NREL’s new chief talks about the path to a carbon-neutral future — Denver Business Journal

Click here to read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

“We need to innovate and do research on all different forms of energy,” [Martin Keller] said. “It would be a mistake to write off any — as long as the energy is carbon neutral. That’s the biggest thing, [because] burning fossil fuels is changing the environment.”

Keller took the reins at NREL, part of the network of laboratories run by the U.S. Department of Energy, at the end of November 2015. He hails from a sister DOE facility in Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he served as the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences.

He succeeds Dan Arvizu, who announced plans in March 2015 to retire from the lab after more than 10 years as its director.

Gov. Matt Mead: Clean Power Plan Case Heard Before the U.S. Court of Appeals

Wyoming rivers map via
Wyoming rivers map via

Here’s the release from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s office:

Wyoming and 26 other states, industry groups and others presented arguments before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday in opposition to the Clean Power Plan. The states argued the proposed rule goes far beyond the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority. Wyoming would be particularly impacted as the rule requires the state to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 44%.

“Federal regulatory agencies continue to push the boundaries of their legal authority. This results in unreasonable and onerous burdens on industry, businesses, individuals and states,” said Governor Matt Mead. “The Clean Power Plan is just such a situation. I am pleased the Court stopped the implementation of the rule pending a decision in this case.”

Earlier this year, the D.C. Circuit denied a petition from states to halt implementation of the rule while litigation was pending. The petition was then submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court which ultimately granted the stay and stopped implementation of the rule. The petition argued the EPA did not have the proper authority, the Clean Power Plan would take authority away from states to regulate in-state power generation and transmission and the final rule was substantially different from its draft version, a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

@ColoradoWater annual seminar recap

A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

If Colorado’s state water plan is to keep the headwaters state in control of its lifeblood, the plan will require a new spring of cash to replace one that is running dry, officials said Friday.

Where the money will come from — and ideas run from mill levies to sales taxes to tap fees to usage fees — isn’t clear, state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said at the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s annual seminar at Two Rivers Convention Center.

The state’s severance tax was anticipated to be a major source of revenue for the water plan, which was drafted to encourage water conservation as well as pay for water storage.

Severance taxes, however, have shrunk as oil and gas revenues have fallen in the face of dropping prices and as coal production has slipped.

The plan has twin goals of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water while also storing an equal amount by 2030, when the state would otherwise come 560,000 acre-feet short of the expected demands of residents and businesses…

Coram said he floated the idea of charging 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water on delivery to homes and businesses, to get people talking.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but I know doing nothing is not going to get things done,” Coram said.

Early projections called for the state severance tax to account for $3 billion, but that reservoir of cash is unlikely to refill soon, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which drafted the water plan and is charged with carrying it out.

It could take two to four years to determine how best to fund the plan, Coram said.

“We’re moving forward as aggressively as possible to implement this plan,” Eklund said.

Among the water plan priorities for the coming year are establishing a repayment guarantee fund with $50 million as needed to underwrite water projects; $10 million for the water supply reserve fund; $10 million for programming for the water plan and $5 million for the watershed restoration program.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Ryan Summerlin):

The common denominator among speakers at the Colorado River District’s annual seminar Friday was that stakeholders have an uphill battle to protect the river. The effects of climate change coupled with demand outpacing supply are continuing to leave water rights holders in a pickle — draining every drop of water before the Colorado reaches its mouth.

The Colorado River Basin is in its 16th year of drought, which ultimately hampers water supply, hydroelectric power, recreation and the basin’s ecology.

Jeff Lukas, an research integration specialist with Western Water Assessment, outlined the growing impacts of climate change on the Upper Colorado River Basin, comparing the basin’s temperatures, precipitation and runoff during other periods of record heat. Some of the key climate change risks for Colorado are reduced annual runoff, earlier runoff, degraded water quality, greater water demand and more frequent droughts, according to Lukas.

Many people are seeing a decrease in runoff for a given amount of precipitation, which Lukas links to warmer temperatures.

About 75 percent of precipitation goes back into the atmosphere, and the bulk of streamflow happens during a narrow window of time, about 80 percent occurring between April and July, he said. Rising temperatures indicate that this trend of decreased streamflow will continue.

Record warm years earlier in the 20th century were also very dry, but now the basin is seeing record heat in wet years as well, said Lukas. And the Colorado River Basin is more sensitive to warming than other basins.

Warming also leads to earlier snowmelt and runoff, less snow accumulation and declines in runoff, said Lukas.

Lukas expects rising temperatures to result in increased water consumption and stress on the water supply and rights holders.

Other speakers representing the Colorado River District, farmers and lower basin entities that manage river water distribution presented various efforts to combat anticipated shortfalls.

Lawsuit Launched Over Fracking, Water, Climate Change in Colorado River Basin #keepitintheground

Here’s the release from The Center for Biological Diversity (Taylor McKinnon):

Lawsuit Launched Over Fracking, Water, Climate Change in Colorado River Basin

The Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers today filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to compel them to update invalid, outdated Endangered Species Act consultations on the impacts of climate change and expanded fracking in western Colorado on the Colorado River system and its four endangered fish. The challenge seeks to halt all new oil and gas leasing and development on federal public lands in the Upper Colorado River Basin of Colorado — including the White River and Grand Junction field offices — pending updated consultations.

Fracking near the White River in Utah, located immediately downstream of the Bureau of Land Management’s White River Field Office that is subject to today’s notice. Photo by Taylor McKinnon / EcoFlight.
Fracking near the White River in Utah, located immediately downstream of the Bureau of Land Management’s White River Field Office that is subject to today’s notice. Photo by Taylor McKinnon / EcoFlight.

“The Colorado River system’s endangered fish can’t handle more water depletions. The river system is already overtaxed, and declining flows because of climate change are making a bad situation worse,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center. “It’s hard to imagine a more self-destructive policy for the Colorado River Basin than using scarce water to fuel more climate-warming fossil fuel extraction — but that’s exactly what the Obama administration is allowing.”

The notice asserts that a programmatic “biological opinion” study authorizing water withdrawals for oil and gas development on public lands in the Upper Colorado River Basin is outdated and invalid. The study fails to consider impacts to endangered fish from the drawing-down of large amounts of water that would be used for horizontal drilling, as well as the impacts of developing expanded estimates of Mancos shale gas deposits, existing and projected future climate-driven Colorado River declines, oil and other toxic spills, mercury and selenium pollution, and the failure of the federal recovery program to provide minimum river flows in critical habitat for the fish.

The notice challenges both agencies’ reliance on the study when they approved new land-use plans for the Grand Junction and White River field offices last year and other oil and gas development plans this year. Together the new land-use plans would allow nearly 19,000 new oil and gas wells in western Colorado. Yet the Fish and Wildlife Service has already conceded that any further water depletions from the Colorado River or its tributaries would jeopardize the four endangered fish — the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail.

“Fracking in the Colorado River Basin comes at the peril of public lands, our climate, the river, its endangered fish, and tens of millions of downstream water users,” said McKinnon. “It’s backward public policy in face of a worsening climate crisis. Now’s the time for the Obama administration to align our country’s energy policies with its climate goals by ending new fossil fuel leasing on America’s public lands.”

Center for Biological Diversity attorneys Wendy Park and Michael Saul are staffing the case.

Download today’s notice here.

On behalf of the American people, the U.S. federal government manages nearly 650 million acres of public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public land, which makes up about a third of the U.S. land area, and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard. These places and the fossil fuels beneath them are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. A 2015 report by EcoShift Consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced the Keep It In the Ground Act (S. 2238) legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Download the September 2015 “Keep It in the Ground” letter to President Obama.

Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels) and The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet.

Download Over-leased: How Production Horizons of Already Leased Federal Fossil Fuels Outlast Global Carbon Budgets.

Download Critical Gulf: The Vital Importance of Ending Fossil Fuel Leasing in the Gulf of Mexico

Download Public Lands, Private Profits about the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition calling on the Obama administration to halt all new offshore fossil fuel leasing.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition with 264 other groups calling on the Obama administration to halt all new onshore fossil fuel leasing.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Two conservation groups say oil and gas leasing and development need to be halted on federal lands in the Upper Colorado River Basin until agencies can take the steps needed to protect endangered fish.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers have notified the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they plan to sue the agencies for failing to take into account new information in order to properly protect the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail. This information includes the growing use of water-intensive horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to produce oil and gas from the Mancos shale formation, which holds a much larger developable resource than previously thought. The U.S. Geological Survey recently estimated that the Piceance Basin’s Mancos shale formation contains 40 times more recoverable gas than it previously had estimated.

The groups say the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service relied on an invalid and outdated study authorizing water depletions for oil and gas development in the Upper Colorado Basin as the BLM approved land-use plans in the region, most notably plans involving the Grand Junction and White River field offices that combined allow for nearly 19,000 oil and gas wells…

The study, known as a programmatic biological opinion, was adopted in 2008, before the BLM recognized the potential for horizontal drilling and the associated water impacts, the groups say in their notice of intent to sue. The notice said while the BLM estimated that local wells drilled out directionally and then vertically into producing formations require an average of 2.62 acre-feet of water, nine local horizontal wells ended up consuming an average of nearly 69 acre-feet each. That largely was responsible for water consumption of nearly twice the projected annual total for oil and gas development for a sub-basin portion of the Colorado River, in violation of a depletion limit intended to protect the fish, the groups say.

The groups’ notice said difficulty meeting minimum recommended flows for the fish in a critical 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River in Mesa County strongly suggests the habitat there will be unsuitable for the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker in dry years, “and that flow depletions from oil and gas development will only exacerbate these unsuitable conditions and reduce these species’ chances of recovery.”

BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service spokesmen said Monday their agencies don’t comment on pending litigation.

Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance industry group said the legal action is another attempt by conservation groups to grasp at straws in their opposition to the industry. She noted a state estimate that fracking consumes less than a tenth of a percent of Colorado water.

“It’s a very small amount of water that is used for fracking and for oil and gas development in general,” she said.

She added that one horizontal well replaces several vertical wells, so the overall water use is actually lower. And she questioned how much impact energy development can be having on fish at a time of minimal drilling activity on the Western Slope.

The conservation groups single out in their notice water consumption by Black Hills Exploration & Production, but that company since has suspended local drilling.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

#ClimateChange: Boulder’s clean energy pledge was driven by a lack of state and national leadership — The Colorado Independent

From The Colorado Independent (Kelsey Ray):

Boulder aims derive 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. By the Sierra Club’s measure, that makes Boulder the 17th city nationwide to commit to the ambitious climate goal.

Mayor Suzanne Jones announced the plan last week during a clean energy event in Denver put on by environmental groups. She said the commitment is good news in the fight against climate change, but that Boulder’s motivation stems largely from an unfortunate lack of action at the state and national levels.

“The story here is that cities are having to lead because there isn’t national leadership, and frankly there’s limited state leadership,” she told The Independent.

The need for state and local government action has been a focus of environmentalists since the Paris climate conference. As Jones tells it, Boulder aims in the future “to push for better state policies and programs through the legislature, and (to) work with the administration to try to move the ball forward.”

Boulder’s clean energy goal has been in the works since May, when council members agreed in theory to commit to 100 percent renewable electricity. The goal for 2030 will become official, in the form of a finalized citywide climate commitment, this December. In the meantime, the city’s staff has been directed to develop a roadmap to make the commitment possible.

One such staff member is Jonathan Koehn, Boulder’s regional sustainability coordinator. Koehn said the commitment to 100 percent renewables is a sub-strategy for meeting the city’s larger goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The same goal was set statewide in 2008 via an executive order by then-Gov. Bill Ritter, but Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2015 climate plan made no mention of it — or any other measurable, quantifiable goals.

Koehn is quick to point out that Boulder’s latest commitment is only to clean electricity, and thus doesn’t mean the city will suddenly stop using oil and gas. Boulderites will still use natural gas to heat their homes, and the city’s public transportation system will still run on fossil fuels. But powering the electric grid with renewables will better prepare Boulder for the inevitable uptick in electricity use that future changes — like a shift to electric cars and buses — will undoubtedly bring.

“If we want to move people off of fossil fuels, we want to do it when the electricity supply is as clean as it can be,” said Koehn.

The plan also doesn’t mean that Boulder will stop using carbon-powered electricity. It will stay connected to the state’s larger grid, which, like the city does now, uses a mix of renewable and fossil fuels to smooth out the supply during peak demand times. But by 2030, Boulder will produce enough renewable energy for its own use, leading to the same net impact as if it used only its own, separate grid.

This commitment to generating enough electricity to cover total use differs from that of Aspen, which is currently known as one of three U.S. cities to already run only on renewables. Aspen actually still gets about half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants and simply offsets the difference by purchasing renewable energy credits from out-of-state utilities, like a wind farm in Nebraska. Boulder is committed to actually creating renewable energy, not just paying for it.

Boulder’s energy staff will spend the next several months hammering out the details of its climate commitment plan. Then, according to a memo released from the May 10 meeting, a finalized “comprehensive energy transition strategy” will be expected in 2017, when the city has a better sense of whether it will municipalize its utility or renew a contract with Xcel Energy.

Both Jones and Koehn admit that transitioning to a 100 percent renewable electricity supply won’t be easy, but say it’s both necessary and economically sound. [ed. emphasis mine]

Said Koehn, “People can continue to shake their heads at this, but we know that this is where our society needs to go in terms of stabilizing our climate.”

Jones added, “The wonderful thing about this is that moving to 100 percent renewable energy is not only the right thing to do, but it’s the right business choice.”

Rico tests the water for uses of geothermal resources — The Cortez Journal

Rico photo via
Rico photo via

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Colorado School of Mines recently completed a preliminary study of Rico’s geothermal resources and presented three potential development options during a town meeting Aug. 25…

Paul Morgan, senior geologist and geophysicist for the college, reported that surface hot springs in the Rico area have low toxic elements, and have temperatures ranging between 93 and 111 degrees Fahrenheit…

Becky Lafrancois, School of Mines economics professor and co-author of the study, evaluated the business potential for a small hot-springs spa, commercial-grade geothermal greenhouse, and district-level heating of buildings.

Rocky Mountain Energy Summit examines intersecting industry issues — @DurangoHerald

Despite ups and downs from year to year, global average surface temperature is rising. By the beginning of the 21st century, Earth’s temperature was roughly 0.5 degrees Celsius above the long-term (1951–1980) average. (NASA figure adapted from Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The timing of the three-day summit at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver was appropriate, given two proposals that could be approved or rejected for the November ballot as early as next week.

One proposal would allow local governments to overstep the state’s regulatory authority to enact stringent rules, including bans on fracking.

The second proposal would increase setbacks of wells from schools, hospitals and homes from 500 feet to 2,500 feet.

The industry has said that effort would put 95 percent of land in the top five oil-and-gas-producing counties in Colorado off limits. La Plata County would become almost completely barred from development, as 99.6 percent of land would be prohibited.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, supports fracking, and he has concerns with the two ballot proposals. In 2014, he struck a deal that kept initiatives off the ballot. The compromise was that a task force would meet to address the local control issue.

But the task force largely fell short in the eyes of industry opponents. The rule that came out of it requires operators to consult and register with local governments when building large facilities. But it did nothing to extend powers to local governments.

The Colorado Supreme Court in May ruled that state power trumps local rules and regulations, which has caused some local governments – including Boulder County – to re-examine moratoriums on oil and gas development.

But with groups continuing to push ballot proposals, the issue has so far not gone away.

Hickenlooper believes education and stakeholder processes have quelled some concerns. He doubts proponents will make the ballot this year, as groups submitted about 100,000 signatures per proposal to the secretary of state’s office. It takes 98,492 valid signatures to make the ballot, so there’s not much of a cushion.

“People get so swept up in the emotion of the moment and carried away by some image, or a fact, that turns out not to be a fact,” Hickenlooper said while speaking during a panel discussion at the summit. “What we should spend a lot of time trying to do is make sure the right information is out there…

Federal regulations and politics
Even if the state enacts its own standards, much of the burden falls on federal regulators, which has tied into elections and politics.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce floated a report at the energy summit that stated that a ban on energy production on federal lands would cost Colorado 50,000 jobs, $124 million in annual royalties and $8.3 billion in gross domestic product.

Former Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders forced Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party further to the left on the oil and gas issue, moving them closer to a “keep it in the ground” platform.

The Clinton campaign says it is not pushing for a ban, just that “our long-term goal should be no extraction of fossil fuels on public lands.”

Proposals include reforms to fossil fuel leasing, a continued review of the federal coal program, prohibitions on development in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, raising royalty rates and ensuring that new leasing accounts for the clean energy market.

In Colorado, the business world is concerned about the transition…

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who is running for re-election this year, took a more middle-of-the-road approach.

“Colorado truly is a state that can embrace all energy sources …” Bennet said. “Colorado is particularly well positioned to have these markets because of industry-led efforts to protect Colorado’s air and water.”