November 12 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Colorado hit hard by CPP; Bennet defends pro-Keystone stance; CSU report rejects “sky-is-falling” contamination claims
Filed under: Archive, CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legislation, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, New Energy Economy, regulations
Colorado would be the 18th hardest hit state, and fourth most expensive for the cost of carbon reduction under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, according to a new report from Fitch Ratings:
Wide-ranging voices—in politics; in business; consumer advocates like our coalition—have been warning of the potentially crippling costs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s soon-to-be-implemented Clean Power Plan. Its ripple effects will be felt nationwide, and Colorado is by all indications squarely in harm’s way.
As we have contended for some time now, the proposed federal mandate for air standards will impact every type of consumer—residential, small business, agricultural and industrial—in every community in Colorado. That includes consumers served by public utilities, municipal providers and rural cooperatives. And the changes to Colorado’s statewide power generation contemplated by the EPA’s mandates may ultimately cost many billions of dollars.
Rather than heed or, at least, consider some of these urgent concerns, however, defenders of the oncoming Juggernaut have sought in many cases to dismiss the criticism as coming from interests that are supposedly too close to the debate. Stakeholders involved in energy development of fossil fuels, for example, or power generation, are accused of having a vested interest and thus, presumably, are less than objective. Fairly or not, policy debates often turn on such considerations.
Well, now, another authoritative voice has entered the fray, and this time it is one without a discernible horse in the race. It is the voice of a truly neutral arbiter—one of the financial world’s “big three” credit-rating agencies—and it is sounding the alarm on the Clean Power Plan.
Fitch Ratings’ new report, “The Carbon Effect 2.0,” released just weeks ago, raises troubling concerns about the impact of the Clean Power Plan on the financial stability of the nation’s electric utilities. More troubling still, in the report’s state-by-state assessment, Colorado is among those facing the most formidable challenges, and potentially steepest costs, in complying with the Draconian EPA rules.
Governor John Hickenlooper continues to maintain his position that Attorney General Cynthia Coffman should defer to the governor on the matter of the AG’s lawsuit over the Clean Power Plan:
On his petition to the state Supreme Court to review Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s authority to sue over the federal Clean Power Plan:
“I think the way the system’s meant, was designed, is that the governor and the attorney general should be consulting together on legal issues facing the state. But ultimately, the attorney general needs a client, and I think the governor was intended to be that voice, to speak for the agencies, the departments, to speak for the people. And I think if the attorney general and the governor don’t agree, my reading and [that of] the lawyers in our office is that this was intended ultimately to be the governor’s decision.”
Hickenlooper filed the petition to the Colorado Supreme Court last week.
The eco-inquisition is here, and the practice of selling environmental indulgences won’t be far behind:
Executives at publicly traded companies like Exxon Mobil may soon be talking more about climate change. Financial regulators are taking a closer look at how these companies disclose the impacts of climate change.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Monday that Peabody Energy didn’t tell its investors all the financial risks from climate change and potential regulation. Peabody Energy, which owns a mine in Colorado, admits no wrongdoing, but it says it will now make disclosures that accurately and objectively represent climate impacts.
Methane regulations touted as saving money for companies, say regulators and companies hired to find methane leaks:
“What that means to the industry is substantial lost revenues,” he said.
He estimated that loss at about $1.2 billion a year even at today’s low natural gas prices.
Methane also is a potent greenhouse gas, and typically leaks in combination with volatile organic compounds and other pollutants. With that in mind, Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission last year passed what’s known as Regulation 7, imposing the nation’s first rules specifically targeting methane emissions by the industry. Now the Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management are considering rules targeting methane at the national level.
“Colorado … is the leader in the country on this issue by passing and enacting Regulation 7. We’re paying real close attention to how that’s going because there are several rulemakings on the federal level,” Von Bargen said.
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet defended his pro-Keystone XL stance even as his party’s leader, President Barack Obama, went the other way on the project last week:
Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet stood behind his vote earlier this year in favor of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline after the Obama administration rejected it on Friday after seven years of study and contentious debate.
“For years, the Keystone XL pipeline has been overhyped on both sides of the debate,” Bennet said in a statement to The Colorado Statesman. “The number of jobs it would create and the amount of carbon emissions it would facilitate have both been exaggerated.”
The proposed 1,200-mile pipeline would have transported 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska and ultimately on to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Bennet voted for a Senate bill approving the project in January.
“Based on scientific analyses that showed building Keystone XL would have little or no bearing on whether our nation will materially address climate change, I voted to move forward with the pipeline,” Bennet added. “The president vetoed the bill that Congress passed and has now administratively rejected the project. This is an issue on which the president and I disagree.”
A new CSU report concludes that, contrary to the popular line put forward by anti-fracking activists and other environmentalists, water-based contaminants from the fossil fuel industry aren’t seeping into wells in northern Colorado:
A new Colorado State University report says there is no evidence water-based contaminants are seeping into drinking-water wells over a vast oil and gas field in northeast Colorado.
A series of studies, led by CSU civil and environmental engineer professor Ken Carlson, analyzed the impact of oil and gas drilling on groundwater in the 6,700-square-mile Denver-Julesburg Basin, which extends between Greeley and Colorado Springs and between Limon and the foothills.
The studies were done under the auspices of the Colorado Water Watch, a state-funded effort started last year for real-time groundwater monitoring in the DJ Basin. The basin shares space with more than 30,000 active or abandoned oil and natural gas wells, say CSU researchers.
They primarily looked at the 24,000 producing and 7,500 abandoned wells in the Wattenberg Field, which sits mainly in Weld County.
“We feel that our results add to our database of knowledge,” Carlson said. “There isn’t a chronic, the-sky-is-falling type of problem with water contamination.”
Methane contamination was found in a small percentage of older wells, but according to the story, “it’s not toxic and isn’t a huge factor in terms of drinking-water safety.”
Many of the most well-known National Parks in the western United States would violate the new 70 ppb ozone regulation finalized last month, with the most egregious violator located along the Colorado-Utah border:
But national parks are among the worst offenders, with one maintaining levels of more than 100 ppb.
The 26 offenders are mainly in the West, with only a handful in the East, where coal-fired power plants dot the landscape.
The biggest violator is Dinosaur National Monument, home to 1,500 dinosaur fossils and a popular white-water rafting destination on the Colorado-Utah border. Its ozone level is 114 ppb. The runner-up at 90 ppb is the 631-square-mile Sequoia National Park in Northern California, a pristine forest boasting 3,200-year-old trees that are among the tallest in the world.
The Grand Canyon? It barely squeaks by at 69 ppb.
In all, 11 states have national parks that are in non-compliance with the new ozone standard: Arizona, 3; California, 9; Colorado, 2; Connecticut, 3; Illinois, 1; Maine, 1; Massachusetts, 1; Nevada, 1; New Jersey, 2; Pennsylvania, 1; and Utah, 2. Ozone levels are calculated over a three-year period.
The Grand Canyon narrowly missed violating the rule when the EPA went with the 70 ppb level instead of the lower end of the 65-70 range suggested in earlier drafts of the rule.
Pat Stryker’s Abound Solar “will close its doors and file for bankruptcy” next week according to the Department of Energy (DOE) blog. Because the bankruptcy means roughly $70 million in lost taxpayer money, we take no joy in saying that “we told you so.” Back on January 11, 2012, we wrote:
Unfortunately for taxpayers who provided a $400 million loan guarantee for Abound, 2012 may be the year that the sun sets on Pat Stryker’s pet project.
Apparently taxpayers have been venture capitalists invested in Abound Solar since 2007, well before the controversial $400 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan:
In 2007, the Department awarded the company a grant to support a pilot project to demonstrate the viability of its manufacturing process. In December 2010, the Department issued a loan guarantee to support the construction of two commercial scale plants: one in Longmont, Colorado and a second new facility in Tipton, Indiana.
Perhaps Abound should have heeded Ronald Reagan’s warning when he said the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” John Keyes, founder of the first commercial solar energy corporation, knows this first hand. He explained in an interview that the worst thing to happen to the industry he loves was government involvement which began in the Carter Administration.
Rob Douglas wrote on WatchDog.org that the bureaucratic red tape involved with DOE loans ends up hamstringing businesses like Abound:
For example, the $400 million loan-guarantee agreement between Colorado-based Abound Solar and the DOE reveals that Abound Solar — and, it is safe to assume, all loan-guarantee recipients — had to comply with a staggering range of federal laws and regulations, including, but not limited to:
- The Recovery Act;
- The Davis-Bacon Act; Office of Management and Budget regulations;
- Environmental laws (including those involving “air emissions, discharges to surface water or ground water, noise emissions, solid or liquid waste disposal, the use, generation, storage, transportation or disposal of toxic or Hazardous Substances or wastes, or other environmental health or safety matters”);
- The Investment Company Act;
- The Employee Retirement Income Security Act;
- Buy American regulations;
- Lobbying laws;
- Foreign asset control laws;
- Prohibited person laws;
- Prohibited jurisdiction laws;
- Corrupt practices laws;
- The Anti-Terrorism Order.
Scratch the surface of any one of the above categories and you find requirements like this one, in the OMB compliance section:
“OMB shall have certified in writing (in form and substance satisfactory to DOE) that the DOE Credit Facility Documents and the Project comply with the provisions of the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009, P.L. No. 111-8, Division C, Title III, as amended by Section 408 of the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009, P.L. No. 111-32.”
Keep in mind that’s just one provision in more than 100 pages of detailed requirements that span the breadth and depth of federal laws and regulations. And in case the loan guarantee agreement by the DOE is not suffocating enough, the following legal, financial and regulatory blanket — as revealed in the Abound Solar documents — is placed atop the specific, enumerated rules and regulations loan-guarantee recipients are required to obey:
“All provisions of this term sheet are subject to the following (the “Program Requirements”): (i) the provisions of Title XVII, all applicable provisions of the Recovery Act, and the Applicable Provisions, (ii) all DOE or Federal Financing Bank (“FFB”) legal and financial requirements, policies, and procedures applicable to the Title XVII program from time to time, and (iii) the Office of Management and Budget’s Initial Implementing Guidance for the Recovery Act, M-09-10 (February 18,2009), Updated Implementing Guidance for the Recovery Act, M-09-15 (April 3, 2009), Updated Implementing Guidance for the Recovery Act, M-09-21 (June 22, 2009) and, in each case, any amendment, supplement or successor thereto (collectively referred to herein, the “OMB Implementing Guidance”).”
The Abound Solar loan-guarantee documents suggest that a newborn company, which lays down with the DOE, runs the risk of being smothered by the federal leviathan before ever bringing a product to market.
Not surprisingly, the DOE doesn’t take any responsibility for smothering the newborn. Instead, it blames China and then claims the answer is MORE taxpayer money. That might explain its cavalier attitude about losing taxpayer money:
While disappointing, this outcome reflects the basic fact that investing in innovative companies – as Congress intended the Department to do when it established the program – carries some risk.
Of course, there really isn’t much “risk” when using someone else’s money.
Complete Colorado’s Todd Shepherd reported, that Abound’s DOE loan guarantee had the appearance of more than just an investment in an upstart solar company. It looked a little more like political payback in a classic pay-to-play scheme. The billionaire heiress Pat Stryker could have financed the entire project herself, but instead used her political connections to put taxpayers on the hook.
For its part, in an online press release, Abound says it’s “appreciative of the significant investment from private investors and the U.S. Department of Energy.” Abound should be “appreciative” toward taxpayers who footed much of the bill for Styker’s and President Obama’s green fantasy.
In the wake of controversial comments advocating the end of fossil fuels as sources for US energy in order to combat global warming, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Director Dan Arvizu has been elected Chairman of the National Science Board (NSB) according to an NREL press release.
Just days ago during the World Renewable Energy Forum, Arvizu stated, “’fossil fuels should be phased out by 2040 to blunt man-made climate change,’”… and that natural gas is little more than “’a nice bridge technology, but not the answer we are looking for in terms of a transition and transformation,’” away from fossil fuels and toward alternatives such as wind, solar, and biofuels, of which NREL is a champion.
According to the NSB’s Web site,
The National Science Board has two important roles. First, it establishes the policies of NSF [National Science Foundation] within the framework of applicable national policies set forth by the President and the Congress. In this capacity, the Board identifies issues that are critical to NSF’s future, approves NSF’s strategic budget directions and the annual budget submission to the Office of Management and Budget, and approves new major programs and awards. The second role of the Board is to serve as an independent body of advisors to both the President and the Congress on policy matters related to science and engineering and education in science and engineering. In addition to major reports, the NSB also publishes occasional policy papers or statements on issues of importance to U.S. science and engineering.
The NREL press release describes the NSB:
The 25-member body advises the president and Congress on science and engineering issues, and is the policy-setting and budget-approving body for the National Science Foundation. With an annual budget of $6.9 billion, the foundation funds about 20 percent of all federally supported basic scientific research at U.S. colleges and universities. Arvizu will serve a two-year term as chairman.
With an anti-fossil fuel, global warming alarmist like Arvizu at the helm of the NSB, the politicalization of science will continue when it comes to energy policy.
Are taxpayers still paying for Abound Solar employees despite the company’s cost saving measure of laying off 70 percent of its work force? Could be, and the figure could be more than $2 million.
Late last month Colorado-based Abound Solar announced layoffs of 180 full-time and another 100 part-time employees so the thin-filmed photovoltaic manufacturer could “re-tool” to produce its “next generation” of solar panels.
The company, which has drawn down $70 million of a $400 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan, claims it will rehire the laid off employees in the next six to nine months. Wink, wink. Imagine if Apple announced it was laying off 70 percent of its work force to prepare for the manufacturing of its updated iPad. No one would believe it. No one should believe Abound either. If there existed a market for their solar panels, employees would be working.
The problem for taxpayers is Abound employees aren’t working. Taxpayers paid $70 million to create the 280 jobs ($250,000 per job) and now they could be on the hook for unemployment benefits while those employees are out of work.
Doing the Math
According to Career Bliss, an online career search Web site, the average Abound Solar annual salary is $57,000 or $14,250 per quarter. Using the quarterly figure on the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s (CDLE) unemployment benefits estimator, a laid off full-time employee could receive $500 per week in taxpayer-funded unemployment benefits. Assuming Abound’s six-month estimate until the company is ready to resume production is correct, an employee could receive a total of $10,500. With 180 full time employees now out of a job, 180 x $10,500 equates to $1,890,000 in taxpayer-funded unemployment benefits for laid off full-time Abound employees.
That figure is just for the full-time employees. Another 100 part-time employees were laid off as well. An email was sent to CDLE about whether or not part-time employees are eligible for unemployment benefits. No response has been received as of this posting.
The hemorrhaging of taxpayer dollars continues courtesy of Abound Solar.
Obama is China’s best friend
By Amy Oliver Cooke and Michael Sandoval
When it comes China, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Speech last month was nothing more than a rhetorical exercise from the political pied piper, who, along with his supporters, believes his own words magically alter reality. He is oblivious to his own hypocrisy and frighteningly disconnected from the consequences of his policies. The Chinese probably love him for it.
Obama spoke of “American energy,” but his policies encourage reliance on unpredictable regimes like China and turn away from friendly trading partners.
Obama spoke of fairness, criticizing China for subsidized manufacturing while his policy is to heavily subsidize industry with money borrowed from China.
His references to China appeared weak in the wake of China’s strategy to influence U.S. economic and military policy and to control the world’s energy resources.
The first found the president employing one of his favorite themes of late – fairness.
And I will not stand by when our competitors don’t play by the rules. We’ve brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration _- and it’s made a difference. (Applause.) Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires. But we need to do more. It’s not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated. It’s not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they’re heavily subsidized.
Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China.
Fortunately, Obama, the economic superhero, saved us from those unfairly imported Chinese tires, but he fails to recognize the hypocrisy of his criticism, which brings us to the next reference to the one Bryan Ritterby and America’s “heavily subsidized” green industry.
Paying lip service to the justifiable outcry over the $535 million taxpayer-funded Solyndra bankruptcy, Obama promised to continue spending money we don’t have by pouring tax dollars down the renewable money hole.
Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail. I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. I will not walk away from workers like Bryan. I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.
Wasteful and heavily subsidized at home is acceptable but considered unfair if the Chinese do it.
Beijing probably doesn’t care. China couldn’t ask for a better friend in the White House. Obama’s strategy on spending and energy have weakened the U.S. and strengthened the Chinese.
Debt and Spending
Obama may believe the threat of his “Trade Enforcement Unit” has the Chinese, the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, shaking in their Mao suits, but remember that late last summer, following the U.S. credit downgrade, it was the Chinese warning the U.S. that the “good old days” of unmitigated spending were over, as Reuters reported:
‘The U.S. government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone,’ China’s official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.
The Los Angeles Times reported on the same commentary, “China called on the United States to ‘cure its addiction to debts’ and ‘learn to live within its means.’” More frightening because we owe so much to the Chinese, they are emboldened to reprimand the U.S. on defense spending:
‘China, the largest creditor of the world’s sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States to address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China’s dollar assets,’ the commentary said.
If no substantial cuts were made to the U.S. gigantic military expenditure and bloated social welfare costs, the downgrade would prove to be only a prelude to more devastating credit rating cuts, which will further roil the global financial markets all along the way…
We’ve used China as our payday lender to point where it has the right to demand we get our fiscal house in order by slashing spending in areas where it would be most beneficial to China. Obama responds with a threat to put China in the trade time-out chair.
Unfortunately, the Chinese are correct; the U.S. must address its deficit and debt crisis including cuts to defense spending, entitlements, and energy investments. At the same time, the Chinese are increasing their military spending, growing their sphere of influence in North America, Africa, and the Middle East, and expanding their control over global energy resources.
Fossil Fuel Energy Policy
Quick, which country exports the most barrels of oil to the U.S.? If you answered Canada you are correct. When Obama and others demagogue “foreign oil,” they besmirch our friendly neighbors to the north.
While Obama and his eco-irrational supporters fret over “foreign oil” and carbon footprints, China is eagerly expanding its energy footprint in North America as the Wall Street Journal recently reported:
After tiptoeing into North America in recent years, Chinese companies have ratcheted up their energy deal-making as unconventional extraction methods—from oil sands to shale gas—have transformed the continent’s energy market.
Obama’s disastrous veto of the Keystone Pipeline served as a warning (and an insult) to Canadians who called it “a slap in the face to Canada…making Canadians rethink the relationship that they should break their dependence” on the U.S. and look to China as a willing trade partner, as Bloomberg reports:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is gaining support among Canadians for his plan to ship oil sands crude to China after President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The Chinese will buy what Obama doesn’t want, which is why Harper is headed to China where he will meet with President Hu Jintao and likely “tout Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would let crude flow to Asia from Alberta’s oil sands via a Canadian port.”
The Chinese aren’t just looking to secure imports of Canadian oil; they want ownership so they can have more influence over global supply and demand. “Two of the largest acquisitions of Canadian oil and gas companies last year were driven by Chinese companies,” totaling more than $2 billion each.
Remember, Chinese companies are state-controlled, and they’re after more than just Canadian resources including U.S. reserves and technology according to the WSJ:
Recent government estimates indicate that China might have more gas locked up in shale than the U.S…Chinese companies have bought front-row seats in the U.S. development boom by paying billions of dollars recently for stakes in oil and natural-gas projects across America, from Michigan to Texas.
Those “front-row seats” are the perfect place to learn our technology, which they intend to take back home. When Obama and environmental left regulate hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling out of existence under the guise of “safety”, the Chinese will be well-positioned to expand drilling in China and other countries that wish to take advantage of their natural resources.
Renewable Energy Policy Leans Heavily on China
The Department of Energy’s (DOE) December 2011 “Critical Materials Strategy” update continues to acknowledge the stranglehold on rare earth elements (REE) production by China—the country provides 95 percent of the REEs currently mined, processed, and fed into the global supply chain for a variety of technological purposes. The DOE report targets the use of REEs in many forms of renewable energy applications, especially the permanent magnets used to generate energy in wind turbines, or propel electric drive vehicles.
The DOE’s market assessment contains cautionary language due to the lack of “opacity” or transparency from the Chinese near-monopolies on many of the REEs critical to global (and U.S.) technological demands:
As producer of more than 95% of the world’s REOs [rare earth oxides], China has the ability to significantly influence market dynamics. Its imposition of quotas and export duties has decreased supply and caused increases in the prices of a number of rare earth elements. At present there is little clarity or predictability about China’s rare earth production and export policies, which sends uncertain supply signals to the market and can disrupt future investment decisions by downstream consumers. Additionally, there are significant data gaps or uncertainties with respect to Chinese reserves and resources, production and consumption. Some of this information is collected by China’s government ministries, but it is not disseminated.
Centralization brings the ability to manipulate the market, as China has done, by reducing rare earth exports at its discretion, in an effort to control prices.
But centralization by a handful of producers within China, combined with the growing vertical integration of multiple steps of the production process, further concentrates the production of REEs. The DOE’s own estimates of barriers to entry for new REE sources put the development of so-called “greenfield” projects at more than $1 billion each, with at least ten years or more required to bring products to the supply chain at the “upstream”—later stages—of production.
Capital investments and permitting waits notwithstanding, rare earth-related human resources have disappeared within a generation. In just the past 30 years, the DOE acknowledges the technical expertise related to REEs once possessed by the U.S. has eroded by an astounding 94 percent:
As the United States was once the world’s leading producer of rare earth materials, the United States was also once a leader in rare earth technical knowledge.
It is estimated that prior to 1980 rare earth mining and related industries employed approximately 25,000 people in the United States, with 3,000-6,000 holding college degrees in science or engineering. Current estimates are that 1,500 people are employed throughout the U.S. rare earth industry including 200-400 persons holding college degrees in science or engineering (Gschneidner 2011).
Green Not So “Clean”
Proponents of renewable technologies tout the “clean” nature of the energy sources—wind turbines and thin-film solar cells—that require a great deal of REEs in the critical components that generate the energy output, including known carcinogens like cadmium. Chinese standards of environmental concern are, to say the least, not exactly Greenpeace-friendly, and a recent spill in southern China affected enough residents that the mitigation efforts to contain the contamination garnered international news at the end of January—via the New York Times:
Officials in southern China appear to have averted environmental calamity by halting the spread of a toxic metal that had threatened to foul drinking water for tens of millions of people, the state media reported Monday.
Officials said they had successfully diluted the concentration of cadmium, a poisonous component of batteries, that [sic] has been coursing down the Longjiang River in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Used in a variety of applications, including solar cells and batteries, cadmium is a toxic metal, and “poisoning can cause kidney and liver damage and weaken bones.”
China’s less-than-sterling ecological record has produced this result:
Despite what appears to have been a disaster avoided, the episode highlighted China’s continuing struggle against contamination of its waterways. The Ministry of Environmental Protection has acknowledged that half the nation’s rivers and lakes are unfit for human contact, and news reports of chemical and oil spills are commonplace here.
According to the research of Nanjing Agricultural University, ten percent of the nation’s rice supplies “contained excessive cadmium levels,” with some southern provinces observing 60 percent of their rice samples exceeding national standards for potential cadmium poisoning.
In other words, President Obama’s call for lowering foreign dependence on oil in turn increases foreign dependence on REEs controlled by China. This requires the cooperation of Chinese-based companies with little in the way of demonstrated business transparency and Chinese government regulatory agencies more concerned with covering up ecological disasters than the health of their people. Unless forced by the sheer magnitude of potential harm, as the above spill would have affected millions downstream in places like Guangzhou and Hong Kong, Western media rarely reports such ecological contamination.
China’s state media heavily censors outgoing information, and regularly downplays events that would rival the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico—as it has done here.
Obama would merely seek to exchange one dependency—petroleum—for another—rare earths. Only this time, the supply chain is concentrated in one country, rather than distributed among several.
Chinese investors continue to snap up struggling U.S. renewable energy companies like Colorado-based Ascent Solar, which narrowly averted a Solyndra-like collapse by pulling its $275 million DOE loan guarantee application in 2011.
Obama’s administration has not only subsidized many of his top bundlers’ investment vehicles, as they did with Solyndra, but provided incentives in the form of tax credits, loan guarantees, grants, and other subsidies to renewable energy companies that are charged to the nation’s credit card through debt issued, you guessed it, to China.
The Chinese can afford to subsidize their own renewable companies and undercut U.S. competitors, something that Obama decries, when the U.S. provides them a steady flow of green, renewable cash.
They are probably hoping for four more years.
Amy Oliver Cooke is the founder of Mothers Against Debt. She is also the director of the Colorado Transparency Project and the Energy Policy Center for the Independence Institute. She can be reached at email@example.com. Michael Sandoval is the Managing Editor of People’s Press Collective and a former political reporter for National Review Online.
President Barack Obama will be in Colorado today at Buckley Air Force Base promoting his new “all-of-the-above” energy policy. He’s delivering his remarks to a “closed audience” that includes “local energy stakeholders” (translation: rent seekers). We acquired a “fact sheet” about the President’s new direction for energy on which his speech will be based. Since most of us didn’t make the invite list, Michael Sandoval and I have taken the liberty of translating what this new approach to energy policy really means.
FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Blueprint to Make The Most of America’s Energy Resources
In his State of the Union Address, President Obama laid out a Blueprint for an America Built to Last, underscoring his commitment to an all-of-the-above approach that develops every available source of American energy. This commitment includes the safe and responsible production of our oil and natural gas resources.
Translation: We’ll pay lip service to the reasonable “all-of-the-above” energy advocates, but don’t worry anti-fossil fuel crowd. “Safe and responsible” are relative terms that are invoked to kill any oil and gas project that the green enthusiasts deem eco-unfriendly such as the Keystone pipeline.
Today, American oil production is at the highest level in eight years and last year we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.
Translation: production is high because of advancements in technology such as hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling not because this administration is a fan of fossil fuels. The drop in demand for imported oil is the consequence of a dismal economy and gas prices up 83 percent since the president took office.
At the same time, the President believes we need to double-down on clean energy in the United States. Transitioning to cleaner sources of energy will enhance our national security, protect the environment and public health, and grow our economy and create new jobs. Over the past few years, renewable energy use has nearly doubled. In fact, in 2011, the United States reclaimed the position as the world’s leading investor in clean energy – but staying on top will depend on smart, aggressive action moving forward.
Translation: Doubling-down on “clean energy” means an increase in importation of the rare earth minerals that comprise components in every major green technology—wind turbines, solar panels, and hybrid vehicle batteries. China controls 95 percent of the rare earth production, threatening national security. Chinese environmental regulations are virtually non-existent, failing to protect the environment in China or the public health of Chinese citizens, and produce tons of toxic waste trailings, radioactive debris, and millions of gallons of acid water—according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s August 2011 study, “Investigating Rare Earth Element Mine Development in EPA Region 8 and Potential Environmental Impacts.”
As for growing the economy and creating new jobs, the administration’s record is replete with examples of government-subsidized crony capitalist failures like Solyndra, or smoke-and-mirrors reports from “clean energy” advocacy firms. Actual government reports produced by Colorado’s Governor’s Energy Office and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment detail the difficulty of actually defining “clean energy” jobs or tracing their creation.
The green job creation that is reported tends to be a product of the numbers promised by politicians and touted by industry advocates, not subject to objective standards of scrutiny, or remembered once the business venture fails. The administration touts the doubling of renewable energy use—well, when the figures provided from the Energy Information Administration (yes, it exists) show wind and solar composing just 1.3 percent of U.S. energy consumption in 2010, then yes, that growth can be overinflated. As for “investment” in “clean energy,” when it comes to government subsidies of any kind, the money comes from taxpayers domestically and from borrowing overseas, including China.
President Obama will begin the second day of his post-State of the Union swing with an event at a UPS facility in Las Vegas, focusing on the importance of American workers developing American-made energy for an economy that’s built to last. Following this event, the President will travel to Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado to deliver remarks on American energy and the steps his Administration is taking to promote energy security.
Translation: The administration has been gambling with poor taxpayer “investment” in businesses like Solyndra, so Las Vegas makes sense.
President Obama’s Plan to Advance Safe Production of Oil and Gas Resources To Create Jobs, Enhance Energy Security, and Cut Pollution.
Translation: President Obama will expand his carbon footprint exponentially trying to explain his vision of American energy policy.
Make a new lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico to move forward on our national commitment to safe and responsible oil and gas development: In his State of the Union Address, the President directed the Department of Interior to finalize a national offshore energy plan that makes 75% of our potential offshore resources available for development by opening new areas for drilling in the Gulf and Alaska. On Thursday, the President will take a concrete step forward to develop our oil and gas resources, announcing that the Department of Interior will hold a new lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico. This lease sale will make approximately 38 million acres available, and could result in the production of 1 billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Translation: Plans during an election year are flaky at best—and the likelihood of the administration abandoning key constituencies by eschewing previous calls for bans and moratoriums would be a true reversal of energy policy, and one unlikely to take place any time soon. We’ll check and see if that lease sale takes place, and whether or not those resources are allowed to develop or held up “indefinitely” pending more “clarification” or other environmental regulation impediments.
Promote safe, responsible development of the near 100-year supply of natural gas, supporting more than 600,000 jobs while ensuring public health and safety: In 2009, we became the world’s leading producer of natural gas. In the State of the Union, the President directed the Administration to ensure safe shale gas development that, according to independent estimates, will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. These actions will include moving forward with common-sense new rules to require disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking operations on public lands.
Translation: We’ll give lip service to natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, but we really plan to appease our wealthy, elitist, eco-unreasonable donors and regulate fracking out of existence. The reality is that even small changes in environmental regulations surrounding fracking will lead to moratoriums and bans as companies fall afoul of disclosure requirements and other permitting processes freeze up.
Reducing our dependence on oil by encouraging greater use of natural gas in transportation: The President’s plan includes: proposing new incentives for medium- and heavy-duty trucks that run on natural gas or other alternative fuels; launching a competitive grant program to support communities to overcome the barriers to natural gas vehicle deployment; developing transportation corridors that allow trucks fueled by liquefied natural gas to transport goods; and supporting programs to convert municipal buses and trucks to run on natural gas and to find new ways to convert and store natural gas.
Translation: Son of “cash for clunkers.” We’ll force taxpayers to borrow even more to trash perfectly usable vehicles because we don’t like “dirty oil.”
Harnessing American ingenuity to catalyze breakthrough technologies for natural gas: The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) will announce a new research competition in the coming months that will engage our country’s brightest scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to find ways to harness our abundant supplies of domestic natural gas to lessen our dependence of foreign oil for vehicles. The breakthrough technologies they will develop, whether they are for new ways to fuel our cars with natural gas or a method to turn that gas into liquid fuel, promise to break our dependence on foreign oil for our cars and trucks, allow us to breathe cleaner air, and ultimately save consumers at the pump. To date ARPA-E has hosted four rounds of competitions and attracted over 5000 applications from research teams, which has resulted in approximately 180 cutting edge projects.
Translation: part of our overall strategy to kill all fossil fuels by meddling with the natural gas industry.
The President’s Commitment to Clean Energy
Doubling the share of electricity from clean energy sources by 2035: The centerpiece of the Administration’s strategy is a Clean Energy Standard, or “CES” – a flexible approach that harnesses American ingenuity and innovation, and channels it toward a clean energy future. By creating a market here at home for innovative clean energy technologies, we will unleash the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs and ensure that America leads the world in clean energy.
Translation: We will continue to pick market winners and losers by force-subsidizing “clean energy” through CES standards designed to inflate the “demand” for expensive energy. These phony energy markets collapse—as we’ve seen time and again in Europe—once the government subsidies are removed due to financial collapse in EU countries like Germany and the Netherlands. Also, by artificially increasing our dependence on Chinese-produced rare earth minerals for all of the components critical to wind and solar energy production, we will be less about “clean energy” here at home than “dirty energy” somewhere else.
Supporting clean energy with targeted tax incentives: The President supports renewing and extending a number of proven and successful provisions that are crucial to the continued growth of the domestic clean energy sector. This includes tax incentives for clean energy manufacturing, which could create up to 100,000 jobs, and the Production Tax Credit to support investment in the deployment of clean energy technologies like wind and solar.
Translation: We don’t care if Solyndra and Evergreen Solar burned through taxpayer cash and went bankrupt because we love toxic solar panels and raptor shredding wind turbines. Despite billions of dollars already “invested” in green jobs, we’ve failed to produce many jobs, but we’ll continue to perpetuate the myth that we can waste taxpayer money and create “green” jobs at the same time. The notion that an entire industry—wind turbine energy production—will disappear without tax credits speaks to the fragility and lack of actual demand for that type of energy in a free market. Also, rather than “create” jobs, the tax credit would likely, at best, “save” the already subsidized jobs “created” through artificial demand as a result of Renewable Energy Standards and other government-imposed regulations.
Opening public lands for private investments in clean energy: To enhance energy security and create new jobs, the Department of the Interior is committed to issuing permits for 10 gigawatts of renewable generation capacity – enough to power 3 million homes – from new projects on our public lands by the end of 2012.
Translation: Environmental degradation doesn’t matter when it comes to “green”energy that is neither green nor clean. Each MW of wind-produced energy requires tons of rare earth minerals to build each turbine’s generator, and each ton of rare earths is accompanied by the aforementioned toxic waste, acid water, and radioactive trailings. Do the math. Once again, the administration seems to think, as does the American Wind Energy Association and other advocates that wind turbines spring pre-formed with the tapping of the ground, sprouting from bulbs like so many Dutch windmills. Nevermind the transportation costs and the sprawl required to house the wind farms or solar arrays. Or sensitive species like the lesser prairie chicken, whose existence could stall wind energy development in Oklahoma if it fails to garner an exemption in being listed as an endangered species. In the hierarchy of green, which will take precedent according to the administration—the endangered chicken or the wind turbine?
Securing renewable energy for the U.S. Navy: Securing a safe, clean and reliable energy supply for our nation’s defense forces is essential to carrying out missions vital to the security of the United States. The Department of Navy has committed to adding 1 gigawatt of renewable energy produced from sources like solar, wind, and geothermal to its energy portfolio for shore-side installations – enough to power 250,000 homes. Using existing authorities such as power purchase agreements, the Navy will ensure these energy projects are cost neutral and require no up-front investments by the government.
Translation: We’ll shift the up-front cost of acquiring energy through power purchase agreements to the taxpayers in some other fashion, most likely through the subsidies, tax credits, and other “investments” that create the energy sources in any producer’s energy portfolio. The Department of Defense has already begun to push for 25 percent renewable energy requirements by 2020, and to expand research into military applications of thin-film solar energy production. While we cut military spending in areas of troop size, we”ll actually spend more taxpayer money in the future because we want expensive, unreliable “renewable energy” that requires backup generation.
Note from the Energy Policy Center at the Independence Institute: We are agnostic on energy sources. We believe in affordable, abundant and reliable energy. Let consumers decide from which resource they would like to purchase their power.
While we welcome the president’s new approach of an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, actions speak louder than words. As we have detailed repeatedly, the policies of this administration have led to the massive waste of taxpayer dollars, increased environmental degradation, higher energy prices, and a dangerous dependence on China making American energy less secure than it was when he took office.
White House visitor logs reveal that a “Pat Stryker” had a meeting in the West Wing in October 2009 according to the Sunlight Foundation. So far Sunlight has been unable to confirm if the meeting was with the Pat Stryker, Abound Solar investor, billionaire heiress, and Obama bundler. Although, it’s hard to believe that another Pat Stryker would have that type of access.
We’ve detailed Stryker’s connection to Obama, Democrat causes, and Abound, which received a $400 taxpayer guaranteed loan in 2010. Sunlight says it’s “unclear” if Stryker discussed Abound with the Obama administration.
Sunlight also revealed that newly filed documents show Abound Solar “is just the latest firm receiving a DOE loan guarantee—a program enabled by the 2009 stimulus bill—to hire representation in Washington. Of the 24 companies awarded loans, 16 currently employ lobbyists, and 11 of those specifically mention the loan guarantee program in their lobbying reports.”
Who are the lobbyists?
The three B&D Consulting lobbyists hired by Abound Solar are all former government officials. One is Joshua Andrews, a former aide to Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who has defended the loan guarantee program and likened the GOP attacks to bomb-throwing. Eshoo’s district includes many of the venture capital firms who have invested in green technology companies like Solyndra. She also serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, although not on the subcommittee that has been holding hearings.
Another lobbyist, Cathy Tripodi, is a former Department of Energy official and used to be the director of energy at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. A third lobbyist, Andrew Ehrlich, is a former chief of staff to the Republican leadership in the late 1990s, is a “recognized figure in Washington circles” and a “leading thinker on market-based strategies in the energy, tax and health care sectors,” according to his bio.
Based on Abound’s latest problems, hiring lobbyists for more favorable treatment from government might be all the company has left.
It rained taxpayer cash on “weatherization,” a series of energy efficiency initiatives – “such as residential weatherization and state capitol retrofits – to renewable energy projects” and federal grants intended to reduce carbon emissions and create “green” jobs.
The nationwide initiatives enjoyed massive expansion courtesy of President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also know as the “stimulus,” sucking up “$5 billion [in taxpayer money] over a three-year period…which represents about a 2,100 percent increase over the approximately $225 million per year the program has received in recent years,” according to a Colorado audit report.
Recently released Seattle results for the program, “Retrofit, Ramp Up,” reveal that it’s federal arrogance to think government creates jobs. Worse, it uses your money to do it with the depressing efficiency of all the failed central-government command, control economies.
Seattle defines “eco-chic.” Green trends are everywhere from hotels to real estate to sports teams. This spring, Seattle sports anchor Bill Swartz reported, “Our Northwest sports teams don’t win too many World Championships, but when it comes to taking care of our planet, they’re in first place.”
On the eve of Earth Day 2010, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn boasted on his Web site that he was with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House for the announcement that Seattle was one of only 25 communities awarded a highly competitive “Retrofit Ramp Up” grant.
During the announcement, Biden called the project a “triple win” for consumers who save money on utility bills, for the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for the economy because it creates “green jobs, jobs that can’t be outsourced.”
A giddy McGinn said, “The Ramp Up award will greatly increase the scale of our programs and enable us to pilot potentially game-changing approaches to financing and delivering energy efficiency projects.”
The $20 million in taxpayer funds supported the Seattle Neighborhood WEB (Weatherize Every Building) Initiative. The program had lofty goals:
• Reduce carbon emissions by 71,000 metric tons
• Produce 2,000 “living wage green jobs”
• Retrofit 2,000 homes in lower income neighborhoods
More than a year later, displaying true Soviet-style efficiency, only three homes have been retrofitted and 14 jobs created ($1,428,571.40 per job). Seattle’s unemployment rate is 9.3 percent, up .7 percent from May.
“Lackluster” is the word that the Seattle Post Intelligencer newspaper recently used to describe the results for the much-ballyhooed $20 million grant. But the paper is not being fair to the word “lackluster.” Other, more appropriate words that come to mind: deplorable, appalling, shameful, a massive waste of taxpayer money. Taxpayers deserve an apology and should demand a refund.
Even green champions are disillusioned. The Seattle PI quoted Michael Woo, director of Got Green, “The jobs just haven’t surfaced…It’s almost painful the number of meetings people have gone to. Those are the people who got jobs.”
No word whether or not Seattle has reduced its carbon footprint. Naturally, supporters blame everything from bureaucracy to the economy except the flawed theory that government creates jobs.
Seattle was just one $20 million example of the $452 million “Retrofit Ramp Up” boondoggle courtesy of President Obama’s “stimulus” program.
A California MAD (Mothers Against Debt) fan recounted her experience with “weatherization:”
They came to my house to weatherize. First one guy walked around and looked, called another guy; and he walked around and looked; and then the supervisor came and looked and said since the water heater was in the basement, I had to have PG&E come out and inspect. So they changed three light bulbs from 60-watt squiggly lights to 100-watt squiggly lights. Didn’t touch weatherizing the French doors or the three outer doors or the door between the garage and house…I called after the inspection and was told they had finished the job…I said no they were to come back after PG&E came…. she put me on hold and came back saying ‘we already were paid for that job.’ That was it. Never could find out what three light bulbs cost the government.
Colorado, another government-selected green winner, received a $25 million “Retrofit Ramp Up” grant for a program initially titled “Two Techs and a Truck,” according to a press release from then Governor Bill Ritter. The grant was divvied up between Denver, Garfield and Boulder counties, with Boulder getting $12 million. Two Techs and a Truck is now Boulder-based EnergySmart with 124 Facebook fans. A Daily Camera article reports 850 homeowners have “enrolled” with EnergySmart.
All of these weatherization programs are micro-managed through the U.S. Department of Energy, “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Weatherization & Intergovernmental Programs.” Grants recipients must comply with the Davis-Bacon Act requirements of ARRA. That means the DOE, along with the U.S. Department of Labor must approve of all weatherization workers. The two agencies have determined the green “living wage” by county by state for six different categories of workers.
In other words, someone in Washington D.C. decided that a federal government sanctioned plumber in Boulder County must be paid $23.50 per hour plus $4.54 in benefits, while a Garfield County plumber must receive $18.06 with an additional $2.78 for benefits. In Seattle’s King County that wage is $30.09 per hour plus $10.43 in benefits. This level of meddling in what should be a free market is exhausting and impossible to maintain as history has proven.
Most infuriating is that government can only spend our money, our children’s money and our grandchildren’s money to promote the fairy tale that it can “create” jobs. All government can do is take money from those who earn it and redistribute to its preferred special interests. Weatherization is just one small example.
Amy Oliver Cooke is the founder of Mothers Against Debt (www. Mothersagainstdebt.com). She is also the director of the Colorado Transparency Project for the Independence Institute and writes on energy policy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column appeared originally in Townhall.com.
Almost a year ago to the day the Department of Interior issued a press release boasting that Secretary Ken Salazar had “approved the first large-scale solar energy plants ever to be built on public lands.”
As with Obama administration renewable energy initiatives, there were the promises of massive amounts of electrical power and “green jobs.”
the U.S.-based companies [will have] access to almost 6,800 acres of public lands for 30 years to build and operate solar plants that could produce up to 754 megawatts of renewable energy, or enough to power 226,000 – 566,000 typical American homes. The projects will generate almost 1,000 new jobs.
One of the major players was Arizona-based Stirling Energy Systems out of Scottsdale, which was to provide the technology for Tessera Solar of Texas to move forward with the massive Imperial Valley Solar Project in Imperial County, California.
What a difference a year makes. Stirling Energy Systems (SES), a manufacturer of mirrored solar dishes, just filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy meaning it will close its doors, cease all operations, and liquidate any remaining assets.
Warning signs appeared shortly after Salazar’s announcement. In December 2010, GreenTech Media reported in an article titled “Are Stirling Energy, Tessera Solar in Trouble?”
Days after getting an administrative reprieve for a massive solar project, things aren’t looking so hot for Stirling Energy Systems and its development partner, Tessera Solar.
Steve Cowman, who was the CEO at SES until recently, has left the company, as have a number of other executives. Meanwhile, Tessera laid off between 50% to 80% of its employees last month, according to sources. Rumors began percolating about problems at the companies, which work together and are part of an Irish conglomerate called NTR, last month.
Despite a $7 million grant from the federal government, SES needed more cash and couldn’t secure it. Kirk Busch, “chairman of AZ4Solar.org, a Tempe-based trade group that advocates solar energy” and creditor of SES, told Arizona Central that the math didn’t add up and neither did the technology. Busch called it “still a science project.”
AZCentral reports that SES lists $1 to $10 million in assets and $50 to $100 million in liabilities, with hundreds of creditors.
The Imperial Valley Solar Project has changed hands twice and is also plagued by lawsuits including one from Native Americans who claim the project will harm sacred cultural sites. The future of the project, which appeared uncertain back in June, now has gotten darker.
Another green project with federal backing gone bust.
Thank you to a reader who provided the SES bankruptcy tip. If you have an energy story or tip, email email@example.com.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) located in beautiful Golden, Colorado, is the federal government’s primary research facility for renewable energy for the Department of Energy (DOE).
According to its Web site, NREL has enjoyed an enormous budget increase over the last two years. As the economy slowed in 2007, NREL saw its budget decrease $50 million, but the decrease didn’t last long. The lab benefited from stimulus money and President Obama’s focus on green jobs. By 2010, NREL’s annual funding was $536.5 million, a 63.4 percent increase over 2007.
Interesting about NREL’s organizational structure is that it is funded by taxpayers, owned by the DOE and managed by a third party, Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC, which describes itself as a limited liability company but is also a 501(c)3 according to tax documents. As a non-profit, Alliance is not subject to open records laws.
Update: Michael Sandoval of the People’s Press Collective reveals that this arrangement is quite profitable for ASE:
Alliance for Sustainable Energy assumed operations of NREL in 2008 for $1.1 billion over five years. Nearly $300 million was appropriated for contractual work at NREL (operating as Alliance for Sustainable Energy) through ARRA funding.
Alliance is more than just a management and operating contractor for NREL. Alliance sees itself as a major player in the Big Green Empire with desires to expand renewable energy use throughout the world:
A prime goal of Alliance is to ensure that NREL becomes the catalyst for the creation of a renewable energy epicenter. Initially, it will be centered at the Laboratory, but will eventually expand to help bring about global adoption of clean energy. Alliance wants to create an opportunity for NREL to become the focal point for renewable energy—a “Silicon Valley for renewables.”
One way they are expanding the Big Green Empire is through a massive construction project. Recently, I went to check it out but didn’t get very far. A beefy looking man, stopped my car and inquired as to what I was doing. I said that as a taxpayer I wanted to see what my money was building. Not so fast. NREL has “top secret material” to “build a better future for everyone.” Translation: Get the hell out!
What does Big Green Empire expansion look like? Check out these pictures, after all you paid for it: