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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the rest of the topline results here.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 12.34.52 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the results breakdown along partisan and demographic lines?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 1.09.32 AM

***

Another new EPA rule? Yep:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methane

***

Anti-frack is BAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve caught up to the can once again.

***

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

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

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

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

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

#greenfail

***

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

But a move to extend the life of one renewable energy source–in this case, wind–by granting a six-fold extension to ‘takings’ permits issued to wind farms that allow the accidental killing of bald and golden eagles has united opponents normally at odds: Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and groups like the National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council.
A sampling, from Politico:

It’s baldly un-American, Vitter said Friday.

“Permits to kill eagles just seem unpatriotic, and 30 years is a long time for some of these projects to accrue a high death rate,” said the Louisiana senator, who is the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and one of Congress’s most outspoken critics of wind.

Sounding a similar theme, National Audubon Society CEO David Yarnold said it’s “outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the bald eagle.” He indicated his group may sue the administration.

The rule also drew criticism from Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who said it “sets up a false choice that we intend to fight to reverse.”

“This rule could lead to many unnecessary deaths of eagles. And that’s a wrong-headed approach,” she said. “We can, and must, protect wildlife as we promote clean, renewable energy. The Fish and Wildlife Service missed an opportunity to issue a rule that would do just that.”

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell defended the rule change.

“Renewable energy development is vitally important to our nation’s future, but it has to be done in the right way. The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations,” Jewell said.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only the NRDC offered a response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clean Power Plan Governor Letter – CO

Gone with the Wind: IRS can’t measure effectiveness of $14 billion dollars in green energy subsidies

July 21, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: New Energy Economy, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveals that IRS tax subsidies to green energy operators have resulted in $15.1 billion in foregone revenue to the federal government, $13.7 billion of which was lost to renewable energy projects.

The GAO has sounded its concern that Congress cannot evaluate the effectiveness of Investment Tax Credit (ITC) or Production Tax Credit (PTC) programs funded by this money. Evaluation becomes difficult when “the total generating capacity [the projects] supported is unknown because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not required to collect project level data from all taxpayers claiming the ITC or report the data it does collect, nor is it required to collect project-level data for the PTC.” So, as of now, any decisions made by Congress regarding the extension of the ITC or PTC are based on rough estimates, an environmental moral compass, or just how a representative is feeling that particular day.

What data has been reported suggests a certain government addiction to renewable energy subsides. From 2004 to 2013, around 2,000 renewable energy projects were built adding 69,000MW of generating capacity. This number, however, is dwarfed by the 157,000MW of generating capacity added by just the 500 traditional utility scale electricity generation projects built during the same time. For a tenth of the cost of renewable projects, traditional energy projects were able to generate more than double the energy.

In addition to green energy subsides, most states have implemented some form of a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires a certain percentage of the electricity coming from retail service providers must be obtained from renewable sources. This artificial increase in demand along with subsides may be giving renewables like solar and wind a better chance than the technology in its current state deserves.

The GAO concludes that eliminating the ITC/PTC will almost certainly decrease the number of new renewable energy projects. Without these tax subsides green energy developer’s returns would decline and a rise in prices to compensate for the withdrawal of federal support would turn renewable energy into a luxury item.

Gina Larson is a Future Leaders intern and is currently a student at American University, majoring in International Relations.

Big Wind and Solar Oppose Clean Energy

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

By Lexi Osborn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Henry Zhang

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

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

Untitled1

Also from the Denver Business Journal article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] BLS West Report (link)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

singeing small

From the report:

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

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

At the time, we wrote:

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

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

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

Regulatory agencies considered those costs for Ivanpah:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coloradans can’t rely on subsidy-dependent wind energy

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

This op-ed first appeared in the Greeley Tribune

Coloradans can’t rely on subsidy-dependent wind energy


By Michael Sandoval

When Coloradans flip on their lights or crank up their heat, they expect their electricity to be affordable, and at the very least, reliable. But the state Legislature and Gov. John Hickenlooper are forcing the opposite on Colorado — expensive and unreliable wind energy.

The wind lobby today is one of the fattest hogs at the corporate welfare trough. Rather than win customers through good prices and reliable products, the wind lobby uses political clout to force consumers to purchase its overpriced services. Currently, a state law requires that 12 percent of the state’s electricity be generated by so-called “green” energy. That mandate increases to 20 percent next year, and will jump to 30 percent by 2020 for investor-owned utilities. Senate Bill 252, signed by the governor last year, imposes a 20 percent mandate on rural cooperative electric associations. These jumps will only increase the cost of electricity.

icon_op_edThe wind industry is “green” in the sense that it lines its pockets with taxpayer subsidies. The federal $12 billion wind production tax credit was increased to 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2013. Although Congress decided not to renew this particular form of corporate welfare, the Obama administration has decided to keep the welfare money flowing anyway. The Internal Revenue Service issued guidance that allowed projects under construction and generating electricity by Jan. 1, 2016, to also claim the tax credit, which lasts for 10 years.

How dependent is the wind industry on government subsidies? American Wind Energy Association CEO Tom Kiernan pointed to the steep declines in wind capacity installations when the production tax credit is allowed to lapse, as it was briefly at the end of 2012. Last year, total available wind energy output decreased 92 percent.

In other words, almost all the wind power construction today exists only because of taxpayer subsidies. Because the wind lobby has become addicted to corporate welfare, the wind welfare companies have failed to make the technological advances, which make wind power competitive in a free market. It’s easier to lobby Washington to get money extracted from the taxpayers, and to lobby Denver to force consumers to buy your product.

Besides being expensive, wind power is unreliable, as demonstrated by a near-record demand in Texas for home heating in early January, which put a strain on that state’s power grid. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas noted that planned maintenance and unexpected weather-related outages of power plants elsewhere nearly brought on rotating outages.

Proponents declared triumphantly that wind had saved the Texas grid. But in reality, wind had failed.

Put simply, wind energy was unable to fill the gap created by a sudden increase in demand from the cold and the drop in capacity due to the scheduled and unscheduled outages that occurred the morning of Jan. 6. Just as the state experienced a spike in overall energy demand, wind power began to plummet, according to analysis of the council’s data by the Independence Institute.

That morning, wind output fell below 20 percent of maximum capacity by 7 a.m., just as the other power plants went offline. As a percentage of council’s total output, wind fell to below 10 percent and remained there until 11 p.m.

The Institute for Energy Research confirmed that a mere 3.2 percent of the energy supplied to the Texas grid covered by council came from wind. At the moment Texas residents needed reliable power the most, 83 percent of Texas’ wind turbines were unavailable “during peak demand.”

The only thing that saved Texas that day was importing nearly 1,000 megawatts from the eastern power grid and Mexico.

The Comanche Peak 1 nuclear plant fell to 72 percent of capacity on Jan 6. Meanwhile, actual wind output in Texas failed to reach 70 percent during any one hour, and remained below 50 percent in at least 20 of the 24 hours that day.

So when the winter chill hit Texas residents, wind power nearly left them out in the cold. Coloradans would be wise to not endanger their safety in their homes, and their pocketbooks, by forced reliance on an intermittent, subsidy-dependent power source.

Michael Sandoval is an energy policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

Fried Birds: Green Energy Involves Tradeoffs Too

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

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

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

You can view pictures of the deceased birds here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CO electric rates rise along with increase in preferred energy mandate

February 7, 2014 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: New Energy Economy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

In 1999 Colorado enjoyed some of the lowest electricity rates in the United States and the Mountain West. In 2004, Colorado voters approved Amendment 37, requiring investor owned utilities to provide 10 percent of the electricity sold to end users to come from the preferred sources wind and solar.

Since 2004, the Colorado state legislature has mandated increases in the renewable portfolio standard, more appropriately titled the preferred energy standard, from 10 to 20 to the current 30 percent by 2020. Only Maine (40 percent by 2017) and California (33 percent by 2020) have more aggressive mandates, and they also have higher electric rates than Colorado.

Last year the state legislature passed a 20 percent preferred portfolio standard on Colorado’s rural electric cooperatives.

As the mandate to produce more electricity from wind and solar has increased so have Colorado’s electricity rates.

  • In 1999 Colorado’s electric rates were 5.9 cents per Kilowatt hour (kWh) and were the 18th least expensive in the country.
  • In the 1990s Colorado’s population increased by 30 percent, electricity demand grew 26 percent, yet real prices fell 25 percent in the same period.
  • If electric rates simply kept pace with inflation, Coloradans would have paid 8.4 cents per kWh in 2013 instead of 9.83 cents per kWh.
  • In 2000, Colorado’s residential rates were 7.31 per kWh; adjusting for inflation that’s the equivalent of 9.89 cents in 2013. Instead Coloradans now pay 11.91 cents per kWh for residential electricity.
  • Colorado’s current electric rate for all sectors is 9.83 cents per kWh, nearly 7 percent higher than the Mountain West average of 9.21 cents per kWh.
  • Colorado’s electric rates increased 4.5 percent last year while U.S. electric rates increased only 2.4 percent last year.
  • At 11.91 cents per kWh, Colorado has the highest residential rates in the Mountain West.
  • Colorado residential electric rates are the 20th highest in the nation, with California, Alaska, and Hawaii being the only western states with higher residential rates.

Most information available at the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Table of “Average Retail Price of Electricity to Ultimate Customer by End-Use Sector.”

Next Page »