USGS: Using the Markets for Environmental Science

Honeybees are important pollinators, an ecosystem service that is not always adequately accounted for in traditional markets. Image credit: Marisa Lubeck, USGS.
Honeybees are important pollinators, an ecosystem service that is not always adequately accounted for in traditional markets. Image credit: Marisa Lubeck, USGS.

From the United States Geological Survey (Alex Demas):

The invisible hand of the market might seem a strange player for environmental science, but it’s an emerging force for regulators and land managers. It’s these markets that have inspired USGS scientists Emily Pindilli and Frank Casey to explore how earth science and economics can join forces to achieve meaningful impacts for decision-makers.

Their research falls under a concept known as environmental markets. These markets won’t be found in Wall Street, but rather out on the landscape, as the natural environment provides many amenities that aren’t included in traditional markets. For example, when bees pollinate farmers’ crops, they’re providing an ecosystem service that benefits the farmer and society with a higher crop yield.

Emissions trading is one example of a market-based solution to an environmental problem. Image credit: Arnold Paul/Gralo via Wikipedia.
Emissions trading is one example of a market-based solution to an environmental problem. Image credit: Arnold Paul/Gralo via Wikipedia.

The Economics of Earth Science

So how does earth science fit in with the idea of environmental markets? The answer is information. Markets function most efficiently when buyers and sellers have as much information as possible. In the realm of environmental markets, that takes the form of scientific information about ecosystems, habitats, animals and plants, and other ecological players that help the environment operate.

USGS, then, is perfectly situated to provide information along those lines to emerging environmental markets. From water levels, use, and quality data from thousands of streamgages across the country to bird surveys that have spanned decades, USGS can provide important materials for these markets to function as effectively as possible. Agencies like the USDA’s Office of Environmental Markets can then take USGS data and use it to help foster and coordinate environmental markets.

However, that then raises the question of what kind of markets are being implemented and how do they work? Pindilli and Casey decided to take that on, using the lens of biodiversity to frame their investigation.

Sagebrush landscapes are important habitat for maintaining biodiversity in much of the United States. Image credit: Steve Knick, USGS.
Sagebrush landscapes are important habitat for maintaining biodiversity in much of the United States. Image credit: Steve Knick, USGS.

In the Market for a Solution

Biodiversity is under increasing threat, both in the United States and all around the world. Species are going extinct at a rapid rate, which is an indication of the larger issue of biodiversity and habitat loss. Biodiversity and habitat provide important ecosystem functions and their loss represents a significant risk to the stability of these systems.

So how can environmental markets help protect biodiversity? A first, and significant, step is to understand the economic values associated with biodiversity. Even more important is to align those values with reasons to actually protect and restore biodiversity. Enter the concept of environmental markets. These markets are designed to allow environmental goods and services to be produced and traded similar to goods and services in traditional markets.

A good example of a created environmental market is the sulfur dioxide trading market. Here, a set number of sulfur dioxide credits are issued which caps sulfur dioxide emissions at a certain level each year. These credits can be traded between parties, with the idea being that some facilities can reduce emissions at a lower cost than others. Those facilities can then sell those credits to facilities who would otherwise have to pay even more money to reduce emissions. By making money from the sale of the credits, those facilities that could most cost-effectively reduce emissions have a good reason to do so. This is a win-win, whereby the environmental goal is attained and it is accomplished at the lowest cost.

In the United States, there are a number of other developing environmental markets and similar mechanisms that seek to leverage market forces to achieve environmental goals. There are emerging markets in water quality, carbon emissions, wetland preservation, and for species and habitat protection. Among these are a number of market-based or market-like approaches that can benefit biodiversity. The USGS has recently evaluated the status and potential of the following mechanisms:

Bats provide important pest control by eating insects, and threats to their biodiversity imperil that ecosystem service. Photo credit: Paul Cryan, USGS.
Bats provide important pest control by eating insects, and threats to their biodiversity imperil that ecosystem service. Photo credit: Paul Cryan, USGS.

Getting What You Pay For

The first approach is known as “Payments for Ecosystem Services.” Here, a “buyer” pays a “seller” for the ecosystem service of biodiversity. The “buyer” may be anyone, such as the Federal government, a State agency, a local community, a non-profit, or even a business, while the “seller” is the individual or business that will supply protections for species and their habitats. An example of this approach might be a conservation stewardship program that pays farmers to set some land aside for wildlife, or maintain the riverbanks with trees to shelter fish. The least like a traditional market, payments for ecosystem services are essentially contracts that provide incentives to potential biodiversity suppliers with payments that don’t necessarily reflect a market-value.

The Ohlone Reserve Conservation Bank in California, one of the many conservation banks run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo credit: Robert Fletcher, Ohlone Preserve Conservation Bank
The Ohlone Reserve Conservation Bank in California, one of the many conservation banks run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo credit: Robert Fletcher, Ohlone Preserve Conservation Bank

Conservation Banking

The next approach is explicitly market-based: regulations are set up that lay the foundations for a market that includes property rights to an environmental amenity and the ability to trade. One of the best examples for biodiversity is the Conservation Banking Program run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Conservation banks are areas of habitat that are protected and managed to meet the needs of one or more threatened species in perpetuity. These banks must be approved by the FWS under stringent protocols. With this approval, the banks can sell ‘habitat’ or ‘species’ credits. Demand for credits comes from developers that are required to mitigate actions like building roads that may negatively affect threatened species and their habitats under the authority of the Endangered Species Act.

When planning suburban neighborhoods, for instance, a developer might buy land to set aside as habitat in exchange for encroaching on existing habitat. Image Credit: Roger Auch, USGS.
When planning suburban neighborhoods, for instance, a developer might buy land to set aside as habitat in exchange for encroaching on existing habitat. Image Credit: Roger Auch, USGS.

Beyond the Bank

Taking the concept of the conservation banks even further, there’s the idea of habitat exchanges. The concept of a habitat exchange is to extend the conservation banking approach to protect species or habitats that are not currently federally listed as threatened. Habitat exchanges also seek to streamline the conservation bank approval process by developing and implementing Habitat Quantification Tools. These tools are used to standardize the evaluation of the number of credits on a given plot of land and increase certainty and transparency for landowners. Habitat exchanges are an emerging concept and demonstration on the landscape has yet to be fully implemented.

Organic labeling is one such example of using a label to educate consumers.
Organic labeling is one such example of using a label to educate consumers.

It’s all in the Label

The last market-based approach evaluated goes in a different direction: the idea of eco-labeling, similar to the concepts of organic and fair-trade labeling currently seen in grocery stores. Farmers, ranchers, and others can take actions that help protect biodiversity, and in so doing receive an accreditation and label their products to signify that they are protecting biodiversity. People can then reward these businesses by selecting these ‘green products’ over comparable items, even if they cost a bit more. That extra cost compensates the farmers, ranchers, and others for implementing biodiversity protecting practices. Eco-labelling is the most like a traditional market.

Read More:

  • Biodiversity and habitat markets: Policy, economic, and ecological implications of market-based conservation,” by Emily Pindilli and Frank Casey
  • USGS Science and Decisions Center
  • USGS Social Values for Ecosystem Services
  • Exxon, Keystone, and the Turn Against Fossil Fuels — The New Yorker (Bill McKibben)

    The grass roots, Washington DC via the Washington Post
    The grass roots in Washington, DC via the Washington Post

    From The New Yorker (Bill McKibben):

    The fossil-fuel industry—which, for two centuries, underwrote our civilization and then became its greatest threat—has started to take serious hits. At noon today [November 6, 2015], President Obama rejected the Keystone Pipeline, becoming the first world leader to turn down a major project on climate grounds. Eighteen hours earlier, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he’d issued subpoenas to Exxon, the richest and most profitable energy company in history, after substantial evidence emerged that it had deceived the world about climate change.

    These moves don’t come out of the blue. They result from three things.

    The first is a global movement that has multiplied many times in the past six years. Battling Keystone seemed utterly quixotic at first—when activists first launched a civil-disobedience campaign against the project, in the summer of 2011, more than ninety per cent of “energy insiders” in D.C. told a National Journal survey that they believed that President Obama would grant Transcanada a permit for the construction. But the conventional wisdom was upended by a relentless campaign carried on by hundreds of groups and millions of individual people (including, the international climate-advocacy group I founded). It seemed that the President didn’t give a speech in those years without at least a small group waiting outside the hall to greet him with banners demanding that he reject the pipeline. And the Keystone rallying cry quickly spread to protests against other fossil-fuel projects. One industry executive summed it up nicely this spring, when he told a conference of his peers that they had to figure out how to stop the “Keystone-ization” of all their plans.

    The second, related, cause is the relentless spread of a new logic about the planet—that we have five times as much carbon in our reserves as we can safely burn. While President Obama said today that Keystone was not “the express lane to climate disaster,” he also said that “we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them.” This reflects an idea I wrote about in Rolling Stone three years ago; back then, it was new and a little bit fringe. But, this fall, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, speaking to members of the insurance industry at Lloyds of London, used precisely the same language to tell them that they faced a “huge risk” from “unburnable carbon” that would become “stranded assets.” No one’s argued with the math, and that math indicates that the business plans of the fossil-fuel giants are no longer sane. Word is spreading: portfolios and endowments worth a total of $2.6 trillion in assets have begun to divest from fossil fuels. The smart money is heading elsewhere.

    Which brings us to the third cause. There is, now, an elsewhere to head. In the past six years, the price of a solar panel has fallen by eighty per cent. [ed. emphasis mine] For years, the fossil-fuel industry has labored to sell the idea that a transition to renewable energy would necessarily be painfully slow—that it would take decades before anything fundamental started to shift. Inevitability was their shield, but no longer. If we wanted to transform our energy supply, we clearly could, though it would require an enormous global effort.

    Don’t you just love renewable energy capital markets moving the polluters out of the picture?

    Here’s a report about the impending bankruptcy of Arch Coal from Elizabeth Shogren writing for The High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:

    There’s no question that the president’s Clean Power Plan and his other air pollution regulations cloud the future of the industry. But coal’s bleak present has much more to do with other factors; chief among them the low price of natural gas and bad business decisions that the country’s biggest coal companies made in recent years. “These are undoubtedly difficult, if not unprecedented, times for the coal sector,” Glenn Kellow, chief executive officer of Peabody, the world’s largest coal company, reportedly said on the company’s recent earnings call.

    Both Arch Coal and Peabody Energy paid billions of dollars to acquire metallurgical coal mines when prices of this type of coal, which is used to make steel and other metals, were soaring. The price has since collapsed, leaving the companies swamped in debt and their stock prices a small fraction of what they used to be. In Arch’s case, it spent $3.4 billion in 2011 to buy International Coal Group, Inc., acquiring 13 mines in the eastern United States. At the time, the only company more invested in metallurgical coal was Alpha National Resources, (remember that name), which was buying Massie Energy for $7.1 billion. That same year, Peabody shelled out $5.2 billion for metallurgical coal mines in Australia.

    The companies borrowed to buy these metallurgical coal mines, with the expectation that Asia, especially China, would gobble up all the metallurgical coal they could produce. What they didn’t count on was the price of metallurgical coal spiraling downward due in part to increased supplies of metallurgical coal from other countries and slower growth in China. Now U.S. metallurgical coal sells for less than half what it did in 2011.

    Arch’s debt comes due next year. Scrambling to avoid bankruptcy, Arch tried to get creditors to renegotiate its debt, but the effort collapsed at the end of last month. Peabody has until 2018, and yet its stock has fallen from more than $1,000 in 2011 to less than $13 this fall.

    The West is largely a bystander to this high drama, except that the companies that produce the most coal in the West are caught in the middle of it. Profitable mines owned by these companies in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin likely still will operate under whatever slimmed-down companies emerge from bankruptcy or under new ownership. But underground mines, where it costs more to extract the coal, may be less lucky. Peabody’s Twentymile mine in northwestern Colorado reportedly already has experienced significant reductions in production.

    Mines in the West are not immune from the other main factor vexing the coal industry: low natural gas prices. Coal’s share in electricity production dropped from 50 percent in 2005 to 39 percent in 2014, and natural gas overtook coal as the biggest electricity producer for two months this year. The Energy Information Agency expects an 8 percent decrease in total coal consumption in 2015 compared to 2014, mainly driven by electric companies shifting to low-cost natural gas. Retirement of coal-fired power plants due to the Obama administration’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards contributed, but to a lesser degree, according to the Energy Information Agency. “The big story here is gas and how cheap it is,” says Robert Godby, associate economics professor at the University of Wyoming who focuses on coal.

    @EcoFlight: Flight Across America 2015 #ColoradoRiver #drought #COWaterPlan


    From the EcoFlight website:

    Project Overview

    EcoFlight’s Flight Across America program dynamically engages college students about environmental issues, using a broad range of perspectives, both aerial and on the ground, to bring attention to pressing conservation issues. Students learn how such issues impact their lives and the world around them, and how to personally participate in advocacy work. Through the aerial perspective and discussions with diverse stakeholders and experts on the ground, EcoFlight offers a tangible educational experience, engaging students in the complexities of environmental issues throughout the West. It is our hope that by offering students the opportunity to delve deeply into issues central to the West, they become better prepared to participate in meaningful discussions public lands and advocate for their beliefs, as the next generation of leaders.

    Flight Across America 2015 will focus on water conservation concerns in the West, emphasizing the crucial role water plays in sustaining life, and the mega drought happening in many states across the West. The program provides an excellent learning environment for students, combining the aerial perspective of the role of water in the health of ecosystems and how watersheds connect landscapes, with on-the-ground discussions of the impact of energy development, urban planning, recreation and agriculture on our water resources. The Colorado River Basin is in its 14th year of drought, and water is a top concern for population centers and agriculture. We will discuss the coping mechanisms of multiple states in the West, as they plan for the future in an attempt to balance an already over-allocated water supply with growing domestic demand. Climate models are predicting an even drier future, with sustained periods of sparse precipitation and significant loss of soil moisture that span generations, about 10 times as long as a normal three-year drought. In the face of these “mega-droughts” it is imperative that we begin thinking in terms of the future and not just the present for water management in the West.

    In a five-day tour of four states, FLAA 2015 will engage college students with diverse conservation concerns of water in the West. EcoFlight will provide aerial tours of water storage and diversion projects, over energy development (both fossil fuel and renewable), over agriculture, and wild landscapes, and watersheds that are vulnerable to drought and water-loss. On the ground students will meet with diverse stakeholders – planners, public officials, conservation groups, sportsmen, energy industry representatives, Native Americans, recreationists and journalists to discuss the different and often competing interests in water and water conservation.

    Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
    Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

    Why so few water markets in the West? — The Mountain Town News

    The Four Corners Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico draws water from the San Juan River. 2014 photo/Allen Best
    The Four Corners Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico draws water from the San Juan River. 2014 photo/Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Water intensity of energy but also why the West has so few water markets

    The value of water depends upon context. To somebody in a desert, absent a drink for three days, nothing could be more valuable. In a flood, the value of the water would lie in its absence.

    In Western states, where scarcity more generally prevails, we’re still fumbling with how much value to assign water. Stacy Tellinghuisen brings this observation to her work in evaluating water issues at the nexus with energy for Western Resource Advocates, an environmental non-profit. WRA in 2011 issued a report “Every Drop Counts: Valuing the Water Used to Generate Electricity.”

    Stacy Tellinghuisen
    Stacy Tellinghuisen

    In a conference call sponsored by The Biomass Monitor, Tellinghuisen said that one of the few water markets exists in northern Colorado. There, in the area north from Denver, many cities and farms get water diverted from the Colorado River via an elaborate diversion structure called the Colorado-Big Thompson project. Completed after World War II, the C-BT was intended to provide water to expand agriculture. Now, the water has mostly been purchased for municipal use in the Boulder-Greeley-Fort Collins area.

    Water prices spiked between 2000 and 2008, said Tellinghuisen, reviewing the report that WRA did several years ago. “The price increased significantly, and that was largely due to significant drought in 2001 and 2002, combined with additional population growth in the region,” she said.

    “I think that trend is a really relevant when you think about climate change and continued municipal growth across the West,” she added.

    Why does this more highly developed market exist in northern Colorado? And why is it absent elsewhere?

    Tellinghuisen explained that she thinks it’s because of the unusual nature of the C-BT. The project was finished at one time, water becoming available in the form of shares. This is in contrast with water availability in so many other places governed by the doctrine of prior appropriations. Appropriation dates vary greatly, as do allotments and other factors.

    Tap fees are one way of measuring the value of water. They are the costs of getting the right to hook into the water-delivery infrastructure of a city or other jurisdiction. In theory, tap fees would be more-or-less uniform across a metropolitan area, just as the price of bread varies only marginally from one store to the next. In practice, said Tellinghuisen, there is great variability. She cited the example of Denver, which charges $5,000 for a tap fee, as compared with one of Boulder’s suburbs, where the cost is $25,000.

    Even within individual cities, water can be valued very differently. Southern Nevada Water Authority has specified rates for existing users. How then to explain the current efforts by Las Vegas to extend pipelines hundreds of miles away to tap aquifers along the Nevada-Utah border? The cost of that water would necessarily be much higher.

    Water consumed in generating electricity also varies greatly. Coal-fired power plants used significant quantities, typically 500 to 600 gallons per megawatt of production, while nuclear power plants use on the order of 700 gallons per megawatt. Combined-cycle natural gas plants use less, 180 to 200 gallons per megawatt.

    Dry-cooling techniques for fossil-fueled generation can reduce water use by up to 90 percent, and more electrical production now comes from natural gas, instead of coal, resulting in a net reduction in the water footprint of energy.

    In the renewable sector, biomass plants vary greatly, between 400 and 500 gallons per megawatt. Wind and solar use virtually none, except for concentrated solar—which uses a lot of water.

    Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
    Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

    Recent years have brought greater awareness of the water intensity of various forms of electrical production. Investor-owned utilities, the primary providers of electricity in Colorado and other states, are governed by state-appointed public utility commissions, and those utilities in recent years have begun describing water impacts in the resource-planning documents they are required to submit to regulators.

    Arizona Public Service was among the first to begin disclosing water impacts, but others now do so, too. Statutes delegating authority to PUCs provide authority to consider water, said Tellinghuisen, but there’s also a broadening understanding of the water-energy nexus among energy companies and government regulators.

    Why does it matter?

    “It comes back to a zero-sum game,” said Tellinghuisen. Virtually all rivers in the West are tapped out. For expansion of water use for one purpose, other water uses must be curtailed. While there are laws that govern the transfer, meaning a new power plant couldn’t just seize water, causing cities and farms to go dry, it is part of societal choices. WRA obviously thinks that the minimal water use of renewables is a major argument for increased renewables.

    USGS: Mercury in the Nation’s Streams—Levels, Trends, and Implications

    Mercury in Colorado graphic via The Denver Post
    Mercury in Colorado graphic via The Denver Post

    Click through to read the report. Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Dennis A. Wentz, Mark E. Brigham, Lia C. Chasar, Michelle A. Lutz, and David P. Krabbenhoft):

    Major Findings and Implications

    Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in fish to levels of concern for human health and the health of fish-eating wildlife. Mercury contamination of fish is the primary reason for issuing fish consumption advisories, which exist in every State in the Nation. Much of the mercury originates from combustion of coal and can travel long distances in the atmosphere before being deposited. This can result in mercury-contaminated fish in areas with no obvious source of mercury pollution.

    Three key factors determine the level of mercury contamination in fish—the amount of inorganic mercury available to an ecosystem, the conversion of inorganic mercury to methylmercury, and the bioaccumulation of methylmercury through the food web. Inorganic mercury originates from both natural sources (such as volcanoes, geologic deposits of mercury, geothermal springs, and volatilization from the ocean) and anthropogenic sources (such as coal combustion, mining, and use of mercury in products and industrial processes). Humans have doubled the amount of inorganic mercury in the global atmosphere since pre-industrial times, with substantially greater increases occurring at locations closer to major urban areas.

    In aquatic ecosystems, some inorganic mercury is converted to methylmercury, the form that ultimately accumulates in fish. The rate of mercury methylation, thus the amount of methylmercury produced, varies greatly in time and space, and depends on numerous environmental factors, including temperature and the amounts of oxygen, organic matter, and sulfate that are present.

    Methylmercury enters aquatic food webs when it is taken up from water by algae and other microorganisms. Methylmercury concentrations increase with successively higher trophic levels in the food web—a process known as bioaccumulation. In general, fish at the top of the food web consume other fish and tend to accumulate the highest methylmercury concentrations.

    This report summarizes selected stream studies conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) since the late 1990s, while also drawing on scientific literature and datasets from other sources. Previous national mercury assessments by other agencies have focused largely on lakes. Although numerous studies of mercury in streams have been conducted at local and regional scales, recent USGS studies provide the most comprehensive, multimedia assessment of streams across the United States, and yield insights about the importance of watershed characteristics relative to mercury inputs. Information from other environments (lakes, wetlands, soil, atmosphere, glacial ice) also is summarized to help understand how mercury varies in space and time.

    More USGS coverage here

    E.P.A. Issues Rules on Disposal of Coal Ash to Protect Water Supply — The New York Times

    December 22, 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash retention pond failure via the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority
    December 22, 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash retention pond failure via the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority

    From The New York Times (Emmarie Huetteman):

    The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced the first federal guidelines for disposing of coal ash, instructing power plants to implement safeguards against contaminating nearby water supplies.

    But the agency did not require many of the restrictions that had been urged by environmentalists and other advocates, who point to studies showing coal ash — the material that remains when coal is burned to produce electricity — contains a significant amount of carcinogens.

    “This rule is a pragmatic step forward that protects public health while allowing the industry the time it needs to meet these requirements,” said Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A. administrator.

    The E.P.A. declined to designate coal ash a hazardous material, but said power plants would have to meet certain minimum structural standards for landfills and disposal ponds, and monitor them for leaks. If a breach is discovered, it will be the utility company’s responsibility to reinforce or close the pond. New ponds and landfills will have to be lined to provide a barrier against leaks. Controls must be used to prevent people from breathing in coal ash dust.

    Power plants will also have to report the results of their inspections on a public website. The rule provides little oversight, leaving it to citizens and the states to sue if power plants are suspected of not adhering to the E.P.A.’s guidelines.

    The rule is a victory for electric utility companies and the coal industry, which had decried the increased financial burden that would have been placed on companies to revamp their existing disposal facilities if the E.P.A. had decided to phase out ponds and impose other, stricter guidelines.

    The decision also reinforced the growing, multibillion-dollar coal ash recycling business, in which coal ash is used to make wallboard, concrete and other products. The United States produced nearly 114.7 million tons of coal ash in 2013, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the American Coal Ash Association. Of that, less than 51.4 million tons were reused.

    Officials celebrated the end of what they characterized as a costly period of uncertainty for an environmentally friendly industry.

    “This stuff is just as safe as we thought it was before the rule-making started, and it’s time to keep that growth going,” said Thomas H. Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association.

    Advocates for stronger restrictions on coal ash expressed disappointment in the rule, especially that coal-fired power plants would be allowed to continue dumping the ash into existing ponds that they are left to largely police themselves.

    “As we’ve seen over the past six years, irresponsible storage of coal ash by big utilities has caused unprecedented disasters and threatened the health and safety of Americans around the country,” Frank Holleman, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. “While there are some new tools for addressing our nation’s coal ash problem in these new federal protections, there are glaring flaws in the E.P.A.’s approach.”

    Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
    “When the day’s done, the E.P.A. regulates toxic coal ash less stringently than household waste,” said Lisa Evans, a lawyer with Earthjustice who used to work for the E.P.A.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Aspen aims for all hydro and wind by 2023 — The Aspen Times

    Ridgway Reservoir during winter
    Ridgway Reservoir during winter

    From The Aspen Times (Karl Herchenroeder):

    Aspen officials hope to supply municipal operations entirely with hydroelectric and wind energy by 2023, projections from the city’s renewable energy manager show.

    But the success of that lofty projection — along with the city’s 100 percent renewable-energy goal in 2015 — will be based largely on current negotiations with its energy provider, Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska.

    Doubling the hydro supply at Ridgway Reservoir and phasing out landfill-gas purchases are two things Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska will have to approve for Aspen to meet 2023 projections, but Aspen’s Renewable Energy Manager Will Dolan is confident he can reach agreement on both.

    “I think there’s a way to do it,” Dolan said Monday. “I think they’ve voiced an interest in additional Ridgway energy, and they’ve also voiced a willingness to taper off the landfill-gas energy if we needed to.”[…]

    Dolan said the city will look to phase out landfill gas in 2023, when Aspen has the option to double its output at Ridgway, boosting supply from 9,800 megawatt hours to about 19,000 megawatt hours. As negotiations proceed, Dolan said it will be key to find some flexibility.

    “We don’t want to hem any future councils in,” he said. “As highly desirable resources like Ridgway become available, we want to be able to take advantage of those.”[…]

    According to Dolan, Aspen’s energy portfolio is currently made up of 49 percent hydro, 28 percent wind, 20 percent coal/gas and 2 percent nuclear. Dolan’s 2015 projections show 47 percent hydro, 41 percent wind, 11 percent coal/gas and 1 percent nuclear. The 8,500 megawatt hours of coal/gas would be offset in 2015 by the purchase of about 9,300 megawatt hours of landfill gas in the Midwest.

    City projections for 2023 show 58 percent hydro and 42 percent wind.

    Dolan said that if the Aspen City Council elects to revisit the controversial Castle Creek Energy Center, the city could explore the possibility of tapering back its wind supply. To date, the city has invested about $7 million in the estimated $10.5 million project, which was halted in 2012 when 51 percent of Aspen voters shot it down during an advisory election.

    More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.