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.”

@PNS_News: Solar Could Employ Laid Off Coal Workers, Study Finds #keepitintheground #climatechange

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

From Pixabay via The Public News Service:

The growth of solar and wind energy related jobs could easily absorb coal industry layoffs over the next 15 years and provide full-time careers, if investments are made to retrain workers, according to a new study by researchers at the Oregon State University and the Michigan Technological University.

Edward Louie, the report’s co-author, says between solar and wind, Utah is in a good position to become more energy independent and a leading exporter of renewable power.

“To transport the wind blades, to install the wind turbines – and then also all the jobs it would take to upgrade the transmission lines to handle that high percent of renewables – then there’s more than enough positions,” he explains.

Louie notes coal jobs have become increasingly at risk because of falling natural gas prices and new Environmental Protection Agency rules targeting coal-fired power plants to limit climate pollution.

He says if the U.S. goes completely renewable, nearly 1,400 Utah workers – and 75,000 nationally – will need to find new jobs.

The solar industry already employs more than 200,000 people and is creating jobs 12 times faster than the overall economy, according to the study, which also determined closest equivalent solar positions and salaries.

Louie says a coal operations engineer, for example, could retrain to be a manufacturing technician in solar and expect about a 10 percent salary increase.

“Obviously there are some jobs that are very specific to coal mining, and those workers will probably need some retraining to find a job in the renewable energy industry,” he says.

The study also found that a coal CEO’s annual salary would be more than enough to retrain every company employee for a job in renewables.

Louie adds other possible funding sources include federal and state dollars, and he says coal workers also could choose to pay for training themselves.

Scientists Urge Obama to End Federal Coal Leasing — Climate Central #keepitintheground

Coal fired plant
Coal fired plant

From Climate Central (Bobby Magill):

Citing coal’s effect on climate change, a group of more than 65 prominent scientists is urging the Obama administration to end coal leasing on federal public lands by making permanent a moratorium the government placed on leasing in January.

In a letter sent to the administration [Wednesday, July 27, 2016], the scientists said that unless coal mining is stopped permanently, the U.S. cannot meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, and the goal to keep global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F) may be impossible.

Governor Mead Opposes Federal Coal Lease Moratorium #Wyoming #keepitintheground

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

Governor Mead’s formal comments strongly oppose the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) moratorium on new coal leases. The Governor outlined the State’s concerns in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze. The moratorium began January 15, 2016.

“States like Wyoming, where coal is produced and environmental stewardship is a model for the nation, were not consulted and were caught by surprise,” wrote the Governor. “Now, national revenues, energy users across the nation, coal miners and their families are at risk. The justification for this moratorium and the manner it was unveiled are unjustifiable.”

The Governor states this Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) process is an attempt by the DOI to bypass Congress and impose a Carbon Tax. The moratorium will dramatically impact jobs, energy security and energy independence. It targets Wyoming as the nation’s leader in coal production. Wyoming produces roughly 40% of the nation’s coal – 80% of that comes from federal land.

“The BLM needs to stop the PEIS, but at a minimum it needs to commit in writing what it has promised repeatedly, that the PEIS will be completed by January 15, 2019 and, completed or not, that the moratorium will expire on that date,” said Governor Mead. “I will continue to oppose the administration’s unjustified approach to coal.”

The Governor’s letter is over 75 pages long with 4179 pages of attachments. The letter is available on Governor Mead’s website: http://governor.wyo.gov/documents.

Separate utilities board for #Colorado Springs?

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

When you pay that bill to Colorado Springs Utilities each month, you might not realize that Colorado Springs owns the four-utility organization, and it’s run by the City Council, which also functions as the Utilities Board.

Mayor John Suthers, Council President Merv Bennett and Colorado Springs Forward, a powerful nonprofit, want to see an appointed board take over governance of the $1 billion-a-year public entity.

Most City Council members don’t. They want either an elected board or no change at all. So Suthers and Colorado Springs Forward are pushing for a compromise – a hybrid board, with a majority of appointed members plus a few elected ones.

What’s the best model to govern Utilities? Through the City Council, as is done now, a different elected board, an appointed board or a combination of both? And if members will be appointed, who should appoint them?

Current Utilities Board members could recommend a switch to any of those new models, but they don’t decide whether a change actually gets made. That will be up to voters, the ratepayers themselves, who are expected to see a ballot proposal in April.

The hybrid board

This model is widely regarded as dysfunctional, and the Utilities Board voted unanimously May 25 to reject it as an option.

“The hybrid governance model is rare, for good reason,” said Jeff Tarbert, consulting facilitator for the Utilities Board’s governance review. “Any model that has the consequence of creating unintended factions or creates confusion concerning where a board’s ultimate fiduciary duty lies makes effective governance more difficult.”

Bennett said, “All the research we’ve done, in every instance, it (the hybrid model) created dysfunction. I could accept either (appointed or elected); I much prefer an appointed board.”

Board member Keith King said he sat on the Colorado League of Charter Schools’ hybrid board for 14 years and watched as fighting factions formed.

“In the end, it was a non-functioning board. A hybrid does not work well because people who are elected then are appointing people to the board. It makes for conflicts,” King said.

The league structure was changed four years ago. Now all its members are elected, King said.

Colorado Springs Forward leaders said in a statement to The Gazette they prefer the elected model: “While we see many advantages to the all-appointed option . we believe the hybrid of appointed and elected is the better alternative .”

The status quo

Some Utilities Board members believe they’re doing a fine job in that role even while serving on the City Council.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler.

“They say they want people who would focus exclusively on Utilities. Tell me who that is. Give me a name. Those who are qualified are probably CEOs of other companies, and I don’t think they’re going to have any more time than I do.”

That’s a reversal from Gaebler’s position six months ago, when she said serving Utilities and its committees took too much time. “I don’t think it’s fair to ask that much of a council that has a whole other role at $6,250 a year,” she said then.

Gaebler’s previous viewpoint resonates with some of her colleagues. As council members, they have their hands full working on marijuana regulatory reforms, a new strategic plan, a review of the City Code and myriad landslide, land swap, planning, rezoning and other issues.

The time crunch has become intense for a council facing contentious issues in a city of nearly a half million people while also supervising Utilities in the increasingly complex energy and water arena.

But Gaebler and others say they can oversee Utilities if they’re given better resources.

“The longer I look at it, the more I’m inclined to leave it with the City Council,” King said. “I’m not sure we’d be getting higher-qualified people running Utilities than what we’re already doing. If the council could have staff, the ability to do research, the ability to really govern . I think we would be able to govern it well.”

Board member Bill Murray pointed to a J.D. Powers study that ranked Utilities No. 2 in the West among mid-size utilities for customer satisfaction as proof that ratepayers have no issue with Utilities’ governance.

“In this particular case, the name of the game is control of the Utilities,” Murray said. “The mayor needs to control Utilities because he needs the money.”

But while some board members say they provide good accountability for Utilities, critics say City Council members lack scientific knowledge to run the enterprise effectively.

“This board – being elected and being politicians – they’re so easily swayed,” said Jacquie Ostrom, who served on Utilities’ Customer Advisory Group last year to help develop its Electric Integrated Resource Plan. “CSU works so hard to schmooze them and be their friend. We need to gain information and knowledge outside of CSU. . There’s just no way these politicians can bring the kind of expertise we need.”

“In the past,” said board member Don Knight, “we’ve had board members who won’t believe a single word the staff tells them, and we’ve had board members who will never question the board. Whether appointed or elected, we need a board that will know when you have to dig deep and question, when something doesn’t seem right on the surface or is an incomplete solution.”

Environmental activist John Crandall said competency is an issue, citing a previous City Council’s decision in 2011 to sign a $111.8 million contract for unproven coal-plant scrubber technology without putting the project out to bid.

“My emphasis is on competency,” said Crandall. “That’s what I want to see on the board, and we’ve never had that. It’s a hell of a job.”

Monument attorney Leslie Weise, a clean-air advocate, said City Council candidates aren’t asked about their qualifications to serve on the Utilities Board.

“It’s almost an afterthought that you have this extra duty to run a $1 billion business that’s highly technical, regulated and complex,” Weise said. “From what I’ve observed, it’s not functioning.”

Some ratepayers favor a governing board of experts in air quality, water quality, medical effects of air pollution and other specialties. That’s not the plan, though. Current members want a board of management experts, such as CEOs with business backgrounds.

The appointed board

A random check of municipal utilities about the size of the local department shows all have unpaid, appointed boards.

“I come from a nonprofit environment, where all our boards are appointed,” Bennett said. “Personally, I think we can get better talent through an appointed board.”

Said Suthers: “Utilities is getting more and more complex – the role of renewables, when to terminate coal-fired power. I would like to bring more expertise to the table. I would love to feel more comfortable with the Neumann Systems (scrubbers). You don’t get that kind of expertise in an elected board.”

Lincoln Electric System in Nebraska has nine board members representing the utility’s service area. The City Council can recommend nominees, who are chosen by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

The Knoxville (Tenn.) Utilities Board of seven commissioners nominates its own replacements, who then are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. The board also appoints a president and CEO.

The public utility in Tacoma, Wash., has a five-member board appointed by the City Council.

The five-member board for the Orlando, Fla., utility consists of the mayor, three Orlando residents and one from unincorporated Orange County.

Orlando has a nominating board that vets candidates for appointments. When a seat opens, a few nominees are selected, and the sitting utilities board interviews them and chooses one.

And the five-member utility board for Chattanooga, Tenn., is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.

But even if the Colorado Springs City Council appointed the Utilities Board, most current members don’t favor that model.

“I have not seen any appointments, whether by the mayor or fellow council members, that have not been approved for confirmation,” Knight said. “I don’t think we do a really good job of a complete vetting and getting the people’s input on it. The other concern I have, I’ve also seen nobody (appointed) ever get dismissed.

“If I buy stock in any company, and I don’t like what the board of directors is doing, I can sell my stock. I can’t do that as a CSU ratepayer. The ultimate accountability is to the ratepayers, and those are the voters. When you’re appointed, you’re also beholden to the person who appointed you.”

A new elected board

Like Knight, most other current Utilities Board members say if any change is made, it should be to a separate elected board.

Murray said he’d be willing to turn Utilities governance over to an elected board. “But that would be the only way I’d do it. . We’re very concerned about the appointment process because, historically, the mayor appoints, and you’ve never even seen who applied.”

Utilities Board Chairman Andres Pico, who initially balked at the idea of shedding board responsibilities, now says he’s willing to consider that change, but only to an elected board, which ratepayers overwhelmingly preferred in a recent survey by Utilities.

“With a company, the stockholders pick the board the majority of the time, and the board answers to the stockholders,” Pico said. “And that’s the same here: The citizens are the stockholders. I adamantly think an elected board is the way to go.”

Colorado Springs Forward, whose PAC endorses and donates money to candidates, said it can’t support an all-elected board because that would set up “a situation where election politics and special-interest agendas will dominate the election process, creating a highly politicized board.”

The Utilities Board expects to decide in July whether to recommend a change and, if so, what change or changes.

Whether appointed or elected, Bennett said, a change is needed. “We need a City Council who gives 100 percent attention to the city and a Utilities board who gives 100 percent attention to Utilities.”

“We’ve got a lot of capable people here in the city, and I think we can find the folks who can do the job,” said Councilman Larry Bagley, who is leaning in favor of an appointed board. “I don’t have any qualms about it being a separate board or different people doing it. I think it’ll work.”

Business voices come out in support of Clean Power Plan — GreenBiz #keepitintheground

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

From GreenBiz (Barbara Grady):

Tech titans Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon as well as global brand companies Ikea, Mars, Adobe and Blue Shield Blue Cross Massachusetts told a U.S. court Friday that they need the federal Clean Power Plan for economic reasons.

In two separate Amici Curiae briefs filed in U.S. Circuit Court supporting the EPA’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent, the corporate giants said without a “national carbon mitigation plan,” they face “undesirable business risk,” energy price volatility and higher costs.

With these arguments, the businesses seem to have flipped prospects for the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate change policy, which only a month ago looked dim after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to delay its enforcement.

Since the eight companies collectively employ about 1 million people, account for nearly $2 trillion in market capitalization and are major energy consumers — the tech companies alone use 10 million megawatt hours of electricity a year — they have clout.

Their briefs refute some claims made by 27 states that are plaintiffs in the State of West Virginia, et al vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency case challenging the Clean Power Plan as an overreach of federal authority by the EPA in a way that would harm jobs and raise electricity prices.

Among the companies’ most interesting refutations? Their expansion plans depend partly on how they can procure low-carbon electricity.

New Interior rule to protect streams in coal-mining areas draws criticism #keepitintheground

Mountain top removal for coal mining
Mountain top removal for coal mining

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A federal proposal to better protect streams from impacts of coal mining is coming under scrutiny regarding its level of necessity, particularly out West, and what benefits it would provide.

The National Mining Association is criticizing the proposal by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, saying it applies a nationwide approach to dealing with issues arising with so-called mountaintop removal surface mining in Appalachia.

“Obviously we’re very concerned about this (proposal), for the impact it will have on production,” said Luke Popovich, an NMA spokesman.

The Interior Department released the proposal last July, saying it would protect some 6,500 miles of streams over 20 years. It would replace regulations adopted in 1983, incorporating updated science and benefiting surface and groundwater, fish and wildlife, Interior said.

Companies would have to monitor stream conditions before, during and after operations, and the rule also addresses post-mining stream restoration. [ed. emphasis mine]

A rule adopted during the Bush administration in 2008 was challenged by environmental groups, who said it would weaken existing stream protections. That rule was vacated in a court ruling in 2014 and remanded for further action.

Adam Eckman, associate general counsel with the National Mining Association, said the Obama administration instead decided to develop a rule that “bears no resemblance” to the 2008 rule, which was narrowly aimed at a small set of issues in Appalachia.

“It really is confusing why this is being expanded out West to Colorado when Colorado has a nearly perfect reclamation record (by mines) and when no science related to impacts in the West has been cited at all” in support of the proposal, he said.

The NMA sees the rule, and other Obama administration moves including its court-challenged Clean Power Plan and its current moratorium on new federal coal leasing, as being part of an administration effort to eliminate coal-burning altogether.

Jeremy Nichols of the conservation group WildEarth Guardians said the proposal would impact Colorado’s underground mines only to the limited degree they have surface impacts, while having larger implications for surface mines like Colowyo and Trapper in northwest Colorado.

But he said a minimum level of such protections should apply nationally.

“Our clean water is just as deserving of protection as Appalachia’s clean water,” he said.

A study done for NMA estimates the new rule could cost up to 77,520 mining jobs, including potentially more than 10,000 in the West.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement says it could cost an average of 260 jobs related to coal production a year, which would be offset by an average increase of 250 jobs a year related to complying with the rule.

It estimates the compliance cost at $52 million a year, including $2.5 million for Colorado Plateau surface mines and $200,000 for underground mines on the plateau.

The NMA study estimates the rule could result in a 27 to 64 percent decrease in access to recoverable coal reserves, and up to $6.4 billion annually in lost federal and state revenue.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has sent the Reclamation and Enforcement office a letter supporting certain details of the proposal, but listing a number of concerns about it.

It says the rules would require extensive permit coordination between Reclamation and Enforcement, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and states, which could delay permitting.

“The proposed rules do not account for regional differences in hydrology, climate, and mining methods/practices,” the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety added.