Letter to Hick: New Belgium, renewable companies encourage Clean Power Plan implementation

July 31, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

New Belgium Brewing Company, along with Colorado renewable companies and a few dozen other organizations, has submitted a letter today to Governor John Hickenlooper, encouraging the state’s top official to move forward in a timely manner to impose the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan rule on carbon reduction, stressing the importance of renewable energy:

We, the undersigned companies and investors, have a significant presence in Colorado and strongly support the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Carbon Pollution Standards for existing power plants. These standards, also called the Clean Power Plan, are critical for moving our country toward a clean energy economy. The Plan’s flexible approach provides an exciting opportunity for states to customize their own energy portfolio, expand clean energy solutions, attract new industries to the state, and create thousands of jobs.

Our support is firmly grounded in economic reality. Clean energy solutions are cost effective and innovative ways to drive investment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Increasingly, businesses rely on renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions to cut costs and improve corporate performance. In 2014, a study by Ceres, Calvert Investments and the World Wildlife Fund revealed that 60 percent of Fortune100 companies have set their own clean energy targets and have saved more than $1 billion a year in the process.

Clear and consistent policies can send market signals that help businesses and investors plan for the future. We are seeking long-term policies that provide businesses the certainty needed to transition to a clean energy economy. Electric power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States and the Clean Power Plan will be pivotal in reducing their emissions.

As you develop your implementation plan we hope you will include the building blocks of renewable energy and energy efficiency, which will allow you to mitigate the risks of climate change and the volatility of fossil fuel prices.

To “send market signals,” this group would prefer onerous regulation that threatens places like Craig, Colorado and Moffat County in favor of preferred investments, and perhaps more importantly, preferred investors.

Send clear market signals = government picking energy winners and losers.

The full text of the letter and complete list of signatories:

Clean Power Plan Governor Letter – CO

July 9 Colorado Energy Roundup: government won’t appeal in Colowyo case, true costs of wind energy revealed

Perhaps the most pressing energy and jobs-related issue in Colorado right now is the legal battle over the Colowyo Mine in the northwest part of the state:

The U.S. Department of the Interior has decided not to pursue an appeal of a federal court ruling that threatened to close Colowyo coal mine in Northwest Colorado.

According to a statement from Department of the Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw, “We are not appealing the court’s decision, but are on track to address the deficiencies in the Colowyo permit within the 120-day period.”

“We are disappointed that the government did not appeal the federal district court’s decision. Colowyo Mine remains confident that the U.S. Department of Interior and Office of Surface Mining are making every effort to complete the required environmental review within the 120-day period ordered by the court,” Tri-State’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications and Public Affiars Lee Boughey wrote in an email. “These efforts help ensure compliance with the judge’s order while supporting the 220 employees of Colowyo Mine and communities across northwest Colorado.”

The legal decision in May that tripped off the permitting kerfuffle that endangers the operation of the Colowyo Mine stemmed from a lawsuit brought by WildEarth Guardians that the mine’s 2007 permit did not follow the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement requirements as well as National Environmental Policy Act rules.

Bipartisan efforts have poured in from across Colorado, as politicians, the business community, and legal experts recognize the importance and high stakes involved in the threat to the mine from a procedural and regulatory environment standpoint:

Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and [Rep. Scott] Tipton all joined Craig City Council and Moffat County Commissioners in addressing Jewell regarding the situation at Colowyo.

On July 2, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, the Colorado Competitive Council and the Colorado Energy Coalition sent a co-authored letter to Jewell voicing their concerns.

According to the letter, “this precedent could pose a threat to any activity on federal lands that performed an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act in order to obtain federal leases and permits. That could stretch from energy development and mining, to agricultural grazing and ski resorts becoming vulnerable to retroactive legal challenges.”

Tri-State’s Boughey noted that the government’s appeal isn’t necessary, however:

The ColoWyo appeal isn’t dependent on any other party’s decision to appeal or not appeal Jackson’s decision, Boughey said.

“We believe the court made several significant errors, including misreading the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. This prejudices not only Colowyo but other mining operations, and sets a precedent that should raise concerns for the U.S. energy industry and other activities on federal land,” he said.

In essence, Tri-State and ColoWyo officials don’t think the federal Office of Surface Mining should be looking at power plant operations.

“The court’s requirement that the agency analyze emissions from power plants inappropriately expands National Environmental Policy Act analyses for mining plans beyond what is prescribed under the law,” Boughey said.

The Independence Institute will continue to monitor the developments in the Colowyo legal battle.

***

Meanwhile, the WildEarth Guardians continue their crusade against all natural resource extraction, as the Denver Post’s Vincent Carroll recently illustrated:

Jeremy Nichols may not be the official stand-up comic of green activism, but he seems to be auditioning for the role. How else to explain his risible claim in a recent Denver Post report on the struggling economy in northwest Colorado that WildEarth Guardians isn’t trying to shut down the Colowyo coal mine and throw 220 people out of work?

“We want to have an honest discussion about the impact of coal and find a way to come together to figure out the next step,” Nichols, the group’s spokesman, maintained.

Why, of course. A group militantly opposed to fossil-fuel production files a lawsuit challenging the validity of a coal mine plan approved years ago — but does so only to provoke an “honest discussion.” Please.

WildEarth Guardians is opposed to all fossil-fuel extraction in the West, and makes no bones about it. In the winter 2013-14 edition of Wild Heart, Nichols outlined the group’s position on those other big fossil fuels, oil and natural gas.

“As communities in Colorado and elsewhere have learned well,” Nichols wrote, “it’s not enough to make oil and gas development cleaner or safer. For the sake of our health, our quality of life, and our future, it simply has to be stopped.”

“In some cases,” Nichols explained, “we can stop it cold … . In other cases, we can raise the cost of drilling to make it economically infeasible.”

The Colowyo Mine is still operating for now, but WildEarth’s apparent regulatory sabotage certainly seems consistent with its efforts to “stop it cold” when it comes to natural resources. Not to mention throwing 220 people out of work and disrupting the economy of an entire region.

Some “honest discussion.”

***

The price of a barrel of oil began to decline sharply in late 2014, prompting fears that the crashing crude market would tank the nation’s nascent energy resurgence, but despite falling numbers, 2015 still looks to be a year of production highs:

The amount of crude oil produced across the United States fell in May compared to April — but federal forecasters say 2015’s overall production is still “on track” to be the highest in 45 years.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Tuesday released its monthly short-term energy outlook, noting that crude oil production fell in May by about 50,000 barrels of oil per day compared with April.

In Colorado, oil production from the Niobrara field north of Denver, part of the larger Denver-Julesburg Basin, is expected to drop about 17,000 barrels per day in July compared to June, the EIA said.

The number of drilling rigs running in the state has dropped from 72 at the start of 2015 to 39 at the end of June as oil and gas companies have cut back on spending.

But, as we know from basic economics about supply and demand, lower oil prices mean lower gas prices, and that is driving demand back up to pre-recession levels:

But the on the consumer side, a better economy and low gasoline prices are expected to boost the amount of gasoline used in the U.S. by an estimated 170,000 barrels per day over 2014, the report said.

“U.S. gasoline demand will likely top 9 million barrels per day this year for the first time since 2007, which reflects record highway travel,” Sieminski said.

***

There’s no doubt that readers of the Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Center blog and op-eds are familiar with the argument that electricity derived from wind energy is more costly than other forms of generation–namely coal and natural gas–when one accounts for the massive amount of Federal subsidies, incentives, and state and local renewable mandates and other handouts.

A new study from Utah State University once again confirms that conclusion–”when you take into account the true costs of wind, it’s around 48 per cent more expensive than the industry’s official estimates”:

“In this study, we refer to the ‘true cost’ of wind as the price tag consumers and society as a whole pay both to purchase wind-generated electricity and to subsidize the wind energy industry through taxes and government debt,” said Ryan Yonk Ph.D., one of the report’s authors and a founder of Strata Policy. “After examining all of these cost factors and carefully reviewing existing cost estimates, we were able to better understand how much higher the cost is for Americans.”

The peer-reviewed report accounted for the following factors:

The federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), a crucial subsidy for wind producers, has distorted the energy market by artificially lowering the cost of expensive technologies and directing taxpayer money to the wind industry.

States have enacted Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that require utilities to purchase electricity produced from renewable sources, which drives up the cost of electricity for consumers.

Because wind resources are often located far from existing transmission lines, expanding the grid is expensive, and the costs are passed on to taxpayers and consumers.

Conventional generators must be kept on call as backup to meet demand when wind is unable to do so, driving up the cost of electricity for consumers.

“Innovation is a wonderful thing and renewable energy is no exception. Wind power has experienced tremendous growth since the 1990’s, but it has largely been a response to generous federal subsidies,” Yonk stated.

But Utah State University researchers aren’t the only ones pulling back the curtain on the true cost of wind. A new study from the Institute for Energy Research demonstrates that a real comparison between existing power plants and new power plant sources shows that wind power once again comes up short in the low cost department:

Today, the Institute for Energy Research released a first-of-its-kind study calculating the levelized cost of electricity from existing generation sources. Our study shows that on average, electricity from new wind resources is nearly four times more expensive than from existing nuclear and nearly three times more expensive than from existing coal. These are dramatic increases in the cost of generating electricity. This means that the premature closures of existing plants will unavoidably increase electricity rates for American families.

Almost all measures of the cost of electricity only assess building new plants–until now. Using data from the Energy Information Administration and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, we offer useful comparison between existing plants and new plants.

America’s electricity generation landscape is rapidly changing. Federal and state policies threaten to shutter more than 111 GW of existing coal and nuclear generation, while large amounts of renewables, such as wind, are forced on the grid. To understand the impacts of these policies, it is critical to understand the cost difference between existing and new sources of generation.

LCOE-press-png

A link to the complete study can be found on the Institute’s release page.

Big Wind and Solar Oppose Clean Energy

February 13, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, Legislation, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

By Lexi Osborn

In the upcoming weeks, House Bill 1118 will be up for debate in the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. This bill eliminates the restrictions on the hydroelectricity and pumped hydroelectricity that can be counted as a “renewable energy resource” to meet Colorado’s renewable energy standard.

Currently, hydroelectricity is only counted towards the renewable energy standard if newly built facilities have a nameplate rating of 10 MW or less, or, if they are built before January 2005, with a nameplate rating of 30 MW or less. Fully including hydroelectricity would allow Coloradoans to take advantage of the 1169 megawatts of existing hydroelectric capacity. Eighty-two percent of that capacity is currently not considered “renewable” by Colorado standards because those facilities have a capacity of 30 MW and were built before 2005.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes hydroelectricity as clean, renewable energy, and the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) determined that it produces air emissions on par with wind and solar. There is no justifiable environmental reason to keep these restrictions in place.

It may then come as a surprise that there are clean energy supporters who are actively fighting against this bill. Conservation Colorado, the Colorado Cleantech Industries Association, and the Distributed Wind Energy Association are all opposing the inclusion of hydroelectricity as a renewable energy resource despite the EPA’s evaluation. These organizations all claim to have commitments to developing and expanding clean energy in our society, making it hard to justify their opposition. So, why exclude hydroelectricity? Why impede clean energy if their missions are to protect the environment and limit carbon emissions?

Conservation Colorado has claimed that the current restrictions are necessary because the construction of large-scale hydroelectric facilities is damaging to the environment. But, the restrictions aren’t protecting the environment. The restrictions limit the ability of people to use already existing hydroelectric facilities to comply with the renewable energy standard. All these restrictions do is force Colorado to leave out hydroelectric sources in its renewable energy portfolio, giving preferential treatment to wind and solar industries. This ends up costing ratepayers millions of dollars in compliance costs.

The only real reason they want to exclude hydroelectricity is because it threatens their market share. Last year, an almost identical bill, HB 1138, was shot down because wind and solar advocates testified that their industries would struggle if they had to compete with hydropower, which already supplies 23 percent of the electricity to rural co-ops. They claimed the bill would negatively affect jobs in the solar and wind industries that benefit from the renewable energy mandate.

Their testimony makes it all crystal clear – they are not true champions of the environment and clean energy. If they were, they would be embracing the power and potential of hydroelectricity. Sadly, they only appear to be using legislation as protectionist measure, jealously guarding their market share.

Lexi Osborn is a Future Leaders intern. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in political science.

Independence Institute at the “Stop the EPA Power Grab” Rally

August 6, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, preferred energy, renewable energy 

IMG_1905

More than 400 people turned out last week for the “Stop the EPA Power Grab” rally for affordable energy just across Lincoln Avenue from the west steps of the Capitol.

Coal miners, their families, representatives of more than 20 allied mining and natural resource groups, union members, business leaders, and affordable energy activists from Colorado and many states across the Rocky Mountain region gathered to address the Environmental Protection Agency’s “listening tour” for its newly unveiled “Clean Power Plan.”

The Independence Institute was a co-sponsor of the event, along with Americans for Prosperity-Colorado, the Colorado Mining Association, and several other business and civic groups from Wyoming, Montana, and Utah. Union groups represented included the AFL-CIO of Wyoming and Boilermakers of Montana.

Over the next two years, the EPA expects each state to develop its own plan to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels.

These regulations are designed to hurt coal–and by extension, will harm low income, minorities, the elderly, and rural communities that rely on coal for affordable, reliable energy. The rule will likely artificially raise the price of electricity substantially, while inefficient and more expensive sources of energy are substituted.

While agnostic on the question of energy sources, the Independence Institute is not agnostic on the intrusion of government in the free market energy arena, and believes that each state’s energy mix should be market-driven, not shaped by onerous and far-reaching regulations that stifle competition and raise electricity rates.

That was the message the Independence Institute wished to share with the attendees last week.

The text of my speech, more or less as delivered:

Good afternoon! My name is Michael Sandoval and I’m an energy policy analyst and investigative reporter for the Independence Institute, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about how mining brought my family to Colorado 86 years ago.

More than 100 years ago, my great-grandfather Anthony, a poor Italian immigrant, moved to Utah to mine coal and achieve the American Dream–earn a living for his growing family. With the money he earned from coal mining, he moved to Denver’s Little Italy, and in 1928, along with his son–my grandfather–he purchased a grocery store that was a fixture in the Italian-American community for 7 decades, eventually becoming an historic landmark.

I stand before you a product of that rich mining heritage, and I am deeply grateful for it.

I also stand WITH you. I will NOT let the EPA CRUCIFY COAL–to use the words of Al Armendariz, former EPA administrator and now Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaigner.

Our natural resources are both a blessing and a driving economic force in our region. They provide tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and they keep the lights on and, this time of year, the air conditioning running not just for us but for our most vulnerable community members.

But EPA outsiders have decided that a different energy path should be followed. They pay lip service to those affected by having a handful of “listening tours” AFTER they’ve decided which predetermined policy course they should undertake.

That is why we are here today. To let the EPA know that we already have ABUNDANT AFFORDABLE, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, RELIABLE ENERGY.

The Independence Institute is agnostic on energy sources–we do not care if the energy comes from hydro, coal, solar, natural gas, nuclear, or wind–but we are not agnostic on the subject of government intrusion into the energy sector–free energy markets, not preferred energy mandates, should guide our economy.

Achieving our own energy mix should come from market forces as businesses and consumers choose what is best for them, not onerous regulations imposed by anonymous EPA bureaucrats.

Government agencies like the EPA or the Department of Energy should NOT be in the business of picking energy winners and losers with this proposal, which EPA DIRECTOR GINA MCCARTHY ADMITTED “ISN’T ABOUT POLLUTION CONTROL” JUST LAST WEEK IN A SENATE COMMITTEE.

THIS PITS corporate cronies–WHAT MCCARTHY DUBS “INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN CLEAN AND RENEWABLE ENERGY” against the poor, the elderly, minorities, rural communities.

Nothing was more poignant than last October, when the EPA last made a stop at its Region 8 office, as miners and rural business owners and suppliers–along with their families–were forced to plead for their livelihoods with agency representatives.

We are here, along with all of the other organizations and friends here today, to say NO–say it with me–NO–to the EPA’s energy power grab.

DON’T BE FOOLED into thinking this is just about coal, or that hydraulic fracturing is just about natural gas. Folks, this is about an agenda for putting an end to the use of ALL of our natural resources, not just in Colorado, but in the entire Rocky Mountain West.

Rising Energy Prices Lead to the Highest Inflation Rate in 18 Months

June 24, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: New Energy Economy, preferred energy 

By Henry Zhang

On June 17th, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its monthly consumer price index report. This included statistics regarding consumer prices in May 2014 and year-to-year inflation. Of note is that in the Western Region[1], from May 2013 to May 2014, electricity prices rose 2.8 percent and total energy prices rose by 3.1 percent.[2] Compare those figures to 2.3 percent increase in average consumer prices over the same time period. In fact, according to the Denver Business Journal, the year-to-year price gain in energy was tied with medical care for the largest price gain of any major category used to calculate inflation.[3]

(Here is a screenshot of the relevant BLS Western Region data. Energy prices are boxed in red)

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Also from the Denver Business Journal article:

“The monthly increase [in the West] was largely influenced by higher prices for electricity,” BLS said. “Overall, energy costs advanced 4.6 percent over the month.”

Ten of the 13 states that comprise the BLS’ Western Region have some sort of renewable portfolio mandate over the next 15 years. This means that the state must generate a certain proportion of its electricity from renewable sources.[4] For states like Colorado that have been endowed with plentiful coal reserves, this requires replacing electricity from coal, which is relatively inexpensive, with electricity from wind and solar, which is relatively expensive. This, in turn, leads to higher electricity prices, which hurt businesses and consumers alike and can “inflict significant harm on the state economy.” [5]

On a national level, where 37 out of the 50 states have enacted renewable portfolio standards or goals, consumer prices rose 2.1 percent from May 2013 to May 2014 while electricity prices rose 3.6 percent and total energy prices rose 3.3 percent. For the US, like for the Western Region, energy prices experienced the largest percentage increase of all of the major consumption categories used to calculate inflation.

From 2004, when Colorado’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was passed, to 2012, the latest year for which data is available, the average retail price of electricity for all sectors increased from 6.95 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 9.39 cents per kWh, a 35 percent increase.[6] This is equivalent to a 3.76 percent average annual increase. For residential consumers of electricity, the retail price rose from 8.42 cents per kWh in 2004 to 11.46 cents per kWh in 2012. This is a 36 percent increase, equivalent to an average annual increase of 3.85 percent. In the eight years after the RPS was passed, both figures for the annual growth rate in the price of electricity are greater than the average rate of inflation.

For comparison purposes, in the eight years leading up to 2004 (1996-2004), average retail electricity prices only rose 15 percent, from 6.05 cents per kWh to 6.95 cents per kWh. This is an annualized growth rate of 1.73 percent. What more, for residential consumers, the annualized growth rate from 1996 to 2004 was just 1.46 percent. Thus, in the eight years before the RPS was passed, both figures for the annual growth rate in the price of electricity are less than the average rate of inflation. For a typical Colorado household,[7] which spends around $1065 per year on electricity,[8] the difference between an annual 3.85 percent rate increase and an annual 1.46 percent rate increase is an extra $270, per household, spent just on electricity over the course of 10 years. Furthermore, this number is much lower than the true cost of the RPS to Colorado households. It doesn’t take into account the billions of taxpayer dollars that have gone to the energy sources, like wind and solar, which contribute to the rapid rise in electricity prices.

Affordable energy and electricity prices are the bedrock of a strong, healthy economy. Increases in the price of electricity that outpace inflation and real income growth squeeze the spending power of all consumers. Ordinary people like you and me need affordable, dependable electricity for a myriad of purposes that enhance our standard of living. Businesses need a steady electricity supply to produce the goods and services that we consume. A justification of the cost of rapidly increasing electricity prices would require more than the rhetoric of environmental benefits. It would require clear evidence, from detailed, rigorous analyses, that the added value of environmental benefits exceeds the lost jobs and economic malaise caused by higher electricity prices.

Henry Zhang is a Future Leaders summer intern. He is a rising sophomore at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, majoring in mathematics and economics.


[1] The Western region consists of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming (link)

[2] BLS West Report (link)

[3] Mark Harden, Denver Business Journal. “Biggest annual price gain since 2012 in Colorado, the West” (link)

[4] Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) map (link)

[5] Heartland Institute study on Colorado’s RPS (link)

[6] Data from Energy Information Administration (EIA) (link)

[7] US Census Bureau: Colorado Quick Facts (link)

[8] 775 kWh/month * 12 months/year * 11.46 cents/kWh * (1.0385/1.0146)10 = $1325, which is $270 greater than $1065