Testimony about Clean Power Plan always earnest and often eloquent — The Mountain Town News

August 1, 2014

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Old and young, fat and skinny, plus white (mostly), black and brown, the speakers made their way this week to the microphones at the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional headquarters in Denver. For many, the EPA office in LoDo was just down the street, but others came from Nevada to Minnesota, Arizona to Utah.

Most spoke in favor of the EPA’s regulations to cut carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels.

The Clean Power Plan identifies four key building blocks of improving efficiency at existing power plants, shifting production from coal to gas; increasing renewables and, in some states, nuclear; and, finally, reducing demand by increasing energy efficiency.

The EPA had predicted 1,600 speakers at its forums on July 29-30 in four cities, and each speaker was assigned a five-minute slot. I listened to maybe 40 speakers at the Denver sessions. All spoke earnestly, a few of them eloquently.

Most supported the regulations, emphasizing the long-term costs of unrestrained emissions of fossil fuels. Opponents emphasized the short-term costs. The divisions were mostly the same that we’ve heard for the last decade as the United States argues about the transition away from fossil-based fuels, or at least a transition away from unrestrained pollution of the atmosphere.

Supporters tended to describe the new regulations as a good if small step forward. Max Tyler, a Democrat in the Colorado House of Representative and strong supporter of renewable energy, described the regulations as too modest.

“Ultimately the bar is set too low at 30 percent,” he said. “The cost of continuing carbon pollution is appalling, it’s astronomical,” he added.

“The private sector is pretty darned creative. They can pull it off,” Tyler concluded. He himself had founded several small tech-oriented businesses before becoming a legislator in 2009.

Alex Blackmer, from the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, described it as a “very modest proposal” and downplayed the cost. The average age of existing coal-fired power plants is 42 years old, toward the end of their useful lives, he noted.

Catherine A. Carruthers of a group called Environmental Tax Reform was among those advocating a more sweeping approach to carbon regulation, adoption of a carbon tax or fee.

Lili Francklyn, who identified herself as a former science reporter for National Public Radio, remembered covering a meeting in 1982 at which the climate scientist James Hansen warned of the effects of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Almost all of the climate change predictions issued that day have come true,” she said. “I am sick of hearing, after 30 years, that coal is cheap,” she said. She called for regulations that “reflect the true cost of coal.”

But some weren’t willing to let natural gas stand in for coal. Rick Blotter, a retired teacher and coach, said 40 percent reduction should be the goal and “natural gas is not the solution to our climate problem.”

Patrick Demmer of the Denver Ministerial Alliance said he grew up north of downtown Denver, near the Asarco smelting site and near the Cherokee coal-fired power plant. He reported that his breathing problems are most likely explained by the pollution. “We have only one world. We may have people in outer space, but we have just one Earth.”

Mixing science and religion was James W.C. White, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado-Boulder and a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. “Climate change is at its core a moral issue,” he said.

He cited intergenerational inequity. “We all say we love our kids, but how do we show it?” he asked. He also pointed to the disproportionate impacts of carbon pollution as opposed to those who benefit from burning it. And he also spoke to the immortality of species extinction from human activities. “We must be held accountable for any species we lose,” he said.

Hal Bidlack has among the most unusual of resumes. He is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, and taught political science for 15 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In the Clinton Administration, he served as director of global environmental affairs for the National Security Council. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Colorado Springs in 2008 and now works for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

He noted that in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney articulated a 1 percent rule: if there was a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction, the United States must act as if it were a certainty.

Bidlack countered that 95 percent of climate scientists concur about the role of greenhouse gas emissions in destabilizing the climate, and he further emphasized the threat of changing climate to U.S. security.

Addressing climate change is nothing more than ‘basic risk management,” he said.

Stacy Tellinghuisen, of Western Resource Advocates, emphasized that Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada will be able to hit the 2030 targets with relative ease given plans of utilities already adopted.

The Aspen Skiing Co. stressed that carbon-reduction goals can be achieved without economic distress. Matt Hamilton said the company has reduced its carbon footprint 3.5 percent while adding a hotel, lifts and restaurants. See statement.

But cleaning up the electrical supply is crucial to achieving company carbon-reduction goals, he added. The company gets its electricity primarily from Holy Cross Energy, an electrical cooperative that is poised to soon achieve its goal of a 20 percent carbon-free portfolio.

Chris Menges, project planner for the City of Aspen’s Canary Initiative, similarly made the case that carbon-free electricity need not produce high prices. The city’s electrical portfolio is now more than 80 percent carbon free and customers still enjoy among the lowest electrical rates among municipalities in Colorado. See statement.

He noted the EPA estimate that the energy shift will yield electricity that is 8 percent lower by 2030 while generating enormous savings in health-care costs, with $7 in benefits for every $1 invested.

Those testifying against the EPA regulations emphasized immediate costs. Carl Smith, representing 4,000 railroad workers, pointed to the profits of hauling coal, 28 percent of all railroad revenues, and the middle-class incomes of brakemen and conductors such as himself.

Bill Midcap, president of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, described the proposed regulations as “just not economically sound.” Make sure these don’t overburden America’s most important sector, and that is agriculture,” he said.

The most interesting testimony came from the utilities. Of all those I heard testify, they had most clearly read the fine print of these new regulations (as I have not). Speakers from Colorado, Montana, South Dakota and elsewhere expressed a variety of concerns:

• The new regulations do not give credit for hydroelectric power. Tri-State Generation and Transmission, for example, was formed as a way to provide distribution of hydropower of the new dams to the electrical cooperatives in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. It provides 20 percent of power for coops.

• This is too ambitious of a proposal. To achieve dramatic carbon reduction will require extensive transmission, and getting high-voltage, long-distance transmission built is difficult and takes many years.

• Credit for non-carbon power generation should be given to the states where it is produced, not to the states where it is consumed, in effect favoring the more rural states of the Great Plains and West.

• Because the United States only produces a portion of the world carbon dioxide emissions, this is such a small gain that it will accomplish almost nothing.

• These EPA regulations put the onus on states to figure out how to comply, but state governments do not have the staff expertise to respond effectively. See additional perspectives in CREA blog.

Elsewhere in Denver, there were demonstrations and rallies, most of it pure theater designed for the TV cameras. My take is that these regulations will go forward, but the real interesting story will emerge as the co-ops, utilities and other power producers submit their written comments during the next several months [ed. emphasis mine].


Climate change: “The fossil-fuel industry…has been able to delay effective action” — Bill McKibben

July 15, 2014

Inylchek Glacier Kyrgyzstan

Inylchek Glacier Kyrgyzstan


Here’s an essay about the risk of doing nothing about climate change from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Bill McKibben, a writer and activist, has made the most cogent arguments. Two years ago, after crunching the numbers, he concluded that private companies own five times more carbon in the ground than the world can possibly absorb. “On current trajectories, the industry will burn it, and governments will make only small whimpering noises about changing the speed at which it happens,” he wrote in an essay titled “A Call to Arms” that was published in the June 8 issue of Rolling Stone.

He identifies a clear problem. “The fossil-fuel industry, by virtue of being perhaps the richest enterprise in human history, has been able to delay effective action, almost to the point where it’s too late,” he wrote. [ed. emphasis mine]

McKibben’s 350.org has been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, which would export Alberta’s bitumen to refineries along the Gulf Coast. It’s largely a symbolic fight, as Michael Levi points out in his book The Power Surge. The tar/oil sands would, if fully developed, elevate atmospheric concentrations of C02 by 60 ppm. At current rates of tar/oil sands mining, that would take 3,000 years, he says. Isolating the climate debate to Alberta’s bitumen, he says, is a mistake.

But Keystone XL represents business as usual. We need accelerated change. The United States should follow the lead of British Columbia in levying a carbon tax. My impression of B.C.’s tax is that it not precisely the best model. We need a revenue-neutral tax, accelerating over time, giving the private sector clear market signals to instigate changes.

Henry Paulson, the former treasury secretary in the Bush years, made this case in an 1,800-word essay in the New York Times on June 22. A few days later, a group that includes Paulson, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Stanford’s George Schultz, who is another former treasury secretary, and a number of other high-profile individuals — including billionaire Tom Steyer — released a report titled “The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.”

More climate change coverage here and here.


The State of Colorado Coal

December 15, 2013

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

The State of Colorado Coal

CFWE’s most recent Headwaters magazine on energy took a look at coal in Colorado.  Writer Josh Zaffos interviewed Jack Ihle, Xcel Energy’s director of environmental policy about the switch from coal to natural gas…

HW 32 coversmallEven with the rush toward natural gas, the push for renewables, and potential carbon emissions regulations, Ihle says Xcel—and Colorado—aren’t likely to fully divest from coal. Xcel is upgrading pollution controls at several coal plants to further limit smog and air pollution and keep the plants running and in compliance with Clean Air Act regulations. “We see value in balance even as certain drivers like emissions regulations will cause us to look harder at cleaner resources,” Ihle says. “Coal has been a very cost-effective resource and price-stable for a long time, and we’ll look for ways to make it as clean as we can.”

And the use of coal in…

View original 200 more words


2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum recap

November 12, 2013
Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

At the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley’s 2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum, [Diane Mitsch Bush] and fellow presenters Kent Vertrees, Kevin McBride and Jay Gallagher talked through the issues and challenges ahead for the state as it races to meet the December 2014 deadline set out by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order for a state water plan draft. Vertrees is a member of the Yampa/White Basin Roundtable, Gallagher represents the Yampa-White River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, McBride is on the board of the 2013 Colorado Water Congress, and Mitsch Bush serves on state house committees that oversee water issues. All four represent the interests of the Yampa River Basin in the complicated confluence of water and policy.

Their presentation Monday night at Bud Werner Memorial Library briefed attendees on geology, hydrology and water law as it applies to the Yampa River and Colorado.

The Yampa River, being largely a wild river with a natural hydrograph, is an anomaly among Colorado rivers, and as multiple members of the panel pointed out, that gives the basin a chance to buck the constraints of other basins across the state.

The amount of water in the Yampa River Basin is large compared to other basins, McBride said…

There’s pieces of Colorado water law that would push the Yampa toward developing the same constraints faced in the South Platte River Basin, McBride said, but there’s also opportunity to do something different.

There are many constraints on the future water plan outlined in the presentation, such as highly variable annual flows, climate change, existing water laws and interstate and international agreements, local control and balancing the impact on existing uses and future growth.

There are interests on the Front Range that would look to the Yampa as a reservoir for their needs, Mitsch Bush said, and if consensus can’t be reached with them, the Western Slope will have to stand by its interests…

“Here in Northwest Colorado, we can have that wild river in some ways,” Vertrees said about the best case scenario from the state water plan. “We can have smart storage. We can continue to provide for agriculture needs.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


‘The Front Range is thirsty. They want our water, and they’ve taken it’ — J. Paul Brown

November 11, 2013
Durango

Durango

From The Durango Herald (Brandon Mathis):

…La Plata County sheep and cattle rancher J. Paul Brown addressed a crowd of about 40 people at Christina’s Grill & Bar on Saturday morning to announce his plans to retake the House seat he lost by two percentage points in 2012 to Durango attorney Mike McLachlan. He called the district, which includes La Plata, Archuleta, Hinsdale, Ouray and a portion of Gunnison counties, one of the most beautiful places in the world and one of great importance to the state and nation.

“We are the pull of all of Colorado,” he said. “Tourism, mining, gas and oil, hospitals. It’s a wonderful district.”

While Brown, a Republican, said he is not yet ready to propose specific legislation, he did say he had a long list of issues and possible bills…

“Water is an issue here, and it always will be,” he said. “The Front Range is thirsty. They want our water, and they’ve taken it.”

Brown mentioned water-storage initiatives to keep water on the Western Slope and in the state.

“Six hundred thousand acre feet of water just went to Kansas and Nebraska,” he said. “That’s our water – we just don’t have any way to keep it.”[...]

La Plata County Planning Commissioner and beef rancher Wayne Buck supports Brown’s ideology. He called Brown a politician of moral fiber and character.

“He’s honest, and Lord knows we need honest politicians in Denver and in Washington, D.C.,” Buck said.

From The Denver Post (Kurtis Lee):</p.

Steve House, a healthcare consultant from Brighton, will announce his candidacy for governor Monday in Adams County…

House is now among five Republicans vying to unseat Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014. Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo have all announced their candidacies for governor.

More 2014 Colorado Election coverage here.


CWCB: State of Colorado Receives Partners in Conservation Award

October 18, 2012

coloradoriverbasin.jpg

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):

The State of Colorado, as well as the other cooperating partners in the Colorado River Supply and Demand Basin Study (“Colorado River Basin Study” or “Basin Study”), were presented today with the prestigious “Partners in Conservation Award” by the Department of the Interior. This award was presented by Deputy Secretary David Hayes in recognition of the cooperation between these different entities on one of the most pressing natural resources issues in the Unites States–the future of the Colorado River basin.

The Colorado River Basin Study is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify and address future supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado River Basin. The Basin Study evaluates the reliability of the water dependent resources, and also outlines potential options and strategies to meet or reduce imbalances that are consistent with the existing legal framework governing the use and operation of the Colorado River. To date, the Basin Study has published a number of interim reports and appendices, and the final report of the Basin Study is scheduled to be published by the end of November, 2012.

Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Ted Kowalski, Chief of the Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board accepted the award on behalf of the State of Colorado. “The Basin Study reflects the cooperative spirit in which the Colorado River Basin States have worked since the adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines,” Gimbel said.“Colorado and the other Basin States, the tribes, the federal government, and the many diverse stakeholders must continue to work together in order to address the difficult water imbalances facing the southwestern United States in the next half century. It is clear that there are no silver bullets, but rather we must explore and develop multiple options and strategies in order to meet our projected future water supply/demand imbalance.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource (2011) — Union of Concerned Scientists

October 15, 2012

coalfiredsteamturbinschematic.jpg

Here’s a guest commentary about the report, running in The Denver Post (Alice Madden/Peter C. Frumhoff). Here’s an excerpt:

Electricity generation from coal and nuclear plants requires water — a lot of water compared to other fuel sources — to cool the steam they produce to make electricity. In Colorado, coal plants consumed some 80,000 acre-feet of water for cooling in 2008. That’s enough water to supply the city of Boulder for four years, or Denver for four months.

Colorado’s water consumption rates in energy production were highlighted in a recent report of the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a research collaboration between the Union of Concerned Scientists and a team of more than a dozen national scientists, including local experts at the University of Colorado, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Western Resource Advocates.

For most conventional coal plants, the bottom line is this: To keep the lights on, keep the water coming. It’s easy to ignore this dependence when there’s plenty of water. But in a water-constrained future, is heavy reliance on coal the best choice when we have smart water energy choices?

Although extracting natural gas via hydraulic fracturing is placing growing demands on water resources, an efficient natural gas plant consumes far less water than a coal plant. And some, like the Front Range plant in Colorado Springs, cool with air instead of water.

By contrast, wind and solar photovoltaics use virtually no water, making them smart energy choices for water-constrained states. Fortunately, Colorado has had impressive growth in both. That’s thanks in part to the Renewable Portfolio Standard law that requires investor-owned utilities Xcel Energy and Black Hills to produce at least 30 percent of the energy they generate from renewable sources by 2020, a goal both companies will meet easily. The remaining utilities, which provide about 40 percent of the state’s energy, must only meet a 10 percent RPS and rely heavily on coal.

Here’s the link to the report: Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource (2011). Here’s the executive summary:

Across the country, water demand from power plants is combining with pressure from growing populations and other needs and straining water resources—especially during droughts and heat waves:

• The 2011 drought in Texas created tension among farmers, cities, and power plants across the state. At least one plant had to cut its output, and some plants had to pipe in water from new sources. The state power authority warned that several thousand megawatts of electrical capacity might go offline if the drought persists into 2012.

• As drought hit the Southeast in 2007, water providers from Atlanta to Raleigh urged residents to cut their water use. Power plants felt the heat as well. In North Carolina, customers faced blackouts as water woes forced Duke Energy to cut output at its G.G. Allen and Riverbend coal plants on the Catawba River. Meanwhile the utility was scrambling to keep the water intake system for its McGuire nuclear plant underwater. In Alabama, the Browns Ferry nuclear plant had to drastically cut its output (as it has in three of the last five years) to avoid exceeding the temperature limit on discharge water and killing fish in the Tennessee River.

• A 2006 heat wave forced nuclear plants in the Midwest to reduce their output when customers needed power most. At the Prairie Island plant in Minnesota, for example, the high temperature of the Mississippi River forced the plant to cut electricity generation by more than half.

• In the arid Southwest, power plants have been contributing to the depletion of aquifers, in some cases without even reporting their water use.

• On New York’s Hudson River, the cooling water intakes of the Indian Point nuclear plant kill millions of fish annually, including endangered shortnose sturgeon. This hazard to aquatic life now threatens the plant as well. Because operators have not built a new cooling system to protect fish, state regulators have not yet approved the licenses the operators need to keep the plant’s two reactors running past 2013 and 2015.

• Proposed power plants have also taken hits over water needs. Local concerns about water use have scuttled planned facilities in Arizona, Idaho, Virginia, and elsewhere. Developers of proposed water-cooled concentrating solar plants in California and Nevada have run into opposition, driving them toward dry cooling instead.

This report—the first on power plant water use and related water stress from the Energy and Water in a Warming World initiative—is the first systematic assessment of both the effects of power plant cooling on water resources across the United States and the quality of information available to help public- and private-sector decision makers make water-smart energy choices.

Our analysis starts by profiling the water use characteristics of virtually every electricity generator in the United States. Then, applying new analytical approaches, we conservatively estimate the water use of those generators in 2008, looking across the range of fuels, power plant technologies, and cooling systems. We then use those results to assess the stress that power plant water use placed on water systems across the country. We also compare our results with those reported by power plant operators to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for 2008.

We examine both the withdrawal and consumptionof freshwater. Withdrawal is the total amount of water a power plant takes in from a source such as a river, lake, or aquifer, some of which is returned. Consumption is the amount lost to evaporation during the cooling process. Withdrawal is important for several reasons. Water intake systems can trap fish and other aquatic wildlife.

Water withdrawn for cooling but not consumed returns to the environment at a higher temperature, potentially harming fish and other wildlife. And when power plants tap groundwater for cooling, they can deplete aquifers critical for meeting many different needs. Consumption is important because it too reduces the amount of water available for other uses, including sustaining ecosystems.

While our analysis focuses on the effects of water use by power plants today, we also consider how conditions are likely to change in the future. In the short run, our choices for what kind of power plants we build can contribute to freshwater-supply stress (by consigning an imbalanced share of the available water to power plant use) and can affect water quality (by increasing water temperatures to levels that harm local ecosystems, for example). Over a longer time frame, those choices can fuel climate change, which in turn may also affect water quantity (through drought and other extreme weather events) and quality (by raising the temperature of lakes, streams, and rivers). Population growth and rising demand for water also promise to worsen water stress in many regions of the country already under stress from power plant use and other uses.

More coal coverage here and here.


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