March 3 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: EPA’s McCarthy ‘good news about Gold King’; a Tesla will improve your ‘quality of life’

Environmental Protection Administrator Gina McCarthy: “But, the good news about Gold King is that, you know, it really was a bright color, but the bright color was because the iron was oxidizing. It meant we had actually less problem than how it usually leaks, [laugh] which is pretty constantly, and so it was only a half a day’s release of what generally comes from those mines and goes into those rivers.”

The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastasch had more on the story:

The EPA-caused spill unleashed the equivalent of “9 football fields spread out at one foot deep” for a couple hours, according to a report by University of Arizona researchers.

Mine waste from Gold King was only coming out at a rate of 112 gallons per minute in August 2014. After the spill, wastewater was coming out at a rate of 500 to 700 gallons per minute.

While there have thankfully been no reported short-term health problems from the spill, experts are worried the toxic metals, like arsenic and lead, that leaked from the mine could pose long-term health problems.

“There is a potential for such sediments to be stirred up and metals released during high water events or recreational use,” University of Arizona researchers wrote. “The metals could become concentrated in fish that live in the river and feed on things that grow in the sediments. Metals in the sediments could seep into the groundwater, resulting in impacts to drinking and irrigation water.”

And the question of culpability for the EPA remains, as a House committee finds additional evidence implicating the agency directly:

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, cornered Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Tuesday over an email he says contradicts her statements that a toxic mine spill the Environmental Protection Agency caused last year in Colorado was an “accident.”

The mine blowout released 3 million gallons of heavy-metal-tainted water into the Colorado Animas River and the waterways of New Mexico and Utah. Bishop’s committee recently subpoenaed the Interior Department in February to provide it with email communications between Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Much of what they received back was completely redacted, Bishop said. But one email that Interior sent to the panel, unrelated to the subpoena, was revealing.

The email shows “that less than 48 hours after the blowout, your employee in Colorado talks to the EPA official in charge, and then emails all senior leadership at [the Bureau of Land Management], and basically says that EPA was deliberately removing a small portion of the plug to relieve pressure in the mine when the blowout occurred.”

***

ICYMI: Energy Policy Center associate analyst Simon Lomax’s latest column:

It was a rare moment of honesty from an environmental activist: “It is not easy to talk about the kind of massive changes that we need to make; about how we think, about what we eat, where it comes from, how we entertain ourselves, what kind of holidays we take,” said Kumi Naidoo, former executive director of Greenpeace International. “All of these things actually are very painful to talk about.”

Naidoo, who led Greenpeace for six years before departing late last year, made these remarks in mid-February at a climate-change forum in Germany. He was answering the question of an Icelandic official, who wanted to know why governments aren’t doing more to crack down on “meat consumption,” and other economic excesses that produce greenhouse gases. “We have to change the way we consume,” the official concluded at the end of her question.

On the same panel, three seats across from Naidoo, sat U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). As the former Greenpeace activist wrapped up his answer, the American lawmaker saw his climate and energy talking points going up in flames, and tried to get back on message.

“Let me just push back very gently on one point,” Whitehouse said, in comments first reported by The Harry Read Me File. “I don’t want to leave the impression that mankind must suffer in order to make these changes. The changes in consumption can actually be enjoyable and beneficial.”

Then he offered an example: “If you trade in your Mercedes for a Tesla, your quality of life just went up.”

Read it all here.

***

Have not had much on wind energy in a while, and the latest headline is somewhat revealing–wind sources acknowledge their lethal impact on birds, and propose to use technology to shut them down whenever a bird is nearby, making the energy source even more erratic and intermittent, not to mention the wear and tear of stop/start on the turbines themselves:

What if a wind turbine knew to shut down when a bird was too close? That vision is the goal of ongoing research in Golden, and birds themselves are helping to develop a solution.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has been conducting avian research alongside various industry partners to drastically reduce avian deaths by wind turbine collisions.

Colorado has 1,916 operating wind turbines statewide, placing it eighth in the nation for the number of turbines within a state.

Although those wind turbines accounted for only a small percentage of bird deaths annually, Jason Roadman, a technical engineer for NREL said that percentage should be zero.

“Renewable energy is something that I and a lot of people strongly believe in, so we want to make it as low impact as possible,” Roadman said. “The rates of wild bird collisions are fairly low on these solar-wind farms, but they’re not zero. So anything we can do to reduce the footprint of the negative effects of alternative energy, we’ll make every effort toward.”

Leaving the question of turbine resiliency and energy generation fluctuation aside, the admission that such measures are necessary to alleviate the threat to birds, including the heavily protected eagles and other raptors, is quite a step from a few years ago, when wind proponents minimized any such concern and sought takings extensions to prop up one of the industry’s most glaring shortcomings.

***

To say it’s been a rough 18 months for oil and gas would be an understatement, and the effect of the drop in commodities prices is being reflected in new figures from local businesses and communities:

Anadarko Petroleum Corp., one of the biggest oil and gas companies working in Colorado, will have only one drilling rig operating in the state during 2016 — down from an average of seven in 2015.

The Texas company (NYSE: APC), based in The Woodlands, a suburb of Houston, on Tuesday followed its peers by releasing budget figures and plans for 2016 that are a far cry from last year.

Hammered by a bust in oil and gas prices brought on by an international glut in supplies, oil and gas companies have slashed budgets, laid off employees and sold assets in the struggle to survive.

Anadarko, which has operations in the U.S. and around the world, said Tuesday it expects to spend between $2.6 billion and $2.8 billion this year, down nearly 50 percent from its 2015 budget.

About half that money, $1.1 billion, will be spent in the United States, and about half that amount — approximately $500 million — spent in the Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin during 2016, according to the company.

By comparison, Anadarko said a year ago it expected to spend about $1.8 billion on its Colorado operations in 2015.

Cuts like Anadarko’s have already manifested in places heavily involved in natural resource development, like northern Colorado’s Weld County:

Weld County’s economy appears to have entered a hard skid, now confirmed by larger-than-expected downward revisions to the number of people employed in oil and gas and mining statewide.

Preliminary employment counts last month estimated the county gained a net 3,800 payroll jobs between December 2014 and last December.

But revisions based on the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages for the third quarter from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment out Wednesday now project the county lost 500 jobs last year.

“It is playing out as we expected. It has just been more delayed than expected,” said Brian Lewandowski, associate director of the business research division at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

Weld County accounted for about 90 percent of the state’s oil production last year, and oil and gas producers account for about three-quarters of employment in the mining sector, Lewandowski said.

Mining has also been hit hard:

The QCEW revisions show what was initially measured as a modest 3.9 percent year-over-year decline in mining employment is running closer to a 20.7 percent drop.

Viewed another way, the loss of 1,400 mining sector jobs last year is now estimated at closer to 7,500, a nearly fivefold increase.

And while the number crunchers characterize the information as “delayed”–due to being lagging indicators following the commodity prices dropping–the impact was within a year, not a much longer or slowed trend that plays out over time.

A similar downturn has already been seen in severance taxes in the same area, as we noted a month ago in the Cheat Sheet:

Pushing for bans on fracking or other measures to limit responsible natural resource development will only exacerbate problems at the local level, putting education, infrastructure, and other critical services at risk, on top of the drop noted here in the Denver Post due to commodity prices tanking:

Because 97 percent of Platte Valley’s budget comes from taxes paid on mineral production and equipment — a property tax known as ad valorem — McClain said his district could be looking at a budget reduction between $300,000 and nearly $1 million next school year.
How that plays out in terms of potential cuts or program impacts is yet to be seen, he said.
“You’re always concerned about your folks,” McClain said. “You worry about it taking the forward momentum and positivity out.”
It’s not just schools that are suffering. Municipal budgets, local businesses and even hospitals in mineral-rich pockets of Colorado are watching closely to see how long prices remain depressed.

Combine that with a 72.3 percent drop in severance tax revenue–down to $77.6 million this year compared with $280 million last fiscal year–and you’ll get, in the words of the Post, “the state’s direct distributions of those proceeds to cities, counties, towns and schools will be reduced from a little more than $40 million in 2015 to just $11.9 million this year.

***

Xcel says the future of solar is bright:

Xcel Energy filed a new renewable energy plan with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission Monday that could more than double its portfolio of solar power in the state over the next three years.

“Our plan is all about our energy future in Colorado, and allowing our customers to choose and pay for the energy sources that they believe are best for them,” David Eves, president of Public Service Co. of Colorado, said in a statement.

The plan would add 421 megawatts of new power from renewable sources, enough for 126,300 homes, over the next three years. The bulk of that amount, 401 megawatts, would come from solar.

Xcel Energy, which currently obtains more than 22 percent of its power from renewable sources, said it is on track to meet or beat the state mandate of 30 percent from renewable sources by 2020.

The solar industry, however, is not impressed with Xcel, saying the utility should do more to encourage distributed generation:

But one leading solar advocate questioned the utility’s sincerity, given that Xcel, in a separate rate case, has asked for cuts to what it pays customers who put solar power onto the grid.

“Xcel’s view of the energy future is not the only one that Coloradans should consider. The public really needs to have a say here,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association.

Xcel currently offers to take on 2 megawatts of additional solar power at the start of each month, but that capacity is reserved within 15 to 20 minutes.

“We don’t think there should be an allocation, a ‘Mother may I have some capacity’ system,’ ” Cantwell said. “The industry is ready to play a much bigger part in Colorado’s energy future.”

Solar remains captive to the need for government mandates, rebates, handouts, and incentives to spur growth beyond the natural market preference of customers desiring to install the preferred energy source. The cost of panels may be declining (again, due in no small part to taxpayer-funded R&D grants, state and federal mandates, and other subsidies), but the cost of a system remains daunting.

If you have any doubt about the extent of government programs to encourage solar and other renewables, take a look of this list compiled by the Department of Energy. It lists 129 programs for Colorado alone.

***

As for the resources necessary for renewables and battery storage, here’s a new report from the Institute for Energy Research, as they show that renewables increase dependency on foreign sources:

One of the common reasons people claim to support wind and solar technologies is to reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy. For example, green energy supporter Jay Faison told the Wall Street Journal “If we expand our clean energy technologies, we’ll create more jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy…”[i] The problem is that green energy actually increases reliance on imports instead of reducing imports.

Green energy technologies are dependent on rare earth minerals and lithium for batteries–both of which are primarily imported into the United States. Most of the world’s rare earth minerals are produced in China (85 percent); and that country supplies the United States with most of its rare earth imports (71 percent). The United States only produces 24 percent of the rare earth minerals that it needs.[ii] In 2013, the United States imported 54 percent of the lithium it used, with Chile and Argentina supplying 96 percent of those imports.[iii] Some believe that lithium may be the “new oil”, eclipsing oil as a source for geopolitical and economic power.[iv] Clearly, Tesla, who is building a gigafactory in Nevada to produce lithium-ion batteries for its cars and Powerwall storage device, needs access to low-cost lithium. In contrast to these figures, the United States now imports only 27 percent of the oil it uses domestically.[v]

***

And about that reliability argument:

Green energy is so unreliable and intermittent that it could wreck the power grid, according to industry and government experts.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently investigating how green energy undermines the reliability of the electrical grid. FERC believe there is a “significant risk” of electricity in the United States becoming unreliable because “wind and solar don’t offer the services the shuttered coal plants provided.” Environmental regulations could make operating coal or natural gas power plant unprofitable, which could compromise the reliability of the entire power grid.

“The intermittency of renewable sources of electricity is already threatening reliability in Britain,” Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. ”This is because there are so many windmills that conventional power plants are being closed as uneconomic and so when the wind doesn’t blow there is not adequate backup power available. To avoid blackouts, the government is now paying large sums to have several hundred big diesel generators on standby. If this sounds crazy, it is.”

November 20 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Sierra Club to push for 100% renewables in Colorado; EPA Clean Power Plan hearing draws opposing sides; COGCC discusses new regs

11416162_10153626584141893_682657378597848906_n (1)
(Image Credit: Michael Sandoval)

The Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Analyst Michael Sandoval delivered this statement to the Environmental Protection Agency’s November 16 hearing in Denver, Colorado on the agency’s proposed federal plan and model trading rules for the Clean Power Plan:

In its December 2014 comments, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and the Colorado Energy Office all maintained that ‘In Colorado, the PUC has exclusive statutory authority to regulate the IOUs and associated electric resource decisions’ and that ‘depending upon the plan elements proposed by Colorado, legislation may be needed to clarify or direct state agencies on their respective roles and authorities’.

In a proposed mass-based emissions allocation trading market to trade eligible resource credits (ERCs), who is the market maker? It would appear to require institutional apparatus of some sort–what enabling legislation in Colorado is required? In other states? If no legislation at this level is required, why not?

Markets are complex and difficulty in trading–what are the rules? how are the rules established? Who handles disputes and is the ultimate arbiter? How are the credits created in the trading mechanism?

The Independence Institute is a free market think tank interested in promoting the free market in energy resources, but as nice or well-intentioned a trading market for ERCs sounds at first glance, it becomes evident that government-created “markets” are simply picking energy winners and losers, often arbitrarily, often without actual considerations of cost or impact, but rather to self-serving goals contained within a given policy, such as the Clean Power Plan. When those transactional costs of trading ERCs rise, who will pay them? The inefficiencies won’t be borne at the administrative or even generating level, but by the ratepayers and taxpayers, not all of whom will be prepared for the rising costs of the Clean Power Plan itself, much less in terms of wealth transfers from state to state as the trading scheme expands.

So far, as with much else from the rollout of the Clean Power Plan, the timeline for market creation is heavily compacted. Information from CDPHE in September on question of trading was light and unhelpful. As it appear now it is a scribbling of generalities, and it is difficult to comment because it appears to be more like a make-up-as-you-go, details to be sketched in later program that will prove harder, more expensive, and more nuanced than any central planning or federal trading scheme could possibly account for ahead of time.

These comments, of course, fall into the requisite acknowledgement of the ongoing legal, technical, and other shortcomings of the overall Clean Power Plan. Proposing a FIP and trading scheme would appear to be adopting a one-size-fits-all scheme to hasty environmental and electric generation planning at federal and state levels, and an expansion of EPA control over generation, distribution, and energy choice at the state level.

Compressing the timeline in 2016 will leave states scrambling without guidance ahead of their initial state plan submissions in 2016. Complicated mechanisms like a credit trading scheme, besides being legally or technically burdensome, surely deserve a measured approach. Concerns about the CPP or a credit trading system will continue with retards to electric reliability and electricity prices, something the state of Colorado has indicated is a foremost consideration, should we be able to take the state’s agencies and political establishment at their word.

Finally, all portions of the CPP must and should address the regressive nature of raising electricity prices on the nations’ poor, minority, elderly, and other vulnerable communities.

Thank you.

***

The Denver Business Journal captured some other responses at Monday’s EPA Clean Power Plan hearing:

Kim Stevens, Environment Colorado:
“We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change here in Colorado, from drought to floods, and these extreme weather events will only get worse without bold action to slash carbon pollution.”

Laura Comer, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign:
“The Clean Power Plan shows that the United States has a real, enforceable plan to curb dangerous carbon pollution and that we are truly to committed to combating climate disruption. We cannot let attacks from big polluters and their allies lessen our chances of a strong international agreement and undermine the safety of our communities.”

***

More reaction in the Denver Post:

“The EPA regulations will cost Colorado jobs, will cause electricity prices to soar and threaten the reliability of the electrical grid by mandating a wholesale restructuring of our electricity system for no appreciable benefit to the climate,” Colorado Mining Association president Stuart Sanderson said.

Sanderson and National Mining Association officials pointed to industry-backed studies saying power costs for residents of Colorado and other states would increase by around 30 percent between 2022 and 2030.

The plan leaves it to states to implement changes subject to EPA approval. EPA officials have said they will take into account each state’s current energy mix. If a state fails to act, federal officials would impose “an implementation plan” on that state.

The feds held the hearings on implementing the plan in Pittsburgh last week and, after Denver, will hear from residents in Atlanta and Washington D.C. A second day of comments are scheduled to continue Tuesday morning in Denver.

Sanderson called the Clean Power Plan a “stealth energy tax” for Coloradans.***

Many folks who push for clean energy or regulations like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan say that these programs will create jobs–but they never seem to remember the jobs these anti-energy choice mandates end up killing, like the more than 200 jobs Union Pacific will likely slash due to decreases in coal transportation in Colorado:

Union Pacific this week notified workers it will shutter its Burnham Shop repair yard in central Denver, putting more than 200 jobs on the line and darkening a piece of Colorado history.

Operations at Burnham will halt Feb. 14, the Omaha-based railroad said.

“The well-documented decline in the coal carloadings in Colorado — a result of natural gas prices and regulatory pressure — has diminished the need for locomotive repairs and overhauls in the Denver area,” Calli B. Hite, a Union Pacific spokeswoman, said in an e-mail to The Denver Post.

Loaded coal trains originating in Colorado have decreased 80 percent since 2005, Hite wrote.

***

Earlier this week, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held hearings on new fracking rules, including limiting hours for fracking operations and setbacks for development:


***

The Bureau of Land Management has stirred up controversy over 65 existing oil and gas leases with a new environmental impact statement that puts nearly half at risk:

The Bureau of Land Management released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) Wednesday that put 65 existing oil and gas leases on White River National Forest land under the microscope. The agency found that 25 leases in the controversial Thompson Divide area must be either wholly or partially cancelled.

This long-awaited decision was embraced by conservation groups, and panned by the oil and gas industry.

The rub was over the legality of these leases, which are owned by Houston-based energy companies SG Interests and Ursa Resources, and have been scrutinized for years. Many conservation groups have said that the leases were issued without undergoing the proper environmental evaluations.

The BLM draft EIS backs that position, and now a 49-day public comment period will begin on Nov. 20 and will run through Jan. 8, 2016.

“We appreciate the effort of the local community in this discussion,” said BLM Colorado State Director Ruth Welch in a prepared statement. “We will continue to work toward finding a path forward that balances energy development and conservation, while recognizing the White River National Forest’s planning efforts.”

***

The Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter would like the entire state of Colorado to be 100% renewable, beginning with Denver. Becky English, the executive committee chair for the Sierra Club, responded to an email about a sustainability summit scheduled for early December in Denver:

I would have liked to share that the Sierra Club national board has declared a goal of powering the electric sector by 100% renewable energy nationwide, and that the Rocky Mountain Chapter has adopted the goal for Colorado. I will approach you offline about how best to work toward this goal in Denver.

The “Sustainable Denver Summit” on December 3rd will feature Denver Mayor Michael Hancock:

Sustainable Denver Summit Program
AGENDA:

8:00 – 9:00 a.m. – Registration, Continential Breakfast, and Exhibition Space

9:00 – 10:00 a.m. – Opening plenary session – Remarks from Keynote Speaker and Mayor Michael B. Hancock

10:00 a.m. – Breakout Sessions –

• Energy – Focusing on issues of energy efficiency, renewable energy, use of energy in mobility, and air quality and greenhouse gas reduction

• Water – Focusing on both water quantity and water quality, including climate change resilience

• Materials – Focusing on cradle-to-cradle materials management issues, including environmentally preferable purchasing, recycling, composting and by-product synergy

• Mobility – Focusing on providing multiple interconnected mobility modes that are cleaner, safer, cheaper and more efficient than the current system

12:30 – 1:30 p.m. – Luncheon and Sustainability Awards – Awards will be presented to the 2015 Sustainable Denver Award winners

1:45 – 3:45 p.m. – Breakout Sessions Reconvene

4:00 – 5:00 p.m. – Closing Plenary Session – Report out on commitments

They should probably also feature a breakout session on how these programs will make the city of Denver–not to mention the entire state of Colorado under the Sierra Club’s plan–less affordable for low income and minority populations.

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.

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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.

Independence Institute comments to CDPHE on Clean Power Plan implementation in Colorado

Thanks to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for holding this event.

A few comments for the agency to consider.

First, in your December 2014 comments, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and the Colorado Energy Office all maintained that ‘In Colorado, the PUC has exclusive statutory authority to regulate the IOUs and associated electric resource decisions’ and that ‘depending upon the plan elements proposed by Colorado, legislation may be needed to clarify or direct state agencies on their respective roles and authorities’–and since no legislation appears to have clarified this point, how do you expect to proceed?

Second, the state’s top law enforcement official Attorney General Cynthia Coffman believes the CPP to be overreach and has joined more than one dozen other states suing the EPA to stop the CPP. The EPA has even said in its brief in response to petitions for extraordinary writ in the D.C. Circuit:

“…if a state believes it appropriate to do so, it could defer much of the planning effort until judicial review is complete. The initial submittal requires substantially less than a state plan.”

We are pleased to hear today that this advisement has been acknowledged and that CDPHE will take the maximum time allowed.

Third, we hope that you include more input from citizens and ratepayers, the most important stakeholders in the state. A recent Magellan poll revealed 59% of Colorado voters want to WAIT for all legal challenges to be completed BEFORE Colorado complies and the EPA says that’s okay. So it seems prudent to wait for legal challenges to be completed. In the meantime we shouldn’t be planning compliance but rather studying what the CPP’s impact on the economy and Colorado’s working family, low income and minorities in a fair and open way. We need to know the full impact of the estimated $600 additional cost per year per Colorado family for no measurable impact on emissions.

In that light, we wonder how Colorado will remain committed to ensuring reliable and affordable electricity if it pushes forward with a plan without allowing legal challenges to be resolved?

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on behalf of Colorado citizens and ratepayers. We appreciate CDPHE’s process and support an open, transparent stakeholder process subject to relevant legislation.

August 27 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Bennet says ozone rule “not going to work”; net metering gets a boost from PUC

bennet

Sen. Michael Bennet, joined a bipartisan group of officials in Colorado questioning the proposed Environmental Protection Agency’s new ozone rule proposal at the recent Colorado Oil and Gas Association Energy Summit in Denver:

Senator Bennet and Gardner participated on a panel hosted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association on August 26. Below is the question posed to Senator Bennet, and his response:

Manu Raju, Politico: Senator Bennet, a big issue here in the room is the ozone standards. Environmental groups, EPA officials are concerned about excessive levels of ozone; that they could lead to premature death and respiratory problems. The business community warns that the standards EPA is proposing would be very bad here in Colorado; it would cost a lot of jobs. The current ground-level ozone standard set in 2008 is 75 parts per billion. EPA’s proposal is lowering it to 65 to 70 parts per billion, and it could go even lower. Question to you: Do you think the EPA proposal is fair? Should they go to 65 parts per billion?

Senator Bennet: I’m deeply concerned about it. I think we should understand how they arrived at that conclusion, because the way some statutes are written, they don’t sometimes have the flexibility we think they should have. And this is the perfect example of applying the law and doing it in a way that doesn’t make sense on the ground. Because of the pollution that’s come in from other Western states, from across the globe, from wildfires in the West, we have significant parts of our state that would be in non-attainment [unintelligible] from the very beginning of the law. That doesn’t make any sense. That’s not going to work.[emphasis added] Having said that, we need to care a lot about our kids and the elderly and the quality of the air that they breathe, and we need to care about children in our state that have asthma. So my hope is that we can work together to get to a rational outcome, but I’m not—The one that’s been proposed is not yet there.

Earlier this month, The Center for Regulatory Solutions issued a report that included opinions from Democrats, Republicans, and other elected officials from across the state opposing or pushing back against the EPA ozone rule. A sampling of those statement can be found in our August 13 edition.

***

Net metering, a handout from folks who don’t own solar panels to those who do, in the form of retail price reimbursement for the electricity they generate–gets a boost from a unanimous Public Utilities Commission decision to keep the current rates in place:

Colorado’s Public Utility Commission ruled Wednesday afternoon that no changes were needed to the state’s net metering process, meaning that homeowners with solar arrays will continue to receive retail rates for energy they produce.

“The PUC voted (3-0) today to maintain the status quo for the net metering program and close the docket,” PUC spokesman Terry Bote confirmed via email.

Net metering provides a credit for every kilowatt-hour an array puts on the grid at the same price residential customers are charged for electricity – about 10.5 cents.

Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, has been pushing a plan to cut the incentives for each kilowatt-hour produced to a fraction of a penny, but solar users and industry groups have lobbied hard against changes that would remove a key financial incentive.

“This appears to be the outcome we have been working towards in more than a year of work on this docket,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. “We have worked in full collaboration with other members of the solar industry, and this represents a tremendous amount of hard work from many people. Xcel officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Key financial incentive” = subsidy.

From my op-ed late in 2014, as the PUC was steering through a slate of meetings to determine the “value of solar”:

At issue is the method of calculating the “value of rooftop solar,” as the Public Utilities Commission chairperson put it this year. Solar proponents believe the credits for excess electricity generated by solar panels and pushed back onto the grid should continue to get 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour — the average of annual residential retail rates.

Xcel is arguing for a reduction to 4.6 cents, saying the costs associated with maintaining the grid made the reimbursement unfair.

Xcel representatives called maintaining the 10.5-cent credit a “hidden cost” for its 1.2 million Colorado ratepayers. “Everybody needs to pay for the cost of the grid,” said spokesperson Hollie Velazquez Horvath.

Rooftop solar uses the grid in multiple ways. For customers pulling energy when the sun isn’t out (or near maximum generation) or pushing electricity onto the grid at the peak of summer, the grid balances supply and demand, regulating and stabilizing electrical output. It also acts as the exchange mechanism when a customer goes from generating and reselling excess electricity, to periods when the customer needs more electricity than the solar panel provides.

Customers who generate enough “revenue” from their net metering credits end up paying little or nothing for the grid costs. The costs get shifted to the utilities’ non-solar customers.

In other words, solar proponents advocate that non-solar ratepayers continue to subsidize grid maintenance for solar customers and then purchase electricity from those same solar customers at a price higher than they would pay for Xcel to generate the power.

The PUC has closed the docket on this proposal, but the legislature may look to take up the issue of net metering in future sessions.

***

Speaking of Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), the Democrat up for reelection in 2016 has some words of advice for embattled Democratic Party presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton on #KeystoneXL:

DENVER — Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) on Wednesday dinged Hillary Clinton for punting on the issue of Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“I think she should take a position,” Bennet said of his party’s presidential frontrunner at a Colorado Oil and Gas Association conference here. “She should take a position for it — or she should take a position against it.”

Speaking at a forum moderated by POLITICO, Bennet said he supports building the pipeline. He is up for reelection next year in this perennial swing state and could face a tough battle if the GOP fields a formidable opponent.

***

A Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry panel of five of the state’s Congressional delegation was split on whether federal or state and local authorities were the best in dealing with oil and gas regulations–an issue Colorado registered voters in a recent Independence Institute poll said should go the state’s way, 37 to 5 percent, over DC-based rulemaking:

On energy legislation, the three Democrats and two Republicans who represent portions of metro Denver took not two but three different stances on which government should be most responsible for oversight of the oil and gas industry:

Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver said that while she respects the laws the state has drafted, the federal government must play a role in regulating the effects of drilling on waterways that flow between states.

Coffman said that regulations should fall to the state government, where bodies like the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are much more in touch with the needs of local residents.

And Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder — who last year backed two state constitutional amendments to increase the role of cities and counties in regulation of drilling before pulling the measures— said it is actually local governments like those in Weld County that should decide where and how oil rigs should be allowed to operate in their communities. “I don’t trust the D.C. politicians. I don’t trust the Denver politicians,” said Polis, a fourth-term congressman. “This is a decision that should be made at the local level.”

Don’t be too impressed with Polis’s “local level” mantra as anti-fracking activists look to resurrect ballot issues designed to ban oil and gas development under the guise of “local community control.” Polis backed similar measures in 2014 before they were pulled in favor of Governor John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas commission.

***

The Clean Power Plan may have been finalized on August 3, but serious questions about the EPA’s assumptions for the rule remain, as an analysis by Raymond L. Gifford, Gregory E. Sopkin, and Matthew S. Larson show (all emphases added):

• EPA scaled back on carbon dioxide reductions from coal plant improvements and energy
efficiency in its Final Rule under the Clean Power Plan, but nevertheless increased its
carbon reduction mandate from 30 percent to 32 percent by 2030. EPA did so through its
use of “potential renewables” as the variable driving eventual state carbon budgets. EPA now
forecasts that incremental renewable energy electric generation (Building Block 3) will more
than double, from 335,370 gigawatt hours in the Proposed Rule to 706,030 GWh in the Final
Rule.

• EPA uses a complicated and unprecedented methodology to achieve its new renewable
energy forecast for the years 2024 through 2030. Looking to historic renewable capacity
additions during 2010-2014, EPA selects the maximum change in capacity for each renewable
resource type that occurred in any year over the five-year period, and adds this maximum
capacity change year-over-year from 2024 through 2030. The maximum capacity addition
year selected by EPA for each resource is more than twice as much as the average over 2010
- 2014.

EPA’s methodology fails to account for the fact that expiration of the production tax
credit, or PTC, drove the development of renewable energy resources during 2012.

Renewable energy capacity additions fluctuated substantially between 2010 and 2014,
especially the largest component of Building Block 3, onshore wind power. EPA uses the
anomalous year, 2012, to predict future growth of wind power. In 2012, the wind production
tax credit was expected to expire at the end of the year, causing producers to rush to install as
much wind capacity as possible. Other renewable resource types also showed non-linear and
unpredictable trends during 2010 – 2014.

• EPA’s renewable energy expectations diverge by an order of magnitude from the EIA’s
base case renewable energy capacity and generation forecasts over the 2022 – 2030 period.
Notwithstanding these incongruences with EIA’s forecasts, EPA suggests that its forecasted
renewable energy additions would occur in the normal course even without the CPP.

EPA assumes that fossil fuel generation could be displaced based on the average capacity
factors of renewable energy resource types (e.g., 41.8 percent for onshore wind power).
However, utilities and restructured market system operators assign a much lower capacity value
for wind power, in the 10-15 percent range, because wind production is often not available during
peak load conditions.
To the extent that the EPA’s assumed renewable energy displacement of
fossil fuel resources does not occur because wind, solar, or other intermittent generation is not
available, system capacity will in real terms be lost absent planners assigning a much lower
capacity value to the given renewable resource (and in turn adding additional capacity, be it
fossil-based or renewable).

The authors conclude:

Setting aside enforceability, the President gave EPA a goal in his Climate Action Plan: achieve a 30% carbon emission reduction by 2030. EPA proceeded to solve for that goal with a capacious construction of the BSER [Best System of Emission Reduction] under the Clean Air Act. While gas “won” in the near-term under the Proposed Rule, in the end renewable energy resources assume a Brobdingnagian role in determining the level of carbon emission reductions that are purportedly possible under the BSER. EPA’s Final Rule constructs a method that solves for a conclusion, instead of having a method that yields a conclusion. Of even greater concern, EPA’s use of renewable average capacity factors instead of capacity credit exacerbates reliability risks to the electric system during peak load conditions. The end result may be unknown, but the method of getting there is highly questionable at best.

***

LINKS

Despite tanking oil prices, a new outfit, Evolution Midstream, announced a planned $300 million launch, saying of the current situation that “this too shall pass.”

Paving the way for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the billionaire Tom Steyer funded and pushed a “state-level advocacy network” to prop up the controversial plan and give endangered politicians cover.

Colorado’s oil and gas production projected to fall, according to a University of Colorado study.

***

Animas River updates

EPA officials knew of a “blowout” potential as much as a year before the Animas River spill, but even the release of this info took place late on a Friday, in what AP reporter Nick Riccardi called a “very late-night document dump on Gold King mine”:

U.S. officials knew of the potential for a catastrophic “blowout” of poisonous wastewater from an inactive gold mine, yet appeared to have only a cursory plan to deal with such an event when a government cleanup team triggered a 3-million-gallon spill, according to internal documents released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA released the documents late Friday following weeks of prodding from The Associated Press and other media organizations. While shedding some light on the circumstances surrounding the accident, the newly disclosed information also raises more questions about whether enough was done to prevent it.

The Aug. 5 spill came as workers excavated the entrance to the idled Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, unleashing a torrent of toxic water that fouled rivers in three states.

A June 2014 work order for a planned cleanup noted the mine had not been accessible since 1995, when the entrance partially collapsed.

“This condition has likely caused impounding of water behind the collapse,” the report said. “Conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine.”

An EPA internal review post-spill revealed that they never checked the water levels or the pressure contained within the mine despite their June 2014 work order:

Dangerously high water pressure levels behind the collapsed opening of the Gold King Mine were never checked by the Environmental Protection Agency, in part because of costs and time oversights.

The revelations came Wednesday as the EPA released an internal review of a massive Aug. 5 blowout at the mine above Silverton. The report called an underestimation of the pressure the most significant factor leading to the spill.

According to the report, had crews drilled into the mine’s collapsed opening, as they had done at a nearby site, they “may have been able to discover the pressurized conditions that turned out to cause the blowout.”

EPA officials claim they were caught unaware:

EPA supervisor Hays Griswold, who was at the scene of the blowout Aug. 5, told The Denver Post in an interview this month conditions in the mine were worse than anticipated.

“Nobody expected (the acid water backed up in the mine) to be that high,” he said.

The report says, however, that decreased wastewater flows from the mine, which had been leaching for years, could have offered a clue to the pressurization. Also, a June 2014 task order about work at the mine said “conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages.”

The inability to obtain an actual measurement of the mine water pressure behind the mine’s blocked opening “seems to be a primary issue,” according to the review. It went on to say if the pressure information was obtained, other steps could have been considered.

It did not elaborate on what those steps could have been.

“Despite the available information suggesting low water pressure behind the debris at the adit entrance, there was, in fact, sufficiently high pressure to cause the blowout,” the review says. “Because the pressure of the water in the adit was higher than anticipated, the precautions that were part of the work plan turned out to be insufficient.”

Stan Meiburg, EPA’s deputy administrator, said during the call that “provisions for a worst-case scenario were not included in the work plan.”

The 3 million gallon orange spill was, apparently, the worst-case scenario.

The internal investigation called the agency’s preparedness when it came to analysis of the water issue as “insufficient.”

It may take a while–many years–to know how the toxic minerals and metals released by the EPA will settle in the sediment of the Animas River and further downstream:

As communities along the Animas River continue to wonder about the long-term consequences of the Gold King Mine spill, one of the biggest questions remaining is the orange sediment lying along riverbeds and riverbanks.

What’s in it? How long will it be there? How might it affect our drinking water and our health? These are all concerns for community members, and many experts say we may not know until time goes by and a few spring runoffs continue to wash it downstream.

The EPA isn’t getting off the hook with the release of internal reports admitting lack of preparation or failure to measure water levels, or even late-night docu-dumps:

Republicans say the administration has been too wrapped up in guarding the world against climate change to address environmental dangers closer to home and should be held accountable, according to Texas Republican Lamar Smith, who is leading a probe into the spill in the House.

“Even in the face of self-imposed environmental disaster, this administration continues to prioritize its extreme agenda over the interests and well-being of Americans,” said Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

The committee has scheduled a Sept. 9 hearing on the spill and has requested the head of EPA and the contractor involved in the mine incident to testify. It appears from the internal reports that the contractor involved in the spill was the same one that drafted the blowout report.

The report that was released “in the dead of night” Friday raises new questions about the depth of EPA’s culpability, according to Smith. “The actions that caused this spill are either the result of EPA negligence or incompetence,” he said. “We must hear from all those involved to determine the cause of what happened and how to prevent future disasters like this.”

The agency’s lack of timely dissemination of documents and details has been a theme since the spill erupted earlier this month.

But partisan flaps at the federal level between Republicans in Congress and one of the administration’s favorite agencies is not the only scene of squabbles, as local officials allege Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman had a partisan agenda in mind when scheduling meetings in Durango in the aftermath of the spill.

And finally, Silverton decided to seek federal funds for clean up operations after years of reservations over possible “Superfund” designation:

After two decades resisting Environmental Protection Agency funds for cleanup of the festering mines that dot its surroundings, Silverton on Tuesday announced it is seeking federal help.

A joint resolution passed by the town’s board and the San Juan County Commission says officials will work with neighboring communities to petition Congress for federal disaster dollars they hope will address leaching sites quickly.

“Silverton and San Juan County understand that this problem is in our district, and we feel we bear a greater responsibility to our downstream neighbors to help find a solution,” the resolution said.

The decision is a paradigm shift for the small town of about 650 year-round residents in the wake of a 3 million-gallon wastewater spill Aug. 5 at the Gold King Mine in the mountains to the north.

August 13 Colorado Energy Roundup: EPA dumps on Colorado with Clean Power Plan, Ozone rule–then releases a toxic mess!

August 13, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, PUC 

To say the Environmental Protection Agency has been in the news lately would be an understatement. Just this time last week, less than 24 hours after triggering a spill of toxic sludge including heavy metals into the Animas River in SW Colorado, most folks were unaware of the situation due to a lack of EPA communication–but more on that in a minute.

They were too busy focused on the new carbon-cutting Clean Power Plan rules being dumped on the state by the regulatory side of the agency.

Here’s a recap of the CPP, as Independence Institute’s Mike Krause can explain:

Or more in depth from former Colorado Public Utilities Commission chair, Ray Gifford:

Last week the EPA finalized the rule, as we told you in last week’s edition of the Energy Roundup, with the Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman considering joining a multi-state lawsuit challenging the CPP’s legality, and legislators possibly returning to some form of transparency or oversight for the CPP state implementation plan, now with pushed back deadlines (and therefore more sessions to seek legislation).

The Independence Institute has a CPP backgrounder that provides further details.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy discussed the launch of the CPP in a video on Tuesday.

***

Hot on the heels of the CPP, the EPA expects to finalize rules for ground-level ozone some time in October. But large and small businesses alike, from the National Association of Manufacturers to Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, joined the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), a project of the Small Business Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council), in a press call yesterday to announce a new study that looked at the effects of the ozone rule on Colorado. The sheer volume of bipartisan commentary opposing the proposed ozone reduction is particularly eye-opening in these normally contentious times, and shows a break with the EPA on new regulations–the ozone rule might be a step too far following so closely behind the CPP:

“This ozone proposal gives the federal government far too much control over state and local planning decisions that shape the Colorado economy,” said Karen Kerrigan, President of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. “Colorado is one of the biggest success stories of the federal Clean Air Act, but now the EPA is moving the goalposts. The standard is so strict – approaching background levels in some areas – that the vast majority of the state economy will be found in violation immediately. Violation of the ozone standard gives EPA the authority to effectively rewrite state and local environmental laws the way Washington wants.”

“No wonder this EPA proposal has been met with such strong and diverse opposition from across Colorado’s political spectrum. Washington officials, all the way up to President Obama himself, should listen to the voices coming from Colorado and across the country and once again give the current standard a chance to work.”

A sample of the key findings:

By lowering the National Ambient Air Quality Standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) into the 65 to 70 ppb range, EPA would force, with a single action, at least 15 counties in Colorado to be in violation of federal law. These happen to be some of Colorado’s most populated counties, concentrated in the Denver metropolitan area, but a number of counties on the Western Slope may be dragged into non-attainment as well. Together, these 15 counties are responsible for 89 percent of Colorado’s economy and 85 percent of state employment. (Page 3)

Under the Clean Air Act, cities and counties that do not meet the NAAQS for ozone are placed into “non-attainment,” or violation of federal environmental standards. Once in non-attainment, local and state officials must answer to the federal government for permitting and planning decisions that could impact ozone levels. State officials are required to develop an “implementation plan” that imposes new restrictions across the economy, especially the transportation, construction and energy industries. The EPA has veto power over these implementation plans. States that refuse to comply, or have their implementation plans rejected, face regulatory and financial sanctions imposed on them directly from the federal government. (Page 19)

The report, entitled “Slamming the Brakes: How Washington’s Ozone Plan Will Hurt the Colorado Economy and Make Traffic Worse” has revealed that opposition to the ozone rule with a river of comments from Colorado state and local officials.

Here’s a sample of the bipartisan criticism:

State Senator Cheri Jahn (D):

“Coloradans care deeply about the environment. After the great progress we have made on air quality, our state should be praised, not punished. This ozone proposal out of Washington, D.C. scares my constituents, because it could hamstring our regional economy and cost jobs.

We have worked so hard to bring manufacturing jobs to Colorado, and by moving the goal posts on ozone, the EPA is going to chase manufacturing jobs away from our state. This plan could also gum up the approval process for badly needed road and transportation investments, which will make our traffic worse, and make it much harder to attract new industries, grow existing businesses, and strengthen Colorado’s middle class.”

State Senator Ellen Roberts (R):

“If the EPA carries out this ozone plan, Western Colorado will be placed at a terrible economic disadvantage. We have worked hard to responsibly care for our environment even as we grow and diversify our economy.

Tightening the ozone standard any further just does not make sense when the existing standard, which is less than 10 years old, is working. I urge the EPA to reconsider this plan and leave the 2008 standard in place.”

State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R):

“The EPA’s proposed new standards would drive small family farms such as mine out of business. We have never been able to afford new equipment and if the only way to comply with this new standard is with new equipment, my family would have to leave agriculture. Even if we could meet the standards with expensive upgrades to our machinery, the increased costs to finance those upgrades, as well as the fuel and the fertilizer, takes a marginally profitable farm and turns it into one that can’t make its payments.

Unless you want to see the family farm only as a memory, one must make the EPA understand that their new standards will have a devastating effect on rural America and the agriculture economy.”

Routt County Commissioners Douglas Monger (D), Cari Hermacinski (R), Timothy Corrigan (D):

“We set and meet high standards because we know it is good for our people and our state. So you might expect us to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed standards for ground-level ozone. Those standards, however, are too overbearing and are meeting with a lot of resistance even in places where air quality regulations are welcome…

These standards must not be implemented. If they go forward as proposed, they will do more than put good people out of work and cause hardships for communities that have done so much to protect the land, air and water around them. They will turn away a lot of people who have been receptive to the idea that government can be trusted to do environmental regulation the right way.”

NAM also released a video ad buy, to be seen across Colorado over the next few days:


***

Only the sheer quantity of toxic material–some 3 million or so gallons of Sunny-D colored water laden with heavy metals–comes close to the media coverage of one of the biggest environmental stories in recent Colorado history.

Most of the stories have been widely publicized and shared, so here is a quick look at this EPA-related (not strictly energy-related) blockbuster news blitz from just the past two days alone, in reverse chronological order (most recent first):

EPA Contractor Behind CO Mine Spill Got $381 Million From Taxpayers:

The EPA is not letting the public know the names of the government contractors responsible for spilling three million gallons of toxic wastewater from a southern Colorado mine. The agency is holding the information close — so close, the Colorado attorney general’s office doesn’t have it.

A spokesman with the Colorado attorney general’s office told The Daily Caller News Foundation the EPA had not disclosed the names of the federal contractor that caused millions of gallons of wastewater into the Animas River — leaked contaminants include zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead and aluminum.

EPA Withholding Mine Spill Info From State AGs:

The EPA is not letting the public know the names of the government contractors responsible for spilling three million gallons of toxic wastewater from a southern Colorado mine. The agency is holding the information close — so close, the Colorado attorney general’s office doesn’t have it.

A spokesman with the Colorado attorney general’s office told The Daily Caller News Foundation the EPA had not disclosed the names of the federal contractor that caused millions of gallons of wastewater into the Animas River — leaked contaminants include zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead and aluminum.

Animas River outfitters shut as plume passes, but say they’ll endure:

“Very difficult,” said Alex Mickel, who has turned hundreds of customers away from his Mild to Wild Rafting each day since the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally unleashed a 3 million gallon torrent of toxic mine water into the headwaters of the Animas last week.

“We are anticipating around $150,000 to $200,000 in lost revenue,” Mickel said. “But from an emotional standpoint, it’s difficult to see a beautiful river damaged in this way.”

Animas River spill leaves Colorado, neighbors weighing EPA lawsuit:

The attorneys general of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah said Wednesday that a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency is an option in the wake of a massive mine wastewater spill caused by the agency.

All three, however, agreed that it’s too early to say if they will sue.

“I would hope that it would not be necessary,” Colorado’s Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, said of a suit in an interview with The Denver Post. “The statements by the (EPA’s administrator) indicate the EPA is accepting responsibility for the accident. The question is: What does that mean? What does accepting responsibility mean?”

Hickenlooper drinks Animas River water to make a point:

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday drank a hearty gulp of the Animas River in an effort to highlight that the river has returned to pre-contamination conditions.

The governor and his health department director, however, cautioned that citizens should not be freely drinking from the river, because the water was unsafe for consumption even before the Environmental Protection Agency released an estimated 3 million gallons of mining wastewater into it.

But the drinking exercise indicated that state officials are more than confident that the river does not pose a toxic risk to humans, as they publicly stated on Tuesday.

“Am I willing to go out there and demonstrate that we’re back to normal?” Hickenlooper asked out loud after The Durango Herald raised the idea with the governor. “Certainly. I’m happy to do that. I’m dead serious.”

Navajos Distrustful OF EPA Promises On Toxic Mine Spill:

Navajo Nation is furious with the EPA, not just because the agency accidentally spilled three million gallons of toxic mine waste in the region, but because the agency is allegedly trying to get tribal members to waive rights to future compensation for damages incurred by the toxic spill.

“The federal government is asking our people to waive their future rights because they know without the waiver they will be paying millions to our people,” Navajo President Russell Begaye told Indianz.com. “This is simple; the feds are protecting themselves at the expense of the Navajo people and it is outrageous.”

Congressmen: EPA Must Answer For Spilling Toxic Waste:

Republican congressmen are calling for the EPA to be held accountable for spilling 3 million gallons of toxic mine wastewater into the Animas River last week, especially since the agency is a government entity and won’t be punished to the same degree a private company would for spilling waste.

“The EPA must be held accountable for its actions,” Rep. Lamar Smith told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement. “If a private company caused such a disaster, it would be hit with substantial penalties and would be required to pay for cleanup.”

“In this case, it will be the taxpayers who foot the bill,” the Texas Republican said. “The EPA has an obligation to the families and businesses that have been devastated by this spill.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 9.51.55 PM

From the Denver Post house editorial:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s clumsy, tone-deaf response to the toxic disaster on the Animas River was an embarrassment even to the EPA. One agency official managed to admit the reaction was “cavalier,” but that’s putting a mild face on it.

Top EPA official takes responsibility for Colorado mine spill:

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., that she takes full responsibility for the spill, which she said “pains me to no end.” She said the agency is working around the clock to assess the environmental impact.

Hickenlooper sees a silver lining:

“Colorado’s governor thinks a mine spill accidentally triggered by an EPA crew will move the state and federal government to more aggressively tackle the “legacy of pollution” left by mining in the West.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday that much of the wastewater has been plugged up, but the state and the Environmental Protection Agency need to speed up work to identify the most dangerous areas and clean them up.

The former geologist says that if there’s a “silver lining” to the disaster, it will be a new relationship between the state and the EPA to solve the problem.”

Navajo Nation Mourning, Pleading for Help After Toxic Mine Spill Contaminates Rivers

John Hickenlooper calls Animas River disaster “unacceptable”:

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday stood on the banks of the Animas River and said last week’s spill of 3 million gallons of contaminated mining waste water into its flow was “in every sense, unacceptable.”

He said the long-term effects of the spill, which happened as the Environmental Protection Agency was investigating the contaminated mine, are unknown.

The governor said he has spoken with the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, and described her as “committed” and “firm” in her resolve to respond to the spill. McCarthy will be in Durango and New Mexico on Wednesday, she said Tuesday on Twitter.

“I think we share the anger that something like this could happen,” Hickenlooper said. “But I think that said, our primary role is now: that’s behind us and how are we going to move forward.”

EPA Shrugs after Spilling Millions of Gallons of Toxic Water into a River in the Mountain States

EPA Chief Apologizes as Anger Mounts:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy apologized Tuesday for a mine spill in Colorado that her agency caused last week and planned to travel to the area Wednesday, amid increasing criticism from lawmakers about the EPA’s response.

Ms. McCarthy said at a news conference in Washington that she was still learning about what happened, responding to a question about whether the EPA was reviewing changes in how it cleans up old mines. “I don’t have a complete understanding of anything that went on in there,” she said. “If there is something that went wrong, we want to make sure it never goes wrong again.”

EPA won’t face fines for polluting rivers with orange muck:

Unlike BP, which was fined $5.5 billion for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the EPA will pay nothing in fines for unleashing the Animas River spill.

“Sovereign immunity. The government doesn’t fine itself,” said Thomas L. Sansonetti, former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s division of environment and natural resources.

And of course, some folks don’t think the EPA should be blamed . . .

June 25 Colorado Energy Roundup

Last week at the Steamboat Institute, Independence Institute Energy Policy Center Director Amy Oliver Cooke moderated a panel entitled “The Coming Storm of Federal Energy Regulations and Their Impact on Colorado Business”–with attorney Ray Gifford discussing the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan,” Dan Byers of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offering an explanation of the newly proposed EPA ground-level ozone rule, and Lee Boughey of Tri-State Generation and Transmission revealing the impact of the WildEarth Guardians lawsuit and the Colowyo Mine:

***

Blowback over the controversial support of WildEarth Guardians and the lawsuit threatening the Colowyo Mine stirred up trouble not only for New Belgium Brewing Company but over 450 other businesses and organizations listed as WEG supporters who quickly pulled their names from a list of “supporters” on the activist group’s website:

Some businesses listed said they never gave anything to the group responsible for a lawsuit that put Colowyo Coal Mine at risk of closing.

The Craig Daily Press published its first story about local liquor stores and restaurants pulling New Belgium and Breckenridge Brewery beer on June 8, and shortly thereafter, WildEarth Guardians staff deleted its webpage called “Businesses for Guardians.”

The newspaper then published the cached webpage of supporters, and less than 24 hours later, the environmentalists republished the webpage.

On that page, a total of 605 businesses across Colorado and New Mexico were listed as supporters. As of June 18, that number shrunk to 151 businesses listed as supporters.

A complete list of all companies previously named as “Businesses for Guardians” has been archived here as well.

“You don’t mess with my community,” one resident told the Craig Daily Press.

There’s no doubt the Colowyo Mine issue is already impacting the economy of the northwest corner of Colorado:

After less than six months of being in business, the owner of Stacks Smokehouse closed the doors to his restaurant due to Craig’s economic uncertainty in light of what’s happening at Colowyo Coal Mine.

Steve Fulton said his business — which opened in the former Double Barrel Steakhouse building on Feb. 20 — dropped 40 percent days after the community met on June 3 for a public meeting with Colowyo representatives.

***

Two Colorado counties have seen tremendous growth in jobs, despite the recent oil and gas downturn:

Two Colorado counties were among the three large U.S. counties with the fastest job growth rate in 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

And Colorado overall ranked No. 3 for the rate of job growth among states.

In the counties ranking, Weld County topped the list for a second straight year. Weldco tied with Midland County, Texas, with a best-in-the-nation 8.0 percent increase in employment between December 2013 and December 2014, BLS said.

In 2013, Weld County posted 6 percent job growth.

And Adams County came in at No. 3 in the nation with a 6.4 percent growth rate.

In fact, Weld County saw a 19.6 percent gain in natural resources and mining employment over the 12-month period, adding a net 2,074 jobs, BLS estimates.

And Adams County is home to companies that service the energy industry.

Only North Dakota (4.5 percent) and Nevada (4.2 percent) outpaced Colorado’s job growth rate of 3.9 percent, according to the BLS.

***

Meanwhile in Indiana (from a press release):

Indianapolis – Governor Pence sent a letter today to President Obama informing him that unless the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan is demonstrably and significantly improved before being finalized Indiana will not comply. The Governor’s letter in full can be found attached.

“As I wrote to Administrator McCarthy on December 1, 2014, the proposed rules are ‘ill-conceived and poorly constructed’ and they exceed the EPA’s legal authority under the Clean Air Act,” wrote Pence. “If your administration proceeds to finalize the Clean Power Plan, and the final rule has not demonstrably and significantly improved from the proposed rule, Indiana will not comply. Our state will also reserve the right to use any legal means available to block the rule from being implemented.”

“Our nation needs an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy that relies on a variety of different energy sources,” said Pence. “Energy policy should promote the safe, environmentally responsible stewardship of our natural resources with the goal of reliable, affordable energy. Your approach to energy policy places environmental concerns above all others.”

In addition Pence noted, “Higher electricity prices brought by the EPA’s plan will inhibit our ability to advance our manufacturing base and the jobs it creates.”

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan calls for a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels in Indiana by the year 2030. The proposed rules do not dictate how states achieve reduction. Instead, the rule suggests four building blocks as guidelines for compliance. The rules will increase the cost of electricity and force the premature closure of coal-fired power plants, leading to concerns of electricity shortages. On December 1, 2014, Governor Pence and Indiana State agencies submitted letters to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy detailing the proposed rules’ impact on Indiana and urging their immediate withdrawal.

More than 26,000 Hoosiers are employed in the coal industry in Indiana. Governor Pence has pledged to fight the EPA’s regulations with all legal means at Indiana’s disposal. Governor Pence’s comments today come on the heels of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissing State of West Virginia et al v. Environmental Protection Agency, Case No. 14-1112. Indiana was one of fourteen petitioners in the case, which asked the Court to review the legality of the EPA’s proposed regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. The Court of Appeals’ decision was based on procedural, not substantive, issues and does not preclude future litigation challenging the regulation. Indiana intends to renew its challenge in the courts following the release of the final rule.

The EPA is expected to release the final rule in August.

***

Thin-film solar–remember Abound Solar?has also taken a tumble in China.

Screen shot 2015-06-25 at 1.39.47 AM

A quick reminder of why government choosing energy winners and losers is a bad idea–an expensive burden on taxpayers and ratepayers alike.

June 4 Energy Roundup: Hickenlooper vs. EPA, New Mexico enviro officials cast doubt on Clean Power Plan, and the return of ‘green’ billionaire Tom Steyer

June 4, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, Environmental Protection Agency, Legislation, New Energy Economy, PUC 

The Independence Institute’s Amy Oliver Cooke will moderate a free panel on June 17 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, discussing the embattled Colowyo Coal Mine in northwest Colorado:

“The Coming Storm of Federal Energy Regulations and Their Impact on Colorado Business”

Are you concerned about the future of the Colowyo Coal Mine? Want to know more about costly new EPA regs on carbon and ozone??

Join our panel of experts to get the facts and get your questions answered.

WHEN: 5:30 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, June 17 (doors open at 5 p.m.; cash bar)

WHERE: Strings Music Pavilion, Steamboat Springs, Colorado

**FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC**

Questions? info@steamboatinstitute.org or (970) 846-6013

Moderator: Amy Oliver Cooke
Director, Energy Policy Center Independence Institute

94414057-8439-4f5c-94c2-9d7256bd5ad9

FORUM PANELISTS

588aabb9-5faa-4e26-a36c-3b80c2e6f27b
RAYMOND L. GIFFORD
Attorney/Partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP; former Chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission

330477aa-7040-4f37-9fb5-7be8895415ef
DAN BYERS
Senior Director of Policy, Institute for 21st Century Energy – U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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LEE BOUGHEY
Senior Manager of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs – Tri-State Generation & Transmission Assoc.

***

One of New Mexico’s leading environmental officials calls the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan’s scope–and legality–into question:

New Mexico environmental officials are among others in two dozen states pushing back against proposed federal restrictions on emissions from existing power plants. Without state support, the proposed Clean Power Plan won’t reduce carbon dioxide emissions the way the Obama administration hopes it will, according to a new report released by the nonprofit Brookings Institute.

When it comes to clean air, the federal government can set standards, but states decide how to enforce them. New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn, an attorney, is one of many environment officials across the country who think the rule has problems and may be illegal.

“We agree with the overall goal of the proposed Clean Power Plan,” said department spokeswoman Allison Majure in a statement. “However, we are also extremely concerned about the unprecedented breadth of the proposal.”

New Mexico’s comments on the CPP revealed a pattern of failing by the EPA to communicate with other agencies and states in crafting the proposed clean air regulations:

Majure added in her statement, “The Environmental Protection Agency is using the Clean Air Act, which was designed to control air pollution at the source, to dictate America’s energy policy for the next 20 years,” reflecting comments the department filed with the EPA regarding the rule months ago.

She also said the EPA failed to consult with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, energy producers and the Department of Energy in crafting the plan.

The full Brookings report in the article above can be viewed and downloaded here.

***

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-SD1) examines Gov. Hickenlooper’s capitulation to the EPA over implementing the Clean Power Plan:

While the letter between US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was the focus of the media, it’s a third letter dated December 1, 2014, from the heads of Colorado’s three environmental agencies to the EPA, which will impact Colorado’s three million business and residential utility customers. After 2017, those customers will likely be paying much higher prices as a result of mistakes and miscalculations made over the past year by state and federal officials.

icon_op_edSen. McConnell’s March 19 letter called on all 50 state governors to delay compliance with an EPA carbon-cutting plan until the legality of the plan has been settled in court. Thirteen states are suing to block the EPA plan on legal and constitutional grounds. Hickenlooper’s response, which some climate crusaders cheered as a brush-off of McConnell, indicated that Colorado intends to comply with EPA mandates, which the governor believes are legal.

The bottom line here is that Gov. Hickenlooper has been consistently inconsistent when dealing with recent regulatory onslaughts from Washington. For example, he’s been reasonably proactive in opposing a threatened species listing for the Sage Grouse, and he’s also been forceful in responding to the potential shut-down of the Colowyo coal mine near Craig. But on the EPA’s “climate change” agenda – and the new EPA rules further restricting the state’s control of small bodies of water — that healthy skepticism has been missing.

Indeed.

***

Finally, former fossil fuel and hedge fund billionaire turned green crusader, Tom Steyer, appears to be doubling down on Colorado after a failed 2014 election cycle, as the folks from Energy In Depth report:

San Francisco billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer, who spent more than $7 million in a failed campaign to defeat U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) last year, is keeping his Colorado political operation in place. Campaign finance reports show Steyer’s campaign arm, NextGen Climate Action Committee, has spent more than $80,000 on polling and research in Colorado this year.

Steyer, whose foundation is known for writing large checks to green groups, is also strengthening his ties with environmental organizations in Colorado. This week, he will be in Denver to accept an award from Conservation Colorado. Dubbed “Colorado’s largest political event for the environment,” other attendees will include elected officials and leaders from the state’s environmental movement.

Last year, Steyer held talks with millionaire Boulder Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colo.) about splitting the cost of putting anti-fracking measures on the statewide ballot. Ultimately, those measures were pulled before they could reach the ballot, and Steyer chose instead to put his money behind a failed campaign against Gardner. Through it all, Steyer worked with “ban fracking” groups and national environmental organizations to effectively campaign against Colorado’s energy industry, its supporters, and tens of thousands of men, women and families whose livelihoods depend on the oil and natural gas sector. He lost badly, but Steyer is coming back for more.

We’ll have an update next week on Steyer’s visit, and if any of his comments during the Denver trip are made public.

May 21 Colorado Energy Roundup: capitulating to the EPA, sage-grouse protections, and lazy fracktivists

May 21, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, PUC 

Gov. John Hickenlooper intends to capitulate to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan,” rejecting a suggestion by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to avoid implementing the new federal rules:

Gov. John Hickenlooper rejected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s call for states to defy new federal pollution controls on coal-burning power plants, saying Colorado has a long history of protecting its environment — despite its heavy reliance on coal.

In a letter to McConnell dated Thursday, Hickenlooper also disputed McConnell’s contention that the rules would cause electric rates to soar. Hickenlooper said Colorado is cutting pollution while keeping energy affordable.

The full text of Gov. Hickenlooper’s letter to Sen. McConnell. The Democrat called the suggestion by the Kentucky Senator “irresponsible”:

In a letter dated May 14, Hickenlooper told McConnell that compliance with the EPA’s proposal would be “a challenge,” but said “states tackle problems of this magnitude on a regular basis.”

“We think it would be irresponsible to ignore federal law, and that is why we intend to develop a compliant Clean Power Plan,” Hickenlooper said in his letter.

About 64 percent of Colorado’s electricity was generated by coal in 2013; when the state ranked 11th nationwide in overall coal production, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Hickenlooper said the state has “a long-standing history of investing in our natural environment, with the engagement of local business and civic leaders.”

“We have made immense strides in eliminating the ‘brown cloud’ for which Denver and the front range of the Rockies were once famous; stunning, clear views of the Rocky Mountains have been restored to our residents and the tens of millions of visitors who come here annually,” he said.

The Colorado Assembly entertained SB 258–the Electric Consumers’ Protection Act–this past legislative session, passing the State Senate in a bipartisan vote, but ultimately dying in a Democratic House kill committee late in the session. The bill would have called for any state implementation plan for the EPA Clean Power Plan to be reviewed by the Public Utilities Commission in a public, transparent manner with heavy input from the public as well as agencies such as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, with a final review and vote by the full state legislature, instead of a policy written behind closed doors by CDPHE and implemented unilaterally at the executive agency level, with input offered only after the fact.

Opponents of the bill called the transparency measure “red tape.”

Appealing for broad inclusion and procedural transparency, the Colorado Mining Association’s Dianna Orf hopes that CDPHE and the Governor’s administration will ensure that Colorado’s plan include those most affected by the rule–energy producers and consumers:

“We ask that it be as inclusive and transparent a process as possible,” Orf said. “The magnitude and significance of the plan, and how it’s implemented, is so far reaching that we’d ask that they not only include utilities, but consumers and fuel suppliers as well as the larger business community.”

Indeed.

***

On the other hand, late last week, Gov. Hickenlooper issued an executive order on behalf of the greater sage-grouse that is designed to shield the state from expanded federal efforts to list the animal as threatened or endangered, which would have a devastating economic impact on the western part of the state, and many surrounding states as well:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an Executive Order on Friday (May 15) directing state agencies to take additional conservation measures for the greater sage-grouse.

“Our actions, in conjunction with the efforts of our local governments, landowners and many others to protect the greater sage-grouse, have been extensive,” Hickenlooper said in a press release that accompanied the order. “With this Executive Order we are directing our state agencies and our partners to do even more to protect this treasured species.”

Hickenlooper directed state agencies to take a number of actions designed to reduce impacts to the greater sage-grouse and its habitat, including taking inventory of — and improving habitat within — state lands with grouse populations.

“We firmly believe that state-led efforts are the most effective way to protect and conserve the greater sage grouse and its habitat,” said Gov. Hickenlooper in the release. “Conversely, a decision by the federal government to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act would have a significant and detrimental economic impact to the state, as well as threaten the very state-led partnerships that are working to protect the species.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has until September 30, 2015 to render its decision on any listing action for the greater sage-grouse. Full text of Gov. Hickenlooper’s executive order can be read here.

***

Outgoing Colorado Oil and Gas Association President and CEO Tisha Schuller had some thoughts on anti-energy fracktivists in Colorado:

On what she sees as a hypocrisy by those who want to ban fracking

“Communities that use oil and gas can’t ban it and say someone else has to produce it for them… We are consumers demanding a product and demanding it at a very affordable price. We know how sensitive consumers are to changes in their heating bill and their gasoline bill… I think a better paradigm is we are totally interdependent on oil and gas, and vilifying it is simply silly and a very lazy way of trying to address climate change.”

Sputtering Wind Energy Prompts Transmission Cost Concerns from Xcel

May 28, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: preferred energy, renewable energy, wind energy 

Growing transmission costs for wind-generated electricity have prompted Xcel Energy to seek approval for rate hikes to smaller utilities using Xcel’s transmission lines to reach their consumers:

Xcel wants the utilities to pay for its costs associated with having supplies of reserve power ready to go in case the wind suddenly dies, said Terri Eaton, Xcel’s director of federal regulatory and compliance efforts.

Currently, those costs are paid by Xcel’s business and residential customers, Eaton said.

If the transmission lines customers can supply their own back-up power supplies, they wouldn’t be charged under the proposed rates, she said.

Readily available, back-up power supplies are critical to keep the transmission grid in balance and avoid blackouts that can occur when a big source of power suddenly disappears, Eaton said.

Xcel’s hikes would hit rural cooperatives and other utilities should the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approve the rate hike at the beginning of 2015.

But what, exactly, does Eaton mean when she refers to “reserve power ready to go in case the wind suddenly dies”?

“We’ve seen some dramatic wind fall-offs in really short periods of time,” Eaton said.

Xcel has already experienced such falls offs, when “several hundreds of megawatts of wind” drops dramatically — and swiftly — due to changes in the wind, she said.

“Sometimes the wind is just howling, and an hour later the wind has calmed — and it’s in those circumstances that we need to have reserves available to pick up the load,” Eaton said.

In such cases, backup power supplies typically come from natural gas-fueled power plants, she said.

The tariff proposed by Xcel would help cover the costs when the wind “suddenly dies.”

The intermittency of wind has been widely discussed, and no amount of forecasting or improved efficiency will spin a wind turbine’s blades if the wind isn’t blowing.

In 2012, a study examined wind generation in Illinois at the height of a summer heat wave, when energy demands rise to yearly highs. The author found that just 5 percent of installed wind capacity was available during that outbreak of record temperatures, and at times, “virtually nonexistent.”

Earlier this year, wind energy proponents touted the example provided in Texas–wind had saved the day. But a closer examination of the figures from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) demonstrated that contrary to claims that wind had bailed out conventional sources of electricity by ensuring grid reliability, wind had actually fallen so substantially that Texas turned to other sources to meet the extra 1,000 megawatts of demand on January 6. Both scheduled and unscheduled plant closure elsewhere had left Texas with a gap during a record cold snap, a gap that wind was unable to fill.

As the Institute for Energy Research wrote in January, only 3.2 percent of the energy needs of the Texas grid operated by ERCOT came from wind, while 83 percent of Texas wind turbines “were unavailable during peak demand.”

ERCOT itself continues to rate its “wind power at 8.7 percent of its installed capacity” for 2014 during the periods of highest demands, which typically occur in mid-to-late summer. For nearly 12,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity, only 990 megawatts are considered reliable for forecasts computed by ERCOT for 2014. That’s like having the equivalent of 12 1,000 megawatt power plants built and only 1 online when summer energy demand spikes.

As a percentage, ERCOT figures wind to provide just 1.3 percent of the total amount of energy it needs this summer, rising to 2.2 percent by 2017 according to its own projections.

As for Colorado, under Senate Bill 252, rural cooperatives must reach 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association spokesman Lee Boughey acknowledged the rising costs of integrating ever-greater amounts of intermittent energy supplies like wind.

“As more intermittent resources are added in the region, we understand the need to address the higher costs of integrating and balancing power,” Boughey told the Denver Business Journal.

Those costs were highlighted in a March post that examined the integration of wind and other intermittent energy sources to the reliability of the grid operated by Public Service and regulated by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), under the state’s preferred energy mandate:

The concern over infrastructure costs and the cost to ratepayers, as well as the challenge of incorporating ever-larger amounts of intermittent generation sources like solar and wind, is not a new topic at the PUC.

In June 2012 comments by PUC staff engineer Inez Dominguez indicated that off-peak load and wind generation in particular was “alarming.”

The integration of intermittent sources like wind would overwhelm the system, either with higher costs or decreased reliability. Bringing in wind and curtailing conventional, coal-fired generation during off-peak periods would result “in an economic penalty to the Public Service customers because more expensive wind generation would be supplying their load.”

Cutting off the wind, however, would also penalize ratepayers, as the “take or pay” agreements give wind first priority.

But the Public Service engineer also highlighted reliability concerns. “In its simplest terms as it concerns the customers, reliability deals with keeping the lights on. This reliability issue may occur when the wind suddenly stops blowing and a significant amount of wind generation is lost to the balancing authority,” Dominguez said.

“When this event happens, the balancing authority needs to replace the lost generation quickly enough to keep from tripping off the load. This means that the generation in reserve to cover such an event has to be quick enough in its response to cover the lost generation,” Dominguez continued.

For Colorado ratepayers, this backup generation comes from “gas fired combustion turbine generation reserves” that displace “more economic base load coal fired generation,” only adding to the cost, and “complexity” of the load balancing requirements.

According to Dominguez, these examples suggested a “flag that Public Service may have too much wind generation.”

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