Some Colorado River District constituents challenge hiring of Zane Kessler

A map showing the boundaries of the Colorado River District, and its 15 member counties.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

GRAND JUNCTION – The Colorado River District says it stands behind the recent hiring of Zane Kessler as communications director, despite concerns from some of the more-conservative counties in the district about his past political activities regarding oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area.

Scott McInnis, a Mesa County commissioner and Glenwood Springs native, represented the Western Slope and Colorado’s 3rd District as a Republican in Congress from 1993-2005.

He said at a special river district meeting in Grand Junction last week that he wants to ensure Kessler is “riding for the River District brand,” and not that of his former employer, the Thompson Divide Coalition.

“It’s important that we all ride for the same brand,” McInnis said. “But sometimes its hard to change brands.”

Kessler was executive director for the TDC from 2012 until earlier this year when he took the communications job as part of the river district’s external affairs team.

In his previous role, Kessler championed the TDC’s efforts to either buy out leaseholders or have the Bureau of Land Management cancel several oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale.

Late last year, the BLM, following an extensive review, did in fact cancel 25 undeveloped leases in the divide.

Most of the canceled leases were on lands within Garfield and Pitkin counties, but three leases were partially in Mesa County, covering about 3,800 acres.

A broader BLM review of 65 leases in the region resulted in other leases outside the Thompson Divide in Mesa County near De Beque being modified with new restrictions. Other leases were reaffirmed in full.

In addition to lobbying for the leases to be canceled, the coalition also advocated for the White River National Forest to close off the Thompson Divide area to new leasing as part of its 20-year oil and gas leasing management plan approved in 2014.

McInnis said the efforts by the Thompson Divide Coalition lead to restrictions on oil and gas development throughout the whole White River National Forest.

“What happened is, their efforts then expanded to the new White River National Forest policy and [now] they are not going to allow any more drilling,” McInnis said in a phone interview. “That’s a huge forest.”

A special Colorado River District meeting underway on Dec. 6, 2017, in a ballroom at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. The meeting was sparked by opposition from some of the 15-member counties in the river district to the hiring of Zane Kessler as its new communications director and lobbyist.

Root of the issue

At the Dec. 6 meeting, McInnis and a posse of other county commissioners from Mesa, Moffatt, Rio Blanco, and Hinsdale counties, called Kessler’s allegiances into question.

Their concerns track to a comment Kessler made in a Sept. 6 Glenwood Springs Post Independent article about his departure from the TDC that he may continue to volunteer for the organization, if the opportunity arose.

In the article, Kessler was quoted by Post Independent reporter John Stroud as saying, “I will continue to be active with the coalition in a volunteer capacity.”

McInnis then called Stroud to confirm that the quote was accurate, and Stroud assured him it was, according to both Stroud and McInnis.

McInnis said at the Dec. 6 meeting that Mesa County had “deep differences” with the TDC. And he said he’s worried that the coalition might next turn its attention to the Colorado River and that he was upset no one had called Mesa County to ask about Kessler.

Kessler started as communications director for the River District on Sept. 5. He reports to Chris Treese, the district’s external affairs manager. Like Treese, Kessler is a registered lobbyist for the river district, which was formed in 1937 to protect and develop Western Slope water interests.

The district’s board is made up of representatives from 15 Western Slope counties, appointed by the commissioners in the member counties for three-year terms. Member counties include Delta, Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mesa, Moffat, Montrose, Ouray, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt, Saguache, and Summit counties.

Zane Kessler, on one of the trips he made on horseback through the Thompson Divide area. Kessler grew up in Oklahoma and spent time on a family member’s ranch in east Texas.

GM backs decision

Outgoing Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn, who is in the process of handing duties over to new GM, Andy Mueller, assured McInnis and the others that he was comfortable with the hiring process and the ultimate decision to hire Kessler.

Kuhn acknowledged in a Sept. 8 memo to river district board members that he had received a call from a “very concerned county commissioner” about the Kessler hiring, in apparent reference to McInnis, who later said he called both Kuhn and Treese.

“Both Chris [Treese] and I have confirmed that Zane has severed his ties with Thompson Divide and works exclusively for the River District under Chris,” Kuhn wrote in that memo.

He said the district received 25 applications for the position. Eight candidates were interviewed by a committee of five district employees, and Kessler was the unanimous choice, he said in the memo.

“”I was quite emphatic 1n my defense of our hiring process,” Kuhn told his board. “It was competitive. It was not arbitrary. There are no political litmus tests. We don’t ask what political party they belong to or who they voted for, or anything else of that nature. Where we had concerns, we vetted those issues.”

McInnis was perturbed by Kuhn’s reference to a “political litmus test.”

“This has nothing to do with partisan politics,” McInnis said in a phone interview after the meeting last week. “I don’t care whether he is a Democrat, a Republican, unaffiliated. I care about who he led. He was the four-star general for the Thompson Divide, and we had a rough history with them, coming into Mesa County, uninvited,” McInnis said.

Kessler, in a Sept. 12 letter to the editor of the Post Independent sought to assure his critics.

“While I am no longer working for the coalition, I look forward to continuing to work with diverse, Western Slope interests to protect western Colorado water for the welfare of the entire district.”

Contacted after the river district meeting last week, Kessler declined to talk on the record, but offered in a follow-up statement via email: “I have one job nowadays: to advocate on behalf of the Western Slope’s water interests and the water interests of every county in the district.”

According to Thomas Divide Coalition board member Chuck Ogilby, the coalition is in a quiet mode, and there are no plans to expand their mission beyond preserving the Thompson Divide area.

“Our mission was solely based on the Roaring Fork valley and the environments right around the Thompson Divide lands,” Ogilby said. “It was a very singular mission and continues to be.”

But McInnis thinks otherwise.

“My understanding is that discussions have taken place, and that the Thompson Divide intends to remain a coalition to take on other causes,” McInnis said in an interview. “And it seems to me the most logical cause they’re going to take on, not today, but they’ll be there, is the Colorado River.”

And he noted, “If there is anything that is sacrosanct over here on the Western Slope, it’s water, and that Colorado River.”

One of several large irrigation canals in Mesa County that divert water from the Colorado River.

Pressing the issue

The same day that Kessler’s letter appeared, on Sept. 12, McInnis and fellow Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese sent a letter to about 50 people, including all of the river district’s board members, according to McInnis.

“Mr. Kessler, as an anti-oil and gas activist, has led the effort, for many years, to cancel oil and gas leases on public lands, including retroactive action to existing leases,” McInnis and Pugliese wrote. “These cancellations will have a broad and far reaching detrimental impact on energy related needs and jobs on the Western Slope.”

They said Kessler’s prior positions on behalf of the coalition “conflict with many of the River District’s goals and positions, and are harmful to the critical water rights the River District is charged with protecting for the multi-use concepts of energy, development, agriculture, to name a few.”

During the ensuing weeks, letters critical of the hiring decision were also sent from commissioners in Moffat, Rio Blanco and Hinsdale counties.

The three commissioners in Rio Blanco County advised the river district in a Sept. 25 letter, “If your decision to hire Mr. Kessler was made based upon a change in direction and philosophy by the CRD Board, we are even more concerned. A biased anti-energy, pro-environmentalist approach to public lands decisions would have a significant detrimental effect on the citizens of Rio Blanco County. It is our hope that the hiring of Mr. Kessler is not an indication of a change in direction or philosophy by the CRD Board. If it is, we are extremely concerned.”

On Oct. 3, Kuhn responded to the Rio Blanco commissioners in a letter, saying, “None who interviewed Zane and none who have had the opportunity to work with him had any question that he is a consummate professional who understands what it means to be an advocate for his employer.”

He also noted that the river district’s two attorneys once both worked for Front Range water interests, and that had not kept them from loyally serving the district.

“The River District has never hired nor failed to hire because of a candidate’s past associations, and I hope we never will,” Kuhn wrote. “Our two attorneys both represented and were closely associated with major Front Range municipalities immediately before joining the Colorado River District.”

But the issue did not die down. In fact, it morphed to include other concerns about the river district.

On Nov. 9, Kuhn sent a memo to the board informing them that Mesa Commissioner Pugliese was asking about the size of the district’s staff of 25 people, their salaries and benefits, and the district’s offices.

“I have to share with you that, to me, the most troubling implication of these questions and this controversy is the suggestion that the River District Board is not properly executing its fiduciary responsibilities,” Kuhn told his board.

On Nov. 13, the three Mesa County commissioners sent a letter to Tom Alvey, the president of the river district board, assuring him it was not a political issue and that they thought the river district staff was now using the suggestion of a “political litmus test” to “spin” the situation and “avoid answering the legitimate inquiries” made by Mesa County.

Then, on Nov. 22, Pugliese raised the issue of whether Mesa County should even stay in the river district.

“I am still trying to determine if it is beneficial for Mesa County to stay in the River District, and if staff is really representing the interests of our Mesa County constituents,” she wrote.

All that led to the Dec. 6 special meeting in Grand Junction, where McInnis reiterated his concerns to river district board members and staff, including incoming GM Mueller.

“If we don’t have the toughest, smartest, shrewdest voice in that state capitol, we are going to find an internal rift, and we’re going to find we’re losing a lot of ground,” McInnis said.

Mueller responded by saying he took McInnis’ comments to heart.

“We will be examining all of our staff members and expecting that they will all be the best,” Mueller said. “And I do mean the best team for everybody in the room. We will be reviewing our personnel hiring process.”

He added, “I do think that getting input from our constituents is important when we’re engaging in critical hiring.”

A mule deer browses near one of the Willsource Enterprise wells in the headwaters area of West Divide Creek, in the Mesa County corner of the Thompson Divide.

“Vendetta meeting”

Kessler did get some support at the meeting from other constituent county commissioners.

Rachel Richards of Pitkin County said she considered it “a vendetta meeting,” and warned the other commissioners about “wrongful interference” with the district’s employment practices.

“It seems like an attack on all the citizens of the Crystal River Valley, the ranchers, agriculturalists, the outfitters, the fishermen, everyone who came together to become the Thompson Divide Coalition,” Richards said. “Zane Kessler might seem like a figurehead to that group, but I’ve never seen as much unanimous support by a huge diverse community as I saw behind the Thompson Divide Coalition.”

Merritt Linke, a commissioner from Grand County, added, “He is obviously good at what he does. … Maybe we can accept that someone on this staff knew what they were doing, and he is going to be able to ride for the brand.”

Even McInnis said during the post-meeting phone interview that he had respect for Kessler’s professional abilities and the job he did for the Thompson Divide Coalition.

“It mushroomed into this large, very well-politically connected, very well-financed, strong organization under the leadership of Zane,” McInnis said. “I’ve never questioned Zane’s ability to organize something. He did a good job with them — it’s just the wrong goals — but anyway, he did a good job.”

He also said he was satisfied with the outcome of the special meeting.

“The river district is going to take a close look at their personnel policies in January, and if they need tightening up, tighten them up,” McInnis said.

Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis, in white shirt, talking with officials from the Colorado River District at a meeting in Grand Junction on Dec. 6, 2017.

Timeline and links to public documents

Below are links to public documents provided by the Colorado River District in response to requests from Aspen Journalism. The documents are listed by date.

(Note: “CRWCD” is short for Colorado River Water Conservation District, the organization’s full name).

5.1.17: CRWCD posts a job description for the new position of communications director.

9.5.17: Zane Kessler starts his new job as communications director at CRWCD.

9.6.17: Glenwood Springs Post Independent article, “Kessler leaving Thompson Divide Coalition for Colorado River District job.”

9.8.17: memo from Kuhn at CRWCD to board on the hiring of Kessler.

9.12.17: letter to editor from Zane Kessler, published in GSPI.

9.12.17: letter from Mesa County to CRWCD board members and others.

9.13/14.17: CRWCD meeting minutes from meeting GJ w/ Kessler in attendance and Kuhn discussing hire practices.

9.19.17 CRWCD names Andy Mueller as next GM.

9.25.17: letter from Rio Blanco County to CRWCD re Kessler.

9.27.17: letter from Hinsdale County to CRWCD re Kessler.

10.3.17: letter from CRWCD to Rio Blanco BOCC re Kessler.

10.10.17: letter from White River and Douglas Creek districts to CRWCD.

10.17.17: letter from Moffat County to CRWCD re Kessler.

11.6.17: letter from CRWCD board president to county commissioners.

11.9.17: Kuhn sends a memo to CRWCD board on “budget issues” raised by Commissioner Pugliese.

11.10.17: letter from CRWCD to Rose Pugliese from CRWCD.

11.13.17: letter from Mesa County to CRWCD board.

11.15.17: various emails sent to CRWCD on pending 12.6.17 meeting.

11.22/24.17: emails sent from various county commissioners on upcoming CRWCD meeting.

12.6.17: CRWCD district meeting attendance sheet.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, The Aspen Times, the Vail Daily, and the Summit Daily News. The Post Independent published a version of this story on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017.

Utah national monuments face dramatic reductions — @HighCountryNews

The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broomfield: Question 301 aims to prioritize health and safety for oil and gas operations

Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org

From The Denver Post (John Aguilar):

Voters on Tuesday passed a controversial ballot issue that gives Broomfield more local oversight of oil and gas operations in the city, a move that probably will invite a legal challenge from Colorado’s large energy sector.

According to a late-night vote tally in the mail-in election that accounts for most of the ballots cast in the city, the yes vote for Question 301 was comfortably ahead of the no vote by a margin of 57.5 percent to 42.5 percent…

Jennifer Dulles, a Broomfield resident who supports 301, attended a watch party at Brothers BBQ in Broomfield…

As to the question of whether the industry would sue, Dulles said, “The concept that an industry would need to sue the people over a ballot initiative that is about health and safety is incredulous.”

[…]

Question 301 has been a highly contentious topic in Broomfield and is perhaps one of the most fought-over issues on a Colorado ballot in 2017. The measure attracted nearly $400,000 from groups either pushing it or trying to quash it.

Of that amount, the energy extraction industry put in the lion’s share — nearly $345,000 — in both monetary and in-kind contributions to defeat 301.

“It is in violation of state law as upheld by the state Supreme Court,” said Don Beezley, a “No on 301” committee member. “The result will be Broomfield spending tens of thousands of dollars or more defending lawsuits, most likely from both the state of Colorado and the operators, with apparently 100 percent likelihood of losing said suits.”

[…]

Past efforts by cities — including Fort Collins, Broomfield and Lafayette — to temporarily ban oil and gas drilling have met defeat in court. In May 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that municipally imposed fracking bans are illegal because state power to regulate the industry trumps local efforts to do so.

While 301 doesn’t propose an oil and gas ban, its potential to restrict energy extraction activities doesn’t sit well with the industry. Last month, two industry groups sued Thornton weeks after the city passed oil and gas regulations that the industry claims conflict with state law, characterizing the city’s new setback distances for wells and requirements on abandoned flowlines an overreach…

But the pro-301 side points to a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling from March, known as the Martinez decision, that stipulates the protection of public health and the environment is “a condition that must be fulfilled” by the state before oil and gas drilling can be done.

That’s essentially what the measure asked of Broomfield voters, said Judy Kelly, co-chair of the 301 Committee. The measure is an amendment to Broomfield’s home rule charter requiring protection of health, safety and the environment as preconditions for drilling inside city limits.

“It might be worth taking a step back to ask ourselves, ‘Why in the world would people be sued for simply stating that their city places health and safety as a first priority?’” Kelly asked. “If the industry is safe and can operate safely, this is a non-issue for them.”

Will electric car sales become like the pond with proliferating lily pads? — The Mountain Town News

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

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

EVs still small share of market share, but that could change

Remember the riddle about the lily pond that begins with one lily, the number doubling each day? The pond seems empty even when it has become an eighth filled. But you can do the math for the three days beyond.

That riddle comes to mind when Will Toor talks about the adoption rate for electric vehicles in Colorado. Today they constitute just 10,000 or so among the 5 million-plus cars, trucks, and motorcycles. But the growth rate for EVs has averaged 41 percent since 2012, and this year sales are up 73 percent over the same months of last year.

Toor, the transportation program director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, sees this progression as evidence for a coming tipping point in transportation electrification. Like the lilies, this automotive pond will soon look very different.

“We are clearly headed toward lower-carbon electricity, and we now seem to be getting to the tipping point in electrification of transportation,” says Toor, who has a doctorate in physics. Sales will double within three years at this rate of growth. With certain policy supports, Colorado could have a million EVs by 2030, he adds.

Colorado now has the 6th largest market share of EVs in the country, behind California and other West Coast states, Hawaii, and Vermont. Fort Collins, Boulder, and the Roaring Fork Valley stand out as early adopters, says Toor.

To be sure, there are some who remain skeptical, seeing more measured and incremental growth unlike the quick adoption of smart phones and other new wrinkles in technology. EVs, they say, do not obviously represent a transformative improvement for consumers as compared to gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles.

Graphic credit The Mountain Town News.

State governments, however, want to smooth the way for EVs, creating charging infrastructure to create comfort for potential buyers. Colorado agencies propose to spend $10.3 million of the state’s $68 million share of the Volkswagen settlement for charging stations or fueling stations for zero-emission passenger cars and trucks. The settlement is a result of Volkswagen’s admission that it tampered with its diesel cars to allow more emissions than permitted by the Clean Air Act.

In anticipation of that settlement, Colorado a year ago was moving to join Utah and Nevada in creating charging infrastructure on interstate highways—and, in some places, beyond. Soon, it will be possible to drive from Kansas to the Pacific Ocean with some sort of fast-charging infrastructure guaranteed about every 50 miles. But there are still gaps, such as between Denver and Summit County.

Last year, Colorado also released a tiered program for implementation of electric charging stations and other alternative fuels on secondary highways, such as along U.S. 285 between Denver and Buena Vista and along U.S. 36 between Denver and Estes Park. Other corridors, including U.S. 40 and U.S. 50, are also being targeted for alternative fueling stations.

More policy supports may be on the way as advisors to Gov. John Hickenlooper put together strategies to support the governor’s executive order, issued July 11, “supporting Colorado’s clean energy transition.”

The order directs state agencies to develop a statewide electric vehicle plan by Jan. 1 to build out key charging corridors that “will facilitate economic development and boost tourism across the state while reducing harmful air pollution.”

Denver, Salt Lake City, and other cities have also identified electrification of transportation as crucial to achieving their greenhouse gas reduction goals. Denver is aiming for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050.

The Salt Lake Valley each winter suffers through temperature inversions that trap pollutants from cars, trucks and buildings. Photo credit The Mountain Town News.

In Salt Lake City, vehicle electrification is seen as a crucial strategy for addressing the pollution that badly fouls the air during winter. Temperature inversions trap local pollution in the valley, leaving many of the one million residents of the metropolitan area wheezing, hacking, and scratching their eyes.

“It’s absolutely miserable,” says Nick Norris, communities and neighborhoods planning director. The pollution is also unhealthy, exacerbating asthma and even causing spikes in heart attacks. Medical authorities have attributed 1,000 to 2,000 premature deaths to the air pollution.

Transportation is the single largest source of the pollution, followed by exhausts from heating buildings, according to analysis by the state government. Electric power plants are located well away from Salt Lake.

This clear and obvious problem of pollution is causing more rapid acceptance of electric vehicles in the Salt Lake Valley, says Norris. It also fits with the goals of the city to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and home heating 80 percent by 2040.

Rocky Mountain Power, the electrical utility for Salt Lake City as well as Park City and Moab, supports this transition with installation of charging stations. And why shouldn’t it? Electric cars represent new demand even as improved energy efficiency has leveled off and even caused declines from other sectors. “It’s a different world out there than it was only a few years ago,” said Cindy Crane, chief executive of Rocky Mountain Power at the Western Power Summit last week.

Utah now leads the nation in percentage growth in EV sales, followed by Nevada, North Carolina, and Colorado. About 1.2 percent of all cars in Colorado are now electric, compared to more than 4 percent of all cars in California.

Tesla several years ago installed fast-charging stations in Lusk, Wyo., located in eastern Wyoming. It is the county seat for one of the nation’s least-populated counties, Niobrara. Photo/Allen Best.

Wyoming, too, doesn’t want to be left behind. It joined with the effort to put electric charging infrastructure along major highways in concert with other Western states, despite the lack of current demand. Wyoming Gov. Brad Mead, at at the Center for the New Energy Economy conference in Fort Collins this week, characterized it as a chicken-and-egg situation. But given the importance of tourism in Wyoming, he said, “we don’t want to be left behind. We don’t want to be the gap state.”

Federal tax credits of $7,500 are available everywhere, but Colorado buyers have an additional incentive of $5,000 in state tax credits of, bringing an electric car so ld by Boulder Nissan, one of the West’s busiest electric-car dealers, down to about $22,500.

Boulder Nissan’s Nigel Zeid says tax credits will not always be needed to foster sales of electric vehicles. “This is like when you have a kid in college,” said Zeid, a member of the Colorado Electric Vehicle Coalition, a state-sponsored group. “Once you’re out (of college), you’re on your own.”

Zeid also sees range concerns diminishing. The Chevy Bolt has 238 miles of range, and Tesla’s Model X has 295 miles of range (but at a cost of $98,500). But many more models are coming with 150 miles of range, satisfactory for nearly all daily commutes. “Now that you have 150 to 200 mile range, range is not really an issue,” he says.

A Federal Highway Administration map shows existing fueling infrastructure for Colorado, Utah, and other states, not just for electricity but also hydrogen and natural gas. However, the map has been outdated in recent weeks by the announcement that Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Idaho will be joining in the interstate infrastructure.

A case can be made that hydrogen still represents the fuel of the future. California now has 31 fueling stations and plans more. Colorado, perhaps surprisingly, also has some hydrogen fueling stations, all in the metropolitan area. Hydrogen fuel is energy dense and can be produced from water through a variety of fuels, both renewables and natural gas.

But U.S. car manufacturers are now rushing to produce electric cars. General Motors several weeks ago announced plans to embrace an all-electric, zero-emissions future, leaving behind the internal combustion engine “General Motors believes the future is all-electric,” says Mark Reuss, the company’s head of product. Wired Magazine reports that GM plans almost two-dozen fully electric models by 2023.

Other car manufacturers have also announced plans to offer new EV models. China and India are embracing electrified transportation as they develop their economies and try to tame emissions that have fouled skies and scarred lungs. China, Britain, and France all plan to ban sales of vehicles powered by fossil fuels but have not set dates.

Some see the transition to electric vehicles happening more slowly.

“I am not sure they (EVs) will come quite as fast as some people say,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at the Western Power Summit on Oct. 24. But one indication that it will occur sooner, he went on to say, is the announcement by GM of its robust commitment to EV models.

Some bumps in the road of this transition. “Certainly, there will be some issues around lithium and cobalt, two constituents of batteries. There could be some supply challenges,” says Toor, a former mayor of Boulder. “But I don’t think they will derail electrification.”

Discounts yields 42 EVs and hybrids in group buy

From April through June, a group buy for electric vehicles was organized in the Pitkin, Garfield, and Eagle county areas (Aspen, Glenwood Springs, and Vail).

Dealers in Boulder and Loveland, plus two in Glenwood Springs, were enlisted to offer discounts on top of the $12,500 state and federal tax credits. The best deal was offered by Boulder Nissan, which offered an $8,000 discount on Leafs. Other dealers offered somewhat lesser discounts for all electric and hybrid models.

The goal of 50 EV sales in the three-county area fell short: 42 were sold. However, the goal for 25 percent expansion of charging stations by the end of this year will almost certainly be exceeded. A recent report predicted an 85 percent increase.

The program was sponsored by Clean Energy Economy for the Region. It was based on similar group buys in the Fort Collins and Boulder areas in 2015 and 2016.

Notable was the support of Holy Cross Energy, the co-operative that serves most of the three counties. Holy Cross offered rebates of $200 to EV purchasers.

Can e-bikes help decongest the highway to Yellowstone?

JACKSON, Wyo. – Now come e-bikes and the question whether they can ease the congestion of cars found in ski towns like Jackson.

The specific question at hand is whether the e-bikes should be allowed on the local trails normally frequented by pedestrians and bicycle riders. Or should they instead be restricted to streets? Jackson town officials will soon be talking with their counterparts in Teton County, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

An important distinction, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Act, is 20 mph. That’s the maximum assisted speed when powered solely by the motor of a low-speed electric bike. However, there are some ways to use a larger motor, allowing an e-bike to go more than 30 mph without pedaling.

Brian Schilling, coordinator for Teton County Pathways, told Jackson town officials recently that e-bikes have been called a game-changer. He sees great potential for their application in Jackson during warm months.

“It changes the way people get around town, especially during the busy summer months when they don’t want to be sitting in traffic on Broadway,” he said, referring to the street that is the main street in Jackson and the primary route for many thousands of travelers going to and from Yellowstone National Park.

Crested Butte may slowly ease into paid parking

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte is planning to take a year to gather public feedback before moving ahead with paid parking in the town’s interior.

The town has gone along with a committee’s recommendation and has allocated $45,000 for the year-long study and a community outreach effort.

“The committee feels parking in town is ‘free and easy’ and we can’t build our way out of the problem,” said Bob Nevins, town planner for Crested Butte, according to a story reported by the Crested Butte News. “I want to get people out of their cars,” said Jackson Petito, a council member.

The plan calls for paid parking along Elk Avenue, the town’s main street, and other adjoining areas. Residents will get permits. The start-up costs if the town decides to go forward will be $220,000, or about the same price as paving a parking lot.

About Allen Best
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.

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

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

From Bloomberg (Naureen S Malik):

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

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

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

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

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

Report: Blocking the Sun — @EnvAm

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

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raton Basin Earthquakes Linked to Oil and Gas Fluid Injections — @CIRESnews

Raton Basin map via the USGS.

Here’s the release from CIRES (Jim Scott):

A rash of earthquakes in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico recorded between 2008 and 2010 was likely due to fluids pumped deep underground during oil and gas wastewater disposal, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.

The study, which took place in the 2,200-square-mile Raton Basin along the central Colorado-northern New Mexico border, found more than 1,800 earthquakes up to magnitude 4.3 during that period, linking most to wastewater injection well activity. Such wells are used to pump water back in the ground after it has been extracted during the collection of methane gas from subterranean coal beds.

One key piece of the new study was the use of hydrogeological modeling of pore pressure in what is called the “basement rock” of the Raton Basin – rock several miles deep that underlies the oldest stratified layers. Pore pressure is the fluid pressure within rock fractures and rock pores.

While two previous studies have linked earthquakes in the Raton Basin to wastewater injection wells, this is the first to show that elevated pore pressures deep underground are well above earthquake-triggering thresholds, said CU Boulder doctoral student Jenny Nakai, lead study author. The northern edges of the Raton Basin border Trinidad, Colorado, and Raton, New Mexico.

“We have shown for the first time a plausible causative mechanism for these earthquakes,” said Nakai of the Department of Geological Sciences. “The spatial patterns of seismicity we observed are reflected in the distribution of wastewater injection and our modeled pore pressure change.”

A paper on the study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth. Co-authors on the study include CU Boulder Professors Anne Sheehan and Shemin Ge of geological sciences, former CU Boulder doctoral student Matthew Weingarten, now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, and Professor Susan Bilek of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.

The Raton Basin earthquakes between 2008 and 2010 were measured by the seismometers from the EarthScope USArray Transportable Array, a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to measure earthquakes and map Earth’s interior across the country. The team also used seismic data from the Colorado Rockies Experiment and Seismic Transects (CREST), also funded by NSF.

As part of the research, the team simulated in 3-D a 12-mile long fault gleaned from seismicity data in the Vermejo Park region in the Raton Basin. The seismicity patterns also suggest a second, smaller fault in the Raton Basin that was active from 2008-2010.

Nakai said the research team did not look at the relationship between the Raton Basin earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The new study also showed the number of earthquakes in the Raton Basin correlates with the cumulative volume of wastewater injected in wells up to about 9 miles away from the individual earthquakes. There are 28 “Class II” wastewater disposal wells – wells that are used to dispose of waste fluids associated with oil and natural gas production – in the Raton Basin, and at least 200 million barrels of wastewater have been injected underground there by the oil and gas industry since 1994.

“Basement rock is typically more brittle and fractured than the rock layers above it,” said Sheehan, also a fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. “When pore pressure increases in basement rock, it can cause earthquakes.”

There is still a lot to learn about the Raton Basin earthquakes, said the CU Boulder researchers. While the oil and gas industry has monitored seismic activity with seismometers in the Raton Basin for years and mapped some sub-surface faults, such data are not made available to researchers or the public.

The earthquake patterns in the Raton Basin are similar to other U.S. regions that have shown “induced seismicity” likely caused by wastewater injection wells, said Nakai. Previous studies involving CU Boulder showed that injection wells likely caused earthquakes near Greeley, Colorado, in Oklahoma and in the mid-continent region of the United States in recent years.