Filed under: New Energy Economy, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
By Amy Oliver Cooke
“Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun,” wrote environmental doomsday prophet Dr. Paul Ehrlich in 1975.
That’s a cruel statement directed at people who simply want electric lights so their children can read at night, a refrigerator to keep food from spoiling, or a heater to keep their homes warm during the winter.
Yet it seems to be the approach of Colorado’s environmental Left. Part of the problem is progressive leaders’ extremely narrow definition of “clean” energy that limits resource choices to more costly and unreliable wind and solar.
In 2004, Colorado voters approved Amendment 37, requiring Xcel Energy and other investor-owned utilities to use preferred sources such as wind and solar for 10 percent of the electricity sold to end users.
Since then the Colorado legislature has mandated increases in the renewable (or preferred) energy standard, from 10 to 20 to the current 30 percent by 2020. Only Maine (40 percent by 2017) and California (33 percent by 2020) have more aggressive mandates. They also have higher electric rates than Colorado.
Last year the state legislature passed SB 252, a 20 percent preferred energy standard on Colorado’s rural electric cooperatives. Now nearly the entire state must pay for a significant percentage of electricity produced predominantly from preferred “clean” sources wind and solar.
Since producing electricity from wind and solar is more expensive, Colorado’s electric rates have gone up along with the legislature’s mandates.
Not too long ago, our state enjoyed some of the cheapest electricity in the United States. In 2000, Colorado’s residential rates were 7.31 per kWh, equivalent to 9.89 cents in 2013 dollars. Instead, Coloradans now pay 11.91 cents per kWh for residential electricity, the highest rate in the Mountain West. California, Alaska, and Hawaii are the only Western states with higher residential rates.
Colorado’s electric rates are rising significantly faster than in most states. Last year rates across the U.S. increased on average 2.4 percent, compared to a 4.5 percent jump here.
These high rates couldn’t come at a worse time. Just this week the Denver Post reported that Colorado’s labor participation rate has fallen 6 percentage points since 2006, to its lowest level (67.3 percent) since 1976.
In addition, the number of Coloradans obtaining assistance from food stamps continues to mark all-time high numbers, Complete Colorado reports.
The second week of February saw a 42 percent increase in Coloradans asking government for help paying their heating bills, according to 9News.
The state legislature had an opportunity to modestly improve the situation. Rep. Lori Saine’s (R-Weld County) HB 1138 would have expanded the definition of “clean” energy to include hydroelectricity.
Under HB1138 many electric co-ops that serve Colorado’s rural communities could have met or at least come close to meeting SB 252’s increased mandate. Without the expanded definition, some co-ops will need to build additional capacity and expensive transmission lines, or purchase renewable energy credits from other providers. Some of Colorado’s poorest counties will bear the costs.
Despite HB1138’s bipartisan sponsorship, lobbying from the wind and solar industries and their advocates in the environmental non-profit world doomed the bill in committee.
Progressive state lawmakers’ definition of clean energy is also unique. Many states, including those in the eco-friendly Pacific Northwest, the Center for American Progress, the Environmental Protection Agency, and our own Colorado Energy Office all consider hydro to be a clean, renewable source.
Our state’s extremely narrow definition of clean energy begs the question of whether progressive lawmakers simply seek to protect the wind and solar industry at the expense of ratepayers.
A 2012 Independence Institute study showed Xcel Energy ratepayers spent $343 million to comply with the preferred energy mandate, much of which ended up as surplus because supply exceeded demand. That’s $245 per ratepayer, nearly two months of average Colorado electricity bills, for electricity they didn’t use.
Affordable power is not mutually exclusive of clean power. Colorado should expand the definition of clean resources to include clean coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, and nuclear. We also should encourage a least cost principle and let consumers decide.
Anything else is just cruel.
This opinion editorial appeared originally in the Greeley Tribune on February 20, 2014.
Filed under: New Energy Economy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
In 1999 Colorado enjoyed some of the lowest electricity rates in the United States and the Mountain West. In 2004, Colorado voters approved Amendment 37, requiring investor owned utilities to provide 10 percent of the electricity sold to end users to come from the preferred sources wind and solar.
Since 2004, the Colorado state legislature has mandated increases in the renewable portfolio standard, more appropriately titled the preferred energy standard, from 10 to 20 to the current 30 percent by 2020. Only Maine (40 percent by 2017) and California (33 percent by 2020) have more aggressive mandates, and they also have higher electric rates than Colorado.
Last year the state legislature passed a 20 percent preferred portfolio standard on Colorado’s rural electric cooperatives.
As the mandate to produce more electricity from wind and solar has increased so have Colorado’s electricity rates.
- In 1999 Colorado’s electric rates were 5.9 cents per Kilowatt hour (kWh) and were the 18th least expensive in the country.
- In the 1990s Colorado’s population increased by 30 percent, electricity demand grew 26 percent, yet real prices fell 25 percent in the same period.
- If electric rates simply kept pace with inflation, Coloradans would have paid 8.4 cents per kWh in 2013 instead of 9.83 cents per kWh.
- In 2000, Colorado’s residential rates were 7.31 per kWh; adjusting for inflation that’s the equivalent of 9.89 cents in 2013. Instead Coloradans now pay 11.91 cents per kWh for residential electricity.
- Colorado’s current electric rate for all sectors is 9.83 cents per kWh, nearly 7 percent higher than the Mountain West average of 9.21 cents per kWh.
- Colorado’s electric rates increased 4.5 percent last year while U.S. electric rates increased only 2.4 percent last year.
- At 11.91 cents per kWh, Colorado has the highest residential rates in the Mountain West.
- Colorado residential electric rates are the 20th highest in the nation, with California, Alaska, and Hawaii being the only western states with higher residential rates.
Most information available at the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Table of “Average Retail Price of Electricity to Ultimate Customer by End-Use Sector.”
Progressive left logic: Progressives want to destroy ALEC. Moderate Republican PUC nominee Glenn Vaad has been a member of ALEC. Therefore progressives want to destroy Glenn Vaad even though he has supported increasing Colorado’s renewable energy mandate and fuel switching.
The progressive left’s criticism of Governor John Hickenlooper’s appointment of former State Representative Glenn Vaad (R-Mead) to Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) appears to part of a coordinated national campaign against the American Legislative Exchange Council rather than Vaad’s record on energy policy, which is more in line with Democrats than free market conservatives. Vaad is awaiting State Senate confirmation, which is likely to happen sometime this week.
ALEC is a nonpartisan voluntary membership organization for conservative state lawmakers “who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” ALEC promotes such dangerous ideas like reducing excessive government spending, limiting the overall tax burden, choice in education, and market-based approach to renewable energy sources. As a state lawmaker, Glenn Vaad was a member.
The progressive left is obsessed with ALEC. In May 2013 several progressive organizations with ties to Colorado met to “coordinate their attack plan” as the Washington Free Beacon reported:
Leading progressive organizers met on May 10 to coordinate their attack plan against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), discussing ways to pressure corporations into abandoning the group for its small-government advocacy and turn against what they call the “vast, right-wing conspiracy.”
The participants, including representatives from such far-left groups as Common Cause, Color of Change, and ProgressNow, met for lunch in a conference room at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The Free Beacon quoted Aniello Alioto of ProgressNow Colorado, summing up the strategy on attacking ALEC, “Never relent, never let up pressure, and always increase.”
By law, the three-member PUC cannot have more than two members from any one party. With Republican member James Tarpey retiring and the other two members Pam Patton and Chairman Joshua Epel being Democrats, that means the Governor had to find a qualified applicant within the Republican Party. In theory, he could have looked for someone inside the Constitution, Libertarian, or Green Parties, but it’s likely that the qualified applicant pool was rather shallow.
So Governor Hickenlooper selected a very moderate Republican Rep. Vaad, who has the necessary qualifications as a former Weld County Commissioner and longtime employee of the Colorado Department of Transportation. Vaad’s 2011 Colorado Union of Taxpayers’ rating (a conservative legislative scorecard) was a modest 50 out of 100. Only nine House Republicans scored lower.
When it comes to energy policy, the environmental left should be pleased with Vaad’s nomination. As a state representative, Vaad co-sponsored HB07-1281, the bill to increase Colorado’s renewable mandate to 20 percent. He also sponsored then Governor Bill Ritter’s crowning jewel of his “new energy economy,” the controversial fuel-switching bill HB10-1365, which got nearly unanimous approval from the Democrat caucus but proved quite divisive for Republicans.
But Vaad’s actual legislative record doesn’t seem to matter. To the progressive left, his appointment is more about ALEC than Colorado’s PUC as the far-left Colorado Independent reports:
Groups opposed to Vaad’s appointment say he has not just been an ALEC member but an officer. They point to documents and reports posted by consumer-advocacy groups like Common Cause and progressive-politics organizations like the Center for Media and Democracy that show Vaad was Chair of the ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development task force while he was serving in the state legislature in 2011 and 2012 and that he had been accepting ALEC “scholarships” every year he was in the legislature dating back to 2006.
According to a press release from Gabe Elsner, executive director at the Energy and Policy Institute, quoted in the Independent:
There is a clear conflict of interest…In the past year, ALEC’s utility and fossil fuel members lobbied lawmakers in at least 15 states to introduce legislation repealing Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards. Now ALEC is launching a new wave of attacks on clean energy policies like solar net metering… There’s a real threat that Mr. Vaad will serve ALEC’s special interest members instead of Colorado families.
Well first, Rep. Vaad hasn’t been in the state legislature since the spring of 2012, and Mr. Elsner is talking about 2013. Also, there is no evidence that Vaad ever introduced legislation to repeal the renewable energy mandate. In fact, as stated earlier, he did just the opposite. (Although he did oppose HB10-1001, the 30 percent renewable mandate bill). Furthermore, he was on the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development task force not the Energy, Environment and Agriculture.
Progressive left logic: Progressives want to destroy ALEC. Moderate Republican PUC nominee Glenn Vaad has been a member of ALEC. Therefore progressives want to destroy Glenn Vaad even though he has supported increasing Colorado’s renewable energy mandate and fuel switching.
The bottom line is that the opposition to Glenn Vaad is about attacking ALEC rather than Vaad’s qualifications or his perspective on energy policy. So the progressive left is willing to sacrifice about the best appointee they can hope for in order to “never let up the pressure, and always increase.”
I did call Glenn Vaad for comment but as of posting he has not returned the call.
By Dr. Robert Applegate
The opening scene of the documentary Pandora’s Promise brings viewers face-to-face with nuclear power plant protestors screaming scary things like “the nuclear industry is a death industry.” Then it moves to a nuclear energy supporter walking around the destroyed nuclear power plant in Fukushima with the filmmaker Robert Stone asking are you still “pro-nuclear?”
At this point I was unsure where this film would take me. If this was a movie really about how nuclear power is clean and safe and our only option to combat climate change, or was this more of a movie trying to balance opinions rather than present fact. When the movie did jump into the facts of nuclear power, it did not disappoint. Explaining, for example, that one pound of nuclear fuel (about the size of your finger) holds the same amount of energy as 5000 barrels of oil.
The movie provides an overview of the origins of the hysteria over nuclear energy. It exposes the baby boomers who came of age during the height of the Cold War with elementary school duck-and-cover drills just in case the Soviets dropped the bomb. As a result, an entire generation, arguably the most influential generation, associated the word “nuclear” with bombs and destruction. Add this irrational fear to the lack of understanding of how and where electricity comes from, and the nuclear power industry was set up for failure by the 1980’s.
Pandora’s Promise does a decent job of talking about how the accessibility of energy is directly correlated to quality of life. People live longer and better lives when they can access power easily and inexpensively. Stone should have made this a bit stronger, especially since the movie is directed at environmentalists and why they need to reexamine nuclear power as an option to improving the quality of life in the developing world. The two billion people globally without electricity don’t just need a clean environment; they need access to clean, reliable, and affordable power.
My favorite part came when Stone tours the globe with a dosimeter (a radiation-meter), showing people what physicists know; radiation exists naturally everywhere and in everything, and our bodies deal with it every day with no increased cancer risk. What’s funny, and trust me the irony is not lost on physicists like me, Stone even shows a group of protesters having a “banana break” in which one is handing out bananas to eat while they are screaming about the horrors of radiation. Many people, except misguided protestors, know that a Geiger Counter (a machine that measures radiation) next to a banana is quite noisy because bananas have a lot of naturally occurring radiation.
Contrary to popular myth, deaths from nuclear power are incredibly low. No one in the U.S. has died from a nuclear power related accident, including any radiation leaks, and this is pointed out in the film. Roughly 50 people did die at Chernobyl as a result of the accident there, but that isn’t even close to the nonsensical “millions” number that one protester cites. The film crew braved Chernobyl revealing how the plant kept working nearly 10 years after the accident and how people went to work every day there with no increased cancer risk.
Stone also addresses the difficult topic of nuclear waste with a straightforward quote from an environmentalist who flat out says, “Nuclear waste is not an environmental issue” because there is simply very little of it.
The movie has an optimistic ending, talking about the future and how the newer reactor designs are incapable of melting down. Peaceful nuclear power is helping to reduce the number of nuclear warheads through recycling – 16,000 in the past 10 years recycled and now used to power cities. Bottom line: don’t fear nuclear power. We need it to combat carbon emissions and raise two billion people out of poverty.
I know this is tough for old-school environmentalists but Pandora’s Promise tried to be gentle with this message to the eco-left: your heart is in the right place, but your facts are wrong. Please reexamine your point of view, and you will change your mind. Do it for the sake of the kids you are trying to save.
To hear more about my take on Pandora’s Promise, listen to my review on the Amy Oliver Show on News Talk 1310 KFKA.
Now, go hug a nuclear power plant operator.
Dr. Robert Applegate has a PhD in Applied Physics from the Colorado School of Mines, has worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and is an advocate for science in public policy.
By Brandon Ratterman
Around the nation, self-described environmentalists have made hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and their perceived negative impact on the environment growing points of contention. In Colorado this debate led to several community-based moratoriums and talks of a statewide ban on fracking. But if a few organized, anti-fracking organizations realistically want to shut down an entire industry, they need to acknowledge the economic effects of those actions. Luckily, the University of Colorado (Boulder) recently published the economic and fiscal benefits of Colorado’s O&G industry, which is summarized in the paragraphs below.
In 2012, the O&G industry contributed a total of $29.6 billion to Colorado’s economy in direct and indirect activities. Of the total, $9.3 billion is directly related to oil and gas production, which requires the most efficient extraction technology (hydraulic fracturing) to be competitive.
The value added from the O&G industry supports 111,500 Colorado jobs. Of those jobs, the 29,000 employees that are directly involved in drilling, extraction and support jobs earned over twice as much as the average Colorado employee. In total, the O&G industry paid almost $6.5 billion in wages to Coloradoans in 2012.
The oil and gas industry also provided benefits to those outside of the industry through state and local funding. In 2012, Colorado state and local governments, school districts, and special interests received a total of $1.6 billion in revenues from the O&G industry. Of that $1.6 billion, O&G severance tax—which is a fee for extracting a non-renewable resource—contributed $163 million alone.
The economic and fiscal benefits from the oil and gas industry need to be remembered as statewide actions are considered. If the plan to ban fracking across Colorado is implemented, tens of thousands of Coloradans will be without a job. Likewise, the Colorado economy will be without tens of billions of dollars in revenue, of which over one billion will be cut in state and local government(s), schools and special interests. With effects of this magnitude, it would be advisable for Coloradans to disregard documentaries in this matter and independently research the environmental effects of “fracking.”
Brandon Ratterman is a research associate with the Energy Policy Center.
By Amy Oliver Cooke and Robert Applegate
As Ron Binz campaigns to be confirmed as the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, much of the emphasis has been on his position as an activist for what he considers to be low or no carbon energy sources, predominantly Big Wind. (Forget the fact that wind requires an enormous amount of carbon emissions in the manufacturing of gigantic wind turbine.)
But Binz’s no carbon advocacy is hypocritical.
While Binz now advocates for lowering carbon emissions, he was instrumental in shutting down Colorado’s lowest carbon emitting power source, the Fort St. Vrain nuclear plant, which eventually converted to natural gas – a technology he now calls “dead end” when it comes to carbon emissions.
As head of the Office of Consumer Council (OCC), Binz successfully argued before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that the power plant did not work correctly and that the shareholders of the company running the plant must pay for the capital costs rather than customers using the electricity. (This is when Binz cared about ratepayers)
More stringent regulations and the burden of the extra cost upon the shareholders ultimately forced the plant to close as a carbon free, nuclear power source. This “regulating to death,” as stated by previously employees of the plant ultimately came at the cost detriment of electricity customers who paid for the decommissioning and subsequent recommissioning as a carbon emitting natural gas plant.
His position on natural gas has flipped too. In 2010, as chair of the PUC Binz took a lead role in negotiating the terms of the controversial fuel switching bill HB 1365 titled “Clean Air; Clean Jobs Act.” At that time, Binz championed a mandated fuel switch from coal to natural gas. Apparently Binz thought natural gas was a clean fuel in 2010 but isn’t now. Too bad ratepayers didn’t know that in 2010. It would have saved them more than $1 billion dollars, but then Binz’s concerns for consumer costs have flipped too.
By Robert Applegate
Amid the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) latest report1 on the land requirements of solar power generation, others are taking a look at what is really required to power homes using solar and wind and comparing that to another carbon free source, nuclear power generation.
A nuclear power plant, the biggest reactors currently available would take up less than 2 square miles and produce 3200MW of power.2 To achieve this same power output from solar would require 292 square miles, 146 times the amount of land required for a nuclear plant.2 A wind farm would need to be 832 square miles, or 416 times the land to create the same amount of power of the nuclear plant.2 To put this into perspective, the land footprints are shown over the backdrop of the state of Rhode Island, where the blue is a nuclear plant, the yellow a solar farm, and the green a wind farm all of equal capacity.
Land footprints of a nuclear plant (blue), solar array (yellow), and a wind farm (green) all of equal capacity (3200MW), over the backdrop of the state of Rhode Island.2
1 NREL Report Firms Up Land-Use Requirements of Solar. Study shows solar for 1,000 homes would require 32 acres. July 30, 2013. http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2013/2269.html
2 What Does Renewable Energy Look Like? Clean Energy Insight, 10 Apr, 2010. http://www.cleanenergyinsight.org/energy-insights/what-does-renewable-energy-look-like/
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers hydropower to be a renewable energy source.
The Colorado Energy Office (CEO) calculates that carbon emissions from hydroelectric power are on par with wind and solar energy.
Last Thursday, Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a leftist non-profit organization, testified in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee that hydroelectric power is renewable.
For more information on Weiss, see below.
Responding to question from Congressman Cory Gardner who asked Mr. Weiss if he considered hydropower to be “renewable,” Weiss stated, “yes it is.”
Video of that testimony is here. Congressman Gardner’s question to Weiss begins at the 1:53:27 mark.
Gardner went on to explain that Colorado’s rural electric cooperatives get a significant percentage of their power from Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), a federal hydropower project, yet that is not considered “renewable” under SB 252, the state bill to increase the renewable mandate on Colorado’s co-ops 100 percent by 2020.
Supporters of SB 252 claim to be concerned about carbon emissions, yet none advocate for hydro. Both the EPA and CAP consider hydro a renewable source, but supporters exclude most hydro from the bill.
This begs the questions: if hydro is renewable and clean and co-ops already use hydro, then why would the Colorado state legislature force them to comply with a mandate that excludes their clean source and requires a massive $2 billion to $4 billion build out?
Perhaps a better title for SB252 would have the “preferred” energy standard for rural electric cooperatives.
More about Weiss from his curriculum vitae:
Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at American Progress, where he leads the Center’s clean energy and climate advocacy campaign. Before coming to American Progress, he spent 25 years working with environmental advocacy organizations and political campaigns. Weiss is an expert in energy and environmental policy; legislative strategy and tactics; and advocacy communications.
A newly released survey provides some powerful ammunition for North Carolina lawmakers who want to freeze the state’s renewable energy mandate at its current level rather than continue its increase to meet the 12.5 percent mandate by 2021.
The Raleigh, North Carolina, based Civitas Institute conducted the state-wide poll and found that while residents like renewable energy in theory they don’t like it in practice, in law, or in cost:
North Carolinians oppose the state law requiring utility companies to purchase a percentage of their energy from so-called renewable energy sources by more than 3-to-1…. Additionally, ratepayers strongly oppose the use of such energy sources as wind or solar if it means paying higher utility bills.
Break downs for responses to two specific questions listed below:
Do you support or oppose the increased usage of renewable sources to generate electricity?
70% Total Support
15% Total Oppose
42% Strongly Support
28% Somewhat Support
6% Somewhat Oppose
9% Strongly Oppose
15% Undecided/Don’t Know
Do you support or oppose the existing state law that requires you to purchase a certain amount of renewable energy each month, even if it costs you more?
21% Total Support
67% Total Oppose
10% Strongly Support
11% Somewhat Support
18% Somewhat Oppose
49% Strongly Oppose
12% Undecided/Don’t Know
Another interesting result is the response to who should pay for the additional cost for electricity produced from sources such as wind and solar. Fifty-eight percent said shareholders of investor owned utilities should shoulder the financial burden. My guess is if shareholders rather than ratepayers had to pay for the cost of wind and solar, the enthusiasm for “green” would diminish substantially.
Earlier in the year, “legislation to freeze the state’s renewable energy mandate stalled in a House Committee, but a similar bill is currently moving through the Senate. “ This poll reveals the bill would be extremely well received by ratepayers.
Conventional wisdom would believe that Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) such as Xcel Energy would have lower electric rates than Rural Electric Associations (REAs) and Municipally Owned Utilities (MOUs) because IOUs have the advantage of population density that allows for maximization of capital investment.
Average residential bill/cost of 700 KWh
Average small commercial bill/cost of 2,000 KWh + 10KW
Average large commercial bill/cost of 45,000 KWh + 130KW
Average industrial bill/cost of 1,900,000 KWh + 3,000KW
These figures beg a couple of questions to which I don’t have definitive answers but do have very strong suspicions:
- Would the IOUs’ bills have compared more favorably before the 30 percent renewable mandate and before the Public Utilities Commission moved away from a least cost principle?
- Is Colorado’s largest IOU Xcel Energy worried that REAs and MOUs provide electricity at lower costs? If not, it should be. As electric rates continue to rise, businesses looking to reduce their costs may move out of Xcel service areas and into an area served by an REA or MOU. It already produces surplus electricity as it is.