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

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

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

Read all of his latest piece here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Drilling on the Western Slope dropped in 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet, Christmas Edition: WY report finds fracking ‘unlikely’ in contamination at Pavillion; EPA spill report gives agency a pass; solar industry acknowledges reliance on tax credits

Energy In Depth picks up on the state of Wyoming’s long-delayed and much-expected report on possible fracking-related contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming as alleged by activists and theorized by the Environmental Protection Agency:

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has just released the results of its 30-month investigation into water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming, and it has concluded that hydraulic fracturing is unlikely to have been the cause. As the report explains,

“Evidence suggests that upward gas seepage (or gas charging of shallow sands) was happening naturally before gas well development.

It is unlikely that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallower depths intercepted by water- supply wells. Evidence does not indicate that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallow depths intersected by water-supply wells. The likelihood that the hydraulic fracture well stimulation treatments (i.e. often less than 200 barrels) employed in the Pavillion Gas Field have led to fluids interacting with shallow groundwater (i.e. water-supply well depths) is negligible.” (emphasis added)

As the Casper-Star Tribune put it,

“Samples taken from 13 water wells in 2014 detected high levels of naturally occurring pollution. Test results showed little evidence of contaminants associated with oil and gas production.”

The cost to taxpayers was fairly large, with the state of Wyoming having to pick up from the EPA’s abandoned efforts to link fracking and contamination:

A 30-month state investigation costing more than $900,000 concludes fracking is unlikely to have contaminated drinking water east of Pavillion but leaves many other questions unresolved about the role natural gas operations may have played in polluting the water.

Samples taken from 13 water wells in 2014 detected high levels of naturally occurring pollution. Test results showed little evidence of contaminants associated with oil and gas production.

Those findings, released Friday as part of a report by the state Department of Environmental Quality, come almost four years to the day since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report tentatively linking fracking to polluted water outside this tiny central Wyoming community.

EPA ultimately turned over its investigation to the state in 2013, fearing, as a Star-Tribune report later showed, that it could not defend its initial conclusion.

Not that these conclusions will dissuade anti-fracking activists, who will continue to cite Pavillion even after the determination the connection was “unlikely”:

The DEQ report left several key questions unresolved. While fracking was ruled out as a likely source of contamination, the DEQ report did not completely exonerate Encana Corp., the Canadian company that operates the Pavillion gas field.

Regulators said more research is needed to determine if gas wells have served as a pathway for contaminants reaching drinking water sources. And they noted additional examination is needed of disposal pits in the area, where drilling mud and cuttings have been stored for decades and could have leaked into the groundwater.

But in a sign of Pavillion’s complexity, they said the area’s unique geology might also be to blame. Pavillion’s gas bearing formations are shallow, permeable and relatively close to formations that produce drinking water.

After 30 months, there is some clarity, but Pavillion will remain a contentious narrative as anti-fractivists push forward across the country and in Colorado next year.

***

Current and former Colorado politicos chime in on the Paris climate change conference:

Former Colorado Sen. Timothy Wirth, known for organizing the 1988 Hansen hearing that helped propel the issue of climate change to national attention, said the Paris agreement marks a turning point in the international community’s commitment to fighting global warming.

“The fact that every country has agreed and nobody is denying the science means that this agreement has a very important science base, which did not occur before, with a real strong consensus around the science,” Wirth said.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said the Paris agreement would have little realistic impact on limiting some of the world’s biggest polluters and was instead a distraction from more pressing foreign policy issues.

“Once again, the president is attempting to give away the barn by forcing Americans to shoulder the cost for a climate deal that does nothing tangible to limit the world’s biggest polluters like China, India and Mexico,” Tipton said. “The American people would be far better served by an administration that is focused on addressing the national security threats posed by ISIS instead of finding new ways to further punish responsible American energy producers and drive up energy costs on American families.”

***

Looks like the EPA is trying to skip out on responsibility for the poisonous Animas River spill it triggered in southwest Colorado back in August, according to The Daily Signal:

In their report, the EPA claims it was engaged in only “careful scraping and excavation” with a backhoe outside the mine. “Just prior to finishing, a team noticed a water spout a couple of feet high in the air near where they had been excavating.”

The report goes on to say that the spout (that they just happened to notice) quickly turned into a gusher of yellow toxic water.

It seems the EPA would have us believe the mine erupted on its own (which is like arguing, but, Your Honor, I was just carrying the gun when it went off all on its own!).

The EPA’s report goes on to allege that the mine entrance (or adit) was larger than they “anticipated,” and the “fact that the adit opening was about 2 times the assumed 8 to 10 foot maximum adit height resulted in a closer than anticipated proximity to the adit brow, and combined with the pressure of the water was enough to cause the spout and blowout.”

In other words, the mine did it!

Is it possible that the spill was caused by the EPA being careless? Nope. The authors claim they were digging “to better inform a planned consultation” scheduled for nine days later.

Essentially, the EPA claims that the spill was an act of God, rather than its own fault.

More reports are forthcoming, as well as hearings and other activities, including lawsuits. This spill won’t easily recede from the news any time soon:

DENVER – Congressional Republicans are questioning whether the Environmental Protection Agency interfered with a separate investigation into the Gold King Mine spill after an earlier internal review clashed with other accounts of the incident.

In a letter Friday to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr., U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, questioned the timing and substance of recent interviews conducted by EPA officials.

The separate report from the inspector general is not expected until early 2016.

“It was a very narrow focus, and it was incomplete, and there are obvious discrepancies …” Bishop told The Durango Herald at a congressional hearing last week at a mine in Idaho Springs, referencing the EPA’s Aug. 24 internal report. “It raises all sorts of questions about what’s taken place. That’s why we’ve got to start over.”

And La Plata County has tentatively agreed to EPA (taxpayer) funded remediation, which the agency still needs to approve:

A 10-year cooperative agreement in which the Environmental Protection Agency would provide $2.4 million for remedial efforts related to the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill received unanimous support from La Plata County Board commissioners on Tuesday.

The federal agency has assumed responsibility for a breach at the abandoned mine portal that sent 3 million gallons of mining wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

EPA officials have until Feb. 1 to approve, amend or reject the agreement, which includes eight tasks to ensure the future health and safety of the county’s residents and environment. Those include continued work with Wright Water Engineers, which has conducted for the county an analyses on the Animas River’s health, independent of the EPA.

Other initiatives include a real-time water-monitoring system to alert the county of changes in water quality, developing a response plan for future environmental incidents and hiring a contractor for community outreach – to explain pre- and post-spill data to the public.

***

Sometimes in the course of celebratory effusion, the proponents of renewable energy–in this case, solar advocates begging for an extension of the 30 percent investment tax credit–spill the beans on how much the industry is completely reliant on government subsidies in order not just to be competitive in their parlance, but actually remain “viable” at all (and in Slate, no less):

The solar investment tax credit—in which owners of solar-panel systems get a 30 percent tax credit—was always meant to be temporary and is set to expire next year. [emphasis added] The Republicans in Congress generally favor fossil fuels over renewables, generally oppose anything President Obama is for, and deny the need to deal with climate change. So as fall settled in, investors began to focus on the fact that by the end of 2016, the solar investment tax credit of 30 percent would fall to 10 percent for commercial systems and disappear entirely for home-based systems.

Another problem: Renewable energy is as much about financial engineering as it is about electrical engineering. For solar to work, investors had to believe that the structures rigged up to build solar would stand up over time… [emphasis added]

Next, Washington delivered—defying the conventional wisdom. Newly installed House Speaker Paul Ryan realized that he’d have to negotiate with congressional Democrats if he wanted to get a budget and tax deal before the end of the year. And as they came to the table, another miracle happened: The Democrats held fast. On Dec. 14, Democrats indicated they would be willing to support the Republican-backed effort to lift the ban on oil exports—but only if the Republicans would consent to measures including a multiyear extension of renewable energy credits. It worked. Last Friday, Congress voted to extend the 30 percent solar investment tax credit through 2019, and then to reduce it to 10 percent through 2022.

That move instantly made the U.S. solar industry viable for another six years. [emphasis added] Investors were elated. SolarCity’s stock popped as details of the budget agreement began to emerge and then soared on its announcement. By Friday, the stock was above $56, up about 117 percent from its November low. SunEdison’s stock closed on Friday at $6.51, up 127 percent in a month. The Guggenheim Solar ETF is up about 30 percent from Nov. 19 through last Friday.

God bless us, everyone.

It will cost us, everyone. Except for the solar companies, who are busy carving up the fatted Christmas goose.

December 17 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Environmental ‘Propaganda’ Agency; electric rate hikes called ‘discrimination’; anti-energy activists promise to ‘ratchet up’ efforts

Some commodity pricing is giving Colorado Xcel ratepayers a temporary reprieve from escalating energy costs:

Xcel said the new rates will result in “significantly lower bills, particularly for natural gas customers, for the second half of the current winter heating season.

“Compared on a year-to-year basis to better gauge the seasonal impacts of weather, both residential and small-business customers’ (natural gas) bills will be approximately 21 percent lower next quarter, when compared to the first quarter of 2015,” Xcel said.

Electricity bills are expected to drop about 5 percent compared to the current quarter, the utility said.

For the most part, Xcel passes changes in commodity prices, and the change in costs associated with supplying power and natural gas, along to customers on a dollar-per-dollar basis.

Commodity prices fluctuate, but the downward trend will be welcome for as long as it sticks around, or until it is offset by higher energy costs elsewhere, due to expensive replacement of baseload power with exotic, renewable energy sources.

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The next legislative session should feature quite a few oil and gas battles, with one Democratic State Representative queueing up a bill to attack natural resource producers:

State Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would force oil and gas companies to compensate residents for any loss in property value tied to drilling activities, including damage done by earthquakes linked to deep-earth wastewater injection wells. But state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, has vowed to block the measure in the Senate.

“If it comes to my committee, I’d do everything I can to make it go away,” Sonnenberg said. “Quite frankly, it’s another serious attempt to run oil and gas companies out of business in Colorado… Everyone knows the pro- oil-and-gas bills go to the House to die and that the anti- oil-and-gas bills go to die in the Senate.”

That’s the response Salazar said he expected.

“This shouldn’t be a politicized fight,” he said last Saturday at a Thornton town hall he convened on the issue. “I believe we (in state government) need to give up some of the power to local governments. They need to be able to police these industries in their area.”

The benefit of a divided legislature is that extreme bills like this will likely not make it too far in the opposing chamber. But the bill will still be heard, and we expect some rhetorical fireworks over legislation similar to this.

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Anti-energy activists in our state plan to “ratchet up” their efforts beyond legal means in the near future:

The leader of a national activist organization behind ban-fracking campaigns in Colorado, Ohio and elsewhere is calling on activists to “ratchet up” civil disobedience and begin “filling up jails.”

The comments are from Thomas Linzey, founder of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) in an interview he did with Chris Hedges’ Days of Revolt. From the interview:

HEDGES: “Well, you have talked about it as a kind of military operation. Explain what it would look like.”

LINZEY: “Well, I think it means thinking about civil disobedience differently than we’ve thought about it before. So it’s not just to make a moral or ethical statement; it’s actually aimed at stopping the project itself. And that means, I think, successive days. It means rotating people through. It means bringing people in from other places. It means filling up jails.” (emphasis added)

Linzey went on to suggest that the law isn’t really important here:

“I mean, our resistance has to ratchet up, the opposition has to ratchet up our stuff to a point where it’s actually actively interfering with these projects, because if you don’t do that and you rely entirely on the legal process and the legal process is so stacked against you in terms of what municipalities can and can’t do, that at that point you have no other option but to engage in that type of action.” (emphasis added)

Growing frustration on the part of anti-energy activists seems to be fueling (pun intended) a sense of urgency. We hope this amounts to nothing more than bravado, but hope that Colorado’s natural resource developers–our neighbors–stay out of harm’s way.

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The Environmental Protection Agency? How about the Environmental Propaganda Agency–says the Government Accountability Office:

Yesterday the Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated federal law in its use of social media to promote its controversial “WOTUS rule,” redefining the scope of the “waters of the United States” subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act. Specifically, the GAO concluded that the EPA violated express limits on the use of appropriations for indirect or grassroots lobbying, and that in doing so, the agency violated the Antideficiency Act.

According to the GAO, the EPA used various social media platforms, including Thunderclap, to develop support for its proposal to expand and clarify the scope of its own regulatory jurisdiction and combat opposition to the rule. The EPA also used social media communications to promote materials supporting the WOTUS rule by environmentalist advocacy groups, including materials that were clearly designed to oppose legislative efforts to limit or block the rule. The GAO labeled these efforts “covert propaganda.” The New York Times had previously documented some of the EPA’s actions.

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Good legislation is often larded with bad–pork, paybacks, and wheeling-dealing that makes the whole thing a whole lot less palatable–and the proposed extension of the wind production tax credit and the investment tax credit for solar has the renewable industry singing the praises of the proposed lifting of the oil export ban:

Michael Zarin — head of external communications for Vestas — said via email that the company is “pleased” by the proposed extension.

“As currently structured, the extension and phase-out plan would give the industry the longer-term certainty that we’ve been seeking,” Zarin said. “Together with wind energy’s natural competitiveness against other power generation sources, the PTC extension agreement would help ensure a solid future for wind energy in the U.S.”

The solar industry’s investment tax credit, currently a 30 percent credit for commercial, residential and utility-scale solar power systems, also would be extended and phased down through 2022 under the proposal.

The credit, as proposed, would stay at 30 percent through 2019, and then fall to 26 percent in 2020. It would drop to 22 percent in 2021 and 10 percent in 2022. The bill also offers a commence-construction clause that would extend the credit to any project in development started before the end of 2021 and be finished before the end of 2023.

“We are delighted a five-year extension of the Investment Tax Credit has been included in the omnibus bill,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. “We worked hard to get it included, and are working hard to make sure it passes.”

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Mining for a photo-op to discuss the fallout of the EPA’s Gold King Mine spill:

IDAHO SPRINGS – The first-ever congressional hearing inside a mine was held Monday, offering a dramatic image of the impact the Gold King Mine spill has had on policy talks.

The Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held its field hearing inside the Edgar Mine in Idaho Springs, where the panel discussed legislation aimed at training and recruiting engineers to work on mining reclamation efforts.

“This is weird,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, who made his remarks while wearing a hard hat and looking up at rock formations inside the mine, which is used for training by the Colorado School of Mines.

Discussions around mining reform gained momentum after the August Gold King Mine spill, in which an estimated 3 million gallons of old mining sludge poured into the Animas River, turning it a mustard-yellow. The river tested for initial spikes in heavy metals.

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Efforts to increase electricity rates in the southwest part of the state were sustained, as a measure to push back failed, with opponents of the rate hike calling the residential-focused increases “discrimination”:

An effort to reverse a decision last month to increase residential electric base rates failed at the La Plata Electric Association’s meeting on Tuesday with a split 6-6 vote.

In November, the board approved on a 6-5 vote a new rate structure that will cost local residents about $5.25 more per month on their electric bills, based on usage. Commercial and industrial users will see an estimated 4 percent decrease on next year’s bills.

However, Tuesday’s main point of contention was last month’s decision to raise the residential base rate from $20.50 to $21.50 a month, which had several board members concerned that the increase would “exacerbate inequality” in the region.

“If we continue to do this, we are harming and discriminating more and more against our members,” said board member Jeff Berman in reference to the 60 percent increase in base charges over the last five years. “I cannot support a base charge increase that exacerbates inequality and discrimination.”

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.

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.

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.

HB 1113 Testimony, Bill Voted Down 8-5

January 31, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Legal, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

Valerie Richardson of The Colorado Observer provides background on HB 1113’s 8-5 defeat in committee, as well as other efforts to deal with last year’s SB 252 impact on rural Colorado.


Full text of testimony presented by the Independence Institute:

Testimony on behalf of

HB 1113 Electric Renewable Energy Standard Reduction, Room 0112

January 30, 2014

House Transportation and Energy Committee

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,

My name is Michael Sandoval. I am an Energy Policy Analyst and Investigative Reporter for the Energy Policy Center at the Independence Institute.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify today on behalf of House Bill 1113.

At the Independence Institute, we are agnostic on energy resources. It is our strong belief that the choice of energy resources should come from the demands of the free market, and not from the preferences of policymakers, lobbyists, or special interest groups.

The goal of the Energy Policy Center is to promote a free market in energy production, where no protections, subsidies, or regulations result in energy winners and losers. We advocate that government remain neutral, which then encourages a level playing field. That is the best way to ensure that consumers reap the benefits of a healthy energy market – competition, lower prices, and more options.

Testimony

HB 1113 affords utilities the flexibility they need to meet electricity demand in the most cost effective way. HB 1113 is an energy freedom bill that does not preclude utilities from incorporating wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources from the achieving a minimum percentage of electricity that electric service providers must generate. Rather it allows utilities to achieve that mix in a way that does not force them to rush to comply in coming years.

HB 1113 would eliminate the step-increases mandated by previous legislation that would negatively affect utilities’ ability to respond to customer demands and force ratepayers to contend with ever increasing costs of energy in Colorado.

The most recent numbers from the Energy Information Administration indicate where Colorado sits vis-à-vis its neighbors when it comes to the average retail price of electricity to the residential sector. As of October 2013, Colorado ranks 27th, with a residential retail cost that exceeds that of Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, Oklahoma, and Idaho.

When looking at the EIA’s census division of Mountain states, Colorado’s average retail price of electricity for residential customers is second behind only Nevada. When it comes to commercial and industrial electricity, Colorado’s average retail price is the highest in the Mountain region in both categories, for 2012 and 2013.

According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, in 2013 Colorado renewable portfolio standard of 30 percent by 2020 is the highest in the entire Rocky Mountain region, trailing only the west coast state of California.

The Independence Institute believes HB 1113 addresses concerns about the state’s market-skewing renewable portfolio standard’s impact upon utilities and ratepayers. The step-change increases in the state’s renewable energy mandate over the course of the next few years will result in higher costs for utilities and ratepayers alike.

These increased costs will likely result in job losses, higher costs for consumers, and a loss of competitiveness for Colorado businesses in comparison to neighboring states without or with lower renewable energy standards. HB 1113’s 15 percent figure would bring the state more in line with states throughout the Mountain region.

Again, aligning minimums between investor-owned utilities and cooperative electric associations will level the playing field that will keep electricity rates competitive, but will not prevent individual providers from exceeding those minimums with a market mix of conventional and renewable sources, including wind and solar, that best fits their own market profile and satisfies the needs of their customers.

In conclusion, HB 1113 gives utilities the flexibility to adjust power sources as needed and respond to needs of consumers—and not the demands of special interests—from 2014 and thereafter.

Conclusion

As I stated at the beginning it is the strong belief of the Independence Institute that the choice of energy resources should come from the demands of the free market, and not from the preferences of policymakers, lobbyists, or special interest groups and we believe that HB 1113 is consistent with that principle.

Thank you.

Killer solar panels and the sobering reality of “green” energy

September 21, 2012 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

More solar panels and wind turbines are not solutions to the eco-left’s obsession with global carbon emission according to a new book from University of California – Berkeley visiting scholar Ozzie Zehner titled Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism.

Zehner said in an interview with the Huffington Post,

‘Alternative energy is not a free ride, just a different ride…and there’s no reason to believe it will offset fossil fuel use in a society that has high levels of consumption and is growing exponentially.’

Put another way, renewable energy only makes sense if undertaken in concert with other, more fundamental changes in the way we deploy and make use of energy in our everyday lives. At the moment, we’re really paying attention to the technology end of things, Zehner argues, and without a holistic approach, these innovations get us nowhere.

Zehner wants people to consume less. But there is more to his book than conservation. He argues that some green technology is actually worse than traditional fossil fuels that simply dump CO2 into the atmosphere

Green Illusions explains how the solar industry has grown to become one of the leading emitters of hexafluoroethane (C2F6), nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). These three potent greenhouse gases, used by solar cell fabricators, make carbon dioxide (CO2) seem harmless.

The main point is that “green energy” comes with a price, both economical and environmental. Go into it with your eyes wide open.

SB 178: sordid tale to increase renewable mandate

April 28, 2012 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, HB 1365, New Energy Economy 

“One hundred nine days into a 120-day session you introduced major [energy policy] legislation,” Senator Steve King (R-Grand Junction) skeptically asked of SB 178 sponsor Senator Angela Giron (D-Pueblo).

Sen. King’s skepticism is justified because SB 178 is a significant policy change that increases Colorado’s renewable energy mandate by 20 percent.  Because renewable energy is not competitive with traditional fossil fuels, supporters of the mandate originally included a multiplier to make it more palatable when advancing prior legislation to increase the mandate.

Under current law, for every kilowatt-hour of electricity provided by a renewable resource it counts as one and one quarter hour toward Colorado’s 30 percent renewable mandate. In other words, Colorado’s actual mandate is 24 percent.  SB 178 REMOVES the multiplier, raising the mandate significantly and, ultimately, electricity rates.

During testimony on Tuesday, April 24, in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the sordid legislative tale of SB 178 began to unfold. It has been dubbed “son of 1365,” referring to the collusion and fast tracking of Colorado’s infamous fuel-switching bill passed in 2010.

Winners

Renewable energy companies are win big with SB 178 because utilities will be forced to either “build more or buy more” renewable energy. No shock that wind and solar advocates testified in favor.

New Energy Economy advocates who still believe that wind and solar are commercially viable energy sources, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary also win because SB 178 continues to fuel their green fantasies.

Xcel Energy doesn’t show up on a search of lobbyists for and against SB 178, but a number of sources tell me that Colorado’s largest investor owned utility (IOU) has been working hard on this bill at the state capital. Why? Because Xcel has banked significant renewable energy credits (RECs), which they can sell to other utilities in order to meet the higher standard. Also, as energy rates go up, and they will under SB 178, Xcel makes more money because the Public Utility Commission guarantees Xcel’s rate of return. (Example: 10 percent of $100 is a lot more than 10 percent of $75)

The Chinese will be big winners – yes, the Chinese. The more we rely upon wind and solar as a source of energy, the more dependent we become on the Chinese who control 95 percent the world’s supply or rare earth minerals necessary to manufacture solar panels and wind turbines.

Losers

Consumers and the economy will lose big. Representing Black Hills Energy, Colorado’s second largest IOU, Wendy Moser testified against SB 178 because Black Hills estimates rates will rise 25 percent in order to pay for the increased mandate.  The increase will stifle all economic activity because energy costs will needlessly take a larger percentage of consumers’ and businesses’ budgets.

Large energy consumers such as mining companies and heavy manufacturing which are energy intensive will lose big because their cost of doing business will go up and make them less competitive.

The environment is also a loser; as we have documented renewable energy is neither clean nor green. In fact, if Colorado exacerbates reliance on China, we fuel the pending ecological disaster.

Highlights from testimony on SB 178

  • Supporters call eliminating the 1.25 multiplier “leveling the playing field” because it’s time renewables compete in a “free market.” Advocates repeated these catch phrases numerous times, and I assume they did so with a straight face (I only listened to testimony).  If they truly believed in a free market, the discussion would be about eliminating the 30 percent renewable mandate rather than just a multiplier.
  • Supporter Neal Lurie from the Colorado Solar Energy Industry Association (COSEIA) had the audacity to call eliminating the multiplier good for transparency for consumers. Just a year ago, COSEIA testified against SB11-30 transparency for ratepayers, Senator Scott Renfroe’s bill that would have required IOUs such as Xcel to disclose the actual cost of electricity by fuel source on a quarterly basis.  Lurie and COSEIA don’t want consumers to know the real cost of renewable energy because they know it far exceeds the misleading “2 percent rate cap.”
  • Black Hills and Tri-State Generation, electricity provider to numerous local co-ops, combined represent roughly 1 million ratepayers in Colorado. Yet bill supporters never consulted either company about SB 178.  These two power providers did not find out about this attempt at massive policy change until a few days before testimony. Thank you to Senator King for repeatedly bringing up the timeline.
  • The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) continues the 2 percent rate cap sham that we have discredited on numerous occasions. The total cost of renewable energy is not contained within the two percent rate cap on consumers’ bills, see the paper I co-authored with William Yeatman “The Great Green Deception.” Updated figures and brief explanation of how Xcel avoids the 2 percent cap are provided below.*
  • Gene Camp of the PUC initially testified that raising the mandate by 20 percent would have no impact on ratepayers’ electric bills. Following a discussion of what will happen to the two percent rate cap, Senator Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) pressed that increasing the amount of energy derived from a more expensive fuel source will increase rates. Silence befell the room for 5 or 6 seconds before Camp then responded that it’s up to legislature because he is unsure what will happen.
  • Attorney General John Suthers’ office testified in favor of SB 178 because the current multiplier applies only to Colorado produced renewable power and may be unconstitutional. When Senator Lundberg suggested that Colorado extend the multiplier to all renewable power producers regardless of location, the AG office agreed that likely would satisfy the constitutional issue.
  • Senator Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) wondered why no one caught the constitutional conflict before.
  • Sen. Lundberg did offer an amendment to extend the multiplier to all states and save consumers money, but it was defeated.

Like HB 1365, SB 178 makes a mockery of the legislative process. This bill smells dirty. Introduced at the last moment and key stakeholders were not even invited to participate. It’s a disaster for Colorado ratepayers. It’s not about consumers or markets or leveling the playing field, SB 178 is about enriching the eco-left and Xcel Energy.  That’s no shock because whatever Xcel wants, Xcel gets.

*The following comes from an op-ed I co-authored with energy policy center colleague Michael Sandoval and originally published in January. It provides a brief summary of how the PUC allows Xcel to avoid the two percent rate cap.

It is true Xcel stayed within the two percent rate cap line item labeled the Renewable Electric Standard Adjustment (RESA) on customers’ electric bills. But it is not true that the RESA represents the real, total cost of renewable energy to Xcel ratepayers, and Bakers knows it.

Two years ago in the “Great Green Deception,” the Independence Institute exposed how the PUC allows Xcel to hide the real cost of renewable energy by utilizing two line items on a ratepayer’s bill.  Customers pay two percent of their bill through RESA, but the balance of the total cost of renewable energy is captured through another fund – the Electric Commodity Adjustment (ECA) – that is likely the second largest line item cost.

The practice continues today as Xcel’s Robin Kittel explained in direct testimony to the PUC regarding its 2012 Renewable Energy Standard Compliance Plan. According to Kittel, Xcel recovers the cost of renewable energy “through a combination of the RESA and ECA.”

The ECA is NOT subject to the legislatively mandated two percent rate cap. The Public Utility Commission staff’s William Dalton acknowledged the PUC’s role in confusing the public about the rate cap in his September 2009 testimony before the commission:

“This could be a point of confusion to ratepayers and other interested parties…The costs above the retail rate impact limit are recovered through other Commission approved cost recovery mechanisms, primarily the ECA. [Emphasis ours] Once the renewable energy resource cost recovery is allocated to the ECA, cost recovery of these resources is no longer subject to retail rate impact criteria or cost cap.”

According to Xcel’s 2012 Renewable Energy Compliance Plan, ECA costs were $35,280,340 in 2011, but will explode by more than 1000 percent to $354,819,209 in 2021 (thanks also to Colorado’s $20 per ton “phantom carbon tax”). Yet Xcel and Baker [PUC Commissioner Matt Baker] can claim to be within the two percent rate cap for the RESA.

It is easy to be angry with Xcel for all the cost shifting shenanigans, but the blame should be placed on lawmakers and PUC commissioners.

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