A pair of energy policy moves made by the Obama administration at the end of 2013 could have an impact far beyond the end of second term, drawing criticism from natural resource proponents and environmentalists alike.
Last week, the White House issued a memorandum targeting a requirement of 20 percent of all energy consumed by Federal agencies to come from renewables:
Section 1. Renewable Energy Target. (a) By fiscal year 2020, to the extent economically feasible and technically practicable, 20 percent of the total amount of electric energy consumed by each agency during any fiscal year shall be renewable energy.
(b) Agencies shall seek to achieve the renewable energy consumption target set forth in subsection (a) of this section by, where possible, taking the following actions, which are listed in order of priority:
(i) installing agency-funded renewable energy on-site at Federal facilities and retain renewable energy certificates;
(ii) contracting for energy that includes the installation of a renewable energy project on-site at a Federal facility or off-site from a Federal facility and the retention of renewable energy certificates for the term of the contract;
(iii) purchasing electricity and corresponding renewable energy certificates; and
(iv) purchasing renewable energy certificates.
The memorandum details a stepped approach, with year-over-year minimum targets to reach the 20 percent benchmark:
(i) not less than 10 percent in fiscal year 2015;
(ii) not less than 15 percent in fiscal years 2016 and 2017;
(iii) not less than 17.5 percent in fiscal years 2018 and 2019; and
(iv) not less than 20 percent in fiscal year 2020 and each fiscal year thereafter.
Naturally, the President’s move has drawn opposition. The mandate will put pressure on the markets for both traditional energy sources and renewables , and could put consumers on the hook for higher energy costs with the Federal government picking energy winners and losers, according to The Daily Caller.
But a move to extend the life of one renewable energy source–in this case, wind–by granting a six-fold extension to ‘takings’ permits issued to wind farms that allow the accidental killing of bald and golden eagles has united opponents normally at odds: Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and groups like the National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council.
A sampling, from Politico:
It’s baldly un-American, Vitter said Friday.
“Permits to kill eagles just seem unpatriotic, and 30 years is a long time for some of these projects to accrue a high death rate,” said the Louisiana senator, who is the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and one of Congress’s most outspoken critics of wind.
Sounding a similar theme, National Audubon Society CEO David Yarnold said it’s “outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the bald eagle.” He indicated his group may sue the administration.
The rule also drew criticism from Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who said it “sets up a false choice that we intend to fight to reverse.”
“This rule could lead to many unnecessary deaths of eagles. And that’s a wrong-headed approach,” she said. “We can, and must, protect wildlife as we promote clean, renewable energy. The Fish and Wildlife Service missed an opportunity to issue a rule that would do just that.”
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell defended the rule change.
“Renewable energy development is vitally important to our nation’s future, but it has to be done in the right way. The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations,” Jewell said.
The National Wildlife Federation and the American Bird Conservancy also criticized the move. Conservationists had also hoped to postpone the takings ruling earlier this year when they lobbied the White House, asking for more time to learn more about the way wind energy interacted with wildlife, and particularly, birds and bats.
“The question is what is the science telling us about how to prevent eagle takings, and we’re still waiting for the science to tell us how that works,” Defender of WIldlife’s Julie Falkner told The Hill in August.
At least 67 eagles of both types have been killed by wind turbines since 2008, according to government biologists. One wind site in California sees approximately 60 eagle deaths per year, the AP found, and a new site in Wyoming could register the same death toll each year once it is up and running. A proposed Maryland wind farm could see 20 fatalities a year, and developers have pulled back temporarily, citing the need to study the impact on eagles in the area before completing the project.
A 2012 peer-reviewed study estimated that Federal statistics provided in 2009 of 440,000 birds killed per year may have been off by as much as 30 percent, putting the figure closer to 575,000 birds and nearly 900,000 bats killed annually with current installed wind capacity.
Those deaths were kept quiet, and the push for the rule change came as much from corporate pressure as it did from an administration willing to accept energy tradeoffs, according to the Associated Press’s Dina Capiello:
An investigation by The Associated Press earlier this year documented the illegal killing of eagles around wind farms, the Obama administration’s reluctance to prosecute such cases and its willingness to help keep the scope of the eagle deaths secret. President Barack Obama has championed the pollution-free energy, nearly doubling America’s wind power in his first term as a way to tackle global warming.
But all energy has costs, and the administration has been forced to accept the not-so-green sides of green energy as a means to an end.
‘Devastating’: Despite Majority Support, ‘Fractivists’ Plan Statewide Fracking Ban; MoveOn Joins Effort
DENVER—Calls for a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing in Colorado have escalated following the passage of a handful of local moratoria, even as a majority of Colorado voters continue to support the drilling method.
A Quinnipiac poll from November 19 conducted just two weeks after voters in Boulder, Lafayette, and Fort Collins—and possibly Broomfield—voted for moratoria in their municipalities, 51 percent of Coloradans surveyed support the use of fracking as an extraction method, versus 34 percent who were opposed.
A combined 56 percent of all surveyed viewed fracking as “very” or “somewhat” safe, including Republicans and independents.
The impact of a total ban on fracking would be tremendous, as a report from the Business Research Division of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder concluded in July 2013.
More than 111,000 jobs were created, generating $3.8 billion in wages, or 2.8% of Colorado earnings. The average direct jobs—over 51,000 in all—received $101,171 in wages in 2012, more than double Colorado’s average wage ($50,339), the report said.
In addition to the impact on Colorado’s economy, the report’s authors also demonstrated the enormous contribution of the oil and gas industry to state and local government. Nearly $1.6 billion in severance, property, ad valorem, royalty, income, and sales taxes were paid to the state in 2012, including $600 million in property taxes alone.
According to CBS4Denver’s Shaun Boyd, approximately $500 million of those taxes go to Colorado schools. Those funds would be in jeopardy if voters or the state legislature enacted a statewide fracking ban.
Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, told the National Journal Daily the consequences of such a ban would be dire.
“A statewide ban would be devastating for the state’s economy. If we were to lose the oil and gas jobs that we have, it would be just catastrophic for our economy…. The idea of a statewide ban on fracking—that is such a draconian response, because there are a lot of areas, the vast majority of areas, where oil and gas development is taking place across the state that people are pretty happy with it,” King told NJD.
The goal of a statewide ban was thrust out of the shadows by Tuesday’s unveiling of a new ad from Americans Against Fracking, featuring what the Denver Post called “B and C-list celebrities” demanding Gov. John Hickenlooper act to ban fracking.
Among the groups backing the video are the Environment Media Association, Environment America, Food and Water Watch, Frack Free Colorado, Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, and New Yorkers Against Fracking.
The national effort follows on the heels of Frack Free Colorado’s site-scrubbing of ties to another national organization, Water Defense.
But plans for a fracking ban were hushed during and shortly after the conclusion of the campaign for the local moratoria, as indicated by statements made by Food and Water Watch’s Sam Schabacker following the November 5 election.
In an interview with KUNC, Schabacker said the election results left “all options” on the table in Colorado. But his celebratory press release on November 6 did not mention plans for a statewide ban, even as the national website of FWW calls for a ban in Colorado, and even a national ban.
The group’s calls for banning go beyond other calls by environmental groups for regulations on fracking, “to make it safer, more transparent and cleaner.”
Proposed emission regulations, such as the one made earlier this week, are not enough for Schabacker, in an interview New York Times columnist Joe Nocera.
Nocera asked Schabacker about the rules Hickenlooper announced on Monday. Schabacker rejected the decision made by groups like the Environmental Defense Fund to push for regulation rather than a complete ban. Schabacker told Nocera that EDF efforts were a “smoke screen” giving the oil and gas industry “a veneer of respectability.”
“We believe that fracking is inherently unsafe and should be banned,” Schabacker said.
But Schabacker admitted that the tactic of underplaying the desire for a statewide ban in favor of short-term efforts like the municipal moratoria gives groups like FWW the opportunity to push against fracking—and chew into the support indicated by the Quinnipiac poll.
As the National Journal reported, “Schabacker’s group is willing to accept temporary moratoriums so communities can spend time learning about the potential impacts—and so national organizers can drive more opposition to fossil-fuel development outright.”
Not just a ban on fracking, but the end of the entire oil and gas industry.
“Shane Davis, a self-described ‘fractivist’ whose full-time job is to mobilize people against fracking—and oil and gas drilling writ large—focuses mainly on the public-health and environmental concerns. Ultimately, though, he is fighting to end fossil-fuel production altogether,” according to the National Journal.
“Fractivism around hydraulic fracturing is so critical, and it’s moving at a really fast pace,” Davis told NJ. He pointed to climate change, declaring it a “climate crisis.”
National organizations such as MoveOn have recently announced support for “fractivists” with their #FrackingFighters campaign. Applicants are eligible for $500 in grants, materials, and training to oppose fracking. MoveOn’s efforts target individual activists and small groups with an annual budget of no more than $50,000. It was unclear how many grants would be issued.
“#FrackingFighters is a project of MoveOn.org Civic Action to support and develop the leadership and capacity of grassroots individuals and organizations to win victories that protect our communities, our water, our air, and our climate from the destruction caused by hydraulic fracturing—also known as fracking—and the entire fracking lifecycle,” MoveOn wrote.
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.
Filed under: Archive, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legal, Legislation
A contentious battle between anti-fracking activists such as Our Broomfield and supporters of the energy gathering method, including the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, will have to wait just a bit longer for the dust to settle in Tuesday’s election.
Broomfield’s Question 300, a 5 year prohibition on the use of hydraulic fracturing and associated activities, will go to an automatic recount some time next week depends on the outcome of settling the remaining outstanding ballots. The measure was defeated by a mere 13 votes in the initial count:
Yet there is a wild card in the recount process — there are still eight days for military and overseas ballots to be returned, and deficiencies in some Broomfield ballots, such as questions about signatures or first-time mail voters who did not include a copy of their ID — need to be addressed. Those ballots could change the final tally and impact a recount, said Andrew Cole, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.
If such a small margin remains, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office told the Broomfield Enterprise an automatic recount would be triggered, using the “one half of one percent difference” rule.
The proposed fracking bans elsewhere across the state–Fort Collins, Lafayette, and Boulder–amounted to public relations window-dressing for anti-fracking activists in areas where hydraulic fracturing typically has not occurred in the past, or where the possibility of new developments would soon take place.
“Boulder and Lafayette were nothing more than symbolic votes. Lafayette’s last new well permit was in the early 1990’s and Boulder’s last oil and gas well was plugged in 1999,” Colorado Oil and Gas Association president Tisha Schuller told The Colorado Observer.
As for Fort Collins, The Coloradoan blasted the measure there in a pre-election editorial for making the city a “pawn” in a “potentially costly environmental position statement” that “smacks of agenda-based partisanship” in a city that has few natural resources and is already ninety percent off limits to oil and gas development, even before the 5 year moratorium goes into effect.
Following the passage of the three measures, the Denver Post expressed disappointment in what it dubbed an “irresponsible agenda” in the form of the anti-fracking opponents’ real desire for a complete ban on hydraulic fracturing, disguised as local grassroots referenda.
“Symbolism needn’t be coherent,” the Post said.
Neither was the reaction to support of hydraulic fracturing when Zev Paiss, part of Frack Free Boulder, equated families who depend on natural resource development to terrorists:
“The scientists and their families who work on weapons of mass destruction depend on that regular paycheck too.”
In addition, that irresponsible symbolism will likely trigger big dollar lawsuits from the state:
Gov. John Hickenlooper told CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd he will sue any community that bans fracking. He says the state constitution splits surface and mineral rights and bans violate that. State law also gives the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission rule-making authority, not local governments.
That didn’t seem to faze anti-fracking activists like Josh Fox, who tweeted:
— Josh Fox (@gaslandmovie) November 6, 2013
That the symbolic fracking war pitted David–grassroots, underfunded fracking opponents–against the Goliath known as the oil and gas industry became part of the campaign narrative in all four measures, something the Wall Street Journal noted:
Colorado, with its long history of energy extraction, would be a bigger test of whether the oil and gas industry and its supporters can surmount growing opposition from some communities and national environmental groups.
As Colorado Peak Politics concluded, the successes emboldened not a rag-tag coalition, but a mightily funded effort to launch “frack wars across Colorado.”
Those big dollars, in a post collected by Peak, point to under-the-table, “dark” money being spent to support the bans. The decentralized attacks on fracking in Colorado can be traced, in part, to smoke-and-mirrors, DC-based outfits like Center for Western Priorities, according to the Washington Examiner.
With both sides claiming victory–and with Broomfield’s results hanging in the balance for a few more weeks and possible lawsuits looming on the horizon–2013’s fracking bans may only be a prelude to more municipal proposals, and possibly a statewide measure in 2014, according to the Denver Business Journal.
Filed under: Archive, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
DENVER–After a slight delay due to the government shutdown in early October, the Environmental Protection Agency began its 11-city “listening tour” seeking input on carbon pollution regulations last week, with an all-day session schedule for Denver on Wednesday.
“The agency is expected to solicit ideas on how best to regulate carbon emissions from the more than 1,000 power plants now in operation – the cornerstone and arguably the most controversial part of the Obama administration’s strategy to address climate change.
The EPA will use a rarely employed section of the federal Clean Air Act, known as section 111(d), and will rely heavily on input from states to craft a flexible rule that can be applied to states with different energy profiles,” Reuters reported.
Session attendees wishing to offer comments will be afforded three minutes to speak at the regional listening sessions, and will include speakers from think tanks, government agencies, state officials, and business groups supporting and opposing the EPA’s planned regulation.
A variety of carbon-cutting schemes–some already in place in a number of different states–will be defended against questions of affordability and reliability of electricity offered in its place, according to reports.
Critics have blasted the EPA for skipping states that power their electricity needs with coal, The Hill reported earlier this month.
House Republicans criticized the EPA decision to hold the meetings at the EPA regional offices, claiming that the EPA was “conspicuously” avoiding coal-heavy states.
“Despite being the most impacted, all of these states are missing from EPA’s tour schedule. That means Americans that may be the hardest hit by EPA’s regulations will need to travel hundreds of miles to ensure their concerns about electricity prices and the impacts on their jobs are heard,” the Republicans wrote.
The EPA will be holding sessions in Chicago, Dallas, and Philadelphia–each in a state in the top 10 of coal production in 2011, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Colorado houses the Region 8 EPA office and ranked 11th in the 2011 figures. Wyoming, which will not host an EPA listening tour stop, ranked first, with approximately 40 percent of the nation’s coal output that same year.
There will be no EPA listening sessions in West Virginia or Kentucky, the second and third-ranked states. Those three states combined to produce 62.2 percent of U.S. coal production in 2011.
Groups opposed to the EPA’s plans will be hosting a rally dubbed “Enough Already” on the west steps of the state Capitol at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Groups include the Independence Institute, Colorado Mining Association, and a variety of other organizations. A complete list of speakers is available via the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity.
Anyone interested in attending one of the remaining sessions can sign up here.
Filed under: Legal, Legislation, New Energy Economy
IB-F-2013 (Sept. 2013)
Author: Brandon Ratterman
Relative to other states in the Rocky Mountain region, Colorado is underutilizing its federal land for energy development, specifically for oil and gas development. On average, the states in the Mountain West region produce 40 percent of their oil, and 50 percent of their natural gas on federal land. Meanwhile, Colorado produces 10 percent of its oil, and 20 percent of its natural gas on federal land.
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.
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
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/
I was on the Joe America radio show this past Saturday. Check it out! We had an interesting discussion covering fracking, energy, and environmentalism. I had a great time!
The link to the June 1 recording is on the bottom of the radio show’s webpage:
Or you can find a direct link to the recording here: