December 17 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Environmental ‘Propaganda’ Agency; electric rate hikes called ‘discrimination’; anti-energy activists promise to ‘ratchet up’ efforts
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legislation, New Energy Economy, regulations, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
August 20 Colorado Energy Roundup: Poll shows Coloradans not impressed by Clean Power Plan, fracking ballot measures expected, #greenjobsfail, and EPA/Animas River saga continues
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
This week the Independence Institute released the results of poll concerning the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and who Coloradans feel does a better job when it comes to guarding the state’s environmental quality–folks here prefer Colorado oversight to meddlesome DC regulations:
The poll was conducted August 9-10th and found those surveyed more likely to oppose the EPA’s controversial Clean Power Plan if the rule resulted in electricity bill hikes, 59 to 33 percent.
Fifty-five percent said they would oppose the plan if it meant spiking poverty rates in black and Hispanic communities by 23 and 26 percent, as a recent study by the National Black Chamber of Commerce concluded.
Respondents also opposed the plan when it came to the core environmental impacts projected by the agency—a 0.02 degrees Celsius reduction in global temperatures and no notable impact on carbon emissions. Fifty-one percent said the promised temperature reduction would make them more likely to oppose the finalized rule, while 58 percent said that the Clean Power Plan’s non-existent impact on carbon emissions would do the same.
You can read the rest of the topline results here.
Colorado’s registered voters put their trust in the state to manage the environment, and not federal regulators from the EPA or DC in general:
While Colorado’s Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, has not weighed in on whether the state could join a multi-state lawsuit against the EPA over the Clean Power Plan (she has said it is on the table), a 53 to 37 percent majority favored the state joining at least 16 other states in the suit.
Nearly 6 in 10 said the state should wait to comply—not move forward as Governor John Hickenlooper has directed—on drawing up a state implementation plan for the Clean Power Plan.
Nearly half said that they would be more likely to support a plan if the state of Colorado determined the cost of compliance before that plan became law.
When it comes to environmental regulation and quality, Coloradans clearly preferred the regulators in Denver to those in Washington, D.C.
The State of Colorado does a better job regulating for a clean environment 37 to 5 percent over federal regulators. Twenty-seven percent said both state and federal agencies handled the job equally well, with nearly one in five saying that neither has done particularly well in this area.
How did the results breakdown along partisan and demographic lines?
Only Democrats (64 percent) and those earning between $100-$124K per year (51 percent) were more likely to support the EPA’s Clean Power Plan even if it meant an increase in electricity bills as a result of implementing the regulations. Overall, 59 percent of Coloradans were more likely to oppose the plan, with men and women showing no gender gap and nearly identical opposition to costly rate hikes.
A National Black Chamber of Commerce study found that poverty rates in black and Hispanic communities were likely to increase significantly—23 percent and 26 percent—under the Clean Power Plan. Fifty-five percent of Colorado voters said they would be more likely to oppose the federal regulations under those circumstances, with women edging out men (57 percent to 53 percent, respectively) in opposition. Majorities of Republicans, independents, and all age and income groups offered the same negative responses when it came to impacts on minority community poverty rates, as did the respondents when viewed across all seven congressional districts.
Democrats were still more likely to support the EPA’s carbon reduction plan by a slim 42 to 37 percent margin. The party was split, however, along gender lines, with Democratic women in opposition, 44 to 36 percent. Their male party counterparts gave the Clean Power Plan a large boost, saying 48 to 27 percent that they were more likely to back the EPA’s measure despite minority community concerns.
More results from the poll’s crosstabs can be perused here.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy even admitted explicitly that the Clean Power Plan would adversely harm minority and low-income families the hardest:
The chief environmental regulator in the United States had some blunt words of reality regarding the administration’s climate change regulations.
The Clean Power Plan that will require drastic cuts in 47 states’ carbon dioxide emissions – consequently shifting America’s energy economy away from affordable, reliable coal – will adversely impact poor, minority families the most.
When speaking about the higher energy prices caused by the administration’s climate regulations on power plants, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “We know that low-income minority communities would be hardest hit.”
McCarthy downplayed that fact by saying any minimal higher prices would be offset by implementing energy efficiency measures that would save consumers money in the long run.
Cato shows how “carbon dioxide emissions” have turned into “carbon pollution” when it comes to EPA messaging over the years.
Another new EPA rule? Yep:
With the Environmental Protection Agency expected to release a rule this month on methane regulations, proponents are gearing up for a messaging war.
Federal regulators aim at reducing oil-and-gas methane emissions by as much as 45 percent by 2025. The idea is that companies can use new technology to better capture methane emissions from operations.
The EPA estimates that 7 million tons of methane are emitted every year, though environmentalists suggests that it could be much higher.
The issue is relevant in Southwest Colorado, where researchers identified a significant methane “hot spot” in the Four Corners. A team of scientists is currently investigating the cause of the concentration, which could stem from a combination of natural-gas exploration and natural occurrences.
But industry efforts have already cut methane emissions significantly, making the rule seemingly superfluous:
This is going to go down in the books as one of the most curious moves ever taken by the Obama EPA, not because the reduction of methane emissions is a bad idea, but because it’s already been taking place in gangbuster fashion. The Institute for Energy Research put out a statement as soon as the new proposal was announced which put the question in context.
“Since 2007, methane emissions fell by 35 percent from natural gas operations, while natural gas production increased by 22 percent. According to EPA, voluntary implementation of new technologies by the oil and natural gas industry is a major reason for the decline in emissions.”
And where is the IER getting these figures about reductions in emissions? Are they coming from some big oil loving, pro-drilling think tank? No. It’s data taken from the EPA’s own studies which were cited in generating these rules. But just in case any of them don’t read their own promotional material, here are the numbers in graph form.
Anti-frack is BAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!!
After failing to gather enough signatures last summer, Coloradans for Community Rights said Monday it will try again to get a statewide initiative giving communities control over oil and gas exploration on the ballot.
Spokesman Anthony Maine said the group will begin circulating petitions early next year to get the Colorado Community Rights Amendment to the state Constitution on the November 2016 ballot.
“This is about communities being allowed to decide for themselves,” Maine said at a press conference in Denver.
He said the oil and gas industry and their supporters are expected to pump in millions of dollars to fight the proposed amendment.
“This radical measure would allow city councilors and county commissioners to ban any business or industry for any reason even if those reasons violate federal or state law,” Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for Protect Colorado, said in a statement. Protect Colorado is an issue committee organized to fight anti-energy ballot measures.
Unlike other observers who felt that this issue might recede into next year’s political battles or be left up to the current court battles, it’s been clear to me from my work on this issue that activists are gearing up for the long game, announcing their efforts more than a year from the 2016 ballot, banking on possible favorable wins in a presidential cycle rather than the 2014 midterm. Many anti-fracking activists felt burned by Governor John Hickenlooper’s “compromise” last year that appeared to be an effort to provide fellow Democrats political cover in what was shaping up to be a costly and election-determining fight at the ballot box. Hickenlooper’s commission did not assuage the resentment of activists, Democrats lost a U.S. Senate seat, and the issues remained unresolved, just kicking the can down the road.
We’ve caught up to the can once again.
At the Independence Institute, we’ve been taking a look at the failed promises of “green” jobs since 2011, and a California initiative passed with the help of billionaire Tom Steyer appears to have fallen, uh, short of its job creation goals in the green sector–by about 90 percent:
The California ballot measure funded by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer that raised taxes on corporations to create clean energy jobs has generated less than a tenth of the promised jobs.
The Associated Press reported that the Clean Energy Jobs Act (Prop. 39) has only created 1,700 clean energy jobs, despite initial predictions it would generate more than 11,000 each year beginning in fiscal year 2013-14.
Prop. 39, which voters approved in 2012 after Steyer poured $30 million into the campaign supporting it, closed a tax loophole for multi-state corporations in order to fund energy efficient projects in schools that would in turn create clean energy jobs.
More than half of the $297 million given to schools for the projects has been funneled to consultants and energy auditors.
As we noted in late 2013, the current administration pushed for changes it hoped would bolster the long term outlook for wind energy by attempting to deal with one of the unfortunate tradeoffs of giant wind turbines–bird deaths:
But a move to extend the life of one renewable energy source–in this case, wind–by granting a six-fold extension to ‘takings’ permits issued to wind farms that allow the accidental killing of bald and golden eagles has united opponents normally at odds: Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and groups like the National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council.
A sampling, from Politico:
It’s baldly un-American, Vitter said Friday.
“Permits to kill eagles just seem unpatriotic, and 30 years is a long time for some of these projects to accrue a high death rate,” said the Louisiana senator, who is the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and one of Congress’s most outspoken critics of wind.
Sounding a similar theme, National Audubon Society CEO David Yarnold said it’s “outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the bald eagle.” He indicated his group may sue the administration.
The rule also drew criticism from Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who said it “sets up a false choice that we intend to fight to reverse.”
“This rule could lead to many unnecessary deaths of eagles. And that’s a wrong-headed approach,” she said. “We can, and must, protect wildlife as we promote clean, renewable energy. The Fish and Wildlife Service missed an opportunity to issue a rule that would do just that.”
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell defended the rule change.
“Renewable energy development is vitally important to our nation’s future, but it has to be done in the right way. The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations,” Jewell said.
Well, the so-called “takings” extension to 30 years has had its wings clipped by the court:
The express purpose of the 30-Year Rule was to facilitate the development of renewable wind energy, since renewable developers had voiced a need for longer-term permits to provide more certainty for project financing.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued the 30-Year Rule without preparing either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); instead, the FWS determined that the 30-Year Rule was categorically exempt. In overturning the rule, the court found that the FWS had not shown an adequate basis in the administrative record for its decision not to prepare an EIS or EA and therefore failed to comply with NEPA’s procedural requirements.
Finally, to the EPA induced toxic spill saga of the Animas River . . .
Congressman Scott Tipton (R-3rd CD) and colleagues are asking the EPA questions:
We remain completely unsatisfied with the delay in notifying the impacted communities and elected officials responsible for preparing and responding to a disaster such as this one.
What was the reason for the over 24 hour delay between the time of the incident and official notification and acknowledgment by your agency that a blowout had occurred?
Who in the EPA’s regional office was first notified of the blowout and when?
What steps has the EPA taken, or does it plan on taking in the very near future, to ensure that this type of delay in acknowledgment and notification of the appropriate parties does not happen again? What additional steps will the EPA take to create and implement an emergency response plan for EPA projects such as this?
That’s just a sample of a raft of questions from the House members.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and a bipartisan group of colleagues sent their own questions to the EPA:
We, therefore, respectfully request the following be included in a report on the events surrounding the Gold King Mine spill:
1. Details on the work EPA was conducting at the Gold King Mine prior to the spill on August 5, 2015;
2. Details of the expertise of the EPA employees and contractors carrying out that work;
3. Criteria EPA would apply before approving a contractor for a similar cleanup performed by a private party and whether EPA applied the same criteria to itself;
4. EPA’s legal obligations and current policies and guidelines on reporting a release of a hazardous substance;
5. EPA’s legal obligations and current policies and guidelines on contacting tribal, state and local government agencies when the agency creates a release of a hazardous substance;
Again, just a sampling of what members of Congress–and the public both down in southwest Colorado, northern New Mexico, and Utah–would like to know, demanding a full accounting of the EPA spill as soon as possible.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez wasn’t drinking the EPA
tang koolaid, or its official responses so far, and is asking for her state to investigate as well:
Today, I ordered the New Mexico Environment Department to investigate the circumstances surrounding the EPA-caused toxic waste spill into the Animas River.
New Mexicans deserve answers as to why this catastrophe happened and why the EPA failed to notify us about it — the first we heard about it was from the Southern Ute Tribe nearly 24 hours later.
The EPA should not be held to a lower standard than they hold private citizens and businesses.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman feels that she is not getting the whole picture either, and is still considering a lawsuit against the EPA for the spill:
The attorneys general of Colorado and Utah visited this still-festering site on a fact-finding mission Wednesday and left feeling the Environmental Protection Agency had not provided them with the whole picture.
“There’s a list, honestly,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said of her questions.
Coffman and her Utah counterpart, Attorney General Sean Reyes, are among a group that have said legal action against the EPA is being weighed after the agency’s Aug. 5 wastewater spill in the San Juan County mountains above Silverton.
The spill sent 3 million gallons of contaminated water surging into the Animas and San Juan rivers.
New Mexico’s attorney general said last week he is considering a lawsuit, and Navajo Nation leaders, whose community arguably has been most impacted by the disaster, said they will sue.
That lack of information–or, indeed, a coverup–has been the focus of much attention, and Colorado Peak Politics believes the EPA hasn’t been forthcoming from the beginning.
The inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday that it is beginning an investigation into the agency’s role in triggering a massive toxic waste spill in southwest Colorado.
The IG alerted a number of senior EPA officials to the investigation in a memo released on Monday. “We will request documents, and interview relevant managers and staff in these locations and elsewhere as necessary,” the IG said.
The announcement comes amid controversy over EPA’s role in the spill. Agency chief Gina McCarthy admitted last week that EPA inspectors had triggered the incident while inspecting cleanup efforts at the Gold King Mine near Durango, Colo.
What are the cleanup costs estimated to be? The Daily Caller’s examination of potential burdens to the taxpayer due to EPA negligence are big:
The right-leaning American Action Forum estimates the total cost for responding to the Gold King Mine Spill could range from $338 million to $27.7 billion based on the federal government’s own cost-benefit analyses for cleaning up toxic waste and oil spills.
“There is no direct precedent for the toxic Animas River spill in Colorado and past regulatory actions from agencies, but we can learn from previous benefit-cost estimates,” writes Sam Batkins, AAF’s director of regulatory policy, adding that he “evaluated four recent regulations’ benefit figures to approximate the cost of the current spill in the Mountain West.”
That’s not good news, considering the mine owner’s allegations that the EPA has dumped toxic waste as far back as 2005, or that billions of gallons might be poised to spill in the future.
And that future is unclear due to what still lies beneath:
State and federal officials have offered assurances that the river is returning to “pre-event conditions,” but uncertainty remains over the residue that still lurks beneath the surface flow.
Those remaining metals on the river bottom still could affect aquatic life, agriculture and other aspects of life along the water in ways that are difficult to predict.
“The long-term effects are the concern that every time we have some sort of a high-water event, whether a good rain in the mountains or spring runoff next year, that’s going to stir up sediments and remobilize those contaminants that are sitting at the bottom of the river right now,” said Ty Churchwell, Colorado backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited.
CBS4Denver had the opportunity to get an early look at the mine itself, post-spill.
Perhaps the only thing quite as toxic as the spill itself is the messaging cover both local and regional environmental groups and pro-administration activists are providing the EPA, casting blame on private mismanagement and pollution and offering only an “aw shucks, only trying to help” defense of the agency:
Only the NRDC offered a response.
Earth Justice and several other environmental groups have made no public comment on the Animas River spill at all. In their public statements, neither the NRDC nor the Sierra Club pointed the finger at the EPA.
Though the Sierra Club did not respond to our inquiries, it did offer this public statement on August 11:
The Animas River was sadly already contaminated due to the legacy of toxic mining practices. The company that owns this mine has apparently allowed dangerous conditions to fester for years, and the mishandling of clean-up efforts by the EPA have only made a bad situation much worse. As we continue to learn what exactly happened, it’s time that the mine owners be held accountable for creating this toxic mess and we urge the EPA to act quickly to take all the steps necessary to ensure a tragedy like this does not happen again.
In a recent statement, the NRDC’s President Rhea Suh said only that the EPA “inadvertently triggered the mine waste spill last week,” while casting mining companies and Republicans in the House of Representatives as the responsible parties.
They probably wouldn’t like the Colorado Springs Gazette’s suggestion that mine clean up be privatized:
Critics have recoiled at the thought of putting the government’s environmental work into private hands.
No longer should they perceive or argue a level of federal competence that exceeds what the private sector might provide. The EPA unleashed a toxic sludge of arsenic, lead and other harmful toxins without bothering to warn people downstream, including tribal leaders and governors of neighboring states. They botched the inspection that led to the spill and bungled the response.
Gone with the Wind: IRS can’t measure effectiveness of $14 billion dollars in green energy subsidies
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.
July 9 Colorado Energy Roundup: government won’t appeal in Colowyo case, true costs of wind energy revealed
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, preferred energy, renewable energy, wind energy
Perhaps the most pressing energy and jobs-related issue in Colorado right now is the legal battle over the Colowyo Mine in the northwest part of the state:
The U.S. Department of the Interior has decided not to pursue an appeal of a federal court ruling that threatened to close Colowyo coal mine in Northwest Colorado.
According to a statement from Department of the Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw, “We are not appealing the court’s decision, but are on track to address the deficiencies in the Colowyo permit within the 120-day period.”
“We are disappointed that the government did not appeal the federal district court’s decision. Colowyo Mine remains confident that the U.S. Department of Interior and Office of Surface Mining are making every effort to complete the required environmental review within the 120-day period ordered by the court,” Tri-State’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications and Public Affiars Lee Boughey wrote in an email. “These efforts help ensure compliance with the judge’s order while supporting the 220 employees of Colowyo Mine and communities across northwest Colorado.”
The legal decision in May that tripped off the permitting kerfuffle that endangers the operation of the Colowyo Mine stemmed from a lawsuit brought by WildEarth Guardians that the mine’s 2007 permit did not follow the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement requirements as well as National Environmental Policy Act rules.
Bipartisan efforts have poured in from across Colorado, as politicians, the business community, and legal experts recognize the importance and high stakes involved in the threat to the mine from a procedural and regulatory environment standpoint:
Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and [Rep. Scott] Tipton all joined Craig City Council and Moffat County Commissioners in addressing Jewell regarding the situation at Colowyo.
On July 2, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, the Colorado Competitive Council and the Colorado Energy Coalition sent a co-authored letter to Jewell voicing their concerns.
According to the letter, “this precedent could pose a threat to any activity on federal lands that performed an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act in order to obtain federal leases and permits. That could stretch from energy development and mining, to agricultural grazing and ski resorts becoming vulnerable to retroactive legal challenges.”
Tri-State’s Boughey noted that the government’s appeal isn’t necessary, however:
The ColoWyo appeal isn’t dependent on any other party’s decision to appeal or not appeal Jackson’s decision, Boughey said.
“We believe the court made several significant errors, including misreading the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. This prejudices not only Colowyo but other mining operations, and sets a precedent that should raise concerns for the U.S. energy industry and other activities on federal land,” he said.
In essence, Tri-State and ColoWyo officials don’t think the federal Office of Surface Mining should be looking at power plant operations.
“The court’s requirement that the agency analyze emissions from power plants inappropriately expands National Environmental Policy Act analyses for mining plans beyond what is prescribed under the law,” Boughey said.
The Independence Institute will continue to monitor the developments in the Colowyo legal battle.
Meanwhile, the WildEarth Guardians continue their crusade against all natural resource extraction, as the Denver Post’s Vincent Carroll recently illustrated:
Jeremy Nichols may not be the official stand-up comic of green activism, but he seems to be auditioning for the role. How else to explain his risible claim in a recent Denver Post report on the struggling economy in northwest Colorado that WildEarth Guardians isn’t trying to shut down the Colowyo coal mine and throw 220 people out of work?
“We want to have an honest discussion about the impact of coal and find a way to come together to figure out the next step,” Nichols, the group’s spokesman, maintained.
Why, of course. A group militantly opposed to fossil-fuel production files a lawsuit challenging the validity of a coal mine plan approved years ago — but does so only to provoke an “honest discussion.” Please.
WildEarth Guardians is opposed to all fossil-fuel extraction in the West, and makes no bones about it. In the winter 2013-14 edition of Wild Heart, Nichols outlined the group’s position on those other big fossil fuels, oil and natural gas.
“As communities in Colorado and elsewhere have learned well,” Nichols wrote, “it’s not enough to make oil and gas development cleaner or safer. For the sake of our health, our quality of life, and our future, it simply has to be stopped.”
“In some cases,” Nichols explained, “we can stop it cold … . In other cases, we can raise the cost of drilling to make it economically infeasible.”
The Colowyo Mine is still operating for now, but WildEarth’s apparent regulatory sabotage certainly seems consistent with its efforts to “stop it cold” when it comes to natural resources. Not to mention throwing 220 people out of work and disrupting the economy of an entire region.
Some “honest discussion.”
The price of a barrel of oil began to decline sharply in late 2014, prompting fears that the crashing crude market would tank the nation’s nascent energy resurgence, but despite falling numbers, 2015 still looks to be a year of production highs:
The amount of crude oil produced across the United States fell in May compared to April — but federal forecasters say 2015’s overall production is still “on track” to be the highest in 45 years.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Tuesday released its monthly short-term energy outlook, noting that crude oil production fell in May by about 50,000 barrels of oil per day compared with April.
In Colorado, oil production from the Niobrara field north of Denver, part of the larger Denver-Julesburg Basin, is expected to drop about 17,000 barrels per day in July compared to June, the EIA said.
The number of drilling rigs running in the state has dropped from 72 at the start of 2015 to 39 at the end of June as oil and gas companies have cut back on spending.
But, as we know from basic economics about supply and demand, lower oil prices mean lower gas prices, and that is driving demand back up to pre-recession levels:
But the on the consumer side, a better economy and low gasoline prices are expected to boost the amount of gasoline used in the U.S. by an estimated 170,000 barrels per day over 2014, the report said.
“U.S. gasoline demand will likely top 9 million barrels per day this year for the first time since 2007, which reflects record highway travel,” Sieminski said.
There’s no doubt that readers of the Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Center blog and op-eds are familiar with the argument that electricity derived from wind energy is more costly than other forms of generation–namely coal and natural gas–when one accounts for the massive amount of Federal subsidies, incentives, and state and local renewable mandates and other handouts.
A new study from Utah State University once again confirms that conclusion–”when you take into account the true costs of wind, it’s around 48 per cent more expensive than the industry’s official estimates”:
“In this study, we refer to the ‘true cost’ of wind as the price tag consumers and society as a whole pay both to purchase wind-generated electricity and to subsidize the wind energy industry through taxes and government debt,” said Ryan Yonk Ph.D., one of the report’s authors and a founder of Strata Policy. “After examining all of these cost factors and carefully reviewing existing cost estimates, we were able to better understand how much higher the cost is for Americans.”
The peer-reviewed report accounted for the following factors:
The federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), a crucial subsidy for wind producers, has distorted the energy market by artificially lowering the cost of expensive technologies and directing taxpayer money to the wind industry.
States have enacted Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that require utilities to purchase electricity produced from renewable sources, which drives up the cost of electricity for consumers.
Because wind resources are often located far from existing transmission lines, expanding the grid is expensive, and the costs are passed on to taxpayers and consumers.
Conventional generators must be kept on call as backup to meet demand when wind is unable to do so, driving up the cost of electricity for consumers.
“Innovation is a wonderful thing and renewable energy is no exception. Wind power has experienced tremendous growth since the 1990’s, but it has largely been a response to generous federal subsidies,” Yonk stated.
But Utah State University researchers aren’t the only ones pulling back the curtain on the true cost of wind. A new study from the Institute for Energy Research demonstrates that a real comparison between existing power plants and new power plant sources shows that wind power once again comes up short in the low cost department:
Today, the Institute for Energy Research released a first-of-its-kind study calculating the levelized cost of electricity from existing generation sources. Our study shows that on average, electricity from new wind resources is nearly four times more expensive than from existing nuclear and nearly three times more expensive than from existing coal. These are dramatic increases in the cost of generating electricity. This means that the premature closures of existing plants will unavoidably increase electricity rates for American families.
Almost all measures of the cost of electricity only assess building new plants–until now. Using data from the Energy Information Administration and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, we offer useful comparison between existing plants and new plants.
America’s electricity generation landscape is rapidly changing. Federal and state policies threaten to shutter more than 111 GW of existing coal and nuclear generation, while large amounts of renewables, such as wind, are forced on the grid. To understand the impacts of these policies, it is critical to understand the cost difference between existing and new sources of generation.
A link to the complete study can be found on the Institute’s release page.