Energy Policy Center testimony on SB 44

March 18, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Legal, Legislation, New Energy Economy, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

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Energy Policy Center analyst Michael Sandoval offers testimony on behalf of Senate Bill 44 before the House Committee on State, Veterans, and Military Affairs on March 2, 2015.

Testimony as prepared:

Testimony on behalf of

SB 44 CONCERNING A REDUCTION IN COLORADO’S RENEWABLE ENERGY STANDARD

March 2, 2015

State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee

Mr(s). Chair and Members of the Committee,

My name is Michael Sandoval. I am an Energy Policy Analyst for the Energy Policy Center at the Independence Institute.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify today on behalf of SB 44.

At the Independence Institute, we are agnostic on energy resources. It is our strong belief that the choice of energy resources should come from the demands of the free market, and not from the preferences of policymakers, lobbyists, or special interest groups.

The goal of the Energy Policy Center is to promote a free market in energy production, where no protections, subsidies, or regulations result in energy winners and losers. We advocate that government remain neutral, which then encourages a level playing field. That is the best way to ensure that consumers reap the benefits of a healthy energy market – where competition, lower prices, and more options provide the foundation for affordable and most importantly, reliable energy.

Testimony

SB 44 affords utilities the flexibility they need to meet electricity demand in the most cost effective way. SB 44 is an energy freedom bill that does not preclude utilities from incorporating wind, solar, or other alternative energy sources in order to achieve a minimum percentage of electricity that electric service providers must generate. Rather it allows utilities to achieve that mix in a way that does not force them to rush to comply in coming years.

SB 44 would eliminate the step-increases mandated by previous legislation that would negatively affect utilities’ ability to respond to customer demands and force ratepayers to contend with ever increasing costs of energy in Colorado.

The most recent numbers from the Energy Information Administration indicate where Colorado sits vis-à-vis its neighbors when it comes to the average retail price of electricity to the residential sector. As of November 2014, Colorado ranks 27th, with a residential retail cost that exceeds that of New Mexico, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, Oklahoma, Utah, and Idaho.

According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, in 2013 Colorado renewable portfolio standard of 30 percent by 2020 is the highest in the entire Rocky Mountain region, trailing only the west coast state of California.

The Independence Institute believes SB 44 addresses concerns about the state’s market-skewing renewable portfolio standard’s impact upon utilities and ratepayers. The step-change increases in the state’s renewable energy mandate over the course of the next few years will result in higher costs for utilities and ratepayers alike.

These increased costs will likely result in job losses, higher costs for consumers, and a loss of competitiveness for Colorado businesses in comparison to neighboring states without or with lower renewable energy standards. SB 44’S 15 percent figure would bring the state more in line with states throughout the Mountain region.

Again, aligning minimums between investor-owned utilities and cooperative electric associations will level the playing field that will keep electricity rates competitive, but will not prevent individual providers from exceeding those minimums with a market mix of conventional and alternative sources, including wind and solar, that best fits their own market profile and satisfies the needs of their customers.

In conclusion, SB 44 gives utilities the flexibility to adjust power sources as needed and respond to needs of consumers—and not the demands of special interests—from 2015 and thereafter.

Conclusion

As I stated at the beginning it is the strong belief of the Independence Institute that the choice of energy resources should come from the demands of the free market, and not from the preferences of policymakers, lobbyists, or special interest groups and we believe that SB 44 is consistent with that principle.

Thank you.

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EPA’s Clean Power Plan “Impossible” for Colorado

March 4, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency 

By Lexi Osborn

In an eye-popping column in the Denver Post last week, editorial page editor Vincent Carroll exposes the serious problems surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial Clean Power Plan.

This past summer, everyone from former Gov. Bill Ritter to two of the state’s top regulators, Dr. Larry Wolk of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Joshua Epel of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), assured the public that Colorado easily would be in compliance with this new plan; the proposal would have little impact on the lives of Colorado residents because Colorado is, “a long way down the road in being able to meet the [EPA's] 2030 goal way ahead of time.”

Apparently, they spoke too soon.

As it turns out, the EPA did not give full credit to Colorado ratepayers for their significant investment in renewable energy and efficiency. Furthermore, the carbon mandate timeline is, by all reasonable assessment, impossible to meet.  In an interview with Carroll, Wolk bluntly said “I don’t have a problem with saying I think it’s nearly impossible for us to meet the interim standard.”

The EPA’s failure to give full credit to Colorado ignited some panic among public officials. In December, Wolk, Epel and Jeff Ackerman, the director of the Colorado Energy Office, wrote a letter to the EPA criticizing in detail the mandate for Colorado, Carroll wrote. He breaks down their objections into five main points:

1)   The EPA plan in effect punishes Colorado for being ahead of the game

2)   The plan is technically naïve

3)   The plan is oblivious to the momentum of efforts underway

4)   The plan is absurdly frontloaded

5)   The deadline of June 2016 for submitting a state plan is literally impossible

Not only is this previously touted pro-environment plan riddled with issues, but it has also created a power struggle between the PUC and the CDPHE. For the mandates of the Clean Power Plan to be implemented, regulatory authority needs to be designated. Currently, the PUC and CDPHE are both vying to take on this initiative.

The CDPHE believes it has the authority to create and impose the new energy standard, even though the PUC regulates resource planning, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs at investor-owned utilities, while the CDPHE only has authority over air quality. The CDPHE also lacks the infrastructure to hold public and open hearings and testimonies, which the PUC has. When directly asked by Carroll, “So you’ll give the marching orders to all of the utilities in the state?” Wolk, despite these many factors, said, “Yes, in consultation with the EPA, the PUC and others.”

As a way to settle the issue, Rep. John Cooke (R-Greeley) proposed legislation that would make the CDPHE the lead agency in developing and enforcing air quality issues, and would require all state plans be approved by the PUC and the legislature.

But, the issue has yet to be settled.

Carroll hopes this messy situation will be rectified through similar open and transparent legislation. And let us all hope that this regulatory authority, which impacts the cost and reliability of our energy, will have at least some democratic oversight.

Otherwise Colorado electric consumers are left with the bill for plans made in the dark.

Lexi Osborn is a Future Leaders intern. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in political science.

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Big Wind and Solar Oppose Clean Energy

February 13, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, Legislation, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

By Lexi Osborn

In the upcoming weeks, House Bill 1118 will be up for debate in the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. This bill eliminates the restrictions on the hydroelectricity and pumped hydroelectricity that can be counted as a “renewable energy resource” to meet Colorado’s renewable energy standard.

Currently, hydroelectricity is only counted towards the renewable energy standard if newly built facilities have a nameplate rating of 10 MW or less, or, if they are built before January 2005, with a nameplate rating of 30 MW or less. Fully including hydroelectricity would allow Coloradoans to take advantage of the 1169 megawatts of existing hydroelectric capacity. Eighty-two percent of that capacity is currently not considered “renewable” by Colorado standards because those facilities have a capacity of 30 MW and were built before 2005.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes hydroelectricity as clean, renewable energy, and the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) determined that it produces air emissions on par with wind and solar. There is no justifiable environmental reason to keep these restrictions in place.

It may then come as a surprise that there are clean energy supporters who are actively fighting against this bill. Conservation Colorado, the Colorado Cleantech Industries Association, and the Distributed Wind Energy Association are all opposing the inclusion of hydroelectricity as a renewable energy resource despite the EPA’s evaluation. These organizations all claim to have commitments to developing and expanding clean energy in our society, making it hard to justify their opposition. So, why exclude hydroelectricity? Why impede clean energy if their missions are to protect the environment and limit carbon emissions?

Conservation Colorado has claimed that the current restrictions are necessary because the construction of large-scale hydroelectric facilities is damaging to the environment. But, the restrictions aren’t protecting the environment. The restrictions limit the ability of people to use already existing hydroelectric facilities to comply with the renewable energy standard. All these restrictions do is force Colorado to leave out hydroelectric sources in its renewable energy portfolio, giving preferential treatment to wind and solar industries. This ends up costing ratepayers millions of dollars in compliance costs.

The only real reason they want to exclude hydroelectricity is because it threatens their market share. Last year, an almost identical bill, HB 1138, was shot down because wind and solar advocates testified that their industries would struggle if they had to compete with hydropower, which already supplies 23 percent of the electricity to rural co-ops. They claimed the bill would negatively affect jobs in the solar and wind industries that benefit from the renewable energy mandate.

Their testimony makes it all crystal clear – they are not true champions of the environment and clean energy. If they were, they would be embracing the power and potential of hydroelectricity. Sadly, they only appear to be using legislation as protectionist measure, jealously guarding their market share.

Lexi Osborn is a Future Leaders intern. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in political science.

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Senate Committee Report on Billionaires and Eco-Left Activism in Colorado Draws on II Research

August 12, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, preferred energy 

A key section of the July report issued by the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee focusing on Colorado environmental activists draws from work that first appeared at the Independence Institute’s Complete Colorado blog.

In a wide ranging, heavily footnoted report released July 30, the Minority Staff of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works demonstrates the confluence of the Environmental Protection Agency, eco-left activists, and what it calls the “Billionaire’s Club” in a complicated, tax-evading, multi-million dollar philanthropy scheme of dark money:

“Through these arrangements, the Billionaire’s Club gains access to a close knit network of likeminded funders, environmental activists, and government bureaucrats who specialize in manufacturing phony “grassroots” movements and in promoting bogus propaganda disguised as science and news to spread an anti-fossil energy message to the unknowing public. Not only is the system incredibly sophisticated, but the Club’s attorneys and accountants have mastered the loopholes and gray areas in the tax code, which enable them to obtain a full tax benefit, even when the recipient of the grant is not recognized as a public charity, and even if the money indirectly and impermissibly funds political activities.”

The report finds fault with the billionaires’ “scheme to keep their efforts hidden and far removed from the political stage,” which they characterized as “deliberate, meticulous, and intended to mislead the public.”

“While it is uncertain why they operate in the shadows and what they are hiding, what is clear is that these individuals and foundations go to tremendous lengths to avoid public association with the far-left environmental movement they so generously fund,” the report authors wrote.

Highlighting the byzantine tax procedures used to cloak the various foundations and individual donors, the report used case studies of efforts targeted in several different states, including Colorado.

In the section on activism targeting hydraulic fracturing, the report singled out New York anti-fracking efforts that later manifested in Colorado:

The same billionaire foundations behind the New York anti-fracking efforts have also moved into Colorado through two coalitions – Local Control Colorado and Frack Free Colorado, which are directly affiliated with the NY-based groups already discussed. Local Control Colorado claims to be, “a coalition of community, consumer and public interest groups from across Colorado” promoting an anti-fracking ballot measure. However, they list DC-based Food & Water Watch, which is funded by CA-based Schmidt and Tides, and NY-based Park, as part of the coalition. Food & Water Watch is also listed as a partner to another member of the Local Control Colorado coalition, Frack Free Colorado (FFC). Self- described as a “collaborative, grassroots movement that works to raise awareness about the dangers of fracking,” FFC’s website states the group is “a people’s movement that consists of concerned citizens, companies … and organizations.” However, at least two of the organizations listed as a member of FFC – Artists Against Fracking and Food & Water Watch – are based in New York and Washington, DC. Interestingly, FFC has reportedly tried to hide its partnership with another NY-based organization, Water Defense.

The attempt to keep these connections secret include removing evidence from the group’s web pages, as first reported by CompleteColorado.com in November 2013.

But the connections are repeatedly clear and demonstrable, and include the names of several specific individuals:

In addition to the funding and partnership ties, these schemes have one key employee in common who binds these cross-country efforts: Russell Mendell. Mendell previously worked for three of the NY-based organizations – Frack Action, New Yorkers Against Fracking and Water Defense. While at Frack Action in November 2011, Mendell organized a rally of activists in front of the White House calling for the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. Mendell was also active in the Occupy Wall Street movement, once stating that Occupy was “about linking arms between the various movements … there’s not a lot that separates the environmental movement and Occupy Wall Street.” In 2012, Mendell, along with another Water Defense employee, Ana Tinsely, left to move across the country and work for FFC in an apparent coordinated effort to apply the same activist tactics used in New York to the attack on fracking in Colorado. Overall, these schemes illustrate a model with FFC and Local Control Colorado “grassroots” coalitions that bind efforts via partnerships with billionaire-backed groups that are far from local.

The report included the following diagram:
ffc diagram

Simon Lomax, a Denver-based energy industry consultant and spokesman for Energy In Depth, told Complete Colorado that none of the revelations are particularly surprising.

“This report confirms yet again that national ‘ban fracking’ groups and their ultra-rich donors have spent years campaigning behind the scenes to wipe out one of Colorado’s most important industries. I don’t know who they think they are fooling any more, but I must admit, it’s kind of amusing to watch guys like Russell Mendell scramble to hide their ties to Occupy Wall Street, Water Defense, Food & Water Watch and other fringe political groups,” wrote Lomax.

But this is not just about eco-left activists pushing a few ballot measures, as they did in 2013. This year, the stakes are much higher.

“Believe it or not, Congressman [Jared] Polis is siding with this cast of characters against Colorado’s working families and practically the entire business community of our state. If he throws his millions behind the activists and their cause, he’ll be bankrolling the permanent expansion of an extreme and angry form of political campaigning in Colorado that isn’t just anti-energy, but anti-business and anti-jobs,” Lomax concluded.

crossposted from Complete Colorado

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Independence Institute at the “Stop the EPA Power Grab” Rally

August 6, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, preferred energy, renewable energy 

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More than 400 people turned out last week for the “Stop the EPA Power Grab” rally for affordable energy just across Lincoln Avenue from the west steps of the Capitol.

Coal miners, their families, representatives of more than 20 allied mining and natural resource groups, union members, business leaders, and affordable energy activists from Colorado and many states across the Rocky Mountain region gathered to address the Environmental Protection Agency’s “listening tour” for its newly unveiled “Clean Power Plan.”

The Independence Institute was a co-sponsor of the event, along with Americans for Prosperity-Colorado, the Colorado Mining Association, and several other business and civic groups from Wyoming, Montana, and Utah. Union groups represented included the AFL-CIO of Wyoming and Boilermakers of Montana.

Over the next two years, the EPA expects each state to develop its own plan to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels.

These regulations are designed to hurt coal–and by extension, will harm low income, minorities, the elderly, and rural communities that rely on coal for affordable, reliable energy. The rule will likely artificially raise the price of electricity substantially, while inefficient and more expensive sources of energy are substituted.

While agnostic on the question of energy sources, the Independence Institute is not agnostic on the intrusion of government in the free market energy arena, and believes that each state’s energy mix should be market-driven, not shaped by onerous and far-reaching regulations that stifle competition and raise electricity rates.

That was the message the Independence Institute wished to share with the attendees last week.

The text of my speech, more or less as delivered:

Good afternoon! My name is Michael Sandoval and I’m an energy policy analyst and investigative reporter for the Independence Institute, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about how mining brought my family to Colorado 86 years ago.

More than 100 years ago, my great-grandfather Anthony, a poor Italian immigrant, moved to Utah to mine coal and achieve the American Dream–earn a living for his growing family. With the money he earned from coal mining, he moved to Denver’s Little Italy, and in 1928, along with his son–my grandfather–he purchased a grocery store that was a fixture in the Italian-American community for 7 decades, eventually becoming an historic landmark.

I stand before you a product of that rich mining heritage, and I am deeply grateful for it.

I also stand WITH you. I will NOT let the EPA CRUCIFY COAL–to use the words of Al Armendariz, former EPA administrator and now Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaigner.

Our natural resources are both a blessing and a driving economic force in our region. They provide tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and they keep the lights on and, this time of year, the air conditioning running not just for us but for our most vulnerable community members.

But EPA outsiders have decided that a different energy path should be followed. They pay lip service to those affected by having a handful of “listening tours” AFTER they’ve decided which predetermined policy course they should undertake.

That is why we are here today. To let the EPA know that we already have ABUNDANT AFFORDABLE, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, RELIABLE ENERGY.

The Independence Institute is agnostic on energy sources–we do not care if the energy comes from hydro, coal, solar, natural gas, nuclear, or wind–but we are not agnostic on the subject of government intrusion into the energy sector–free energy markets, not preferred energy mandates, should guide our economy.

Achieving our own energy mix should come from market forces as businesses and consumers choose what is best for them, not onerous regulations imposed by anonymous EPA bureaucrats.

Government agencies like the EPA or the Department of Energy should NOT be in the business of picking energy winners and losers with this proposal, which EPA DIRECTOR GINA MCCARTHY ADMITTED “ISN’T ABOUT POLLUTION CONTROL” JUST LAST WEEK IN A SENATE COMMITTEE.

THIS PITS corporate cronies–WHAT MCCARTHY DUBS “INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN CLEAN AND RENEWABLE ENERGY” against the poor, the elderly, minorities, rural communities.

Nothing was more poignant than last October, when the EPA last made a stop at its Region 8 office, as miners and rural business owners and suppliers–along with their families–were forced to plead for their livelihoods with agency representatives.

We are here, along with all of the other organizations and friends here today, to say NO–say it with me–NO–to the EPA’s energy power grab.

DON’T BE FOOLED into thinking this is just about coal, or that hydraulic fracturing is just about natural gas. Folks, this is about an agenda for putting an end to the use of ALL of our natural resources, not just in Colorado, but in the entire Rocky Mountain West.

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Rising Energy Prices Lead to the Highest Inflation Rate in 18 Months

June 24, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: New Energy Economy, preferred energy 

By Henry Zhang

On June 17th, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its monthly consumer price index report. This included statistics regarding consumer prices in May 2014 and year-to-year inflation. Of note is that in the Western Region[1], from May 2013 to May 2014, electricity prices rose 2.8 percent and total energy prices rose by 3.1 percent.[2] Compare those figures to 2.3 percent increase in average consumer prices over the same time period. In fact, according to the Denver Business Journal, the year-to-year price gain in energy was tied with medical care for the largest price gain of any major category used to calculate inflation.[3]

(Here is a screenshot of the relevant BLS Western Region data. Energy prices are boxed in red)

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Also from the Denver Business Journal article:

“The monthly increase [in the West] was largely influenced by higher prices for electricity,” BLS said. “Overall, energy costs advanced 4.6 percent over the month.”

Ten of the 13 states that comprise the BLS’ Western Region have some sort of renewable portfolio mandate over the next 15 years. This means that the state must generate a certain proportion of its electricity from renewable sources.[4] For states like Colorado that have been endowed with plentiful coal reserves, this requires replacing electricity from coal, which is relatively inexpensive, with electricity from wind and solar, which is relatively expensive. This, in turn, leads to higher electricity prices, which hurt businesses and consumers alike and can “inflict significant harm on the state economy.” [5]

On a national level, where 37 out of the 50 states have enacted renewable portfolio standards or goals, consumer prices rose 2.1 percent from May 2013 to May 2014 while electricity prices rose 3.6 percent and total energy prices rose 3.3 percent. For the US, like for the Western Region, energy prices experienced the largest percentage increase of all of the major consumption categories used to calculate inflation.

From 2004, when Colorado’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was passed, to 2012, the latest year for which data is available, the average retail price of electricity for all sectors increased from 6.95 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 9.39 cents per kWh, a 35 percent increase.[6] This is equivalent to a 3.76 percent average annual increase. For residential consumers of electricity, the retail price rose from 8.42 cents per kWh in 2004 to 11.46 cents per kWh in 2012. This is a 36 percent increase, equivalent to an average annual increase of 3.85 percent. In the eight years after the RPS was passed, both figures for the annual growth rate in the price of electricity are greater than the average rate of inflation.

For comparison purposes, in the eight years leading up to 2004 (1996-2004), average retail electricity prices only rose 15 percent, from 6.05 cents per kWh to 6.95 cents per kWh. This is an annualized growth rate of 1.73 percent. What more, for residential consumers, the annualized growth rate from 1996 to 2004 was just 1.46 percent. Thus, in the eight years before the RPS was passed, both figures for the annual growth rate in the price of electricity are less than the average rate of inflation. For a typical Colorado household,[7] which spends around $1065 per year on electricity,[8] the difference between an annual 3.85 percent rate increase and an annual 1.46 percent rate increase is an extra $270, per household, spent just on electricity over the course of 10 years. Furthermore, this number is much lower than the true cost of the RPS to Colorado households. It doesn’t take into account the billions of taxpayer dollars that have gone to the energy sources, like wind and solar, which contribute to the rapid rise in electricity prices.

Affordable energy and electricity prices are the bedrock of a strong, healthy economy. Increases in the price of electricity that outpace inflation and real income growth squeeze the spending power of all consumers. Ordinary people like you and me need affordable, dependable electricity for a myriad of purposes that enhance our standard of living. Businesses need a steady electricity supply to produce the goods and services that we consume. A justification of the cost of rapidly increasing electricity prices would require more than the rhetoric of environmental benefits. It would require clear evidence, from detailed, rigorous analyses, that the added value of environmental benefits exceeds the lost jobs and economic malaise caused by higher electricity prices.

Henry Zhang is a Future Leaders summer intern. He is a rising sophomore at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, majoring in mathematics and economics.


[1] The Western region consists of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming (link)

[2] BLS West Report (link)

[3] Mark Harden, Denver Business Journal. “Biggest annual price gain since 2012 in Colorado, the West” (link)

[4] Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) map (link)

[5] Heartland Institute study on Colorado’s RPS (link)

[6] Data from Energy Information Administration (EIA) (link)

[7] US Census Bureau: Colorado Quick Facts (link)

[8] 775 kWh/month * 12 months/year * 11.46 cents/kWh * (1.0385/1.0146)10 = $1325, which is $270 greater than $1065

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Sputtering Wind Energy Prompts Transmission Cost Concerns from Xcel

May 28, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: preferred energy, renewable energy, wind energy 

Growing transmission costs for wind-generated electricity have prompted Xcel Energy to seek approval for rate hikes to smaller utilities using Xcel’s transmission lines to reach their consumers:

Xcel wants the utilities to pay for its costs associated with having supplies of reserve power ready to go in case the wind suddenly dies, said Terri Eaton, Xcel’s director of federal regulatory and compliance efforts.

Currently, those costs are paid by Xcel’s business and residential customers, Eaton said.

If the transmission lines customers can supply their own back-up power supplies, they wouldn’t be charged under the proposed rates, she said.

Readily available, back-up power supplies are critical to keep the transmission grid in balance and avoid blackouts that can occur when a big source of power suddenly disappears, Eaton said.

Xcel’s hikes would hit rural cooperatives and other utilities should the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approve the rate hike at the beginning of 2015.

But what, exactly, does Eaton mean when she refers to “reserve power ready to go in case the wind suddenly dies”?

“We’ve seen some dramatic wind fall-offs in really short periods of time,” Eaton said.

Xcel has already experienced such falls offs, when “several hundreds of megawatts of wind” drops dramatically — and swiftly — due to changes in the wind, she said.

“Sometimes the wind is just howling, and an hour later the wind has calmed — and it’s in those circumstances that we need to have reserves available to pick up the load,” Eaton said.

In such cases, backup power supplies typically come from natural gas-fueled power plants, she said.

The tariff proposed by Xcel would help cover the costs when the wind “suddenly dies.”

The intermittency of wind has been widely discussed, and no amount of forecasting or improved efficiency will spin a wind turbine’s blades if the wind isn’t blowing.

In 2012, a study examined wind generation in Illinois at the height of a summer heat wave, when energy demands rise to yearly highs. The author found that just 5 percent of installed wind capacity was available during that outbreak of record temperatures, and at times, “virtually nonexistent.”

Earlier this year, wind energy proponents touted the example provided in Texas–wind had saved the day. But a closer examination of the figures from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) demonstrated that contrary to claims that wind had bailed out conventional sources of electricity by ensuring grid reliability, wind had actually fallen so substantially that Texas turned to other sources to meet the extra 1,000 megawatts of demand on January 6. Both scheduled and unscheduled plant closure elsewhere had left Texas with a gap during a record cold snap, a gap that wind was unable to fill.

As the Institute for Energy Research wrote in January, only 3.2 percent of the energy needs of the Texas grid operated by ERCOT came from wind, while 83 percent of Texas wind turbines “were unavailable during peak demand.”

ERCOT itself continues to rate its “wind power at 8.7 percent of its installed capacity” for 2014 during the periods of highest demands, which typically occur in mid-to-late summer. For nearly 12,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity, only 990 megawatts are considered reliable for forecasts computed by ERCOT for 2014. That’s like having the equivalent of 12 1,000 megawatt power plants built and only 1 online when summer energy demand spikes.

As a percentage, ERCOT figures wind to provide just 1.3 percent of the total amount of energy it needs this summer, rising to 2.2 percent by 2017 according to its own projections.

As for Colorado, under Senate Bill 252, rural cooperatives must reach 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association spokesman Lee Boughey acknowledged the rising costs of integrating ever-greater amounts of intermittent energy supplies like wind.

“As more intermittent resources are added in the region, we understand the need to address the higher costs of integrating and balancing power,” Boughey told the Denver Business Journal.

Those costs were highlighted in a March post that examined the integration of wind and other intermittent energy sources to the reliability of the grid operated by Public Service and regulated by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), under the state’s preferred energy mandate:

The concern over infrastructure costs and the cost to ratepayers, as well as the challenge of incorporating ever-larger amounts of intermittent generation sources like solar and wind, is not a new topic at the PUC.

In June 2012 comments by PUC staff engineer Inez Dominguez indicated that off-peak load and wind generation in particular was “alarming.”

The integration of intermittent sources like wind would overwhelm the system, either with higher costs or decreased reliability. Bringing in wind and curtailing conventional, coal-fired generation during off-peak periods would result “in an economic penalty to the Public Service customers because more expensive wind generation would be supplying their load.”

Cutting off the wind, however, would also penalize ratepayers, as the “take or pay” agreements give wind first priority.

But the Public Service engineer also highlighted reliability concerns. “In its simplest terms as it concerns the customers, reliability deals with keeping the lights on. This reliability issue may occur when the wind suddenly stops blowing and a significant amount of wind generation is lost to the balancing authority,” Dominguez said.

“When this event happens, the balancing authority needs to replace the lost generation quickly enough to keep from tripping off the load. This means that the generation in reserve to cover such an event has to be quick enough in its response to cover the lost generation,” Dominguez continued.

For Colorado ratepayers, this backup generation comes from “gas fired combustion turbine generation reserves” that displace “more economic base load coal fired generation,” only adding to the cost, and “complexity” of the load balancing requirements.

According to Dominguez, these examples suggested a “flag that Public Service may have too much wind generation.”

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Solar “Mega-trap” Kills Birds at California Power Plant

May 5, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: renewable energy, solar energy 

Solar power generating facilities in Southern California have been dubbed “mega-traps” for their ability to attract and kill multiple species in a variety of manners including solar flux injury, also known as “singeing,” according to a report from the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory issued in April.

“At times birds flew into the solar flux and ignited,” the authors wrote.

The toll on Southern California wildlife from three solar power plants is just beginning to be revealed:

The Ivanpah solar thermal power plant in the Southern California desert supplies enough carbon-free electricity to power 140,000 homes. For birds, bats and butterflies, though, the futuristic project is the Death Star, incinerating anything that flies through a “solar flux” field that generates temperatures of 800 degree Fahrenheit when 300,000 mirrors focus the sun on a water-filled boilers that sit on top three 459-foot towers.

“It appears Ivanpah may act as a ‘mega-trap,’ attracting insects which in turn attract insect-eating birds, which are incapacitated by solar-flux injury, thus attracting predators and creating an entire food chain vulnerable to injury and death,” concluded scientists with the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in a report that investigated 233 bird deaths representing 71 species at three Southern California solar power plants.

“Ivanpah employees called such immolations ’streamers,’” said The Atlantic.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement staff “observed an average of one streamer event every two minutes.”

singeing small

From the report:

When OLE staff visited Ivanpah, we observed many streamer events. It is claimed that these events represent the combustion of loose debris or insects. Although some of the events are likely that, there were instances where the amount of smoke produced by the ignition could only be explained by a large flammable biomass such as a bird. Indeed OLE observed birds entering the solar flux and igniting, consequently becoming a streamer.

When the Ivanpah solar plant was inaugurated in earlier this year, we noted about reports of birds being killed–the “singeing” of birds in the air due to the reflective panels heating the surrounding air to such high temperatures near the California plant’s towers.

At the time, we wrote:

All power sources involve tradeoffs, but to date, wind and solar have generally avoided discussing the topic, often quickly shifting to pointing out the costs of other energy sources in defending their own environmental impacts.

Those tradeoffs included the very distinct possibility of harm to migratory birds and other wildlife.

According to the April report bats–also attracted by the insects drawn to the solar arrays–have also been found near the facilities. These include species deemed “sensitive” in California by the Bureau of Land Management.

Regulatory agencies considered those costs for Ivanpah:

Ivanpah can be seen as a success story and a cautionary tale, highlighting the inevitable trade-offs between the need for cleaner power and the loss of fragile, open land. The California Energy Commission concluded that while the solar plant would impose “significant impacts on the environment … the benefits the project would provide override those impacts.”

Those full impacts won’t even be known for another couple years, as a two-year study is completed on Ivanpah’s effect on wildlife.

The report also notes that gathering specific data about the actual temperatures involved at Ivanpah have been difficult.

“Despite repeated requests, we have been unsuccessful in obtaining technical data relating to the temperature associated with solar flux at the Ivanpah facility,” the authors wrote.

The report authors quoted a Discovery TV channel program that pegged the possible top temperature at the top of the solar tower above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to melt steel. In order to regulate the tower at a much lower temperature, Ivanpah’s operators must turn only a percentage of heliostats at the solar receiver.

They estimated that temperatures across the solar field ranged from 200 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

The solar facility at Ivanpah is a darling of the Obama administration and received $1.6 billion in loan guarantees.

“This project speaks for itself. Just look at the 170,000 shining heliostat mirrors and the three towers that would dwarf the Statue of Liberty,” said Ernest Moniz, Obam’s energy secretary, as reported by The Daily Caller.

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NREL Employee Threatens Reporter, Issues Internal Email About Threats To NREL

April 23, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Legal, National Renewable Energy Laboratory 

From Watchdog.org:

A secret government energy lab here went on heightened alert after one of its employees used Twitter to threaten mass murder against Watchdog reporters, according to internal memos and emails received under the Freedom of Information Act.

But the added security measures utilized by the National Renewable Energy Lab weren’t to isolate and chastise staffer Kerrilee Crosby, who used Twitter in late 2012 to advocate what she called “a murderous rampage.”

Instead, the lab was concerned because an unidentified individual sent Crosby an email labeled “Because you deserve to die” — the same words Crosby used in her threat against Watchdog.

It was the subsequent threat from an unidentified individual (the name was redacted in the Freedom of Information Act documents released) that prompted this reaction from NREL:

“Details are still being assembled and the likelihood of making contact remains low.

A person named (redacted) has made a veiled threat against NREL employee Kerry Crosby.

Should we come into contact with (redacted) we are to call 911 immediately… Keep in mind, we cannot be sure this is the right name. Be very suspicious of anyone unexpected looking for Kerry Crosby.

Jeffco is already engaged in this issue.”

According to Watchdog, while the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department pooh-poohed the threat made by Crosby against the reporting outfit by refusing to take a police report, it appeared fully prepared to provide assistance to NREL–by opening a case and visiting the agency’s campus.

NREL’s security office issued these warnings to workers:

1. Be aware of an increase in anger at NREL and our mission
2. NREL Security will step up vehicle searches
3. Be prepared for an increase in press inquiries and amateur information seekers
4. Understand that this story may inspire others to be angry toward NREL, government spending, green energy, people who make threats, etc.

“The number of web-based news sources repeating the Watchdog story continues to grow,” the memo said.

Crosby drew in the Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Center director Amy Oliver Cooke into the original series of threatening tweets she made in late 2012 when she included a link to a photo of Cooke.

“I can’t remember where I left my gun, though. Found it! http://t.co/MuOpukem,” she tweeted. The original link has been removed.

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Colorado Green Schools

April 22, 2014 by jlongo · Comments Off
Filed under: renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

IP-1-2014 (January 2014)
Author: Todd Myers

PDF of full Issue Paper

Introduction:
According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Chipeda Elementary in Colorado’s Mesa Valley School District 51 is not simply a green school; it is in fact a green model for other schools.

The USGBC promotes Chipeda as a “case study” of what green schools can achieve in a range of areas, including reduction of environmental impact and lower energy use.1 The case study notes the school is more energy efficient and uses less water than other, comparable schools. Utility data, however, tells a different story. A look at the numbers shows the school actually uses more energy than do its peers.

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