It seems that no bad deed goes unrewarded by the University of Colorado-Denver. This week, the UCD School of Public Affairs announced that former EPA Region 8 Administrator James Martin will be one of the winners of its 14th Annual Wirth Chair Sustainability Awards. It’s a curious choice, in light of the fact that Mr. Martin resigned from his EPA position last February amidst scandal.
It’s a story we covered on this blog. Mr. Martin used to work in the administration of former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. He was the key player in the implementation of the New Energy Economy. From a Colorado Open Records Act Request, we learned that Mr. Martin conducted almost all his official state business from private email accounts. In 2010, Mr. Martin was tapped by the Obama administration to head EPA Region 8, which has jurisdiction over Colorado. Two years later, we performed a Freedom of Information Act request to discern the extent to which he still conducted public business on private accounts. After being stonewalled by EPA, we sued. In the course of that litigation, Mr. Martin misled the EPA, the Department of Justice, and a federal judge about his use of private emails. Specifically, he told the court that, “I have not used this or any other private email account to conduct EPA business.” It turns out this wasn’t even remotely true. Then he resigned.
Unfortunately for Mr. Martin, his resignation didn’t end his troubles. Both the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee and the House Oversight & Government Reform are engaged in an ongoing investigation into why Martin believed that it was ok to use private emails to conduct public business, and then hide these emails from Freedom of Information Act requests.
Here’s where it gets interesting, because now a chastised Mr. Martin seems intent on throwing his former EPA managers under the bus. Under recent questioning from the Congressional Committees, Mr. Martin passed the blame to his superiors, saying that he “wasn’t aware until very recently of the [EPA's] strong preference [to only use work e-mail].” Moreover, he said he did not know “until very recently” that e-mails in his non-official account could have been considered federal records and was never instructed that these e-mails should be forwarded to his work account in order to preserve them as records.
Mr. Martin’s account is not terribly believable. After all, he produced his non-official emails in response to a Colorado Open Records Act request; Why, then, would he think that these records are shielded from a Freedom of Information Act request. Also, he’s a lawyer. He should know better. It’s also a self-serving account. He’s basically saying that, ‘It’s not my fault, because I didn’t know (all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding).’
However implausible it is that Mr. Martin thought that using a private account shielded him from transparency laws, his testimony before the Congressional investigators could prove very damning to the EPA. I don’t doubt for a second that Mr. Martin knew what he was doing was wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that EPA higher-ups never instructed him that emails in his non-official account are subject to information requests. FOIA training is supposed to be mandatory. Its absence in the case of Mr. Martin is a further troubling sign of this EPA’s aversion to transparency.
In any case, I’m sure that Mr. Martin will be the first-ever recipient of an Annual Wirth Chair Sustainability Award who is also part of an ongoing Congressional investigation of EPA.
According to Xcel Energy’s regulatory filings, the utility spent $275 million in ratepayer subsidies for customer-sited solar panel systems from 2008-2012.*
That breaks down to:
Cost of these solar subsidies for each of Xcel Energy’s 1.4 million Colorado customers.
Percentage of Xcel Energy customers (approximately 9,200) that benefit from lower electricity rates by having subsidized solar panels installed on their property. Although only a fraction of 1 percent of Xcel Energy customers benefit from solar subsidies, 100% of customers pay for the cost of these subsidies.
Cost in Xcel Energy ratepayer subsidies for each of the 3,600 employees that work “throughout the value chain” of Colorado’s solar industry (job numbers are from the Solar Energy Industries Association).
Capital cost per kilowatt capacity of the solar panels subsidized by Xcel Energy ratepayers.** This compares to $2,040/kilowatt for the 750 megawatt Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant in Pueblo,*** and $1,400/kilowatt for a combined cycle natural gas plant.
*See page 1, final column of Xcel Energy, December 2012 RESA budget Report, filed 2 February 2013.
**Capacity of Xcel Energy’s distributed generation solar panel assets—44.9 megawatts—was taken from Section 2.11 of the Technical Appendix to Xcel Energy’s 2011 Electric Resource Plannb (page 341).
***The Comanche 3 cost data is derived from following assumptions: Capital cost–$1.3 billion; and capacity 637 megawatts (85% capacity factor of 750 megawatt nameplate capacity).
Filed under: Archive, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
The impact of SB 252, a bill to raise the renewable mandate on rural electric cooperatives, will be devastating to rural Colorado according to Dr. Roger Bezdek, Founder and President of Management Information Services, Inc. Bezdek released a report titled “The Economic and Jobs Impact of the Proposed Colorado RES” that predicts that, if passed, SB 252 will raise significantly the state’s unemployment rate and electric rates, which directly contradicts what bill sponsors Senate President John Morse and Senator Gail Schwartz have been arguing.
According to Bezdek’s report:
- At present, Colorado’s unemployment rate is below the U.S. average.
- With the RES, the state’s unemployment rate would increase to about 15% above the U.S. average.
- However, job losses resulting from the RES, would be largely concentrated in the predominately rural areas served by the electric coops – many of which are already suffering economically.
- The unemployment rate in these areas would increase substantially and would be more than 1/3 higher than the state average and more than 50% higher than the national unemployment rate.
- At present, Colorado’s average electric rate is below the U.S. average.
- With the RES, the state’s overall average would increase to above the U.S. average.
- However, with the RES, the average rate to the predominately rural customers served by the electric coops would increase significantly and would be about 14% higher than the national average.
Bezdek draws on 30 years of experience in “research and management in the energy, utility, environmental, and regulatory areas, serving in private industry, academia and the federal government” and provides a grim forecast for those co-op members living on a fixed income. They will see their residential rates go up $20 per month.
Sure seems like a war on rural Colorado.
By Brandon Ratterman
Colorado is having trouble defining hydroelectricity. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers it to be a renewable resource, and the Colorado Energy Office calculates hydroelectric power’s emission rate as equal to wind and solar. Despite these two distinctions, Colorado’s renewable energy standard defines hydroelectricity as renewable only if the generating facility is newly constructed with a capacity of ten megawatts or less, or constructed before January 2005 with a capacity of thirty megawatts or less.
Colorado has 1169 megawatts (MW) of existing hydroelectric capacity. Of that total, 82 percent is generated at facilities with a capacity over 30 MW—meaning it is not “renewable” unless the facility was built in the past eight years. Unfortunately, most facilities do not meet this requirement
According to the most recently released figures, renewables other than hydro produce 9.8 percent of the total net summer electricity capacity. If the total 1169 MW of existing hydro capacity were considered renewable, hydroelectricity would contribute another 8.5 percent of capacity. Instead, only 4.8 percent of hydroelectric power is considered renewable.
Under the current format Colorado will have to fill renewable portfolio standards largely without the help of hydroelectric generation. Unfortunately, this is increasing the costs of the renewable portfolio standard.
At 11.06 cents per kilowatt-hour, Colorado ranked 21st highest nationally in average residential electricity rates according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That may not sound too bad, except that the state is well above the average for all Mountain West states. In fact, Colorado has the second highest rates in the Mountain West, just behind Nevada, which actually saw a decrease last year in its residential electric rates.
Furthermore, Colorado has higher rates than any of its neighboring states. Outside of the East Coast, the only states with higher rates than Colorado are Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, California, Alaska and Hawaii.
As was proved in the 2012 snapshot of Colorado’s new energy economy, these high prices are due largely to lawmakers using the RPS to support the wind and solar industries. In 2012 alone Xcel Energy customers paid an extra $343 million for what ended up being mostly surplus electricity.
If high prices are the intent of Colorado’s energy policy, expect those figures to get much worse in the coming years as the state moves closer to the legislative mandate of 30 percent renewable portfolio standard, which is heavily tilted toward wind. However, if self-described environmentalists and the Colorado Energy Office truly care about the environment and economic sustainability then they should embrace hydroelectric power regardless of when it was built, but don’t hold your breath waiting.
Filed under: Archive, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
By Brandon Ratterman
Almost 60 percent of Oregon’s electricity is generated from hydroelectric power, which is considered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a renewable energy resource. However, the state is struggling to meet the mandated renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of 15 percent renewable generation by 2015, as hydroelectricity generated at facilities built before 1995 does not qualify as a renewable resource. Since most hydroelectric facilities were built before 1995, the state has been forced to use wind energy to fill this void. Unfortunately, wind energy in Oregon produces some counterproductive effects.
Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is one of the main providers of hydroelectric power in Oregon, but because their facilities do not contribute to the mandated renewable portfolio standards, they are forced to give wind producers access to their transmission lines. As a result, the amount of electricity that BPA can supply to the grid is reduced, and BPA is forced to spill excess water over their dams, resulting in increased turbulence and toxic levels of nitrogen.
Oregonians annually spend over half a billion dollars to protect the fish and wildlife, which are now threatened by these increased nitrogen levels. As a result, Oregon courts are requiring hydroelectric producers to remedy the situation, despite the fact that wind energy is the root cause of this issue. Organizations such as BPA are being forced to pay wind producers to power down during times of high runoff. On average, this is estimated to cost Oregon ratepayers $12 million annually, with potential costs ranging up to $50 million. In return, Oregonians will receive the same electricity, derived from the same energy source, as they did in the past.
The fact that Oregon’s hydroelectric power does not count toward its renewable portfolio standards, even though the EPA recognizes it as a renewable source, proves that the concept of “green energy” is geared toward increased spending that makes electricity more expensive. If lawmakers are committed to reducing emissions in an economically sustainable way, hydroelectricity needs to be recognized as a renewable resource.
Filed under: Archive, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
Could this happen in Colorado? Maybe…
A Wall Street Journal article reports what some in Colorado’s energy industry know, too much reliance on wind and solar can make an electric grid unstable and lead to power outages.
California regulators and energy companies met last week out of fear that the state’s electric grid is so unstable due to heavy dependence on wind and solar that rolling blackouts will begin as early as 2015. The WSJ reports:
Regulators and energy companies met Tuesday, hoping to hash out a solution to the peculiar stresses placed on the state’s network by sharp increases in wind and solar energy. Power production from renewable sources fluctuates wildly, depending on wind speeds and weather.
California has encouraged growth in solar and wind power to help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. At the same time, the state is running low on conventional plants, such as those fueled by natural gas, that can adjust their output to keep the electric system stable. The amount of electricity being put on the grid must precisely match the amount being consumed or voltages sag, which could result in rolling blackouts.
At Tuesday’s meeting, experts cautioned that the state could begin seeing problems with reliability as soon as 2015.
California, which has a 33 percent renewable mandate, has plenty of power but…
Even though California has a lot of plants, it doesn’t have the right mix: Many of the solar and wind sources added in recent years have actually made the system more fragile, because they provide power intermittently.
This story should serve as a warning to all, such as Rep. Max Tyler (D-Lakewood) and former Governor Bill Ritter, who think that government mandating electricity generated from wind and solar is as simple as passing legislation while ignoring science and technology.
In a March 2010 press release Tyler bragged about his bill increasing Colorado’s renewable mandate to 30 percent:
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?
What’s not to like? How about an unstable grid that leads to blackouts. Get your generators now.
David Schnare, the Director of Environmental Law Center at the American Tradition Institute and lead attorney in a lawsuit (ATI v. Epel) against Colorado’s 30 percent renewable energy mandate said in an interview on the Amy Oliver Show on Thursday that global warming will be put on trial when he argues that the mandate violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Fresh off his court appearance in Denver on Tuesday, Schnare, explained that Colorado’s renewable energy mandate violates the commerce clause in two ways.
The first is what Schnare calls a “facial” violation. Colorado’s mandate provides preferences for electricity from renewable sources that originate in Colorado. It’s commonly called the multiplier. Every megawatt of electricity from a renewable source inside Colorado is counted as 1.25 megawatts. The same electricity from producers in other states enjoys no such preference. Since Colorado is part of multi-state grid, the multiplier is a significant and unfair advantage in favor of Colorado-produced electricity.
Schnare explained with this analogy, “7.5 apples in Colorado are not equal to 10 apples in another state.”
Apparently Attorney General John Suthers, whose office is charged with defending the mandate, knows that as well. Schnare said it was the AG’s office that tried to get legislation to repeal the multiplier passed at the end of the 2012 session because if the state loses then it has to pay all the attorneys’ fees and costs associated with the lawsuit.
While the bill SB12-178 died last year, Schnare believes a similar bill will pass this year, which brings us to the second violation that Schnare calls a “balancing test” question. Is the harm to interstate commerce greater than the local benefit? Schnare argues that the mandate does not provide any benefit. In fact just the opposite is true.
Under the mandate:
- Electricity cost go up (we prove that here)
- The environment is not improved
- Water isn’t conserved
- The grid is more unstable
- Power generation is more insecure
Much of the renewable energy advocates’ argument in favor of the mandate is the necessity to minimize the negative impacts of man-made global warming. But Schnare suggests, that if global warming is real, then Colorado stands to benefit because it will get more rainfall. So attempts to mitigate global warming will actually cause more harm than good.
Schnare will be back in district court in Denver on May 1, 2013, at which time he expects a timeline for discovery and a trial date, which is good news since this lawsuit was filed originally in April 2011.
Players in the case:
- David Schnare, lead attorney for plaintiffs
- Attorney General John Suthers, lead attorney for defendants/state of Colorado
- Joshua Epel, Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission and defendant.
- Ron Lueck, plaintiff, ATI member, and resident of Morrison, Colorado.
- William Yeatman , Independence Institute energy policy analyst and expert witness for the plaintiffs.
- Sierra Club’s Earth Justice, World Wild Life Federation, and Environment Colorado providing much of the research for the state.
- Judge William Martinez assigned judge.
To read all documents related to the case, click here.
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.
I didn’t make up this. The Denver Post lede paragraph in a story about the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is almost laughable:
Hooking a toaster oven to a solar panel is not an easy thing, but the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s new $135 million integrated energy facility will able do just that. While it may seem like a lot of money for toast, the Energy Systems Integration Facility can do a lot more.
That doesn’t just seem like a lot of money, it IS a lot of money. On this blog we’ve detailed NREL’s excessive spending. And Colorado Watchdog.org exposed NREL’s million dollar employee Executive Director Dan Arvizu.
So is $135 million a lot for toast? For most taxpayers yes but likely not for NREL. It might be more humorous if it weren’t our money. Frankly, we haven’t seen NREL do anything that couldn’t wouldn’t be done better in the private sector — assuming it is done at all.
By Peter Blake
This column appeared originally on Complete Colorado Page 2.
When the runners are closing in on the finish line, move the tape farther back.
That’s the usual strategy employed by greens when it comes to establishing renewable energy standards for electricity production. It’s a marathon that never ends, and the added cost to consumers is secondary, if not irrelevant.
Colorado’s power producers are awaiting introduction of a bill that would raise the minimums yet again. But their lobbyists don’t know the details — and neither does the prospective sponsor, apparently.
There’s plenty of “radio chatter,” said Jeani Frickey, a lobbyist for Colorado’s rural electric associations, but “we don’t have anything specific yet.”
“I’ve not seen any bill drafts, or even outlines of ideas,” said Mike Beasley, an Xcel Energy lobbyist.
An aid to Rep. Su Ryden confirmed that the Aurora Democrat is going to be a sponsor of a bill, but even she hasn’t seen it. “A lot of different people” are still working on the bill.
The ever-rising renewable standards began back in 2004, when Colorado voters approved Amendment 37, an initiative that required regulated, investor-owned utilities to produce 10 percent of their electricity through renewable energy by 2015.
Three years later the legislature, assuming that one popular vote gave them carte blanche to do the work themselves from then on, raised the minimum to 20 percent by 2020. At the same time it established a 10 percent mandate on REAs, co-ops, which are not under the Public Utilities Commission.
In 2010 lawmakers raised the minimum to 30 percent for regulated utilities by 2020. The REAs were left at 10 percent. Now it’s three years later, again, and history tells us that lawmakers will be back with yet higher standards.
Some predict the figure will go to 40 percent for Xcel and Black Hills Energy, and 20 percent for the REAs. Others believe that only the REAs will be raised. But they’re only guesses, and the figures could be adjusted during the legislative process anyway.
By the way, you might think that hydroelectric power would count as a renewable, since no fuel is required and it produces, as Frickey noted, “zero greenhouse gas emissions.”
But Colorado enviros refuse to recognize water power as a renewable. Perhaps they’re afraid it would lead to the damming of various rivers. But if it did count, the REAs would already be over their required 10 percent just using existing dams. Tri-State Generation & Transmission, which supplies 18 of Colorado’s 22 REAs with electricity, gets 12 percent of its power from water, said Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey. It’s generated by the Western Area Power Administration, an agency of the Energy Department.
REAs would be a natural target for the Democratic-controlled legislature. They cover 73 percent of Colorado’s land but less than 25 percent of the state’s population, said REA lobbyist Geoff Hier. Democrats predominate along the Front Range, where Xcel provides most of the power, and Republicans in the hinterlands.
One group working on the bill is Conservation Colorado, a recently formed amalgam of the state’s Conservation Voters and its Environmental Coalition.
Last September, before the merger was formalized, the leaders of the two groups wrote a letter to legislative candidates urging their support for “Colorado’s Path to a Clean Energy Future.” [Read entire letter below]
They seemed to be targeting the REAs. Noting that Xcel has a 30 percent mandate, “most rural and municipal energy providers have only made a 10 percent commitment that is below the national average,” says the letter. It went on to blame coal plants and autos for air pollution and urged a four-point program:
- “Decreasing the emissions that cause climate change” by at least 2 percent a year;
- Ensuring that “over a third” of Colorado’s electricity comes from renewable technologies;
- Requiring all utilities to offer “energy efficiency” programs that will help customers save energy.
- Encouraging the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles.
- Senate Bill 126, now in the House, would help promote the last point.
It’s hard to predict how Xcel or the REAs will react when a bill is finally introduced. In 2004, Xcel fought the first mandate. But then the greens got smart and stopped treating it as an evil corporate enemy while Xcel came to realize its job was to make money, not provide cheap power. It’s entitled to 10 percent return on investment, no matter what the cost of fuel or capital equipment.
The PUC helped by no longer requiring utilities to apply the “least cost” principle when building facilities or buying fuel. What’s more, the PUC made retail fuel prices subservient to more nebulous environmental goals.
Xcel ended up backing the 2010 bill, just as the REA’s backed the move to 10 percent renewable for them.
If renewables were economically competitive in the marketplace, there would be no need for legislation. Utilities would turn to them automatically. But so far, they’re not. Wind survived only because Congress belatedly extended its special tax credits. Solar is even less competitive.
Xcel already is allowed to charge you an extra 2 percent per month to pay for its renewable facilities and fuel.
Three years ago, when Bill Ritter was still governor, a coalition of natural gas companies, Xcel and greens worked behind closed doors for months before dropping House Bill 1365 into the hopper on March 15. It required Xcel to close down three coal-fired plants or convert them to natural gas by 2017. It was then rushed through the legislative process in a couple of weeks as more than 30 lobbyists worked the halls.
A similar rush-rush process recently worked for the gun bills. Perhaps it will be tried again when the renewable energy bill is introduced.
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org