October 15 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Che Guevara inspires fracking bans, another EPA spill in Colorado, AG Coffman vs. Gov. Hickenlooper

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Want to guess who the anti-energy, anti-fracking activists in Colorado have adopted as their patron saint, so to speak? None other than the murderous Communist revolutionary, Che Guevara:

At Monday’s “direct action” in Denver, protesters displayed signs with messages including “Ban Fracking Now,” “Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground,” and “End Fracking—Renewables 100%.”

“What we have is an energy revolution that is at our feet, and we are the boots on the ground that this revolution wants to be. We are the energy of change,” said Shane Davis, who runs the Fractivist website, in Saturday’s opening speech at the Holiday Inn Stapleton.

He encouraged the anti-fracking movement to draw inspiration from Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, a leading figure in the communist overthrow of Cuba.

“This is the time when we need to shake the political and economic fracking industry’s empire and their rule over global fossil-fuel energy consumption,” Davis said. “Fifty years ago, Che Guevara, a revolutionary humanitarian, fought similarly against ruling forces that were harming local communities.”

The Statesman’s Valerie Richardson recorded at least two different groups’ efforts to secure anti-fracking measures in 2016, with more than two different measures–a constitutional amendment and a measure to give localities veto powers over development.

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Speaking of fracking and one of the most persistent myths extolled by anti-fracking proponents–groundwater contamination:

Some of the same researchers who previously claimed that groundwater in the Marcellus region was being contaminated by shale development released a new study this week finding no evidence that hydraulic fracturing fluids have migrated up into drinking water – consistent with what independent scientists and regulators have been saying about fracking for years. The new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, led by researchers at Yale, includes Robert Jackson (now with Stanford University) and Avner Vengosh, who were both behind the Duke studies that purported to find widespread contamination from shale development. But as their new study explains,

We found no evidence for direct communication with shallow drinking water wells due to upward migration form shale horizons. This result is encouraging, because it implies there is some degree of temporal and spatial separation between injected fluids and the drinking water supply.” (p. 5; emphasis added)

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Colorado is catching legal heat for attempting to export its regulatory schemes, like the state’s renewable energy standard, forcing other states to follow “extraterritorial regulation”:

In April, 2011, E&E Legal sued the State of Colorado due to the unconstitutionality of the state’s renewable energy standard. As the case was working its way through the 10th Circuit, the Colorado legislature rushed to amend the law in an attempt to fix the most blatant unconstitutional provisions. They did not, however, cure all the problems.

Dr. David W. Schnare, lead attorney and E&E Legal’s General Counsel, noted at the time the Colorado legislature attempted to correct the RES, “This bill appears to remove some but not all of the unconstitutional elements of the statute. However, it also mandates new unconstitutional requirements by increasing the renewables standard to levels that, that like the current statute, cannot be justified when balanced against the harm they cause to interstate commerce.”

Specifically, the Legislature kept the sections that authorized Colorado to tell electric generating companies what means they had to use to sell “renewable” energy into Colorado, including companies that operated in other states and in some cases where the electricity they made did not and could not even reach Colorado. This is known as “extraterritorial regulation” and is prohibited under the Constitution.

Colorado is not alone in its efforts to tell other states how to regulate. California has the hubris to tell egg producers in Iowa what size chicken pens have to be. They have also told Canada how to make goose liver. Indeed, there is a growing effort for states to try to export their regulations onto other states.

Explained Schnare, “a state may not project its legislation into other states and may not control conduct beyond the boundaries of the State.”

***

The Environmental Protection Agency’s raft of new regulations has sprung a leak with the aptly named Waters of the United States rule:

Chief Justice John Roberts may have salvaged ObamaCare, but lower courts are proving to be more skeptical of executive overreach. On Friday the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stopped the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Clean Water Rule on grounds that it probably exceeds the agency’s legal authority.

The EPA rule, issued in May, extends federal jurisdiction over tens of millions of acres of private land that had been regulated by the states. In August a federal judge in North Dakota issued a preliminary injunction in 13 of the 31 states that have sued to block the rule, and the Sixth Circuit has now echoed that legal reasoning by enjoining the rule nationwide.

Ohio, Michigan and 16 other states challenged the rule, and a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit ruled two to one that the “petitioners have demonstrated a substantial possibility of success on the merits of their claims” and that a stay is needed to silence “the whirlwind of confusion that springs from the uncertainty” about the rule’s requirements.

As the Wall Street Journal noted, the most recent and significant threat to the waters within the United States came from the EPA itself:

The court also shot down the Administration’s argument that “the nation’s waters will suffer imminent injury if the new scheme is not immediately implemented and enforced.” As it happens, the single biggest recent injury to U.S. waterways is the EPA’s own Colorado mine disaster that turned the Animas River a toxic orange and flushed toxins into rivers across the Southwest.(emphasis added)

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And the irony of the EPA threat to the nation’s waterways continued, as last week the agency triggered yet another spill in Colorado:

“Once again the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] has failed to notify the appropriate local officials and agencies of the spill in a timely manner.” These are the words of U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District in response to another toxic spill resulting from EPA activities at an abandoned mine in western Colorado.

According to the Denver Post, an EPA mine crew working Thursday at the Standard Mine in the mountains near Crested Butte, triggered another spill of some 2,000 gallons of wastewater into a nearby mountain creek. Supporting Tipton’s remarks to Watchdog Arena, the Denver Post report states that the EPA had failed to release a report about the incident at the time of its writing.

Unlike the Gold King Mine, where on Aug. 5, an EPA mine crew exploring possible clean-up options, blew out a structural plug in the mine releasing over 3 million gallons of toxic waste into the Animas River, the Standard Mine is an EPA-designated superfund site, where the federal agency has been directing ongoing clean-up efforts.

yeah epa***

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan gets bipartisan pushback from Senators in Mississippi and North Dakota:

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Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s efforts on behalf of the state in battling overreaching EPA regulations has earned a great deal of visibility given the state’s party split between constitutional offices, with Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper spearheading Clean Power Plan implementation, and the Republican Coffman pushing back, rendering Hickenlooper a “spectator,” according to the Wall Street Journal:

Colorado’s wide-ranging litigation efforts, for example, have been spearheaded by GOP Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who was part of a state coalition that won a ruling last week blocking Interior Department rules for hydraulic fracturing on public lands. She also had Colorado join a group of 13 states that won an August ruling blocking an EPA plan putting more small bodies of water and wetlands under federal protection. And Ms. Coffman recently said she would have Colorado join the suit against the EPA greenhouse-gas rule, expected to be filed as soon as this month.

“The rule is an unprecedented attempt to expand the federal government’s regulatory control over the states’ energy economy,” Ms. Coffman said in announcing her decision.

Mr. Hickenlooper, the governor, didn’t encourage the attorney general to join any of the cases; in fact, he is focusing on implementing the regulations, said spokeswoman Kathy Green. “The governor’s approach has been to work collaboratively and avoid costly lawsuits wherever possible,” she said.

August 20 Colorado Energy Roundup: Poll shows Coloradans not impressed by Clean Power Plan, fracking ballot measures expected, #greenjobsfail, and EPA/Animas River saga continues

August 20, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

This week the Independence Institute released the results of poll concerning the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and who Coloradans feel does a better job when it comes to guarding the state’s environmental quality–folks here prefer Colorado oversight to meddlesome DC regulations:

The poll was conducted August 9-10th and found those surveyed more likely to oppose the EPA’s controversial Clean Power Plan if the rule resulted in electricity bill hikes, 59 to 33 percent.

Fifty-five percent said they would oppose the plan if it meant spiking poverty rates in black and Hispanic communities by 23 and 26 percent, as a recent study by the National Black Chamber of Commerce concluded.

Respondents also opposed the plan when it came to the core environmental impacts projected by the agency—a 0.02 degrees Celsius reduction in global temperatures and no notable impact on carbon emissions. Fifty-one percent said the promised temperature reduction would make them more likely to oppose the finalized rule, while 58 percent said that the Clean Power Plan’s non-existent impact on carbon emissions would do the same.

You can read the rest of the topline results here.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 12.34.52 AM

Colorado’s registered voters put their trust in the state to manage the environment, and not federal regulators from the EPA or DC in general:

While Colorado’s Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, has not weighed in on whether the state could join a multi-state lawsuit against the EPA over the Clean Power Plan (she has said it is on the table), a 53 to 37 percent majority favored the state joining at least 16 other states in the suit.

Nearly 6 in 10 said the state should wait to comply—not move forward as Governor John Hickenlooper has directed—on drawing up a state implementation plan for the Clean Power Plan.

Nearly half said that they would be more likely to support a plan if the state of Colorado determined the cost of compliance before that plan became law.

When it comes to environmental regulation and quality, Coloradans clearly preferred the regulators in Denver to those in Washington, D.C.

The State of Colorado does a better job regulating for a clean environment 37 to 5 percent over federal regulators. Twenty-seven percent said both state and federal agencies handled the job equally well, with nearly one in five saying that neither has done particularly well in this area.

How did the results breakdown along partisan and demographic lines?

Only Democrats (64 percent) and those earning between $100-$124K per year (51 percent) were more likely to support the EPA’s Clean Power Plan even if it meant an increase in electricity bills as a result of implementing the regulations. Overall, 59 percent of Coloradans were more likely to oppose the plan, with men and women showing no gender gap and nearly identical opposition to costly rate hikes.

A National Black Chamber of Commerce study found that poverty rates in black and Hispanic communities were likely to increase significantly—23 percent and 26 percent—under the Clean Power Plan. Fifty-five percent of Colorado voters said they would be more likely to oppose the federal regulations under those circumstances, with women edging out men (57 percent to 53 percent, respectively) in opposition. Majorities of Republicans, independents, and all age and income groups offered the same negative responses when it came to impacts on minority community poverty rates, as did the respondents when viewed across all seven congressional districts.

Democrats were still more likely to support the EPA’s carbon reduction plan by a slim 42 to 37 percent margin. The party was split, however, along gender lines, with Democratic women in opposition, 44 to 36 percent. Their male party counterparts gave the Clean Power Plan a large boost, saying 48 to 27 percent that they were more likely to back the EPA’s measure despite minority community concerns.

More results from the poll’s crosstabs can be perused here.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy even admitted explicitly that the Clean Power Plan would adversely harm minority and low-income families the hardest:

The chief environmental regulator in the United States had some blunt words of reality regarding the administration’s climate change regulations.

The Clean Power Plan that will require drastic cuts in 47 states’ carbon dioxide emissions – consequently shifting America’s energy economy away from affordable, reliable coal – will adversely impact poor, minority families the most.

When speaking about the higher energy prices caused by the administration’s climate regulations on power plants, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “We know that low-income minority communities would be hardest hit.”

McCarthy downplayed that fact by saying any minimal higher prices would be offset by implementing energy efficiency measures that would save consumers money in the long run.

Cato shows how “carbon dioxide emissions” have turned into “carbon pollution” when it comes to EPA messaging over the years.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 1.09.32 AM

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Another new EPA rule? Yep:

With the Environmental Protection Agency expected to release a rule this month on methane regulations, proponents are gearing up for a messaging war.

Federal regulators aim at reducing oil-and-gas methane emissions by as much as 45 percent by 2025. The idea is that companies can use new technology to better capture methane emissions from operations.

The EPA estimates that 7 million tons of methane are emitted every year, though environmentalists suggests that it could be much higher.

The issue is relevant in Southwest Colorado, where researchers identified a significant methane “hot spot” in the Four Corners. A team of scientists is currently investigating the cause of the concentration, which could stem from a combination of natural-gas exploration and natural occurrences.

But industry efforts have already cut methane emissions significantly, making the rule seemingly superfluous:

This is going to go down in the books as one of the most curious moves ever taken by the Obama EPA, not because the reduction of methane emissions is a bad idea, but because it’s already been taking place in gangbuster fashion. The Institute for Energy Research put out a statement as soon as the new proposal was announced which put the question in context.

“Since 2007, methane emissions fell by 35 percent from natural gas operations, while natural gas production increased by 22 percent. According to EPA, voluntary implementation of new technologies by the oil and natural gas industry is a major reason for the decline in emissions.”

And where is the IER getting these figures about reductions in emissions? Are they coming from some big oil loving, pro-drilling think tank? No. It’s data taken from the EPA’s own studies which were cited in generating these rules. But just in case any of them don’t read their own promotional material, here are the numbers in graph form.

Methane

***

Anti-frack is BAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!!

After failing to gather enough signatures last summer, Coloradans for Community Rights said Monday it will try again to get a statewide initiative giving communities control over oil and gas exploration on the ballot.

Spokesman Anthony Maine said the group will begin circulating petitions early next year to get the Colorado Community Rights Amendment to the state Constitution on the November 2016 ballot.

“This is about communities being allowed to decide for themselves,” Maine said at a press conference in Denver.

He said the oil and gas industry and their supporters are expected to pump in millions of dollars to fight the proposed amendment.

“This radical measure would allow city councilors and county commissioners to ban any business or industry for any reason even if those reasons violate federal or state law,” Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for Protect Colorado, said in a statement. Protect Colorado is an issue committee organized to fight anti-energy ballot measures.

Unlike other observers who felt that this issue might recede into next year’s political battles or be left up to the current court battles, it’s been clear to me from my work on this issue that activists are gearing up for the long game, announcing their efforts more than a year from the 2016 ballot, banking on possible favorable wins in a presidential cycle rather than the 2014 midterm. Many anti-fracking activists felt burned by Governor John Hickenlooper’s “compromise” last year that appeared to be an effort to provide fellow Democrats political cover in what was shaping up to be a costly and election-determining fight at the ballot box. Hickenlooper’s commission did not assuage the resentment of activists, Democrats lost a U.S. Senate seat, and the issues remained unresolved, just kicking the can down the road.

We’ve caught up to the can once again.

***

At the Independence Institute, we’ve been taking a look at the failed promises of “green” jobs since 2011, and a California initiative passed with the help of billionaire Tom Steyer appears to have fallen, uh, short of its job creation goals in the green sector–by about 90 percent:

The California ballot measure funded by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer that raised taxes on corporations to create clean energy jobs has generated less than a tenth of the promised jobs.

The Associated Press reported that the Clean Energy Jobs Act (Prop. 39) has only created 1,700 clean energy jobs, despite initial predictions it would generate more than 11,000 each year beginning in fiscal year 2013-14.

Prop. 39, which voters approved in 2012 after Steyer poured $30 million into the campaign supporting it, closed a tax loophole for multi-state corporations in order to fund energy efficient projects in schools that would in turn create clean energy jobs.

More than half of the $297 million given to schools for the projects has been funneled to consultants and energy auditors.

#greenfail

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As we noted in late 2013, the current administration pushed for changes it hoped would bolster the long term outlook for wind energy by attempting to deal with one of the unfortunate tradeoffs of giant wind turbines–bird deaths:

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.

Well, the so-called “takings” extension to 30 years has had its wings clipped by the court:

The express purpose of the 30-Year Rule was to facilitate the development of renewable wind energy, since renewable developers had voiced a need for longer-term permits to provide more certainty for project financing.

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued the 30-Year Rule without preparing either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); instead, the FWS determined that the 30-Year Rule was categorically exempt. In overturning the rule, the court found that the FWS had not shown an adequate basis in the administrative record for its decision not to prepare an EIS or EA and therefore failed to comply with NEPA’s procedural requirements.

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Finally, to the EPA induced toxic spill saga of the Animas River . . .

Congressman Scott Tipton (R-3rd CD) and colleagues are asking the EPA questions:

We remain completely unsatisfied with the delay in notifying the impacted communities and elected officials responsible for preparing and responding to a disaster such as this one.

What was the reason for the over 24 hour delay between the time of the incident and official notification and acknowledgment by your agency that a blowout had occurred?

Who in the EPA’s regional office was first notified of the blowout and when?
What steps has the EPA taken, or does it plan on taking in the very near future, to ensure that this type of delay in acknowledgment and notification of the appropriate parties does not happen again? What additional steps will the EPA take to create and implement an emergency response plan for EPA projects such as this?

That’s just a sample of a raft of questions from the House members.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and a bipartisan group of colleagues sent their own questions to the EPA:

We, therefore, respectfully request the following be included in a report on the events surrounding the Gold King Mine spill:

1. Details on the work EPA was conducting at the Gold King Mine prior to the spill on August 5, 2015;

2. Details of the expertise of the EPA employees and contractors carrying out that work;

3. Criteria EPA would apply before approving a contractor for a similar cleanup performed by a private party and whether EPA applied the same criteria to itself;

4. EPA’s legal obligations and current policies and guidelines on reporting a release of a hazardous substance;

5. EPA’s legal obligations and current policies and guidelines on contacting tribal, state and local government agencies when the agency creates a release of a hazardous substance;

Again, just a sampling of what members of Congress–and the public both down in southwest Colorado, northern New Mexico, and Utah–would like to know, demanding a full accounting of the EPA spill as soon as possible.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez wasn’t drinking the EPA tang koolaid, or its official responses so far, and is asking for her state to investigate as well:

Today, I ordered the New Mexico Environment Department to investigate the circumstances surrounding the EPA-caused toxic waste spill into the Animas River.

New Mexicans deserve answers as to why this catastrophe happened and why the EPA failed to notify us about it — the first we heard about it was from the Southern Ute Tribe nearly 24 hours later.

The EPA should not be held to a lower standard than they hold private citizens and businesses.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman feels that she is not getting the whole picture either, and is still considering a lawsuit against the EPA for the spill:

The attorneys general of Colorado and Utah visited this still-festering site on a fact-finding mission Wednesday and left feeling the Environmental Protection Agency had not provided them with the whole picture.

“There’s a list, honestly,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said of her questions.

Coffman and her Utah counterpart, Attorney General Sean Reyes, are among a group that have said legal action against the EPA is being weighed after the agency’s Aug. 5 wastewater spill in the San Juan County mountains above Silverton.

The spill sent 3 million gallons of contaminated water surging into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

New Mexico’s attorney general said last week he is considering a lawsuit, and Navajo Nation leaders, whose community arguably has been most impacted by the disaster, said they will sue.

That lack of information–or, indeed, a coverup–has been the focus of much attention, and Colorado Peak Politics believes the EPA hasn’t been forthcoming from the beginning.

The EPA’s own watchdog is also launching an investigation:

The inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday that it is beginning an investigation into the agency’s role in triggering a massive toxic waste spill in southwest Colorado.

The IG alerted a number of senior EPA officials to the investigation in a memo released on Monday. “We will request documents, and interview relevant managers and staff in these locations and elsewhere as necessary,” the IG said.

The announcement comes amid controversy over EPA’s role in the spill. Agency chief Gina McCarthy admitted last week that EPA inspectors had triggered the incident while inspecting cleanup efforts at the Gold King Mine near Durango, Colo.

What are the cleanup costs estimated to be? The Daily Caller’s examination of potential burdens to the taxpayer due to EPA negligence are big:

The right-leaning American Action Forum estimates the total cost for responding to the Gold King Mine Spill could range from $338 million to $27.7 billion based on the federal government’s own cost-benefit analyses for cleaning up toxic waste and oil spills.

“There is no direct precedent for the toxic Animas River spill in Colorado and past regulatory actions from agencies, but we can learn from previous benefit-cost estimates,” writes Sam Batkins, AAF’s director of regulatory policy, adding that he “evaluated four recent regulations’ benefit figures to approximate the cost of the current spill in the Mountain West.”

That’s not good news, considering the mine owner’s allegations that the EPA has dumped toxic waste as far back as 2005, or that billions of gallons might be poised to spill in the future.

And that future is unclear due to what still lies beneath:

State and federal officials have offered assurances that the river is returning to “pre-event conditions,” but uncertainty remains over the residue that still lurks beneath the surface flow.

Those remaining metals on the river bottom still could affect aquatic life, agriculture and other aspects of life along the water in ways that are difficult to predict.

“The long-term effects are the concern that every time we have some sort of a high-water event, whether a good rain in the mountains or spring runoff next year, that’s going to stir up sediments and remobilize those contaminants that are sitting at the bottom of the river right now,” said Ty Churchwell, Colorado backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited.

CBS4Denver had the opportunity to get an early look at the mine itself, post-spill.

Perhaps the only thing quite as toxic as the spill itself is the messaging cover both local and regional environmental groups and pro-administration activists are providing the EPA, casting blame on private mismanagement and pollution and offering only an “aw shucks, only trying to help” defense of the agency:

Only the NRDC offered a response.

Earth Justice and several other environmental groups have made no public comment on the Animas River spill at all. In their public statements, neither the NRDC nor the Sierra Club pointed the finger at the EPA.

Though the Sierra Club did not respond to our inquiries, it did offer this public statement on August 11:

The Animas River was sadly already contaminated due to the legacy of toxic mining practices. The company that owns this mine has apparently allowed dangerous conditions to fester for years, and the mishandling of clean-up efforts by the EPA have only made a bad situation much worse. As we continue to learn what exactly happened, it’s time that the mine owners be held accountable for creating this toxic mess and we urge the EPA to act quickly to take all the steps necessary to ensure a tragedy like this does not happen again.

In a recent statement, the NRDC’s President Rhea Suh said only that the EPA “inadvertently triggered the mine waste spill last week,” while casting mining companies and Republicans in the House of Representatives as the responsible parties.

They probably wouldn’t like the Colorado Springs Gazette’s suggestion that mine clean up be privatized:

Critics have recoiled at the thought of putting the government’s environmental work into private hands.

No longer should they perceive or argue a level of federal competence that exceeds what the private sector might provide. The EPA unleashed a toxic sludge of arsenic, lead and other harmful toxins without bothering to warn people downstream, including tribal leaders and governors of neighboring states. They botched the inspection that led to the spill and bungled the response.

Solar “Mega-trap” Kills Birds at California Power Plant

May 5, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: renewable energy, solar energy 

Solar power generating facilities in Southern California have been dubbed “mega-traps” for their ability to attract and kill multiple species in a variety of manners including solar flux injury, also known as “singeing,” according to a report from the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory issued in April.

“At times birds flew into the solar flux and ignited,” the authors wrote.

The toll on Southern California wildlife from three solar power plants is just beginning to be revealed:

The Ivanpah solar thermal power plant in the Southern California desert supplies enough carbon-free electricity to power 140,000 homes. For birds, bats and butterflies, though, the futuristic project is the Death Star, incinerating anything that flies through a “solar flux” field that generates temperatures of 800 degree Fahrenheit when 300,000 mirrors focus the sun on a water-filled boilers that sit on top three 459-foot towers.

“It appears Ivanpah may act as a ‘mega-trap,’ attracting insects which in turn attract insect-eating birds, which are incapacitated by solar-flux injury, thus attracting predators and creating an entire food chain vulnerable to injury and death,” concluded scientists with the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in a report that investigated 233 bird deaths representing 71 species at three Southern California solar power plants.

“Ivanpah employees called such immolations ’streamers,’” said The Atlantic.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement staff “observed an average of one streamer event every two minutes.”

singeing small

From the report:

When OLE staff visited Ivanpah, we observed many streamer events. It is claimed that these events represent the combustion of loose debris or insects. Although some of the events are likely that, there were instances where the amount of smoke produced by the ignition could only be explained by a large flammable biomass such as a bird. Indeed OLE observed birds entering the solar flux and igniting, consequently becoming a streamer.

When the Ivanpah solar plant was inaugurated in earlier this year, we noted about reports of birds being killed–the “singeing” of birds in the air due to the reflective panels heating the surrounding air to such high temperatures near the California plant’s towers.

At the time, we wrote:

All power sources involve tradeoffs, but to date, wind and solar have generally avoided discussing the topic, often quickly shifting to pointing out the costs of other energy sources in defending their own environmental impacts.

Those tradeoffs included the very distinct possibility of harm to migratory birds and other wildlife.

According to the April report bats–also attracted by the insects drawn to the solar arrays–have also been found near the facilities. These include species deemed “sensitive” in California by the Bureau of Land Management.

Regulatory agencies considered those costs for Ivanpah:

Ivanpah can be seen as a success story and a cautionary tale, highlighting the inevitable trade-offs between the need for cleaner power and the loss of fragile, open land. The California Energy Commission concluded that while the solar plant would impose “significant impacts on the environment … the benefits the project would provide override those impacts.”

Those full impacts won’t even be known for another couple years, as a two-year study is completed on Ivanpah’s effect on wildlife.

The report also notes that gathering specific data about the actual temperatures involved at Ivanpah have been difficult.

“Despite repeated requests, we have been unsuccessful in obtaining technical data relating to the temperature associated with solar flux at the Ivanpah facility,” the authors wrote.

The report authors quoted a Discovery TV channel program that pegged the possible top temperature at the top of the solar tower above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to melt steel. In order to regulate the tower at a much lower temperature, Ivanpah’s operators must turn only a percentage of heliostats at the solar receiver.

They estimated that temperatures across the solar field ranged from 200 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

The solar facility at Ivanpah is a darling of the Obama administration and received $1.6 billion in loan guarantees.

“This project speaks for itself. Just look at the 170,000 shining heliostat mirrors and the three towers that would dwarf the Statue of Liberty,” said Ernest Moniz, Obam’s energy secretary, as reported by The Daily Caller.

Fried Birds: Green Energy Involves Tradeoffs Too

February 17, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: renewable energy, solar energy 

The Ivanpah solar plant went online last week, but the cost to wildlife–particularly birds–won’t be known for at least two more years.

Reports that the giant solar thermal array featuring more than 300,000 reflective panels and steam-driven turbine towers have been “killing and singeing” birds by heating the air to around 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit near the towers, according to reports.

You can view pictures of the deceased birds here.

All power sources involve tradeoffs, but to date, wind and solar have generally avoided discussing the topic, often quickly shifting to pointing out the costs of other energy sources in defending their own environmental impacts.

Policy directives aimed to support the technologies often override such environmental concerns, as they did with Ivanpah:

Ivanpah can be seen as a success story and a cautionary tale, highlighting the inevitable trade-offs between the need for cleaner power and the loss of fragile, open land. The California Energy Commission concluded that while the solar plant would impose “significant impacts on the environment … the benefits the project would provide override those impacts.”

The plant’s effects on birds is the subject of a current two-year study.

But the cost of electricity from solar sources is and will remain higher than other natural resources, like coal, for the foreseeable future, according to the Energy Information Administration:

The Energy Information Administration says that it will cost new solar thermal plants 161 percent more to generate one megawatt hour of power than it costs a coal plant to do in 2018 — despite the costs of solar power being driven downward.

On average, conventional coal plants cost $100 to make one megawatt hour, while solar thermal plants cost $261 for the same amount of power. This data, however, does not take into account the impact of federal, state or local subsidies and mandates on power costs.

The solar thermal installation built by BrightSource Energy received at $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy in 2011. That loan was secured in no small part due to political connections, according to The Heritage Foundation.

Higher electricity costs as a result of policy directives and crony capitalism, something the Solar Energy Industries Association was readily willing to admit:

Resch said a key issue for the industry will be maintaining government policies that encourage development, including tax credits for solar projects that are set to expire in 2016 and government loan guarantees. “The direct result of these policies is projects like Ivanpah,” he said.

Once again, however, the claim that solar energy is a “free” or “no cost” energy source has been upended. Another BrightSource project is receiving similar concerns:

In response to BrightSource’s blueprint for its second big solar farm in Riverside County, near Joshua Tree National Park, biologists working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told state regulators that they were concerned that heat produced by the project could kill golden eagles and other protected species.

“We’re trying to figure out how big the problem is and what we can do to minimize bird mortalities,” said Eric Davis, assistant regional director for migratory birds at the federal agency’s Sacramento office. “When you have new technologies, you don’t know what the impacts are going to be.”

Ivanpah may be the first large utility-scale solar thermal installation in California, and also the last:

Though Ivanpah is an engineering marvel, experts doubt more plants like it will be built in California. Other solar technologies are now far cheaper than solar thermal, federal guarantees for renewable energy projects have dried up, and natural gas-fired plants are much cheaper to build.

That means the private sector must fill the gap at a time when building a natural-gas fired power plant costs about $1,000 per megawatt, a fraction of the $5,500 per megawatt that Ivanpah cost.

“Our job was to kickstart the demonstration of these different technologies,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in an interview high up on one of the plant’s three towers.

The plant is projected to produce approximately 380 megawatts “during the peak hours of the day,” according to BrightSource.

A technology that costs 5.5 times more to build and that delivers electricity that is 161 percent more expensive than coal, and that secures it’s funding through political connections is not the job of the Department of Energy–or taxpayers’ dollars–nor to “kickstart the demonstration of these different technologies.”

Not when it produces just 0.24 percent of the electricity in the United States in November 2013, according to the EIA.

Guess Which Governor Has the Worst Ideas on Energy Policy?

December 14, 2010 by williamyeatman · 1 Comment
Filed under: Archive 

Today I posted the first annual “Energy Policy: Top 5 Worst Governors” list. Click here, to see for yourself who’s the worst. (Hint: He coined the term “New Energy Economy.”)