire.

    Who will pay for all of this? Mining and drilling companies are required to put up financial bonds in order to get development permits, and they’re forfeited if the companies fail to properly reclaim the well or mine. Unfortunately, these bonds are almost always inadequate.

    A Government Accountability Office report found that the Bureau of Land Management held about $2,000 in bonds, on average, for each well on federal land. Yet the cost to plug and reclaim each well ranges from $20,000 to $145,000. An example: In New Mexico, a company can put up as little as $2,500 per well that costs at least $35,000 to plug.

    Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet tried to remedy this last year by crafting a bill that would increase bonds and create a fund for plugging abandoned wells. Republicans kept the bill from progressing, but with an administration that touted reclamation of mines and abandoned wells in a climate-related executive order, and a new Senate in place, the bill stands a good chance of going forward.

    Economic development focusing on restoring the land once miners leave is a natural fit for beleaguered towns suffering the latest bust. Plus, by patching up the torn landscape these communities will help clear the path for other types of economic development, such as tourism or recreation.

    “Restoration work is not fixing beautiful machinery … It is accepting an abandoned responsibility,” wrote Barry Lopez, the renowned nature writer who died recently. “It is a humble and often joyful mending of biological ties, with a hope clearly recognized that working from this foundation we might, too, begin to mend human society.”

    Did #renewableenergy cause #Texas grid failure? Could it happen in #Utah? — The Deseret News

    Storm clouds are a metaphor for Republican strategy to politicize renewable energy for the November 2020 election. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

    From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

    The once-in-a-lifetime winter storm that clobbered the electrical grid in Texas and left at least 10 people dead has sparked a political donnybrook pitting clean energy advocates against conservative supporters of the oil and gas industry.

    The controversy erupted after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the rolling power outages that affected millions of residents enduring bitter cold underscores the continued need for fossil fuels…

    Wind turbines did freeze in Texas, but the unprecedented deep freeze also led to the failure of natural gas plants, associated infrastructure such as pipelines, as well as nuclear power units.

    Abbott’s criticism of clean energy comes even as the workhorse for the energy grid in Texas remains fossil fuels.

    His statement led to a scathing rebuke from the American Clean Power Association.

    “It is disgraceful to see the longtime antagonists of clean power — who attack it whether it is raining, snowing or the sun is shining — engaging in a politically opportunistic charade misleading Americans to promote an agenda that has nothing to do with restoring power to Texas communities,” said Heather Zichal, the association’s chief executive officer.

    “Texas is a warm weather state experiencing once-in-a-generation cold weather. Most of the power that went offline was gas, coal or oil. It is an extreme weather problem, not a clean power problem.”

    […]

    Could widespread grid failure happen in Utah?

    It’s much more unlikely that a widespread grid failure could happen in Utah, according to Rocky Mountain Power’s Dave Eskelsen, because Utah’s grid structure is so different than that of Texas.

    Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company is PacifiCorp, which is the largest grid owner and operator in the West, serving six states, including Utah.

    Because of that, Utah enjoys the benefit of being part of a large, diverse grid in which there are multiple power purchase contracts in place should generation in one state fail.

    In addition, PacifiCorp is a member of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, which exists to ensure a reliable grid for 14 Western states, two Canadian provinces and a portion of northern Mexico…

    While those interconnection relationships were initially forged to provide grid reliability, Eskelsen said the relationship among the various states emerged into one of a wholesale energy market in which long-term and short-term contracts provide electricity needs among the players.

    Eskelsen said there are also plenty of “day ahead” contracts that exist to counter an unforeseen weather event that could affect individual generation…

    Another contingency in the utility’s energy portfolio is that any of the wind turbines, say those in Wyoming, come with a cold weather package.

    “Because a lot of those turbines in Wyoming are at a higher elevation where cold weather is common, they come with a cold weather package that offers heating capabilities to keep the machinery turning the turbines such as lubricating oil that is heated,” he said.

    Should another electricity provider become compromised such as a natural gas plant or coal-fired power plant — Utah’s dominant conveyer of electricity — the state would generally have 800 megawatts of wind power available and Rocky Mountain Power is also a common recipient of excess solar power generated in California.

    Another difference between Utah and Texas is that Rocky Mountain Power is part of a vertically integrated system in which the generation, the transmission and the distribution of electricity is all under one operating umbrella. In Texas, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas controls the flow of power, while there are independent power providers.

    #Texas Power Crisis: Three Causes, What We Can Learn — The Revelator

    From The Revelator (Dan Farber):

    A power crisis in Texas caused by severe winter weather exposed the need for a climate-resilient system.

    The rolling blackouts in Texas were national news. Texas calls itself the energy capital of the United States, yet it couldn’t keep the lights on. Conservatives were quick to blame reliance on wind power, just as they did last summer when California faced power interruptions due to a heat wave. What really happened?

    It’s true that there was some loss of wind power in Texas due to icing on turbine blades. Unlike their counterparts further north, Texas wind operators weren’t prepared for severe weather conditions. But this was a relatively minor part of the problem.

    The much bigger problem was loss of power from gas-fired power plants and a nuclear plant. The drop of gas generation has been attributed to freezing pipelines, diversion of gas for residential heating and equipment malfunctioning.

    Texas faced a wave of very unusual cold weather, just as California faced an unusual heatwave last summer. What’s notable, however, is that in other ways the two systems are quite different. Texas has perhaps the most thoroughly deregulated electricity system in the country.

    California experimented with its own deregulation, abandoned much of the effort after a crisis, and now has a kind of hybrid system. California and Texas are in opposing camps on climate policy. Yet both states got into similar trouble.

    What happened in these states points to three pervasive problems.

    The first is that we haven’t solved the problem of ensuring that the electricity system has the right amount of generating capacity. In states with traditional rate regulation, utilities have an incentive to overbuild capacity because they’re guaranteed a profit on their investments. Since there’s no competition, they have no incentive to innovate either. Iinstead, they have an incentive to keep old power plants going too long, contributing to air pollution and carbon emissions.

    In other states, where utilities generally buy their power on the market, the income from power sales is based on short-term power needs and doesn’t necessarily provide enough incentive for long-term investments. That could be part of the problem in both California and Texas.

    Some regional grid operators have established what are called capacity markets. At least judging from its record in the largest region (PJM), this has resulted in excess capacity and has encouraged inefficient aging generators to stay in the market. In short, we’ve got too little generation or too much, but we haven’t found the Goldilocks point of “just right.”

    The second problem is that we haven’t made the power system resilient enough.

    The heatwave that interfered with the California grid has been linked to climate change. It’s not clear whether the exceptionally cold weather in Texas was also linked to climate change, although climate change does seem to be disrupting the polar vortex that can contribute to severe winter conditions.

    Power lines in Webster, TX. Photo: BFS Man (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    In Texas, the weather didn’t just impact the electrical system: the natural gas system suffered from frozen pipes, reducing gas supply to power generators.

    Climate change is throwing more and more severe weather events at energy systems from Puerto Rico to California, yet our planning has not come to grips with the need to adapt to these risks. Microgrids, increased energy storage and improved demand response may furnish part of the answer.

    The third problem relates to the transmission system.

    Among the causes of the California blackouts, a key transmission line to the Pacific Northwest was down for weather-related reasons. This is another example of the broad failure to make the grid resilient enough for an era of climate change. Texas has deliberately shackled itself by cutting the state off from the national power grid in order to avoid federal regulation.

    This leaves it unable to draw on outside resources in times of crisis. This is all part of a much larger problem: The United States badly needs additional transmission, but political barriers have stymied expansion of the transmission system.

    The term “wake up call” is over used but seems applicable here. If we don’t wake up to the need for a climate-resilient power system, we will face even bigger trouble ahead.

    This story was reprinted with permission from Legal Planet. Read the original here.

    The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.

    Wind turbines on the Cheyenne Ridge. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    We see families huddling for warmth and light in Texas and wonder if the same thing can happen here. It can. And it does.

    Think of every major wildfire that threatens utilities and water. Think the 2003 St. Patrick’s Day blizzard that paralyzed much of the Front Range for days. Think the 2013 northern Colorado floods.

    Even more recently than that — think Sunday in Larimer County. The Platte River Power Authority sent a note to customers on that frigid day, when wind chills were forecast up to minus 20 Fahrenheit, saying its overall power supply was challenged. Customers, the utility said, should pull back their thermostats and conserve power in order to lighten the load on the grid.

    Colorado GOP House Minority Leader Hugh McKean even put it in his speech to the opening of the state legislature this week, blaming the problems of his northern Colorado constituents on renewables: “All of the lofty goals of having 100% renewable energy were not sufficient to both provide the electricity we all demand as well as the heat for our homes. We should never have to make those choices, especially on the coldest day in recent history. The 21st century should not hallmark a return to the candles and wood stoves of the 19th.”

    Like many things, only more so, the power grid is not that simple.

    Yes, Colorado’s growing share of renewable utility energy is vulnerable to the weather. So is the “old” grid based on fossil fuels. Platte River Power did suffer a partial loss of available power Sunday. (Colorado’s utility grid drew about 25% from renewable sources in 2019, and that percentage rises every month as coal plants shut down and wind and solar farms come online.)

    The Wyoming wind turbines Platte River Power buys power from iced up. Ice on the blades makes them wobble and can ruin expensive technology for the long term. So the wind farm couldn’t produce. The large solar array it takes electrical power from was covered in snow, and didn’t produce.

    But the far bigger problem was that Xcel Energy, which supplies the natural gas that Platte River Power uses to fire up its backup generating plant, said it couldn’t supply enough fuel on Sunday. Other customers needed the gas for home heating. Xcel has the right to tell Platte River that.

    So Platte River, which sells power wholesale to Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland, sent messages to customers asking them to conserve all energy use for the day. They did. Platte River had forecast high demand that day of more than 500 megawatts, and customers cut back by about 10 megawatts, enough to avoid any strain on the system.

    By Sunday afternoon, Xcel and Platte River were telling customers that normal use was fine. Also the wind farm thawed out and started sending power again. “For all intents and purposes, we were back to normal,” explained Steve Roalstad, Platte River Power’s fairly beleaguered spokesman.

    Utility companies and environmental advocates know there is a reality and perception problem for renewables, and so they are working to build short-term storage at renewable sites. Current battery arrays can store significant electrical energy for four to eight hours of peak demand, or to fill in for interrupted supply. Storage technology gets better over time, and will improve. Long-term storage, at higher capacity, is possible by using off-peak power to produce hydrogen, which can be stored in massive quantities, and then drawing down the hydrogen at peaks to generate electricity.

    Rawhide Energy Station. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    In Texas, the problem includes politics

    Fossil fuels have their weather problems, too. In Texas and elsewhere, natural gas delivery has frozen up, interrupting power for both homeowners using gas directly and power plants burning natural gas to generate electricity. Coal piles freeze up. Power lines fail under downed trees or other old-technology problems.

    Texas also has issues because it has isolated itself from a regional grid that can easily and cheaply supply backup power if prior agreements are in place and a strong transmission spine is in place. Western Resource Advocates energy analyst Vijay Satyal said that years ago, Texas turned itself into an “island,” cutting itself off from most of the backup grid other states connect to. Texas leaders thought they could deliver power more cheaply if they weren’t asking customers to pay for extra regulation in other states, and they doubled down on the Lone Star mentality.

    “The Texas spirit in 2002 was, we don’t want extra regulation,” Satyal said. They turned themselves into Hawaii, he added. Moreover, despite multiple recent incidents of extreme cold weather, hurricanes and more in recent years, Texas regulators have never demanded their own utilities do the kinds of grid reinforcement or maintenance that help when the next storm hits…

    Colorado utilities have better connections to a backup grid in Western power consortiums. Colorado and most Western regulators also allow their utilities to ask customers to pay for more maintenance and readiness costs. Satyal and Platte River Power did say there is room for more Colorado utilities to join even more reliable emergency power consortiums that won’t gouge prices for last-minute supplies, and Platte River is doing exactly that.

    It’s the nature of human-power needs that demand often peaks when supply is most threatened. In the summer at 5 p.m., people get home from work and want air conditioning all at the same time, while a thunderstorm is rolling through, clouding up solar panels and downing transmission lines. Utility companies and their regulators are supposed to plan for these contingencies, while acknowledging that planning perfectly for a 100-year storm is impossible.

    Sunday’s “crisis” in northern Colorado never put supply and demand too far out of balance, Roalstad said…

    Many critics of climate change control efforts continue to echo McKean’s jabs at renewable sources. Are we doomed to huddle around makeshift fires if we keep replacing reliable coal with more fickle wind and sun?

    Satyal, whose organization advocates for alternative energy, said it’s true that coal and natural gas are usually extremely reliable sources that come on almost instantly, day or night. But utilities are adding battery storage with every new farm, and retrofitting older ones, while technology improvement is constantly stretching the amount of energy stored and the length of time it can last.

    Even the western utilities that do plan for winter storms can do better, Satyal said, including by making sure wind turbines are outfitted with coated blades and gear warming units, and with meticulous planning of maximum loads and potential backup sources.

    The city of Tucson planned for the last solar eclipse, which temporarily erased power generated by solar panels, by making sure battery backups stored pre-eclipse electricity. Many politicians just don’t know how much has changed in power generation, Satyal said.

    Say hello to The Land Desk newsletter from Jonathan Thompson @jonnypeace

    From RiverOfLostSouls.com (Jonathan Thompson):

    With the dawning of a new year comes a new source of news, insight, and commentary: the Land Desk. It is a newsletter about Place. Namely that place where humanity and the landscape intersect. The geographical center of my coverage will be the Four Corners Country and Colorado Plateau, land of the Ute, Diné, Pueblo, Apache, and San Juan Southern Paiute people. From there, coverage will spread outward into the remainder of the “public-land states” of the Interior West, with excursions to Wyoming to look at the coal and wind-power industries and Nevada to check out water use in Las Vegas and so on.

    This is the time and the place for a truth-telling, myth-busting, fair yet sometimes furious journalism like The Land Desk will provide. This is where climate change is coming home to roost in the form of chronic drought, desertification, and raging wildfires. This is where often-toxic politics are playing out on the nation’s public lands. This is the sacrifice zone of the nation’s corporate extractive industries, yet it is also the playground and wilderness-refuge for the rest of the nation and the world. This is the headwaters for so many rivers of the West. And this is where Indigenous peoples’ fight for land-justice is the most potent, whether it be at Bears Ears or Chaco Canyon or Oak Flat.

    The Land Desk will provide a voice for this region and a steady current of information, thought, and commentary about a wide range of topics, from climate change to energy to economics to public lands. Most importantly, the information will be contextualized so that we—my readers (and collaborators) and I—can better understand what it all means. Perhaps we can also help chart a better and more sustainable course for the region to follow into the future, to try to realize Wallace Stegner’s characterization of this place as the “native home of hope.”

    https://landdesk.substack.com

    I’ve essentially been doing the work of the Land Desk for more than two decades. I got my start back in 1996 as the sole reporter and photographer for the weekly Silverton Standard & the Miner. I went from there to High Country News fifteen years ago, and that wonderful publication has nurtured and housed most of my journalism ever since. But after I went freelance four years ago, my role at HCN was gradually diminished. While I have branched out in the years since, writing three books as well as articles for Sierra, The Gulch, Telluride Magazine, Writers on the Range, and so forth, I’ve increasingly run up against what I call the freelancer bottleneck, which is what happens when you produce more content more quickly than you can sell it. That extra content ends up homeless, or swirling around in my brain, or residing in semi-obscurity on my personal website.

    I’m not messing around. The Land Desk is by no means a repository for the stories no one wants. It is intended to be the home for the best of my journalism and a place where you can find an unvarnished, unique, deep perspective on some of the most interesting landscapes and communities in the world. My hope is that it will give me the opportunity to write the stories that I’ve long wanted to write and that the region needs. If my hopes are realized, the Land Desk will one day expand and welcome other Western journalists to contribute.

    That’s where you come in. In order for this venture to do more than just get off the ground, it needs to pay for itself. In order to do that, it needs paying subscribers (i.e., you). In other words, I’m asking for your support.

    For the low price of $6/month ($60/year), subscribers will receive a minimum of three dispatches each week, including:

    • 1 Land Bulletin (news, analysis, commentary, essay, long-form narrative, or investigative piece);
    • 1 Data Dump (anything from a set of numbers with context to full-on data-visual stories); and,
    • 1 News Roundup, which will highlight a sample of the great journalism happening around the West;
    • Reaction to and contextualization of breaking news, as needed.
    • Additionally, I’ll be throwing in all sorts of things, from on-the-ground reporter notebooks to teasers from upcoming books to the occasional fiction piece to throwbacks from my journalistic archives.

    Can’t afford even that? No worries. Just sign up for a free subscription and get occasional dispatches, or contact me and we can work something out. Or maybe you’ve got some extra change jangling around in your pocket and are really hungry for this sort of journalism? Then become a Founding Member and, in addition to feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, you’ll receive some extra swag.

    I just launched the Land Desk earlier this week and already subscribers are getting content! Today I published a Data Dump on a southwestern indicator river setting an alarming record. Also this week, look for a detailed analysis tracing the roots of the recent invasion of the Capitol to the Wise Use movement of the early 1990s. In the not-so distant future I’ll be publishing “Carbon Capture Convolution,” about the attempt to keep a doomed coal-fired power plant running by banking on questionable technology and sketchy federal tax credits. Plus the Land Desk will have updated national park visitor statistics, a look back on how the pandemic affected Western economies, and forward-looking pieces on what a Biden administration will mean for public lands.

    Please subscribe to The Land Desk. Click here to read some of Thompson’s work that has shown up on Coyote Gulch over the years.

    LM Collaborates with Gunnison County, #Colorado, to Ensure a Safe Water Supply — US Department of Energy

    Here’s the release from the Department of Energy:

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management (LM) is collaborating with Gunnison County, Colorado, to connect more domestic residences with private water wells within the groundwater contamination boundary at the former Gunnison uranium mill site to a municipal water supply.

    “This is a major milestone that reflects LM’s mission of protecting human health and the environment,” said Jalena Dayvault, site manager for LM’s Gunnison, Colorado, Site. “Gunnison County Public Works Director, Marlene Crosby, worked diligently to get remaining domestic well users on-board so this project could move forward.”

    The Gunnison site is a former uranium ore processing site located about a half-mile southwest of the city of Gunnison. The mill processed approximately 540,000 tons of uranium ore between 1958 and 1962, providing uranium for national defense programs. These ore processing activities resulted in contaminated groundwater beneath and near the site.

    In 1994, a water treatment plant, storage tank, and distribution system were partially funded by DOE and installed to supply municipal drinking water to all residences within the contaminated groundwater boundary. This project was part of the remedial action plan at the former uranium mill site and is considered a protective measure in case the contaminated groundwater plume was ever to affect domestic well users within this boundary.

    A small handful of homeowners with domestic wells in use before the cleanup continue to use those wells for drinking water. As part of LM’s long-term stewardship activities at the site, the office has monitored these wells annually to verify that mill-related contaminants have remained below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum concentration limits for the groundwater.

    Working closely with Gunnison County Public Works, LM made funds available in September 2020 to support Gunnison County Public Works in connecting more residences with domestic wells to the municipal water supply. Excavation work began in November to connect the first residence to the alternate water supply.

    “We started putting a game plan together back in early January of this year, reaching out to homeowners to get their buy-in and preparing a scope of work and budget for the project,” said Joe Lobato, site lead for the Legacy Management Support Partner (LMSP). “The LM and LMSP team has a great working relationship with Gunnison County.”

    This map shows the municipal water system that provides clean water to residents near the former uranium processing site. Credit: Department of Energy

    Interview: ‘Not Another Decade to Waste’ — How to Speed up the Clean Energy Transition — The Revelator #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Wind turbines, Weld County, 2015. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Revelator (Tara Lohan):

    Energy policy expert Leah Stokes explains who’s pushing climate delay and denial — it’s not just fossil fuel companies — and what we need to do now

    The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14% in April. But the drop won’t last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7% this year.

    After that, unless we make substantial changes to global economies, it will be back to business as usual — and a path that leads directly to runaway climate change. If we want to reverse course, say the world’s leading scientists, we have about a decade to right the ship.

    That’s because we’ve squandered a lot of time. “The 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s were lost decades for preventing global climate disaster,” political scientist Leah Stokes writes in her new book Short Circuiting Policy, which looks at the history of clean energy policy in the United States.

    But we don’t all bear equal responsibility for the tragic delay.

    “Some actors in society have more power than others to shape how our economy is fueled,” writes Stokes, an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We are not all equally to blame.”

    Short Circuiting Policy focuses on the role of one particularly bad actor: electric utilities. Their history of obstructing a clean-energy transition in the United States has been largely overlooked, with most of the finger-pointing aimed at fossil fuel companies (and for good reason).

    We spoke with Stokes about this history of delay and denial from the utility industry, how to accelerate the speed and scale of clean-energy growth, and whether we can get past the polarizing rhetoric and politics around clean energy.

    What lessons can we learn from your research to guide us right now, in what seems like a really critical time in the fight to halt climate change?

    What a lot of people don’t understand is that to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we actually have to reduce emissions by around 7-8% every single year from now until 2030, which is what the emissions drop is likely to be this year because of the COVID-19 crisis.

    Lean Stokes. Photo credit: University of California Santa Barbara

    So think about what it took to reduce emissions by that much and think about how we have to do that every single year.

    It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be some big sacrifice, but it does mean that we need government policy, particularly at the federal level, because state policy can only go so far. We’ve been living off state policy for more than three decades now and we need our federal government to act.

    Where are we now, in terms of our progress on renewable energy and how far we need to go?

    A lot of people think renewable energy is growing “so fast” and it’s “so amazing.” But first of all, during the coronavirus pandemic, the renewable energy industry is actually doing very poorly. It’s losing a lot of jobs. And secondly, we were not moving fast enough even before the coronavirus crisis, because renewable energy in the best year grew by only 1.3%.

    Right now we’re at around 36-37% clean energy. That includes nuclear, hydropower and new renewables like wind, solar and geothermal. But hydropower and nuclear aren’t growing. Nuclear supplies about 20% of the grid and hydro about 5% depending on the year. And then the rest is renewable. So we’re at about 10% renewables, and in the best year, we’re only adding 1% to that.

    Generally, we need to be moving about eight times faster than we’ve been moving in our best years. (To visualize this idea, I came up with the narwhal curve.)

    How do we overcome these fundamental issues of speed and scale?

    We need actual government policy that supports it. We have never had a clean electricity standard or renewable portfolio standard at the federal level. That’s the main law that I write all about at the state level. Where those policies are in place, a lot of progress has been made — places like California and even, to a limited extent, Texas.

    We need our federal government to be focusing on this crisis. Even the really small, piecemeal clean-energy policies we have at the federal level are going away. In December Congress didn’t extend the investment tax credit and the production tax credit, just like they didn’t extend or improve the electric vehicle tax credit.

    And now during the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of the money going toward the energy sector in the CARES Act is going toward propping up dying fossil fuel companies and not toward supporting the renewable energy industry.

    So we are moving in the wrong direction.

    Clean energy hasn’t always been such a partisan issue. Why did it become so polarizing?

    What I argue in my book, with evidence, is that electric utilities and fossil fuel companies have been intentionally driving polarization. And they’ve done this in part by running challengers in primary elections against Republicans who don’t agree with them.

    Basically, fossil fuel companies and electric utilities are telling Republicans that you can’t hold office and support climate action. That has really shifted the incentives within the party in a very short time period.

    It’s not like the Democrats have moved so far left on climate. The Democrats have stayed in pretty much the same place and the Republicans have moved to the right. And I argue that that’s because of electric utilities and fossil fuel companies trying to delay action.

    And their reason for doing that is simply about their bottom line and keeping their share of the market?

    Exactly. You have to remember that delay and denial on climate change is a profitable enterprise for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities. The longer we wait to act on the crisis, the more money they can make because they can extract more fossil fuels from their reserves and they can pay more of their debt at their coal plants and natural gas plants. So delay and denial is a money-making business for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities.

    There’s been a lot of research, reporting and even legal action in recent years about the role of fossil fuel companies in discrediting climate science. From reading your book, it seems that electric utilities are just as guilty. Is that right?

    Yes, far less attention has been paid to electric utilities, which play a really critical role. They preside over legacy investments into coal and natural gas, and some of them continue to propose building new natural gas.

    They were just as involved in promoting climate denial in the 1980s and 90s as fossil fuel companies, as I document in my book. And some of them, like Southern Company, have continued to promote climate denial to basically the present day.

    But that’s not the only dark part of their history.

    Electric utilities promoted energy systems that are pretty wasteful. They built these centralized fossil fuel power plants rather than having co-generation plants that were onsite at industrial locations where manufacturing is happening, and where you need both steam heat — which is a waste product from electricity — and the electricity itself. That actually created a lot of waste in the system and we burned a lot more fossil fuels than if we had a decentralized system.

    The other thing they’ve done in the more modern period is really resisted the energy transition. They’ve resisted renewable portfolio standards and net metering laws that allow for more clean energy to come onto the grid. They’ve tried to roll them back. They’ve been successful in some cases, and they’ve blocked new laws from passing when targets were met.

    You wrote that, “Partisan polarization on climate is not inevitable — support could shift back to the bipartisanship we saw before 2008.” What would it take to actually make that happen?

    Well, on the one hand, you need to get the Democratic Party to care more about climate change and to really understand the stakes. And if you want to do that, I think the work of the Justice Democrats is important. They have primary-challenged incumbent Democrats who don’t care enough about climate change. That is how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected. She was a primary challenger and she has really championed climate action in the Green New Deal.

    The other thing is that the public supports climate action. Democrats do in huge numbers. Independents do. And to some extent Republicans do, particularly young Republicans.

    So communicating the extent of public concern on these issues is really important because, as I’ve shown in other research, politicians don’t know how much public concern there is on climate change. They dramatically underestimate support for climate action.

    I think the media has a really important role to play because it’s very rare that a climate event, like a disaster that is caused by climate change, is actually linked to climate change in media reporting.

    But people might live through a wildfire or a hurricane or a heat wave, but nobody’s going to tell them through the media that this is climate change. So we really need our reporters to be doing a better job linking people’s lived experiences to climate change.

    With economic stimulus efforts ramping up because of the COVD-19 pandemic, are we in danger of missing a chance to help boost a clean energy economy?

    I think so many people understand that stimulus spending is an opportunity to rebuild our economy in a way that creates good-paying jobs in the clean-energy sector that protects Americans’ health.

    We know that breathing dirty air makes people more likely to die from COVID-19. So this is a big opportunity to create an economy that’s more just for all Americans.

    But unfortunately, we really are not pivoting toward creating a clean economy, which is what we need to be doing. This is an opportunity to really focus on the climate crisis because we have delayed for more than 30 years. There is not another decade to waste.

    Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
    http://twitter.com/TaraLohan

    #Arizona tribes fearful after losing court battle over #uranium mine near #GrandCanyon — Arizona Central #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Supai Village. Photo credit Tom Bean/National Park Service

    From Arizona Central (Debra Utacia Krol):

    Havasupai Vice Chairman Matthew Putesoy is worried that a federal court decision regarding a uranium mine could lead to environmental catastrophe for his community and surrounding lands.

    A U.S. District Court judge ruled May 22 against the tribe and two environmental groups in a seven-year-old lawsuit that sought to close the Canyon Mine, a uranium mine located about 10 miles south of the Grand Canyon’s south rim.

    Putesoy said the tribe is not prepared to abandon its fight.

    “From Havasu Baaja’s point of view,” he said, using the traditional name of his people, “the Guardians of the Grand Canyon will continue to battle the mining companies and someway, somehow, stop the mine from happening. Once the water is gone there’s no replacing it.”

    The Canyon Mine lies within 1 million acres of federal lands surrounding the Grand Canyon that was withdrawn from any new mining for 20 years by the Interior Department in 2012.

    The ban’s intent was to allow the U.S. Geological Survey to study the effects of such mines in the area to determine if environmental damage was likely to occur. The U.S. Forest Service determined that Canyon Mine, owned by Canadian firm Energy Fuels, could still operate because it could show a profit, as theMining Law of 1872 requires for a valid claim to be honored.

    Uranium mining threatens our home, the #GrandCanyon — @HighCountryNews #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss, a Havasupai tribal councilwoman, stands for a portrait by Red Butte, Kaibab National Forest, which was originally Havasupai land. “Let us rechristen the landscape here, changing the names of places, trails and springs back to the Indigenous names, the ones the tribes are comfortable sharing with the public,” she writes. Photo credit: Amy S. Martin via The High Country News

    From The High Country News [April 14, 2020] (Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss):

    Since time immemorial, the Havasupai have lived inside the natural wonder. We face yet another peril.

    If you were one of the 6.3 million people who visited Grand Canyon National Park last year, chances are you stood on the rim and noticed a green ribbon of trees thousands of feet below you. The National Park Service calls it “Indian Garden.” And it was truly a garden, once: Our Havasupai relatives, the Tilousi family, lived and gardened there a century ago, until the National Park Service kicked them out. The Bright Angel Trail hikers use to reach this area today is an old Havasupai trail. When the Fred Harvey Company set up its hospitality industry on the South Rim near the turn of the 20th century, they hired Havasupai and created a work camp for them called Supai Camp.

    Last year, the park celebrated its centennial. There were special events, but I doubt you heard anything about us, the Havasupai — the Guardians of the Grand Canyon. You may not even know about Canyon Mine, the proposed uranium mine that threatens Havasu Creek, the entire water supply of the Havasupai Reservation. Historical erasure has made us invisible. Now, our very survival is at stake, and we are asking for your help.

    Inside what you call Grand Canyon National Park, the Havasupai have lived since time immemorial. We still live here. Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Railway reached the Grand Canyon in 1901, and thousands of tourists came in their wake. Billy Burro was the last Havasupai to live in Indian Garden, a place that had been enjoyed by our people for centuries. But industry began to dictate where Indians could and couldn’t be, and public areas were forbidden because it was considered bad for business. Discrimination was rampant. At the Grand Canyon, we Havasupais were no longer welcome on our own land, because now it was reserved for tourists. Eventually, it was taken away altogether. Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919, and Billy, together with all Havasupais, were kicked out of Indian Garden. The people were relocated to the Indian work camp, with little option but to work for the railway. These were heartbreaking times for us, as our home became a tourist attraction. We had to endure constant racism; people like Billy were given the last name “Burro,” for example, as if we were no more than pack animals.

    It’s time Grand Canyon officials took some responsibility and helped educate visitors about our history, land and water. The South Rim was taken by the federal government to create Grand Canyon National Park, and Havasupai voices were ignored when we pleaded for our homeland. In the early 1930s, the Park Service burned Supai Camp to the ground, and our people, including elders and children, were loaded into covered wagons in the snow, taken to the canyon’s rim and forced to walk down a grueling 17-mile trail to Supai Village. That is where the Havasupai Reservation was created in 1880. Before that, however, Supai Village was used as our summer home. Our longtime winter home had always been the newly designated park, but now we had lost it forever. In the 1970s, the park hired a new superintendent, who shut off our food, septic and water supply. Fortunately, we already relied on the springs in the canyon, and so we weathered the assault.

    In addition to supporting the Havasupai people, the waters in Havasu Canyon give life to an array of animals and plants. Photo credit: Amy S. Martin via The Grand Canyon Trust

    Now we have a new threat to deal with. Fifteen miles from the park boundary is a uranium mine that threatens the entire water supply for the 426 permanent residents of the Havasupai Reservation. The mine shaft at Canyon Mine is 1,470 feet below the surface, and if it leaks, it will contaminate the Redwall-Muav aquifer, which discharges into Havasu Creek — our only source of water. We have been fighting uranium mining for 40 years, but we cannot do it alone, especially if we continue to be erased.

    Havasuw’ Baaja means the people of the blue-green waters. Those waters are the waters of Havasu Creek, and we are the original Guardians of the Grand Canyon. Thousands of more recent arrivals have since settled this land, built homes and raised families on our ancestral lands, and we know they love the canyon, too. Like us, they’ve come to know the names of the mountains, trails and waters in the region. The Grand Canyon has called them here, to make their lives in this incredible corner of the world. We are not so different after all.

    And now it’s time for them — and for everyone who loves the Grand Canyon — to stand with us, to get to know who we are, and to work with us toward a just and shared vision for the next 100 years of this national park. We want the park to recognize our histories and to share that story permanently at the visitor center — to find a place for us in all their exhibits and in permanent signage throughout the park. Let us rechristen the landscape here, changing the names of places, trails and springs back to the Indigenous names, the ones the tribes are comfortable sharing with the public. All park rangers, personnel, outfitters and river runners should receive cultural sensitivity training, so they can teach visitors about the true history of the land.

    Congress should pass S.3127 – the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act. This law will protect the 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park from the catastrophic impacts of uranium mining; it will also protect our homes in Supai Village.

    Often, we gather at Red Butte, one of our sacred sites, to protest the project. There, we educate people about the many efforts to shut down the Canyon Mine, which is just three miles away. We invite you to join us here.

    You are invited to stand strong with us and help us protect this landscape we all love, which is also the place we call home — the Grand Canyon. We have been trying to do this for many years, and we will continue to do for all generations to come. Please join us.

    Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss is a Havasupai tribal councilwoman. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

    Travertine Terraces in Havasu Creek. By Robertbody at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4268354

    Leaked report for [JP Morgan] says #Earth is on unsustainable trajectory #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Anti-climate change lobbying spend by the five largest publicly-owned fossil fuel companies. Statista, CC BY-SA

    From The Guardian (Patrick Greenfield and Jonathan Watts):

    The world’s largest financier of fossil fuels has warned clients that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity and that the planet is on an unsustainable trajectory, according to a leaked document.

    The JP Morgan report on the economic risks of human-caused global heating said climate policy had to change or else the world faced irreversible consequences.

    The study implicitly condemns the US bank’s own investment strategy and highlights growing concerns among major Wall Street institutions about the financial and reputational risks of continued funding of carbon-intensive industries, such as oil and gas.

    JP Morgan has provided $75bn (£61bn) in financial services to the companies most aggressively expanding in sectors such as fracking and Arctic oil and gas exploration since the Paris agreement, according to analysis compiled for the Guardian last year.

    Its report was obtained by Rupert Read, an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson and philosophy academic at the University of East Anglia, and has been seen by the Guardian.

    The research by JP Morgan economists David Mackie and Jessica Murray says the climate crisis will impact the world economy, human health, water stress, migration and the survival of other species on Earth.

    “We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened,” notes the paper, which is dated 14 January.

    Drawing on extensive academic literature and forecasts by the International Monetary Fund and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the paper notes that global heating is on course to hit 3.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. It says most estimates of the likely economic and health costs are far too small because they fail to account for the loss of wealth, the discount rate and the possibility of increased natural disasters.

    The authors say policymakers need to change direction because a business-as-usual climate policy “would likely push the earth to a place that we haven’t seen for many millions of years”, with outcomes that might be impossible to reverse.

    “Although precise predictions are not possible, it is clear that the Earth is on an unsustainable trajectory. Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive.”

    The investment bank says climate change “reflects a global market failure in the sense that producers and consumers of CO2 emissions do not pay for the climate damage that results.” To reverse this, it highlights the need for a global carbon tax but cautions that it is “not going to happen anytime soon” because of concerns about jobs and competitiveness.

    The authors say it is “likely the [climate] situation will continue to deteriorate, possibly more so than in any of the IPCC’s scenarios”.

    Without naming any organisation, the authors say changes are occurring at the micro level, involving shifts in behaviour by individuals, companies and investors, but this is unlikely to be enough without the involvement of the fiscal and financial authorities.

    @POTUS targets a bedrock environmental law — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #NEPA

    From The High Country News, February 12, 2020 (Jonathan Thompson):

    Three years of rollbacks have taken a toll, without delivering real benefits.

    “I’m approving new dishwashers that give you more water so you can actually wash and rinse your dishes without having to do it 10 times,” President Donald J. Trump told a crowd in Milwaukee in January. “How about the shower? I have this beautiful head of hair, I need a lot of water. You turn on the water: drip, drip, drip.”

    While this may sound like just another Trumpism intended to distract his base from his impeachment troubles, the words nicely encapsulate the administration’s disastrous approach to environmental policy. First, he gins up a false problem. Then he blames the false problem on “regulatory burdens.” Then he wipes out said regulations with complete disregard for any actual benefits or the possible catastrophic consequences.

    Trump followed this pattern in January, when he announced one of his most significant rollbacks yet, a drastic weakening of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA — the bedrock law passed during the Nixon era that requires environmental reviews for projects handled by federal agencies.

    Trump said the overhaul is necessary because the law imposes interminable delays on infrastructure projects, hampering economic growth. “It takes many, many years to get something built,” he said in an early January speech at the White House. “The builders are not happy. Nobody is happy. It takes 20 years. It takes 30 years. It takes numbers that nobody would even believe.”

    Maybe nobody would believe them because — like Trump’s assertion that modern toilets must be flushed “15 times” — they simply aren’t true. Every year, the nonpartisan National Association of Environmental Professionals analyzes the implementation of NEPA. The group has found that over the last decade, full environmental impact statements have taken, on average, less than five years to complete. Only about 5% of all reviews take longer than a decade, and less than 1% drag on for 20 years or more. These rare cases can be caused by a project’s complexity, or by delays or changes made by its backers that have nothing to do with NEPA or any other environmental regulations.

    Trump isn’t letting facts get in his way, however. The proposed changes would “streamline” reviews, according to the administration, and, most notably, “clarify that effects should not be considered significant if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the result of a lengthy causal chain.”

    A project’s potential contribution to climate change, in other words, would be discounted. Indeed, environmental effects will no longer be considered significant — except for the most direct, immediate ones. A proposed highway plowing through a low-income neighborhood, for example, would result in more traffic, leading to more pollution, leading to health problems for residents and exacerbating global warming. But since all of that is “remote in time” and the result of a “lengthy causal chain,” it would not necessarily be grounds to stop or modify the project. By discounting long-term and cumulative impacts, this seemingly simple change would effectively gut a law that has guided federal agencies for a half-century.

    That, Trump claims, will speed up approvals and create more jobs. But a look back at the effects of his previous regulatory rollbacks suggests otherwise.

    Since the moment he took office, Trump has been rescinding environmental protections. He drastically diminished Bears Ears National Monument, he tossed out rules protecting water from uranium operations, he threw out limits on methane and mercury emissions, weakened the Clean Water Act, and, more recently, cleared the way for the Keystone XL pipeline, yet again. According to Harvard Law School’s regulatory rollback tracker, the Trump administration has axed or weakened more than 60 measures that protect human and environmental health since he took office.

    Energy Fuels’ White Mesa Mill from inside Bears Ears National Monument. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Trump often boasts that his policies have created 7 million jobs during his term. Correlation, however, does not equal causation. Even as the overall economy has boomed — a trend that was already in place when Trump took office — the sectors that should have benefited the most from Trump’s rollbacks continue to flail.

    Trump killed or weakened at least 15 regulations aimed at the coal industry in hopes of bringing back jobs. By nearly every measure, the industry is weaker now than it was when Trump was elected. Trump shrank Bears Ears National Monument to make way for extraction industries and rescinded regulations on uranium in part to help Energy Fuels, a uranium company. But in January, the company laid off one-third of its workforce, including most of the employees at the White Mesa Mill, adjacent to Bears Ears. Nearly every one of the protections that Trump killed were purportedly “burdening” the nation’s mining, logging and drilling industries. Regardless, the number of people working in that sector is down 20% from five years ago.

    Rolling back environmental regulations will no more create jobs than removing “restrictors” from showerheads will give Donald Trump a thick head of hair — it won’t. It will merely result in more waste, dirtier air and water, and a more rapid plunge into climate catastrophe.

    Now, Trump is going after energy-efficient lightbulbs, and his reasoning is as specious as ever. “The new lightbulb costs you five times as much,” he told his followers at the Milwaukee rally, “and it makes you look orange.”

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

    New poll shows leading role of #climate policy in #Colorado primary — @ConservationCO #ActOnClimate #VoteEnvironment #KeepItInTheGround

    Comasche Solar Farm near Pueblo April 6, 2016. Photo credit: Reuters via The Climate Reality Project

    From Conservation Colorado (Garrett Garner-Wells):

    New polling released today highlighted climate change as the top issue in Colorado’s upcoming presidential primary, 10 points higher than health care and 15 points higher than preventing gun violence.

    The survey of likely Democratic presidential primary voters conducted by Global Strategies Group found that nearly all likely primary voters think climate change is already impacting or will impact their families (91%), view climate change as a very serious problem or a crisis (84%), and want to see their leaders take action within the next year (85%). And by a nearly three-to-one margin, likely primary voters prefer a candidate with a plan to take action on climate change starting on Day One of their term over a candidate who has not pledged to act starting on Day One (74% – 26%).

    Additionally, the survey found that among likely primary voters:

  • 85% would be more likely to support a candidate who will move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy;
  • 95% would be more likely to support a candidate who will combat climate change by protecting and restoring forests; and,
  • 76% would be more likely to support a candidate who will phase out extraction of oil, gas, and goal on public lands by 2030.
  • These responses are unsurprising given that respondents believed that a plan to move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy will have a positive impact on future generations of their family (81%), the quality of the air we breathe (93%), and the health of families like theirs (88%).

    Finally, likely primary voters heard a description of Colorado’s climate action plan to reduce pollution and the state’s next steps to achieve reductions of at least 50 percent by 2030 and at least 90 percent by 2050. Based on that statement, 91% of respondents agreed that the Air Quality Control Commission should take timely action to create rules that guarantee that the state will meet its carbon reduction targets.

    Full survey results can be found here.

    Tri-State plans 50% #renewableenergy by 2024 as member co-ops press for exit — The Loveland Reporter Herald #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    The South Taylor pit is one of Colowyo Mine’s current active coal mining site. Photo by David Tan via CoalZoom.com

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Dan Mika):

    Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. said by 2024 it will draw from renewable sources at least half of the energy it sends to member power cooperatives.

    In a news conference also attended by Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday, the Westminster-based power generator said it would build two wind farms and four solar farms in Colorado and New Mexico to generate an additional gigawatt of energy for its 43 member co-ops in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and New Mexico.

    Tri-State CEO Duane Highley said the plan puts the company at the forefront of the shift away from fossil fuels.

    “Membership in Tri-State will provide the best option for cooperatives seeking a clean, flexible and competitively-priced power supply, while still receiving the benefits of being a part of a financially strong, not-for-profit, full-service cooperative,” he said at the news conference.

    The partial shift away from non-renewable sources of power comes amid ongoing disputes among Tri-State, Brighton’s United Power Inc. and La Plata Energy Association Inc. at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. The two co-ops filed suit in November, claiming Tri-State is refusing to give them permission to explore deals with other power suppliers and effectively holding them hostage while it tries to become a federally regulated entity…

    Tri-State has maintained it cannot release United and La Plata while other co-op customers revise the rules for terminating contracts…

    In a statement, La Plata said it supports Tri-State’s push toward renewable energy, but said the power provider’s rules are preventing it from creating its own series of renewable energy sources to meet its local carbon reduction targets.

    “While Tri-State’s future goal will help meet our carbon reduction goal, we do not yet know what the costs of its plan will be to our members and what LPEA’s role will be for producing local, renewable energy into the future,” said La Plata Energy Association CEO Jessica Matlock.

    Member co-ops are required to buy 95% of their power from Tri-State.

    Moab uranium tailings pile removal update

    From Aspen Public Radio (Molly Marcello):

    In a park, nestled in a red rock canyon outside Moab, Utah — a short drive from a giant pile of uranium tailings — a crowd gathered for a celebration. Elected officials and community members mingled, and enjoyed refreshments.

    Volunteers placed pieces of yellow cake in small paper bowls.

    It was a facetious nod to the gathering’s purpose: to celebrate the removal of 10 million tons of toxic uranium tailings from the banks of the Colorado River.

    “You never would have thought you would have all these people congratulating themselves in the community on moving 10 million tons,” said Sarah Fields, executive director of the nonprofit Uranium Watch. “They seem to be really dedicated to getting this done.”

    […]

    Before cleanup efforts began about 10 years ago, elevated levels of uranium and ammonia were showing up in the river’s water near Moab. The contamination alarmed officials downstream in Nevada and California, and they called for the Department of Energy to step in.

    Getting the pile out of the floodplain became a community rallying cry as well, Fields said.

    “The (Department of Energy) pretty much from the beginning realized that if they decided to leave it in place they would be standing alone because the town, the city, most of the members of the community, the state, the EPA all said, ‘Move the pile,’” Fields said.

    Workers began moving the pile in 2009. The tailings are loaded into train cars, and sent 30 miles north where they’re stored away from the river in the middle of the desert. With the 10 millionth ton moved, more than 62% of the pile is gone, which means many Moabites could see completion in their lifetimes.

    Court ruling could expedite cleanup of long-dormant uranium mines — @COindependent

    Old uranium sites in Colorado via The Denver Post

    From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

    The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled companies must reclaim uranium mines that sit idle for more than 10 years

    Recent images of the Van 4 uranium mine show a dark rig towering above a sagebrush and juniper mesa. Beside the scaffolding sit piles of loose white rocks and two metal buildings, one of which drips insulation from its ruptured ceiling. The site is one of western Colorado’s active uranium mines. But it looks deserted.

    The operator, Piñon Ridge Mining, LLC, a subsidiary of Western Uranium & Vanadium Corp., is waiting for the price of uranium to rebound before firing up the mine again. The last time that happened was 30 years ago.

    Just how long mines like the Van 4 should be allowed to remain open — but idle — has long been a point of contention in Colorado between environmentalists and mine owners.

    Environmentalists argue the site should have been cleaned up and restored to sagebrush scrub decades ago.

    But the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, an eight-member panel appointed by the governor that enforces the state’s mining laws, has allowed mining companies to delay tearing down their operations by granting mine owners reclamation exemptions, known as “temporary cessation” permits.

    This delay has frustrated environmental advocates. They see the unremediated sites as threatening wildlife habitat, water quality and a new West End economy based on recreational opportunities. They believe companies have relied on temporary cessation permits to sidestep environmental regulations requiring them to close and clean their all-but-shuttered mining operations.

    And last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with them.

    The court ruled state regulatory board “abused its discretion” by granting two five-year temporary cessation permits to Piñon Ridge Mining, which owns the Van 4 site. After 10 years of sitting idle, the court said, the Van 4 operation must be terminated and the owner must fully comply with reclamation requirements, restoring the site closer to its natural condition.

    Phone messages left for the operator of the Van 4 mine seeking a response to the ruling were not returned Wednesday. But the president of the Colorado Mining Association argued it’s important to consider national security risks when deciding whether to close mines.

    The court’s opinion could have far-reaching consequences. Owners of the state’s 29 active uranium mines — 16 of which have been granted temporary cessation permits, according to state data — may have to begin tearing down rigs and buildings and testing for radiation. The state does not yet know how many mines are past due for reclamation, according to the court’s interpretation. But it knows there are several.

    “Those sites will very likely need to be reclaimed in accordance with this order,” said Ginny Brannon, director of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

    The state estimates the federal Department of Energy holds about $14.5 million in bonds that companies front to ensure resources are available to restore closed mining operations.