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.

October 22 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Another CO mine faces WildEarth Guardians Lawsuit; EPA panel in GJ draws large crowd; regulatory freeze as part of debt ceiling debate?

UPDATE–Clean Power Plan rule will be published in Friday’s Federal Register, opening the door for multi-state lawsuits over the next two months:

CLEAN POWER PLAN – LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES: EPA’s carbon rule for power plants will formally be published in tomorrow’s The Federal Register, according to a pre-publication notice that showed up this morning. That means tomorrow kicks off the 60-day clock to sue over the rule. Expect the first suits to be filed shortly after the court opens for business Friday.

The Clean Power Plan, covering existing power plants, is available here. The rule for new, modified and reconstructed power plants is here. And the proposed federal implementation plan, set for finalization next year, is available here.

Just in time, environmentalists are holding a press call this morning outlining a legal defense for the rule. Meanwhile, the House Energy and Power Subcommittee also just happens to be holding a hearing this afternoon on CPP legal issues – and the witness list includes Elbert Lin, West Virginia’s solicitor general and likely one of the people who will argue against the rule in front of judges down the line.

As Alex Guillen reports this morning for Pros, “The timing of the rules’ publication , nearly three months after President Barack Obama rolled them out at the White House, makes it unlikely that a court will act to block them ahead of December’s Paris talks, where some 200 nations will gather to hash out a pact to address climate change.”

More to come.

***

Another Colorado mine is facing a lawsuit from the WildEarth Guardians, but this time, the communities of western Colorado are preparing ahead of time:

MAKE A STAND

Each day, thousands of rural Coloradans, small businesses, schools and farms rely on the clean, low-cost energy fueled by Trapper Mine’s nearly 200 employees. For more than three decades, Trapper has provided affordable energy across the West, jobs to hundreds of families and vast civic and economic benefits to our northwestern Colorado community.

Now, we need our community to Stand with Trapper.

On October 29, from 4 to 8 p.m., the federal Office of Surface Mining will host a public meeting to gather public comments on the scope of an environmental assessment the agency will prepare in response to a lawsuit brought by WildEarth Guardians. The October 29 public meeting includes a comment period through November 12 to further gather input. All public comments during this phase are due to OSM no later than November 12—and must be in written form.

The agency’s completion of this assessment is vital to Trapper’s future.

We ask that you attend this meeting and provide support for Trapper’s workers and their families, the positive impact Trapper makes to the community, the mine’s nationally recognized environmental stewardship and reclamation efforts—and its commitment to providing affordable and reliable energy.

The public meeting will be held October 29, from 4 to 8 p.m., at the Moffat County Fairgrounds’ Pavilion Building. The event will provide an opportunity to ask questions andmeet with OSM and Trapper representatives and to provide written comments on the environmental assessment.

Community members can also provide written comments via email and written letters to OSM. For more information and to submit comments, please click here.

Thank you for Standing with Trapper.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 10.49.23 PM

More on the public comment:

Bill Ray, public information officer for Trapper, said Moffat County’s attendance at the meeting and participation throughout the comment process is crucial.

“This process is vital to Trapper’s future, and we believe to the community’s future,” he said. “We encourage community members to come to the meeting, to provide written comments and to stand with Trapper.”

Ray said throughout the comment period, Trapper would continue to work with the community to help it stay informed. Future public meetings organized by Trapper are a possibility but none have been scheduled so far.

Chris Holmes, public affairs specialist for OSMRE, said all comments are accepted but substantive ones are the most useful.

“The comments that we look for are those that have carefully examined all the issues, looked at the specific permit that’s in question and the revisions,” he said. “Substantive comments are what carry the most weight.”

***

Could the debt ceiling provide a mechanism for pushback against regulatory overreach and “midnight” regulations promulgated between next year’s election and the new President’s inauguration? A proposal from the Republican Study Committee called “Terms of Credit: Budget, Work, Grow”:

Grow: In order to give firms and workers certainty and allow the economy to grow, freeze all
regulations until July 1, 2017.
• Current freeze – Prohibit any significant regulatory action through July 1, 2017, subject to
health, safety, and national security waivers
• No midnight rules – Prohibit any new regulatory action between the date of a presidential
election and the next inauguration, again subject to health, safety, and national security
waivers

You can view the bill summary here, and the full text of the bill here.

The freeze on regulations would include the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. More to come.

***

Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, has an op-ed in The Hill calling for the U.S. to allow crude oil exports, with Colorado taking a lead:

In my state of Colorado, this is not a partisan issue but one of common sense and business opportunity. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican, both support lifting the ban. Plus, with Reps. Ken Buck (R), Mike Coffman (R), Doug Lamborn (R), Ed Perlmutter (D) and Scott Tipton (R) all voting to dump this outdated policy, once again we see Colorado as a leading bipartisan voice for this issue.

Colorado’s elected officials understand the world, and our economy, have changed greatly since the 1973 Arab oil embargo led Congress to pass the ban on U.S. oil exports in nearly all circumstances.

In today’s world, oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports offer a path away from OPEC domination of the world’s energy markets. Unstable regimes in Russia and the Middle East should not be allowed to hold such sway over the international market. Increasing U.S. production and exports strengthens our country’s energy independence and national security and benefits our allies across the globe.

While opponents of lifting the ban argue that it could raise the price of gasoline studies have clearly shown the opposite is actually true. According to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration, exporting U.S. oil would encourage more production while opening up new markets which can further ease the prices at the pump with the additional supply.

Lifting the export ban is a major opportunity for this country and one that should not be missed. It is time that we cement our nation as the global energy leader it is destined to be and create thousands of well-paying American jobs in the process.

But Garfield County is not optimistic about immediate development, thanks to new oil and gas regulations, and activists are happy for the additional red tape:

Garfield County commissioners are worried that proposed new state rules to address conflicts between oil and gas development and neighborhoods could unduly drag out how long it takes companies to get approval to drill.

“It adds a year to the process,” Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Monday about a proposed local government consultation process, echoing a concern also raised by Commissioner John Martin.

Jankovsky said the proposal could add $500,000 to $1 million to the cost of developing a well pad.

But Leslie Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said the extra time is warranted to address concerns such as the possible impacts of drilling to the thousands of residents in Battlement Mesa.

“It should go through this long process,” she told commissioners.

The commissioners are working to submit comments to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as that agency prepares to act on two recommendations of a recent state task force. The agency is looking to require energy companies to consult with the affected local government when proposing a large drilling operation near an urban residential area, and require companies to provide long-term drilling plans to local governments.

***

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(Former PUC chair Ray Gifford offers details about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, photo courtesy of Colorado Senate GOP)
About 100 people on Colorado’s western slope attended a panel on the coming storm of EPA regulations, co-sponsored by the Independence Institute, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Americans for Prosperity, and the Colorado Senate Republicans:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan would have long-term negative impacts on the nation’s coal industry if it survives a legal challenge, one expert on the issue said on Tuesday.

At a one-sided forum sponsored by several right-leaning groups, Denver attorney and former Colorado Public Utilities Commission chairman Ray Gifford told about 100 Western Slope residents and government officials the impact the plan would have on coal-fired power plants specifically, and the coal industry in general.

Under the plan, which is to become official in the next few weeks but doesn’t fully go into effect for a few years, states would be required to reduce ozone emissions from power plants by 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.

States would have to come up with their own plans for achieving that goal by the end of next year, but can request a two-year extension if they can show they are making “substantial progress” toward a viable plan, Gifford said.

While he and others questioned whether the EPA has the legal authority to implement such a plan — lawsuits have already been filed challenging it — Gifford also said the federal agency is playing loose and easy with the facts behind the idea.

“The state lawsuit is essentially going to say that the EPA has vastly exceeded its authority, which is true,” Gifford said. “It’s undertaken a rule of scope and scale that’s never been contemplated before essentially by taking over the nation’s electric grid and dictating the change by 2030, and the assumptions that it uses are arbitrary and capricious, which are the legal magic words. How that (lawsuit) goes is anybody’s guess.”

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(NFIB’s Tony Gagliardi gives an update on the Waters of the United States rule (l-r: Gifford, State Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, photo courtesy of Colorado Senate GOP)

Two more EPA panels will be held next week–Wednesday October 28 in Pueblo, and Thursday October 29 in Denver.

***

An additional 500-600 gallons of orange water is being emitted from the Gold King Mine every minute since the August blowout, costing taxpayers nearly $15 million and prompting more calls for “Good Samaritan” legislation:

The Aug. 5 blowout at the Gold King Mine created memorable images of orange water that flowed from Colorado’s Animas River into the San Juan River in New Mexico and Utah. Clean-up has cost taxpayers $14.5 million and counting. But some say spills like this aren’t the main concern.

“Blowout scenarios — they are impressive, they get a lot of attention, they are probably not the biggest issue,” said Peter Butler, co-chair of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “The biggest issue is more the continuous metal loading that comes from the mining sites.”

Take the site of the Gold King Mine spill. Construction crews have now finished a $1.5 million temporary wastewater treatment plant for the Gold King Mine. EPA on-scene coordinator Steven Way explains that 500 to 600 gallons of orange water has continued to gush out of the mine since last August.

But that facility is only handling water from the Gold King Mine. It’s not treating water from two additional old mines and an underground tunnel that are draining another 500 gallons of wastewater every minute.

The Animas River isn’t the only Colorado river running orange.

***

Speaking of water–another Front Range vs. rest-of-the-state battle is shaping up over the precious resource:

Objections from Front Range cities are forcing state officials to make a last-minute overhaul of Colorado’s water plan and pledge to build new reservoirs that enable population growth.

Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District providers also are demanding that the state detail plans for the diversion of more water across mountains to the Front Range.

That puts them at odds with Western Slope residents, who Tuesday weighed in with their own demand that Gov. John Hickenlooper block diversion of more water.

The Colorado Water Plan, 30 months in the making, spells out how the state intends to supply water for the 10 million people projected to live in the state by 2050. Hickenlooper has ordered the Colorado Water Conservation Board to complete the plan by Dec. 10.

***

The solar energy industry blames think tanks and utilities (and the fossil fuel companies that fund them) for its poor market performance in a new report:

After years of rapid growth, Colorado’s once red-hot solar energy industry has faded recently, according to a new report from Environment Colorado, which blames fossil fuel-funded think tanks and utilities for raining on the state’s solar parade.

According to “Blocking the Sun: 12 Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power,” Colorado’s solar power capacity increased 44 percent a year from 2010 to 2013, but then dropped dramatically between 2013 and 2014, knocking the state from 7th to 10th in terms of solar power capacity per capita in the United States.

“Despite the fact that we have one of the best solar assets in the country, Colorado’s market share is shrinking nationwide due to weak utility support and uneven legislative progress,” said Alex Blackmer, president of the 5,000-member Colorado Renewable Energy Society, on a conference call with reporters late last week.

Solar industry: we still need taxpayers’ cash

October 19, 2011 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

A new report from the Solar Foundation, a non-profit solar industry advocate, claims the solar industry is a bright spot in an others dreary economy. According to the report titled “National Solar Jobs Census 2011: A Review of the U.S. Solar Workforce” the U.S. now boasts 100,237 solar workers “defined as those workers who spend at least 50% of their time supporting solar-related activities—up 6.8% since August 2010.”

And the Solar Foundation says the future is even brighter!

Over the next 12 months, almost 50% of solar firms expect to add jobs while only 2.6% expect to cut workers. This finding is especially relevant given that the overall expected 12-month growth rate for the entire U.S. economy is only about 1.4%.

Since Colorado is ground zero for energy science projects such as photovoltaic solar panels, naturally Colorado ranked high in solar industry employment. The Boulder Daily Camera reports:

that as of August, Colorado had about 1,020 businesses and nearly 6,200 employees in the solar industry. This ranks the state No. 1 nationally for solar jobs per capita and No. 2 for overall number of solar jobs, behind California.

In a press release, Neal Lurie, Executive Director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association asserts, “Colorado’s entrepreneurial climate, commitment to clean energy, and growing customer demand have developed solar into a powerful economic driver.”

What Lurie doesn’t cite but is included in the report is that without taxpayer subsidies and government mandates, the market for solar would be much different. Solar employers cite the “extension of federal tax incentives” and “creation of state and local incentive programs” as the number one and two reasons for positive growth in the industry. These same employers indicate that general economic conditions and lack of state incentives are “barriers to growth.”

The report also profiles a Michigan solar manufacturer, Hemlock Semiconductor, which asserts that more taxpayer help is needed for the industry to continue growing:

Hemlock Semiconductor’s success isn’t independent of the industry, and for investment to continue into the future, the solar industry—including the U.S. solar market—will need to keep growing. To support this growth, federal renewable energy manufacturing tax credits are needed to help encourage business and create jobs throughout the solar industry value chain. Hemlock Semiconductor understands that even though its role appears early on the solar value chain, end user incentives like renewable energy standards and net metering, as well as solar technology R&D and financing, are absolutely essential to keeping its solar manufacturing business alive and well.

The Solar Foundation also campaigns for more government assistance with recommendations for lawmakers that include “incentives” and “investments,” in other words — taxpayer money.

  • Stable and consistent incentives and renewable goals are important ways to encourage employers to grow their businesses.
  • Create jobs by developing incentives that increase adoption of solar for consumers and businesses.
  • Invest in solar training, but recognize that although some entry-level positions do exist, the majority of solar jobs tend to be in high-skill occupations.

Bottom line is that even the solar industry acknowledges it needs taxpayer money and government-mandated renewable energy standards to remain viable. That’s the New Energy Economy.

Salazar approved solar project a bust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another green project with federal backing gone bust.

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


Solyndra: Is an apology too much to ask?

September 21, 2011 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

Please send out an APB for common decency because it’s gone, along with the $535 million in taxpayer-guaranteed money that the Obama administration wagered on the California-based solar start-up Solyndra. The high-priced, pet green project – the centerpiece of the president’s green jobs initiative – went belly up, and the F.B.I. raided the homes of top executives.

It gets worse. Turns out that Solyndra major investor George Kaiser along with other top executives and board members donated more than $87,000 to propel Barack Obama to the White House. And Kaiser et al were frequent visitors to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue including March 2009, just one week before the Department of Energy (DOE) approved the ill-fated loan.

It gets worse. With help from the DOE, Solyndra avoided bankruptcy earlier this year, which could have saved taxpayers millions. Despite warnings from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the beleaguered solar company was allowed to renegotiate its loan and put taxpayers in a subordinate position.  When the liquidation is said and done, it’s likely that taxpayers won’t get much.

It’s no wonder that Pew Research Center found that 86 percent of Americans are either frustrated or angry with the federal government. Solyndra gives them 535 million more reasons.

You’d think someone would have the common decency to apologize. Don’t hold you’re your breath waiting for one. The reaction from all the players ranges from defensive to offensive, from cavalier to incredible. No responsibility. No display of remorse.

Half a billion dollars of incompetence, crony capitalism and moral corruption and taxpayers can’t get even get an apology, much less an explanation of how Solyndra burned through all that money.

The White House

In 2009 the White House fast tracked the $535 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan to Solyndra, the first “green jobs” loan under the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

On May 26, 2010, President Obama made a much-publicized visit to Solyndra and boasted, “Less than a year ago, we were standing on what was an empty lot. But through the Recovery Act, this company received a loan to expand its operations. This new factory is the result of those loans.”

Today, the lot may not be vacant but the building is, as all 1,100 employees have been laid off.

On September 1, when the White House press corps queried Press Secretary Jay Carney about Solyndra’s bankruptcy, Carney explained “that’s just the way the that business works.”

Two weeks later, Carney suggested that Obama hadn’t been briefed about questions surrounding Solyndra. It stretches the limits of reality to believe that the White House, which was so involved in the approval, now isn’t briefing the President on the Solyndra scandal.

When asked if the president was embarrassed, Carney responded that the administration remained committed to renewable energy. That’s not an answer; it’s a platitude. If the president isn’t embarrassed, he is either not telling the truth or he has no conscience. Neither is particularly attractive.

Congressional Democrats

The reaction from some congressional Democrats who sit on the Committee on Energy and Commerce has been equally cavalier. Michigan Congressman John Dingell said, “I’m still waiting to see something that makes me concerned…”

Green zealot Ed Markey of Massachusetts claimed he’d rather be investigating oil and gas companies and voted against a subpoena to find out what happened to taxpayer money. And Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette’s statement tried to implicate the Bush administration.

Office of Management and Budget

The Washington Post reported recently released emails reveal that OMB worried about Solyndra’s finances and how it would impact the 2012 election:

The optics of a Solyndra default will be bad,” the Office of Management and Budget staff member wrote Jan. 31 in an e-mail to a co-worker. “If Solyndra defaults down the road, the optics will be arguably worse later than they would be today. . . . In addition, the timing will likely coincide with the 2012 campaign season heating up…

Although [political] optics are generally out of our lane, it may be worthwhile for the Director to privately make this point to the Secretary,” the staffer wrote.

The staffer wrote that allowing Solyndra to shutter its plant in January could let the Obama administration “get some credit for fiscal discipline” and save taxpayer money.

DOE

Jonathan Silver, Executive Director of the Department of Energy Loans Programs Office said in congressional testimony that he wasn’t there when the loan was approved but understood the process to be quite “exhaustive.”

Although I was not at the Department when the Solyndra loan guarantee was considered or issued, it is my understanding that the transaction went through nearly three years of rigorous and exhaustive internal and external due diligence before any taxpayer funds were put at risk.

The process was so exhaustive that the DOE’s credit committee voted against the loan two weeks before President Bush left office.

Then Silver employed the adolescent excuse of “we weren’t the only ones who liked them.”

The federal government was not alone in its assessment of Solyndra’s potential. Some of America’s most sophisticated professional investors collectively invested nearly a billion dollars in the company after conducting extensive due diligence of their own —almost all of it invested before a single dollar of taxpayer funds was provided to the company.

The mother in me wants to ask, if your friends jump off a cliff would you do that too? Of course, in this case I already know the answer.

Solar Industry

In a prepared statement about the Solyndra scandal, Solar Energy Association President and CEO Rhone Resch doesn’t even mention taxpayers’ $535 million.  He’s much more concerned with protecting his heavily subsidized industry:

The loss of any manufacturing jobs – in solar or otherwise – is disappointing, but it is important to look at an industry’s health more broadly rather than through the narrow lens of one company’s success or failure.

Today, the solar industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, employing nearly 100,000 Americans at more than 5,500 companies across the supply chain in every region of the country.

What we are seeing in solar happens in every industry that is maturing and growing more competitive. You’re going to see winners emerge who find innovative ways to offer consumers the most competitively priced products.

The last twelve months have seen one of the most dramatic price drops in the history of the solar market. Already in 2011, the cost of solar PV panels has come down by 30 percent.

Competition in the solar industry is good for American consumers. It means that costs are coming down and solar is increasingly affordable for more and more Americans every day.

Everything that Resch said would be true if solar existed in a market, but it doesn’t.  The only reason prices may be falling is that government subsidizes consumers’ solar panel purchases.

That Resch uses the language of free markets to advance his taxpayer-subsidized industry is utterly offensive especially to industries that actually compete and actually provide lower prices due to that competition.

Media

The media has served as a green lap dog, and the DOE reminded reporters and media outlets of it by sending out a list of articles that provided positive spin for Solyndra including, “’Fremont’s Solyndra goes from stealth to solar star!’ exulted the San Jose Mercury News in 2008” and “the San Francisco Chronicle wrote ‘A bright idea for solar power.’”

Reacting to the DOE, NBC Bay Area News claimed to be “Looking Critically at Our Own Solyndra Coverage.” What did the news outlet find? Scouring years worth of news archives, the news outlet found (drum roll please) a story from May 26, 2010 where it quoted “a Fremont Tea Party official who thought the government should not give Solyndra a loan.”

An a second story reported that “the San Francisco Natural Herb company next door to Solyndra, suggesting Obama stop by and visit a traditional company that has been manufacturing in the “tried and true” method.”

Citing these two examples, NBC Bay Area claims “its own coverage, lands in the middle.”  Lap dog or watch dog? You be the judge.

The Professional Left

Center for American Action Fund, a far left DC based think tank, issued its own analysis of “Attacks on Solyndra” and claimed the DOE loan program “creates” jobs, the 1,100 workers at Solyndra notwithstanding. Then it downplayed the actual dollar amount while reminding “progressives” not to worry because more taxpayer money is used to cover any losses.

  • Solyndra’s $535 million guarantee represents just 1.4 percent of DOE’s total portfolio.
  • DOE has set aside $2.5 billion to cover any losses resulting from loan defaults to help protect and decrease risk to taxpayers

Solyndra Executives

Crickets.

Half a billion dollars of taxpayer money is gone, and no one involved shows a modicum of concern for those who paid the bill. Apparently an apology is just too much. Solyndra provides another 535 million reasons to distrust Big Government and its enablers.

This column appeared originally in Townhall Finance on September 17, 2011.