August 27 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Bennet says ozone rule “not going to work”; net metering gets a boost from PUC

August 27, 2015 by michael
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legislation, PUC, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

bennet

Sen. Michael Bennet, joined a bipartisan group of officials in Colorado questioning the proposed Environmental Protection Agency’s new ozone rule proposal at the recent Colorado Oil and Gas Association Energy Summit in Denver:

Senator Bennet and Gardner participated on a panel hosted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association on August 26. Below is the question posed to Senator Bennet, and his response:

Manu Raju, Politico: Senator Bennet, a big issue here in the room is the ozone standards. Environmental groups, EPA officials are concerned about excessive levels of ozone; that they could lead to premature death and respiratory problems. The business community warns that the standards EPA is proposing would be very bad here in Colorado; it would cost a lot of jobs. The current ground-level ozone standard set in 2008 is 75 parts per billion. EPA’s proposal is lowering it to 65 to 70 parts per billion, and it could go even lower. Question to you: Do you think the EPA proposal is fair? Should they go to 65 parts per billion?

Senator Bennet: I’m deeply concerned about it. I think we should understand how they arrived at that conclusion, because the way some statutes are written, they don’t sometimes have the flexibility we think they should have. And this is the perfect example of applying the law and doing it in a way that doesn’t make sense on the ground. Because of the pollution that’s come in from other Western states, from across the globe, from wildfires in the West, we have significant parts of our state that would be in non-attainment [unintelligible] from the very beginning of the law. That doesn’t make any sense. That’s not going to work.[emphasis added] Having said that, we need to care a lot about our kids and the elderly and the quality of the air that they breathe, and we need to care about children in our state that have asthma. So my hope is that we can work together to get to a rational outcome, but I’m not—The one that’s been proposed is not yet there.

Earlier this month, The Center for Regulatory Solutions issued a report that included opinions from Democrats, Republicans, and other elected officials from across the state opposing or pushing back against the EPA ozone rule. A sampling of those statement can be found in our August 13 edition.

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Net metering, a handout from folks who don’t own solar panels to those who do, in the form of retail price reimbursement for the electricity they generate–gets a boost from a unanimous Public Utilities Commission decision to keep the current rates in place:

Colorado’s Public Utility Commission ruled Wednesday afternoon that no changes were needed to the state’s net metering process, meaning that homeowners with solar arrays will continue to receive retail rates for energy they produce.

“The PUC voted (3-0) today to maintain the status quo for the net metering program and close the docket,” PUC spokesman Terry Bote confirmed via email.

Net metering provides a credit for every kilowatt-hour an array puts on the grid at the same price residential customers are charged for electricity – about 10.5 cents.

Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, has been pushing a plan to cut the incentives for each kilowatt-hour produced to a fraction of a penny, but solar users and industry groups have lobbied hard against changes that would remove a key financial incentive.

“This appears to be the outcome we have been working towards in more than a year of work on this docket,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. “We have worked in full collaboration with other members of the solar industry, and this represents a tremendous amount of hard work from many people. Xcel officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Key financial incentive” = subsidy.

From my op-ed late in 2014, as the PUC was steering through a slate of meetings to determine the “value of solar”:

At issue is the method of calculating the “value of rooftop solar,” as the Public Utilities Commission chairperson put it this year. Solar proponents believe the credits for excess electricity generated by solar panels and pushed back onto the grid should continue to get 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour — the average of annual residential retail rates.

Xcel is arguing for a reduction to 4.6 cents, saying the costs associated with maintaining the grid made the reimbursement unfair.

Xcel representatives called maintaining the 10.5-cent credit a “hidden cost” for its 1.2 million Colorado ratepayers. “Everybody needs to pay for the cost of the grid,” said spokesperson Hollie Velazquez Horvath.

Rooftop solar uses the grid in multiple ways. For customers pulling energy when the sun isn’t out (or near maximum generation) or pushing electricity onto the grid at the peak of summer, the grid balances supply and demand, regulating and stabilizing electrical output. It also acts as the exchange mechanism when a customer goes from generating and reselling excess electricity, to periods when the customer needs more electricity than the solar panel provides.

Customers who generate enough “revenue” from their net metering credits end up paying little or nothing for the grid costs. The costs get shifted to the utilities’ non-solar customers.

In other words, solar proponents advocate that non-solar ratepayers continue to subsidize grid maintenance for solar customers and then purchase electricity from those same solar customers at a price higher than they would pay for Xcel to generate the power.

The PUC has closed the docket on this proposal, but the legislature may look to take up the issue of net metering in future sessions.

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Speaking of Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), the Democrat up for reelection in 2016 has some words of advice for embattled Democratic Party presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton on #KeystoneXL:

DENVER — Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) on Wednesday dinged Hillary Clinton for punting on the issue of Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“I think she should take a position,” Bennet said of his party’s presidential frontrunner at a Colorado Oil and Gas Association conference here. “She should take a position for it — or she should take a position against it.”

Speaking at a forum moderated by POLITICO, Bennet said he supports building the pipeline. He is up for reelection next year in this perennial swing state and could face a tough battle if the GOP fields a formidable opponent.

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A Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry panel of five of the state’s Congressional delegation was split on whether federal or state and local authorities were the best in dealing with oil and gas regulations–an issue Colorado registered voters in a recent Independence Institute poll said should go the state’s way, 37 to 5 percent, over DC-based rulemaking:

On energy legislation, the three Democrats and two Republicans who represent portions of metro Denver took not two but three different stances on which government should be most responsible for oversight of the oil and gas industry:

Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver said that while she respects the laws the state has drafted, the federal government must play a role in regulating the effects of drilling on waterways that flow between states.

Coffman said that regulations should fall to the state government, where bodies like the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are much more in touch with the needs of local residents.

And Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder — who last year backed two state constitutional amendments to increase the role of cities and counties in regulation of drilling before pulling the measures— said it is actually local governments like those in Weld County that should decide where and how oil rigs should be allowed to operate in their communities. “I don’t trust the D.C. politicians. I don’t trust the Denver politicians,” said Polis, a fourth-term congressman. “This is a decision that should be made at the local level.”

Don’t be too impressed with Polis’s “local level” mantra as anti-fracking activists look to resurrect ballot issues designed to ban oil and gas development under the guise of “local community control.” Polis backed similar measures in 2014 before they were pulled in favor of Governor John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas commission.

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The Clean Power Plan may have been finalized on August 3, but serious questions about the EPA’s assumptions for the rule remain, as an analysis by Raymond L. Gifford, Gregory E. Sopkin, and Matthew S. Larson show (all emphases added):

• EPA scaled back on carbon dioxide reductions from coal plant improvements and energy
efficiency in its Final Rule under the Clean Power Plan, but nevertheless increased its
carbon reduction mandate from 30 percent to 32 percent by 2030. EPA did so through its
use of “potential renewables” as the variable driving eventual state carbon budgets. EPA now
forecasts that incremental renewable energy electric generation (Building Block 3) will more
than double, from 335,370 gigawatt hours in the Proposed Rule to 706,030 GWh in the Final
Rule.

• EPA uses a complicated and unprecedented methodology to achieve its new renewable
energy forecast for the years 2024 through 2030. Looking to historic renewable capacity
additions during 2010-2014, EPA selects the maximum change in capacity for each renewable
resource type that occurred in any year over the five-year period, and adds this maximum
capacity change year-over-year from 2024 through 2030. The maximum capacity addition
year selected by EPA for each resource is more than twice as much as the average over 2010
- 2014.

EPA’s methodology fails to account for the fact that expiration of the production tax
credit, or PTC, drove the development of renewable energy resources during 2012.

Renewable energy capacity additions fluctuated substantially between 2010 and 2014,
especially the largest component of Building Block 3, onshore wind power. EPA uses the
anomalous year, 2012, to predict future growth of wind power. In 2012, the wind production
tax credit was expected to expire at the end of the year, causing producers to rush to install as
much wind capacity as possible. Other renewable resource types also showed non-linear and
unpredictable trends during 2010 – 2014.

• EPA’s renewable energy expectations diverge by an order of magnitude from the EIA’s
base case renewable energy capacity and generation forecasts over the 2022 – 2030 period.
Notwithstanding these incongruences with EIA’s forecasts, EPA suggests that its forecasted
renewable energy additions would occur in the normal course even without the CPP.

EPA assumes that fossil fuel generation could be displaced based on the average capacity
factors of renewable energy resource types (e.g., 41.8 percent for onshore wind power).
However, utilities and restructured market system operators assign a much lower capacity value
for wind power, in the 10-15 percent range, because wind production is often not available during
peak load conditions.
To the extent that the EPA’s assumed renewable energy displacement of
fossil fuel resources does not occur because wind, solar, or other intermittent generation is not
available, system capacity will in real terms be lost absent planners assigning a much lower
capacity value to the given renewable resource (and in turn adding additional capacity, be it
fossil-based or renewable).

The authors conclude:

Setting aside enforceability, the President gave EPA a goal in his Climate Action Plan: achieve a 30% carbon emission reduction by 2030. EPA proceeded to solve for that goal with a capacious construction of the BSER [Best System of Emission Reduction] under the Clean Air Act. While gas “won” in the near-term under the Proposed Rule, in the end renewable energy resources assume a Brobdingnagian role in determining the level of carbon emission reductions that are purportedly possible under the BSER. EPA’s Final Rule constructs a method that solves for a conclusion, instead of having a method that yields a conclusion. Of even greater concern, EPA’s use of renewable average capacity factors instead of capacity credit exacerbates reliability risks to the electric system during peak load conditions. The end result may be unknown, but the method of getting there is highly questionable at best.

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LINKS

Despite tanking oil prices, a new outfit, Evolution Midstream, announced a planned $300 million launch, saying of the current situation that “this too shall pass.”

Paving the way for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the billionaire Tom Steyer funded and pushed a “state-level advocacy network” to prop up the controversial plan and give endangered politicians cover.

Colorado’s oil and gas production projected to fall, according to a University of Colorado study.

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Animas River updates

EPA officials knew of a “blowout” potential as much as a year before the Animas River spill, but even the release of this info took place late on a Friday, in what AP reporter Nick Riccardi called a “very late-night document dump on Gold King mine”:

U.S. officials knew of the potential for a catastrophic “blowout” of poisonous wastewater from an inactive gold mine, yet appeared to have only a cursory plan to deal with such an event when a government cleanup team triggered a 3-million-gallon spill, according to internal documents released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA released the documents late Friday following weeks of prodding from The Associated Press and other media organizations. While shedding some light on the circumstances surrounding the accident, the newly disclosed information also raises more questions about whether enough was done to prevent it.

The Aug. 5 spill came as workers excavated the entrance to the idled Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, unleashing a torrent of toxic water that fouled rivers in three states.

A June 2014 work order for a planned cleanup noted the mine had not been accessible since 1995, when the entrance partially collapsed.

“This condition has likely caused impounding of water behind the collapse,” the report said. “Conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine.”

An EPA internal review post-spill revealed that they never checked the water levels or the pressure contained within the mine despite their June 2014 work order:

Dangerously high water pressure levels behind the collapsed opening of the Gold King Mine were never checked by the Environmental Protection Agency, in part because of costs and time oversights.

The revelations came Wednesday as the EPA released an internal review of a massive Aug. 5 blowout at the mine above Silverton. The report called an underestimation of the pressure the most significant factor leading to the spill.

According to the report, had crews drilled into the mine’s collapsed opening, as they had done at a nearby site, they “may have been able to discover the pressurized conditions that turned out to cause the blowout.”

EPA officials claim they were caught unaware:

EPA supervisor Hays Griswold, who was at the scene of the blowout Aug. 5, told The Denver Post in an interview this month conditions in the mine were worse than anticipated.

“Nobody expected (the acid water backed up in the mine) to be that high,” he said.

The report says, however, that decreased wastewater flows from the mine, which had been leaching for years, could have offered a clue to the pressurization. Also, a June 2014 task order about work at the mine said “conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages.”

The inability to obtain an actual measurement of the mine water pressure behind the mine’s blocked opening “seems to be a primary issue,” according to the review. It went on to say if the pressure information was obtained, other steps could have been considered.

It did not elaborate on what those steps could have been.

“Despite the available information suggesting low water pressure behind the debris at the adit entrance, there was, in fact, sufficiently high pressure to cause the blowout,” the review says. “Because the pressure of the water in the adit was higher than anticipated, the precautions that were part of the work plan turned out to be insufficient.”

Stan Meiburg, EPA’s deputy administrator, said during the call that “provisions for a worst-case scenario were not included in the work plan.”

The 3 million gallon orange spill was, apparently, the worst-case scenario.

The internal investigation called the agency’s preparedness when it came to analysis of the water issue as “insufficient.”

It may take a while–many years–to know how the toxic minerals and metals released by the EPA will settle in the sediment of the Animas River and further downstream:

As communities along the Animas River continue to wonder about the long-term consequences of the Gold King Mine spill, one of the biggest questions remaining is the orange sediment lying along riverbeds and riverbanks.

What’s in it? How long will it be there? How might it affect our drinking water and our health? These are all concerns for community members, and many experts say we may not know until time goes by and a few spring runoffs continue to wash it downstream.

The EPA isn’t getting off the hook with the release of internal reports admitting lack of preparation or failure to measure water levels, or even late-night docu-dumps:

Republicans say the administration has been too wrapped up in guarding the world against climate change to address environmental dangers closer to home and should be held accountable, according to Texas Republican Lamar Smith, who is leading a probe into the spill in the House.

“Even in the face of self-imposed environmental disaster, this administration continues to prioritize its extreme agenda over the interests and well-being of Americans,” said Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

The committee has scheduled a Sept. 9 hearing on the spill and has requested the head of EPA and the contractor involved in the mine incident to testify. It appears from the internal reports that the contractor involved in the spill was the same one that drafted the blowout report.

The report that was released “in the dead of night” Friday raises new questions about the depth of EPA’s culpability, according to Smith. “The actions that caused this spill are either the result of EPA negligence or incompetence,” he said. “We must hear from all those involved to determine the cause of what happened and how to prevent future disasters like this.”

The agency’s lack of timely dissemination of documents and details has been a theme since the spill erupted earlier this month.

But partisan flaps at the federal level between Republicans in Congress and one of the administration’s favorite agencies is not the only scene of squabbles, as local officials allege Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman had a partisan agenda in mind when scheduling meetings in Durango in the aftermath of the spill.

And finally, Silverton decided to seek federal funds for clean up operations after years of reservations over possible “Superfund” designation:

After two decades resisting Environmental Protection Agency funds for cleanup of the festering mines that dot its surroundings, Silverton on Tuesday announced it is seeking federal help.

A joint resolution passed by the town’s board and the San Juan County Commission says officials will work with neighboring communities to petition Congress for federal disaster dollars they hope will address leaching sites quickly.

“Silverton and San Juan County understand that this problem is in our district, and we feel we bear a greater responsibility to our downstream neighbors to help find a solution,” the resolution said.

The decision is a paradigm shift for the small town of about 650 year-round residents in the wake of a 3 million-gallon wastewater spill Aug. 5 at the Gold King Mine in the mountains to the north.

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