January 20 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Billionaire Steyer plays CO politics; NM files intent to sue EPA over mine spill

Independence Institute associate energy policy analyst Simon Lomax has the latest on green billionaire Tom Steyer’s efforts to tilt the legislative balance in Colorado in 2016:

San Francisco billionaire activist Tom Steyer is getting more deeply involved in Colorado politics than ever before. After spending more than $350,000 on research and polling in the Centennial State last year, two groups aligned with Steyer are now funding political attacks on State Senator Laura Woods (R). Republicans control the Colorado State Senate by a single vote, so unseating Woods could return control of the state legislature to Democrats and reinstate one-party rule under Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) until early 2019 at least.

Read all of his latest piece here.

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Our neighbors to the south, New Mexico, has filed an intent to sue notice over the Animas River/Gold King Mine spill last year triggered by the Environmental Protection Agency:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico plans to sue the federal government and the owners of two Colorado mines that were the source of a massive spill last year that contaminated rivers in three Western states, officials said Thursday.

The New Mexico Environment Department said it filed a notice of its intention to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the spill, becoming the first to do so. The lawsuit also would target the state of Colorado and the owners of the Gold King and Sunnyside Mines.

The New Mexico regulators said they will sue if the EPA does not begin to take meaningful measures to clean up the affected areas and agree to a long-term plan that will research and monitor the effects of the spill.

“From the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business,” said Ryan Flynn, state Environment Department cabinet secretary.

While the Navajo Nation is considering its options for legal action, the state of Colorado’s Attorney General had no comment at this time.

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Drilling on the Western Slope dropped in 2015:

Garfield County last year held onto the No. 2 spot statewide in terms of oil and gas drilling activity, despite the lowest level of activity since the 1990s.

Mesa County bucked the statewide trend in 2015, however, seeing a sharp increase in drilling and ranking third among Colorado counties.

Falling oil and gas prices resulted in drilling beginning on just 1,437 wells statewide last year, down from 2,239 the prior year, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission data. Much of the decrease occurred in Weld County as companies slowed oil drilling there thanks to falling prices. But the county still continued to see the bulk of activity last year, with drilling begun on 1,084 wells.

Garfield County had just 173 well starts last year, down from 362 in 2014. The last time the county saw less drilling, with 94 well starts, it wasn’t Jeb Bush but his brother, George, who was harboring presidential aspirations, in the year 1999.

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Lower commodity prices have given Coloradans a bit of temporary relief, offsetting the region’s cost of living increases:

Two conflicting consumer price trends are pushing around the Denver area’s cost of living like a rag doll.

A new federal report Wednesday says that the cost of shelter in the Denver, Boulder and Greeley area jumped 5.8 percent in the second half of 2015 from a year earlier.

And yet, over the same period, energy costs fell 19 percent.

The result: a 1.4 percent year-over-year rise in the area’s overall consumer prices, the cost of a basket of typical goods and services, according to the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Kansas City office.

Shelter costs outweigh energy costs for most consumers, so shelter plays a bigger role in driving overall consumer prices.

The problem is that commodity prices fluctuate (due to market forces but also to environmental factors like government policies), and this small, offsetting bump for Colorado electricity ratepayers will provide only temporary relief. According to the Denver Business Journal, gasoline is down nearly 26 percent in 2015, with natural gas down nearly 19 percent. Household electricity was off 2.9 percent

On the other hand, gasoline cost 25.9 percent less in late 2015 than it did a year earlier, BLS said, while household natural gas cost 18.9 percent less and household electricity was down 2.9 percent. That’s hardly a dent in the 63 percent increase in residential electricity costs measured through 2014.

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Job counters will see in a few years if the solar industry’s employment numbers are real (this time, and not an ephemeral mirage like so many other “green jobs”) and not temporary construction jobs and inferred “indirect jobs,” but for now they admit what is giving the solar folks a bump:

A few key developments are driving the job surge in solar.

Businesses and homeowners are eligible for a 30% tax credit if they install solar panels on their property. That’s been in place since 2006 but in December Congress renewed the tax credit for another six years. That lowers installation costs considerably.

The climate change agreement in Paris and the global action plan to limit global warming is also a positive for the clean energy industry.

And the Environmental Protection Agency released plans last year to force states to lower their carbon output.

Not much in the way of actual demand from consumers without government force (EPA’s Clean Power Plan) or government incentive (tax credit), or public pressure (Paris).

The article notes that lower commodity prices for oil and gasoline, and natural gas, are giving solar a “headwind.” Free market effects will do that.

Despite all the supply-side incentives (tax credits, subsidies, and mandates) and the demand-side disincentives (killing coal through the Clean Power Plan) the Energy Information Administration reports that solar was at 4.4 percent of all renewables in 2014 (last full year of data available), and a mere 0.4 percent of total U.S. energy consumption that year.

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

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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.

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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.

Translating Obama’s energy policy

January 26, 2012 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

President Barack Obama will be in Colorado today at Buckley Air Force Base promoting his new “all-of-the-above” energy policy. He’s delivering his remarks to a “closed audience” that includes “local energy stakeholders” (translation: rent seekers). We acquired a “fact sheet” about the President’s new direction for energy on which his speech will be based. Since most of us didn’t make the invite list, Michael Sandoval and I have taken the liberty of translating what this new approach to energy policy really means.

FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Blueprint to Make The Most of America’s Energy Resources

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama laid out a Blueprint for an America Built to Last, underscoring his commitment to an all-of-the-above approach that develops every available source of American energy. This commitment includes the safe and responsible production of our oil and natural gas resources.

Translation: We’ll pay lip service to the reasonable “all-of-the-above” energy advocates, but don’t worry anti-fossil fuel crowd. “Safe and responsible” are relative terms that are invoked to kill any oil and gas project that the green enthusiasts deem eco-unfriendly such as the Keystone pipeline.

Today, American oil production is at the highest level in eight years and last year we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.

Translation: production is high because of advancements in technology such as hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling not because this administration is a fan of fossil fuels. The drop in demand for imported oil is the consequence of a dismal economy and gas prices up 83 percent since the president took office.

At the same time, the President believes we need to double-down on clean energy in the United States. Transitioning to cleaner sources of energy will enhance our national security, protect the environment and public health, and grow our economy and create new jobs. Over the past few years, renewable energy use has nearly doubled. In fact, in 2011, the United States reclaimed the position as the world’s leading investor in clean energy – but staying on top will depend on smart, aggressive action moving forward.

Translation: Doubling-down on “clean energy” means an increase in importation of the rare earth minerals that comprise components in every major green technology—wind turbines, solar panels, and hybrid vehicle batteries. China controls 95 percent of the rare earth production, threatening national security. Chinese environmental regulations are virtually non-existent, failing to protect the environment in China or the public health of Chinese citizens, and produce tons of toxic waste trailings, radioactive debris, and millions of gallons of acid water—according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s August 2011 study, “Investigating Rare Earth Element Mine Development in EPA Region 8 and Potential Environmental Impacts.”

As for growing the economy and creating new jobs, the administration’s record is replete with examples of government-subsidized crony capitalist failures like Solyndra, or smoke-and-mirrors reports from “clean energy” advocacy firms. Actual government reports produced by Colorado’s Governor’s Energy Office and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment detail the difficulty of actually defining “clean energy” jobs or tracing their creation.

The green job creation that is reported tends to be a product of the numbers promised by politicians and touted by industry advocates, not subject to objective standards of scrutiny, or remembered once the business venture fails. The administration touts the doubling of renewable energy use—well, when the figures provided from the Energy Information Administration (yes, it exists) show wind and solar composing just 1.3 percent of U.S. energy consumption in 2010, then yes, that growth can be overinflated. As for “investment” in “clean energy,” when it comes to government subsidies of any kind, the money comes from taxpayers domestically and from borrowing overseas, including China.

President Obama will begin the second day of his post-State of the Union swing with an event at a UPS facility in Las Vegas, focusing on the importance of American workers developing American-made energy for an economy that’s built to last. Following this event, the President will travel to Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado to deliver remarks on American energy and the steps his Administration is taking to promote energy security.

Translation: The administration has been gambling with poor taxpayer “investment” in businesses like Solyndra, so Las Vegas makes sense.

President Obama’s Plan to Advance Safe Production of Oil and Gas Resources To Create Jobs, Enhance Energy Security, and Cut Pollution.

Translation: President Obama will expand his carbon footprint exponentially trying to explain his vision of American energy policy.

Make a new lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico to move forward on our national commitment to safe and responsible oil and gas development: In his State of the Union Address, the President directed the Department of Interior to finalize a national offshore energy plan that makes 75% of our potential offshore resources available for development by opening new areas for drilling in the Gulf and Alaska. On Thursday, the President will take a concrete step forward to develop our oil and gas resources, announcing that the Department of Interior will hold a new lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico. This lease sale will make approximately 38 million acres available, and could result in the production of 1 billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Translation: Plans during an election year are flaky at best—and the likelihood of the administration abandoning key constituencies by eschewing previous calls for bans and moratoriums would be a true reversal of energy policy, and one unlikely to take place any time soon. We’ll check and see if that lease sale takes place, and whether or not those resources are allowed to develop or held up “indefinitely” pending more “clarification” or other environmental regulation impediments.

Promote safe, responsible development of the near 100-year supply of natural gas, supporting more than 600,000 jobs while ensuring public health and safety: In 2009, we became the world’s leading producer of natural gas. In the State of the Union, the President directed the Administration to ensure safe shale gas development that, according to independent estimates, will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. These actions will include moving forward with common-sense new rules to require disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking operations on public lands.

Translation: We’ll give lip service to natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, but we really plan to appease our wealthy, elitist, eco-unreasonable donors and regulate fracking out of existence. The reality is that even small changes in environmental regulations surrounding fracking will lead to moratoriums and bans as companies fall afoul of disclosure requirements and other permitting processes freeze up.

Reducing our dependence on oil by encouraging greater use of natural gas in transportation: The President’s plan includes: proposing new incentives for medium- and heavy-duty trucks that run on natural gas or other alternative fuels; launching a competitive grant program to support communities to overcome the barriers to natural gas vehicle deployment; developing transportation corridors that allow trucks fueled by liquefied natural gas to transport goods; and supporting programs to convert municipal buses and trucks to run on natural gas and to find new ways to convert and store natural gas.

Translation: Son of “cash for clunkers.” We’ll force taxpayers to borrow even more to trash perfectly usable vehicles because we don’t like “dirty oil.”

Harnessing American ingenuity to catalyze breakthrough technologies for natural gas: The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) will announce a new research competition in the coming months that will engage our country’s brightest scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to find ways to harness our abundant supplies of domestic natural gas to lessen our dependence of foreign oil for vehicles. The breakthrough technologies they will develop, whether they are for new ways to fuel our cars with natural gas or a method to turn that gas into liquid fuel, promise to break our dependence on foreign oil for our cars and trucks, allow us to breathe cleaner air, and ultimately save consumers at the pump. To date ARPA-E has hosted four rounds of competitions and attracted over 5000 applications from research teams, which has resulted in approximately 180 cutting edge projects.

Translation: part of our overall strategy to kill all fossil fuels by meddling with the natural gas industry.

The President’s Commitment to Clean Energy

Doubling the share of electricity from clean energy sources by 2035: The centerpiece of the Administration’s strategy is a Clean Energy Standard, or “CES” – a flexible approach that harnesses American ingenuity and innovation, and channels it toward a clean energy future. By creating a market here at home for innovative clean energy technologies, we will unleash the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs and ensure that America leads the world in clean energy.

Translation: We will continue to pick market winners and losers by force-subsidizing “clean energy” through CES standards designed to inflate the “demand” for expensive energy. These phony energy markets collapse—as we’ve seen time and again in Europe—once the government subsidies are removed due to financial collapse in EU countries like Germany and the Netherlands. Also, by artificially increasing our dependence on Chinese-produced rare earth minerals for all of the components critical to wind and solar energy production, we will be less about “clean energy” here at home than “dirty energy” somewhere else.

Supporting clean energy with targeted tax incentives: The President supports renewing and extending a number of proven and successful provisions that are crucial to the continued growth of the domestic clean energy sector. This includes tax incentives for clean energy manufacturing, which could create up to 100,000 jobs, and the Production Tax Credit to support investment in the deployment of clean energy technologies like wind and solar.

Translation: We don’t care if Solyndra and Evergreen Solar burned through taxpayer cash and went bankrupt because we love toxic solar panels and raptor shredding wind turbines. Despite billions of dollars already “invested” in green jobs, we’ve failed to produce many jobs, but we’ll continue to perpetuate the myth that we can waste taxpayer money and create “green” jobs at the same time. The notion that an entire industry—wind turbine energy production—will disappear without tax credits speaks to the fragility and lack of actual demand for that type of energy in a free market. Also, rather than “create” jobs, the tax credit would likely, at best, “save” the already subsidized jobs “created” through artificial demand as a result of Renewable Energy Standards and other government-imposed regulations.


Opening public lands for private investments in clean energy: To enhance energy security and create new jobs, the Department of the Interior is committed to issuing permits for 10 gigawatts of renewable generation capacity – enough to power 3 million homes – from new projects on our public lands by the end of 2012.

Translation: Environmental degradation doesn’t matter when it comes to “green”energy that is neither green nor clean. Each MW of wind-produced energy requires tons of rare earth minerals to build each turbine’s generator, and each ton of rare earths is accompanied by the aforementioned toxic waste, acid water, and radioactive trailings. Do the math. Once again, the administration seems to think, as does the American Wind Energy Association and other advocates that wind turbines spring pre-formed with the tapping of the ground, sprouting from bulbs like so many Dutch windmills. Nevermind the transportation costs and the sprawl required to house the wind farms or solar arrays. Or sensitive species like the lesser prairie chicken, whose existence could stall wind energy development in Oklahoma if it fails to garner an exemption in being listed as an endangered species. In the hierarchy of green, which will take precedent according to the administration—the endangered chicken or the wind turbine?


Securing renewable energy for the U.S. Navy: Securing a safe, clean and reliable energy supply for our nation’s defense forces is essential to carrying out missions vital to the security of the United States. The Department of Navy has committed to adding 1 gigawatt of renewable energy produced from sources like solar, wind, and geothermal to its energy portfolio for shore-side installations – enough to power 250,000 homes.  Using existing authorities such as power purchase agreements, the Navy will ensure these energy projects are cost neutral and require no up-front investments by the government.

Translation: We’ll shift the up-front cost of acquiring energy through power purchase agreements to the taxpayers in some other fashion, most likely through the subsidies, tax credits, and other “investments” that create the energy sources in any producer’s energy portfolio. The Department of Defense has already begun to push for 25 percent renewable energy requirements by 2020, and to expand research into military applications of thin-film solar energy production. While we cut military spending in areas of troop size, we”ll actually spend more taxpayer money in the future because we want expensive, unreliable “renewable energy” that requires backup generation.

Note from the Energy Policy Center at the Independence Institute: We are agnostic on energy sources. We believe in affordable, abundant and reliable energy. Let consumers decide from which resource they would like to purchase their power.

While we welcome the president’s new approach of an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, actions speak louder than words. As we have detailed repeatedly, the policies of this administration have led to the massive waste of taxpayer dollars, increased environmental degradation, higher energy prices, and a dangerous dependence on China making American energy less secure than it was when he took office.

Weatherization: Bring in Sealant Team 6

October 25, 2011 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

This is a hilarious take on the “green economy” from Jon Stewart.

Salazar approved solar project a bust

October 2, 2011 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

Almost a year ago to the day the Department of Interior issued a press release boasting that Secretary Ken Salazar had “approved the first large-scale solar energy plants ever to be built on public lands.”

As with Obama administration renewable energy initiatives, there were the promises of massive amounts of electrical power and “green jobs.”

the U.S.-based companies [will have] access to almost 6,800 acres of public lands for 30 years to build and operate solar plants that could produce up to 754 megawatts of renewable energy, or enough to power 226,000 – 566,000 typical American homes. The projects will generate almost 1,000 new jobs.

One of the major players was Arizona-based Stirling Energy Systems out of Scottsdale, which was to provide the technology for Tessera Solar of Texas to move forward with the massive Imperial Valley Solar Project in Imperial County, California.

What a difference a year makes. Stirling Energy Systems (SES), a manufacturer of mirrored solar dishes, just filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy meaning it will close its doors, cease all operations, and liquidate any remaining assets.

Warning signs appeared shortly after Salazar’s announcement. In December 2010, GreenTech Media reported in an article titled “Are Stirling Energy, Tessera Solar in Trouble?”

Days after getting an administrative reprieve for a massive solar project, things aren’t looking so hot for Stirling Energy Systems and its development partner, Tessera Solar.

Steve Cowman, who was the CEO at SES until recently, has left the company, as have a number of other executives. Meanwhile, Tessera laid off between 50% to 80% of its employees last month, according to sources. Rumors began percolating about problems at the companies, which work together and are part of an Irish conglomerate called NTR, last month.

Despite a $7 million grant from the federal government, SES needed more cash and couldn’t secure it. Kirk Busch, “chairman of AZ4Solar.org, a Tempe-based trade group that advocates solar energy” and creditor of SES, told Arizona Central that the math didn’t add up and neither did the technology. Busch called it “still a science project.”

AZCentral reports that SES lists $1 to $10 million in assets and $50 to $100 million in liabilities, with hundreds of creditors.

The Imperial Valley Solar Project has changed hands twice and is also plagued by lawsuits including one from Native Americans who claim the project will harm sacred cultural sites. The future of the project, which appeared uncertain back in June, now has gotten darker.

Another green project with federal backing gone bust.

Thank you to a reader who provided the SES bankruptcy tip. If you have an energy story or tip, email amy@i2i.org.


Abound Solar’s connections to $400 million

September 25, 2011 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

This column appeared originally on Townhall Finance.

Crony capitalism Abound: anatomy of a taxpayer-guaranteed loan

By Amy Oliver Cooke

By now it’s obvious that the Solyndra scandal never should have happened.  It’s not even a case of Monday morning quarterbacking. A number of people involved could see the disaster coming.

There is a larger principle here. Government should not use taxpayer money to socialize risk while privatizing profits. Examples such as Colorado-based Abound Solar, which received a $400 million loan guarantee, prove that crony capitalism simply rewards the well connected at taxpayer expense.

Abound Solar

Abound Solar, according to its Web site, “produces next-generation thin-film cadmium telluride solar modules” and “is committed to reducing the cost of solar electricity to levels competitive with fossil fuels.”

It is the brainchild of former Colorado State University (CSU) Professor W.S. Sampath and two former students Kurt Barth and Al Enzenroth.  It began as AVA Solar and then incorporated into Abound in 2007.

The Web site says it employs 350 people in three Colorado locations.  Its Colorado manufacturing plant is located in Weld County, which granted Abound up to $100,000 per year for the next ten years in business property tax rebates.  According to sources, the reason for the rebate was job creation intended to benefit Weld County residents. Yet when officials and interested parties ask how many of the 350 jobs have gone to Weld County residents, the solar company does not answer.

Currently Abound has a manufacturing capacity of 65 megawatts expanding to 850 megawatts – at some point. However, in 2010 it manufactured only 30 megawatts. One wonders, if Abound can produce more, why doesn’t it?

The Web site does say it is “growing,” and news reports claim the company plans to add anywhere from 850 to 1,000 employees thanks to a $400 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan Abound received in July 2010.  The taxpayer cash is so it can expand its manufacturing capabilities to a facility in Tipton, Indiana. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation “extended up to $11.85 million in tax credits and $250,000 in training grants” as well.

Abound Solar further claims $260 million in private investments, part of which came from billionaire medical heiress Pat Stryker’s Bohemian Companies.  This is where the story gets interesting.

Thanks to Independence Institute investigative reporter Todd Shepherd, we still have access to the Web page that lists Bohemian as an investor even though it does not appear on the company’s current Web site. The exact amount that Stryker has given is not public at this time. Also, CSU and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are listed as funding resources.

Total public and private monies equal $673,100,000. Assuming Abound can “create” some 1,350 jobs, that is $498,593 per job, of which $360,000 comes from public coffers.

However, Abound’s Indiana manufacturing facility is not scheduled to open until 2013 or 2014, which seems like a long time to wait to “create” jobs and turn a profit.

As a comparison, the Denver Bronco’s stadium cost $364 million to build of which 68 percent was publicly financed.  With a yes vote from taxpayers in November 1998, construction began in August 1999 and was completed in September 2001.

This is not an endorsement of publicly funded professional sports facilities but rather an assumption that the Broncos management didn’t want a disruption in cash flow that could come from the inconvenience of a lengthy construction project.

I asked Abound if the company is still on track for a 2013 expansion and received no response. For most companies, time means money except in solar panels.

Pat Stryker

Forbes lists medical heiress and founder of Bohemian Companies/Foundation Pat Stryker as number 331 of its top “400 Richest People in America.” Worth $1.3 billion, the Fort Collins resident could single-handedly fund Abound Solar and still be well above the poverty line.

While some of her fortune has gone to Abound Solar, she also has chosen to donate more than $2.2 million (probably a low figure) to Democrats and their causes over the last several election cycles. Beneficiaries include Barack Obama, one-term Congresswoman and Fort Collins resident Betsy Markey, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar when he successfully ran for U.S. Senate in Colorado.

Stryker is also a charter member of the notorious “gang of four” which changed the political landscape in Colorado through an organization called the Colorado Democracy Alliance (CoDA).  Their success was titled the “Colorado Miracle” and is being replicated in other states.

Congresswoman Betsy Markey

With the help from Stryker in 2008, Markey beat incumbent republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave in Colorado’s conservative 4th Congressional District.  Abound Solar, Pat Stryker, and Colorado State University are all in the 4th CD. Between 2008 and 2010 election cycles, CSU employees also donated nearly $27,000 to Markey’s campaigns.

When the Waxman-Markey (named for Congressmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey) cap and trade bill, which included a national renewable energy standard, came up for a vote, Congresswoman Markey danced around the issue for weeks because it wasn’t a popular bill in the 4th CD. Ultimately she voted “yes.”

In an interview on my radio show following the vote, Markey cited “green jobs” as one of her reasons.  What she didn’t cite was her relationship to Pat Stryker and Abound Solar or the $2,000 campaign contribution she received from Henry Waxman the night before the vote.

Shortly after the vote, Abound Solar was part of a group that helped pay for TV ads thanking Markey for saying yes to Waxman’s bill. Todd Shepherd exposed the politically incestuous relationship and suggested:

[T]he connections between Representative Betsy Markey (D, CO-4), billionaire heiress Pat Stryker, and Abound Solar, appear to have all of the fingerprints of the kind of pay-to-play agenda that has left many Americans wondering how they got stuck with unpopular bills such as cap and trade, formally known as Waxman-Markey (named after a different Markey).

Markey also urged the approval of Abound’s $400 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan. The Denver Business Journal reported, “Abound applied for the loan guarantee more than a year ago, and Markey and other members of Colorado’s congressional delegation pushed for approval.”

Colorado State University

Located in Fort Collins, Colorado, CSU fancies itself the “green” university:

“Colorado State University is internationally known for its green initiatives and clean-energy research including alternative fuels, clean engines, photovoltaics, “smart” grid technology, wind engineering, water resources, and satellite-based atmospheric monitoring and tracking systems. It’s also known as a “green” university for its sustainability efforts on campus and abroad.

Abound Solar founders got their start at CSU as the university bragged in a 2007 press release.

Stryker also has a connection to CSU, having donated millions to the university.  Furthermore, former CSU president Al Yates became Stryker’s mouthpiece and representative on CoDA. The Blueprint, a must-read book from Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer, details the Yates-Stryker relationship along with how democrats won control in Colorado.

Finally, CSU is home to the Center for the New Energy Economy headed by former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, a renewable energy activist, and funded by private donations, a third of which came from Stryker’s Bohemian Foundation. Ritter now makes $300,000 to promote renewable energy throughout the country.

Governor Bill Ritter

With the help of CoDA and Pat Stryker, Democrat Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter won the 2006 Governor’s race. His one term legacy is the state’s New Energy Economy, 57 pieces of legislation to move the state from reliance on less costly on fossil fuels to renewables. Ritter is a true believer, an eco-evangelical, who signed laws mandating 30 percent renewable energy standards and fuel switching.

In April 2009, Governor Ritter hand-delivered two letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu who was touring NREL. One letter urged the Department of Energy to grant a $300 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan to Abound Solar:

This request for $300 million would allow [Abound Solar] to triple production capacity within 12 months, develop a second manufacturing facility within 18 months and hire an additional 1,000 employees.

Abound received $400 million in July 2010. By all accounts, the solar panel company will not meet Ritter’s original promise of triple capacity in a year and a new facility within 18 months. Just won’t happen that fast.

When Ritter left office in January 2011, he became the Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at CSU and one of the highest paid administrators on campus, thanks to Stryker.

President Barack Obama

President Obama received $11,700 directly from Stryker and Joseph Zimlich, who is a director at Abound Solar and is also associated with Stryker’s Bohemian Foundation. No doubt Obama benefitted as well from Stryker’s donations to other democrat causes including Campaign Money Watch and Democrat White House Victory Fund.

In Obama’s weekly radio address on July 3, 2010, he announced an acceleration of “the transition to a clean energy economy and doubling our use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power – steps that have the potential to create whole new industries and hundreds of thousands of new jobs in America.”

He said that Abound Solar:

will manufacture advanced solar panels at two new plants, creating more than 2,000 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs.  A Colorado plant is already underway, and an Indiana plant will be built in what’s now an empty Chrysler factory.  When fully operational, these plants will produce millions of state-of-the-art solar panels each year.

That radio address was the formal announcement that Abound Solar received a $400 million loan guarantee courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. Taxpayers get the risk while individuals get the profit.

To recap, Abound Solar receives support from Pat Stryker and Colorado State University both of which fund and promote Congresswoman Betsy Markey. She in turn votes yes on Cap and Trade and urges the federal government to approve the Abound loan.

Abound Solar then contributes to TV ads thanking Markey for her yes vote on Cap and Trade.

Governor Bill Ritter hand delivers letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu urging the DOE to grant the loan guarantee.  When he decides not to run for a second term, he is offered a job at CSU, which is funded in part by Pat Stryker.

President Barack Obama benefitted from Pat Stryker’s political donations.  In July 2010, he announces a $400 million loan guarantee to Abound.

Can’t get a $400 million loan? Apparently you don’t know and fund the right people.

Amy Oliver Cooke is the director of the Colorado Transparency Project for the Independence Institute and writes on energy policy.  She can be reached at amy@i2i.org