Tighter regulations for Suncor refinery on the way, #Colorado public health officials say: The new permit would be more restrictive than the old one, says Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — The #Denver Post

The Suncor refinery in Commerce City is pictured on Sand Creek near where it meets the South Platte River. Both streams have highly challenged water quality, though many conservationists argue they can get still better. Photo credit: Suncor

From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

Following repeated pollution violations this year and calls to shut down the Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City, Colorado health officials are seeking to renew the facility’s water quality permit, albeit with tighter restrictions.

The refinery has been allowed to operate on expired permits because the company applied to renew them before they lapsed. And now officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are considering a new water quality permit for the facility, spokeswoman Erin Garcia said in a release.

The new permit would be more restrictive than the old one, Garcia said, and aims to better protect Sand Creek and downstream waters. The permit would also require more transparency surrounding the refinery’s operations and impose more pollution monitoring requirements and limits for toxic metals and chemicals.

Suncor would be required to conduct “frequent” site inspections ensure that drinking water moving through its property remains safe, bolster its maintenance operations and alert people by text message if or when a spill occurs…

But the draft permit isn’t finished yet, so state officials are soliciting public input. The department will host a virtual meeting Thursday between 6:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. to review current details of the draft permit. In addition the department will accept public feedback on the draft through Feb. 10, 2022. Additional details and public comment sections can be found online at http://cdphe.colorado.gov.

The facility has repeatedly violated pollution standards, even after state health officials boasted last year of fining the company up to $9 million for violations in 2017. Between March 27 and April 22 of this year, the refinery exceeded pollution limits 15 times, emitting too-high levels of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide…

State officials are also currently considering an air quality permit for the refinery, which would allow more of some types of pollution and crack down on others, The Denver Post reported in May. That proposed permit would raise permissible limits of volatile organic compounds that form ground-level ozone by 138 tons per year and allow 11 tons more particulate soot a year. It would, however, reduce sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide…

In the bigger picture, however, Suncor has pledged to invest $300 million in the refinery before 2023 to make the facility “better, not bigger.” To that end, Adesanya told The Post in September that the company installed an automated shutdown system in part of the plant last year and will upgrade the rest of the facility with similar technology by the end of next year.

The Power Grid: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Transmission tower near Firestone. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

John Oliver discusses the current state of the nation’s power grid, why it needs fixing, and, of course, how fun balloons are.

The magic 1.5C: What’s behind #climate talks’ key elusive goal — The #Pueblo Chieftain #COP26

From The Associated Press (Seth Borenstein) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

One phrase, really just a number, dominates climate talks in Glasgow: the magic and elusive 1.5.

That stands for the international goal of trying to limit future warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times. It’s a somewhat confusing number in some ways that wasn’t a major part of negotiations just seven years ago and was a political suggestion that later proved to be incredibly important scientifically. Stopping warming at 1.5 or so can avoid or at least lessen some of the most catastrophic future climate change scenarios and for some people is a life-ordeath matter, scientists have found in many reports.

The 1.5 figure now it is the “overarching objective” of the Glasgow climate talks, called COP26, conference President Alok Sharma said on the first day of meetings. On Saturday, he said the conference, which took a break Sunday, was still trying “to keep 1.5 alive.” For protesters and activists, the phrase is “1.5 to stay alive.” And 1.5 is closer than it sounds. That’s because it may sound like another 1.5 degrees from now, but because it is since preindustrial times, it’s actually only 0.4 degrees (0.7 degrees Fahrenheit) from now. The world has warmed 1.1 degrees (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times. The issue isn’t about the one year when the world first averages 1.5 more than preindustrial times. Scientists usually mean a multiyear average of over 1.5 because temperatures – while rising over the long term like on an escalator – do have small jags up and down above the long-term trend, much like taking a step up or down on the escalator.

But it’s coming fast.

Scientists calculate carbon pollution the burning of fossil fuels can produce before 1.5 degrees is baked in. A report a few days ago from Global Carbon Project found that there are 420 billion tons of carbon dioxide left in that budget, and this year humanity spewed 36.4 billion tons. That’s about 11 years’ worth left at current levels – which are rising, not falling – the report found.

To get there, scientists and the United Nations say the world needs to cut its current emissions by about half as of 2030. That’s one of the three goals the U.N. has set for success in Glasgow.

“It’s physically possible (to limit warming to 1.5 degrees), but I think it is close to politically impossible in the real world barring miracles,” Columbia University climate scientist Adam Sobel said. “Of course we should not give up advocating for it.” A dozen other climate scientists told the Associated Press essentially the same thing – that if dramatic emission reductions start immediately the world can keep within 1.5 degrees. But they don’t see signs of that happening.

That 1.5 figure may be the big number now but that’s not how it started.
At the insistence of small island nations who said it was a matter of survival, 1.5 was put in near the end of negotiations into the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement. It is mentioned only once in the deal’s text. And that part lists the primary goal to limit warming to “2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.” The 2-degree goal was the existing goal from 2009’s failed Copenhagen conference. The goal was initially interpreted as 2 degrees or substantially lower if possible.

But in a way both the “1.5 and 2 degree C thresholds are somewhat arbitrary,” Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson said in an email. “Every tenth of a degree matters!” The 2 degrees was chosen because it “is the warmest temperature that you can infer that the planet has ever seen in the last million years or so,” University of East Anglia climate scientist Corinne LeQuere, who helped write the carbon budget study, said at the Glasgow climate talks. When the Paris agreement threw in the 1.5 figure, the United Nations tasked its Nobel Prizewinning group of scientists – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC – to study on what difference there would be an Earth between 1.5 degrees of warming and 2 degrees of warming.

The 2018 IPCC report found that compared to 2 degrees, stopping warming at 1.5 would mean:

  • Fewer deaths and illnesses from heat, smog and infectious diseases.
  • Half as many people would suffer from lack of water.
  • Some coral reefs may survive.
  • There’s less chance for summers without sea ice in the Arctic.
  • The West Antarctic ice sheet might not kick into irreversible melting.
  • Seas would rise nearly 4 inches less.
  • Half as many animals with back bones and plants would lose the majority of their habitats.
  • There would be substantially fewer heat waves, downpours and droughts.
  • “For some people this is a life-or-death situation without a doubt,” report lead author Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald said at the time.

    That finding that there’s a massive difference to Earth with far less damage at 1.5 is the biggest climate science finding in the last six years, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research Director Johan Rockstrom said in an interview at the Glasgow conference.

    “It gets worse and worse as you exceed beyond 1.5,” Rockstrom said. “We have more scientific evidence than ever that we need to really aim for landing at 1.5, which is the safe climate planetary boundary.” “Once we pass 1.5 we enter a scientific danger zone in terms of heightened risk,” Rockstrom said. In a new IPCC report in August, the world hit 1.5 in the 2030s in each of the four main carbon emissions scenarios they looked out.

    Even when scientists and politicians talk about 1.5 they usually talk about “overshoot” in which for a decade or so the temperature hits or passes 1.5, but then goes back down usually with some kind of technology that sucks carbon out of the air, Stanford’s Jackson and others said.

    As hard as it is, negotiators can’t give up on 1.5, said Canadian Member of Parliament Elizabeth May, who is at her 16th climate negotiations.
    “If we don’t hang on to 1.5 while it is technically feasible, we are almost criminal,” May said.

    Guest Opinion: Will Toor: There’s a lot being done in #Colorado to address climate crisis — The #Boulder Daily Camera

    Leaf charging at the Beau Jo’s charger in idaho Springs August 23, 2021.

    From The Boulder Daily Camera (Will Toor):

    Right now, leaders from across the world are gathered in Scotland for the latest UN climate conference, seeking to address the climate crisis. Here in Colorado, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change, with the largest wildfires in state history, air quality impacts from wildfires across the west, and the closure this summer of I-70 due to mudslides following last year’s Glenwood Canyon fires.

    Luckily, there is a LOT being done here in Colorado to address these challenges. Three years ago, Gov. Jared Polis campaigned on a platform of 100% clean electricity generation by 2040 and bold climate action, and in the intervening period the state has vaulted to the forefront of climate action. Through legislation, regulations, public investment and partnerships with local government, unions and the private sector, we have made real progress on an equitable transition towards a low carbon, clean energy future — all while strengthening the economy, addressing inequities, and working to improve local air quality.

    Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office via State of Colorado.

    In 2019 Gov. Polis signed legislation establishing science-based targets to reduce GHG pollution 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 90% by 2050. For a sense of scale, this means cutting annual GHG pollution by 70 million tons by 2030. We immediately got to work on both implementing obvious “no regrets” strategies and developing a strategic GHG roadmap to determine the most important actions to take to achieve the 2030 targets.

    The first big area we focused on was electricity generation, one of the two largest sources of GHG pollution. We got commitments from utilities representing 99% of the fossil fuel generation in the state to achieve at least 80% reduction in pollution by 2030. We have locked these commitments in through legislative requirements and action by state air and utility regulators. In practice, it looks like we will exceed these targets. Xcel Energy, the largest utility in the state, filed a plan at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to achieve 85% by 2030, and based on our analysis, we are advocating for the PUC to approve a plan that gets to 90%. The second largest utility, Tri-State, has a plan to close every coal plant they have in Colorado and replace them primarily with wind and solar. All of this is enabled by the remarkable advances in cheap renewables, in which the cost per kilowatt hour of NEW wind and solar is often about half the cost for just operating and maintaining EXISTING coal plants.

    We also worked with the Colorado Legislature this year to pass binding requirements on industry to achieve the sector-specific targets set in the GHG roadmap. State air regulators are now required to adopt new rules that will reduce pollution from the oil and gas industry by 60%, and from the rest of industry by 20% by 2030. State air regulators are already in the process of adopting rules for oil and gas, and a first set of industrial rules focused on steel mills and cement plants. And regulators have already adopted a phaseout of superpolluting hydrofluorocarbons.

    Burning natural gas in buildings is another one of the top sources of GHG pollution. Legislation passed this year will expand gas and electric utility programs to help their customers electrify heating and improve efficiency, require large commercial buildings to improve their energy performance, expand investment in low income weatherization, and create new financing tools for building upgrades. Tying all of this together is a first in the nation requirement for gas utilities to develop “clean heat plans” that will achieve at least 22% reduction in pollution by 2030.

    Transportation is the largest single source of GHG pollution. The state has already adopted low and zero emission vehicle regulations, and has taken major steps on supporting the transition to electric cars, trucks and buses, including through the legislation requiring utility investment in EV infrastructure, and to invest new state transportation revenue in EV infrastructure and incentives. Together, these will invest about $1 billion in EV infrastructure and programs, to support a million EVs on the road by 2030. And the state is adopting an innovative new GHG pollution standard which will require state and regional transportation plans to shift funding towards public transit and walkable, bikeable communities.

    The net effect of these policies is projected to achieve 95 % of the 70 million ton target, while improving air quality. And we have big plans to do more in the coming year. We need to work with local governments to reform exclusionary zoning that keeps housing out of our prosperous cities, harming low and middle income workers while forcing far longer drives that contribute to pollution. The governor is proposing a half-a-billion dollars of investments in this year’s budget to improve air quality and reduce GHG emissions – accelerating adoption of electric school buses, supporting industrial emissions reduction, rebates for Ebikes, expanding public transit, making fares free during the high ozone season, and more. We will be finalizing the state clean trucking strategy this winter, and considering zero emission vehicle standards for trucks next spring. This just touches the surface — there is action on carbon capture, green hydrogen, improved building codes, natural and working land… this is an all-of-government effort.

    The work isn’t over. In many ways, it is just beginning: addressing climate change is the great work of our time, and will be an ongoing effort through our lifetimes and our children’s lifetimes. But I couldn’t be prouder of the innovation and leadership of the state of Colorado over the last three years.

    Will Toor is Executive Director of the Colorado Energy Office. It’s mission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and consumer energy costs by advancing clean energy, energy efficiency and zero emission vehicles to benefit all Coloradans.

    #FossilFuels Received $5.9 Trillion In Subsidies in 2020, Report Finds — Yale Environment 360

    An open-pit coal mine in Garzweiler, Germany. PIXABAY

    From Yale Environment 360:

    Coal, oil, and natural gas received $5.9 trillion in subsidies in 2020 — or roughly $11 million every minute — according to a new analysis from the International Monetary Fund.

    Explicit subsidies accounted for only 8 percent of the total. The remaining 92 percent were implicit subsidies, which took the form of tax breaks or, to a much larger degree, health and environmental damages that were not priced into the cost of fossil fuels, according to the analysis.

    “Underpricing leads to overconsumption of fossil fuels, which accelerates global warming and exacerbates domestic environmental problems including losses to human life from local air pollution and excessive and road congestion and accidents,” authors wrote. “This has long been recognized, but globally countries are still a long way from getting energy prices right.”

    The report found that 47 percent of natural gas and 99 percent of coal is priced at less than half its true cost, and that just five countries — China, the United States, Russia, India, and Japan — account for two-thirds of subsidies globally. All five countries belong to the G20, which in 2009 agreed to phase out “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies “over the medium term.”

    Setting the price of coal, oil, gas to reflect their true cost — say, with a carbon tax — would cut carbon dioxide emissions by around a third, helping to put the world on a path to keeping warming below 1.5 degrees C. Such policies would also raise revenues equal to 3.8 percent of global GDP and prevent close to 1 million deaths from local air pollution yearly.

    “There would be enormous benefits from reform, so there’s an enormous amount at stake,” Ian Parry, an environmental policy expert and lead author of the report, told the Guardian. “Some countries are reluctant to raise energy prices because they think it will harm the poor. But holding down fossil fuel prices is a highly inefficient way to help the poor, because most of the benefits accrue to wealthier households. It would be better to target resources towards helping poor and vulnerable people directly.”

    #Climate protesters target London banks on #fossilfuel support — The #Pueblo Chieftain #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Photo credit: @GretaThunberg on Twitter

    From The Associated Press (Khadija Kothia and Pan Pylas) via The Pueblo Chieftain

    Protesters took to the streets Friday in London’s historic financial district to lobby against the use of fossil fuels ahead of the start of the U.N. climate summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

    The protests in London, which were joined by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, as well as many other young campaigners from around the world, are part of a global day of action before leaders head to Glasgow for the U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP26. Many environmentalists are calling the Oct. 31-Nov. 12 gathering the world’s last best chance to turn the tide in the fight against climate change.

    The protesters included Friday for Future activists from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, who called out the banks for financing activities such as deforestation, mining and polluting industries, which they blame for the destruction of their homes and their futures. “As much as we are passionate to be here, we shouldn’t have to be here,” said Brianna Fruean from Samoa. “Our pain, our suffering, our tears and our sorrows shouldn’t be what it takes to take action. We already know what we need to do: we need to phase out of the fossil fuel era, we need to divest from these industries that are causing this harm and despair.” The mood music ahead of the climate talks appears fairly downbeat, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the summit’s host, saying it’s “touch and go” whether there will be a positive outcome. On Friday, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned at the Group of 20 summit of leading industrial and developing nations that “there is a serious risk that Glasgow will not deliver.” He said that despite updated climate targets by many countries, the world is “still careening towards climate catastrophe.” The protest in London began at the Climate Justice Memorial outside the insurance marketplace of Lloyd’s of London, where red flowers spelling out “Rise Remember Resist” were laid.

    The focus later centered on the headquarters of international bank Standard Chartered, where the few dozen protesters, including Thunberg, chanted “Keep it, Keep it, Keep it in the ground!” and “Ensure our future, not pollution!”

    #Colorado’s difficult journey of building decarbonization: If nobody in the world has done this at scale before, Colorado must if it is to achieve its goals of reducing emissions — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    Led by Berkeley, several dozen jurisdictions in California and other states have forbidden new natural gas connections to buildings. Colorado has embarked on a gentler, more complex but still firm approach to reducing emissions from buildings.

    The state’s path is outlined in a 62-page decision issued by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Oct. 1. The decision explains why existing regulations governing Xcel Energy and the three other investor-owned utilities must be revised but also expanded. The utilities deliver natural gas to heat homes, warm water, and for cooking.

    PUC commissioners and staff will be addressing “really big questions and really big challenges,” says Justin Brant, co-director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project’s utility program. He calls this effort “ground-breaking,” a description echoed by others.

    Other states – particularly California, Massachusetts, and New York, but also Minnesota, Nevada, and Washington – have been having broad conversations about the future of natural gas utilities and decarbonization of buildings. And in Europe, some countries, particularly the Netherlands, have created a framework for decarbonizing gas networks across the country. But none have gotten very far yet. With the work now underway, Colorado ranks among the nation’s leaders, Brant and others say.

    Utilities must reduce the carbon intensity of the fuels they provide 22% by 2030, which they can do by providing alternative fuels. Another strategy is to improve efficiency of buildings, so that they require less natural gas to warm.

    Colorado’s journey to decarbonization of buildings began with a 2019 law that specified 50% economy-wide reductions in greenhouse gases by 2030. That same law targeted a 90% reduction by 2050.
    (See also: State Sen. Chris Hansen, a key architect of Colorado’s decarbonization agenda, says this pace needs to be picked up. See: State senator says climate change demands Colorado elevate its decarbonization goals.)

    Transportation and electrical generation are the top two sources of climate-warming pollution, according to the “Colorado Greenhouse Gas Reduction Roadmap.” But “fuel use in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings is not far behind,” added the document.

    A pie chart in the document suggests that buildings, both commercial and residential, cause about 10% of the state’s emissions.
    Decarbonization of electricity is already well underway. Coal combustion as a source of Colorado’s electricity dropped from 68% to 36% between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2030, utilities plan to close all but one coal-burning unit in Colorado. Xcel Energy wants to operate that final coal plant, Comanche 3, at only one-third of capacity.

    Colorado also has 23 natural gas-fired plants that generate electricity, but they are expected to be used selectively as electric utilities expand their use of renewables to at least 75% and conceivably 100% in the coming decade.

    Buildings, with their dependence on natural gas or, in rural areas, propane, pose arguably a far greater challenge. Unlike a handful of coal plants, there are perhaps a million buildings in Colorado. Nor is this as simple as trading in a car with an internal-combustion for one with an electric motor—not that that is particularly simple, at least not yet.

    Technologies exist, among them air-source heat pumps, as an alternative to gas-burning furnaces ordinarily found in basements. The replacements will be costly, though.

    Easier will be to cease installing natural gas pipelines, stoves, and hot-water heaters in new buildings. That has started to happen, but most of the 30,000 or more houses built each year are connected to natural gas pipelines. That compounds the problem, as depreciating the infrastructure can take decades.

    “The issues are complex and they are new, as no one in the world has decarbonized a gas system, but that is what needs to happen one way or another,” says the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Mike Henchen, who specializes in building decarbonization.

    “This is a big transition that nobody has done yet,” he says. The goal will be to create a transition that works for everyone. “We want the system to be decarbonized, but we don’t want to do it in a way that raises people’s bills. That might require some creative solutions that go beyond what we typically see.”

    Colorado’s approach to decarbonizing buildings was defined by two laws adopted in June.

    SB21-264, sometimes called the clean-heat law, requires the state’s four regulated gas utilities to submit clean heat plans that show how they will reduce emissions 22% by 2030 as compared to the 2015 baseline.

    The law assigns responsibility to the PUC to oversee this process governing the private gas utilities with an Oct. 1 deadline for launching the rule-making process. Municipal utilities that provide gas will be governed by the state’s Air Quality Control Commission. The AQCC has until September 2022 to kick off its process. Yet another provision applies to the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry.

    A second law, HB21-1238, orders regulated gas utilities to institute demand-side management programs to reduce need for natural gas, such as by improved insulation in homes or other efficiency measures. In evaluating such programs, the PUC must use metrics that favor work that, if more expensive in the short term, provides long-term savings.

    [Two] other bills also address building energy use. SB21-246, the beneficial electrification law, directs the PUC to oversee energy saving targets by regulated electric utilities that use efficient electric equipment in place of less efficient systems that burn fossil fuels. HB21-1286 addresses energy performance of buildings 50,000 square feet and larger.

    Three of the five laws order that the social costs of carbon and methane be used in evaluations of programs by utilities.
    PUC commissioners and staff will have to work through many issues while consulting with environmental groups, consumer advocates, and the utilities themselves.

    One major issue will be that of stranded assets. If we’re going to abandon some of the existing natural gas pipelines and other infrastructure, who pays? Do natural gas customers pay for that infrastructure that is no longer needed but which hasn’t been fully depreciated? Or do the electricity customers pay for this transition through their rates?

    This transition challenges the existing business model of gas utilities. Installation of pipelines to new housing developments and other buildings typically assume a payback of up to 50 years, explains RMI’s Henchen. Existing customers, through their rates, subsidize this extension of natural gas lines to new customers.

    A closely related question is why do we add natural gas infrastructure, including the pipelines that underlie most residential streets, if we’re going to start abandoning them?
    Colorado gas utilities during the last decade has added an average of 20,500 residential, 7,000 commercial, and 350 industrial customers of natural gas per year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It now has 1.8 million residential gas customers.

    Hydrogen will also be part of the discussion. Can green hydrogen, made from water and renewable energy, displace natural gas? Can it be blended with natural gas? Or can hydrogen made from natural gas and the carbon sequestered underground be used? A study, “Opportunities for Low-Carbon Hydrogen in Colorado: A Roadmap,” by the consulting firm E3 recommends developing a pilot project.

    Costs will invariably be an issue. The clean heat bill, SB21-264, caps the increase on customer bills caused by this transition at 2.5%.

    Among those already carefully monitoring the proceedings is the Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate. The state agency has the statutory responsibility to represent residential, small-business, and agriculture consumers in proceedings before the PUC.

    “It’s huge,” Cindy Schonhaut, the director of the agency, says of this building decarbonization effort now underway. The challenge, she says, will be “how can we decarbonize our natural gas system in a way that is cost-effective and that minimizes imposing costs on consumers?”

    Consumers will pay for this transition, says Schonhaut. “It’s a question of how much.”

    Schonhaut also points to a dramatic shift in the business model of gas utilities. The utilities currently must deliver natural gas to new customers in their service territories. This conflicts with the goal of decarbonization.

    Too, she sees a safety issue that differentiates this natural gas transition from electric resource planning. “For example, abandoning a pipeline isn’t a matter of simply turning off the valves, because gas will remain in the pipe,” she explains. If a contractor using a backhoe broke a pipe, there could be mayhem. Decommissioning pipelines will involve many questions.

    Looming over this decarbonization are rising prices of natural gas. In September, prices surged above $5 per million Btu, about double the price of six months ago, and the highest September price since 2008, Inside Climate News reported.

    Not least in the months and years ahead will be the question of what happens to the natural gas utilities themselves as they decarbonize. The journey will perhaps be most difficult for Atmos Energy and Colorado Natural Gas, the two investor-owned utilities in Colorado who do nothing but sell gas. Two others, Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy, sell both gas and electricity, if not always in the same places.

    “They have invested millions of dollars in the ground in Colorado, as has happened across the country,” explains SWEEP’s Brant. “If we are to meet the state’s roadmap decarbonization goals, there will be a need to change the business model of natural gas. Underlying a lot of these decisions will be how do you do that in an equitable manner?”

    Both the gas utilities and the PUC commissioners have been preparing for this process even before the laws were adopted in 2021.
    In September 2020, Black Hills Energy issued a 109-page analysis conducted by the Gas Technology Institute titled “Assessment of Natural Gas and Electric Decarbonization in State of Colorado Decarbonization Sector.”

    That analysis argued for a core focus on energy efficiency, with a special emphasis on creating tight building envelopes, to help reduce energy use. But the analysis warned of rising overall energy costs by electrifying and warned of the intense energy use of space heating.

    “There is no evidence wind or solar resources can address prospective seasonal energy-intensive space heating electricity peaks during Colorado winters,” the Black Hills study concluded.
    Xcel Energy in November 2020 also issued a report, “Transitioning Natural Gas for a Low-Carbon Future.” That 27-page paper urged a go-slower approach, one devoid of mandates, because of the need for technological breakthroughs plus the need for time to create the electrical infrastructure needed to replace natural gas on a broad scale.

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    The paper was one for all eight states in which Xcel operates. In Colorado, it lost that argument about mandates. But perhaps it scored points in the pacing.

    The PUC commissioners have also been prepping themselves. Beginning in November 2020, they heard from experts in such diverse topics as leak detection, coal-mine methane, and hydrogen pipeline gas in an effort to better get their minds wrapped around the challenge of methane, the primary constituent of natural gas.

    Commissioners have been told that baseline information that will be needed for evaluating progress remains scarce. Even basic definitions have yet to be worked out.

    Environmental groups are eager to begin wrestling with the challenge.

    “As daunting as these issues appear, it’s really important to take them on now,” says RMI’s Henchen. “There are steps that make sense to get us started, like cutting back on spending on expanding the gas system, targeting funding to help the most vulnerable customers shift to cleaner and more stable alternatives than gas, and piloting new approaches to ‘non-pipe solutions’ instead of replacing old pipes with new pipes.”

    At #Climate Summit, Can the World Move from Talk to Action? — Yale Environment 360 #ActOnClimate #COP26

    Cars pass the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Power Generator Company coal power plant in Shanghai on March 22, 2016. – Environmental watchdog Greenpeace warned on March 22, 2019 the world’s coal plants are “deepening” the global water crisis as the water consumed by them can meet the basic needs of one billion people. China, the world’s largest emitter, has promised to reach zero net carbon emissions by 2060. (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE / AFP) via Voice of America

    From Yale Environment 360 (Fred Pearce):

    Negotiators at the Glasgow climate conference will face a critical choice: Set firm emissions targets for 2030, or settle for goals of achieving “net zero” by 2050? The course they set could determine if we have a shot at avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

    Glasgow, once the second city of the British Empire and the biggest shipbuilder on the planet, next month hosts the 26th conference of nations aiming to halt dangerous climate change. The negotiators face the challenge of turning the aspiration of the 2015 Paris Agreement to achieve “net zero” emissions by mid-century into the detailed near-term action plans necessary to turn those hopes into reality in time to halt warming at or near 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

    Sadly, while aspiration is going well, progress on action is slow, say scientists. Most big emitters have in recent months promised to achieve national net-zero targets by 2050, allowing the British hosts to claim that Glasgow will “keep 1.5 alive.” But scientists warn that such ambition remains hot air. They say we have to all but halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, or net zero by 2050 will slip out of sight. Yet most of the national plans unveiled so far do little more than prevent further rises in emissions over the coming decade.

    The question for delegates meeting in Scotland comes down to this: Should the focus be on 2050 aspiration or 2030 action, on “keeping 1.5 alive” or on delivering credible plans to make it happen?

    It is six years now since governments meeting in Paris committed to restricting warming to “well below” 2 degrees C from pre-industrial levels while “pursuing efforts” to cap it at 1.5 degrees. They agreed that would require bringing net greenhouse-gas emissions (total emissions less any agreed carbon capture) to zero by mid-century.

    But even amid the euphoria, negotiators recognized that there was a gap between national emissions pledges on the table in Paris and the declared goal. So they set up a timetable for ratcheting up commitments and for taking account of emerging science. The first deadline for new pledges, known as nationally determined contributions, was set for 2020 and postponed until 2021 because of the pandemic.

    So the Glasgow Conference of Parties (COP26) should be high noon for delivery — for turning aspiration into action.

    Its importance has grown because it is the first COP since the return of the United States to the negotiating table after the Trump years. And the urgency has been reinforced by escalating extreme weather events — wildfires, floods, droughts, and extreme heat waves — and by modeling studies suggesting such extremes will increase sharply if global temperatures rise beyond 1.5 degrees C.

    The potential for achieving the ambition of Paris has improved since that conference, because of the advance of technology. Electric cars were barely on the horizon in 2015. And solar power and battery prices have more than halved since then.

    So how are we doing? More than 130 countries have made net-zero pledges since Paris. Those nations are collectively responsible for more than 70 percent of current global emissions. That is a diplomatic triumph of sorts. But pledges are no substitute for action. And with warming already above 1 degree C, time is short.

    In a 2018 assessment, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that if current trends continue, 1.5 degrees would be reached about 2040, but potentially as early as 2030 or as late as 2052. It found that for a 50-50 chance of halting warming at that point, the world has to reduce emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and then go on to reach net zero by 2050. For climate scientists, securing that trajectory is the benchmark for success in Glasgow.

    But national pledges to make the required 45 percent cut by 2030 remain a distant prospect (only the United Kingdom comes close). And since the Paris Agreement is based on voluntary targets, there is no legal means for closing the gap or sanctioning backsliders.

    The most definitive assessment of where the world stands came in a detailed comparison of climate models and national pledges published in the journal Nature Climate Change last month. It found that emissions in 2030 are set to be almost the same as today — almost double what is needed to be on target for net zero.

    2100 warming projections. Graphic credit: Yale Environment 360

    The prognosis for temperatures will be devastating. The report found that policies currently in place will lead to a rise of around 3 degrees C. If pledges for 2030 so far submitted for Glasgow were implemented in full, they would limit the rise to 2.4 degrees, at best. And even if there were a systematic advance toward net zero, it would deliver only a 50-50 chance of keeping warming to below 2 degrees, according to one method used in the study.

    “The good news is that the 2050 net-zero targets for the first time put the ‘well below’ 2 degrees and 1.5 limits of the Paris Agreement within reach,” the study’s chief author, Niklas Hohne of the NewClimate Institute in Cologne, Germany, told Yale Environment 360. “But the bad news is that no single country is on target to implement the short-term 2030 policies needed to be on track to meet their own net-zero targets.”

    The paper is optimistically titled: “Wave of net-zero emissions targets opens window to meeting the Paris Agreement.” But the current pledges, Hohne says, “will lead to roughly stable emissions from now until 2030,” not the required 45 percent cut. Co-author Joeri Rogelj of Imperial College London agrees that the national pledges to date are “not at all consistent” with reaching net zero.

    So can the tide be turned? Will climate diplomacy and public pressure force delegates in Glasgow to up their game? The British government’s chief negotiator, former business secretary Alok Sharma, who will be president of the COP, conceded in March that current 2030 targets were “nowhere near enough,” but declared that “the UK is using the COP presidency to urge all countries to set 2030 emissions reductions targets that put us on a path to net zero.”

    Six months on, his advisors are now reported to privately concede that the hoped-for big improvements won’t happen on anything like the scale needed. Probably in consequence, the hosts’ narrative has shifted.

    Sharma has been traveling the world in recent months, pushing countries such as Russia and Australia to join others in committing to net zero. But he has been downplaying the importance of 2030 targets. He no longer talks of putting the world “on a path” to net zero. Rather he speaks repeatedly of aiming to “keep 1.5 alive” through 2050 pledges.

    Perhaps, say optimists, national emissions pledges at big UN negotiating events matter less now that there is more potential economic gain from switching to cheap low-carbon technologies. “The world has changed a lot since Paris,” economists Kingsmill Bond and Sam Butler-Sloss of the UK-based think tank Carbon Tracker noted last month. “The old trade-off between development and climate mitigation … has been solved.” Shifting to the new technologies was now about “gain not pain,” since that would give nations a head start on the low-cost energy technologies of the future.

    Maybe so, but despite apparent technological tipping points, overall carbon dioxide emissions have continued to rise since Paris. The main obstacle, Bond and Butler-Sloss argue, comes from “the forces of incumbency and inertia,” reflected in government subsidies for fossil fuels that a report published by the International Monetary Fund this month estimates at $11 million every minute.

    Glasgow will debate many issues besides national emissions targets. Sharma’s agenda has broadened in recent months to embrace commitments phasing out coal, promoting electric vehicles, reducing non-CO2 greenhouse-gas emissions such as methane, and funding both for forest planting to keep more carbon in natural ecosystems and for helping developing countries adapt to future extreme weather.

    Alok Sharma, Britain’s chief climate negotiator and president of COP26, leaving 10 Downing Street in March. WIKTOR SZYMANOWICZ / NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES

    The push to banish coal burning in power stations may have triggered China’s September promise to end all funding for overseas coal power stations. It is also behind a recently announced plan for rich nations to provide funding to South Africa to end its reliance on coal burning.

    But of much greater moment for many of the developing-world governments, whose votes will dominate in Glasgow, is finance. Twelve years ago, at the otherwise failed Copenhagen COP, developed nations promised that by 2020 they would collectively provide an annual $100 billion to developing countries to help them both bring down their own emissions and adapt to climate change.

    Those promises were reaffirmed in Paris. The UN’s chief Paris negotiator, Christiana Figueres, says that the risk of missing this target “looms the largest” for her successors. Delivering this funding is a prerequisite for a successful conference for countries whose contribution to climate change is very small compared to that of rich industrialized nations. “Promises must be kept,” says Figueres, “otherwise a lack of trust undermines the whole process.”

    But faith and trust are in short supply. The formal accounting process on the 2020 financial payments will not be completed until next year, but sources familiar with the process told Bloomberg that payments fell at least $10 billion short. And there are continuing concerns about how the money is being allocated by donors. Most of it has so far funded reducing emissions, with only a small portion going for helping countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts.

    Other outstanding business for Glasgow includes completing the technical rules for implementing the Paris deal. Delegates still have to decide how often countries should report and update their pledges in the future. The European Union this month agreed to join the U.S. and many poor climate-vulnerable nations in pushing for updating targets every five years. But others want a 10-year cycle, and China and India oppose any internationally agreed time frame. Some observers say that without synchronized reporting, it will be impossible to align national targets with the changing science of climate change.

    There is continuing controversy too over rules on accounting for, and trading in, credits for carbon captured by forest conservation and planting. These “nature-based solutions” are seen as a crucial element in achieving net-zero emissions, which will allow countries to continue greenhouse-gas emissions provided they are offset by carbon-uptake elsewhere. But nobody is sure how to prevent bogus offsets and carbon fraud.

    Though apparently technical issues, rule-book resolution depends a lot on political goodwill. A big unknown here remains the role that China will take, and how its diplomatic relations with the U.S. will play out on the conference floor.

    There is history here. A major cause of failure in Copenhagen in 2009 was a stand-off between the two nations; but Paris succeeded in part because of a deal on climate reached between the two nations in Washington the previous year.

    John Kerry, then U.S. secretary of state, with China’s special representative on climate change, Xie Zhenhua, at the 2015 Paris climate conference. FRANCOIS MORI / AP PHOTO

    In recent months, diplomatic relations between the China and the U.S. have been increasingly frosty, leading to Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry pleading with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua to separate climate from other issues.

    But China has rejected such overtures. It has committed in advance of Glasgow to what it believes is a generous pledge for a still-developing nation, by promising to peak emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2060. But the West is not satisfied. In September, Sharma publicly called for China to “pick up the pace” and present “more detailed plans.” And Kerry’s chief negotiator Todd Stern, a veteran of the process, called testily on Twitter for China to “pledge a major cut in its emissions now, in this decade.”

    Such calls may seem unfair, given the much greater responsibility for overloading the atmosphere with CO2 born by early-industrializing nations such as the U.S. and UK. This “carbon debt” is an increasingly hot topic as the world edges towards its carbon limits.

    So, how should we judge the success or failure of the Glasgow COP? The hosts appear tempted to paint aspiration as victory. They may hope that delegates less versed in the science of climate change will fly home satisfied that they have delivered a “wave” of net-zero pledges for 2050 and “kept 1.5 alive.” For others, an absence of concrete plans for 2030 would make the aspirations look like delusion.

    Almost 30 years ago, at the Earth Summit in Rio, nations agreed to a convention that promised to prevent “dangerous” climate change. The Glasgow COP is the 26th conference of the parties to that treaty. If it can deliver on 1.5 degrees, it will be the most important. But it could be another 30 years before we know for sure.

    Fred Pearce is a freelance author and journalist based in the U.K. He is a contributing writer for Yale Environment 360 and is the author of numerous books, including The Land Grabbers, Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World, and The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming.

    Reckoning time on the #ColoradoRiver (and its tributaries): “Now there’s an awareness in the public of the brittleness of the hydraulic empire created in the 20th century in Southwest states” — @BigPivots #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

    The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    A Colorado water seminar always had climatechange on the agenda, but the tone was different this year, more alarmed, more worried, if still optimistic

    What a flip-flop from 2001. We were going to war in Afghanistan, worrying about terrorists in our midst, and anthrax arriving in the mail.

    The reservoirs of the Colorado River were close to full.

    At the time I had given little thought to climate change, other than to be somewhat skeptical about the alarm. That changed in 2003, when I was given an assignment by the editor of Ski Area Management to round up what was being said. I read a year’s worth of articles in the New York Times and then—my eyes widened considerably—set out to find much more. It has been front and center for me ever since.

    Brad Udall also immersed himself in climate change beginning in 2003. He had been trying to preserve open space in Eagle County for a few years but then returned to the Front Range. There, he directed the Western Water Assessment in Boulder and, more recently, joined the staff of the Colorado State University Water Institute as a scholar and scientist. He has expertise in hydrology but also in crunching numbers.

    Over the years, Udall has distinguished himself as an expert on the effects of the warming climate on the Colorado River. His most prominent insight was a paper published in 2017 by the prestigious journal Science. Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, who also was originally schooled in Boulder and I believe still has a cabin in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride, sifted through the data before concluding that at least a third of the reduced flows in the Colorado River should be attributed to heat, not reduced precipitation.

    The paper was titled “The twenty-first century Colorado River hot drought and implications for the future.”

    On Oct. 1, speaking to the Colorado River District’s annual seminar in Grand Junction remotely from Boulder, Udall described the strengthened evidence that half of the reduced flows could be explained by rising temperatures. He calls it aridification.

    Much worse, he said, is yet to come.

    Lake Mead was 40% full and the surface was at 1090 feet in elevation when this photo was taken in December 2019. As of Saturday it had dropped 23 feet. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued a model in September that projected a 66% chance that the reservoir level will drop below 1,025 within the next 5 years. That would put the reservoir level 75 feet below what you see in this photo. Photo/Allen Best

    Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based River District, had introduced the session, using words of greater alarm than I had heard at the annual seminar—and I’ve attended most, in person or virtually, since the first session in 2003. He used the metaphor of a train wreck.

    “For a decade or more, we have seen the train wreck slowly moving this way,” he reiterated afterwards when I spoke to him for a story published by Fresh Water News. “It has picked up speed pretty significantly in the last couple of years. The question is how do we avert the train wreck (from coming into our station).”

    Mueller had described reduced flows and warm temperatures in the Yampa River as it flows through Steamboat Springs that have caused the river to be closed to recreation something like 8 of the last 14 years. There were fish kills in the Colorado River this year. He told of shortening ski seasons and warned lower-elevation ski areas may not make it in the future.

    He had also told the audience in Grand Junction that adaptations to lower flows would be necessary. Farmer and ranchers might have to cut irrigation to marginal areas, forego low-income crops. He vowed that Front Range cities would have to conserve and not expect the Western Slope to bear the burden.

    Climate change has never been a verboten word at River District seminars, even if this is from an area that elected Lauren Boebert to Congress. Udall, for example, has spoken at least three times in my memory and probably more.

    This year’s outlook was different, less cautious, more worried. The tone was reflected in the seminar title: “Wake-Up Call on the Colorado River.”
    National publications this summer brimmed with stories about the distress of the Colorado River, especially after the Bureau of Reclamation on Aug. 16 issued a shortage declaration. Arizona is most immediately affected, but this is huge for the five other basin states, including Colorado.

    Mueller agreed with me when we talked by phone that none of what happened this year was surprising. Most people involved with the river saw it coming.

    I remember talking with Udall in 2019 (for a story in Headwaters, the magazine), when something called the Drought Contingency Plan was completed. That agreement tightened the belt of Arizona but kicked the fundamental decisions down the road to a plan projected to be implemented in 2026. Udall was skeptical that the emergency would be that slow to arrive.

    Now there’s an awareness in the public of the brittleness of the hydraulic empire created in the 20th century in Southwest states, including Colorado. A decade, ago, there was hope that some big snow years like we had in the ‘80s and ‘90s would fill the reservoirs. We’ve had some big snow years, but the runoff doesn’t show it.

    Now, one major question is whether they will go so low as to make it impossible to generate electricity.

    I asked Mueller about his remarks, the tone of this year’s session. “The tone has to reflect the reality on the ground,” he said.

    “I think at every level our folks who are paying attention to the science and the hydrology, there is an increasing sense of urgency in the Colorado River Basin, and it’s shared by folks on the ground today, from ranchers in the Yampa River Valley to farmers in the Uncompahgre Valley to major urban providers like Denver Water. We all recognize there is something very different going on than there was 10 years ago in the Colorado River,” he said.

    “People like Brad have been saying for years that this is coming. I have seen lots of people in power turn their backs to Brad when he’s talking,” he said, likely meaning that metaphorically. “They’re not doing that so much anymore.”

    What is happening is complex but understandable. There is drought, as conventionally understood, but then the overlay of higher temperatures. The warmer temperatures cause more evaporation. They cause more transpiration from plants. More precipitation can overcome this, but particularly in Southern Colorado, there’s actually been less.

    The most interesting slide Udall showed compared the runoff of several rivers over time. The San Juan River—which originates in Colorado, near Pagosa Springs—had 30% less water in 2000-2019 at Bluff, Utah, as compared to 1906-1999. The decline of the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs was 6%.

    Another compelling statistic reported during the seminar was about soil moisture. Dry soil sops up snowmelt before it can get to the stream. Runoff from deep snows can be lost to the previous years’ dry soils.

    In 2020, the snowpack was 100% but the runoff was 50%. That soil-moisture deficit played into this year’s even worse runoff, 30% of average from a snowpack that was 90% of average.

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation during the Trump years operated well, although I do remember a session at the Colorado River Water Users Association in December 2019 of top Trump water officials who sat on a panel and patted themselves on the back for the better part of an hour, seemingly oblivious to the big issue of that day. It was like the famous Trump cabinet meeting where the cabinet heads took turns praising Trump like he was the North Korean dictator.

    Udall, in his presentation to the River District seminar, pointed to the tremendous drop in storage. The two giant reservoirs, Mead and Powell, in January 2020 were 90% full and held 47 million acre-feet. They are projected to fall to 15 million acre-feet combined by April 22, leaving them 30% full.

    This has manifold implications—including for Colorado. In 2009, I wrote my first story about Colorado’s possible need to curtail diversions in order to comply with the Colorado River Compact. That possibility is far more concrete now, and Udall mentioned it in his presentation.

    But even when it was more remote, water managers in Colorado were talking about various programs that could allow cities to pay farmers and ranchers, especially on the Western Slope, to use their water (for a price, of course). The farmers and ranchers tend to have the oldest and most senior water rights; the cities tend to have the more junior rights – almost exclusively junior to the Colorado River Compact.

    Looking around me on the Front Range, I don’t see a response that I think the situation justifies. From Pueblo to Fort Collins, we all depend greatly upon imported water. That will almost certainly change. We’re going to see a very different water paradigm a decade from now. Predicting the changes is beyond me, but the water in the 21st century isn’t there to satisfy 20th century expectations.

    This is from Big Pivots 46, an e-journal devoted to the water and energy transitions in Colorado and beyond. Please consider subscribing or sharing this story with associates.

    There may be implications in other realms. I am reminded what Colorado State Sen. Chris Hansen said at a fundraiser this summer, about the growing room for new alliances with conservatives to move forward on climate action. The evidence—wildfires, heat waves, the drying of the Colorado River – is becoming overwhelming.

    Visiting Greeley to attend the Energy and Environmental Leadership Symposium on Oct 8-9, I was struck by the shift. This is in Weld County, where 90% of oil and gas production occurs in Colorado. The keynote speaker, Chris Wright, the chief executive of Liberty Oilfield Services, downplayed the risks and costs of climate change and emphasized the cost of trying to shift from fossil fuels. This will be a 200-year journey, he said, not something done in 30 years.

    But for the next day and a half, whether talking about fossil fuels or renewables, all the sessions in some way had to do with a carbon-constrained world.

    To modify Mueller’s cliché about the train, it seems like the train has left the station on this energy transition and it’s picking up speed. This train will have to move a lot quicker. Just what value will those giant reservoirs built during the 20th century on the Colorado River have in the 21st century? It’s an open question.

    See also: A deep rethink of the Colorado River

    Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

    Opinion: A clean electricity grid is possible, if Colorado and federal lawmakers follow through — The #Colorado Sun #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    The Dixie Fire destroys a home in the Plumas County town of Greenville, Aug. 4, 2021. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

    Here’s a guest column from Maria Nájera that’s running in The Colorado Sun:

    Across Colorado and the West, the intensifying effects of climate change are evident, from record-breaking heat to prolonged drought, erratic weather patterns, intense wildfires, and toxic air pollution that blots the sunlight and catches in our throats. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of global scientists convened by the United Nations, noted in its major new report released in September that some of the devastating impacts of climate change cannot be averted, due to our decades of fossil-fuel use.

    But we still have a small window of time to act and take steps that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst impacts of climate crisis.

    Colorado and the rest of the nation must shift away from fossil-fuel reliance and cut the harmful carbon emissions that are heating our planet. Colorado has taken important steps to address climate change, and federal support for clean energy and climate action will help Colorado achieve its science-based climate goals.

    The Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan is a much needed, pivotal set of federal actions and includes significant provisions we need to address climate change.

    Tesla Power Wall.

    A crucial part of Build Back Better is the American Jobs Plan’s Clean Electricity Standard, which would put the United States on a path to achieving, by 2035, a clean and reliable electricity system, by which we mean one free of greenhouse-gas emissions, and preferably powered by renewable sources. A June survey by Data for Progress and Western Resource Advocates shows that a large majority of Colorado voters support the key climate and clean energy provisions in the American Jobs Plan, and 73% of those voters support the plan’s provisions to transition to a 100% clean electricity grid.

    The Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, a Colorado bill signed into law in 2019, sets science-based targets of reducing statewide greenhouse-gas pollution 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050 from 2005 levels. Earlier this year, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis released his Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap outlining a plan to reach those targets. And Colorado legislators this year passed measures to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution from most electricity production 80% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, as well as cut energy waste and power homes and businesses with clean electricity.

    But further emissions reduction work at Colorado’s regulatory agencies and in future legislative sessions is needed to get the state on track to reach its climate goals. Complementary federal action will help Colorado achieve its climate commitments.

    The Build Back Better plan aims to invest in creating a resilient grid, lowering energy bills for middle class Americans, improving air quality, and creating good-paying jobs on the path to achieving carbon-free electricity by 2035. Importantly, the plan would provide tax credits to incentivize the building of high-capacity power transmission lines that would help make the grid stronger.

    Communities that have disproportionately borne the effects of climate change would benefit from billions of federal dollars as part of a framework called Justice40 – a plan that prioritizes investing in communities impacted by environmental racism. Under the initiative, the federal government would ensure 40% of climate and clean energy investments are directed to communities that have historically been marginalized. This includes funding for programs to clean up hazardous brownfield and Superfund sites, replace lead pipes, and invest in zero-emission public transit. Workers and communities who have relied on fossil-fuel extraction and power generation would have a path forward to new economic opportunities through the plan’s job-creation provisions.

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

    Colorado and the West need significant federal investment to accelerate our clean energy transition. While Colorado has passed some important legislation and regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas pollution, a substantial gap remains between our current emissions and our science-based climate goals.

    Federal funding can support and accelerate state efforts, by providing necessary resources to supplement state and local budgets for activities like constructing clean energy projects, plugging abandoned oil and gas wells, or building electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Significant federal spending also can speed deployment of emerging technologies, which brings down costs for everyone through economies of scale.

    We face the increasing and devastating effects of climate change every day, and the science is clear: We must act now to protect Colorado.

    We urge our federal lawmakers to take the courageous action needed in these pivotal times. Passage of the Build Back Better plan’s provisions would provide a much needed tailwind to accelerate Colorado’s existing efforts and address the climate challenges ahead.

    Maria Nájera, of Denver, is government affairs director for Western Resource Advocates.

    Opinion: The time is now for oil and gas bonding reform — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Don Lumbardy):

    Making a living as a rancher on the Western Slope isn’t easy. Working the land in an arid environment, keeping livestock, and negotiating in turbulent market conditions is hard work at the best of times. Yet over the past 50 years that I’ve raised cattle and grown crops in Mesa County, I have witnessed the days growing hotter and drier with each passing year.

    For many like myself who sought to build a career feeding our community from the land that I call home, drought is threatening to wither our way of life. Protecting what little water we have and taking action to slow the change in climate is vital to sustaining agriculture in Western Colorado, which is why we must urge state and federal decision makers to adopt protective rules that require oil and gas operators to set aside enough money to clean up their oil and gas wells after they are finished with production.

    When a well that is drilled to extract oil or gas has no operator responsible for it (due to bankruptcy, etc.), it is referred to as an “orphaned well.” Orphaned wells result in many problems for public health and the environment, including venting harmful chemicals into the air, polluting groundwater with toxic sludge, creating dangerous conditions for wildlife, and releasing plumes of methane.

    Large operators will frequently drill wells, extract most of the resource, and then sell them off to smaller operators towards the end of the well’s productive life. After the small operator pumps the last dredges, they often declare bankruptcy, and leave the orphaned wells for the government (that is, taxpayers) to clean up.

    Unfortunately, we already have a number of these orphaned wells here in Mesa County’s own backyard. For example, Fram Operating LLC has left a number of wells orphaned in the Grand Junction watershed. Fram only posted some $310,000 in bonds to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, despite the total bill for cleanup being about $5 million. These wells are a direct threat to the community’s water supply.

    In my own experience, Fram has tried to strong-arm landowners such as myself into allowing them to drill on their property without regard to the potential impacts that their extraction might have on our water supply. Despite my protests and explanation that any drilling could divert away water that I needed to grow crops and raise cattle, their landman told me that my concerns didn’t matter, and that they would drill anyway. Fortunately, this did not come to pass, but there is no doubt in my mind that if they hadn’t filed for bankruptcy, they would have tried.

    My story is just one example of what is happening across our state, and the real threat that orphaned oil and gas wells pose to us all. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, hunting, fishing, and animal watching contribute about $800 million to the economy of western Colorado, and $5.7 billion statewide. Colorado’s agricultural sector creates an additional $47 billion. Protecting these industries from disruptive changes in weather patterns, habitat loss, and soil degradation that orphaned wells contribute to is vital to protecting over 124,000 jobs throughout our state.

    But it’s not just jobs on the line; it’s also our tax dollars. Of the approximately 52,000 producing wells in Colorado, about half produce less than 5 barrels of oil or equivalent in [methane] gas per day. Should the operators walk away from their obligations to plug and reclaim them, it will be Colorado taxpayers left to foot the bill for the billions of dollars in cleanup costs they represent.

    Fortunately, there are steps we can take right now to prevent the orphaned well crisis we are facing from festering any longer. Presently, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is seeking to craft new financial assurance rules. They need to hear from the public that we expect operators to post a bond for the full cost of plugging and reclamation for each well up front before they are allowed to drill. At the federal level, we must encourage Sens. Hickenlooper and Bennet to push for the latter’s Oil and Gas Bonding Reform and Orphaned Well Remediation Act, which would provide billions of dollars to clean up orphaned wells and modernize bonding rates, to be passed by Congress as soon as possible.

    For those of us on the Western Slope working in agriculture, science has produced technological advances that have made our work easier and level of crop production possible. Now, science is telling us that we have to protect our environment, health, and water from orphaned oil and gas wells. By working together, we can confront this threat to our health, economy, and tax dollars, and protect this vibrant, beautiful state for Coloradans now and in the future.

    Don Lumbardy is a fourth-generation rancher born in Mesa County, just 20 miles west of the ranch he lives on today. Don has been ranching in western Colorado for nearly 50 years, and works to help the public understand the importance of food, water, and protecting the environment that sustains them.

    #ClimateChange tops talk during Senator Michael Bennet’s telephone town hall September 3, 2021 — The #FortMorgan Times

    The graph shows average annual global temperatures since 1880 (source data) compared to the long-term average (1901-2000). The zero line represents the long-term average temperature for the whole planet; blue and red bars show the difference above or below average for each year. (These data were among the sources of data used in the State of the Climate in 2020’s temperature analysis, but here are compared to the 20th-century average. In the report, they are compared to the 1981-2010 average.)

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Katie Roth):

    U.S. Senator Michael Bennet held a telephone town hall event on Friday, Sept. 3 to answer questions and address concerns for Coloradoans. Though Bennet spends a lot of time in Washington D.C., he has been back in Colorado for the past few weeks. He has held 30 events in 13 different counties across the state and came away observing three things in need of attention: climate change, both man-made and natural infrastructure, and affordable healthcare, housing and education.

    “I think the United States has not been investing in our people or our infrastructure for a very, very long time, and it shows. But things are beginning to change. Last month, the Senate passed a historic $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on a bipartisan vote,” said Bennet…

    Bennet is focusing on both paid family leave and climate change, as well. He advocates for paid parent leave so Coloradoans can stay home with a sick child or an elderly family member without losing his or her job.

    As for climate change, Bennet recognizes the problems at hand: “We’ve got to act urgently on climate. If we don’t, I really worry that we’re not going to recognize our own state in a few years, and I think all of us refuse to hand our kids and grandkids a state where you can’t see the mountains or you can’t go outside half the summer and families live in fear of wildfire… droughts… There’s a lot of work to do ahead, and I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time that the agenda in Washington (D.C.) reflects our priorities in Colorado. And that’s, in large part, thanks to the feedback I receive in conversations like this that I can carry back to Washington (D.C.).”

    […]

    A caller from Westminster in Adams County, Ellen, expressed her disappointment in Bennet’s lack of actions taken to combat climate change: “I appreciate you saying you feel urgency over the climate crisis, but you need to act in line with that urgency. Your vote to prohibit banning fossil fuel development on public lands and your vote to support a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Texas (were) so unacceptable. To prevent more severe climate crises than we already face, we have to end extracting and burning fossil fuels.”

    While Bennet made it clear he did not regret those votes, he did explain his reasoning for them: “I believe very strongly that if we are ever going to actually get off of fossil fuels, we have to have a plan to transition off of fossil fuels. I don’t believe that we could just get off them tomorrow and be done with it without driving energy prices through the roof… what we need is a thoughtful approach over the next 10, 20, 30 years to get this economy to a net zero carbon economy. If we don’t have a plan to get to net zero by 2050, then we’re not ever going to do it.”

    […]

    A woman named Irma submitted an online question asking Bennet how he is protecting Colorado’s watershed and water supply.

    From his research over the past year or so, Bennet discovered that it would cost $60 billion to protect the west’s watershed. While that seems like a steep price, Colorado has spent $60 billion in the past four to five years fighting fires. Bennet wrote a bill called the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act which pushes to use funds for forest mitigation and watershed restoration. Bennet sits on the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, and he hopes his bill will be passed as part of the reconciliation package…

    Marti from Lafayette in Boulder County, originally from Ohio, moved to Colorado to be closer to her family and enjoys the Colorado weather. She called with a question about poor air quality and frequent ozone alerts. More specifically, she shared her research on Suncor Energy in Denver and how it has not met federal admission standards for toxic gasses. She questioned how the company could be held accountable. Bennet was not as familiar with Suncor and made a note to look into whether or not that problem could be solved on a state or federal level or instead handled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bennet also shared his wish to reinstate a law from when Hickenlooper was in office with a goal to capture fugitive methane from pipelines and drilling rigs, a law which President Trump removed.

    To Meet Paris Accord Goal, Most of the World’s #FossilFuel Reserves Must Stay in the Ground — Inside #Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

    From Inside Climate News (Nicholas Kusnetz):

    A new study in Nature reports that oil, gas and coal production must begin falling immediately to have even a 50 percent chance of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    After a summer of weather extremes that highlighted the urgency of limiting global warming in starkly human terms, new research is clarifying what it will take to do so. In order to have just a 50 percent chance of meeting the most ambitious climate target, the study found, the production of all fossil fuels will need to start declining immediately, and a significant majority of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves will have to remain underground over the next few decades.

    While the research, published Wednesday [September 8, 2021] in the journal Nature, is only the latest to argue that meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement goals to limit warming requires a rapid pivot to clean energy, it lays out with clear and specific figures exactly how far from those targets the world remains.

    “The inescapable evidence that hopefully we’ve shown and that successive reports have shown is that if you want to meet 1.5 degrees, then global production has to start declining,” said Daniel Welsby, a researcher at University College London, in the United Kingdom, and the study’s lead author. As part of the Paris Agreement, nations agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

    The study found that nearly 60 percent of global oil and gas reserves and about 90 percent of coal reserves must be left unexploited by 2050, though a portion of those fuels could be produced in the second half of the century. Total oil and gas production must begin declining immediately, the research said, and continue falling at about 3 percent annually through 2050. Coal production must fall at an even steeper rate.

    While the authors noted a few signs of change, including that coal production is already on the decline, the current course is far off what’s needed. In March, the International Energy Agency warned that oil production was on track to rebound from a pandemic-driven dip and would surpass 2019 levels within a couple of years. That projection came on the heels of a separate report in December by the United Nations Environment Program, which said energy producing countries are set to expand fossil fuel output for years.

    The new paper builds on these studies and other related work to estimate the “unextractable” portion of the fossil fuel stores that are currently considered profitable to exploit—so-called proven reserves. Put another way, the research effectively says that most of the fossil fuels that energy companies currently list as financial assets, or that governments report as strategic ones, would be rendered worthless if the world is to have a shot at limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    Click to enlarge.

    Our new age of fire — Writers on the Range #ActOnClimate

    From Writers on the Range (Steve Pyne):

    Fire in the West is expected, and not so long ago, it seemed something the West experienced more than anywhere else. Nationally, big fires were treated as another freak of regional violence, like a grizzly bear attack, or another California quirk like Esalen and avocados.

    Now wildland fires flare up everywhere. There are fires in Algeria and Turkey, Amazonia and Indonesia, and France, Canada and Australia. Last year even Greenland burned.

    Fire seasons have lengthened, fires have gotten meaner and bigger; fires have begun not just gorging on logging slash and prowling the mountainous backcountry, but also burning right into and across towns. Three years ago in northern California, the Camp fire broke out along the Feather River and, burning southwest, incinerated the town of Paradise. This summer’s Dixie fire, starting 20 miles north in the same drainage, is burning in the opposite direction, after taking out the historic town of Greenville. The fires have us coming and going, and now Lake Tahoe is under the gun.

    The causes have been analyzed and reanalyzed, like placer miners washing and rewashing tailings. Likewise, the solutions have been reworked and polished until they have become clichés, ready to spill into the culture wars.

    The news media have fire season branded into their almanac of annual events. Scientific disciplines are publishing reports and data sets at an exponential rate. So far as understanding the fire scene, we’ve hit field capacity. What more can we say?

    Fires rage across continents, sparking panic and discord among the public, scientists, and media alike.
    (Photo Credit: Michael Held via Unsplash)

    One trend is to go small and find meaning in the personal. But there is also an argument to go big and frame the story at a planetary scale that can shuffle all the survival memoirs, smoke palls that travel across the continent, melting ice packs, lost and disappearing species and sprawling frontiers of flame, in much the way we organize the swarm of starlight in a night sky into constellations.

    I’m a fire guy. I take fire not just as a random happening, but as an emergent property that’s intrinsic to life on Earth.

    So I expect fires. All those savanna fires in Africa, the land-clearing fires in Brazil and Sumatra, the boreal blowouts in Siberia and British Columbia, the megafires in the Pacific Northwest — all the flames we see.

    But then there are fires that should be present and aren’t — the fires that once renewed and stabilized most of the land all over our planet. These are the fires that humanity, with its species monopoly on combustion, deliberately set to make living landscapes into what the ancients termed “a second nature.”

    But it was not enough. We wanted yet more power without the constraints of living landscapes that restricted what and when we could burn. We turned to fossil fuels to burn through day and night, winter and summer, drought and deluge. With our unbounded firepower we remade second nature into “a third nature,” one organized around industrial combustion.

    Humans and fire have coexisted for years. But reorganizing our society around constant combustion may burn it to the ground.
    (Photo Credit: Issy Bailey, @bailey_i, via Unsplash)

    Our fires in living landscapes and those made with fossil fuels have been reshaping the Earth. The result is too much bad fire and too little good, and way too much combustion overall.

    Add up all those varieties of burning, and we seem to be creating the fire equivalent of an Ice Age, with continental shifts in geography, radical changes in climate, rising sea level, a mass extinction, and a planet whose air, water, soil and life are being refashioned at a breakneck pace.

    It’s said that every model fails but some are useful. The same holds true for metaphors. What the concept of a planetary Fire Age — a Pyrocene — gives us, is a sense of the scale of our fire-powered impact. It suggests how the parts might interact and who is responsible. It allows us to reimagine the issues and perhaps stand outside our entrenched perspectives.

    Steve Pyne via Writers on the Range

    What we have made — if with unintended consequences — we can unmake, though we should expect more unknown consequences.

    We have a lot of fire in our future, and a lot to learn about living with it.

    Steve Pyne is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is the author of The Pyrocene. How We Created an Age of Fire, and What Happens Next.

    Opinion: Put the cost of oil and gas clean-up back where it belongs — #Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    If there’s one thing most Coloradans can agree on, it’s that our communities and public lands need to be protected. Laws and regulations are there to make that happen, but there are instances where the federal government could be doing more.

    One example: The federal oil and gas program has been failing Coloradans, undermining our communities, and harming our public lands. Fortunately, there are aspects of the program our leaders in Congress can fix right now.

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    To start, they can address the growing number of orphaned oil and gas wells on our public lands that will cost taxpayers millions, if not billions, to clean up. Putting these costs back where they belong — on the oil and gas companies who made the mess — is something Congress can do today by strengthening the financial assurance requirements for drilling on public lands.

    They can also update the more than 60-year-old rates oil and gas companies are required to pay when they lease public lands, which have cost all of us billions in lost revenues over the last decade. Updating these requirements will finally hold irresponsible oil and gas companies accountable. Instead of Coloradans paying to cap orphaned wells, we can invest that money in schools, health care, and other priorities.

    According to the Government Accountability Office, as many as 99% of the bonds posted by oil and gas companies are inadequate, leaving taxpayers with billions of dollars in potential clean-up costs when companies go bankrupt due to the highly volatile oil market.

    It’s not right that oil and gas companies get to extract resources from publicly owned lands, profit on them for years, then leave behind toxic wells that we, the owners of the lands, must pay to clean up. By a conservative estimate, there are more than 600 wells on federal public lands in Colorado that are at risk of being orphaned. We shouldn’t be left with that tab.

    According to the Government Accountability Office, as many as 99% of the bonds posted by oil and gas companies are inadequate, leaving taxpayers with billions of dollars in potential clean-up costs.

    Colorado is working to fix this problem at the state level but needs the federal government to do its part and adopt solutions. Luckily, Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are two of the champions in Congress working on a fix.

    Bennet recently introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Hickenlooper, that would require oil and gas companies to actually set aside enough money to clean up wells before they start drilling. Bennet’s bill would also provide federal funding to address wells that are already orphaned.

    Congress has a great opportunity to step up and get common-sense reforms like these done, and it’s critically important they do so now. The Department of the Interior recently announced that it will resume oil and gas leasing on federal public lands. If the government continues to let oil and gas companies off the hook, nothing will prevent this problem from getting much worse. It’s not enough to just provide funding to clean up wells, as the bipartisan infrastructure deal did. Congress must also modernize bonding rates, as outlined in Bennet’s bill, so that Coloradans aren’t using our valuable public dollars to pay for a mess we didn’t create.

    Coloradans and our neighbors across the West deserve federal leasing policies that serve our best interests, not those of irresponsible actors in the oil and gas industry. These federal oil and gas leasing program reforms should be a priority for Congress and the White House, and we’re all counting on Bennet and Hickenlooper to make it happen.

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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.

    After a century, no more #coal burning in downtown #ColoradoSprings. But what comes next? — @BigPivots

    Martin Drake Coal Plant Colorado Springs. The coal plant in downtown Colorado Springs will be closed by 2023 and 7 gas-fired generators moved in to generate power until 2030. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    The Martin Drake Power Plant will burn its last load of coal this Friday, Aug. 27, ending more than a century of coal-burning near downtown Colorado Springs for electrical generation.

    Closing of coal plants will become a regular thing in coming years. By decade’s end, only one plant, Comanche 3, is scheduled to remain in operation in Colorado, if at much reduced capacity. Even that limited use scenario remains in doubt.

    What will replace the electricity generated by coal combustion in times when neither the wind blows nor the sun shines or—increasingly problematic—the dams that produce hydroelectric generation whither to dead pool?

    The answers remain unclear. In the case of Colorado Springs, six natural gas-burning units have been erected at the power plant along Interstate 25. But as Colorado Springs Utilities has made clear, these units costing $100 million, are to be temporary, while energy technology and economics shift further.

    Like Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission and other utilities, Colorado Springs continues to wait for technological and perhaps political breakthroughs.

    Coal has been a mainstay for the last century. At first, the plants were small. A practiced eye can see those brick buildings erected along rivers in Fort Morgan and Fort Collins.

    Cameo power plant circa 2010. Photo via Big Pivots

    Then, coal plants became larger and then larger yet. Cameo Station, located along the Colorado River east of Grand Junction, had generating capacity of 73 megawatts when it went on line in the late 1950s. At Hayden, the two units that went on line in the ‘60s and ‘70s together have 441 megawatts of capacity. Then came the true behemoths at Craig and Pueblo, the former with 1,283 megawatts of generating capacity and the latter, called Comanche, with 1,410 megawatts.

    Now, the closings have started. The smaller and older ones came first, and Cherokee, located north of downtown Denver, was converted from coal to burn natural gas. Hayden will be shut down by 2028 and Craig by 2030.

    What a lot of change. In 2010, utilities were still very tentatively clinging to the past, unsure how much renewable generation they could absorb and still ensure your refrigerator had juice. Too, renewables were still expensive.

    Then came 2014-2018, during which a profound shift occurred as wind generation became the lost cost resource, but solar prices rapidly declined, too, both aided by federal tax policies. And now coal has become the expensive fuel in almost all cases.

    Utilities also were learning to integrate higher levels of renewables without sacrificing reliability. This was easier done in the middle of the night, when wind was blowing hard across Colorado’s eastern plains, but it applied to all hours of the day, too.

    A hallmark of this progression came in December 2018, when Xcel Energy assembled Colorado’s political leaders, reporters and others at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to announce a goal worthy of national attention. The company said it would cut carbon emissions from its electrical generation 80% by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels.

    Days later, directors of Platte River Power Authority—the power provider for Fort Collins, Longmont, Loveland and Estes Park—announced a 100% goal for 2030, if with a list of caveats.

    Tri-State, Colorado’s second largest electrical distributor, with 18 member cooperatives from Cortez to Holyoke, in January 2020 announced closings that will allow it to reduce emissions 80%.

    Colorado Springs is a microcosm of this expansion of more than a century and now rapid shrinking of coal-based electrical generation. Electricity was introduced into the town in the 1880s, a light bulb at the end of a dangling cord representing the ritziest convenience in the city, a later brochure said. It was enormously expensive to operate, 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Demand was small: a 60-kilowatt-generation plant met the needs of the 350 customers.

    In 1968, when the Drake plant was dedicated, cost of electricity has declined to 2 cents per kilowatt hour, but demand had grown, as a brochure noted, to include everything from color TVs to electric blankets.

    In June 2020, Colorado Springs Utilities announced that first Drake and then the Ray Nixon Plant, the latter a newer power plant, would close. The passage of Drake will be marked Friday afternoon with remarks by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and Aram Benyamin, the chief executive of Colorado Springs Utilities since 2015.

    Colorado Springs has been adding solar and wind generation but, at least during the coming decade, expects to remain reliant on natural gas. Natural gas in 2020 was responsible for 49% of electrical generation. In 2030, according to the municipal utility’s current plan, it will still be 42%. But on that, refer back to 2011 when some utilities were still theoretically planning to build more coal plants. It is, at this point, a placeholder.

    What will it take to decarbonize electricity completely? Xcel says it believes it can hit 100% emissions-free energy by mid-century if the answers are not yet clear about that last 10% to 20%. Holy Cross Energy, the electrical cooperative serving Vail, Aspen, and Rifle areas, made its goal of 100% by 2030 unconditional.

    Answers must be found. The vulnerability of the electrical grid was exposed by the windless days of February. That winter storm paralyzed Texas, exposing the fallacy of short cuts no matter what the fuel source. Colorado was not immune, though. Xcel Energy spent $600 million buying suddenly expensive natural gas. Tri-State spent only $11 million in extra costs, but turned to burning fuel oil when wind farms that produced an average of 51.2 megawatts of electricity fell to just 0.9 megawatts.

    Storage has become the Holy Grail of the 100% quests. Lithium-ion batteries, which have about a four-hour storage life, will be inadequate when the wind doesn’t blow several days in a row on the Eastern Plains.

    A regional transmission organization that allows Colorado to use electricity being generated in California or Arizona or even wind from Iowa, might help a lot. Tri-State wants such an organization. So does Holy Cross Energy—and, it would appear, Colorado Springs Utilities. In 2021 Colorado legislators approved a bill that requires integration of the state’s utilities into such an organization within a decade. One energy attorney, Mark Detzsky, calls it the most important energy or climate bill among Colorado’s 30-plus bills adopted in the 2021.

    Other storage technologies may deliver the answers. Xcel Energy says molten salt tops the list of storage technologies when it closes its coal units at Hayden in 2027 and 2028. It also is considering green hydrogen, which can use electricity—presumably from renewable sources—to create hydrogen from water (venting the oxygen into the atmosphere). That technology faces cost and other hurdles.

    Tri-State has the backing of Colorado’s state government in seeking to make the power plant at Craig a demonstration site for research and development of green hydrogen, as I explained in some detail in a recent story. See: Will green hydrogen research at Craig be part of the answer to the big question?

    As for Comanche 3, Colorado’s youngest coal plant, completed in 2010, and also its largest. Xcel Energy wants to keep it operating until 2040 at about a third of capacity or just seasonally. Pueblo and Pueblo County have also registered their support. They want the tax base.

    But will a new energy storage technology make Comanche 3 obsolete? Maybe not, but that’s a bet I’d take.

    State monitoring finds elevated air pollution levels near Suncor refinery in #CommerceCity — #Colorado Newsline

    The Suncor oil refinery, located just north of Denver city limits, is one of the region’s largest sources of toxic air pollution. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

    A state effort to measure air pollution levels near the Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City found elevated levels of hazardous particulate matter in the area, officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a communication to residents Thursday.

    The new data were collected by CDPHE’s mobile air monitoring lab, which was stationed at the Eagle Pointe Recreation Center in Commerce City between May 14 and July 17. They showed that levels of fine particle pollution — an air pollutant known as PM2.5 because it consists of tiny particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter — were higher in the Commerce City and north Denver area in early summer than at many other monitoring stations along the Front Range.

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    “CDPHE sent the mobile lab to the area because of department and community concerns regarding air quality in the area,” the department said. “Fine particle pollution in the area comes from local sources, such as Suncor and vehicles, and more distant sources, such as wildfire smoke. The mobile lab is not able to determine the sources of pollution it measures.”

    The mobile lab was stationed less than a mile from the boundaries of the Suncor refinery, closer than any of the state’s permanent monitoring stations are located. The refinery and other industrial facilities in the north Denver metro area are known to emit high levels of pollutants, but environmental activists and residents, many of whom are low-income and people of color, have long complained that the area has lacked adequate air-quality monitoring.

    The results of the state’s air monitoring investigation suggest that PM2.5 is the “most prominent pollutant of health concern in the area,” CDPHE said. Levels of another common pollutant, ozone, were lower on average than in many other parts of the Denver metro area.

    The effort also found that levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, “did not reach levels experts expect would cause health impacts,” though CDPHE officials cautioned that scientists don’t yet fully understand how VOCs may interact with each other or other pollutants to cause or exacerbate health impacts. “Whether someone might experience health impacts depends on many factors, including the amount they are exposed to and for how long,” said a CDPHE website showing the results of the investigation.

    The department says that it’s planning to send the mobile lab back to the Commerce City area in the future. It’s one of several efforts to improve air monitoring in the area surrounding the Suncor facility, including a grant-funded community program operated by the nonprofit Cultivando; new requirements for “fenceline” monitoring mandated by legislation passed earlier this year; and a voluntary monitoring website recently launched by Suncor itself.

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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.

    Surface #Water Vulnerable to Widespread Pollution From Fracking, a New Study Finds — Inside #Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Oil and gas drilling derrick. Photo credit: Colorado State University

    From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn):

    Fossil fuels don’t just damage the planet by emitting climate-warming greenhouse gases when they are burned. Extracting coal, oil and gas has a huge impact on the surface of the earth, including strip mines the size of cities and offshore oil spills that pollute country-sized swaths of ocean.

    Years of research has shown how the fracking boom has contaminated groundwater in some areas. But a study published on Thursday in the journal Science suggests there is also a previously undocumented risk to surface water in streams, rivers and lakes.

    After analyzing 11 years of data, including surface water measurements in 408 watersheds and information about more than 40,000 fracking wells, the researchers found a very small but consistent increase in three salt compounds—barium, chloride and strontium—in watersheds with new wells that were fracked. While concentrations of the three elements were elevated, they remained below the levels considered harmful by the EPA.

    Such salts are commonly found in water coming from newly fracked wells, making changes in their levels good markers for fracking impacts on surface water, said co-author Christian Leuz, professor of international economics at the University of Chicago. The three economists who did the research specialize in studying the effectiveness of environmental regulations.

    Though the impact the researchers detected was small, the data came from diluted water in rivers and streams that were often far from wells, Leuz said, so the concentrations could be higher farther upstream and closer to the fracking operations.

    The findings suggest that the rapid pace of “unconventional oil and gas development,” like fracking, may be outrunning scientists’ ability to monitor its impacts on surface water. “Better and more frequent water measurement is needed to fully understand the surface water impact of unconventional oil and gas development,” said economist co-author Pietro Bonetti, with the University of Navarra, Spain.

    The researchers said they couldn’t determine human health impacts from the elements for two reasons, Leuz said.

    First, “there is not enough public data to analyze potentially more dangerous substances,” he said, and second, ”there are limitations in available water-quality measurements.” Even though some states require fracking companies to disclose chemicals in their fluids, they aren’t always listed in public water monitoring databases, Leuz added.

    The 2005 amendment to the Safe Water Drinking Act, known as the Halliburton Loophole, also made tracking harder by exempting hydraulic fracturing fluids from the Safe Drinking Water Act, preventing the EPA from regulating fracking fluids…

    Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

    The data needs to be further analyzed to understand if requiring drilling companies to be transparent about what’s in their fracking fluids led them to clean up their operations, she said, but the study published today also provides important information for drafting regulations and focusing future monitoring and research on potential trouble spots that are more vulnerable to pollution.

    Early research on fracking impacts was mostly on groundwater contamination, but in 2016, the EPA published a report with a “more complete record of localized evidence,” that found the potential for surface water pollution under certain circumstances, Michelon said.

    Two western states (#NewMexico/#Colorado) act to control #methane — Writers on the Range #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Methane contributes to climate change and ground-level ozone, leading to environmental, economic, and public health issues.
    (Photo Credit: Delfino Barboza via Unsplash) via Writers on the Range

    From Writers on the Range (Tim Lydon):

    Tim Lydon via Writers on the Range.

    New Mexico, the third-ranking U.S. oil producer, has moved to curtail methane pollution from the oil and gas industry, moving it closer to neighboring Colorado’s leadership. Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and also damages human health.

    With the United States among the world’s top methane polluters and the Biden administration promising tighter nationwide rules, these two Western states set a bar for other states to follow.

    For decades, the oil and gas industry has freely discharged the colorless pollutant from tens of thousands of wells as a cost-savings measure. Then, this March, New Mexico banned the wasteful venting and flaring of natural gas, which is comprised almost entirely of methane. New Mexico is only the third state, after Colorado and Alaska, to ban the practice.

    This May, New Mexico also proposed a final rule to staunch the leaking of methane from across the state’s oil and gas supply chain, which includes part of the mammoth Permian Basin it shares with Texas. The leaking occurs at well pads, pipelines, compressors, storage facilities, and more.

    It’s a system-wide problem that generates methane plumes large enough to detect from space.

    The proposed rule on leaking, now up for public comment, improves on a December draft that offered broad loopholes. When it’s made final, it will require regular inspection and repair of leaky equipment, which today goes largely unmitigated as yet another industry cost-savings measure.

    The United States is among the world’s top methane producers, and methane hotspots are prevalent in the oil-rich West.
    (Photo Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) via Writers on the Range

    The state effort means New Mexico is catching up with Colorado. In 2014, Colorado became the first state to regulate methane and has twice strengthened its original rule. Colorado has also modernized its oil and gas regulatory agency’s mission so that it includes safeguarding public health. And it is reworking oil and gas bonding requirements so taxpayers don’t get burdened with plugging leaky “orphan wells” abandoned by producers.

    Colorado’s rules were a model for the first national methane regulations, implemented under President Obama in 2016. Unfortunately, the Trump administration dismantled those rules.

    Controlling methane is a climate imperative. Because the gas has 80 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide, it’s a potent driver of climate change. NASA says it has fueled a whopping 25 percent of the human-caused global warming that today increasingly jeopardizes Western water, agriculture, and recreation.

    Research also shows that methane is entering the atmosphere from sources such as wetlands or thawing permafrost. In the latter, warming tied to methane begets more methane. It is the ominous type of feedback loop that global warming alarmists have warned us about for decades.

    But the good news is that methane only survives in the atmosphere for about 10 years, unlike the centuries-long lifespan of carbon dioxide. Consequently, methane rules today could produce swift returns on climate as the world grapples with the harder problem of carbon dioxide.

    But methane and associated pollutants also contribute to harmful ground-level ozone, which is linked to premature birth, respiratory sickness, and other illnesses. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made this part of her campaign for regulation, pointing out that poor air quality disproportionately harms poor communities.

    That concern helped build support from Indigenous and other groups, outweighing fears that new regulations would detract from drilling royalties, which provide over a third of New Mexico’s revenue for education, health, and other services.

    Part of the New Mexico governor’s strategy in winning support for methane control was focusing on fiscal accountability. Venting, flaring, and leaking — all monumentally wasteful practices — send an estimated $43 million in potential state revenue into New Mexico’s thin air every year.

    At the national level, President Biden campaigned on restoring federal methane regulations rolled back under Trump. Biden issued executive orders on his first day in office that set a September goal for proposing a new strategy. Crafting new federal rules is expected to take years, but New Mexico and Colorado now offer strong examples. By applying rules to both new and existing oil and gas infrastructure, they exceed the original Obama regulations, which only addressed new permits.

    Today, Western states, along with heavy oil producers Texas and North Dakota, offer only a patchwork of tax incentives and voluntary targets. Limited rules, however, often tilt in industry’s favor. Now, with fossil fuel production ramping back up and global temperatures rising, New Mexico and Colorado show that tougher regulations are the way to go.

    Tim Lydon is a contributor to Writers on the Range, http://writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He writes from Alaska.

    Two Years After Declaring #ClimateEmergency, Scientists Say It’s Even Worse — #Wyoming Public Radio #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Time series of climate-related global human activities. In panels (a), (d), (e), (i), and (m), the most recent data point(s) are a projection or preliminary estimate (see the supplemental material); in panel (f), tree cover loss does not account for forest gain and includes loss due to any cause. With the exception of panel (p), data obtained since the publication of Ripple and colleagues (2020) are shown in red. In panel (h), hydroelectricity and nuclear energy are shown in figure S1. Sources and additional details about each variable are provided in the supplemental material. Complete time series are shown in supplemental figure S2.

    From Wyoming Public Radio (Maggie Mullen):

    Two years ago, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries declared a climate emergency. They did so in a report that said scientists have “a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to ‘tell it like it is.'”

    Now, they say things look even worse.

    On Wednesday, an updated version of the report was published in the journal BioScience, and included an additional 2,800 scientists’ signatures.

    The study evaluated 31 variables, like ocean changes and energy use. It found that over half are at new all-time record lows or highs.

    For example, in April 2021, carbon dioxide concentration reached 416 parts per million—the highest monthly global average concentration ever recorded. Glaciers are losing 31% more snow and ice per year than they did just 15 years ago, a rate that is much faster than previously believed.

    And for the first time, the world’s ruminant livestock (cattle, sheep, and goats) passed four billion, which represents much more mass than all humans and wild mammals combined.

    The findings were shocking to lead author William Ripple of Oregon State University…

    With so many variables moving in the wrong direction, the paper calls for big, transformative changes. That includes eliminating fossil fuels and switching to mostly plant-based diets.

    The group plans to update its findings on a regular basis.

    This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    Cities Confront #Climate Challenge: How to Move from Gas to Electricity? — YaleEnvironment360 #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From Yale Environment 360 (Jonathan Mingle):

    Ending the use of fossil fuels to heat homes and buildings is a key challenge for cities hoping to achieve net-zero emissions. Nowhere is that more evident than in Philadelphia, where technical and financial hurdles and a reluctant gas company stand in the way of decarbonization.

    In 1836, Philadelphians mostly used whale oil and candles to light their homes and businesses. That year, the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works caused a stir when it lit 46 downtown street lamps with gas made from coal in its plant on the Schuylkill River. By the end of the Civil War, public thoroughfares and private dwellings in the core of most large Eastern cities were illuminated by gas, supplied through cast iron pipes buried beneath the busy streets — and the whale oil lighting industry was nearly dead.

    Philadelphia’s own pipe network has expanded over the past 185 years to encompass 6,000 miles of gas mains and service lines. But today, Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) — the largest municipal gas utility in the country — is the incumbent business staring down existential threats, facing challenges from new technologies, upstart rivals, and a quickening 21st-century energy transition that aims to convert many buildings from gas to electricity.

    In recognition of these forces and the city’s own climate action plan, Philadelphia has commissioned a “diversification study” to find a new low-carbon business model for the nation’s oldest gas utility, which delivers natural gas to 510,000 customers.

    Earlier this year, Philadelphia announced a target of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “There’s just no way that can happen without PGW changing,” said Tom Shuster, clean energy program director of the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania chapter, which advocates for wider building electrification. Gas sold by the utility is the single biggest source of the city’s climate-warming pollution, accounting for 22 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions.

    Charting a path forward that ensures both PGW’s survival and the city’s carbon neutrality will be a heavy lift, many advocates acknowledge. The task is even more daunting when considered on a national scale. While many cities are adopting or considering rules that require new construction to be all-electric, the much thornier problem is how to get fossil fuels out of existing buildings, which account for about 30 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

    Of the country’s 120 million households, about 58 percent are heated primarily with natural gas. To zero out carbon emissions from those homes, all of their furnaces, water heaters, and other appliances will have to be fueled with “green molecules” (such as biogas, hydrogen, and synthetic gases) instead of fossil gas, or swapped out for heat pumps and other devices powered by renewable electricity.

    Several states have already begun formally planning their long-term transition away from natural gas. Last June, the attorney general of Massachusetts petitioned the state’s utility regulators to investigate how to transition away from natural gas. Spurred by their own climate action goals, California and New York have launched similar efforts. New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan has set a goal of electrifying 90 percent of buildings’ heating and cooling demand by 2050.

    The menu for building decarbonization includes heat pumps powered with renewable electricity, geothermal systems, hydrogen fuels, and biogas generated from organic waste. Some of these solutions are in the early stages of development and deployment. Air-source heat pumps are the most mature technology, with decades of use in parts of Europe and Japan, and in the U.S. South, where heat pumps make up more than 20 percent of building heating systems. A few gas utilities are experimenting with blending hydrogen into their gas mix and testing how appliances handle it, in the hopes that “green hydrogen,” created with renewable electricity, will help them wring the carbon out of their operations. And Eversource, New England’s largest energy utility, is partnering with Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), a Massachusetts-based nonprofit focused on cutting emissions from the building sector, to build an innovative pilot geothermal district heating and cooling system in the Boston area this summer.

    Students flip the switch to turn on rooftop solar installed on a rowhouse as part of the Solarize Philly program in 2018. JARED PIPER/PHLCOUNCIL via Yale Environment 360

    In any scenario, a massive transformation of the way we use energy in buildings will be required to meet ambitious city, state, and federal emissions targets. Perhaps nowhere are these challenges as stark as in older cities in the Northeast, which remain heavily reliant on natural gas for heating and have some of the oldest, least energy-efficient housing stock.

    In Philadelphia, overhauling PGW entails navigating a thicket of competing imperatives beyond cutting greenhouse gas emissions: plugging dangerous methane leaks, retaining or retraining the utility’s 1,600-strong workforce, and ensuring that the most vulnerable Philadelphians aren’t left carrying the burden of propping up an increasingly expensive gas grid.

    Even before the pandemic led to a recent spike in unpaid bills, many Philadelphians faced an energy affordability crisis. Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of any major U.S. city; roughly one third of PGW’s customers are low-income. To be equitable, any transition for the utility must “make sure every last person reliant on natural gas has a way to keep warm in winter, cook their food, and heat their water,” said Elizabeth Marx, executive director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project, which represents the interests of low-income utility customers. “If you’re talking about shifting away from a system that’s been built out with ratepayers for decades, you can’t shift away easily without leaving people behind.”

    As more affluent customers abandon gas to install heat pumps and other clean-energy upgrades with higher upfront costs, many advocates for a “just transition” worry that lower-income ratepayers will be left to foot the bill for maintaining PGW’s aging gas infrastructure.

    “What you want to avoid is the situation where you have to maintain and spend money on the whole system, even while you sell less gas,” said Mike Henchen, who leads the building decarbonization program at the energy thinktank RMI.

    Meanwhile, some of that maintenance can’t wait, for safety and environmental reasons. In December 2019, a leak from a 92-year-old gas main caused an explosion that killed two people and leveled five rowhouses in South Philadelphia. The methane in those leaks is also a potent climate-warming agent; a 2019 study that sampled air over Philadelphia and five other East Coast cities found methane levels 2.5 times higher than suggested by emissions inventories from the Environmental Protection Agency.

    “Gas utilities are in a difficult bind,” said Audrey Schulman, the founder and co-executive director of HEET, the nonprofit that initiated the Massachusetts geothermal project. “At the same time that they have to decarbonize, they have to replace these aging gas pipes.”

    The larger dilemma for Philadelphia’s officials — and for other municipal leaders around the country — is how long, and how much, to keep spending on gas infrastructure before “leapfrogging” to wider building electrification.

    When Philadelphia Gas Works applied for an increase in its base rate to the state’s Public Utility Commission last year, the Sierra Club intervened, claiming that spending on pipe maintenance beyond what’s required by immediate safety concerns is unwise. “You’re asking for money to replace this entire system,” said the Sierra Club’s Shuster, “but in doing so you are likely putting in infrastructure that will not see the end of its useful life before it’s taken offline.”

    The city commissioned the diversification study to address those kinds of tough tradeoffs. “There’s no clean silver bullet,” said Christine Knapp, director of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability. “It will probably wind up being a piecemeal strategy that gets us to our goals — a certain amount of renewable natural gas, geothermal, electrification, and weatherization, for example, that add up to having a bigger impact.”

    Philadelphia Gas Works did not respond to requests for comment. But in testimony at a 2019 City Council hearing about the proposed diversification study, a PGW official emphasized regulatory and legal limits on the utility’s ability to evolve beyond its narrow mission of delivering natural gas. Through its own direct advocacy and its membership in the American Gas Association, an industry trade group, the utility has opposed the updating of building codes that would have encouraged state and city governments to require more efficient appliances and electrification-ready wiring.

    In one of the paths being studied, PGW would keep its pipe-based system and simply add more low-carbon gas molecules to its fuel mix. For instance, SoCalGas, the nation’s largest gas utility, has heavily pushed the promise of wider use of biogas (also known as “renewable natural gas”) made from organic waste as a rationale for preserving and expanding gas infrastructure, and for resisting calls to ban the use of gas in new construction. Many other gas utilities have been promoting their nascent efforts to decarbonize by blending biogas and hydrogen into their natural gas supply.

    But that path would still mean pumping molecules of climate-warming methane through leak-prone pipes. And there are physical and financial limits on how much hydrogen and biogas could substitute for fossil gas. Various estimates peg the total potential supply of renewable natural gas at anywhere from 2 to 12 percent of total natural gas demand. Renewable natural gas and hydrogen are also still expensive fuels to manufacture.

    Several recent studies have found that fully electrifying buildings is a lower-cost way to decarbonize than going the “green molecules” route. In one, researchers estimated that the monthly cost of running a heat pump would range from $34 to $53, whereas running a gas furnace on renewable natural gas would cost $160 to $263. Heat pumps’ appeal to both homeowners and policymakers is on the rise even in the cold Northeast: Maine, for example, has a mandate to install 100,000 heat pumps in homes and businesses by 2025.

    But even if operating a heat pump is likely cheaper over the long run than firing a furnace with biogas, the upfront cost of buying and installing one — including upgrading wiring and circuit breakers to handle heavier loads — remains high relative to a conventional gas heater. Those costs are still well beyond what many Philadelphians can afford.

    One company is advancing a new way to overcome that hurdle. BlocPower is a Brooklyn-based startup that specializes in energy retrofits of large urban buildings, with a focus on converting affordable housing and multi-family buildings from fossil fuel heating to renewably powered heat pumps. With over 1,000 building retrofits in New York under its belt, BlocPower is expanding to cities across the country, including Los Angeles and Chicago. The company sees Philadelphia as fertile terrain.

    “Philadelphia has many pre-war-era walkups and multifamily buildings in dense areas that we deem to be very similar and applicable to the work we’ve been doing to date,” said Ian Harris, BlocPower’s business manager.

    Solar panels on a residential building near Philadelphia’s downtown. ARIELLA MARON via Yale Environment 360

    BlocPower began working with Philadelphia in 2014, participating in a multi-family housing pilot project led by the Philadelphia Energy Authority. This month it plans to launch BlocMaps Philly, a software tool that helps city planners and individual building owners model the potential for reducing both emissions and energy bills by installing air-source heat pumps and other systems, such as batteries and solar microgrids. Within the next 12 months, the company aims to complete 500 projects in Philadelphia.

    BlocPower manages every stage of the project, from design to installation, and offers building owners the option to lease the system. BlocPower’s model seeks to remove the traditional barriers to greening low-income urban housing, including the challenge of securing loans. The company uses algorithms to estimate a building’s potential energy savings, and then uses those projected savings to secure financing from institutions like the New York Green Bank and Goldman Sachs. It aims to demonstrate that investors can earn stable, long-term returns on investments in urban heat pumps, not unlike what they would expect from municipal infrastructure bonds.

    “We see a great opportunity to transition as many as people as possible off fossil fuels in Philadelphia,” said Harris.

    Others still see a role for pipes in the city’s energy future. This summer, Eversource Gas, the investor-owned private utility in the Boston area, will break ground on the first demonstration of HEET’s innovation. The nonprofit has developed a concept called the GeoMicroDistrict, which would link buildings on a given street or block into a networked geothermal energy system. The system is powered by ground-source heat pumps, extremely energy-efficient devices that use water as a medium for sharing thermal energy between buildings, sending heat where it’s needed and away from where it isn’t. The geothermal districts tap the constant temperature of the ground, and can themselves be further linked together into larger networks.

    The biggest upfront costs are associated with installing the system, including the drilling of shallow, six-inch-wide boreholes; after that, operating costs are low. Utilities like PGW could absorb those steep capital costs and spread them out over time and over their wide user base, taking advantage of economies of scale, said Zeyneb Magavi, the co-executive director of HEET. The geothermal pipes could be laid in the same rights-of-way already used for gas pipes. Geothermal systems could also preserve more jobs, she added, leveraging the expertise of utility workers, many of whom are trained to install the same kind of plastic pipes.

    “We have to work with the pieces we have,” said Magavi. “The fastest way forward is to flip utilities’ financing mechanisms and customer networks, all these pieces that we can redirect toward building a better energy system.”

    Whatever decarbonization path Philadelphia chooses, as a first step Mike Henchen of RMI would like to see PGW identify one segment of the city’s gas network — a neighborhood, a street, a discrete block of buildings — to shut off. “They can work to support every building served by that portion to convert to a carbon-free alternative to gas, and then decommission an actual pipe in the ground,” Henchen said. “Close the valve.”

    This kind of strategic abandonment, he argues, would be the most transformative step that PGW could take — one that would acknowledge that a smaller gas delivery system is needed in any likely scenario, and that would signal to city, state, and utility leaders around the country where the future is heading for the entire gas distribution industry. “If they could do that,” said Henchen, “that would really be ground-breaking.”

    Reporting for this story was made possible through a grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation.

    What new Permian research means for U.S. #methane policy — Environmental Defense Fund

    From the Environmental Defense Fund blog (Dan Grossman and Ben Hmiel):

    Newly released research is shedding more light on the largest sources of methane emissions in the nation’s largest oilfield.

    Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas and has a huge impact on the current rate of global warming. The oil and gas industry is one of the biggest emitters.

    Using a helicopter equipped with an infrared camera, we surveyed over a thousand sites across the Permian Basin to get specific information about the types of facilities, equipment and events that make the Permian Basin the highest-polluting oilfield in the country. Three things immediately stood out.

    More equipment equals more emissions

    We wanted to learn more about emissions from “marginal wells” — those that typically produce less than 15 barrels of oil or 60,000 cubic feet of gas a day. Despite the fact that marginal wells make up the vast majority of wells across the country, operators often seek to have them exempted from emissions standards. The argument is based on an assumption that because they produce less, they pollute less. But that is not the case. Our research indicates it is the volume of equipment — not the volume of production — that is likely to impact emissions levels.

    We looked at two types of marginal well sites:

    • Simple sites — those with just a pumpjack or well head and no other equipment.
    • Complex sites — those with tanks, flares, compressors and other machinery.

    The simple sites with fewer pieces of equipment had virtually no large emissions. Comparatively, we measured emissions at about 16% of more complex sites, and about 80% of the emissions were coming from tanks. Cumulatively, these emissions add up. About half of emissions from the Permian Basin well sites come from these smaller, lower producing wells.

    Flares malfunction at a much higher rate than previously thought

    We also examined emissions from flares. Our previous surveys of Permian flares indicated that about 10% are malfunctioning — leading to large emissions of methane. However, those surveys mostly looked at high-production sites that rely upon routine flaring. When we expanded our survey to include marginal wells with more intermittent flares, we found that number tripled. Approximately 30% of flares were pumping methane emissions into the air rather than burning the methane as they are designed to do. Regularly checking these marginal facilities for equipment failures could help substantially reduce the rate of flare malfunctions.

    Oil and gas production is not the only problem

    The other significant finding from this research confirms that the midstream sector — sites that process and move oil and gas through the system — is just as much of an emitter as the production sites. We detected large emissions at nearly 40% of midstream sites surveyed. Data released last week from researchers at the University of Arizona and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory similarly confirmed that about half of all Permian emissions are from the midstream sector.

    Explore all the new data and findings.

    Click here for mobile friendly version.

    Policy implications

    Congress is currently debating whether it should use the Congressional Review Act to reinstate sensible methane standards that would limit this pollution from newer well sites and lay the groundwork for next-generation standards for new and existing facilities. Doing so would be an important step to help address this pollution.

    Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose new rules this fall that could and should go even further to reduce emissions. Applying these rules to older facilities, complex marginal well sites and midstream operations will be necessary for the U.S. to meet its climate goals.

    A sensible path forward

    Reducing emissions from oil and gas facilities is one of the fastest, cheapest and most effective ways to slow the rate of climate change. Many reduction measures pay for themselves, since they result in more gas being captured and delivered to customers.

    Methane mitigation is also a huge job creator. Research shows that policies requiring companies to reduce emissions produce a net increase in jobs. In fact, the methane mitigation industry already employs thousands of high-paying individuals across the country and is projected to grow as companies and regulators increase their focus on methane reductions.

    The good news is we know that programs designed to reduce emissions are incredibly effective. In 2014, Colorado started regulating methane from its oil and gas industry, and in the year after regulations were implemented, operators reported a 75% drop in the number of methane leaks detected during routine field surveys.

    Strong, national standards to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is achievable and is supported by some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Ensuring that methane standards are as effective and encompassing as possible is critical to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

    Related Posts

    A year of data and one clear message: Permian flaring remains a major problem

    New report: Routine flaring in Texas’ Permian can be eliminated at little to no costAnother study reveals Permian methane levels are abnormally high, reinforcing need for action

    Another study reveals Permian methane levels are abnormally high, reinforcing need for action

    2021 #COleg: #Colorado First State to Pass Labor-Backed #Electrification Policy — Natural Resources Defense Council

    Top view of an induction cooktop. By Erik1980, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1835324

    Here’s the release from the Natural Resources Defense Council:

    Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed SB21-246 [Electric Utility Promote Beneficial Electrification] today, making his state the first in the nation to pass an electrification policy with support from organized labor. The Colorado BlueGreen Alliance-backed legislation will help Coloradans upgrade to efficient electric appliances, furnaces, and water heaters that keep their bills low and air clean.

    “Colorado has done a great job setting up tools for building owners to make their homes and businesses more efficient and climate-friendly,” said BlueGreen Alliance Director of Colorado and State Economic Transition Policy Chris Markuson. “The Colorado Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program, which allows homeowners to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements, is another great example of our state making it easy to upgrade. This bill will make efficient electric appliances even more affordable and help households and businesses connect with local qualified contractors to get the job done.”

    The Colorado BlueGreen Alliance unites 20+ labor unions and environmental organizations committed to creating clean energy jobs and preserving a healthy and livable climate. SB21-246, which was sponsored by Senator Stephen Fenberg and Representatives Alex Valdez and Meg Froelich, works toward these goals in 3 key ways:

  • Saving money: SB21-246 will direct utilities to create incentives for households and businesses to upgrade to efficient electric appliances that reduce their bills—especially critical support for low-income families and seniors on fixed incomes
  • Reducing air pollution: By choosing to upgrade their appliances, households and businesses can eliminate a major source of indoor air pollution that is uniquely harmful for children, the elderly, and people with asthma
  • Creating good jobs: When households and businesses take advantage of these new incentives, they will support local family-sustaining jobs at a time when the economy needs them the most
  • “Colorado union members are hard at work fitting Colorado homes and businesses for the climate-friendly, cost-saving technologies of the future,” said Colorado AFL-CIO Executive Director Dennis Dougherty. “Because this legislation ensures that Coloradans participating in new upgrade programs work with licensed contractors who adhere to strong workforce standards like good training programs and livable wages, we can create new union jobs and new work for our existing union members at the same time.”

    “The success of new climate-friendly technologies such as heat pumps and other heat transfer systems hinges on quality installation,” said Pipefitters Local 208 Business Manager Gary Arnold. “Pipefitters and plumbers have been helping Coloradans improve their household energy efficiency and reduce their utility bills for many years. This bill will help us bring our technical expertise to support even more homeowner investments, ensure optimal performance, and continue to guide the state in the transition to the clean energy economy.”

    “The transition to pollution-free buildings is a once-in-a-generation job creation opportunity for our members,” said IBEW Local 68 Business Manager Jeremy Ross. “As businesses and industry take advantage of new rebates and incentives to upgrade to modern and clean electric systems, they create demand for local, qualified electrical workers.”

    “Apprenticeship programs and living wages are two building blocks of a qualified local workforce,” said International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) Local 9 Business Manager Dwayne Stephens. “With this legislation in place, businesses looking for efficient and electric heating, cooling, and ventilation systems can trust that we’ll have a qualified contractor on the job.”

    “Our members are ready to rebuild Colorado for a clean energy future,” said Colorado Building and Construction Trades Council Business Manager Jason Wardrip. “We’ve been equipping local homes and businesses with efficient electric appliances for a while now, and we feel confident that the new incentive programs and labor protections in this legislation will kick our work into high gear.”

    “Partnerships between clean energy advocates and organized labor are essential for bold climate action,” said NRDC Building Decarbonization Advocate Alejandra Mejia Cunningham. “Climate policy is job creation policy, and climate progress relies entirely on the workers who are swapping out our old appliances, improving our energy efficiency, and producing the homegrown clean energy we need to power our future. When we coordinate with our partners in organized labor to write worker protections right into the legislation—from guaranteeing family-sustaining wages and benefits to creating workforce development opportunities—we can make sure our transition to pollution-free homes and buildings best serves Colorado’s rapidly-growing clean energy workforce.”

    More information about this historic legislation is available here.

    #Climate and nature crises: solve both or solve neither, say experts — The Guardian #ActOnClimate

    Like many Westerners, giant sequoias came recently from farther east. Of course, “recent” is a relative term. “You’re talking millions of years (ago),” William Libby said. The retired University of California, Berkeley, plant geneticist has been studying the West Coast’s towering trees for more than half a century. Needing cooler, wetter climates, the tree species arrived at their current locations some 4,500 years ago — about two generations. “They left behind all kinds of Eastern species that did not make it with them, and encountered all kinds of new things in their environment,” Libby said. Today, sequoias grow on the western slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada.

    From The Guardian (Damian Carrington):

    Humanity must solve the climate and nature crises together or solve neither, according to a report from 50 of the world’s leading scientists.

    Global heating and the destruction of wildlife is wreaking increasing damage on the natural world, which humanity depends on for food, water and clean air. Many of the human activities causing the crises are the same and the scientists said increased use of nature as a solution was vital.

    The devastation of forests, peatlands, mangroves and other ecosystems has decimated wildlife populations and released huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Rising temperatures and extreme weather are, in turn increasingly damaging biodiversity.

    But restoring and protecting nature boosts biodiversity and the ecosystems that can rapidly and cheaply absorb carbon again, the researchers said. While this is crucial, the scientists emphasise that rapid cuts in fossil fuel burning is also essential to ending the climate emergency.

    They also warned against action on one crisis inadvertently aggravating the other, such as creating monoculture tree plantations that store carbon but are wildlife deserts and more vulnerable to extreme weather.

    “It is clear that we cannot solve [the global biodiversity and climate crises] in isolation – we either solve both or we solve neither,” said Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway’s climate and environment minister.

    The peer-reviewed report was produced by the world’s leading biodiversity and climate experts, who were convened by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, both which report to the world’s political leaders.

    The report identified actions to simultaneously fight the climate and nature crises, including expanding nature reserves and restoring – or halting the loss of – ecosystems rich in species and carbon, such as forests, natural grasslands and kelp forests.

    Food systems cause a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and more sustainable farming is another important action, helped by the ending of destructive subsidies and rich nations eating less meat and cutting food waste…

    Protecting and restoring natural ecosystems was the fastest and cheapest way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the scientists said. Cutting fossil fuel emissions was essential, but not enough at this point in the climate crisis, said Parmesan. “We cannot avoid dangerous climate change without soaking up some of the carbon that we’ve already put into the atmosphere and the best way to suck up carbon is using the power of plants,” she said.

    “The science of restoration of ecosystems has really blossomed over the last 40 years. We are now able to efficiently and effectively restore complex systems, tropical rainforest, coastal wetlands, kelp forests and seagrass meadows, natural American prairie, and UK meadows back to their near historical diversity.”

    Prof Mark Maslin, of University College London, said the report was seminal: “The science is very clear that climate change and biodiversity are inseparable. To stabilise climate change we need massive rewilding and reforestation.”

    The UK environment minister, Zac Goldsmith, said: “This is an absolutely critical year for nature and climate. With the UN biodiversity [and climate summits], we have an opportunity and responsibility to put the world on a path to recovery. This hugely valuable report makes it clear that addressing biodiversity loss and climate change together offers our best chance of doing so.”

    Why this mid-June stretch of hot temperatures in #Colorado is different — TheDenverChannel.com #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    The carbon dioxide data on Mauna Loa constitute the longest record of direct measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. C. David Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography began measurements in 1958 at the NOAA weather station. NOAA started its own CO2 measurements in May of 1974, and they have run in parallel with those made by Scripps since then. Credit: NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

    From TheDenverChannel.com (Mike Nelson):

    Temperatures soared to 98 degrees in Denver Monday afternoon – way above the average high of 82 degrees for mid-June, but shy of the record of 102 degrees, set on June 14, 2006.

    Colorado is on the eastern edge of a huge bubble of hot, dry air that covers all of the southwestern United States. This hot, dry airmass has little thunderstorm potential, just a few hit or miss storms to bring brief relief from the heat…

    US Drought Monitor map June 8, 2021.

    Western Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California are all experiencing extreme drought conditions. The drought exacerbates the heat wave as the sun’s heat is simply heating up ground as opposed to evaporating water. This compounds the cycle of heat and dryness and is not likely to break for most of the summer.

    The hottest weather of the year is typically in mid-July, so this is an early heatwave. With global warming we are seeing hotter weather earlier, so this type of event will become more frequent…

    If we reach 100 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday, it would be the earliest ever Denver has had two straight days of triple digits.

    June 2012 had 6 days of 100 degrees or hotter, with 2 days reaching 105 degrees – the all-time hottest temperature for Denver. (It has been reached several different days in June, July and August.)

    Our hottest weather is typically in July, but we are seeing heatwaves coming earlier in the warm season, while our mid-summer heatwaves are tending to become longer and hotter in recent decades.

    The role of climate change cannot be left out of the equation in this weather pattern. As the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) increases in our atmosphere, our world is getting warmer. The effect of increased CO2 in our atmosphere is well understood and has been known for over 150 years…

    The role of carbon dioxide (CO2) in determining the temperature of our planet is established science, regardless of efforts to discount the impact of CO2.

    In 1825, a French mathematician — Joseph Fourier — calculated that given the distance from the Sun, the Earth should be much colder. He theorized that it was the atmosphere that trapped enough heat to make our planet habitable.

    In 1856, Eunice Foote, an American researcher, filled glass jars with different gases and set them in the sun. The jar filled with CO2 warmed the most.

    In 1863, John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, did more elaborate experiments with carbon dioxide and discovered that CO2 was very effective at trapping long-wave or Earth energy.

    In 1895, a Swedish researcher named Svante Arrhenius theorized that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause the Earth’s average temperature to increase by several degrees. The greatest impact would be in the far northern latitudes – which is exactly what we are seeing!

    In the 1970s – CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who was famously known as the most trusted man in America, reported on the threat of global warming.

    The basic explanation for why CO2 and other greenhouse gases warm the planet is so simple and has been known science for more than a century. Our atmosphere is transparent to visible light — the rainbow of colors from red to violet that make up natural sunlight. When the sun shines, its light passes right through the atmosphere to warm the Earth.
    The warm Earth then radiates some of its energy back upward in the form of infrared radiation — the “color” of light that lies just beyond red that our eyes can’t see (unless we’re wearing infrared-sensitive night-vision goggles). If all of that infrared radiation escaped back into space, the Earth would be frozen solid. However, naturally occurring greenhouse gas molecules, including not just CO2 but also methane and water vapor, intercept some of it — re-emitting the infrared radiation in all directions, including back to Earth. That keeps us warm.
    When we add extra greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, though, we increase the atmosphere’s heat-trapping capacity. Less heat escapes to space, more returns to Earth, and the planet warms.

    Even though CO2 is a TRACE gas in our atmosphere, it is highly effective at capturing infrared (Earth) energy from escaping into space. The CO2 molecule vibrates a little when infrared energy passes by, this tiny “wiggle” serves to trap that energy in the atmosphere instead of letting it pass through into outer space…

    On timescales of millions of years, CO2 is mostly a balance between volcanoes that create it and “chemical weathering” (dissolving) of rocks that destroy it. The weathering of rocks creates calcium carbonate that returns the carbon to the soil, the oceans and the Earth’s crust.

    When volcanic emissions exceed rock dissolving, CO2 increases and vice versa when volcanic emissions decline.

    CO2 was extremely high (maybe 5 times current levels!) 55 million years ago (more volcanoes than dissolving rocks), and it fell steadily for 50 million years straight.

    The main reason that CO2 dropped was that India crashed into Asia, raising the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau. All that fresh rock dissolved fast, sucking down CO2.

    When the CO2 got low enough about 2 million years ago (about 300 ppm), we started having ice ages. We have had at least 20 since then.

    During ice ages, about ⅓ of all the CO2 dissolves into the oceans, so CO2 drops to around 200 ppm. Then, when the ice melts, it shoots back up to about 300 ppm again. It’s done this 20 times in 2 million years.

    During the last great global warming, CO2 rose from 180 to 280 ppm between 18,000 years ago and 8,000 years ago. That’s a rise of 0.01 ppm per century.

    Now, as we dig up fossil carbon and light it on fire, the CO2 rises 3 ppm per year, 300 times as fast as it during deglaciation! It is not just the fact that the world is getting warmer, it really is the rate at which the warming is occurring. Since 1800, the CO2 has risen more than it did in 100 centuries after 16,000 BC.

    With things changing so quickly, the big concern is how will we deal with the rapid change and whether many species will be able to survive, as there is not time for them to evolve…

    Even though an individual severe weather event cannot be blamed on Global Warming, a warmer climate adds energy to the system — “juicing up” the atmosphere and will cause more frequent and extreme severe weather events in the future.

    We can expect more intense rain events, such as the Front Range Flood in September 2013, but also more wildfires as the changing climate creates stress on our forests.

    Our Colorado climate will become warmer over the next 100 years. Denver will have temperatures more like Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    The result will be less snowpack, lower reservoirs and more frequent droughts. We know the population will increase and therefore the demand for water – we need to plan ahead! We have been blessed to have a few big snow years recently, the long-term prospects may not be so rosy.

    [Natural] “Gas should be stopped in new developments…We have to learn to live in fully electric homes” — Norbert Klebl #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Photo credit: Geos Neighborhood

    From Colorado Public Radio (Sam Brasch):

    The Geos Neighborhood packs dense, energy-smart homes against a forested creek in Arvada. Some of its green design elements are obvious. Unlike hulking mansions nearby, the units are long and narrow, so large windows can soak up winter sunshine. Each roof boasts a solar array. A herd of goats even grazes a shared open space…

    Less noticeable is the complete lack of natural gas hookups. Klebl smiled as he opened the door to the utility closet in his townhome. Inside is an all-electric climate control system, which the Austrian-born engineer designed and perfected himself.

    “Gas should be stopped in new developments,” Klebl said. “We have to learn to live in fully electric homes.”

    Many energy experts have come to a similar conclusion. To meet international climate goals, a recent International Energy Agency report found almost all gas appliances must be replaced with electric alternatives. The thinking is electric stoves and water heaters can take advantage of renewable energy. Without rapid development of technologies like “renewable natural gas,” anything with a burner tip guarantees emissions.

    Klebl said the Geos Neighborhood shows the transition is possible, but some recent events at the housing project show it won’t be easy. A divorce forced Klebl to sell the 25-acre site last year, where he has only built 28 of 282 planned homes.

    The new developer has committed to carry out Klebl’s vision with one major exception. Despite objections from residents, the remaining units will likely include natural gas hookups.

    An All-Electric Community

    Jim Horan, a retired [fuel] cell researcher who lives in the Geos Neighborhood, said the concerns about natural gas hookups started after another resident spotted a worker with Xcel Energy. A conversation revealed the utility was looking for the best place to bring in gas lines.

    Residents and Klebl quickly sought answers from the new developer.

    Peak Development Group, a Denver-based housing developer, bought the land. In a press release last November, owner Chad Ellington said he planned “to build upon the project’s sustainability-driven vision” by building additional net-zero homes.

    A group of residents wrote Ellington a letter last May to express their frustration. In correspondence shared with CPR News, Ellington explained he had conducted an “exhaustive process” to survey the market for home builders. All required natural gas to be part of the development.

    He also noted the addition would not violate the design book used for the initial block of homes, which he had committed to follow. While it said the neighborhood should aspire to avoid fossil fuels, nothing in the standards forbids natural gas lines.

    “The very passionate existing residents were apparently misled by the prior developer about what are ‘requirements’ vs. ‘goals,” Ellington later wrote in an email to CPR News.

    Ellington added Dream Finders, a major national homebuilder, had been selected to build the remaining homes. Matt Childers, a vice president for the company’s Colorado division, declined to explain why the company had insisted on natural gas service but said it would include other green-building elements like solar panels and south-facing windows.

    Many of the residents aren’t convinced all builders would require new natural gas hookups. In the last few weeks, they have pushed Ellington to consider some smaller local home builders, but he said those companies lack the “financial capacity” to take on the project.

    Petrochemicals in #water near Suncor refinery raise concerns about the state of underground wall – EMINETRA #Aurora #Denver #Colorado #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

    Sand Creek EPA sampling locations December 2, 2011.

    From Emnetra:

    Two oil stains within eight days at Sand Creek near the Sankoa Energy Refinery have caused state health officials to worry that the 20-year-old underground clay wall containing toxic chemicals isn’t working. ing.

    More than a year ago, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment ordered Sanko to replace a wall that stretched about 2,000 feet below about 30 feet parallel to Commerce City’s creek, records show. That mission came after a similar oil slick, And Suncor is set to begin designing wall modifications at the end of July.

    “The refinery is in the final stages of planning to improve the boundary barrier system and is working with CDPHE on these plans. Work is expected to be completed in 2021 and will be more effective along Sand Creek. A barrier system will be built, “said Suncor spokeswoman Mita Adesanya in an email.

    This is a sensitive moment for Suncor.Colorado officials Review Company application to update Outdated business license. Due to equipment failures and other failures at the refinery, 15 accidents occurred between March 27 and April 22 this year, and more than 100 failures occurred at the refinery in the last five years. , Air pollution has exceeded the permissible range. Since 2011, Colorado has settled at least 10 proceedings against Suncor.

    A Sanko official said in an email on Friday that he was investigating the cause of the recent oil slick. On May 22 and May 31, Sand Creek’s public bike paths and green roads popular for fishing Occurred along.

    Sanko and state officials do not expect permanent effects on creeks and wildlife, but “trends in groundwater data indicate that walls are less effective.” Was sent by director Jennifer Opira, according to a June 2 email received by The Denver Post, to local government officials in CDPHE’s Hazardous and Waste Management Department.

    The cause of the May 22 spill has not been identified, Opila said in an email, but said it could have been due to a “May 20 power outage.” The refinery side of the wall, she said.

    “It’s likely that groundwater levels have risen during this closure,” she wrote, and petrochemicals “flowed on and through walls,” she wrote. An emergency generator was installed to pump contaminated groundwater from the refinery side of the wall.

    On May 31, a fuel leak at the refinery flowed down the road into an outdoor basin and then reached a stream, according to state officials. Suncor deployed three orange booms and vacuum trucks to clean them.

    Along the green road on Thursday, fisherman Mike Medina threw a fishing line for carp in a Burlington irrigation ditch near the spill site…

    According to state records, benzene levels at the time of the spill were as high as 3,900 ppb in refinery groundwater. This is more than the federal drinking water standard of 5 ppb. Colorado’s current water quality standards have been relaxed in industrial areas, allowing up to 5,300 ppb of benzene in Sand Creek.

    Benzene levels found in pipes discharged to Sand Creek first soared beyond Sanko’s permit limits in the first week of June, but soon disappeared, according to state officials.

    Biden administration suspends oil and gas leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — The Washington Post

    Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit:
    Steven Chase, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    From The Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin and Joshua Partlow):

    The Biden administration on Tuesday suspended oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, targeting one of President Donald Trump’s most significant environmental acts during his last days in office.

    The move by the Interior Department, which could spark a major legal battle, dims the prospect of oil drilling in a pristine and politically charged expanse of Alaskan wilderness that Republicans and Democrats have fought over for four decades. The Trump administration auctioned off the right to drill in the refuge’s coastal plain — home to hundreds of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl as well as the southern Beaufort Sea’s remaining polar bears — just two weeks before President Biden was inaugurated.

    Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – http://arctic.fws.gov/maps.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34787873

    Now the Biden administration is taking steps to block those leases, citing problems with the environmental review process. In Tuesday’s Interior Department order, Secretary Deb Haaland said that a review of the Trump administration’s leasing program in the wildlife refuge found “multiple legal deficiencies” including “insufficient analysis” required by environmental laws and a failure to assess other alternatives. Haaland’s order calls for a temporary moratorium on all activities related to those leases in order to conduct “a new, comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program.”

    The step, coming just days after the Justice Department defended another drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, underscores the balancing act the new administration aims to strike as it slows fossil fuel development on public lands. While Biden has paused new federal oil and gas leasing and pledged to drastically cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, he has taken a much more cautious approach toward most oil and gas operations approved under his predecessor.

    Last week, Justice Department attorneys filed a brief defending ConocoPhillips’s Willow project, an oil reservoir on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that could hold up to 300 million barrels of oil. The administration also has defended the Trump administration’s decision to issue oil and gas leases in Wyoming and declined to press for the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline, a project Haaland protested while serving in Congress.

    But Tuesday’s move signaled that the new administration was willing to take aggressive action in an area that has been a rallying cry for environmentalists for decades.

    Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, looking south toward the Brooks Range. By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – images.fws.gov (image description page), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5787251

    #Climate of Resistance: The public is owed a fair share of natural resources wealth — #Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Oil and gas drilling derrick. Photo credit: Colorado State University

    From Colorado Newsline (Quentin Young):

    The three biggest wildfires in Colorado history all occurred last year. The biggest fire in 2020 — that is, the state’s biggest fire ever — was more than 50% bigger than the biggest fire in any other year in the state’s history. The 20 biggest fires in state history have all occurred in the past 20 years.

    And it’s no secret why: climate change.

    Fire officials say a decades-long regional drought and forests plagued by bark beetles were largely to blame for the ferocious fire season, and those conditions, according to scientists, in turn are attributable to rising average temperatures. Many parts of Colorado have gotten hotter by almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

    Climate change has battered the state in other ways. Warming can cause river flows to decrease, and nowhere is this phenomenon a greater emergency than in the Colorado River, the headwaters of which are near Grand Lake. The river supplies water for more than 5 million acres of farmland and about 40 million people in seven states, including Colorado. But it’s drying up. It could lose a quarter of its flow by 2050, scientists say. So little water is expected to run down through the Southwest states this year that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation could declare the first official shortage for the river.

    Wildlife populations throughout the country are suffering from drought and other climate change impacts. In Colorado, climate change threatens deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, birds and other familiar creatures. Birds are especially vulnerable. Half of the birds in Colorado are said to be in decline because of changing climate conditions.

    This is all due to human activity, mostly related to oil and gas extraction and consumption, which releases greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Colorado is one of the country’s top five oil-producing states and among the top natural gas producing states. The scale of fossil fuel production that occurs in Colorado gives the state a colossal carbon footprint.

    That’s why Colorado has an administrative and moral duty to rigorously regulate oil and gas extraction. Available to Coloradans are at least three avenues by which to better resist this toxic industry — local fracking bans, robust severance taxes, and more money for environmental clean-up…

    If oil and gas companies are going to rip natural resources from the Earth and pollute public spaces, it’s only fair for the public to ask those companies for just compensation. “What we are talking about is the oil and gas industry’s social license to operate — if they are using public resources and polluting a public good, our environment, our communities, they need to be paying into the system,” said Jessica Goad, the deputy director of Conservation Colorado, according to The Colorado Sun.

    But these companies don’t pay a fair amount. Not in Colorado.

    The minimal sums Colorado collects from oil and gas companies in the form of severance taxes was detailed in stark terms early last year when the Colorado Office of the State Auditor released a report on severance taxes. For years extraction companies have received hundreds of millions of dollars in savings due both to government leniency and systemic problems. The audit found that Colorado offers enormous gifts to fossil fuel interests in the form of exemptions, credits and deductions.

    When a company takes something of nonrenewable value from the Earth, such as oil and gas, coal and metals, that value is lost to the public and accrues to private interests in the form of profits. Governments apply severance taxes to capture some of that lost wealth.

    Colorado’s severance tax system imposes rates between 2% and 5%, depending on gross income, against oil and gas sales. These rates roughly align with those found in other comparable states. However, the state’s severance tax system is objectionable in ways that go beyond the base rates. The auditor’s office found that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission failed to collect from extraction operators tens of thousands of required monthly well production reports, and some submitted reports were incomplete. The reports are a key component in the severance tax calculation system.

    Furthermore, state rules call for a fine of $200 a day per well for missing reports, but for the years reviewed — 2016 to 2018 — the commission demanded no fines. The auditor’s office estimated that the failure to fine companies for delinquent reports alone amounted to a loss of more than $300 million.

    A bigger giveaway to oil and gas companies comes in the form of an ad valorem tax credit, which allows company owners to claim a credit against their severance tax bill at a rate of 87.5% of the ad valorem property taxes they paid to local governments. Only two other oil and gas-producing states allow for this type of credit against the severance tax. And Colorado’s method of calculating the credit is extremely complex, which itself leads to problems. The auditors wrote that “the application of the ad valorem tax credit is the most problematic aspect of severance tax returns and frequently contributes to taxpayer noncompliance.”

    This table from the January 2020 severance taxes audit from the Colorado Office of the State Auditor shows the average effective oil and gas severance tax rates from 2016 to 2018 in Colorado and eight other peer states. Colorado’s, at 0.54%, was the lowest. (Colorado Office of the State Auditor)

    Colorado allows a severance-tax exemption for low-producing wells, also known as “stripper” wells. This equates to a massive gift to the industry. The auditor’s report found that 70% of the wells in Colorado in 2016 met state law’s definition of a stripper well. Exempting all these producing wells cost the state up to $55 million that year. This isn’t some industry norm — few states offer such special treatment of polluters, according to the report.

    All together, the exemptions, credits and deductions that Colorado grants to industry meant the state’s effective severance tax rate was estimated in the report at only 0.54%. That was the lowest effective severance tax rate among nine oil and gas-producing states analyzed by the auditor.

    Some lawmakers have long understood the untenable state of severance taxes in Colorado, but a combination of ineffective leadership, complications foisted by the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and the deep-pocketed industry lobby so far has put reform out of reach. Early last year members of the General Assembly had planned to convene a study committee to examine oil and gas taxes. But such committees were canceled due to COVID-19, and none are planned for this year, according to a spokesperson for Colorado Senate Democrats.

    Following the audit, the oil and gas commission implemented an automated system that sends an email to operators when a well production report is overdue. But the commission has yet to issue any fines for delinquent reports. In the current state legislative session, House Bill 21-1312 and Senate Bill 21-281 propose improvements to the way the severance tax is applied. But even if they become law they’re tweaks, not reform. The stupendously generous ad valorem tax credit remains Colorado law, as does the freebie on stripper wells.

    It is intolerable for the state to behave with such generosity and permissiveness toward a whole industry, but it is also self-destructive when that industry is responsible for planet-wide ruin. State lawmakers must not put off severance tax reform any longer.

    Can natural gas be eased, not shoved, from buildings in #Colorado? — The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    State utility regulators study options

    Big Pivots

    In squeezing natural gas from the built environment, Colorado is unlikely to adopt hard mandates, as have been enacted by local governments in California and a few other states. But can Colorado figure out a gentler approach that achieves the same results?

    Members of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission didn’t get any simple instructions along the lines of “just-add-water” during a meeting on May 20 with experts from the Environmental Defense Fund and the Regulatory Assistance Project, two national organizations engaged in the transition from natural gas.

    ”I am sorry I am not giving you a simple answer,” they were told at one point by Meghan Anderson of the Washington state-based Regulatory Assistance Project. “There are lot of things coming together.”

    That was in response to a question from Commissioner John Gavan. He had alluded to SB21-200, the bill submitted by Sen. Faith Winter and others that would give the state’s Air Quality Control Commission more authority to achieve greenhouse gas reductions through new regulations.

    Environmental groups have insisted that Colorado needs to move more rapidly in wringing out greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s economy. A 2019 law specified targets of 50% by 2030 and 90% by mid-century.

    Gov. Jared Polis has vowed to veto the bill if it lands on his desk. Despite running on a platform of 100% renewables, Polis argues for an approach that is not seen as heavy handed regulation. He’s not against prodding the market, as was evident in a legislative hearing on the same day as the PUC meeting. Will Toor, the director of the state energy office, testified in support of a bill that would steer state funding toward building materials with lower carbon emissions embedded in their production or extraction.

    “We have this raging battle going on in Colorado on that issue, do we do it through mandates or market forces?” Gavan said at the PUC session. “What do you see from around the country and the world?”

    Colorado most certainly needs both mandates and market forces, Christie Hicks, the lead counsel for energy markets and utility regulation with the Environmental Defense Fund, said in response to the question by Gavan. She emphasized the importance of transparency and accountability in a stakeholder processes with utilities and others.

    In Washington state, demand for natural gas has actually dropped, the result of improved energy efficiency, more stringent building codes, and deliberate efforts to displace fossil fuels in buildings with electricity.

    This house in Candelas, a development in Arvada, is among the 40,000 a year being constructed in Colorado, very nearly all of them connected to natural gas lines. Photo/Allen Best

    Colorado’s largest gas-distribution utility, Xcel Energy, said in a PUC filing that it expects a 1% annual growth in demand for natural gas for building use. Xcel, in a November position paper titled “Transitioning Natural Gas for a Low-Carbon Future,” also argued against too aggressively transitioning from natural gas to electricity, even though it will sell more electricity.

    For Colorado to meet its decarbonization targets, it must shut down coal plants and aggressively electrify transportation. More difficult yet will be the weaning of buildings from their dependence on natural gas—and, in some places, propane—for space heating, warming of water and appliances such as kitchen stoves.

    The PUC commissioners were told that natural gas combustion in buildings causes 10% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

    Eric Blank, the PUC chairman, asked the same question in a different way. Even before joining the PUC, he has been talking about the 40,000 to 50,000 housing units being built each year in Colorado along with perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 commercial units, virtually all with natural gas hookups.

    Even beyond what the PUC can do, he asked, do you have any advice about what Colorado can do as we begin shifting toward all-electric, particularly with deployment of incentives?

    Colorado very definitely is not California, he said, a reference to the natural gas bans in new construction by local governments in California, led by Berkeley beginning in 2019.

    “It’s just not how Colorado operates,” said Blank.

    Education will be foundational, answered Natalie Karas, also of the Environmental Defense Fund. She pointed to a website-based planning device created by a utility in New York that can instantly spit out the emissions associated with fuel decisions.

    And can the natural gas lines be repurposed, say to hydrogen? “We have a 50- or 60-year gas system, and to keep that system safe requires hundreds of millions of dollars of ongoing investment in coming months and years,” Blank pointed out. “Is there any clean energy value in those assets going forward in terms of using it for hydrogen or other clean energy molecules?”

    Blank got an indirect answer. “It’s all about meeting end uses,” said Megan Anderson of the Regulatory Assistance Project. The question, she said, is whether it’s good idea to make upgrades or are there better ways to meet customer needs.

    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.

    PUC Commissioner Megan Gilman, who assembled the session, asked a central question about motivations and accountability. Current models used in Colorado and elsewhere reward investor-owned utilities with returns based on investments they make in energy generation and distribution. That gives utilities incentives to make investments that don’t necessarily align with climate goals. “That’s a fundamental problem,” she said.

    Hicks said the best example of using regulation to achieve broad societal goals can be found in the electric sector, where states have been nudging utilities firmly to abandon coal-fired generation in favor of those that cause less pollution.

    One technique is called performance-based ratemaking. Rates the privately-owned utilities are allowed to charge customers depend upon utilities achieving social goals. In this case, the allowed utility revenues would be tied to reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

    Hicks also urged a wholistic view of energy systems, seeing natural gas along with electric—which, in a way, is exactly what the Xcel position document issued in November urged.

    The EDF’s Karas talked about the need for “rigorous analysis” of “every new piece of gas infrastructure being put into the ground. The experts all talked about the importance of planning.

    See also:

    Colorado’s debate about natural gas March 11, 2021

    Natural gas under the microscope October 16, 2020

    Colorado’s natural gas pivot July 31,2020

    Natural gas questions and tensions July 14, 2020

    Replacing natural gas in Denver July 8, 2020

    Cost and comfort emphasized instead of climate as natural gas lines stubbed March 25, 2020

    The future of energy illustrated by Basalt Vista October 19, 2019

    Also explored during the session was the question that Blank described as the “economic rock.” In short, how does this transition from natural gas in buildings occur across all economic sectors, not just among the well-heeled or, for that matter, not just in new homes and buildings?

    The Xcel paper in November also drew attention to this problem. The scenario is what if only those of most modest means, unable to retrofit their homes, are left holding the bag of the stranded asset and hence required to pay much higher cost.

    If there are no easy answers, the best equity will be borne of both well-crafted.

    #Colorado’s Untapped $7.5 Billion Economic Opportunity: Ambitious #Climate Policy — Forbes #ActOnClimate

    Projected GHG emissions by sector in the Colorado EPS BAU Scenario

    From Forbes (Silvio Marcacci):

    Colorado has some of the United States’ most ambitious climate goals, targeting 50% remissions reductions in 2030 and 90% emissions reductions by 2050. These goals are bolstered by sector-specific policies enacted in 2019 including legislation requiring the state’s dominant utility Xcel to cut emissions 80% by 2030, along with tax credits and partnerships to build charging stations and accelerate the zero-emission vehicle transition.

    But new research shows the state’s existing policies, excluding those that are planned but not enacted as part of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Roadmap, will only reduce emissions 18% by 2050 – falling far short of Colorado’s climate ambition.

    Colorado straddles one of the fastest-warming regions in the U.S. and climate impacts like record wildfires, dwindling snowpack, and severe drought are already harming its economy and communities. With less than a decade left to avoid locking in the worst climate damages, state policymakers must move quickly to cut emissions and transition to a clean energy economy.

    As debate intensifies around Colorado’s next steps on climate policy, new modeling from Energy Innovation and RMI shows implementing stronger policies, many of which are included as part of the state’s GHG Roadmap, can be a climate and economic boon. Ambitious decarbonization of the state’s electricity, transportation, industry, building, and land-use sectors can help limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius while adding more than 20,000 new jobs and $3.5 billion in economic activity per year by 2030 – and up to 36,000 jobs and $7.5 billion annually by 2050.

    The time between rainfalls has become longer and the rains occurred more erratically in the Southwest during the last 50 years.. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

    Cheap clean energy empowers decarbonization – but policy still needed

    Colorado embodies the clean energy transition accelerating across the U.S. – a state where fossil fuels once underpinned energy supply and economic activity, but where fast-falling clean energy prices have made decarbonization the cheapest option.

    Wind energy has been cheaper than coal for years, and building new renewables now costs less than continuing to operate six of Colorado’s seven remaining coal plants. Plummeting battery prices have now made owning an electric vehicle cheaper for consumers compared to internal combustion engines, and living in an all-electric home presents thousands in savings on up-front costs and utility bills compared to fossil-fueled homes in Denver.

    Those favorable economics have made Colorado’s climate ambition possible, but the state is now embarking on the tougher task of determining how to achieve its emissions reductions goals..

    Colorado could reap billions in economic growth from its climate ambition

    So how can Colorado meet its climate action goals and build a clean energy economy? New modeling using the Colorado Energy Policy Simulator (EPS) developed by Energy Innovation and Colorado-based RMI outlines a policy package that can decarbonize the state’s economy and put it on a pathway to achieve the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommended target of limiting warming to 1.5°C – while generating sustainable economic growth. Some of these policies overlap with those outlined in the state’s GHG Roadmap.

    The free, open-source, peer-reviewed Colorado EPS empowers users to estimate climate and energy policy impacts on emissions, the economy, and public health through 2050 using publicly available data. All model assumptions, key data sources, and scenario development used by the EPS are documented online for full transparency. EPS models have been developed for nearly a dozen countries and several subnational regions, including California, Minnesota, Nevada, and Virginia. The Colorado EPS is one of at least 20 planned state-level EPS models being developed by EI and RMI…

    Fortunately, the Colorado EPS finds implementing stronger policies across the state’s electricity, transportation, buildings, industrial, land-use, and agricultural sectors can put it on a 1.5°C -compliant pathway that meets Colorado’s emissions reductions goals. The associated air pollution reductions would also prevent 350 deaths and more than 10,000 asthma attacks per year by 2030, and more than 1,400 deaths and nearly 44,000 asthma attacks per year by 2050 – even with a conservative estimate, these monetized health and social benefits reach $21 billion annually by 2050.

    This low-carbon transition would supercharge the state’s economy, generating more than 20,000 new jobs and $3.5 billion in economic activity per year by 2030, and adding nearly 36,000 new jobs and more than $7.5 billion to the economy per year by 2050. These jobs would be created by building new solar and wind projects, retrofitting buildings, installing vehicle charging infrastructure, and more. Increased economic activity would come from new jobs paying wages 25% higher than the national media wage, as well as savings from reduced expenditures on volatile fossil fuel supplies.

    Projected changes in jobs relative to BAU in the 1.5°C Scenario

    A policy pathway for Colorado to achieve its climate goals

    The 1.5°C policy package introduced by the Colorado EPS incorporates all existing state policy that has been enacted into law, legally enforceable power plant retirements, improvements in building and transportation energy efficiency, and electric vehicle adoption; it then goes further to address the state’s unique emissions profile.

    While electricity and transportation lead emissions in most states, industry generates the largest percentage of emissions with 32 percent, primarily from oil and gas production. A mix of electrification, energy efficiency, hydrogen fuel switching, and methane leak reduction drive industrial emissions reductions under this 1.5°C Scenario. Several regulations have been proposed and legislation has been introduced in the state legislature to address these sectors, particularly methane leak reduction and beneficial electrification.

    Rapid decarbonization of the state’s electricity sector is foundational to reducing emissions across all other sectors as an increasingly clean grid powers electrification of demand from buildings, industry, and transportation. The 1.5°C Scenario implements an 80% clean electricity standard by 2030 which rises to 100 percent by 2035. This would expand Xcel’s 80% emissions reduction target to cover all state utilities, accelerate the target date from 2035, and make the target legally enforceable – in line with Biden administration efforts to implement an 80% by 2030 clean energy standard. Under this scenario battery storage would increase seven-fold over existing state targets, transmission capacity would double, and additional demand response capacity would increase grid flexibility and reliability.

    Colorado is already targeting a 40% reduction in transportation emissions by 2030, which would add 940,000 light-duty electric vehicles on the road. The 1.5°C Scenario would go even further, primarily by requiring all new passenger car and SUV sales be electric by 2035 and all new freight truck sales be electric by 2045. These goals align with ambitious zero-emission light-duty vehicle goals adopted by 10 states as well as the multi-state agreement targeting zero-emission medium- and heavy-vehicles signed by 15 states (including Colorado) and the District of Columbia, would add nearly 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2030, and ensure most on-road vehicles are electric by 2050.

    Buildings would be transitioned away from fossil fuels through increased efficiency targets for new buildings and deep efficiency retrofits of existing buildings, along with a sales standard requiring all new building equipment sales be fully electric by 2030 to shift gas heating and cooking equipment to highly efficient electric alternatives.

    This wedge chart aggregates some policy levers to improve figure readability; a full interactive wedge graph is available on the Colorado EPS

    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.

    2021 #COleg: #Climate, congestion and compromise in #Colorado transportation bill — The Mountain Town News

    Truck on I-70 at sunset. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    The social cost of carbon is mentioned twice in the 196-page transportation bill that was introduced into the Colorado’s legislative session in early May. It’s not clear exactly how it will have any more effect than the 55-mph speed limit on one of the interstate highways through Denver. Likely, if this bill passes, it’s part of a bigger puzzle.

    But the mention frames transportation differently than ever before in Colorado. Transportation always was about the balance between mobility and the ding to the public treasury, the taxes we pay. This adds a new metric to the discussion, a new dimension of costs.

    I wouldn’t advise wading through the 107-word sentence in Senate Bill 21-260 where social cost of carbon is first mentioned. It’s not exactly the sort that Gabriel Garcia Marquez would craft. The gist is that our vehicles pollute, and the pollution has a social cost. It goes on to instruct the methodology of the social cost of carbon be employed, to get an assessment of the environmental costs over time and put into dollar figures. Alone, this does not alter Colorado’s path on transportation, but it does set a new tone.

    More telling is “greenhouse,” a word that shows up 42 times in the bill along with 3 mentions of “ozone,” a component greenhouse gas and part of the unhealthy air found along the northern Front Range.

    A mountain jam near Telluride. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    This is a climate bill. It has to be. Transportation will become the No.1 source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado as the big coal-fired power plants begin closing in 2022. Gina McCarthy, speaking at the recent 21st Century Energy Transition Symposium, called transportation the “big kahuna.” She was speaking from her federal perch as Biden’s climate advisor, but it’s also true in Colorado.

    Colorado has taken steps to produce small waves in decarbonization of transportation. Now it needs a big wave, say those involved in transportation efforts, and this is it.

    It’s also a congestion bill. I’m guessing I heard the word “congestion” used or alluded to a dozen times when Gov. Jared Polis, legislators, and several others spoke on the interior steps of the Capitol on May 4. Alec Garnett, the House speaker, talked about the ability to immediately tell you’re leaving Utah or Wyoming when entering Colorado. This bill provides for new funding sources that aim to deliver more asphalt and concrete.

    The bill is also a compromise, as was best described by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, a Republican. He talked about highway expansions he wants to see in Colorado Springs, the widening of Powers Boulevard and more. “These simply cannot be accomplished without a much greater infusion of state and federal dollars,” he said. Suthers, a former state attorney general in Colorado, also said he is a political realist—suggesting compromise is inevitable.

    “Transportation can’t be a partisan issue. It’s too important to the quality of life of our residents in Colorado Springs,” he said.

    Kevin Priola, a Republican state legislator from the Brighton area, also spoke on behalf of the bill. He’s been a big booster of transportation electrification in Colorado, showing up at a bill signing with Gov. Jared Polis in 2019 near East High School in Denver.

    At the Capitol, he spoke about congestion on Interstate 76, now bumper to bumper instead of the occasional car that he saw from his grandfather’s farm when he was a boy. But highway widening cannot be the whole answer. “We can’t just continue to bulldoze mountains and widen lanes,” he said.

    Most bills run 10 to 20 pages. This one runs to 196 pages. This is Longs Peak, not Rabbit Mountain outside of Lyons. Or, for those in Durango, Engineer Mountain instead of Perins Peak. It’s sweeping, with a little bit for everybody, most fundamentally new ways to collect revenue. But there’s a distinct shift in direction, a big pivot, if you will.

    Are there comparable pivots? Others might point to funding changes of the last 30 years, including 1992, the last time Colorado passed a gas tax increase. A case may be made for 1973, the year when the first bore of the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel Complex was opened, followed by the second bore in 1978.

    This is from the May 12, 2021, issue of Big Pivots, an e-journal. To sign up, go to http://BigPivots.com

    I’d make the argument for 1930. That’s the year that the state began plowing snow on Berthoud Pass, a clear recognition of the ascendancy of the automobile. Before, there was no way to drive across the Continental Divide during winter.

    Now the pivot is toward electrification and, more broadly yet, decarbonization through a variety of pathways. And, in an odd reversal of my thesis about 1930, it opens the door partway to the idea of a Front Range passenger train. Carl Smith, representing the railway workers’ union, pointed out that rail workers losing their jobs on ferrying coal from mines to markets could transfer their skills to passenger rail.

    Elise Jones, executive director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, emphasized electrification of transportation. The bill proposes to put more than $730 million toward electric vehicle solutions. That, she said, represents “one of the biggest investments in transportation electrification by any state anywhere in the country.”

    The bill, said Jones, recognizes the scale of the challenge as Colorado seeks to expand the number of electric vehicles – currently 36,000 on state highways – to nearly a million by the end of the decade.

    “To support these new EVS, Colorado will need 111 times more charging stations by 2030, and this bill would put a significant down payment on that infrastructure,” she said.

    Part of the Amazon fleet at a warehouse along I-70. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    Jones also noted the funding proposed by the bill for all types of electric mobility, from electric bikes and transit to school buses and trucks, but also rideshare vehicles like Uber and Lyft. “It includes money to replace the dirtiest vehicles on the road with zero-emissions buses and delivery trucks.”

    Travis Madsen, who runs the transportation program at SWEEP, elaborated on this theme when I talked to him. “I think the bill is an essential piece of achieving Colorado’s climate targets,” he said.

    “We need to step up the pace, and this bill will provide some needed juice to get this (transition) moving faster,” he said.

    Madsen directed my attention beyond our cars to the fleets of trucks and delivery vehicles. Section 11 of the bill proposes a clean-fleet enterprise within the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment – the agency given the most significant responsibility for creating rules to decarbonize the economy – to provide incentives for the shift in fuels. This new clean-fleet enterprise will be allowed to “impose a delivery fee to be paid” by those getting the goods by delivery of motor vehicle. Nudge, nudge.

    A personal aside here: I live on the edge of one of metropolitan Denver’s small but up-and-coming commercial areas. There’s a daily parade of diesel-powered trucks delivering wine, beer, fruits, and all other manner of items to be consumed in the restaurants of Olde Town Arvada. Moreover, I have wheeled around the warehouse districts along I-70 and I-76 on Denver’s east and north side. The size of the fleets of Amazon and others astound me.

    But then there’s the issue of how we wheel about on a daily basis. In September 2020 the Denver Regional Council of Governments issued the 2019 Annual Report on Roadway Traffic Congestion in the Denver Region, which noted that vehicles miles traveled per capita had actually declined in 2019, a second straight year. On weekends, the VMT per person was down to 25.4 miles.

    Of course, with population growth of 1.4%, there was just as much travel.

    Some people seem to think covid will dent this, perhaps permanently. I’m skeptical.

    This transportation bill aims to deliver leverage. Section 28 would require the Colorado Department of Transportation and metropolitan planning organizations (think RTD) to “engage in an enhanced level of planning, analysis, community engagement, and monitoring with respect to transportation capacity projects and specifies what that entails and also requires CDOT to conduct a road usage charge study and an autonomous vehicle study.”

    To me, this doesn’t say I’ll have to ditch my car. But there’s some jostling here.

    Madsen sees this as a crucial section, along with the AQCC rulemaking on transportation emissions that is expected this summer. “I think there’s going to be a lot of push and pull over whether and how Colorado invests in transportation differently to reach the GHG roadmap targets,” he says. He points out that the state roadmap calls for growth in vehicle travel to be cut in half.

    In Denver itself, densification is rapidly underway. Some people don’t feel the need to have their own cars. “That will be an important way we can accommodate more people without causing a dramatic increase in everyone driving,” says Madsen.

    I’m skeptical—not about the goals, but whether local governments can be nudged into making land use decisions that actually impact greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. I’ve been hearing this conversation for decades with no real gain.

    Middle-class mini-mansions at Leyden Ranch, in Arvada. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain News

    A couple of weeks ago I drove to the western precincts of Arvada amid the rolling hills just short of Highway 93, the road between Golden and Boulder. These huge projects — Candelas and Leyden Ranch—have wonderful open spaces and uplifting views, exactly what people from elsewhere expect in Colorado. (If you don’t mind some wind occasionally).

    These housing projects are also absolutely car centric. They’re VMT disasters. In this, they are more typical than not among the 40,000 to 50,000 houses being built in Colorado annually, the number of which have been going up during the last 4 or 5 years.

    The bill got its first legislative hearing on [May 10, 2021], dragging on for 7.5 hours in the Senate Finance Committee before being passed, with amendments, on a 4-3 party-line vote. So much for Sutherland’s pitch for bipartisanship.

    The social cost of carbon mention remained intact. Colorado first began using that metric as a result of 2019 legislation, which requires the Public Utilities Commission to evaluate electrical generation projects with the federal social cost of carbon, which was then $46 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions. This tilts the table against coal generation, although as a practical matter, the table is heavily tilted toward lower cost renewables. Two other bills being considered by legislators this session would also add social cost of carbon to the PUC matrix when evaluating programs that would reduce natural gas use in buildings and elsewhere.

    But the practical effect of social cost of carbon in the transportation bill?

    In response to my questions, Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, said the goal of the social cost of carbon is to provide “a consistent approach across relevant agencies. We are ensuring that we are doing cost benefit analyses and accounting using an appropriate social cost of carbon and making sure in multiple pieces of legislation that we use the same social cost of carbon at the PUC, C-DOT, CDPHE, etc.”

    Madsen—who took Toor’s job at SWEEP when Toor joined the Polis administration in early 2019—said he thinks the practical effect will depend on a future rulemaking at the Air Quality Control Commission. That may occur later this year.

    “The social cost of carbon will help illustrate the value of reducing emissions (either through transportation and land-use planning to reduce overall vehicle travel, or through electrification measures),” he said.

    Have a different take on this transportation bill? Happy to publish other viewpoints. allen.best@comcast.net.

    2021 #COleg: SB21-200 (Reduce Greenhouse Gases Increase Environmental Justice) — Scott Fetchenhier (Guest Column in The #Durango Herald) #ActOnClimate

    Scott “Fetch” Fetchenhier came to Silverton in 1980 in a 1969 GTO and thirty five dollars in his pocket and worked for a couple of small mining companies as a geologist and surveyor. He also worked at the Sunnyside mine as a nipper, trammer, and slusherman in the early 1980’s. He has always been fascinated by Silverton’s geology and history and has written numerous articles on the subjects and also a book on the Old Hundred mine, “Ghosts and Gold”. His hobby of exploring old mines the past three decades makes for some fascinating stories. Photo credit: Fetch’s Mining and Mercantile

    Here’s a gust column from Scott Fetchenhier that’s running in The Durango Herald:

    State leaders need to take action to protect the places in Southwest Colorado that we know, love and call home from the pollution that threatens our air, water and climate.

    I live in and represent San Juan County, where my constituents and I are reliant on Tri-State Generation and Transmission for our electricity. As the second largest electricity provider in the state, Tri-State is a key player in reducing greenhouse gas pollution in our state, which is why we need Senate Bill 200.

    SB21-200 (Reduce Greenhouse Gases Increase Environmental Justice) is designed to make sure the entire state of Colorado, and our electric utilities, actually stay on track and meet the commitments they have made to cut greenhouse gas pollution that is wreaking havoc on our state.

    Our rural mountain communities are dependent on bold steps toward climate pollution reductions for our visitor-based, snow-reliant economies. We have seen the impacts of climate change in our county: unprecedented beetle kill, the 416 Fire in 2018 and the Ice Lake Fire in October 2020. Wind-blown dust from the Four Corners lands on our snowpack and causes the snow to melt off more quickly. We often see rain in December and March instead of snow because of higher temperatures.

    We know that without big actions to reduce emissions, we will continue to see increasingly severe and frequent natural disasters.

    With these impacts in mind, it’s great that Tri-State seems to have heard its members’ calls for carbon reductions of at least 80% by 2030. Last fall, Tri-State announced a commitment to 80% carbon reductions by 2030 from electricity delivered to Colorado customers as part of its Responsible Energy Plan. This Responsible Energy Plan is a big step in the right direction for Tri-State and the communities it serves, and we want to make sure it happens. However, the plan is currently only a voluntary commitment and my constituents need certainty that Tri-State will honor that commitment.

    In fact, last fall San Juan County passed a county resolution urging state leaders to hold Tri-State accountable to 80% emissions reduction by 2030. Part of that resolution reads: “The evidence of climate change is impacting daily lives in San Juan County with near-historic drought, unprecedented smoke from fires across Colorado and the U.S., and rapidly increasing temperatures, and the urgency for our electric utility to take bold, immediate steps toward reducing emissions couldn’t be more clear.”

    Colorado map credit: NationsOnline.org

    And we’re not the only ones. Four other communities in Tri-State’s service territory have also passed similar resolutions, including the Town of Telluride, Summit County, the Town of Rico and San Miguel County.

    Southwest Colorado can better prepare to combat and be resilient to climate change if we know we can count on our power provider to reduce carbon emissions significantly in the next 10 years. I thank Tri-State for its voluntary commitment to 80% reductions by 2030 in response to its member communities’ advocacy, and I ask our state leaders to ensure that Tri-State gets there in a timely and equitable way that allows Coloradans to generate clean electricity locally rather than import coal from other states. SB-200 takes care of that.

    Tri-State is one among several utilities and industries that we need to be able to count on to do their part to reduce emissions in Colorado. While I appreciate the efforts that state leaders have underway to reduce carbon emissions, the reality is that Colorado’s utilities are not on track to meet our climate goals. In fact, we are at risk of increasing climate pollution in Colorado in the coming years, especially with the volume of people predicted to be moving to our state in the next 20 years.

    To successfully meet the state’s climate pollution targets, we need not only the incentives and rule-makings that state leaders are working on now, but also clear and enforceable targets in each sector of our economy, starting with electricity.

    Our mountain communities need to be able to count on utilities like Tri-State to reduce emissions and there is language in SB 200 that will ensure just that. I urge Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Legislature to support SB 200 in order to keep us on track to cut greenhouse gas pollution and protect the communities we all love.

    Scott Fetchenhier is a San Juan County Commissioner based in Silverton. He originally came to Silverton to work in the mines as both a geologist and laborer. He owns a gift shop in Silverton and has been in business almost 40 years.

    Editor’s Note: Tri-State Generation and Transmission is the provider of most of the power for La Plata Electric Association, the co-op that serves many of our readers.

    #Climate Lawsuit Challenges Fracking Plan That Threatens Three National Forests in #Colorado — Center for Biological Diversity

    Shot of the North Fork of the Gunnison River, Paonia, Colorado. Photo credit: Sinjin Eberle

    Here’s the release from the Center for Biological Diversity (Melissa Hornbein, Taylor McKinnon, Grant Stevens, Brett Henderson, Natasha Léger, Jeremy Nichols):

    Conservation groups filed a lawsuit [May 10, 2021] challenging the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service’s 2020 approval of a plan that allows fracking across 35,000 acres of Colorado’s Western Slope. The North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan allows 35 new fracking wells in the North Fork Valley and Thompson Divide areas of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests.

    Today’s lawsuit says federal agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws by failing to fully assess the potential for water pollution and harm to the climate, and by refusing to analyze alternatives that would minimize or eliminate harm to the environment. The plan would result in about 52 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution, equivalent to the annual pollution from a dozen coal-fired power plants.

    “The Trump administration charted a course to destroy public lands and our shared climate,” said Peter Hart, a staff attorney at Wilderness Workshop. “This master development plan is a 30-year commitment to the disastrous ‘energy dominance’ agenda which ignored significant impacts on the communities and spectacular values of the North Fork. We are determined to hold our federal government accountable to a more sustainable future for Colorado’s public lands, wildlife, people and climate.”

    “Fossil fuel development and sustainable public lands don’t mix, especially in the roadless headwaters of the Upper North Fork Valley,” said Brett Henderson, executive director of Gunnison County-based High Country Conservation Advocates. “This project is incompatible with necessary climate change action, healthy wildlife habitat, and watershed health, and is at odds with the future of our communities.”

    “We are in a megadrought in the North Fork Valley and the Western Slope. The water used to frack in the watershed risks precious water resources and only exacerbates the climate and the water crisis,” said Natasha Léger, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “This 35-well project is the beginning of much larger plans to extract a resource which should be left in the ground and for which the market is drying up.”

    “This dangerous plan promises more runaway climate pollution in one of the fastest-warming regions in the United States,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re suing to force federal agencies to stop ignoring the climate emergency. Like the planet, the Colorado River Basin can’t survive a future of ever-expanding fossil fuel development.”

    “It is past time for the federal government to meaningfully consider climate change in its oil and gas permitting decisions,” said Melissa Hornbein, attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “Gunnison and Delta Counties have already exceeded 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming; the project failed to meaningfully analyze impacts to climate, roadless areas, and the agriculture and ecotourism centered economies of the North Fork Valley. More drilling is projected to harm Delta County’s tax revenue, not help it. These communities need land management that serves the public interest.”

    “This case is about confronting the Trump administration’s complete disregard of law, science and public lands,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “We can’t frack our way to a safe climate and we certainly can’t afford to keep letting the oil and gas industry run roughshod over Colorado’s irreplaceable and vital public lands.”

    Colorado’s Western Slope is already suffering from severe warming. The Washington Post recently featured the area as the largest “climate hot spot” in the lower 48 states, where temperatures have already risen more than 2 degrees Celsius, reducing snowpack and drying Colorado River flows that support endangered fish, agriculture and 40 million downstream water users.

    In January 574 conservation, Native American, religious and business groups sent the then president-elect a proposed executive order to ban new fossil fuel leasing and permitting on federal public lands and waters. In February the Biden administration issued an executive order pausing oil and gas leasing onshore and offshore pending a climate review of federal fossil fuel programs. In June the Interior Department will issue an interim report describing findings from a March online forum and public comments.

    Background

    Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide fossil fuel leasing ban on federal lands and oceans would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals.

    Oil, gas and coal extraction uses mines, well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroy habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills and other harms from offshore drilling have inflicted immense damage to ocean wildlife and coastal communities. Fracking and mining also pollute watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people.

    Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from the world’s already producing oil and gas fields, if fully developed, would push global warming well past 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

    The Western Environmental Law Center uses the power of the law to safeguard the wildlife, wildlands, and communities of the American West in the face of a changing climate. As a public interest law firm, WELC does not charge clients and partners for services, but relies instead on charitable gifts from individuals, families, and foundations to accomplish our mission.

    Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Conservation groups are suing federal agencies to challenge their approval last year of a proposal by Gunnison Energy to drill 35 oil and gas wells across some 35,000 acres of the upper North Fork Valley.

    The groups say the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service violated federal laws by failing to properly assess the climate impacts of the project or analyze alternatives that would have minimized environmental impacts.

    The suit was brought by the Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, WildEarth Guardians, Citizens for a Healthy Community in Paonia and High Country Conservation Advocates in Crested Butte.

    The project’s location is in Gunnison and Delta counties west of McClure Pass. Some 25,800 acres of the affected acreage is U.S. Forest Service land, 8,648 acres are private and 468 involve BLM land.

    The company plans to drill wells down and then out horizontally into the Mancos shale formation from five well pads, three of them new. It has estimated the project could produce up to 700 billion cubic feet of gas over 30 years. That equates to about 2.5% of the gas consumed in the United States last year.

    The project also would require about 21 million gallons of water to hydraulically fracture each well, the company has estimated. And conservation groups said in a news release that it would result in about 52 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution, which they said is the same as what a dozen coal-fired power plants emit in a year…

    The suit says that in evaluating the project, the BLM and Forest Service failed take a hard look at methane emissions related to the project. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. The suit also says the agencies failed to use “tools or methods generally accepted in the scientific community to evaluate the impact” of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions, such as the social cost of carbon and global carbon budgeting.

    New #solar farm proposed for western Pueblo County — The #Pueblo Chieftain

    Map of service area in Colorado via Black Hills Energy.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    Details of a proposed solar farm in western Pueblo County were discussed during a virtual public meeting Thursday. The Turkey Creek Solar Farm, if approved by Pueblo County Commissioners during the permitting process, will be built by 174 Power Global of Irvine, California, to supply solar power for Black Hills Energy. It will be located just north of U.S. Highway 50 one mile east of the Fremont/Pueblo County line. Approximately 1,200 to 1,400 acres will be used for the project, according to Ed Maddox, project development lead for 174 Power Global. The land will be leased from Gary Walker of Walker Ranches.

    “We do consider both lease agreements and purchase options with land owners,” on projects like Turkey Creek, Maddox said. “In this particular case the land owner is a large local land owner who wants to continue to own and operate the ranch as it is, and leasing provides the best solution.” The permitting process is expected to take the remainder of the year with construction starting in 2022. “Over the 12- to 14-month construction period for Turkey Creek, we will have an average of about 300 workers during construction and that will vary from a minimum of about 150 to 450 or more workers during peak construction,” said Stephanie Lauer, environmental permitting manager for 174 Power Global. Once the solar farm begins operations in 2023, “We will have about three to five full-time workers who are responsible for daily maintenance of the facility and monitoring of all the systems,” Lauer said.

    Additional local labor will be needed several times a year for vegetation mowing and washing of the panels. The solar panels will be aligned in rows running north to south and will be attached to a tracking system which allows the panels to track the sun from east to west as it moves. “They will be 10- to 14-feet high when they are tilted to their highest position,” Maddox said. When motorists are driving on U.S. 50 they will see portions of the solar farm, but the panels will not obstruct the view of the mountains, Maddox said.

    Travelers will not be affected by glint or glare from the panels because of their dark grey color which will absorb light, not reflect it. Wildlife fencing will ensure pronghorn, elk and cattle will be able to access the underpass that allows animals to move under the highway.

    The solar farm will generate enough electricity to power 46,000 homes each year, said Taylor Henderson, project developer for Out- shine Energy. Only a handful of questions came from the audience. One local landowner asked how the construction will impact traffic on Stone City Road. Lauer said she did not think the road will be used as workers will get to the site at two access points along U.S. 50.

    Biden #climate advisor frames #climatecrisis as exciting opportunity — The Mountain Town News

    Transmission towers Hayden to Ault 345 kv line. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News.

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    As the national climate advisor, Gina McCarthy has the ear of President of Joe Biden in all matters climate.

    But in the opening session of the 21st Century Energy Transition Symposium on Tuesday, she barely mentioned climate except to vaguely affirm “the science” and to describe the Biden response to climate change as a “very different framing than we’ve had before.”

    The framing she described is that of opportunity in the clean energy economy—including the potential for Colorado to be part of the solutions needed in the energy shift.

    “We have to look at the opportunities (in a clean energy economy) and get people excited about the benefits it brings to them,” she said before describing cleaner air and jobs.

    “(Biden) embraced this not as a wonky science problem but fundamentally a people problem,” she said.

    Gina McCarthy via The Mountain Town News.

    McCarthy described her job as sitting at the table with the cabinet secretaries, making sure that there’s a climate change overlay in all matters, whether housing or transportation, and helping knit together the response. It isn’t to be just an Environmental Protection Agency problem or a Department of Energy problem.

    “It has to be a whole government approach because without that we would lose these synergies and these momentums,” she said.

    Biden, she said, saw the response to climate change delivering answers to how we get out of the pandemic and restart the economy. Economic strategies that result in investment of “tremendous resources in a way that wins the clean energy future” will also fuel economic growth. As for covid and climate, addressing their challenges both require acceptance of science.

    Another major driver of Biden’s view of domestic policy was the new lens of equity, including that of environmental or energy justice. The pandemic showed that impacts did not hit all communities equally, and by extension, energy systems of the past had more deleterious impacts to some groups than others. This understanding should be seen less as a challenge than a reckoning, said McCarthy.

    Not all answers to reducing greenhouse gas pollution are yet evident, even if there are strong winds in the sails of renewable generation of electricity. That’s OK, she said.

    “We don’t always need the answer,” she said. “We need to be leaning forward and looking at where we want to go.”

    That was a theme in the two-day conference. In session after session, speakers described both clear direction going forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy, but uncertainties that they hope will be resolved in the next 5 to 10 years.

    This is from Big Pivots, an e-journal. To sign up, go to http://BigPivots.com

    “That we don’t have all the answers shouldn’t be a barrier to action in the short term,” said Bryan Willson, executive director of the Energy Institute at Colorado State University.

    “We don’t need to let the perfect get in the way of the good,” said Steven Hamburg, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. If uncertainties should not delay forward movement of the broad strokes of action, he counseled caution to avoid “big and expensive mistakes.”

    Executives at Colorado’s two largest electrical utilities, Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation & Transmission, described a similar mix of bold actions and uncertainty.

    In 2020, coal-fired generation delivered 26% and natural gas 38% of electricity distributed by Xcel. The company projects coal generation will fall to 4% and natural gas 16% by 2030.

    That remaining coal-fired power will come from Comanche 3, the only coal-fired plant in Colorado that Xcel plans to continue operating, but at a reduced rate. Why not also close Comanche 3?

    If Xcel Energy is comfortable closing Comanche units 1 and 2 in 2022 and 2024, it wants to keep Comanche 3 operating until 2040, if at minimal capacity. Photo/Allen Best

    Alice Jackson, chief executive of Xcel’s Colorado division, explained that continuing operation of Comanche 3 will ensure a softer financial transition for Pueblo County, where the plant is located. The plant will also be needed to ensure reliability, as storage needs technological advancement and lower prices. “It’s really a broad evaluation and not just one factor,” she said.

    Tri-State also awaits some technological innovation. It plans to close its three units at Craig in 2025, 2028 and 2029. Duane Highley, the chief executive, said Tri-State has closely been monitoring technological innovation in hopes of technology that can store energy for days, not just hours. “We’re looking hard at hydrogen and also looking at ammonia,” he said. QUESTION

    Transmission also figures prominently into the thinking about the energy systems of the next decade. One Colorado energy official calls it the “secret sauce” necessary for deep decarbonization.

    In Colorado, electrical demand is projected to grow 50% in the next 30 years as we electrify transportation and, a little more slowly, replace fossil fuels in heating our homes and water. Xcel has proposed investment of $1.7 billion in new transmission lines in eastern Colorado. Other utilities have not yet played their cards.

    But some energy analysts see need for even more ambitious investment in a grid that better links different parts of the country so that renewable energy can be matched with demands.

    The Texas disaster in February helps illustrate why. Texas was ill-equipped for the deep freeze. It lost natural gas generation because of lack of winterization. But it almost completely lost wind generation, which plummeted from 68,000 megawatts to 2,000 megawatts as the storm began dropping a rare three-inch snowfall on Houston. Had Texas been connected with regions of the country where the sun was shining or the wind blowing, it might have imported enough power to keep on the lights.

    It wasn’t just Texas, though. The same loss of wind generation that accompanied the deep freeze posed worrisome problems to Fort Collins-based Platte River Power Authority, which issued a precautionary warning. Tri-State also noted the loss of wind generation in the still atmosphere that accompanied the cold.

    More transmission can allow utilities to draw on a broader menu of renewables in such situations, even on a daily basis. The Great Plains boast great winds, the Southwest blazes with solar.

    How is this knitting together to be done? Transmission in western states must inevitable cross the vast public lands. In Colorado, 36.2% of the state is administered by federal land agencies, principally the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. New Mexico is close behind at 35%. Wyoming is 48%. In Utah, it’s 70%.

    “On public lands, as important as they are, a balance has to be struck,” said McCarthy, “but the balance cannot get in the way of effectively addressing climate change, which is an existential threat to all of us.” And, she added, hewing to the sales pitch of the Biden administration, “to take advantage of the economic benefits that a clean energy jobs provide.”

    McCarthy, a live wire herself in her public appearances, also pointed to the joint announcement by the federal transportation and energy departments of a plan to expand use of rights of way for highway and railroads for transmission. This will help more expeditious investment in transmission, she said.

    “There are probably 20 areas where we would be able to immediately make investments in transmission in ways to utilize those rights of ways to open up new transmission and opportunities for renewable energy,” she said.

    See also: Is the moonshot an apt analogy?

    Colorado has a goal of 80% decarbonization of the electrical grid by 2030 and 50% decarbonization of its economy altogether. Biden had offered a far more aggressive target, 100% decarbonization of the electrical grid by 2035 and a 50% to 52% economy wide target.

    To push this decarbonization of electricity, McCarthy said she leans toward a clean energy standard, as advocated by Holy Cross Energy, an electrical cooperative, and 12 other utilities from New York to California, in a letter sent to Biden in April. The letter called for a federal requirement that electrical utilities be able to supply 80% of their power from non-carbon sources by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels.

    “If you nationalize, you get some terrific opportunities,” said McCarthy. “Most of us are shifting from cap and trade, because of the complexity, but looking more at direct investments and things like the clean electricity standard.”

    Carbon pricing, she added, “is not something that is going away. I just find it less satisfying.”

    In all this, the Biden administration sees need for more research. McCarthy mentioned technological innovations that have occurred in the last 50 years since the United States put Neil Armstrong’s footprint on the moon. The federal government has often played a role in instigating technological innovation, she said, using federal funds to spur innovation and investment in the private sector.

    McCarthy said the Department of Energy has billions of dollars of loans and an accelerator that uses the green bank model.

    Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter interviews Amory Lovins at the Center of the New Energy Economy conference on Oct. 30, 2017. Photo/Maury Dobbie

    Colorado State University has already played a role in the Biden administration’s view of innovation, Ritter told McCarthy in what he described as a “shameless plug.”

    A group of researchers and academics at CSU was the source of an idea contained in the Biden campaign Energy and Environment Platform. That idea, to create an advanced research project agency for climate, also called an ARPA-C, within the Department of Energy, has become part of the Biden budget proposal.

    It would stand alongside the existing ARPA-E, which is devoted to technical solutions. For example, it recently announced a $35 million grant program for ideas to reduce emission of methane from oil and gas supply chains, coal mines and other sources.

    CSU’s idea, Ritter explained, is to offer a multi-disciplinary—and not purely technical approach—to climate solutions. Those in the social sciences would be included.

    “When you are making a shameless plug, it’s good to be telling the truth,” McCarthy replied. “It’s well deserved.”

    #Wyoming Integrated Test Center To Host Large-Scale #CarbonCapture Test Project

    Graphic credit: The Nature Conservancy

    Here’s the release from Governor Gordon’s office:

    Wyoming’s Integrated Test Center will host one of two projects selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for Phase III funding of a large-scale pilot carbon capture project.

    DOE announced today it has awarded $99 million to two projects for Phase III of their Demonstration of Large-Scale Pilot Carbon Capture Technologies funding opportunity. Membrane Technology and Research (MTR) was awarded $51,699,939 from DOE, and with additional non-federal funding, this project will bring over $64 million in research dollars into Wyoming.

    “I am delighted that Membrane Technology and Research (MTR) has been selected to move forward in this process, and that Wyoming has been chosen to host this important demonstration of cutting edge carbon capture technology,” Governor Mark Gordon said. “This is exactly the type of research that was envisioned when the ITC was developed and Wyoming will continue to support these efforts.”

    “Membrane technology is a most promising version of carbon capture, and now it can move forward to the pilot project phase,” the Governor added. “This is also an example of technology that, if commercially successful, can be exported for carbon capture projects at home or abroad. The more carbon capture technologies that are available, the more likely it is that Wyoming coal will be an important part of our future electricity supply.”

    The Integrated Test Center and MTR have been working together since 2018 when MTR selected the ITC as its testing location as part of the Phase II tasks related to this funding opportunity.

    “We could not be more thrilled for MTR and we are excited to welcome them onsite as they start working on this next phase of testing,” said Jason Begger, Managing Director of the ITC. “At this scale, we will be able to demonstrate carbon capture technology at a sufficient level to demonstrate to utilities the next step can be a commercial version.”

    MTR will be operating in the large test bay at the ITC and utilizing approximately 10MWe of flue gas from Dry Fork Station.

    More information on this project is available on the DOE website. Learn more about the Wyoming Integrated Test Center here.

    2021 #COleg: If methane were at a dinner party…. — The Mountain Town News

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    How Colorado legislators propose to begin crimping methane emissions in the built environment

    If methane were a guest at a dinner party in Colorado, it’d be noticing that the hosts have started checking their watches and begun to make comments about a busy schedule the next day.

    SB 21-246 (Electric Utility Promote Beneficial Electrification), introduced last week by Senator Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, is the latest evidence from legislators that they want methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, to begin thinking about moving on. The bill is scheduled to get its first hearing Thursday afternoon at the Colorado Capitol.

    Instead of burning natural gas and other fossil fuels in buildings to provide heat, warm water and for cooking, Fenberg’s bill would encourage use of electricity for those purposes. The process is being called beneficial electrification.

    “Fossil gas and petroleum products will contribute to supplying Colorado’s energy needs for many years to come,” says the bill, submitted by Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder. “Nonetheless, transitioning to clean electric homes and businesses is a critical strategy for improving public health and safety, saving energy, creating family-sustaining jobs, and helping the state meet its greenhouse gas emission-reduction targets.”

    The bill is premised on the expectation of a complete reversal during the next decade in how Colorado’s utilities generate electricity. In 2020, coal and natural gas were responsible for 78% of electrical production in Colorado, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. By 2030, utilities responsible for nearly all of electrical sales expect to be at 80% renewables. Some aspire to even higher levels. Holy Cross Energy has adopted a 100% goal.

    That language echoes the Colorado Decarbonization Roadmap that was issued in January by the state’s energy office. Buildings lag electrical generation and transportation among the leading sectors for greenhouse gas emissions, but they’re not far behind. Importantly, we don’t replace buildings every 10 or 15 years, the way we do cars. That’s why those working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions see need to begin work now on fuel switching in homes and other buildings.

    The roadmap envisions electricity denting use of natural gas in the next 30 years. Coupled with electrification of transportation and population growth, the increased demand will cause demand for electricity to double, according to a study by the consulting firm E3 that was commissioned by the Colorado Energy Office.

    Colorado’s attention to methane comes after a decade of growing concern about methane, both nationally and internationally. The New York Times on Sunday previewed what it called a “landmark United Nations report” that reflects a “growing recognition that the world needs to start reining in planet-warming emissions more rapidly, and that abating methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, will be critical in the short term.

    While cutting back on carbon dioxide emissions will remain urgent, “it’s going to be next to impossible to remove enough carbon dioxide to get any real benefits for the climate in the first half of the century,” Drew Shindell, the study’s lead author and a professor of earth science at Duke University (and a consultant on efforts to abate methane from coal mines in Colorado’s North Fork Valley), told the newspaper.

    “But if we can make a big enough cut in methane in the next decade, we’ll see public health benefits within the decade, and climate benefits within two decades,” Shindell said.

    This is from Big Pivots, an e-journal covering the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. To get copies, sign up at https://bigpivots.com

    Fenberg’s bill is not nearly as ambitious as the coming UN report might suggest is needed. However, it’s bold in that it seeks to shift the direction by nudging gas utilities to offer more carrots to customers to nudge the shift along.

    The primary lever for this shift would be adoption of a relatively new metric for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of demand-management programs, something called the social cost of methane. The new metric seeks to apply the real, long-term costs of greenhouse gas pollution to deliberations about utility programs.

    In this it’s similar to the social cost of carbon, an attempt to evaluate the real costs of carbon dioxide pollution.

    Methane pollution, though, has a much higher price that reflects its short-term heat-trapping properties, about 80 times as powerful over the course of the first two decades, after which it has mostly dissipated. The cost assigned is $1,746 per short ton. The social cost of carbon was set by statute in Colorado at $46. Both, however, are subject to inflation.

    This house in Candelas, a development in Arvada, is among the 40,000 a year being constructed in Colorado, very nearly all of them connected to natural gas lines. Photo/Allen Best

    Fenberg’s bill falls short of mandating fuel switching. The bill explicitly prohibits the PUC from requiring the removal of gas-fueled appliances or equipment from existing structures or banning the installation of gas service lines to new structures.

    Instead, the bill intends for the PUC to push the utilities to offer attractive programs to customers such that they will voluntarily use electricity in new construction or replace gas fixtures such as furnaces and water heaters in existing homes and other buildings.

    Several other bills also seek to tamp down emissions of methane and the combustion of natural gas.

    Hansen, a Democrat from Denver, has a bill—now being reformulated—that calls for a renewable natural gas standard, somewhat similar to that adopted by Colorado voters in 2004 for electrical generation. The intent of SB21-161 (Voluntary Reduce Greenhouse Gas Natural Gas Utility) is to encourage natural gas utilities with 250,000 customers or more to capture methane from dairies, landfills, and existing and abandoned coal mines in order to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.

    HB 18-1286 (Energy Performance For Buildings) would require owners and managers of buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to benchmark energy use and comply with performance standards, tamping down greenhouse gas emissions.

    SB21-108 (Public Utilities Commission Gas Utility Safety Inspection Authority), submitted by Sen. Tammy Story, a Democrat from the Evergreen area, has safety as its motivation, but it would also result in fewer inadvertent emissions of natural gas from the transmission and distribution pipelines.

    Separately from the legislative agenda, both the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have adopted regulations in the last year that seek to crimp emissions of methane during extraction and transmission.

    Energy companies have left #Colorado with billions of dollars in oil and gas cleanup — @HighCountryNews

    Abandoned pumpjack.By Hillebrand Steve, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – http://www.public-domain-image.com/public-domain-images-pictures-free-stock-photos/miscellaneous-public-domain-images-pictures/abandoned-gas-well-pump.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24924881

    From The High Country News (Nick Bowlin):

    As the state tries to reform its relationship to drilling, an expensive task awaits.

    When an oil or gas well reaches the end of its lifespan, it must be plugged. If it isn’t, the well might leak toxic chemicals into groundwater and spew methane, carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere for years on end.

    But plugging a well is no simple task: Cement must be pumped down into it to block the opening, and the tubes connecting it to tanks or pipelines must be removed, along with all the other onsite equipment. Then the top of the well has to be chopped off near the surface and plugged again, and the area around the rig must be cleaned up.

    There are nearly 60,000 unplugged wells in Colorado in need of this treatment — each costing $140,000 on average, according to the Carbon Tracker, a climate think tank, in a new report that analyzes oil and gas permitting data. Plugging this many wells will cost a lot —more than $8 billion, the report found.

    Companies that drill wells in Colorado are legally required to pay for plugging them. They must also put forward financial assurances in the form of bonds, which the state can call on to pay for the plugging. These bonds are meant to incentivize cleanup and to protect the state, in case a company is unable to pay. But as it stands today, Colorado has only about $185 million in bonds from industry — just 2% of the estimated cleanup bill, according to the new study. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) assumes an average cost of $82,500 per well — lower than the Carbon Tracker’s figure, which factors in issues like well depth. But even using the state’s more conservative number, the overall cleanup would cost nearly $5 billion, of which the money currently available from energy companies would cover less than 5%.

    This situation is the product of more than 150 years of energy extraction. Now, with the oil and gas industry looking less robust every year and reeling in the wake of the pandemic, the state of Colorado and its people could be on the hook for billions in cleanup costs. Meanwhile, unplugged wells persist as environmental hazards. This spring, Colorado will try to tackle the problem; state energy regulators have been tasked with reforming the policies governing well cleanup and financial commitments from industry.

    “The system has put the state at risk, and it needs to change,” said Josh Joswick, an organizer with the environmental group Earthworks. “Now we have a government that wants to do something about it.”

    Data not collected for Texas’ clean up funds.
    Source: Carbon Tracker Initiative Data visualization: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

    THE FIRST WESTERN OIL WELL broke ground in Colorado in 1860. Drilling has been an important part of the state’s economy ever since; as of 2019, Colorado ranked in the sixth and seventh in the nation for oil and natural gas production, respectively.

    When it comes to cleanup, Colorado uses a tiered system known as blanket bonding. Small operators can pay ahead with bonds on single wells. Drillers with more than 100 wells statewide pay a fixed reclamation fee of $100,000, regardless of the number of wells. A similar system also applies to wells on federal public land in the state. Large companies pay a single $150,000 bond, which covers unlimited federal public land wells throughout the country. There are about 7,400 public-land wells capable of producing oil or gas in Colorado, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

    When a driller walks away or cannot pay for cleanup, the well enters the state’s Orphan Well Program, which works to identify and plug these wells. There are about 200 wells in the program right now, according to the state. But a closer look at state data reveals a large number of wells at risk. Nearly half of the state’s unplugged wells are stripper wells — low-producing operations with small profit margins often at the end of their lifespans. These wells are particularly vulnerable to shifts in oil prices. That means they change hands often. “This is a common tactic in the oil and gas industry: Spinning off liabilities to progressively weaker companies, until the final owner goes bankrupt and none of the previous owners are on the hook for cleanup,” said Clark Williams-Derry, a finance analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

    There are also inactive wells: Nearly 10% of the state’s wells have not produced oil or gas in at least two years, according to a Carbon Tracker analysis of state permitting data. Unlike some of the neighboring oil states, Colorado requires that companies pay a single bond on each inactive well of this sort. This costs either $10,000 or $20,000, depending on the depth of the well. In theory, these payments protect the state, in case the well owner goes bankrupt. But in Colorado, it’s still far cheaper for energy companies to pay the cost of that single, unused well — and the small annual premium payments on the bond — than to actually plug it. “Colorado clearly makes it cheaper to idle a well than to clean it up,” Williams-Derry said.

    In Colorado, just two companies are responsible for nearly 70% of the bonds for currently inactive wells. One is Noble Energy Inc., which was purchased by the global oil giant Chevron in October 2020. The other is Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum. Kerr-McGee was responsible for the 2017 home explosion in Firestone, Colorado, that killed two people. Last year, the COGCC fined the company more than $18 million for the accident, by far the largest fine in state history. Both companies still own large numbers of wells in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, the prolific oil and gas formation beneath central and eastern Colorado. And the mass desertion of wells is not hypothetical: In fall of 2019, a small company called Petroshare Corporation went bankrupt and left about 90 wells for the state to cleanup. That alone will cost Colorado millions of dollars. Last summer, when California’s largest oil driller filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, it left billions in debt and more than 17,000 unplugged wells.

    The oil and gas industry is already mired in a years-long decline that raises doubts about its ability to meet cleanup costs. In six out of the past seven years, energy has been either the worst- or second-worst-performing sector on the S&P 500. And the economic fallout from COVID-19 has only accelerated the decline. Oil prices hit record lows in 2020. The industry’s debt approached record levels, and thousands of oilfield workers lost their jobs, Colorado Public Radio reported. Many companies went bankrupt, including 12 drilling companies and six oilfield service companies in Colorado, according to Haynes and Boone LLP, a law firm that tracks industry trends.

    IN 2019, A NEW LAW completely overhauled the state’s relationship to oil and gas. This spring, Colorado oil and gas regulators are tasked with reforming the financial requirements for well plugging. It’s a big deal, especially in an oil state like Colorado: The law gives local governments more control over oil and gas development, and it rewrote the mission of the COGCC, the state’s energy regulator. The COGCC has subsequently banned the burning off or releasing of natural gas, a routine drilling practice, and instituted a broad range of wildlife and public health protection policies. Recently, it voted for the nation’s largest setback rule, which requires oil and gas operations to stay at least 2,000 feet from homes and schools.

    The deep divide between the true cost of cleanup and what industry has so far ponied up is not news to Colorado regulators. In a 2017 letter to lawmakers, the COGCC estimated that the average costs of plugging wells and cleaning up the drilling site “exceed available financial assurance by a factor of fourteen.” With this new rulemaking process, Colorado has a chance to make up this gap.

    How to handle this looming liability remains an open question, said John Messner, a COGCC Commissioner. The rulemaking process is still in its early stages and will take months. The commission is asking stakeholders of all kinds — industry, local governments, environmental groups and more — to submit suggestions and opinions to the commission. There are several different methods for how best to reform the process, Messner said. That might involve leaving the current structure in place, while increasing the bond amounts, including on individual well bonds. It might mean a revamped tiered system, where more prolific producers pay more, or a different fee structure based on the number of drilled wells. Messner mentioned the option of a bond pool, where companies pay into a communal cleanup fund and, at least in theory, provide industry-wide insurance to guard against companies defaulting on cleanup obligations. Messner stressed that no formal decisions have been made and that the final rule could involve some combination of these and other tools.

    I asked Messner about balancing the pressing need to increase cleanup requirements with the possibility of companies walking away from their wells if the cost to operate in Colorado spikes. “It’s a real risk,” Messner said. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association expressed a similar concern in an email to HCN.

    “When it comes to financial assurance for current or future wells, we need to ensure that the potential solution doesn’t create an even bigger problem by raising the cost of doing business in Colorado for small businesses,” said COGA President Dan Haley in a statement. “Regulatory changes in the past two years alone are costing oil and gas businesses an extra $200 million a year. For our state to stay competitive, regulators and lawmakers need to be cognizant of that growing tally and the rising cost of doing business.”

    But as it stands today, oil and gas companies aren’t realistically paying anywhere near the true cost of cleaning up their drilling sites. And with the industry’s murky financial future, experts predict more and more sales of risky wells to less-wealthy operators, until the state could end stuck with the final cost.

    “It’s like a game of hot potato,” Williams-Derry said, “except that when the potato goes off, it’s the public who loses.”

    Nick Bowlin is a contributing editor at High Country News. Email him at nickbowlin@hcn.org

    #Wyoming seeks to stall #Colorado’s exit from #coal-generated electricity — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Tri-State’s Laramie River Station. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Focus on Tri-State’s stake in Laramie River plant

    In 2009, Wyoming was riding high on coal. It supplied the coal that provided roughly half the nation’s power generation. The trains out of the Powder River Basin were almost non-stop, delivering the sub-bituminous low-sulphur coal from Wyoming’s subterranean to plants as far as Florida.

    The Sierra Club had mounted a campaign in which it made fun of coal as a “dirty fuel.” One striking video had a lively young couple in the upper bunk delighting in the company of one another, and in the lower bunk a more pudgy young man fondling lumps of coal.

    Still, when I visited Gillette, the center of the Powder River Basin, in April 2009 for a story that was published in Planning magazine, I heard no evidence of great worry.

    Renewables? Nice, but …

    Since 2008, coal production in Wyoming has declined by about half. Employment in the mines fell 40% over the decade ending in 2020.

    The Casper Star-Tribune reports more disturbing news yet for Wyoming’s coal economy. Coal production in last year’s final quarter dropped by over 20% across the Powder River Basin. And recently, in a span of less than three months, two mines in the basin announced plans to close.

    A trio of bills introduced into the Wyoming Legislature seeks to stem this decline. The argument underlying the proposed laws is that coal-fired generation must remain to ensure grid reliability.

  • One bill soon to be given to Gov. Mark Gordon for his signing before becoming law takes sharp aim at Colorado legislators 100 miles to the south along Interstate 25. House Bill 207 earmarks $1.2 million for use by Wyoming’s governor and attorney general to potentially sue other states restricting the import or use of Wyoming coal.
  • The central nexus for this not-so-friendly fire is Laramie River Station, a coal-fired power plant located near Wheatland, which is 70 miles north of Cheyenne. Basin Electric Power Cooperative operates the 3-unit plant and had 42.27% ownership in 2018. Metro Denver-based Tri-State Generation & Transmission had 27.1% ownership.

    One unit sends power eastward, and power from the other two units is distributed in the Western grid—some of this to the 8 electrical cooperatives in Wyoming who are members of Tri-State, but more of it south into Colorado.

    This was published in the March 31, 2021, issue of Big Pivots, an e-magazine, and updated to reflect news from this morning. For a free subscription, go to http://BigPivots.com

    The bill was approved by the Wyoming House last week and by the Wyoming Senate on Wednesday afternoon. The Wyoming House Thursday morning concurred with the $1.2 million allocation by the Senate in a 36-24 vote.

    The authorization is described by a University of Chicago Law School professor who specializes in electricity and the grid as a “waste of money.”

    Two other bills appear to be directed at PacifCorp, the largest utility in Wyoming. Last year PacifCorp announced plans to close 2 of its coal-burning units at the Jim Bridger Power Plant near Rock Springs and the two remaining units of the Naughton plant near Kemmerer. It also operates the giant but aging Dave Johnston plant near Glenrock.

  • House Bill 166 would require utilities to take additional steps before they can receive approval from state regulators to retire aging coal or natural gas plants. That includes proving evidence that closing of the coal or natural gas plant would not threaten power reliability and would deliver “significant cost savings.”
  • House Bill 155 would task state regulators with analyzing how closing a coal or natural gas plant could affect grid reliability in Wyoming and nationwide before permission can be granted for retirement.
  • Grid reliability?

    Wyoming State Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, a freshman legislator from Wheatland and a sponsor of H.B. 207, explained his reasoning for why Wyoming needs more money allocated for lawsuits. In a recent legislative hearing, he cited Colorado’s 2019 legislation, although he didn’t get the details quite right. He said that Colorado requires Tri-State to meet 80% renewables by 2034. (Tri-State wasn’t required, but it has agreed to reduce its emissions 80% by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels).

    Jeremy Haroldson. Photo via The Mountain Town News

    “We can’t hold an 80% renewable portfolio with current technology,” he said, according to a transcript of the meeting provided to Big Pivots. “And this isn’t a wind or solar battle we’re talking about. This is a power technology issue that we are having a problem with, where if we don’t have a way to produce reliable energy, then we are finding ourselves in a place where we’re going to see lives potentially lost. And so out of that came House Bill 207.”

    The legal argument described by Haroldson is that Colorado’s decision about its power generation mix within Colorado constitutes a violation of the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution when it has repercussions on power providers outside Colorado. He cited the precedent of North Dakota suing Minnesota over Minnesota’s requirements governing electrical power that extended to imported power.

    A U.S. District Court in 2016 struck down Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act limiting electricity from coal-fired sources from North Dakota because of violation of the dormant Commerce Clause provision of the U.S. Constitution. The case is somewhat complicated but was dissected in this review by a law school professor in this 2018 posting on Energy Central.

    Joshua Macey, an assistant professor at the Chicago Law School who specializes in energy law, is skeptical that Wyoming is spending its money wisely.

    “I don’t see any possible way that Wyoming is going to recover the money, that (a lawsuit) will succeed,” he told Big Pivots. “It is a waste of money.”

    Macey says he is intimately familiar about the court case in which North Dakota prevailed against Minnesota. An article that he co-authored called “The Federal Power Act’s Bright Line,” which was published in February by the Harvard Law Review, discusses that case at length.

    In the Minnesota case, the law was written sloppily and there was the additional complication that Minnesota and North Dakota are both within the Midwest Independent System Operator system. Neither is the case with Wyoming vs. Colorado, if it comes to that.

    Under the Commerce Clause, Colorado cannot say it will use only that electricity that is produced in Colorado. It can, however, say that it has environmental goals and that how the electricity is created must conform with Colorado’s laws.

    Grid reliability is another tenet of the Wyoming bill.

    In the Wyoming legislative committee, Haroldson said the technology capable of protecting the grid’s reliability has not been delivered and removing coal plants will impair that reliability.

    Wyoming’s message to Colorado, he said, should be: “Hold on, let’s get some technology in place. Let’s do, let’s figure out carbon capture and those types of things, so we can produce clean, effective power that’s going to bring generation to the Front Range, that’s going to help make sure that we have a reliable power grid and do it in a way that’s intelligent.”

    For Tri-State to meet its voluntary commitment to achieve an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 in Colorado, it must reduce imports from Wyoming. But the market for energy generation is already pushing Tri-State that way.

    On Tuesday, Tri-State said that it was taking no position on HB-207.

    “As an interstate power supplier operating across four states, we recognize and respect that each state has its own values on, approaches to and concerns about energy and environmental policy, and its own jurisdiction over utility facilities and resources,” said Mark Stutz, public relations specialist for Tri-State in an e-mailed statement.

    The Colorado Attorney General’s office declined to comment.

    Production from one unit of the Laramie River Station goes eastward to Nebraska and two units deliver electricity to the Western Interconnection Grid, including customers of Tri-State Generation & Transmission in Colorado. Photo/Allen Best

    In Wyoming, Shannon Anderson of the Powder River Basin Resource Council described the allocation as a wrong-headed move for Wyoming. “It’s a chunk of change in a state strapped for cash and with limited opportunity for creating the change that bill sponsors want.

    “$1.2 million may not seem like a lot of money in some places, but in Wyoming it is. It’s more than some agencies have for a whole year,” said Anderson, the staff attorney.

    Wyoming’s government already is well staffed with attorneys versed in coal issues. This money will go to private sector legal firms, who tend to be costly, she said. “And what does it give Wyoming, if anything, in return?” she asked.

    The bill passed on third reading in the Wyoming Senate on a 26-4 vote on Wednesday afternoon.

    Tri-State’s opportunities, challenges

    Duane Highley, chief executive of Tri-State, said at a February forum organized by the Sierra Club that Tri-State plans to cease taking power from Laramie River by 2033 and a coal plant in Arizona called Springerville by 2038.

    “Those aren’t commitments,” he hastened to add, but the outcome of a single snapshot under a certain set of assumptions. Cost of power is at the bottom of it.

    “The economics dictate that you can’t continue to operate some of the lowest-priced coal plants in the country,” he said.

    In 2018, the Rocky Mountain Institute studied Tri-State’s coal-burning fleet and found that only Laramie River was delivering power at a rate better than what could be had from renewables.

    Duane Highley via The Mountain Town News

    In his Sierra Club-Zoomed presentation, Highley also emphasized the relatively low cost of coal from Laramie River, likely a consequence of its relative proximity to the strip mines of the Powder River Basin two hours to the north.

    It’s a coal plant with one of the lowest operating costs in the nation, he said.

    Laramie River delivers coal-fired power at 1.1 cents per kilowatt-hour. This compares with an average 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour for both wind and solar in the 1,000 megawatts of wind and solar projects that Tri-State plans in the next few years. But wind itself sometimes approaches 1 cent per kilowatt-hour, and solar is routinely less than 2 cents, he added.

    Tri-State supplies customers in Nebraska via the power lines from Laramie River connected directly to the Eastern Interconnection Grid. That grid, in the Great Plains, is laden heavily with cheap wind.

    “Laramie River on that side sometimes has trouble running because there is so much wind available and it’s at such a good price that even one of the lowest priced coal plants in the nation has trouble competing,” he said, referring to Laramie River.

    Reliability—the core argument in the Wyoming bills—is another matter.

    First, a note about the reliability of coal plants. The fuel is consistent, but they have their problems, as can be seen at Comanche 3, the relatively new coal plant at Pueblo, which was down for repairs during much of 2020.

    Highley addressed reliability in his Sierra Club appearance.

    “I cannot leave this subject without talking about reliability, because we can only move as fast as we can reliably make power. It’s job one for us. If we fall down on that job, literally public health and safety and lives that could be lost are on the line. We have to keep that our first and foremost priority.”

    Coal, he said, does have reliability.

    “What does a coal project have? it has a 30-day supply of coal on the ground at the plant site.”

    Storage answers?

    As for battery storage – the lithium-ion technology hasn’t arrived yet to meet the needs of a very-low-carbon future.

    “The battery that a utility can buy today lasts somewhere from 2 to 4 hours. A 6-hour battery is pretty much of a stretch,” Highley said.

    He cited an example from this winter. “We had a period in Colorado when we had about 3 days of gray skies and no wind,” he said. “Those would be very difficult days for us if we didn’t have fossil fuels in the mix today.”

    Batteries can help, but they need to provide storage for 24 to 48 hours, he went on to say. Too, while costs have declined, they need to continue to decrease.

    “We are looking for the storage technology that is better than lithium-ion batteries and has a scalability that would be suitable for—finally— a former coal plant such as the Craig site. We think this is one of the best (sites) in the Western grid for mass storage at utility scale,” he said.

    Three units at Craig Generating Station will be closed during by 2030. Photo/Allen Best

    Tri-State has been working with the Electric Power Research Institute on a $100 million low-carbon research initiative in the hope of securing energy storage technology needed to fill in the gaps of renewables. Leading contenders, said Highley, are hydrogen and ammonia. Tri-State hopes to have that technology in place by 2030, when it takes the last of the Craig units off line.

    Can natural gas fill the void? Perhaps. That is what Colorado Springs Utilities sees as it closes its coal plants. Highley said Tri-State is considering it—and he doesn’t see a concern about creating infrastructure that becomes an expensive stranded asset.

    “When we retire Craig Unit 3, we need something that can run for those 3 or 4 days a winter—primarily winter—when we’re not getting wind and solar input. That gas plant is the plan. It runs a very small percentage of the time, and we still achieve 80% even when burning natural gas for reliability.”

    Highley said Tri-State is looking at an internal-combustion type of natural gas plant introduced by General Electric. That’s the same plant that Colorado Springs plans to use.

    But the plant may not necessarily have to burn natural gas. If hydrogen technology can be developed, renewable energy can be created to produce hydrogen, which can be stored and then burned as needed to fill in the gaps of storage.

    The Biden administration’s critical role in Indian Country — @HighCountryNews

    Graphic credit: The High Country News

    From The High Country News [March 18, 2021] (Anna V. Smith):

    Four important decisions will impact the forests, lands and waters of tribal nations.

    Tribal leaders see President Joe Biden’s administration as an opportunity to increase tribal consultation regarding issues like water management, oil and gas leasing, and land conservation. Here, we look at four major projects — all of them years in the making — that the new administration is tasked with advancing in the next four years. Most fall under the Department of the Interior, now headed by its first Indigenous secretary, Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo).

    Tongass National Forest near Ketchikan Alaska. By Mark Brennan from Oakton, Virginia, United States of America – Tongass National Forest, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3874880

    TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST MANAGEMENT

    On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order to revisit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Trump-era decision to exempt Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from a federal rule protecting 9.3 million acres of it from logging, mining and roadways. The Trump administration raced through the process despite the pandemic. The Tongass — the largest national forest in the U.S. — serves as a massive carbon sink and is of national importance. It also supports the old-growth red cedar, Sitka black-tailed deer and salmon that the Alaska Native tribes of the region rely on. None of the Southeast Alaska Native tribes who participated in the consultation process supported the exemption, and all withdrew in protest.

    In addition to reviewing the Tongass protections, the Biden administration also has to decide on a rule proposed by 11 Southeast Alaska Native tribes in July 2020. The Traditional Homelands Conservation Rule would increase the role of Alaska Native tribes in the management of the forest’s trees, wildlife and waters. The tribes proposed the rule after decades of inadequate tribal consultation on the Tongass, their ancestral and current homeland.


    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    COLORADO RIVER BASIN GUIDELINES BY 2026

    Negotiations among federal, tribal and state governments on water flows and allocations in the Colorado River Basin began last year and are set to conclude by 2026. At stake is the water supply for 40 million people.

    The current set of interim guidelines was created in 2007 by the seven basin states — Colorado, Arizona, Utah, California, Nevada, Wyoming and New Mexico — and the federal government. None of the 29 federally recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin were consulted, despite having senior water rights that account for 20% of the river’s water.

    The negotiations are happening amid some of the most serious drought predictions the region has seen; in January, the river’s drought contingency plan was triggered for the first time. Climate change has brought extreme drought conditions to about 75% of the river’s Upper Basin, and that will no doubt influence the tenor of the negotiations.

    Klamath River Basin. Map credit: American Rivers

    KLAMATH RIVER DAM REMOVAL IN 2023

    After years of political, social and regulatory barriers, the undamming of the Klamath River is within sight. When — or if — it’s completed, it will be the largest dam removal effort in U.S. history, bringing down four out of six dams on the river in southern Oregon and Northern California , including one that’s 103 years old. For now, the project is on track to begin in 2023, and by 2024 there could be free-flowing water in the river, opening up some 400 miles of habitat in California for salmon, lamprey and trout. The nonprofit charged with the dam removals, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, still needs the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, which is headed by political appointees, to approve its current plan.

    Last year’s drought created more conflict over water allocations on the Klamath. In, August, the Bureau of Reclamation cancelled promised water flows for the Yurok Tribe’s Ceremonial Boat Dance. In response, the Yurok Tribe sued the agency. The federal government will need to bring stakeholders together for a large-scale agreement to end this cycle of seasonal litigation, something the Obama administration attempted unsuccessfully to do.

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    OIL AND GAS LEASING PERMIT PAUSE ON FEDERAL LANDS

    In late January, when Joe Biden signed multiple executive orders to address the “climate crisis,” he ordered Interior to put a temporary moratorium on new oil and gas leases on public lands and offshore waters. The administration called for a review of the leasing and royalties process, citing climate impacts and their growing cost, and specifically requested a review of leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration had opened ANWR for sale just weeks before Biden took office.

    Biden’s executive orders don’t impact existing leases, or oil and gas on tribal lands. But much of the tribal opposition involves activities on ancestral territory that is currently public land, sometimes carried out without adequate tribal consultation. The Arctic Refuge and places like New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon have been flashpoints of conflict over leasing, and many advocates want Biden to extend the pause as a permanent ban. This was a key sticking point for many Republican senators during Haaland’s confirmation hearings, which Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., described as a “proxy fight over the future of fossil fuels.”

    Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email us at editor@hcn.org.

    Deb Haaland Becomes First Native American Cabinet Secretary — The New York Times

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    From The New York Times (Coral Davenport):

    The Senate confirmed Ms. Haaland to lead the Interior Department. She’ll be charged with essentially reversing the agency’s course over the past four years.