July 30 Colorado Energy Roundup: Clean Power Plan extension expected; a new Sagebrush Rebellion?

The Clean Power Plan’s timeline for compliance may see an extension, and the final rule itself may be revealed next Monday:

The final version of President Obama’s signature climate change policy is expected to extend an earlier timeline for states to significantly cut planet-warming pollution from power plants, according to people familiar with the plan.

If enacted, the climate change plan, the final version of which is expected to be unveiled as early as Monday, could stand as the most significant action ever taken by an American president to curb global warming. But some environmental groups have cautioned that a later deadline for states to comply could make it tougher for the United States to meet Mr. Obama’s climate change pledges on the world stage.

The plan consists of three major environmental regulations, which combined are intended to drastically cut emissions of greenhouse gases. The rules take aim at coal-fired power plants, the largest source of greenhouse emissions, and are intended to spur a transformation of the nation’s power sector from fossil fuels to renewable sources such as wind and solar. Under the rules, the Environmental Protection Agency would require states to draft plans to lower emissions from power plants. The agency is also expected to issue its own model of a state-level plan, to be imposed on states that refuse to draft their own plans.

The final rules would extend the timeline for states and electric utilities to comply, compared with a draft proposal put forth by the E.P.A. in June last year, according to people who are familiar with the plan but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

The Independence Institute’s backgrounder on the Clean Power Plan and its devastating effects on our energy choice and enormous costs to taxpayers and the economy in general can be found here.

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Much of the public land in the Rocky Mountain west is administered not by the states but by the federal government all the way from DC–and the debate over who should ultimately preside over these vast swathes of federal land has seen a resurgence:

Not since the Sagebrush Rebellion in 1979 has the debate over whether it’s time for federal lands to fall to states’ control gained such attention, and the anti-federal-government sentiment and talking points aren’t likely to dissipate as the West heads toward the next presidential election.

The fight stirred in 2012 when the Utah legislature passed the Transfer of Public Lands Act to demand authority over millions of acres of federal land by last New Year’s Eve. It didn’t happen.

Eight states cumulatively considered 30 bills around the issue this year. In March, Republicans in the U.S. Senate passed, without a single Democratic vote, a symbolic resolution in support of transferring or trading land to states. The resolution, though, doesn’t give Congress or any federal agency additional power to make deals.

And in the last Colorado legislative session there were three bills around the subject. Only one passed. House Bill 1225, a bipartisan bill supported by environmental groups, strengthens communities’ position in saying how local federal lands are managed.

Opponents of devolving control of public lands to the states cite the enormous costs of maintaining them, arguing states are not prepared to shoulder the added burden of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual upkeep.

For example, a single wildfire could cripple Colorado, said Governor John Hickenlooper’s advisor:

The federal government also picks up the costs for wildfires on federal lands. But just one massive wildfire in Colorado — a state that can have several in one year — could obliterate the state budget, said John Swartout, a Republican who is Hickenlooper’s top policy adviser on land, wildlife and conservation issues.

“The solution is constructive engagement,” Swartout said. “Are we always going to be happy with all the decisions? No. But we’re going to get a lot farther helping create the final solution.”

More than 1/3 of Colorado is subject to federal jurisdiction. Whether or not the debate develops into a political conflagration or peters out in favor of other issues remains to be seen, but expect energy producers and environmental activists to keep a close eye on how the narrative proceeds.

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WildEarth Guardians won’t hesitate to launch a legal battle, as a recent look at the group’s lawsuit filings shows:

Though a relatively small organization with only 26 people on staff, WildEarth Guardians’ litigious nature has established the environmental advocacy group as a dominant voice in the national debate about environmental policy.

From 2010 to present, Guardians have initiated a total of 152 cases in federal district courts and 55 in the Circuit Court of Appeals for a total of 207 cases. In 2010 alone they filed 61 claims — an average of about one per week.

However, Guardians’ pervasiveness in the courts has not gone without criticism.

In a 2012 analysis of WildEarth Guardians’ legal activity, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity claimed that Guardians has been “misusing the judicial system, exploiting poorly-written laws and taking advantage of taxpayers to pursue a narrow, litigation-driven, special interest agenda.”

For Coloradans, especially those in Craig and surrounding areas, lawsuits from the group have drawn the ire of residents and businesses for favoring costly litigation as a first-stop solution:

Lee Boughey, senior manager of corporate communications and public affairs for Tri-State, said in a statement that the courts should not be a first resort.

“Environmental policy, regulations and law should be set by state legislatures and Congress, and based on sound science, a thorough cost-benefit analysis and appropriate timeframes for implementation. These are difficult issues, and it is a far better for all stakeholders to commit to work together to develop sound regulatory policy that take these consideration into account, as opposed to running straight to the courts,” he said.

The group remains adamant, saying, the “legal system is oftentimes the last recourse of justice for interests and peoples that have been marginalized or whose issues haven’t been heard.”

In the case of Colowyo Mine, the marginalized appear to be the local residents, workers, and communities.

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A pair of energy-related ballot measures will appear in November in Boulder, including a Climate Action tax:

Boulder officials also want to ask voters to extend the portion of the utility occupation tax on energy bills that replaces Xcel Energy’s franchise fee and provides roughly $4.1 million to the city’s general fund each year. It is not the portion of the tax that funds analysis and legal efforts toward municipalization, which is not on the ballot. The municipal energy utility would also have to pay a similar amount into the general fund, but that utility may not be up and running by 2017, when the tax expires. The proposed ballot measure would extend the tax through 2022.

The Climate Action Plan tax, which funds energy-efficiency programs and solar rebates, will also appear on the ballot. That tax expires in March 2018, and city leaders believe the programs ultimately will be paid for out of utility rates. However, that won’t be possible until the utility is up and running. The proposed ballot measure would extend the tax through March 2023 so that those programs could continue regardless of progress on the municipal utility.

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July 2 Colorado Energy Roundup: New Belgium signs ‘Brewer’s Climate Declaration’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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June 25 Colorado Energy Roundup

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Thin-film solar–remember Abound Solar?has also taken a tumble in China.

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A quick reminder of why government choosing energy winners and losers is a bad idea–an expensive burden on taxpayers and ratepayers alike.

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Victory for Transparency: Feeding at DOE’s public trough a little less appetizing

March 22, 2013 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Abound Solar, Archive, New Energy Economy 

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.

Sandoval reported on the Foundry Blog:

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.”

Good.

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.

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