Energy Policy Center Report: Electricity rates skyrocket across all Colorado sectors

Across all sectors of Colorado the cost of electricity has skyrocketed more than 67 percent between 2001 and 2014, easily exceeding median income growth and the expected rate of inflation for the same period, an extended analysis of government energy records by the Independence Institute has revealed.

Energy_Increase_AllSectors_Percent_a

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For all sectors between 2001 and 2014, the cost per kilowatthour jumped from just over 6 cents to more than 10 cents, or 67.11 percent.

Data obtained by the Independence Institute from the Energy Information Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau showed an increase in electricity rates for residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors throughout the state contributing to the across-the-board growth in prices. In November, the Energy Policy Center reported a staggering increase of 63 percent for residential customers in Colorado.

“Retail residential electricity rates increased from 7.47 cents per kilowatthour in 2001 to 12.18 cents per kilowatthour by 2014, a 63.1 percent hike. Coloradans’ median income, however, went up just 24.1 percent, from $49,397 to $61,303. Median income in Colorado actually declined between 2008 and 2012,” the report concluded. It also noted that the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projected just a 34 percent increase in inflation for the 14 year period, using the agency’s CPI inflation calculator.

And while the data for late 2015 from the BLS indicated a modest decline of 2.9 percent in electricity prices for the Denver-Boulder-Greeley census area, this drop in rates did not offset the 3.8 percent increase seen one year earlier. While global commodity prices have given Colorado energy consumers a brief respite (and wild fluctuations in prices), electricity generation and costs have proven less volatile.

“The energy index, which includes motor fuel and household fuels, decreased 19.0 percent from the second half of 2014 to the second half of 2015, following an increase of 0.3 percent in the same period one year ago. Falling prices for motor fuel (-26.0 percent), all of which occurred in the first half of the period, were largely responsible for the decline in the energy component. Lower prices for utility (piped) gas service (-18.9 percent) and electricity (-2.9 percent) also contributed to the decrease. During the same period one year ago, motor fuel costs declined 3.1 percent, while the indexes for utility (piped) gas service and electricity rose 5.8 and 3.8 percent, respectively,” the BLS report concluded.

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Analysis from the earlier November report on residential electricity rates stands confirmed and, indeed, underscored:

It’s clear from the data that Coloradans’ income is not keeping pace with almost continuous electricity price increases over the past 15 years, consistently outpacing the rate of inflation. Colorado’s ratepayers have had to endure two economic recessions over that period, while feeling no relief from escalating energy prices driven by onerous regulations driving energy costs ever higher.

From fuel-switching and renewable mandates to other costly regulations imposed by state and federal agencies, Colorado’s ratepayers and taxpayers alike have been subject to policies that do not consider energy affordability or reliability as a primary concern. The most vulnerable communities–elderly, minorities, and the poor–are the most sensitive to even the smallest increases in energy costs.

Not to mention the state’s many business owners, including small business owners, who face the same hikes in energy costs that could force decisions like layoffs or relocation to nearby states, where energy costs are lower. This reduces job growth and harms the state’s economy twice, with increased business costs passed on to consumers–the same ratepayers who already are paying more at the meter.

Upshot: the data for the remaining sectors emphasizes the double impact that increased energy costs have in the form of rapidly escalating electricity rates on Colorado ratepayers, who see not only their own personal energy costs rise, but are hit a second time by commercial, industrial, and transportation charges that are “baked into” the cost of providing goods and services that are passed on to consumers.

William Yeatman, senior fellow of environmental policy and energy markets at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of the Independence Institute’s 2012 Cost Analysis of the New Energy Economy, said in the November report that given the current regulatory climate, things “could get much worse.”

Some of the costs already baked in to electricity prices came directly from policy initiatives undertaken in the last decade.

Yeatman analyzed 57 legislative items included in the push for a “New Energy Economy,” determining that as much as $484 million in additional costs were incurred by the state’s Xcel customers–an additional $345 per ratepayer.

“The best explanation for this confounding upward trend in utility bills nationwide is the Obama’s administration’s war on coal. Colorado, alas, was well ahead of the curve on the war on coal, which explains much of why the state’s rate increases are presently so much greater than the nationwide average,” Yeatman said.

Part of the war on coal, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Clean Power Plan in August 2015.

The policy battle over the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and the future of Colorado’s electricity rates, rests upon multi-state legal challenges to the agency’s authority that just last week resulted in a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision was overshadowed, however, by the subsequent death of Justice Antonin Scalia days later, leaving the legal challenge in turmoil given the SCOTUS’ delicate and likely 4-4 ideological split and the contentious election year battle over nominations to replace Scalia.

Meanwhile, Governor John Hickenlooper remains committed to pushing for a “prudent” continuation of planning for Clean Power Plan implementation, with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment proceeding with its pre-stay timeline. Colorado Senate Republicans, however, called ignoring the court’s stay “unacceptable.” Legislation addressing CDPHE’s ability to proceed with CPP planning will likely be introduced before the end of the 2o16 Colorado legislative session.

The Independence Institute’s analysis of electricity costs, broken down by the other sectors, shows commercial electricity rates for Colorado have seen a 77.78 percent increase from 2001 to 2014, jumping from 5.67 cents per kilowatthour to 10.08 cents.

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Industrial rates have tracked with the overall rate increase of approximately 67 percent, from 4.48 cents to 7.47 cents per kilowatthour.

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Transportation figures from EIA data do not extend back to 2001. Instead, the trackable data begins in 2003, with a sharp decline by 2005, before prices more than doubled, from 5.01 cents to 10.79 cents per kilowatthour, or a 115 percent increase in the last full 10 years of EIA measurement.

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Overall increases for comparison (with the adjustment for transportation noted):

Energy_Increase_Combined_Percent_a

For a complete description of EIA definitions of electricity consumers and data collection, click here.

February 11 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: SCOTUS stay on Clean Power Plan edition

February 11, 2016 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal 

Join us Tuesday, February 16 at noon as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Independence Institute discuss the latest on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan/111d rule, including the SCOTUS stay issued this week.

Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment, and Raymond Gifford, a partner at the law firm Wilkinson, Barker, Knauer, LLP and a leading an expert in public utilities law, will provide in-depth analysis of what the Clean Power Plan means for Colorado and discuss the efforts being made across the country to stop this onerous regulation.

Free lunch, RSVP required.

***

What is the stay?:

WASHINGTON—A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s initiative to limit carbon emissions from power plants, dealing an early and potentially significant blow to a rule that is the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s efforts to slow climate change.

The court, in a brief written order, granted emergency requests by officials of mostly Republican-led states and business groups to delay the regulation while they challenge its legality.

Although the Supreme Court’s order is temporary and isn’t a ruling on the merits, it indicates the court’s conservative majority harbors misgivings about the Obama administration plan. It signals the rules could run into trouble in the courts, which could hamper the administration’s ability to follow through on U.S. commitments in the Paris climate deal.

The court’s action, which divided the justices along ideological lines, came as a surprise to many observers because the court has strict criteria for granting stays. And the Environmental Protection Agency rules, issued last summer, have yet to be evaluated by lower court judges.

The EPA rule is aimed at compelling utilities to shift away from coal-fired power plants, which have been the bedrock of U.S. electricity generation for decades, toward such renewable sources as wind and solar, and to a lesser extent toward natural gas and nuclear power.

Some have said that all that needs to be done is for the administration to change as a result of the 2016 election, but that may not be enough:

The Supreme Court issues stays sparingly, and only when specific criteria are met. Those include a “reasonable probability” that four justices will agree to review the case, and a “fair prospect” that five justices could vote to overturn a lower court ruling.

In addition, the court must find that irreparable harm will result to parties in the case unless the stay is granted, and that public interest is served by granting a stay.

White House officials said they were surprised by the court’s move. “Granting a stay in these circumstances is extraordinary,” one official said.

The ultimate outcome of the case likely won’t be decided until the next president is in office. Should the rule survive in the courts and a Republican be elected president, a GOP administration would face hurdles in abandoning the regulations.

Very few final regulations have ever been repealed by an administration—Republican or Democratic. To repeal a regulation, you have to write, and legally justify, a new regulation explaining why you are getting rid of the earlier one, a process that could take years and would be unlikely to withstand legal scrutiny, experts say.

As we wrote in a previous blog post, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment plans on proceeding with the rule’s implementation, calling its own decision to do so, “prudent”:

It is prudent for Colorado to move forward during the litigation to ensure that the state is not left at a disadvantage if the courts uphold all or part of the Clean Power Plan. Because the Supreme Court did not say whether the stay would change the rule’s compliance deadlines, Colorado could lose valuable time if it delays its work on the state plan and the rule is ultimately upheld.

The legal experts I’ve spoken with have said that the compliance deadlines were part of the stay, and dispute the agency’s interpretation that the state would lose time if it did not proceed with planning.

When the Independence Institute conducted our own poll last August on Colorado and the Clean Power Plan, “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.”

The new timetable for the Clean Power Plan and any legal proceedings should push well into 2017 and even early 2018.

The Attorney General’s office said Cynthia Coffman would not pursue intervention at the state level (DBJ article, paywall).

The EPA, like CDPHE, plans to push forward at the state level, offering guidance:

The EPA immediately issued a statement pledging to support states that wish to continue developing compliance plans.

“We’re disappointed the rule has been stayed, but you can’t stay climate change and you can’t stay climate action,” the EPA said. “Millions of people are demanding we confront the risks posed by climate change. And we will do just that. We believe strongly in this rule and we will continue working with our partners to address carbon pollution.”

Legal experts began weighing in on the SCOTUS stay, saying the EPA’s own attitudes and statements regarding previous rulemaking legal challenges may have pushed the Court to take this action:

This Court’s decision last Term in Michigan v. EPA, 135 S. Ct. 2699 (2015), starkly illustrates the need for a stay in this case. The day after this Court ruled in Michigan that EPA had violated the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) in enacting its rule regulating fossil fuel-fired power plants under Section 112 of the CAA, 42 U.S.C. § 7412, EPA boasted in an official blog post that the Court’s decision was effectively a nullity. Because the rule had not been stayed during the years of litigation, EPA assured its supporters that “the majority of power plants are already in compliance or well on their way to compliance.” Then, in reliance on EPA’s representation that most power plants had already fully complied, the D.C. Circuit responded to this Court’s remand by declining to vacate the rule that this Court had declared unlawful. […] In short, EPA extracted “nearly $10 billion a year” in compliance from power plants before this Court could even review the rule […] and then successfully used that unlawfully-mandated compliance to keep the rule in place even after this Court declared that the agency had violated the law.

Reaction from the Colorado Senate Republicans was swift:

Senate President Bill L. Cadman said he believes Gov. Hickenlooper should respect the Court’s ruling by instructing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to suspend all CPP implementation activities.

“In granting the stay on the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan, the US Supreme Court said there is a likelihood that the 27 states now suing the EPA will prevail in court and that allowing EPA to proceed without a stay would do irreparable harm to the states,” said Cadman. “That being the case, Colorado should follow the federal court ruling and suspend all CPP implementation.”

Senator John Cooke (R-Weld County) called the stay “a great victory for Colorado ratepayers and the rule of law. This US Supreme Court decision should send a strong message to the Governor not to force Colorado working families into an expensive, likely unconstitutional EPA plan that will cost Coloradans thousands of jobs.”

Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) said he is very surprised by the White House and CDPHE statements defying the Supreme Court ruling. “Today the CDPHE said it is ignoring the stay and proceeding to implement the CPP. That is unacceptable, and Governor Hickenlooper needs to explain why his administration is not complying with the federal court order,” said Sonnenberg.

Republicans also offered praise for Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s participation in the 27-state court challenge, which has drawn fire from Gov. Hickenlooper.

“We owe a big ‘thank you’ to Attorney General Cynthia Coffman for challenging the plan in federal court,” said Cooke. “This victory illustrates the value of having an attorney general who can act independently from the governor when the public interest demands it.”

As a reminder, the Heritage Foundation’s Nic Loris outlines just how much an impact the Clean Power Plan would have on its intended target–climate change:

The plan, which the EPA finalized in October 2015, requires most states to meet individual carbon dioxide emissions reduction goals for existing power plants by 2022 and again in 2030. States are to submit plans about how they would comply with the regulations by September but could ask for two-year extensions. As Politico reports, “[l]awsuits over the rule are expected to continue into 2017 at the earliest, with the Supreme Court widely expected to be the final arbiter of the regulation.”

To be clear, the Clean Power Plan has nothing to do with regulating pollutants that have adverse impacts on human health. Instead, it focuses strictly on attempting to combat global warming. Attempting is the operative word.

Even if you accept the administration’s premise that climate change is an urgent threat (which is questionable), the regulation would have almost no effect on global warming. If the states implemented the regulations flawlessly, a near impossibility, the Clean Power Plan would avert a mere 0.02 degrees Celsius by 2100.

As we say frequently on this blog, there will definitely be more to come!

December 10 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Fracking ban faces CO Supremes; fracktivist compares technology to slavery; House GOP calls Interior EPA spill report a “whitewash”

Yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments over Longmont’s fracking ban:

On Wednesday, the state’s highest court will consider Longmont’s voter-approved ban on hydraulic fracturing within city limits.

Longmont voters added the ban to the drilling method, also called fracking, to the City Charter in 2012, convinced that a city-negotiated set of regulations on oil and gas drilling didn’t go far enough.

Both the regulations and the ban brought lawsuits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group. The oil and gas regulations lawsuit was dismissed as part of a compromise brokered by Gov. John Hickenlooper before the 2014 election.

The suit on the charter ban, however, has progressed through district court and the Colorado Court of Appeals and is now before the Colorado Supreme Court.

The city has argued that the state allows for local control, that Longmont voters should be able prohibit a type of drilling in city limits.

It is not known when a ruling can be expected.

***

Speaking of local fracking bans, Colorado Peak Politics found this gem from “fractivist Maria Orms, head of North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy, at an Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability Now (ACCDAN) meeting”:

“If you accept anything like an MOU [memorandum of understanding], that’s your terms of surrender…signing an MOU is collusion with the oil and gas industry. We need to talk to our county commissioners and tell them not to agree to any of this.

“Apartheid was legal at one point. Would you agree with that? Slavery was legal. Didn’t make it right. Well, maybe that doesn’t apply here to an environmental issue, this is not right, do not agree to this.”

***

Adding more time and uncertainty to drilling operations in Colorado as a result of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s fracking task force recommendations has operators weighing risks and reconsidering Colorado operations:

“The risk [to operate] in Colorado has gone up because of this potential rule or potential application of this on a case-by-case basis,” Wonstolen said.

The COGCC on Monday held its third day of hearings on controversial proposed rules to implement two recommendations from Gov. John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force in February.

The recommendations, No. 17 and 20, focused on increasing the communications between local governments and energy companies about where new oil and gas wells would be located in and around neighborhoods. It also called for the impacts of those new wells to be mitigated through best management practices.

But where the proposed rules would be enforced, and how the impacts would be mitigated, has spawned a months-long battle that’s expected to drag into next year. Another day of hearings is expected to be scheduled in late January.

Oil and gas industry representatives said the COGCC’s rules go too far. Citizen groups and representatives from local governments said they don’t go far enough.

***

And one other recommendation from the Governor’s task force calling for a complaint line on oil and gas operations has begun collecting said complaints:

A new state-run program created to field and respond to health concerns related to oil and gas operations has started to receive complaints.

As of Thursday evening, the new Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program had fielded 20 complaints, according to Dr. Daniel Vigil, who is heading the program within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The program began Oct. 15, allowing people to file a health concern and access information. Information includes “unbiased” staff reviews of existing research on the health impacts related to oil and gas development, said Vigil.

In addition, a mobile air monitoring program is being designed and is expected to be completed in the spring.

The health response program, which Vigil said is the first of its kind in the country, was one of nine approved recommendations from a task force created by Gov. John Hickenlooper as part of a compromise to avoid multiple oil- and gas-related ballot issues in 2014.

It will remain to be seen how “unbiased” those review remain, and whether or not a concerted effort by anti-energy forces moves to overwhelm the complaint system in an effort to draw attention.

***

Carbondale is implementing government carbon fees based on energy consumption as state and federal subsidies for renewable energy disappear:

“Carbon fees harness market forces to encourage local investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Michael Hassig, former Carbondale mayor, said in a prepared statement. “We have to take what steps we can, now, right here in our own community, to reduce fossil fuel consumption.”

In 2010, Carbondale set the goals of increasing energy efficiency by 20 percent; reducing petroleum consumption 25 percent; and obtaining 35 percent of energy from renewable sources all by 2020. These figures are measured off of a 2009 baseline.

One scenario calculates that by installing energy-saving measures in 1,200 homes and in 60 businesses, combined with doubling the amount of solar electric systems (or the equivalent of 800 kilowatts of power-generating capacity), Carbondale could meet its targets, according to CLEER’s website. These energy improvements could be achieved by investing $1.1 million per year over the next five years.

The Carbondale trustees adopted a resolution in 2014 that dedicates 20 percent of the town’s state severance tax and federal mineral lease revenues to help reach clean-energy goals. Traditionally, funding from federal and state government grants, the town’s general fund, the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (generated through building fees in Pitkin County and Aspen) and utilities have been used toward energy efficiency.

But the federal and state grants have since dried up, necessitating another path forward to raise revenue.

Carbon “fees” are not a harnessing or channeling of voluntary market decisions, they are an example of government force, picking energy behavior winners and losers.

***

A battle over a Department of the Interior inspector general report on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gold King Mine spill has prompted Republican calls that the effort was “whitewash” of EPA efforts and lacked independent review:

The accident prompted harsh criticism of the EPA for failing to take adequate precautions despite warnings a blowout could occur. Yet Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said a review by her agency showed the spill was “clearly unintentional.”

“I don’t believe there’s anything in there to suggest criminal activity,” Jewell testified during an appearance before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Republicans were dissatisfied. They pointed to earlier statements in which Jewell and other agency officials said the Interior review focused on technical mining issues — not the potential culpability of those involved in the spill.

Immediately after Wednesday’s hearing, committee Chairman Rob Bishop asked Congress’s non-partisan Government Accountability Office to investigate the Interior Department’s evaluation. The Utah Republican accused Jewell and other agency officials of stonewalling his repeated efforts to obtain documents relevant to the spill.

The clean up bill for the EPA spill is around $8 million, according to the 2015 “Wastebook” issued by Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R), and summarized here by Colorado Peak Politics:

An Orange River Runs Through It: The Animas River. Perhaps you’ve heard of this disaster? The EPA contaminated it, and then, denied responsibility. To date, the EPA has spent $8 million cleaning up its own mess, and that figure is expected to grow.

***

It wouldn’t be a Cheat Sheet without a Clean Power Plan update, so here’s one from the National Federation of Independent Business:

But NFIB believes that the Administration is once more overstepping with the Clean Power Plan. For one it imposes quotas on each state, mandating that they achieve targets for emission reductions—targets that, in some cases, are wholly unrealistic. The plan rewards states that have already taken action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but would penalize states that fail to meet their federally mandated reduction targets. To avoid those penalties the rule allows states that are missing their targets to enter into cap-and-trade compacts, which would require those states to essentially purchase credits (at great cost) from states that are meeting their targets. Thus the rule penalizes states that have chosen—for the same policy reasons as Congress—to reject such regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Accordingly, the rule raises serious federalism problems because the federal government cannot force the states to enact law that they do not wish to enact. But as we argue—first and foremost—there is a separation of powers problem with the EPA rewriting the Clean Air Act. Once again, we’re fighting in court to enforce the basic principle that only Congress can make law. And once more, we’re defending small businesses against extreme energy-rate hikes.

We are currently asking a federal court to issue an injunction preventing EPA from enforcing the rule against the states. Our hope is that we will ultimately strike-down the rule as another example of executive overreach. For further explanation as to how this rule will affect ordinary small business owners, check out Randi Thompson’s recent editorial in the Reno-Gazette Journal.

***

It’s trees vs. bugs in the forests near Colorado Springs, and the U.S. Forest Service is giving the nod to the bugs, according to this Gazette editorial:

If our plush green backdrop becomes an ugly brown wasteland, tourists will avoid us. Home and business values may drop. And, of course, dead trees greatly increase the likelihood of more deadly, costly forest fires.

Because of diligence by the governor and mayor, we could have a good chance of saving thousands of acres of trees. There is one big problem: The Obama administration’s U.S. Forest Service. Federal forest officials seem to think tree-killing bugs have a right to life.

Forest-managing entities working cooperatively on a contract to exterminate the bugs include: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, responsible for the 1,260-acre Cheyenne Mountain State Park; Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation, responsible for 2,132 acres of city-owned forest; NORAD, which manages 400 acres; Broadmoor Bluffs Subdivision, with 291 acres; Broadmoor Resort, 146 acres; Broadmoor Expanse, 1,677 acres; Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, 81 acres, and El Pomar with 140 acres.

“The only party I know of that is not interested is the U.S. Forest Service,” said Dan Prenzlow, southeast regional manager of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “They have 1,300 acres touching all the rest of us.”

The Forest Service remains adamantly against spraying, saying that nature should take its course:

Oscar Martinez, district manager for the Pikes Peak District of the U.S. Forest Service, said there is no chance the federal agency will join the eight other entities killing bugs. Even if federal officials could be convinced to change their minds, Martinez said, the federal government would require so much environmental assessment that nothing could be done in time to make a difference.

“If you bought a house up there with big trees, and you moved here for those big trees, I understand the concern,” Martinez said. “But there is a natural cycle of forest disturbance that must be allowed to occur as part of responsible forestry management.”

By letting nature run its course, Martinez said, dead and dying trees can “release the vegetation that was suppressed by the tree cover. If you look at butterflies, they are tied to flowering plants that are suppressed by trees.”

Martinez said a naturally occurring bacteria detected by federal foresters stands to kill many of the bugs over the coming year, which should save a lot of trees. But Prenzlow said federal officials told state officials two years ago the bugs would begin dying naturally. They remain alive and well.

“We’re going into our third year and the bugs have not died. The trees are struggling and dying, so we’re going to spray,” Prenzlow told The Gazette.

***

A lot of energy is going to pot–literally:

Attendees learned that Xcel Energy, which serves most of urban Colorado, sells some 300 gigawatt hours of electricity to pot growers per year, or enough to power some 35,000 homes. The U.S. marijuana-growing industry could soon buy as much as $11 billion per year in electricity.

One study estimates that it takes as much energy to produce 18 pints of beer as it does just one joint. The data are alarming, and will only get more so as legalization spreads. But legalization, if approached correctly, also opens doors of opportunity. The biggest guzzlers of electricity also hold the most potential for realizing gains via efficiency.

Back in 2011, a California energy and environmental systems analyst, Evan Mills, published a paper quantifying the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production. That footprint, he discovered, was huge. His findings included:

While the U.S. pharmaceutical sector uses $1 billion/year in energy, indoor cannabis cultivation uses $6 billion.

Indoor cannabis production consumes 3 percent of California’s total electricity, 9 percent of its household electricity and 1 percent of total U.S. electricity (equivalent to 2 million U.S. homes per year).

U.S. cannabis production results in 15 million tons of greenhouse-gas emissions per year, or the same as emitted by 3 million cars.

Cannabis production uses eight times as much energy per square foot as other commercial buildings, and 18 times more than an average home.

Time to stop before I write any more doobie-us puns. Have a great weekend!

November 12 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Colorado hit hard by CPP; Bennet defends pro-Keystone stance; CSU report rejects “sky-is-falling” contamination claims

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.

November 5 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Hickenlooper seeks CO Supreme guidance on Coffman EPA lawsuit; divestment movement is back at CU; WOTUS opposition in U.S. Senate

November 5, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legislation, PUC, regulations 

Governor John Hickenlooper finally filed his request with the Colorado Supreme Court to determine which office–governor or attorney general–has the final say in Colorado’s lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, joined the lawsuit with approximately two dozen other states in October.

Via the BARN blog:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today filed a petition asking the Colorado Supreme Court to issue a legal rule that the governor, not the attorney general, has the ultimate authority to decide on behalf of the state when to sue the federal government in federal court.

“The attorney general has filed an unprecedented number of lawsuits without support of or collaboration with her clients,” said Jacki Cooper Melmed, chief legal counsel to the governor. “This raises serious questions about the use of state dollars and the attorney-client relationship between the governor, state agencies and the attorney general.”

From the full petition:

Governor Hickenlooper petitions this Court under Colorado Constitution art. VI, § 3, and C.A.R. 21 for a rule requiring Attorney General Coffman to show cause regarding her legal authority to sue the United States without the Governor’s authorization. In this Petition, he requests a ruling on the Governor’s and Attorney General’s respective authority under the Constitution and laws of Colorado to determine whether the State of Colorado should sue the United States. The Governor asks this Court to issue a legal declaration that (1) the Governor, not the Attorney General, has ultimate authority to decide on behalf of the State of Colorado whether to sue the federal government, and (2) the Attorney General’s lawsuits against the federal government without the Governor’s authorization must be withdrawn.

No doubt this request will remain at the top of the news between the Democratic Governor and the Republican Attorney General as the hotly contested and controversial Clean Power Plan moves forward despite pending lawsuits. The EPA has already schedule a series of public hearings on the CPP implementation at four locations over the next two weeks in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Denver.

How contested is the rule? At least twenty-six states have filed lawsuits–24 in a joint lawsuit, with two other states filing separately–while 18 states have filed a motion on behalf of the EPA and the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan has split the country in half. More to come.

***

Earnest but misguided students at the University of Colorado have resurrected their divestment push and will harangue the CU Board of Regents with the usual mix of ideology and theater today, even after being voted down 7-2 back in April:

Also on Thursday, the student group Fossil Fuel CU is planning an “action” toward the end of the board’s meeting, complete with banners, signs, posters and singing. That’s likely to be a recurring theme again this year.

“The folks who don’t stand with us anticipated that that block in process would dishearten student leaders or stifle the campaign we’ve been building for two years, but it actually did quite the opposite,” said P.D. Gantert, who is taking time off from CU classes to organize divestment movements across the southwestern United States. “It emboldened us to take even more risky and loud actions to stand up for what we know is the change that needed to happen at our university.”

Here’s what I had to say back in April during a board meeting and hearing on the divestment question, as quoted by the Daily Camera:

“The anti-fossil fuel campaign is really a national campaign run by far-left environmental activists,” said Michael Sandoval of the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Denver, during a board meeting in April. “To be blunt, this is a national campaign using college students to shut down one of Colorado’s leading job creators.”

Schools from Swarthmore to Harvard, hardly conservative bastions, have rejected the arguments in favor of divestment. Our own spring intern, Lexi Osborn, took down the divestment arguments in an op-ed for the Greeley Tribune back in February:

Divestment activists appear willing to jeopardize university assets in the name of saving the planet. Yet they may not realize how ineffective their project would be.

A new report by the American Security Project found that university divestment from fossil fuels will have no mitigating effects on carbon emissions. Divestment does not decrease the demand for fossil fuels; it merely moves the money around. The campaign additionally ignores the complexities of transitioning to a “renewable and emission-neutral economy.”

Another study by University of Oxford found that, even if all capital were divested from university endowments and public pension funds, it would be such a small percentage of the market capitalization of traded fossil fuel companies that the divestment would barely impact the fossil fuel industry.

But the divestment of fossil fuel assets might not be the real goal of the campaign. In a video interview, Klein states that they are using the movement to create a space where it is easier to tax, nationalize and undermine oil companies. She claims that the people have a right to the oil industry’s “illegitimate” profits to make up for the crisis created by this sector.

***

The U.S. Senate moved beyond court injunctions on the EPA’s stalled Waters of the United States rule this week, with Republicans pushing forward on a repeal measure and another calling for revisions, with the former facing a veto from the Democratic administration, and the latter falling to Democratic opposition in the Senate itself:

“Coloradans know when they’re getting soaked,” Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, said following votes on Tuesday. “This rule is so poorly written and ill-conceived that multiple federal judges have put halts on its implementation.”

The resolution that passed in an effort to essentially repeal the rule fell under the Congressional Review Act, which allows for a simple majority to disapprove of any regulation. It passed Wednesday 53-44. The White House has already issued a veto threat.

The measure calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite the water rule required a procedural vote to advance. But it fell three short of the 60 votes needed, with Democrats leading the effort to stop the bill.

Gardner supported a rewrite in order to enact stronger state and agricultural protections with more input from local communities. He also supported the resolution eliminating the rule.

“The WOTUS rule is a classic example of federal overreach, giving the EPA authority to regulate ponds, ditches and tiny streams across Colorado and the West,” Gardner said.

Sen. Michael Bennet helped quash the rewrite measure.

***

The ongoing battle between the city of Boulder and Xcel Energy received clarification from the Public Utilities Commission this week.

***

Despite production records, Noble Energy sees losses in the third quarter due to lower commodity prices, and will likely trim staff numbers later this month.

October 29 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Hickenlooper vs. Coffman over EPA lawsuit; EPA spill report short on info says New Mexico; Frack or Treat

October 29, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, PUC, regulations, solar energy, wind energy 

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s decision to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to implement the Clean Power Plan has initiated a constitutional battle in the eyes of Governor John Hickenlooper:

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday he will seek the state Supreme Court’s opinion on the legality of Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s lawsuit to stop implementation of the Clean Power Plan.

“This notion of everyone suing all the time every time you disagree with a specific remedy, a specific statute, is part of what makes people so frustrated with government,” Hickenlooper, who supports the plan, said in a meeting with The Denver Post’s editorial board.

“Except in very rare circumstances, generally the governor is supposed to make that decision in concert with the attorney general,” Hickenlooper said of the lawsuit. “But the governor should have that final say.”

Hickenlooper’s office pushed the issue further, saying the AG’s actions “just gets in the way” of state plans to cooperate with the CPP:

“The statute that we’re looking at speaks of prosecuting and defending on the request of the governor,” said Jacki Cooper Melmed, Hickenlooper’s chief legal counsel, citing Colorado’s revised statutes, title 24, article 31, part 1.

Cooper Melmed said she is worried about conflicts as some Coffman deputies work with Hickenlooper’s administration to implement the plan while others in the attorney general’s office try to quash it.

“This just gets in the way,” Cooper Melmed said of the lawsuit. “There’s no wall really high enough to allow these two things to happen out of the same office.”

Coffman, for her part, said she was “disappointed” in the Governor’s decision.

Former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton called Hickenlooper’s stance “unusual” when it comes to the relationship between AG and Governor, even when representing opposing parties:

“For the governor to try to challenge in this way is unusual,” Norton said.

In almost all cases where a governor challenges an attorney general, Norton said, rulings are in the attorney general’s favor.

“The attorney general represents the state and not the governor,” Norton said. “The attorney general is elected to provide independent representation of the state’s interest.”

The Pueblo Chieftain and the Colorado Springs Gazette support Coffman’s lawsuit, while the Denver Post welcomes the clarification that the Colorado Supreme Court’s advice might bring.

Steamboat Today has a great roundup of other reactions for and against the lawsuit.

***

It’s not just states suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan–at least 26 states filed almost immediately after the ruling was published last Friday–but other lawsuits are on their way from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and National Association of Manufacturers.

The EPA, meanwhile, is touting its flexibility–a “wide range of choices”–in allowing states to file extensions:

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 2.35.42 PM

***

Taking another crack at busting the CPP progress, this time using pre-existing Congressional review legislation:

Lawmakers opposed to the Obama administration’s climate rule for power plants are moving to block the regulations from taking effect.

Several senators will offer Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions Monday that seek to stop the Clean Power Plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a longtime opponent of carbon regulations for the power sector, will schedule a vote on the resolutions soon after they come out.

“I have vowed to do all I can to fight back against this administration on behalf of the thousands of Kentucky coal miners and their families, and this CRA is another tool in that battle,” McConnell said in a statement.

The Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers the ability to end an executive branch regulation through an act of Congress.

***

Communities around Colorado continue to struggle with mine runoff, the August EPA spill in southwest Colorado not withstanding:

Toxic mines hang over this haven for wildflowers, contaminating water and driving residents — like counterparts statewide — to press for better protection.

A local group went to federal court this month seeking long-term assurances that a water-treatment plant will always remain open as the collapsed tunnels and heaps of tailings leak an acid mix of heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, zinc and others.

State data show these contaminants reaching Coal Creek — the primary water source for Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley’s green pastures — at levels exceeding health standards.

“A lot of people are nervous,” said Alli Melton of High Country Conservation Advocates. “We’d like to get it as clean as possible.”

But the EPA isn’t being all the helpful, as the Interior Department inspector general report on the Gold King Mine/Animas River spill concluded, as the U.S. Chamber points out:

These two quotes from the report illustrate just how careless EPA was:

EPA has “little appreciation for the engineering complexity.”

“[T]here appears to be a general absence of knowledge of the risks associated with these [abandoned mining] facilities.”

Even EPA’s internal investigators didn’t hold back on the agencies irresponsibility. Its initial review concluded the spill was “likely inevitable,” but the agency wasn’t prepared to contain a spill before digging into the mine.

That isn’t much consolation for the folks in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation affected by the spill, as New Mexico’s top environmental watchdog Ryan Flynn said, quoted again by the Chamber:

While the report reveals that an EPA decision was made to refrain from validating the flawed water level estimates with a previously used successful procedure (using a drill rig to bore into the mine from above to directly determine the water level of the mine pool prior to excavating the backfill at the portal); the report says absolutely nothing about who made the decision to fly by the seat of their pants, by digging out the closed Gold King Mine tunnel based on un-validated estimates of what volume and pressure of contaminated water would be violently released.

Here in New Mexico, we are already quite clear on the fact that EPA made a mistake, as the DOI’s report underwhelmingly reveals. What we were wondering, and hoped the report could tell us, is why EPA made the mistake, and who at EPA made the decisions that authorized dangerous work to proceed based on un-validated estimates. It is shocking to read the DOI’s “independent investigation” only to find that it overlooks the who, the how, and the why. [emphasis added]

***

How big are subsidies for electric cars? Without the $5,000 tax credit in Georgia, the state saw sales of electric vehicles plummet nearly 90% in just two months:

According to Georgia car registrations, sales shot up as electric car buyers rushed to take advantage of the tax credit before it expired. But the numbers declined sharply in July and took a swan dive in August — the most recent month tabulated:

electric-vehicle-sales-in-Georgia-in-2015-data-compiled-by-Don-Francis

The decline from 1,338 in June to 148 in August represents a drop of 88.9 percent.

Read the rest of this excellent Watchdog article here.

***

It’s almost Halloween, so we’ll end on a spooky anti-energy note from Energy in Depth:

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 3.10.38 PM

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has been waging an extreme campaign to ban fracking through so called “Community Bill of Rights” ballot initiatives, especially targeting communities in Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The group has already forced taxpayers to pay tens of thousands of dollars to defend their illegal ordinances and it is now planning to hit communities in California, Oregon, New Hampshire and Washington State. In fact, as Energy In Depth’s new video shows, this Halloween, CELDF’s extreme (and expensive) campaign could be coming to a ballot box near you.