Filed under: Abound Solar, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
More reaction from the ongoing Colowyo Mine saga in northwest Colorado, as Colorado Public Radio profiled residents from the community on what the possible mine closure would mean:
It’s been nearly two months since a judge required the federal government to take another look at a 2007 mining plan it approved for the Colowyo Mine outside Craig. Reaction in the small town of 9,000 was swift with much of the frustration directed at WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group that initiated the lawsuit.
Brent Malley moved from Phoenix, Arizona, to Craig 10 years ago to work at the mine, which supplies fuel to the nearby Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association power plant. Tri-State also owns Colowyo.
“It’s a much cleaner coal, low sulfur. I deal with that on a daily basis,” said Malley, who analyzes the coal at Colowyo. “There’s a bias against coal and I think it comes from pre-World War II where you saw really dirty conditions and miners getting hurt.”
Another resident, Rev. Jason Wunsch, called the actions against the Colowyo Mine–and the community–by WildEarth Guardians an “abuse.”
“The way it went about things through litigation and not through organic community dialogue I think was both an abuse to the public, but I think it will be a loss for authentic environmentalists,” Wunsch told CPR.
In a week filled with blockbuster Supreme Court decisions, the court’s ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury rule flew somewhat under the radar, but the agency’s illegal rule had already done the damage intended, and even offered the EPA an “out” in future rulemaking:
A measure of the Environmental Protection Agency’s radicalism is that on Monday even this Supreme Court shot down one of its regulatory abuses. The agency’s extraconstitutional law-writing was too much even for the Court willing last week to tolerate the rewriting of laws for ObamaCare subsidies and housing discrimination.
In Michigan v. EPA, several states and industry groups challenged a 2012 EPA rule related to mercury emissions, which was really a pretext to force most coal-fired power plants to shut down as part of the Administration’s climate agenda. Though the rule was then the most expensive the federal government had ever issued, the EPA said it had no obligation even to consider costs when deciding whether it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate.
“One would not say that it is even rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits,” Justice Antonin Scalia writes. “EPA’s interpretation precludes the agency from considering any type of cost—including, for instance, harms that regulation might do to human health or the environment.”
But imposing those economic costs and forcing the closure of coal-fired power plants in the process of the rule’s implementation had already occurred in between the 2012 promulgation of the rule and the Supreme Court’s finding this week. Too little, too late.
But while the initial reaction appeared to have a silver lining in forcing the EPA to consider costs, the agency got a reprieve from not only the minority who sided with the rule, but from the majority as well:
But here’s the, er, catch. Justice Scalia’s opinion says the agency can’t regulate without considering costs, but his decision also says the EPA can still decide what counts as a cost. Uh-oh.
And sure enough, Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent offers the EPA a soft-landing path for future law-writing. She does not say EPA can ignore costs altogether. But she and the three other liberals would have blessed the mercury rule because the EPA would allegedly scrutinize costs at some indeterminate point, eventually, down the line.
So while Michigan is a welcome rebuke to EPA arrogance, presumably the agency can still do most of what it wants as long as it claims to have considered costs. In any case, most of the utilities targeted by the EPA rule have already shut down those coal plants or spent billions to comply. They won the legal battle but lost the climate war.
In other words, the make-it-up-as-you-go agency’s agenda in bringing forth coal-killing regulations received the green light to conjure up any cost methodology it wanted to justify the rule, and to do so whenever it pleased.
That doesn’t bode well for future rule implementation of the EPA’s upcoming Clean Power Plan (carbon reduction) or ground-level ozone targets.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), in an op-ed at Forbes, illustrated the EPA’s attitude toward the Supreme Court’s ruling, and their attitude in general when it comes to their role in the rulemaking process:
To make matters worse, the EPA sees no problem in a regulatory process that forces electricity companies to comply with an illegal regulation. “EPA is disappointed that the Court did not uphold the rule, but this rule was issued more than three years ago, investments have been made and most plants are already well on their way to compliance,” an EPA spokesperson said in a statement.
As long as the rule did what was intended, even when dinged by the Supreme Court, the agency’s mission was accomplished.
New Belgium Brewing appears to be doubling down on its environmental commitment even as it is still contending with pushback on its support of WildEarth Guardians, the activist group responsible for threatening the Colowyo Mine (see above) through its litigation:
The beer industry is booming, but water resources are becoming scarce while warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are hurting hop production.
“They do say whiskey’s for drinking and waters for fighting out here. And there’s a reason they say that,” said New Belgium’s Bryan Simpson.
Now, brewers are finding ways to integrate green business practices and they want others to do the same. Three Colorado breweries are joining a national call-to-action, signing the “Brewer’s Climate Declaration.”
The declaration signed by New Belgium, along with a couple dozen other companies, sees climate change as a threat to its basic ingredients–water and hops:
Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops, a critical ingredient of beer that grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250 percent over the past decade. Clean water resources, another key ingredient, are also becoming scarcer in the West as a result of climate-related droughts and reduced snow pack.
That’s why leading breweries are finding innovative ways to integrate sustainability into their business practices and finding economic opportunity through investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste recapture, and sustainable sourcing. To highlight the steps they are taking and issue a call to action to others, brewers are signing the Climate Declaration.
A Colorado thin-film solar supplier company goes belly-up due to flagging sales:
Faced with slumping sales in its solar inverter business, and no suitors willing to step in to buy it, Advanced Energy Industries, Inc., announced Monday it was getting out of the business.
The move will cost the company millions of dollars and likely hundreds of jobs.
The impact on jobs at the Fort Collins-based business is unknown, but the company said in a statement it expects to spend $260 million to $290 million to wind down the company, including $15 million in employee termination costs and $30 million to $45 million in severance and other expenses related to the decision.
As of Dec. 31, AE, which develops power and control technologies for thin-film manufacturing and solar-power generation, employed 1,583 people globally. Founded in Fort Collins in 1980, AE manufactures inverters in Fort Collins, Canada and China.
Abound Solar, a thin-film solar panel manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy in 2012 despite a $400 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. Tracking the declining global share of thin-film solar and difficulties seen in other companies in places like China, it’s easy to see that the once highly touted technology hasn’t caught fire the way proponents once envisioned.
Despite top rankings as a manufacturer of wind technology and employment of wind-related workers, Colorado must increase its wind energy efforts, according to a new report from Environmental Entrepreneurs:
But the state needs to do more, according to the report.
The state needs to implement the federal Clean Power Plan, which would cut carbon emissions from “dirty” power plants in Colorado by 35 percent in part by increasing clean renewable energy.
Secondly, the state needs “new policy direction … to expand the state’s renewable energy portfolio.”
“Colorado’s leaders need to take action with policy opportunities that are good for its economy and good for its environment,” the 16-page report concludes.
Filed under: Abound Solar, CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legislation, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy
Last week at the Steamboat Institute, Independence Institute Energy Policy Center Director Amy Oliver Cooke moderated a panel entitled “The Coming Storm of Federal Energy Regulations and Their Impact on Colorado Business”–with attorney Ray Gifford discussing the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan,” Dan Byers of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offering an explanation of the newly proposed EPA ground-level ozone rule, and Lee Boughey of Tri-State Generation and Transmission revealing the impact of the WildEarth Guardians lawsuit and the Colowyo Mine:
Blowback over the controversial support of WildEarth Guardians and the lawsuit threatening the Colowyo Mine stirred up trouble not only for New Belgium Brewing Company but over 450 other businesses and organizations listed as WEG supporters who quickly pulled their names from a list of “supporters” on the activist group’s website:
Some businesses listed said they never gave anything to the group responsible for a lawsuit that put Colowyo Coal Mine at risk of closing.
The Craig Daily Press published its first story about local liquor stores and restaurants pulling New Belgium and Breckenridge Brewery beer on June 8, and shortly thereafter, WildEarth Guardians staff deleted its webpage called “Businesses for Guardians.”
The newspaper then published the cached webpage of supporters, and less than 24 hours later, the environmentalists republished the webpage.
On that page, a total of 605 businesses across Colorado and New Mexico were listed as supporters. As of June 18, that number shrunk to 151 businesses listed as supporters.
A complete list of all companies previously named as “Businesses for Guardians” has been archived here as well.
“You don’t mess with my community,” one resident told the Craig Daily Press.
There’s no doubt the Colowyo Mine issue is already impacting the economy of the northwest corner of Colorado:
After less than six months of being in business, the owner of Stacks Smokehouse closed the doors to his restaurant due to Craig’s economic uncertainty in light of what’s happening at Colowyo Coal Mine.
Steve Fulton said his business — which opened in the former Double Barrel Steakhouse building on Feb. 20 — dropped 40 percent days after the community met on June 3 for a public meeting with Colowyo representatives.
Two Colorado counties have seen tremendous growth in jobs, despite the recent oil and gas downturn:
Two Colorado counties were among the three large U.S. counties with the fastest job growth rate in 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
And Colorado overall ranked No. 3 for the rate of job growth among states.
In the counties ranking, Weld County topped the list for a second straight year. Weldco tied with Midland County, Texas, with a best-in-the-nation 8.0 percent increase in employment between December 2013 and December 2014, BLS said.
In 2013, Weld County posted 6 percent job growth.
And Adams County came in at No. 3 in the nation with a 6.4 percent growth rate.
In fact, Weld County saw a 19.6 percent gain in natural resources and mining employment over the 12-month period, adding a net 2,074 jobs, BLS estimates.
And Adams County is home to companies that service the energy industry.
Only North Dakota (4.5 percent) and Nevada (4.2 percent) outpaced Colorado’s job growth rate of 3.9 percent, according to the BLS.
Meanwhile in Indiana (from a press release):
Indianapolis – Governor Pence sent a letter today to President Obama informing him that unless the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan is demonstrably and significantly improved before being finalized Indiana will not comply. The Governor’s letter in full can be found attached.
“As I wrote to Administrator McCarthy on December 1, 2014, the proposed rules are ‘ill-conceived and poorly constructed’ and they exceed the EPA’s legal authority under the Clean Air Act,” wrote Pence. “If your administration proceeds to finalize the Clean Power Plan, and the final rule has not demonstrably and significantly improved from the proposed rule, Indiana will not comply. Our state will also reserve the right to use any legal means available to block the rule from being implemented.”
“Our nation needs an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy that relies on a variety of different energy sources,” said Pence. “Energy policy should promote the safe, environmentally responsible stewardship of our natural resources with the goal of reliable, affordable energy. Your approach to energy policy places environmental concerns above all others.”
In addition Pence noted, “Higher electricity prices brought by the EPA’s plan will inhibit our ability to advance our manufacturing base and the jobs it creates.”
The EPA’s Clean Power Plan calls for a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels in Indiana by the year 2030. The proposed rules do not dictate how states achieve reduction. Instead, the rule suggests four building blocks as guidelines for compliance. The rules will increase the cost of electricity and force the premature closure of coal-fired power plants, leading to concerns of electricity shortages. On December 1, 2014, Governor Pence and Indiana State agencies submitted letters to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy detailing the proposed rules’ impact on Indiana and urging their immediate withdrawal.
More than 26,000 Hoosiers are employed in the coal industry in Indiana. Governor Pence has pledged to fight the EPA’s regulations with all legal means at Indiana’s disposal. Governor Pence’s comments today come on the heels of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissing State of West Virginia et al v. Environmental Protection Agency, Case No. 14-1112. Indiana was one of fourteen petitioners in the case, which asked the Court to review the legality of the EPA’s proposed regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. The Court of Appeals’ decision was based on procedural, not substantive, issues and does not preclude future litigation challenging the regulation. Indiana intends to renew its challenge in the courts following the release of the final rule.
The EPA is expected to release the final rule in August.
A quick reminder of why government choosing energy winners and losers is a bad idea–an expensive burden on taxpayers and ratepayers alike.
For the last two and half years, the Independence Institute along with other free market energy policy advocates have pounded the drum of transparency and exposed the federal government’s infamous Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program that rewarded the politically well-connected while costing taxpayers billions of dollars with high profile bankruptcies such as Solyndra and Colorado’s own Abound Solar.
Without the work of the Independence Institute’s investigative reporter Todd Shepherd, the Energy Policy Center, and Michael Sandoval now with the Heritage Foundation, Abound Solar’s history is little more than a footnote in failure in the grand scheme of the DOE. We covered it. The mainstream media did not…until we shamed them into doing so.
Now the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report on its audit of the DOE loan guarantee program that finds negative publicity surrounding the embattled program has left billions of taxpayer dollars untouched in the public trough.
More than $51 billion in unused loan guarantee authority and $4.4 billion in unused credit subsidies…remain available under the DOE’s Loan Guarantee Program (1703) and Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program.
According to the report,
Some applicants noted that the Solyndra default and other problems have created a negative public image and political environment for the program, which has made its future less certain and the DOE more cautious about closing on loan guarantees.
Good news for taxpayers, the DOE has not closed a loan since September 2011, the month that Solyndra shuttered its doors. The GAO conducted the performance audit beginning in June 2012 (the date Abound Solar went bankrupt) to February 2013.
Most impressive is that taxpayers are making their voices heard and companies themselves are feeling the negative public pressure of socializing risk while privatizing profit:
“Most applicants and manufacturers noted that public problems with the Solyndra default and other DOE programs have also tarnished” other programs such as ATVM. They believed the negative publicity makes the DOE more risk-averse or makes companies wary of being associated with government support.”
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention by name the excellent work of Paul Chesser of the National Legal and Policy Center exposing the DOE’s corporate welfare program for Big Green projects such as electric vehicle manufacturers to the stars Fisker and Tesla and battery maker A123 Systems.
By William Yeatman and Amy Oliver Cooke
As Coloradans we thought we might have to apologize to the rest of the country if President Barack Obama nominated former one-term Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to head the Energy Department. If the President wanted to make electricity costs skyrocket and the eco-left community happy, Ritter was his guy, but the President didn’t pick him.
Despite his dense résumé and desire to cut emissions, however, Moniz can be a polarizing figure in scientific and environmental circles. Few experts deny the value of a scientist as DOE chief, but many fans of renewable energy worry about Moniz’s gusto for natural gas and nuclear power — not to mention his financial ties to the energy industry.
‘We’re concerned that, as energy secretary, Ernest Moniz may take a politically expedient view of harmful fracking and divert resources from solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources vital to avoiding climate disaster,’ Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a recent press release. ‘We’re also concerned that Moniz would be in a position to delay research into the dangers fracking poses to our air, water and climate.’
And the Washington Post reports:
But over the past couple of weeks, many environmentalists and some prominent renewable energy experts have tried to block the nomination of Moniz because of an MIT report supporting “fracking” — as hydraulic fracturing is commonly known — and because major oil and gas companies, including BP, Shell, ENI and Saudi Aramco, provided as much as $25 million each to the MIT Energy Initiative. Other research money came from a foundation bankrolled by shale gas giant Chesapeake Energy.
‘We would stress to Mr. Moniz that an ‘all of the above’ energy policy only means ‘more of the same,’ and we urge him to leave dangerous nuclear energy and toxic fracking behind while focusing on safe, clean energy sources like wind and solar,’ Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement Monday.
The Sierra Club doesn’t have much credibility because financially it was sleeping with the enemy, having taken $26 million from Chesapeake Energy to destroy the market for coal. One place they enjoyed great success was in Colorado with HB 1365, the fuel switching bill and cornerstone of Ritter’s “New Energy Economy.”
Governor Ritter coined the term New Energy Economy for his signature agenda. In practice, his New Energy Economy entails three policies: (1) a Soviet-style green energy production quota; (2) subsidies for green energy producers; and (3) a mandate for fuel switching from coal to natural gas. Renewable energy is more expensive than conventional energy, and natural gas is twice as expensive as coal in Colorado, so these policies inherently inflated the cost of electricity.
Last month, the Independence Institute published the first ever line item expensing of Ritter’s energy policies, and the results were shocking. In 2012, the New Energy Economy cost Xcel Energy (the state’s largest investor-owned utility) ratepayers $484 million, or 18 percent of retail electricity sales.
This princely sum purchased the equivalent of 402 megawatts of reliable capacity generation. By comparison, Xcel had a surplus generating capacity (beyond its reserve margin) in 2012 of 700 megawatts—almost 75 percent more than the New Energy Economy contribution. Thanks to Governor Ritter’s energy policies, Xcel ratepayers in Colorado last year paid almost half a billion dollars for energy they didn’t need.
In addition to implementing expensive energy policies, Governor Ritter also has experience picking losers in the energy industry. In May 2009, Governor Ritter hand-delivered to Secretary Chu a letter in support of a $300 million loan guarantee for Colorado-based Abound Solar, a thin-filmed solar panel manufacturer. In the letter Ritter claimed Abound would “triple production capacity within 12 months, develop a second manufacturing facility within 18 months and hire an additional 1,000 employees.”
Taxpayer money couldn’t keep Abound afloat, which never reached production capacity. After its solar panels suffered repeated failures, including catching fire, Abound declared bankruptcy in early 2012 leaving taxpayers on the hook for nearly $70 million and even more at the state and local level. A former employee explained, “our solar modules worked so long as you didn’t put them in the sun.”
Abound Solar wasn’t the only pound-foolish Stimulus spending associated with Governor Ritter. During his administration, the Colorado Energy Office’s coffers swelled with almost $33 million in stimulus subsidies for weatherization efforts. According to a recent report by the Colorado Office of State Audits, the Ritter administration failed to even maintain an annual budget for the program. As a result, the audit was unable to demonstrate whether the money had been spent in a cost effective manor. All told, the auditor found that the energy agency could not properly account for almost $127 million in spending during the Ritter administration.
Ritter told the Fort Collins Coloradoan that the scathing audit accusing the agency under his watch of shoddy management practices was not the reason the President passed over him for Energy Secretary.
The former Governor is especially proud of the job creation associated with the New Energy Economy. To be sure, throwing taxpayer money at any industry would create jobs. The problem occurs when the public money spigot runs dry. In this context, an October 22, 2012 top fold, front page headline in the Denver Post is illuminating: “New energy” loses power; A series of setbacks cost over 1,000 jobs and threatens the state’s status in the industry. To put it another way, in the two years since Ritter left office, his New Energy Economy has atrophied in lockstep with the reduction in public funding.
Ritter has taken to proselytizing for the gospel of expensive energy. He founded the Center for the New Energy Economy, the purpose of which is to, “provide policy makers, governors, planners and other decision makers with a road map that will accelerate the nationwide development of a New Energy Economy.” He even brought with him the former head of the beleaguered energy office Tom Plant to work for him as a “policy advisor.”
So far Ritter’s bad energy policy has remained largely within the Centennial State, and, for now, that’s where it will stay. With the choice of Moniz, the rest of the country can breathe a sigh of relief. For Coloradans, we’re still stuck with him.
William Yeatman is the Assistant Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a policy analyst for the Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado. Amy Oliver Cooke is the Director of the Energy Policy Center for the Independence Institute
By Syndi Nettles Anderson, guest writer for the Independence Institute Energy Policy Center
Earlier this week Todd Shepherd of Complete Colorado reported that before thin-filmed cadmium-telluride solar panel manufacturer Abound Solar declared bankruptcy it was the subject of a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) investigation after an anonymous tip raised concerns about cadmium contamination.
Shepherd provided documents showing that the now abandoned Weld County plant produced monthly 630 pounds of highly toxic cadmium waste that was shipped to Deer Trail in Arapahoe County for storage.
Because of the recent interest in cadmium, below is a primer on the rare earth element used in so many products besides solar panels.
Cadmium, one of the 17 rare earth elements (REE), is a soft silver-grey metal, commonly found in ores containing zinc. Products that use significant cadmium include rechargeable batteries, solar cells and protective steel coatings. Recently cadmium has been priced about a dollar per pound.
Cadmium is a byproduct when zinc is refined from zinc ore, or recycled from nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries. The largest producers of cadmium are China, South Korea, Japan and North America. The concentration of cadmium in the earth’s crust is between 0.1 and 0.5 parts per million (ppm). This is about one hundred times more common than gold.
Cadmium is very useful in rechargeable batteries and solar cells. In the U.S., about 27 percent of cadmium-nickel batteries are recycled, which requires batteries to be taken apart.
However, cadmium is also very poisonous. Exposure is most dangerous when breathing in dust or vapors containing cadmium. Other methods of exposure are also dangerous, as cadmium can be absorbed through the skin or by ingestion.
People can absorb cadmium through inhalation, absorption or by eating it. The cadmium is transported through the body by blood cells and plasma. Cadmium goes into the kidneys, resulting in kidney failure. Before toxic levels are reached, kidney function will start to deteriorate. Generally a third to half of the cadmium that is in a body will be found in the kidneys. Cadmium will also move to the liver and muscles. In the liver, the half-life of the cadmium is 5-15 years, in the muscles-30 years and in the kidneys 10-30 years.
During ore smelting processes, cadmium is released into the air. It may also be released into the atmosphere by burning cadmium-containing garbage. Cadmium exposure can cause throat and lung irritation. Lower levels of exposure also cause shortness of breath, and with prolonged exposure resulting in bronchiolitis and emphysema with lung damage, bloody coughing, and accumulation of fluids in the body. One highly concentrated exposure can cause lifetime damage to lungs. 
Metal fume fever can be caused by inhaling cadmium during the welding and metal heating processes of older silver solder. Metal fume fever can cause flu like symptoms with fainting, sore throats, coughs, and headaches. Working with cadmium requires extremely well ventilated areas, respirators, and extreme care. Regular blood and urine checks are required to monitor the amount of cadmium that can get into the body. 
Phosphate fertilizers, sewage sludge and contaminated water can deposit cadmium into food sources. Growing rice and wheat can absorb Cadmium. Large ocean fish can also take up a lot of cadmium. Smokers also intake cadmium into their bodies and have about double the cadmium levels that non-smokers have. Cadmium is associated with breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and kidney dysfunction. 
As a result of the increased awareness of the danger of cadmium to humans, the EPA released a new report December 3, 2012, expanding the regulations and proposing new regulations regarding cadmium.
This final rule requires manufacturers (including importers) of cadmium or cadmium compounds, including as part of an article, that have been, or are reasonably likely to be, incorporated into consumer products to report certain unpublished health and safety studies to EPA. 
Occupational Safety Health Association (OSHA) also highly regulates workers contact with cadmium stating,
Cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic and exposure to this metal is known to cause cancer and targets the body’s cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems.
Requirements to protect workers from cadmium exposure are addressed in specific OSHA cadmium standards covering general industry (1910.1027), shipyards (1915.1027), construction (1926.1127) and agriculture (1928.1027).
In conclusion, Cadmium is critical to the solar cell and rechargeable battery industry but extreme care must be taken to prevent cadmium from getting into the air, water or plant life. Cancer, lung damage and kidney failure are real risks for cadmium exposure.
 Wilburn, D.R., 2007, Flow of cadmium from rechargeable batteries in the United States, 1996-2007: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2007–5198, 26 p., available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2007/5198/.
 Common environmental contaminant, cadmium, linked to rapid breast cancer cell growth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/04/120423184203.htm
American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) (2012, March 15). Dietary cadmium may be linked with breast cancer risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/03/120315094506.htm
Cell Press (2012, September 12). Studies shed light on how to reduce the amount of toxins in plant-derived foods. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/09/120912125517.htm
The Independence Institute’s Todd Shepherd, along with this blog, have spent two years covering, and ultimately exposing, what is now the Abound Solar scandal. Understandably, much of the focus is now on Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck’s criminal investigation as well as a Congressional Oversight Committee inquiry into the bankrupt solar panel manufacturer.
Recently released emails on Complete Colorado indicate that, despite statements to the contrary, the White House politicized the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee process for politically well-connected Abound.
But something else within those emails caught my attention reminding me of free market economist and Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman’s famous quote, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” In other words, even things that appear to be free have an associated cost.
This basic economic concept is lost on Colorado State Representative Max Tyler’s (D-Lakewood) who in a March 23, 2010, press release bragged about a government-dictated increase in Colorado’s renewable energy mandate:
With HB 1001 we will manufacture and install panels and turbines all over Colorado to capture free energy….The sun will always shine for free, the winds will always blow for free, and our energy production will be cleaner. Renewable energy, green jobs, and a cleaner future — what’s not to like?
At roughly the same time that Tyler publicly fantasized about “free energy,” a credit advisor for the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program James McCrea was concerned about “major issues” with Abound Solar’s marketability. In an email dated April 1, 2010, just seven days after Tyler’s press release, McCrea explained:
Another issue is the very limited supply of telluride, its potential price trajectory and other demands for it. Related to this is a question of the viability of the Abound panels as compared to other panels and whether there is sufficient benefit to allow the panels to be profitable if Te [telluride] prices really increase. If the price really rises will there be alternative uses that can afford it basically turning it into a non available input for Abound?
I don’t believe we have ever worked with an input material that is so limited. We need to think that through carefully.
Before going bankrupt this summer, Abound produced cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-filmed photovoltaic solar panels. Cadmium and tellurium, used in the manufacturing of Abound’s panels, are two of the world’s 17 “rare earth elements” that are needed for everything from smart phones to solar panels to high tech weapons systems. My former colleague Michael Sandoval, now an investigative reporter with the Heritage Foundation, and I have written several columns on general issues with rare earth elements.
This email highlights the problem specific to Abound, and McCrea was right to be concerned. According to the December 2011 DOE Critical Materials Strategy the price of tellurium has been going up since 2007:
The price dropped in 2006, but in 2007 resumed its upward trend owing to increased production of cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cells.
Furthermore, China controls the vast majority of rare earth elements. In August 2012, the Chinese announced an ambitious plan to increase its stranglehold on the world’s available supply of rare earths. According to China Daily the country:
launched a physical trading platform for rare earth metals as part of its efforts to regulate the sector and strengthen its pricing power for the resources.
As the world’s largest producer of rare earth metals, China now supplies more than 90 percent of the global demand for rare earth metals, although its reserves account for just 23 percent of the world’s total.
The article reiterated what Michael and I have said on numerous occasions, mining rare earths comes with a significant environmental cost that green zealots like Tyler completely ignore when claiming solar energy is free and clean:
Mining the metals greatly damages the environment. In recent years, China has come down heavily on illegal mining and smuggling, cut export quotas and imposed production caps, stricter emissions standards and higher resource taxes to control environmental damage and stave off resource depletion.
However, these measures have irked rare earth importers, who complained about rising prices and strained supplies.
But China did exactly what it said it would do in 2009. It drove up prices with reduced output as global demand increased.
China’s rare earth output fell 36 percent year on year to 40,000 tonnes in the first half of the year. Prices of major rare earth products in July remained twice as high as prices at the beginning of 2011, although down from the beginning of the year.
In July 2009, about a year before President Barack Obama announced a $400 million loan guarantee for Abound, Jack Lifton, an expert on sources and uses of rare minerals, wrote a lengthy article for Resource Investor about the availability of tellurium for First Solar, a global leader in cadmium telluride solar panel manufacturering. Lifton’s conclusion should have served as a prophetic warning for Abound and any hope of profitability:
A company such as First Solar, which is critically dependent on a secure supply of tellurium to exist and on an unsustainable growth in the supply to it of tellurium for it to grow and achieve competitive pricing is a big risk for short-term investors. The maximum supply and production levels attainable of tellurium are quantifiable even if the actual production figures are murky, and they do not bode well for the future of First Solar if it must make profits to survive.
The next time you hear a politician like Max Tyler tout the benefits of “free” and “clean” energy, remember Abound Solar because there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Instead of figuring out what happened to your tax dollars with the bankrupt Colorado-based Abound Solar (leaving that to Congress and the Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck), the Department of Energy continues to be the PR firm for the Big Green agenda by promoting energy themed pumpkin carving patterns. Give them credit for including nuclear, but noticeably absent are any patterns for coal, natural gas, and oil, which are the sources for most of the power that Americans demand.
For those kiddos who want to carve pumpkins this Halloween, you can really spook trick-or-treaters with a solar panel or CFL themed jack-o-lantern. The smart kids will carve carbon-based energy sources because they know that affordable, reliable, and abundant energy is what powers our economy.
GIGAOM reports that, as of last week, General Electric is putting on hold its plan to be a major solar panel manufacturer in Colorado. According to the self-described emerging technology blog GIGAOM:
General Electric was set to become a major solar manufacturer when it announced a 400 MW factory in Colorado last year. Over a year later, though, it’s putting that plan on hold for 18 months or more while it works on coming up with a more competitive technology, Danielle Merfeld, general manger of solar technology at GE, told us on Tuesday.
It was only last month when a company spokeswoman told me by email that GE was still building its factory and hoping to start production in 2013. But the company reconsidered that plan in recent weeks after seeing solar prices tumbled significantly for over a year, and it stopped the factory building activities last week, Merfeld said.
When GE announced it was getting into the solar panel manufacturing business, several states chased after GE’s $300 million project and the promise of 355 green jobs with an average salary of $50,000. Colorado, specifically Aurora, landed the project after granting $28 million in state and local tax incentives. A glowing Denver Post house editorial from October 2011, called it a “coup,” explaining that “a growing green-energy sector in Colorado is a plus as the nation continues to confront issues of climate change and energy independence.”
Sounding like a broken record (for those who still remember vinyl), but we saw this coming in November 2011 when we predicted dark days ahead for solar manufacturers following layoffs from a Detroit based manufacturer .
A local news outlet, WOOD-TV, had the money quote: ”supply for solar products worldwide is more than double the demand, so there is no need to make more.”
This is bad news for Colorado because taxpayers just threw a bunch of incentives at General Electric to locate a solar panel manufacturing plant in the state. Colorado already has several solar panel manufacturers including Abound Solar, Ascent Solar, and PrimeStar.
While losing a competitor might be good for the remaining manufacturers, an over-saturated market means more dark days on the horizon for solar panel manufacturers and thus for taxpayers.
Since November 2011, Abound has declared bankruptcy, GE has pulled the plug on the PrimeStar project, and Ascent has moved away from panels and into new consumer solar products such as cell phone chargers.
Former Governor Bill Ritter’s green dream for Colorado is turning into a nightmare for taxpayers. The question remains how long can Ritter sustain his own $300,000 job as the green ambassador for Colorado’s New Energy Economy, which appears to be the only real job “created.”
A mere seven months ago, the Denver Business Journal quoted Abound Solar President and CEO Craig Witsoe bragging that his thin-filmed cadmium telluride solar panel manufacturing company was the “anti-Solyndra,” referring to the scandalous and abrupt bankruptcy of the California-based thin-filmed manufacturer that saw the FBI raid its luxurious taxpayer-supported headquarters.
Cathy Proctor of the DBJ further reported that Abound was “doing well and growing,” according to Witsoe. Proctor also quoted solar industry experts who said Abound had “a good chance of competing in the market” assuming it could lower the cost of its panels.
And Eric Wesoff of GreenTech Media reiterated the Abound as the anti-Solyndra theme, “They’re not Solyndra. Solyndra spent money like a drunken sailor, and it doesn’t seem like Abound is doing that.”
With today’s bankruptcy announcement, Abound turns out to be nothing more than another failed solar manufacturer that got drunk on the promise of sunshine and easy (taxpayer) money.
Pat Stryker’s Abound Solar “will close its doors and file for bankruptcy” next week according to the Department of Energy (DOE) blog. Because the bankruptcy means roughly $70 million in lost taxpayer money, we take no joy in saying that “we told you so.” Back on January 11, 2012, we wrote:
Unfortunately for taxpayers who provided a $400 million loan guarantee for Abound, 2012 may be the year that the sun sets on Pat Stryker’s pet project.
Apparently taxpayers have been venture capitalists invested in Abound Solar since 2007, well before the controversial $400 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan:
In 2007, the Department awarded the company a grant to support a pilot project to demonstrate the viability of its manufacturing process. In December 2010, the Department issued a loan guarantee to support the construction of two commercial scale plants: one in Longmont, Colorado and a second new facility in Tipton, Indiana.
Perhaps Abound should have heeded Ronald Reagan’s warning when he said the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” John Keyes, founder of the first commercial solar energy corporation, knows this first hand. He explained in an interview that the worst thing to happen to the industry he loves was government involvement which began in the Carter Administration.
Rob Douglas wrote on WatchDog.org that the bureaucratic red tape involved with DOE loans ends up hamstringing businesses like Abound:
For example, the $400 million loan-guarantee agreement between Colorado-based Abound Solar and the DOE reveals that Abound Solar — and, it is safe to assume, all loan-guarantee recipients — had to comply with a staggering range of federal laws and regulations, including, but not limited to:
- The Recovery Act;
- The Davis-Bacon Act; Office of Management and Budget regulations;
- Environmental laws (including those involving “air emissions, discharges to surface water or ground water, noise emissions, solid or liquid waste disposal, the use, generation, storage, transportation or disposal of toxic or Hazardous Substances or wastes, or other environmental health or safety matters”);
- The Investment Company Act;
- The Employee Retirement Income Security Act;
- Buy American regulations;
- Lobbying laws;
- Foreign asset control laws;
- Prohibited person laws;
- Prohibited jurisdiction laws;
- Corrupt practices laws;
- The Anti-Terrorism Order.
Scratch the surface of any one of the above categories and you find requirements like this one, in the OMB compliance section:
“OMB shall have certified in writing (in form and substance satisfactory to DOE) that the DOE Credit Facility Documents and the Project comply with the provisions of the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009, P.L. No. 111-8, Division C, Title III, as amended by Section 408 of the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009, P.L. No. 111-32.”
Keep in mind that’s just one provision in more than 100 pages of detailed requirements that span the breadth and depth of federal laws and regulations. And in case the loan guarantee agreement by the DOE is not suffocating enough, the following legal, financial and regulatory blanket — as revealed in the Abound Solar documents — is placed atop the specific, enumerated rules and regulations loan-guarantee recipients are required to obey:
“All provisions of this term sheet are subject to the following (the “Program Requirements”): (i) the provisions of Title XVII, all applicable provisions of the Recovery Act, and the Applicable Provisions, (ii) all DOE or Federal Financing Bank (“FFB”) legal and financial requirements, policies, and procedures applicable to the Title XVII program from time to time, and (iii) the Office of Management and Budget’s Initial Implementing Guidance for the Recovery Act, M-09-10 (February 18,2009), Updated Implementing Guidance for the Recovery Act, M-09-15 (April 3, 2009), Updated Implementing Guidance for the Recovery Act, M-09-21 (June 22, 2009) and, in each case, any amendment, supplement or successor thereto (collectively referred to herein, the “OMB Implementing Guidance”).”
The Abound Solar loan-guarantee documents suggest that a newborn company, which lays down with the DOE, runs the risk of being smothered by the federal leviathan before ever bringing a product to market.
Not surprisingly, the DOE doesn’t take any responsibility for smothering the newborn. Instead, it blames China and then claims the answer is MORE taxpayer money. That might explain its cavalier attitude about losing taxpayer money:
While disappointing, this outcome reflects the basic fact that investing in innovative companies – as Congress intended the Department to do when it established the program – carries some risk.
Of course, there really isn’t much “risk” when using someone else’s money.
Complete Colorado’s Todd Shepherd reported, that Abound’s DOE loan guarantee had the appearance of more than just an investment in an upstart solar company. It looked a little more like political payback in a classic pay-to-play scheme. The billionaire heiress Pat Stryker could have financed the entire project herself, but instead used her political connections to put taxpayers on the hook.
For its part, in an online press release, Abound says it’s “appreciative of the significant investment from private investors and the U.S. Department of Energy.” Abound should be “appreciative” toward taxpayers who footed much of the bill for Styker’s and President Obama’s green fantasy.