September 3 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Time running out for Colowyo Mine; Bennet, Hickenlooper concerned about EPA ozone rule; Animas River updates

September 3, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legislation, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

Colorado’s Colowyo Mine–and the entire northwest part of the state–face a final decision September 6, and the Denver Post editorial board notes the significance, concluding that the judge should rule in Colowyo’s favor, as the “economic health of northwestern Colorado depends on it”:

The clock runs out this weekend on a federal judge’s extraordinary order giving the Interior Department just 120 days to fix what he said were flaws in an environmental analysis of an eight-year-old expansion permit for the Colowyo coal mine in northwestern Colorado.

At the request of WildEarth Guardians, a group opposing all fossil fuel extraction in the West, Judge R. Brooke Jackson mandated the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) take a closer look at “the direct and indirect environmental effects of the Colowyo mining plan revisions” and wrap it up by Sept. 6.

It’s unfortunate that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell decided against appealing Jackson’s ruling, but she has also said federal officials were “doing everything we can” to avoid a mine shutdown.

And she may be right. On Tuesday, OSMRE released a revised environmental assessment in what may be record time for such a document, as well as an official finding of no significant environmental impact. We hope it will be enough to satisfy the judge.

The Post says to find otherwise “would be a blow to common sense.”

A $200 million blow to Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, to more than 220 employees who would directly lose their jobs and hundreds of families, friends, neighbors and businesses that would suffer.

The Post also pointed to the absurdity of of reexamining the Colowyo mine plans, as burning coal is an expected outcome of mining coal:

But coal will remain a part of America’s energy portfolio for many years and it has to come from somewhere. And the existence of a mine presupposes the product will be used. As attorneys for Colowyo Coal Co. noted in a legal filing, “Combustion of the mined coal is a necessary and foreseeable consequence of granting a federal coal lease.”

None of that matters, however, to the anti-fossil fuel activists at WildEarth Guardians.

We’ll have an update next week.

***

Gov. John Hickenlooper has joined Sen. Michael Bennet in expressing concern over the Environmental Protection Agency’s ozone rule:

Washington, D.C., Sept. 2 – Less than a week after U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) warned that a plan to dramatically tighten the federal ozone standard “doesn’t make any sense” and is “not going to work,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is also going public with his reservations. In short, Hickenlooper is questioning the Obama administration for proposing an ozone standard at levels “where you know you’re not going to be able to achieve it.”

In a TV interview with CBS Denver, Gov. Hickenlooper said he’s unconvinced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should tighten standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) into the range of 65 to 70 ppb. Here are the governor’s full comments from CBS Denver’s Aug. 31 story:

“I’m still very concerned. … I’ve heard (from) both sides that there isn’t sufficiently clear evidence that this is a significant health hazard. Now I haven’t looked at that yet and our people are still looking at it…

“To set up a standard where you know you’re not going to be able to achieve it, and obviously we’re at a unique disadvantage because we’re a mile high. So when you’re at 5,000 feet your ozone challenges are significantly more difficult.”

Having both of Colorado’s top Democrats express even limited concern about the EPA’s plans is significant, and both Hickenlooper and Bennet, with caveats, appear not to be sold on the reductions projected by the agency. Both refer strongly to Colorado’s unique situation, and the West in general, with regard to background-level ozone and effect that would have on making any attainment of the new standards difficult, if not impossible, for many areas of the state, and not just the Front Range.

Video of Sen. Bennet last week, saying the EPA plan is “not going to work”:

***

Tony Cox, a member of the faculty of the University of Colorado School of Public Health and the editor in chief of the peer-reviewed journal Risk Analysis wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal outlining the problematic health analysis instrumental to the EPA’s push for the ozone rule:

Fortunately, there is abundant historical data on ozone levels and asthma levels in U.S. cities and counties over the past 20 years, many of which have made great strides in reducing ambient levels of ozone by complying with existing regulations. It is easy to check whether adverse outcomes, from mortality rates to asthma rates, have decreased more where ozone levels have been reduced more. They have not. Even relatively large reductions in ozone, by 20% or more, have not been found to cause detectable reductions in deaths and illnesses from cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, contrary to the EPA’s model-based predictions.

How the EPA and society proceed when confronted with a divergence between optimistic model-based predictions and practical reality will say much about what role, if any, we collectively want science and objective analysis to play in shaping crucial environmental and public-health regulations.

The cynical use of asthma patients to promote a pro-regulation political agenda that won’t actually help them undermines the credibility of regulatory science and damages the public interest.

Stinging words.

***

A battle over wind turbines in eastern El Paso County between residents and county officials appears to have been concluded:

El Paso County attorneys and lawyers for disgruntled residents reached an agreement this week to end a months’ long lawsuit over a controversial wind farm, the county announced on Wednesday.

On Sept. 1, an El Paso County district court approved the mutual decision to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, a move that protects the El Paso County commissioners from being sued over their decision to approve the large wind farm project near Calhan. Tuesday’s court ruling ended months of legal back-and-forth between the county officials and bitter eastern county residents, many of whom vehemently oppose the project out of fear of compromised property values and health effects.

Despite the lawsuit, residents remained divided over the project. Many long-time ranchers in the area supported the wind farm, and told the commissioners that they were happy to see some economic vitality come back to the region. But other residents fought bitterly against the entire wind farm project, and still others opposed only the above-ground powerline. Members of the property rights coalition paid their own legal fees, held regular meetings with updates and even created anti-wind farm t-shirts to sell to members.

***

Sen. Bennet on oil exports:

Another Senate Democrat has signaled his support for exporting U.S. oil — as long as it is part of a broader clean energy plan.

The declaration from Sen. Michael Bennet came during the Rocky Mountain Energy Summit, when the Coloradan was asked if he backed oil exports.

“In the context of being able to move us to a more secure energy environment in the United States (and) a cleaner energy environment in the United States, yes,” Bennet said.

A spokesman for Bennet said the senator believes a move to lift the 40-year-old ban on crude exports “would have to be part of a more comprehensive plan that includes steps to address climate change and give the country and the world a more sustainable energy future.”

Bennet’s comments make him the latest Senate Democrat to suggest he is open to oil exports — even if the support is predicated on other changes.

***

LINKS

Another renewable company and recipient of government largesse is on deathwatch:

Abengoa, a renewable energy multinational company headquartered in Spain, has been a favorite of the Obama administration in getting federal tax money for clean energy projects.

Since 2009, Abengoa and its subsidiaries, according to estimates, have received $2.9 billion in grants and loan guarantees through the Department of Energy to undertake solar projects in California and Arizona — as well as the construction of a cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas.

But in the space of less than a year, Abengoa’s financial health has become critical, leading investors to worry whether the company can survive.

A new tree census finds there are a lot more in the world than previously thought:

There are just over three trillion trees in the world, a figure that dwarfs previous estimates, according to the most comprehensive census yet of global forestation.

Using satellite imagery as well as ground-based measurements from around the world, a team led by researchers at Yale University created the first globally comprehensive map of tree density. Their findings were published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

A previous study that drew on satellite imagery estimated that the total number of trees was around 400 billion. The new estimate of 3.04 trillion is multiple times that number, bringing the ratio of trees per person to 422 to 1.

While the density of foliage was surprisingly high overall, the researchers cautioned that global vegetation is still in decline. The number of trees on Earth has fallen by 46% since the beginning of human civilization, according to the report. The researchers said they believed the findings would provide a valuable baseline for future research on environment and ecosystems.

Animas River Updates

You can taste the trout again, say Colorado officials:

Colorado health officials said Wednesday trout from the Animas River are safe to eat even after being exposed to contaminants from a massive wastewater spill last month.

“Most fish tissue analyzed after the Gold King mine release showed metals below detectable levels,” the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a news release. “All results were below the risk threshold.”

“Because there is a potential for fish to concentrate metals in their tissue over time, the department and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will continue to monitor levels of metals in Animas River fish,” the release said. “New data will be analyzed and results reported when available.”

The hurdles for cleanup in areas like Gold King mine and the Animas River are steep:

DENVER – Despite cries for a focus on reclamation following the Gold King Mine spill, restoring thousands of inactive mines across Colorado and the nation may prove difficult, if not logistically impossible.

Ron Cohen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado School of Mines, said the technology and funding is lacking to properly perform the reclamation work needed.

“The reality is, and my prediction is, that this is going to be a problem for a long, long time,” Cohen said. He has been briefing federal lawmakers on oversight following the Gold King disaster. “Is there political will in the federal government now to come up with more monies for cleanup? I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

There has been a refocus on reclamation in the wake of the Gold King incident, in which an error by an Environmental Protection Agency-contracted team on Aug. 5 sent an estimated 3 million gallons of orange old mining sludge into the Animas River. The water initially tested for spikes in heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, cadmium, aluminum and copper.

It isn’t the first time Colorado has seen its rivers turn orange because of spills from an old mining operation. Each time an incident occurred, the focus was shifted to reclamation, yet the pervasive problem lingers.

Part of the dilemma has to do with money. Estimates place national reclamation of inactive mines as high as $54 billion. Mining laws that govern the industry in the United States date back 143 years. The federal government is prohibited from collecting royalties on much of hard-rock mining, thereby leaving the coffers dry for reclamation.

Read the whole thing.

Notification of downstream officials and residents in the aftermath of the Animas River spill was late and, in some cases, not available to other states’ officials (namely New Mexico), as well as Native American tribal officials and others residing along the path of 3 million spilled gallons of toxic, metallic wastewater. A new system is now in place, according to the Associated Press:

DENVER — A massive wastewater spill from an old gold mine in Colorado has prompted state officials to expand the list of downstream users they will warn after such accidents.

Last month, Colorado health officials notified only agencies inside the state after 3 million gallons of water tainted with heavy metals gushed out of the Gold King mine near Silverton and eventually reached the Animas, San Juan and Colorado rivers in New Mexico and Utah.

In the future, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will warn downstream states as well, department spokesman Mark Salley said.

Colorado officials didn’t know the magnitude of the spill when they issued their warnings, he said.

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.

Coloradans can’t rely on subsidy-dependent wind energy

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

This op-ed first appeared in the Greeley Tribune

Coloradans can’t rely on subsidy-dependent wind energy


By Michael Sandoval

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice for Incoming PUC Chair

April 5, 2011 by williamyeatman · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

For 4 years, Public Utilities Commission Chair Ron Binz has been a key driver of the New Energy Economy. Under his watch, the PUC changed its mission, from advancing lowest cost electricity, to fighting climate change with expensive green energy. As was first reported here, Binz is leaving life as an environmentalist PUC Chair, for life as an environmentalist consultant. In the wake of Binz’s agenda-driving chairmanship, however, there’s no heir apparent to lead the PUC.

Commissioner Matt Baker arrived at the PUC directly from the sort of career that Binz soon will adopt. That is, he had been a professional environmentalist; the feather in his cap is his successful lobbying campaign for Amendment 37, a green energy production quota. Thankfully, Commissioner Baker has proven unwilling to assert himself, likely due to the fact that he is a tenderfoot. He was appointed to the PUC despite having no relevant experience.

Recently, I’ve made a point of singling out Commissioner James Tarpey as the most reasonable of the New Energy Economy era PUC Commissioners (see here and here). My almost-exact words were, “A PUC with three James Tarpeys would have been a lot different.” (That’s definitely the gist of it.) And yet, in practice, he’s consistently sought consensus rather than follow through on his knee-jerk incredulity at the costs of the New Energy Economy.

The upshot is that Chair Binz’s successor could shape the PUC, if he or she has a willful personality. With this opportunity (or threat) in mind, I put forth the following, pro-ratepayer platform for the incoming Chair. It’s a simple dichotomy: (1) Listen to the staff; and (2) don’t listen to Matt Baker.

Plank #1: Listen to the Staff

In a recent post, I aggressively questioned the Office of Consumer Counsel’s commitment to protecting consumers. In other posts, I’ve expressed doubt about PUC’s concern for ratepayer well being. Where the OCC and the PUC have let ratepayers down, however, the PUC’s staff has been hard at work trying to inject some common sense into these proceedings.

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Colorado Solar Industry’s Insatiable Appetite for Subsidies

March 3, 2011 by williamyeatman · 2 Comments
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

With a quivering voice, Jim Walsh, owner of Bella Solar Energy, described his business troubles to the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy Committee. His message, if not his tears, was repeated yesterday morning by six other solar power representatives. They presented a compelling case that “the New Energy Economy is dead,” in the morbid words of Sol Source’s Jim Burnett.

Ex-Governor Bill Ritter spent 4 years entrenching expensive energy policies collectively known as the New Energy Economy, and he’s been out of office for all of a month, which begs the question: What threat so quickly killed the New Energy Economy?

Was it competition from abroad? Or rising gasoline prices? Or the deflated credit market? These are the sorts of problems that endanger most American businesses, but they weren’t mentioned by the solar industry representatives before the State Senate yesterday. Rather, they said that their companies faced imminent bankruptcy…due to the abrupt elimination of one state subsidy.

They had been invited by Sen. Gail Schwartz, who, in a fit of green grandstanding, convened a snap hearing to investigate Xcel’s February 17 suspension of its Solar*Rewards program. I explain the nitty-gritty of the Solar*Rewards imbroglio here. Suffice it to say, Coloradans will pay $97 million–about 4 percent of projected sales to obtain about .3 percent of their electricity. That’s a bad deal. The solar execs before the Senate were demanding more of this bad deal!

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