“We are in trouble”: Global carbon emissions reached record high in 2018

Global emissions of carbon dioxide have reached the highest levels on record, scientists projected Wednesday, in the latest evidence of the chasm between international goals for combating climate change and what countries are actually doing.

Between 2014 and 2016, emissions remained largely flat, leading to hopes that the world was beginning to turn a corner. Those hopes have been dashed. In 2017, global emissions grew 1.6 percent. The rise in 2018 is projected to be 2.7 percent.

The expected increase, which would bring fossil fuel and industrial emissions to a record high of 37.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, is being driven by nearly 5 percent emissions growth in China and more than 6 percent in India, researchers estimated, along with growth in many other nations throughout the world. Emissions by the United States grew 2.5 percent, while emissions by the European Union declined by just under 1 percent.

As nations are gathered for climate talks in Poland, the message of Wednesday’s report was unambiguous: When it comes to promises to begin cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change, the world remains well off target.

“We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said this week at the opening of the 24th annual U.N. climate conference, where countries will wrestle with the ambitious goals they need to meet to sharply reduce carbon emissions in coming years.

“It is hard to overstate the urgency of our situation,” he added. “Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption.”

Guterres was not commenting specifically on Wednesday’s findings, which were released in a trio of scientific papers by researchers with the Global Carbon Project. But his words came amid a litany of grim news in the fall in which scientists have warned that the effects of climate change are no longer distant and hypothetical, and that the impacts of global warming will only intensify in the absence of aggressive international action.

In October, a top U.N.-backed scientific panel found that nations have barely a decade to take “unprecedented” actions and cut their emissions in half by 2030 to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. The panel’s report found “no documented historic precedent” for the rapid changes to the infrastructure of society that would be needed to hold warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

The day after Thanksgiving, the Trump administration released a nearly 1,700-page report co-written by hundreds of scientists finding that climate change is already causing increasing damage to the United States. That was soon followed by another report detailing the growing gap between the commitments made at earlier U.N. conferences and what is needed to steer the planet off its calamitous path.

Coupled with Wednesday’s findings, that drumbeat of daunting news has cast a considerable pall over the international climate talks in Poland, which began this week and are scheduled to run through Dec. 14.

Negotiators there face the difficult task of coming to terms with the gap between the promises they made in Paris in 2015 and what’s needed to control dangerous levels of warming – a first step, it is hoped, toward more aggressive climate action beginning in 2020. Leaders at the conference also are trying to put in place a process for how countries measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions to the rest of the world in the years ahead.

But while most of the world remains firmly committed to the notion of tackling climate change, many countries are not on pace to meet their relatively modest Paris pledges. The Trump administration has continued to roll back environmental regulations and insist that it will exit the Paris agreement in 2020. Brazil, which has struggled to rein in deforestation, in the fall elected a leader in Jair Bolsonaro who has pledged to roll back protections for the Amazon.

The biggest emissions story in 2018, though, appears to be China, the world’s single largest emitting country, which grew its output of planet-warming gases by nearly half a billion tons, researchers estimate. (The United States is the globe’s second-largest emitter).

The country’s sudden, significant increase in carbon emissions could be linked to a wider slowdown in the economy, environmental analysts said.

“Under pressure of the current economic downturn, some local governments might have loosened supervision on air pollution and carbon emissions,” said Yang Fuqiang, an energy adviser to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental organization.

China’s top planning agency said Wednesday that three areas – Liaoning in the northeast Rust Belt and the big coal-producing regions of Ningxia and Xinjiang in the northwest – had failed to meet their targets to curb energy consumption growth and improve efficiency last year.

But Yang said that these areas were not representative of the whole country, and that China was generally on the right track. “There is still a long way ahead in terms of pollution control and emissions reduction, but we expect to see more ambitions in central government’s plans and actions,” he said.

Such changes – in all large-emitting nations – have to happen fast.

Scientists have said that annual carbon dioxide emissions need to plunge almost by half by the year 2030 if the world wants to hit the most stringent – and safest – climate change target. That would be either keeping the Earth’s warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius – when it is already at 1 degrees – or only briefly “overshooting” that temperature.

But emissions are far too high to limit warming to such an extent. And instead of falling dramatically, they’re still rising.

Wednesday’s research makes clear the intimidating math behind the fundamental shift that scientists say is required. While some nations continue to grow their emissions and some are shrinking them, overall there are still more additions than subtractions.

“We’re not seeing declines in wealthy countries that outpace the increases in other parts of the world,” said Rob Jackson, a researcher at Stanford University who contributed to the research as part of the Global Carbon Project.

The problem of cutting emissions is that it leads to difficult choices in the real world. A growing global economy inevitably stokes more energy demand. And different countries are growing their emissions – or failing to shrink them – for different reasons.

“India is providing electricity and energy to hundreds of millions of people who don’t have it yet,” said Jackson. “That’s very different than in China, where they are ramping up coal use again in part because their economic growth has been slowing. They’re greenlighting coal based projects that have been on hold.”

The continuing growth in global emissions is happening, researchers noted, even though renewable energy sources are growing. It’s just that they’re still far too small as energy sources.

“Solar and wind are doing great, they’re going quite well,” said Glen Peters, director of the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo and another of the Global Carbon Project authors. “But in China and India, the solar and wind are just filling new demand. You could say if you didn’t have solar or wind, emissions could be higher. But solar and wind are nowhere near big enough yet to replace fossil fuels.”

The figures the researchers provided are an estimate based on available energy and cement industry data through the first nine months of the year, and projections based on economic trends and the amount of carbon different countries are believed to be emitting to use energy. The estimated growth could change a bit, Jackson said — it’s possible the final number could be between an increase of 1.8 percent and 3.7 percent. But either way, there’s little doubt that 2018 hit a new record high for global emissions.

In the United States, emissions in 2018 are projected to have risen 2.5 percent, driven in part by a very warm summer that led to high air conditioning use and a very cold winter in the Northeast, but also by a continued use of oil driven by low gas prices and bigger cars. U.S. emissions had been on a downturn, as coal plants are replaced by natural gas plants and renewable energy, but that momentum ground to a halt this year, at least temporarily. In Europe, cars also have been a major driver of slower-than-expected emissions reductions.

As for China, coal accounts for about 60 percent of China’s total energy consumption, but the government hopes to bring it down to 10 percent by 2050.

Thanks to increased investment in green energy, China’s carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP, declined by 46 percent by 2017 from 2005 levels, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment reported earlier this week. It had expected it would take until 2020 to reach the targeted 40-45 percent reduction.

“With these goals met, a very solid foundation has been laid for meeting the target of halting the increase of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and even accomplishing that sooner than planned,” Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative for climate change affairs, told the state-owned news agency Xinhua ahead of the meeting in Poland.

China will remain steadfast and active in addressing climate change and implementing the Paris agreement, Xie said.

But officials and analysts alike point out that the United States is not doing its part to combat global warming. “We would also love to see the United States embrace its responsibilities by returning to the Paris climate deal,” said Yang of the NRDC.

Despite the overwhelming challenges, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, still holds high hopes for the talks in Poland.

“I’m an optimist because of human nature,” Espinosa said in an interview. She suspects the spate of ominous climate news might have spurred a sort of tipping point, where societies begin demanding aggressive actions from their leaders to stave off the most disastrous effects of climate change.

“I think we have kind of reached the limit,” she said. “When we are facing the limit, I think we need to come up with something more creative, more ambitious, stronger and bolder.”

– – –

The Washington Post’s Lyric Li contributed to this story from Beijing.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission faces loss of member over rates, renewables

The move by a Montrose-based electric cooperative to buy out its contract with wholesale energy provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is the latest effort by Colorado utilities to cut reliance on fossil fuels and boost the use of renewable energy.

The Delta-Montrose Electric Association said it intends to end its contract with wholesale power provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission to take better advantage of the falling costs of renewable sources. Delta-Montrose filed a complaint with state regulators that the fee Tri-State wants for letting the cooperative out of its contract is unreasonable and discriminatory.

Brighton-based United Power, the largest member cooperative in Tri-States’ four-state service territory, is taking a different route to resolve its issues with rates and the demand for more renewable energy. United Power, whose service area includes southern Weld County and Denver’s northeast suburbs, has proposed a change in the bylaws that would allow the cooperatives to buy an undetermined percentage of their power from other sources.

“Many of our members are asking for more of a mix of renewables,” United Power spokesman Troy Whitmore said Friday. “The purpose is to get a more active conversation going with Tri-State.”

The hope is to discuss a possible change in the bylaws during Tri-State’s annual meeting in April, Whitmore added.

Tri-State, based in Westminster, generates and transmits power to 43 member cooperatives in four states: Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Nebraska. The cooperatives, which include United Power and Delta Montrose Electric Association, in turn provide electricity to their members, including businesses and households.

Tri-State has been criticized by some cooperatives it serves and renewable-energy advocates for relying too heavily on coal at a time when the costs of wind and solar energy are falling and concerns about climate-changing emissions from fossil fuels are increasing.

“We believe this is in the best interest of our membership. That’s our bottom line,”  Virginia Harman, ( the Delta-Montrose cooperative’s chief operating officer said of the complaint filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Delta-Montrose has been talking to Tri-State for more than a decade about ways to stabilize its rates, which have jumped 56 percent since 2005, Harman said.

The cooperative’s complaint says Delta-Montrose wants to develop more local, cost-effective renewable energy resources but Tri-State hasn’t been receptive. It has objected to a 5-percent limit on the amount of energy that Tri-State members can generate on their own.

Tri-State will have 20 days to respond to the formal complaint by Delta-Montrose, and the Public Utilities Commission will decide how to proceed, spokesman Terry Bote ( said.

“We are disappointed that (Delta-Montrose) has decided to attempt to litigate this matter rather than negotiate their withdrawal. Tri-State continues to believe that negotiations on withdrawal are far preferable to litigating this matter,” Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey said in a statement.

Regarding the proposal by United Power, Boughey said in an email that engagement between Tri-State’s members on their contract is not surprising and the board of directors “regularly considers the contract to ensure the association meets the needs of its members. These discussions continue.”

Tri-State’s wholesale rates have remained stable four of the last five years, won’t increase next year and are forecast to remain stable in the years to come, Boughey added. In addition, 30 percent of Tri-State’s comes from renewable energy sources and the association is currently negotiating to add more renewable sources.

“We acknowledge that Tri-State has added renewables,” Whitmore said.

The problem, added Whitmore, is that United Power pays roughly 28.5 percent more than adjacent customers of Xcel Energy-Colorado and the fear is the gap will continue to grow. That’s a big disadvantage when communities served by United Power are trying to attract businesses to the area, he said.

United Power members also want to increase the amount of renewable energy sources used and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Whitmore added.

Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electric utility, Tuesday unveiled a new goal of eliminating all carbon emissions across its eight-state territory by 2050. Its energy plan approved by regulators in August includes boosting its use of renewable energy to 55 percent of its mix by 2026 and the early retirement of two coal plants.

Harman with Delta-Montrose also expressed concerns about the cooperative’s electric rates being a drag on economic development.

“If we have rate stabilization we can really encourage businesses to relocate to our area,” Harman said. “We have had organizations reach out to us looking at building in the area and  they do ask us about electric rates. Our rates have not been competitive.”

The cooperative is working with Guzman Energy, the same energy wholesaler and energy-trading company that financed the $37 million buyout of New Mexico-based Kit Carson Electric Cooperative’s contract with Tr-State in 2016. Chris Riley, Guzman’s president, said plummeting costs of wind and solar have drastically changed the energy landscape and created opportunities for utilities that want to decrease rates while switching to cleaner energy sources.

The cost of coal-powered electricity can vary depending on a plant’s efficiency, Riley said, but generally wind power is in the range of 2 cents per kilowatt hour and large-scale solar power is in the range of 2.5 cents to 3 cents. In contrast, coal can range from 3 cents to 4 cents per kilowatt hour, he said.

When Xcel Energy sought bids from energy companies in 2016 as it was developing its electric resource plan. it received more than 400 bids, many of those at historically low prices for wind and solar energy. Colorado regulators called the number of bids and prices unprecedented.

The Kit Carson cooperative based in Taos, N.M., is scheduled to pay off the $37 million contract buyout fee in the sixth year of the 10-year agreement it signed with Guzman Energy, said Luis Reyes, the cooperative’s CEO. Until then, the rates might be about the same or slightly higher than under Tri-State, but will drop 40 percent, as stipulated in the contract, once the loan is repaid.

Kit Carson expects to save $50 million to $70 million altogether under the contract with Guzman, Reyes added. Rising rates and members’ desire to expand the use of renewable energy contributed to leaving Tri-State, he said.

“We joined Tri-State in 2000 and between then and 2014, our rates had doubled,” Reyes said.

Now, the cooperative has certainty and expects to get 100 percent of its daytime power from solar energy by 2022, he said.

A Western Slope electric co-op’s demands for renewable energy is barreling toward a legal showdown

The battle between a West Slope rural electric cooperative and one of the largest power wholesales in the West has tumbled into the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

The Delta-Montrose Electric Association, stymied in its efforts to quit its contract with power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, has filed a complaint with the PUC asking it to “adjudicate” an exit fee.

DMEA and Tri-State have been in negotiations over an exit fee for about two years but have been far apart as Tri-State has set a very high figure, DMEA CEO Jason Bronec said. “Their practices and posture have been discriminatory and unfair.”

DMEA has sparred with Tri-State for nearly a decade as the co-op saw rates rise 56 percent since 2005 and the wholesaler tried to block local renewable energy projects because its contract requires members to get 95 percent of their electricity from the association.

Local control of generation is an economic development issue, an environmental issue and a way to blunt the impact of high rates, Bronec said.

Westminster-based Tri-State is the wholesale power supplier for electric cooperatives in four western states, including 18 co-ops in Colorado.

Tri-State representatives have said that the association has made investments in plants and lines in anticipation of servicing its long-term contracts and in fairness to the remaining members, a departing co-op needs to cover some of those costs.

A wind turbine with the sun shining in the sky. (John Leyba, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“We are disappointed that DMEA has decided to attempt to litigate this matter rather than negotiate their withdrawal,” Lee Boughey, a spokesman for Westminster-based Tri-State, wrote in an email. “Tri-State continues to believe that negotiations on withdrawal are far preferable to litigating this matter. Tri-State has not seen a copy of the DMEA complaint and cannot comment further at this time.”

In 2016, the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, in Taos, N.M., became the first co-op to buy its way out of Tri-State as it sought to add more renewable energy. Its exit fee was $37 million.

“Our overall sales are one-and-a-half times Kit Carson’s, but our buy-out number was magnitudes higher than Kit Carson’s,” Bronec said. The exact number is cloaked in a non-disclosure agreement.

MORE: Fight over prices, renewable energy spurs second rural cooperative to leave Tri-State Generation

DMEA asked Tri-State for the details on how it arrived at the Kit Carson exit fee, Bronec said. When Tri-State refused, DMEA filed a complaint with the Tri-State board seeking the information. The board backed management.

DMEA turned to the PUC arguing that this is a rate issue, since any exit fee would be paid through rates.

“Under Colorado public utilities law, the PUC has legal responsibility to ensure that public utility rates and charges are just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory,” the cooperative said in a statement.

The co-op wants the PUC to set-up a hearing to set an exit fee. “We need some regulatory intervention on behalf of our ratepayers,”Bronec said.

Bronec said there is some precedent as three rural cooperatives — La Plata Electric Association, White River Electric Association and Empire Electric Association — in 2013 filed with the PUC for rate relief from Tri-State. That complaint was settled without PUC action.

When Kit Carson left Tri-State, Miami-based Guzman Energy, who became the city’s power supplier, provided the $37 million exit fee, which it is recouping in rates for the first five years of a 10-year contract. The co-op estimates it will save $70 million over the life of that contract compared to Tri-State rates.

DMEA said it too will partner with Guzman Energy if it is successful in leaving Tri-State.

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Colorado regulators mull new rules increasing buffer zones for oil, gas drilling near schools

By Dan Elliot, The Associated Press

Colorado oil and gas regulators are considering enlarging the mandatory buffer zone between new wells and school property.

A proposal released by the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission late Wednesday afternoon would require new wells to be at least 1,000 feet (305 meters) from buildings as well as outdoor areas that schools use, such as playgrounds and athletic fields.

Current rules require the same size buffer zone but measure it from school buildings, not outdoor areas. That allows wells to be closer to playgrounds and similar facilities.

Regulators could still allow wells closer if areas outside the buffer zone are deemed to be technically infeasible or economically impractical. School officials could also agree to allow wells within the buffer zone.

The rule would apply to future facilities as well as existing ones if schools plan to have them in place within three years.

Read more energy stories from The Colorado Sun.

In written comments, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, said it supported the new rules but asked for changes.

The association said the rules should make it clear that the expanded buffer zone does not apply to non-school facilities that are sometimes used for school activities, such as municipal tennis courts, golf courses and baseball fields.

The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will consider the rule at a hearing Dec. 17 and 18.

The hearing will be held just six weeks after Colorado voters defeated a measure that would have required a buffer zone of 2,500 feet (750 meters) from occupied buildings and what the measure called vulnerable areas such as parks, creeks and irrigation canals.

MORE: Proposition 112 fails, but big vote total signals oil and gas setbacks will be headed to the Colorado capitol

The measure also would have allowed local governments to require even bigger buffer zones. The industry advertised heavily against it.

The proposed rule expanding the school buffer zone was separate from the ballot measure. The school rule has been in the works since August.

The latest draft of the proposed rule had not been posted on the commission’s website Wednesday.

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Colorado weighs new rules for oil and gas drilling near schools

DENVER — Colorado oil and gas regulators are considering enlarging the mandatory buffer zone between new wells and school property.

A proposal released by the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission late Wednesday afternoon would require new wells to be at least 1,000 feet (305 meters) from buildings as well as outdoor areas that schools use, such as playgrounds and athletic fields.

Current rules require the same size buffer zone but measure it from school buildings, not outdoor areas. That allows wells to be closer to playgrounds and similar facilities.

Regulators could still allow wells closer if areas outside the buffer zone are deemed to be technically infeasible or economically impractical. School officials could also agree to allow wells within the buffer zone.

The rule would apply to future facilities as well as existing ones if schools plan to have them in place within three years.

In written comments, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, said it supported the new rules but asked for changes.

The association said the rules should make it clear that the expanded buffer zone does not apply to non-school facilities that are sometimes used for school activities, such as municipal tennis courts, golf courses and baseball fields.

The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will consider the rule at a hearing Dec. 17 and 18.

The hearing will be held just six weeks after Colorado voters defeated a measure that would have required a buffer zone of 2,500 feet (750 meters) from occupied buildings and what the measure called vulnerable areas such as parks, creeks and irrigation canals.

The measure also would have allowed local governments to require even bigger buffer zones. The industry advertised heavily against it.

The proposed rule expanding the school buffer zone was separate from the ballot measure. The school rule has been in the works since August.

The latest draft of the proposed rule had not been posted on the commission’s website Wednesday.


Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP.

Arapahoe County building evacuated due to Littleton gas leak; court services canceled

A gas leak in Littleton caused officials to evacuate an Arapahoe County court building Wednesday afternoon and cancel the remaining hearings.

Xcel Energy crews worked to fix the broken natural gas line underneath Windermere Street near Littleton Boulevard, said Eric Hurst, South Metro Fire Rescue spokesman. Authorities closed Windermere Street in both directions and all eastbound lanes on Littleton Boulevard, he said.

The energy company dug a hole in the street and clamped the broken line about 4:23 p.m. Wednesday.

The leak was reported about 2:17 p.m. after crews who were digging horizontally down the street struck a gas line, Hurst said.

Workers evacuated the nearby Arapahoe County Plaza buildings, including the county court, human services, veteran services and senior services, according to a news release from the county. Services and hearings at the buildings have been canceled for the rest of the day.

The people in the buildings were not forced to evacuate but decided to do so on their own, Hurst said.

“They didn’t feel comfortable and that’s totally fine,” he said.

Larimer County approves oil lease on open space farm near Berthoud

Larimer County has approved a lease allowing Extraction Oil and Gas to horizontally drill beneath the Little Thompson Farm, a preserved property south of Berthoud that is currently and will remain a working farm.

This site, if drilled, will constitute the first oil production on any preserved open space owned by Larimer County — acres that have seen many firsts, from pioneers traversing and settling the land to a water-sharing agreement in 2017.

The county will receive $594,243 for the right to drill on the property for the next three years, then 20 percent of any profits from that production. All of that money will go toward paying off a loan for a portion of the $8.4 million purchase price of the land, formerly known as the Malchow farm.

But the agreement is about much more than money, noted officials with the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources, which owns the property.

Charlie Johnson, the senior land agent who negotiated the deal, said the biggest priority was to negotiate a lease that will prevent any wells or drilling infrastructure on the farm.

Read more at reporterherald.com.

Xcel Energy wants carbon-free electricity by 2050

Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electric utility, is upping its renewables game with the announcement Tuesday that it has a goal of being 100-percent carbon free by 2050.

The Minneapolis-based company that serves eight states has been a leader in the quest to increase the use of renewable energy sources, said Ben Fowke, the utility’s chairman, president and CEO.

“This isn’t new to us. We’ve been leading the clean-energy transition at Xcel for quite a while now. Investing in renewables has really been part of our DNA for over 20 years now,” Fowke said at a news conference for the announcement Tuesday at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

The move to more wind, solar and other renewable energy sources is not only good for the environment but also good for the bottom line of both the company and its customers, Fowke added.

“That has allowed us to reduce our carbon footprint by 35 percent across all our eight states since 2005,” Fowke said.

Xcel Energy already had a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 60 percent and increasing its use of renewable energy sources to 55 percent of its mix by 2026 as part of its Colorado Energy Plan, which was approved by state regulators in August. The new plan includes a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2030 across eight states and getting to zero emissions of the greenhouse gas by 2050.

Fowke and Alice Jackson, president of Xcel’s Colorado operation, said they don’t know of any other utility in the country that has set a goal and timeline for producing no carbon emissions.

Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis, who has a goal of getting 100 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2040, said he is excited about “Xcel having the most aggressive goal of any utility in the country.”

Polis, speaking at the Xcel Energy news conference, said he would like to see Colorado achieve the zero-carbon goal even earlier and wants to work with municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives to achieve the goal.

“Colorado has always been a very innovative state and I think it’s great that we’re showing the country the way to keep rates low, have cleaner air and to do our part for our climate and embrace the future of clean energy and make it work for Colorado businesses and individuals,” he said.

Fowke and Jackson conceded in a media briefing before the news conference that some of the technology required to meet the new goal might not currently exist.

“I’m betting on the technology,” said Fowke, referring to the many advances that have made wind and solar energy comparable to or less expensive than fossil fuels.

Jackson said state policies, including laws and regulations, might have to be changed to make it easier for utilities to invest in the research and development of new technology. She and Fowke also acknowledged that attaining zero emissions of carbon dioxide might involve the use of nuclear power and capture and sequestration of emissions from fossil fuels.

Fowke stressed that providing affordable and reliable power across Xcel’s territory is the priority. Stemming the effects of climate change, fueled by heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, is also of concern he said. The latest National Climate Assessment by the federal government shows that the effects of climate change are getting worse, he noted.

“I think it drives home the sense of urgency,” Fowke said of the report.

Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, aims to have zero carbon emissions by 2050 in industry-first plan

Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, announced an ambitious plan Tuesday to slash carbon emissions from its electrical generation by 80 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, and emit zero carbon emissions across the eight states where it operates by 2050.

The industry-first initiative comes in direct response to climate change, said Ben Fowke, CEO of the Minneapolis-based company. He emphasized that affordability and reliability are key in achieving the goals.

“This risk of climate change isn’t going away and we want to be the company that does something about it and hopefully inspire others to do something about it too,” Fowke told reporters while in Colorado to announce the major initiative.

At the same time, however, Fowke acknowledged that the technologies are not yet available on the commercial scale to actually reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. The plan is based on the hope that new technology will be developed in time to make reaching the aspirational goal possible.

“If we put our minds to it,” Fowke said, “we will find the best solution to get us there.”

That could include everything from carbon capture to nuclear energy and potentially state-level legislation giving Xcel the ability to add “research and design” on top of its work generating power. It’s notable that Xcel is aiming for zero carbon emissions and not 100 percent renewable energy generation, suggesting that carbon capture is expected to play a significant role in the plan.

Xcel’s bold move — the company says it’s the most ambitious announced to date within the electric-power industry — comes after Gov.-elect Jared Polis ran a campaign on a platform that included moving Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. It also comes as Democrats prepare to take control of the state legislature when it reconvenes in January and plan to introduce a slate of measures to reduce carbon emissions in Colorado and boost renewable energy generation.

MORE: Jared Polis wants Colorado 100 percent powered by renewable energy, but talk is easier than the walk

That makes it a politically opportune time for Xcel to announce its new goals, especially as it looks for ways to pay for the transition. Xcel is a regulated utility and any changes to its business model, including the addition of research and development, would require the consent of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

“We’re evaluating what we need in order to move forward and be successful in this environment,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy’s Colorado branch, said of possible legislation. “We don’t absolutely have to have legislation to move forward with the plan.”

But, she said, legislation would allow Xcel to “really dig into those new technologies” and move things along.

Jackson added that Xcel thinks the plan “goes a long way to addressing what Gov.-elect Polis’ administration was running their platform on.” She said that increasing renewable energy is really about reducing carbon emissions.

Jackson also said the goals put the utility in line with communities across Colorado — including Pueblo and Aspen — that are seeking to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

MORE: Boulder, Pueblo could be the next cities to create their own utilities in pursuit of 100 percent renewable energy

“The message that this sends is, ‘You know what, we’re right there with you,’ ” she said.

Xcel has already been moving toward cutting emissions and boosting its renewable energy portfolio in Colorado. In Colorado, 28.5 percent of Xcel’s electricity last year came from renewable sources – 23 percent of that was wind, with the balance from hydro and solar. The company is aiming to have about 55 percent of the electricity on its power grid in Colorado come from renewable sources by 2026.

The utility also says it has since 2005 cut carbon emissions by 35 percent in its eight-state region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota,  Texas. Xcel has two nuclear power plants in Minnesota.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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Colorado awards $10M grant for 33 vehicle charging stations

GRAND JUNCTION — Colorado has awarded a $10.3 million grant for California-based ChargePoint Inc. to install electric vehicle charging stations along several major highways in the state.

The Daily Sentinel reports the grant from the Colorado Energy Office will fund the installation of 33 fast-charging stations across the state.

Stations will be placed along sections of Interstate 70 from Grand Junction to Denver; U.S. Highway 50 to Montrose; U.S. Highway 550 in Silverton and Durango; and along U.S. Highway 160 between Cortez and Pagosa Springs.

Office executive director Kathleen Staks says the stations will be placed in areas that “provide easy access, proximity to amenities and 24/7 charging ability.”

The grant is part of a multi-state project to boost the number of charging stations to encourage the sale of electric vehicles.

With Colorado’s methane pollution rules the gold standard, is federal oversight still needed?

While Colorado’s first-in-the-nation regulations of methane emissions from oil and gas sites are considered a gold standard, a new report by an environmental group says federal regulations are still necessary.

The report released Tuesday by The Wilderness Society and Taxpayers for Common Sense, says Colorado has been a leader in reining in methane pollution, a potent greenhouse gas, while some energy-producing states in the West have done little. That’s why it was a mistake for the Trump administration to repeal a 2016 federal rule that clamped down on methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands, said Jim Ramey, Colorado state director at The Wilderness Society.

“The air doesn’t stop when it gets to the Colorado-Utah state line or the New Mexico-Colorado state line,” Ramey said. “On the Western Slope, people are living with the impacts of poor state regulations in Utah, New Mexico and elsewhere.”

In September, the Trump administration replaced methane regulations approved in 2016 by the Obama administration. The action followed lawsuits by the oil and gas industry, a failed attempt by Congress to abolish the rule and the Trump administration’s attack on the regulations as too burdensome for companies.

The repeal of the Obama-era rule essentially returns the country to federal regulations that are more than 30 years old, leaving it up to individual states whether to adopt tougher standards, Ramey said. The result is a patchwork of rules across the West, with many states failing to address the problems of burning off methane gas at wells and preventing methane leaks from oil and gas equipment, he added.

The 2016 rule was aimed at stemming methane pollution, which dissipates in the atmosphere much faster than carbon dioxide but is at least 25 times more efficient at trapping radiation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Methane and Waste Prevention Rule applied to new and existing oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands and was projected to cut methane emissions by as much as 35 percent.

The rule was also intended to recover millions of dollars being lost when excess methane is flared, or burned off or lost through leaks, rather than captured and sold. A 2010 Government Accountability Office report said states, tribes and taxpayers lose as much as $23 million annually when methane, a primary component of natural gas and byproduct of drilling, is wasted.

The 2016 regulations, which were being phased in, required oil and gas producers to cut flaring in half at wells, periodically inspect for leaks and replace outdated equipment that vents large quantities of gas into the air. Operators also had to limit venting from storage tanks and try to limit gas losses when removing liquids from wells.

The rule applying to lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management was modeled after the 2014 Colorado law that regulates methane emissions from oil and gas sites. Separate methane regulations administered by the EPA on private lands were also modeled after Colorado’s law.

The Trump administration is taking public comments until Dec. 17 on its proposal to scale back the EPA methane regulations.

Colorado’s methane regulations apply to both state and private lands and remain in effect despite changes in the federal laws. Since the state program began, 73,733 methane leaks have been found and repaired. The number of leaks fell by more than half from 36,044 in 2015 to 17,254 in 2017.

“At a time when the nation faces historic deficits, our country needs actions that will reduce methane waste, and ensure state and federal taxpayers are compensated for the resources we own,” Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said in a statement.

The oil and gas industry disputed the figures on loss of royalty revenue and argued the methane rule for public lands were unnecessary duplications of state and federal laws. Companies challenged the legality of the methane rule for public lands and said it would cost far more to comply with the law than the Obama administration said it would.

“This is just another repackaging of the flawed analysis that these groups have been using for years on the supposed value of the gas lost, which we have debunked multiple times,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a trade and advocacy organization, said in a statement.

The replacement for the Obama administration’s rule “will reduce waste, and industry will continue its four-decade-long trend of innovating and further reducing emissions,” Sgamma added.

Trump slams Fed chair, questions climate change and threatens to cancel Putin meeting

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump placed responsibility for recent stock market declines and this week’s announcement of General Motors plant closures and layoffs on the Federal Reserve during an interview Tuesday, shirking any personal blame for cracks in the economy and declaring that he is “not even a little bit happy” with his hand-selected central bank chairman.

In a wide-ranging and sometimes discordant 20-minute interview with The Washington Post, Trump complained at length about Federal Reserve Chair Jerome “Jay” Powell, whom he nominated last year. When asked about declines on Wall Street and GM’s announcement that it was laying off 15 percent of its workforce, Trump responded by criticizing higher interest rates and other Fed policies, though he insisted that he is not worried about a recession.

“I’m doing deals, and I’m not being accommodated by the Fed,” Trump said. “They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”

He added: “So far, I’m not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay. Not even a little bit. And I’m not blaming anybody, but I’m just telling you I think that the Fed is way off-base with what they’re doing.”

Sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, Trump also threatened to cancel his scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a global summit this week in Argentina because of Russia’s maritime clash with Ukraine.

Asked whether he thought Putin was within his rights to capture three Ukrainian ships and their crews Sunday in the Black Sea, Trump said he was awaiting a “full report” from his national security team Tuesday evening about the incident. “That will be very determinative,” Trump said. “Maybe I won’t have the meeting. Maybe I won’t even have the meeting.”

When asked whether Russia’s aggression is a cause for concern for the American people, Trump responded with a more forceful critique of Putin’s actions than those he has delivered in the past.

“I don’t like that aggression,” he said. “I don’t want that aggression at all. Absolutely. And by the way, Europe shouldn’t like that aggression. And Germany shouldn’t like that aggression.”

Trump also dismissed the federal government’s landmark report released last week finding that damages from global warming are intensifying around the country. The president said that “I don’t see” climate change as man-made and that he does not believe the scientific consensus.

“One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers,” Trump said. “You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean.”

The president added of climate change, “As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it.”

The comments were Trump’s most extensive yet on why he disagrees with the dire National Climate Assessment released by his own administration Friday, which found that climate change poses a severe threat to the health and financial security of Americans, as well as to the country’s infrastructure and natural resources.

Trump again questioned the CIA’s assessment that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to The Post, and said he considered Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s repeated denials in his decision to maintain a close alliance with the oil-rich desert kingdom.

“Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” Trump said. “But he denies it. And people around him deny it. And the CIA did not say affirmatively he did it, either, by the way. I’m not saying that they’re saying he didn’t do it, but they didn’t say it affirmatively.”

Trump said he could visit with Mohammed on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit, though no formal meeting has been scheduled.

The CIA has assessed that Mohammed ordered Khashoggi’s killing and has shared its findings with lawmakers and the White House, according to people familiar with the matter. Intelligence assessments are rarely, if ever, ironclad, and Trump has repeatedly stressed that there is no evidence that would irrefutably lay the blame at Mohammed’s feet.

But the CIA based its overall assessment of Mohammed’s role on a number of pieces of compelling evidence, including intercepted communications; surveillance from inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where Khashoggi was killed in October; and the agency’s analysis of Mohammed’s total control of the Saudi government.

Meanwhile, Trump said he had “no intention” of moving to stop special counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“The Mueller investigation is what it is. It just goes on and on and on,” he said. When pressed on whether he would commit to letting the probe continue until its conclusion, Trump stopped short of making an explicit pledge.

“This question has been asked about me now for almost two years,” he said, at which point counselor Kellyanne Conway chimed in, “A thousand times.”

Trump continued: “And, in the meantime, he’s still there. He wouldn’t have to be, but he’s still there, so I have no intention of doing anything.”

The president declined to discuss on the record the Mueller team’s accusation Monday that Paul Manafort had breached his plea agreement by lying repeatedly to investigators, or whether he would use presidential powers to help his former campaign chairman.

“Let me go off the record because I don’t want to get in the middle of the whole thing,” he said. He added later: “At some point, I’ll talk on the record about it. But I’d rather not.”

Trump also floated the idea of removing U.S. troops from the Middle East, citing the lower price of oil as a reason to withdraw.

“Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world? One reason to is Israel,” Trump said. “Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there.”

Trump also called the killing of three U.S. troops in a roadside explosion in Afghanistan this week “very sad.” He said he was continuing the military presence in Afghanistan only because “experts” told him the United States needed to keep fighting there.

The president said he was considering visiting troops in the region soon, perhaps before Christmas. “At the right time, I will,” he said of a war-zone visit, which would be his first as president.

During the interview, Trump’s sharpest criticism was reserved for his Fed chairman. Though Trump said several times in response to a question about emerging cracks in the economy that he wasn’t “blaming anybody,” he clearly assigned blame to Powell for leading the Fed through several interest rate increases this year.

In a series of Twitter posts Tuesday, issued shortly after his interview with The Post, Trump blamed GM chief executive Mary Barra for the company’s plant closures and layoffs and threatened to strip away any government subsidies for the auto giant.

Trump’s fury at GM and the Fed was similar to his outrage at Harley-Davidson this summer, after the Milwaukee-based motorcycle company announced it was moving some jobs overseas in part because it said it was caught in the midst of a trade war between the White House and foreign leaders.

The stock market has tumbled in recent weeks, unnerving Trump, who in turn has blamed Democrats, the Chinese government and the central bank for any perceived economic weakness.

Asked in the interview who should be held responsible — and reminded that one of his predecessors, Harry Truman, famously kept a sign at his desk that read, “The buck stops here” — Trump took no personal responsibility.

The Federal Reserve is the nation’s central bank and sets the direction for interest rates, or the cost of borrowing money. Higher rates make it more expensive for consumers and businesses to obtain credit, which can put downward pressure on the economy.

During the interview, Trump’s description of the economy was at odds with its actual performance. It has grown since he took office and the unemployment rate has fallen, but he suggested that as many jobs were returning to the United States from overseas as were being lost in layoffs.

In addition, Trump said the stock market was up 38 percent since he took office. In fact, the Dow Jones industrial average is up 25 percent since he was sworn in, less than the increase during President Barack Obama’s first two years in office.

The United States has had very low interest rates for more than a decade, and Fed officials are slowly trying to bring them back up. Many economists believe that higher interest rates are a way to combat inflation and prevent the economy from overheating.

Powell took over as chairman earlier this year. Since then, the Fed has raised interest rates three times and is expected to increase them another time next month.

“The Fed is doing exactly what it should be doing, which is to prevent overheating and boom- bust-type conditions in the future,” former Federal Reserve vice chairman Donald Kohn said.

Brad DeLong, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said the Fed was responding in part to economic conditions Trump had helped foster, such as last year’s tax cut, which led to what some had projected would be a short-term economic growth spurt.

“The Federal Reserve cannot be expected to do otherwise than raise interest rates,” DeLong said. “This is what Trump bought when he made his Fed appointments. So why is he surprised?”

Trump’s selection of Powell to lead the central bank was driven largely by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Powell’s appointment was very unusual, as he is not an economist. He had served in a past Republican White House but was first tapped to serve as a Fed governor by Obama. During his initial tenure at the Fed, Powell was seen as largely supportive of the slow-but-steady interest rate increase strategy used by then-Chair Janet Yellen.

Trump considered reappointing Yellen to the post, and she impressed him greatly during an interview, according to people briefed on their encounter. But advisers steered him away from renominating her, telling him that he should have his own person in the job.

The president also appeared hung up on Yellen’s height. He told aides on the National Economic Council on several occasions that the 5-foot, 3-inch economist was not tall enough to lead the central bank, quizzing them on whether they agreed, current and former officials said.

Discussing his decision to tap Powell, Trump said Monday: “Look, I took recommendations. I’m not blaming anybody.”

Drilling on federal lands increasing climate change, Trump administration report says

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration issued a scientific report that found oil drilling and coal mining on federally owned lands has a significant impact on the changing climate globally.

A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey found the extracting and burning of fossil fuels from federal lands made up nearly a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States between 2005 and 2014.

That USGS report was published the day after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping days of the year when Americans typically don’t follow the news.

It was released on the same Friday the administration published an even larger interagency report outlining the severe economic toll climate change is projected to exact on the nation as the threats of coastal flooding and forest fires rise. Trump administration critics accused political appointees of trying to bury that report on Black Friday.

“The Trump Administration would rather not focus on climate change,” said David Hayes, a former deputy interior secretary under President Barack Obama. “The USGS report is particularly unwelcome, because it acknowledges, and quantifies, the direct role that the federal government has in accelerating climate change.”

At the beginning of 2016, Obama Interior Secretary Sally Jewell ordered the USGS, a research agency within the Interior Department, to tabulate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the extraction and use of fossil fuels from public lands.

In a first-of-its-kind report, the agency found that the consumption of coal, oil and gas from federal onshore and offshore holdings represented 23.7 percent of carbon dioxide emissions nationwide on average over the 10-year period studied. Fossil fuels from federally controlled areas account for much smaller portions — 7.3 percent and 1.5 percent — of methane and nitrous oxide emissions, respectively.

Agency researchers looked at fuel sources across the country, from coal extraction in Wyoming and other western states to oil operations off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico.

The USGS also assessed emissions from the beginning to the end of the supply chain, estimating the amount of methane that seeped into the air from natural gas pipelines and from abandoned coal mines in addition to emissions that came directly from burning fossil fuels. The report separately tabulated the amount of carbon released into the air as a result of the loss of trees in federal forests because of wildfires and timber harvests.

The findings suggest the U.S. government has the potential to curb the nation’s contribution to the buildup of atmosphere-warming gases by resetting public-land policy. Some environmental groups renewed calls to stop oil drilling and coal mining on public lands.

“One of the first and best ways to respond is to end new fossil-fuel leasing on public lands,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Trump administration, however, has done just the opposite in an effort to turn the United States into an energy-exporting powerhouse. The president’s team has pursued a policy of leasing out more federal acreage to oil and gas drillers than its predecessor, in addition to rolling back Obama-era rules meant to curb the accidental release of methane during drilling operations.

Despite receiving little fanfare from the Trump administration, the other climate report released Friday, which was the product of 13 federal agencies including USGS, was featured prominently on the popular Sunday morning programs on broadcast news networks and on the front pages of newspapers nationwide.

The USGS report, by contrast, received relatively little coverage over the weekend. Still, some environmentalists are glad that a report order under the Obama administration is seeing the light of day at all.

“It’s great to see the report out, period,” said Chase Huntley, who leads energy and climate programs at the Wilderness Society.

It is unclear whether Trump administration officials are paying attention to it, either.

The report concluded with a sentence saying: “This information may provide context for future energy decisions.”

The Interior Department and USGS did not reply to requests for comment about how they might use the findings.

Access to electric-car chargers expands as LoDo Whole Foods adds stations

More than the produce is green at the Whole Foods store in Lower Downtown Denver.

The upscale grocer is now home to four fast-charging stations for electric vehicles. The four 50-kilowatt chargers were officially switched on Tuesday. EVgo, which has installed more than 1,100 chargers in 34 states, now has a total of 29 in Colorado.

EVgo’s goal is to “integrate the chargers with people’s everyday lives,” said Jonathan Levy, the company’s vice president of strategic initiatives. People can plug in the car, spend about a half hour in the store and drive off with enough power to last for 90 minutes.

Since 2013, EVgo and Whole Foods Market have established 35 fast-charging stations with a total of 96 chargers at stores across the country. That has resulted in more than 190,000 charging sessions and 8 million electric-powered miles, avoiding 330,000 gallons of gas and 1,800 metric tons of carbon emissions, according to the companies.

“Our partnership with EVgo has helped us provide quick and efficient charging options for our customers with electric vehicles,” Ryan Haney, store team leader of Whole Foods Market Union Station, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to offer this service to our customers as they shop at our Union Station location.”

Levy said Colorado is a growing market for electric vehicles and chargers. Most of the stations established by EVgo are along the Interstate 25 corridor.

Drivers can use Google Maps to search for charging stations.

Representatives from the Colorado Energy Office, Denver Public Health and Environment Department and Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a conservation organization, attended the official launch of  the charging stations at the LoDo store

Boulder, Pueblo could be the next cities to create their own utilities in pursuit of 100 percent renewable energy

Municipal utilities could lead the 100-percent renewable charge.

Of the six communities — from Burlington, Vermont, to Kodiak, Alaska — to reach the 100-percent renewable electricity target, five of them, including Aspen, are municipal utilities. The sixth is a rural electric cooperative.

It isn’t surprising that municipal utilities have taken the lead, said Elizabeth Doris, manager of NREL’s state and local policy and technical assistance project. “Municipal utilities own the resources. They are used to making tactical decisions.”

This gives Longmont and Fort Collins, two of the 10 Colorado communities that have taken the 100-percent pledge, the best chances of meeting the goal, Doris said. Boulder and Pueblo, which are considering municipal utilities, also hope to be powered by all renewable energy.

The Platte River Power Authority is owned by the four municipal utilities its serves – Fort Collins, Longmont, Estes Park and Loveland. That helps explain the willingness of the authority’s board to adopt the 2030 goal along with Fort Collins and Longmont.

“We see it as a partnership with them,” said Lindsay Ex, Fort Collins’ climate program manager. “We are setting a goal and working toward it.” Getting to 100 percent, however, is dependent upon the energy mix being affordable and reliable as well as clean, Ex said.

The authority board is tying its goal to a set of criteria including: access to a wholesale market, improved performance and declining costs for batteries, improvements in the transmission system, more advanced grid management systems.

“There are a lot of things that have to happen before we can get there,” Jason Frisbie, the power authority’s CEO, told The Sun.

Attaining 100 percent renewable is also part of the reason the cities of Boulder and Pueblo are also looking to create municipal utilities.

Boulder has been working for eight years on a plan to break from Xcel Energy. The move was initially sparked by an analysis that showed the city could not meet the goals of its Climate Action Plan to reduce Boulder’s carbon emissions as long as it got its electricity from Xcel.

“For us, 100 percent means that 100 percent of the electricity used in the community comes from renewable resources,” said Kendra Tupper, Boulder’s chief sustainability officer. “One of the benefits of municipalization is you gain access to the wholesale market where there are lots of renewable-energy wholesale providers.”

Still, she concedes that it might not be financially viable to go 100 percent renewable now, but looking at the Xcel bids for wind and solar, Tupper said, “if those prices are true and hold steady, we’d in the black sooner than we thought.”

While a climate plan precipitated Boulder’s move to create a municipal utility, it was dollars and cents that sparked Pueblo’s decision to consider the same change. Since 2010, the city’s electricity provider, investor-owned Black Hills Energy, has had four rate hikes, raising bills as much as 50 percent.

Rate relief was the first aim, but last year, the city council also adopted a 100 percent renewable target by 2035, which advocates say will also help cut rates.

“There are several threads to the energy issue in Pueblo that are coming together,” said David Cockrell, a member of the Pueblo’s Energy Future, a group that includes community leaders and local officials advocating lower rates and local control. Cockrell is also the chairman of the Colorado Sierra Club’s conservation committee.

“A lot of us are struggling with question of 100 percent renewable energy and how we do that,” Cockrell said. Like Boulder, Pueblo is considering the option of a wholesale energy provider. “The best prospect for moving to 100 percent by 2035 is municipalization,” he said.

The remaining five communities with 100 percent targets — Breckenridge, Denver, Lafayette, Nederland and Summit County — all are served by Xcel, which under its Colorado Energy Plan will be at 55 percent renewable energy by 2025.

Xcel and Denver have signed a “memorandum of understanding” to work together toward 100-percent renewable energy.

“This is an aspirational goal,” said Elizabeth Babcock, Denver’s manager of air, water and climate. “We are determined to work closely with Xcel Energy to get as much renewable energy on the grid as possible and then figure out how fill the gap.”

Breckenridge’s sustainability coordinator Jessie Burley said Xcel representatives have also said they will work with the town. “With pressures from large cities like Boulder and Denver on Xcel, there is reason to be optimistic that Xcel will respond,” she said. “The big target area moving forward? We were really trying to bring renewable energy online locally.”

Alice Jackson, CEO of Xcel’s Colorado subsidiary, said that the first questions Xcel asks is how a community is defining as 100 percent renewable and what problem it is trying to solve. “If it is trying to get to zero carbon, it isn’t just about energy,” she said.

The transportation sectors have surpassed the power sector as the country’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Long said rather than spending dollars on that last, expensive increment of renewable electricity, perhaps they should go to electric cars and buses. “Where is the biggest bang for your buck?” she said.

Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette all have climate or sustainability programs that encompass elements of energy efficiency, building codes and transportation, but 100-percent renewable energy is part of all the plans.

“Cities are setting the 100 percent goal because that’s where they want to be,” Tupper said.

More from The Colorado Sun

Jared Polis wants Colorado 100 percent powered by renewable energy, but talk is easier than the walk

Denver wants to do it, as do Fort Collins, Pueblo and Breckenridge. Aspen has already done it, and Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis wants the whole state to do it by 2040: run on 100 percent renewable energy.

There is even a push by incoming congressional Democrats, led by U.S. Rep.-elect Alexandria Casio-Cortez, of New York, to set a national 100 percent renewable energy goal as part of a “Green New Deal.” U.S. Rep.-elect Joe Neguse, who will take Polis’ seat in the House, has signed on to the plan.

Polis says it’s not a mandate for Colorado, but an aspiration that would help reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. And that’s a good thing because even towns already on the quest aren’t sure how to meet the goal or what it might cost.

Renewable fever is sweeping Colorado even without a national or statewide target. Summit County and eight municipalities — Aspen, Breckenridge, Pueblo, Longmont, Lafayette, Nederland, Fort Collins and Denver — have adopted the energy standard. And there are moves for Estes Park, Loveland and Frisco to join.

Xcel Energy and Platte River Power Authority, two of the biggest power generators in the state, say they are willing to help the communities they serve. Platte River is set to adopt its own resolution to get to 100 percent noncarbon resources by 2030.

“We are having conversations with communities to define what is important,” said Alice Jackson, CEO of Xcel’s Colorado subsidiary. “What is clear in Colorado is that the sustainability piece has become more and more important.”

The aim is to reach the goal by 2030, or by 2035 in some towns. Of course, no one is sure exactly how to do it.

 “How do we get to 100 percent community wide by 2035? We don’t have an answer,” Breckenridge’s sustainability coordinator Jessie Burley said. “We think we can get to 70 percent.”

Elizabeth Babcock, manager of air, water and climate for Denver, said: “We are less interested in debating what 2030 will look like than doing everything we can to get on that glide path.”

MORE: Read more environmental coverage from The Colorado Sun.

Can the electric grid run only on renewable energy?

The electric grid depends on stable, instantaneous electricity flowing through it, so when you flip the switch at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m., the lights go on.

If the grid were a network of water pipes, generators would be pumps pushing water into the system, water molecules would be electrons and the pressure to move those molecules along the voltage.

It isn’t quite so simple because to move large amounts of electricity over long distances this direct way, through direct current, the pressure, or voltage, would have to increase to dangerous levels, and the pressure losses would be great farther from the pumps.

So, the grid depends upon alternating current, which handles high voltage with greater ease and where the direction of the flow periodically reverses. Before it arrives at your house, the electric current is stepped down to a lower voltage that runs your refrigerator and hair dryer.

If wind farms and photovoltaic solar arrays are the pumps, one problem is they aren’t always pumping since the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Wind tends to be a better nighttime resource, while solar is better in afternoon and early evening.

And even when they are working, they may underperform due to clouds or weak breezes. One solution is to build extra generating capacity, a cushion of reserve generation.

“There are some issues around stability,” said Paul Denholm, a member of the grid analysis group at the federal National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). “Can you balance the system? Can you carry enough reserve?”

The grid still runs on “baseload generation”– coal, natural gas, nuclear and in some cases, hydropower– which can run all the time. Natural gas-fired generation has been growing and works well with renewables since it can easily be turned on and off.

That constant baseload has to be replaced with something if fossil-fuel generation, even natural gas, is abandoned. The most ready answers are extra renewable generation or batteries

 “If you go above about 80 percent you have to overbuild your generation or build massive storage,” said Steven Davis, University of California, Irvine Earth-system sciences professor and a member of a research team that looked at what it would take to get to 100 percent with just solar and wind.

Wind turbines near Matheson, Colorado, are part of Xcel Energy’s new 600 megawatt Rush Creek Wind Project. Power generated by the project is carried along 83 miles of transmission lines to Colorado customers. Xcel says sustainable power generation is increasingly important to the customers it serves. (John Leyba, Special to The Colorado Sun)

They calculated twice the generating capacity actually needed would have to be built and found that at least 12-hours of storage was required on solar-heavy. Long-term storage of 32 days would provide just a 10 percent generating reserve.

But the group only looked at wind and solar. “You could fill in the gaps with hydro, biogas or some other generation and that would change the calculations,” Davis said. Hydropower does not count as renewable generation under Colorado’s renewable-energy standard.

A second issue is assuring inertia in the grid so that if there is a disruption and the alternating current’s back-and-forth cycle begins to degrade, the few moments needed to adjust are there. All those big generators spun by steam or water provide that inertia.

In an all-renewable world, some of that inertia can be provided by geothermal, biofuel or concentrating solar plants, which all still spin, Denholm said. Hardware, such as a synchronous condenser, which is just a spinning motor, or batteries could also do the trick.

Denholm said a more exotic solution could be something like sensors in every refrigerator, they all have motors, which kick down their operation when a degraded cycle is detected.

“Your beer would not get warm,” he said.

“We haven’t completely figured it out how much inertia is needed,” Denholm said. “We don’t know, but we’ll figure it out.”

Batteries are such an attractive complement to renewable generation because they can address both variability and inertia. “With 12-hour batteries, you could get to 98-percent, 100-percent renewable most of the time,” Davis said. Most storage being installed now is four-hour batteries.

“Batteries are the biggest hammer in the toolbox” Denholm said. “Batteries can do a lot, but we have to be careful of just jumping to the assumption that batteries are the only tool in the toolbox. We need to consider a variety of flexibility options for improving grid efficiency and our ability to integrate renewables.”

The shift to a highly computerized grid where energy management can be done in fractions of a second is speeding along the shift to renewables. Xcel Energy, for example, has developed sophisticated modeling and forecasting tools that enable it to forecast wind and solar generation and manage it in 15-minute increments, enhancing grid stability.

Getting to 100 percent? “We see it as more of an economic issue than a technical issue,” Denholm said.

What will it cost to go to 100 percent renewable energy?

The short answer is no one knows right now.

What is known is this — renewable-energygeneration is getting cheaper. The cost of onshore wind generation has fallen23 percent and the cost of photovoltaic solar is down 73 percent since 2010,according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

The cost of lithium-ion storage batteries, still an expensive component, has fallen 80 percent since 2010, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Under its Colorado Energy Plan, Xcel is going to close two coal-fired units at its Comanche Generating Station, near Pueblo, and add about 2,000 megawatts of wind, solar and storage. When the utility sought bids for new renewable generation, it received some of the lowest prices ever quoted.

The median price for the wind projects was $18 a megawatt-hour (MWh) and for the solar projects, $29.50 a MWh. Wind plus storage was $21 a MWh and for storage alone, $11.30. By comparison, Xcel’s estimate for the all-in cost of operating the two Comanche units is $31 a MWh.

Xcel’s experience isn’t unique. The Northern Indiana Public Service Co. recently did an analysis that showed it could save its customers more than $4 billion over 30 years by replacing coal, which provides 65 percent of its generation today, with a combination of wind, solar and some natural gas by 2028.

“Renewable generation is competitive,” said Kenneth Gillingham, an economist at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. “But by far the cheapest dispatchable generation is still natural gas.”

Even without storage, Gillingham said a high level of renewables could be put on the grid.

“The challenge is reducing those last emissions,” he said. “There is a lot of technological innovation that has to take place.”

Read more politics and government coverage from The Colorado Sun. 

The Platte River authority did a study in December (2017) that estimated going to net zero carbon emissions by 2030 could add 10 percent to 20 percent to rates. The authority is already set to have 50 percent renewable generation by 2020.

“If someone asked me are you going to be 100 percent renewable by 2030, I’d say I don’t know,” Jason Frisbie, Platte River CEO, said in a panel discussion at the Colorado Rural Electric Association (CREA) conference Oct. 29. “We will keep working our way there.”

Another element that can boost the level of renewables and reduce costs is large, interstate wholesale electricity markets.

They offer more efficient pricing and lessen the variability because if the wind and sun aren’t blowing and shining in one state, they might be in another. A larger grid can also handle larger amounts of renewables.

Colorado doesn’t have such a market, which, Frisbie said, “is necessary for us to have any chance of getting to 100 percent … It is a more efficient way to run a system.”

Utilities want to move at a measured pace

Utility executives are also wary of moving too fast.

“Jumping in too early can be detrimental,” Xcel’s Jackson said at the same CREA panel. Early commitments to present technology could preclude adopting future technological innovations, adding to cost, she said.

The wind contracts Xcel purchased 10 years ago charged 6.9 cents per kilowatt-hour. The new contracts will be around 1.5 cents. Those more expensive contracts will remain on the system for the next 10 years. Making commitments to technologies too early, Jackson said, “may have some cost impacts that can come back to bite you.”

The key question remains what is the cost of closing the gap. “Right now, we don’t know what it is,” said James Bushnell, an energy economist at the University of California, Davis. “What if going from 90 to 100 percent renewables triples the cost?”

While the wind and solar prices quoted to Xcel look good, as you get closer to 100 percent, there are additional costs, and the value of those wind and solar contracts can diminish, Bushnell said.

The costs of retiring not only old coal plants, but newer natural gas plants can also add to the tab, as would the cost of upgrading the grid and adding technologies, such as Xcel’s wind and solar computer modeling.

A study done for the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute put the price tag for the switch statewide at $45 billion. This rough analysis simply closed all fossil-fuel plants and replaced them with wind, solar and battery storage based on assumed prices.

Power generated by the Rush Creek Wind Project is some of the cheapest wind-generated electricity in Xcel Energy’s Colorado system. Gov.-elect Jared Polis has set a goal to get Colorado powered by 100 percent renewable sources by 2040. But even towns that have set out to hit that mark aren’t sure the goal is attainable, or what it might cost. (John Leyba, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The price really shot up in the final years of the transition as more expensive battery storage was added to get to 100 percent, according to Dustin Meyer, an analyst with Energy Ventures Analysis, the consultant who did the study.

“We can build a lot of renewable capacity at remarkably low prices, but if that 100 percent is enforced rigidly, it could be expensive,” Bushnell said. “Then you have to ask what the cost benefit is.”

David Hornbacher, Aspen’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives, knows all about the difficulty and cost of getting that last bit of renewable energy.

More than 80 municipalities, five counties and two states — Hawaii and California — have a 100 percent renewable goal, according to the Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100 Campaign,” which is promoting the target.

Aspen is one of only six communities that can claim to have reached it. Getting to 80 percent was relatively easy, Hornbacher said. “The last 20 percent was difficult.” Trying to do it locally was too expensive.

Hydropower played a big role as the city already had two hydro facilities. It added additional hydro by purchasing power from a new hydro project 90 miles away in Ridgeway. To get that last increment, it added wind and biogas.

But the wind project is in Nebraska and the biogas plant in Iowa. The electrons from those two facilities never make it to Aspen.

Still Aspen claims to be 100 percent renewable because it matches its electricity demand to renewable generation. “We’ve ensured that what we take out of the grid is what we put into the grid in renewable energy,” Hornbacher said.

Bushnell said, “That is how the stuff will be done with contracts for a whole lot of renewables, but some of the juice will come from a fossil plant.”

Indeed, coal remains very much in Colorado’s future and in the future of three of the biggest electricity generators — Xcel, Platte River and the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which serves 18 rural electric cooperatives in the state.

Tri-State, which has a total of 43 member co-ops in four states, gets about half its electricity from coal-fired generation and about a third from renewables. Tri-State officials say they will add renewable resources where it is economically feasible.

While Xcel is closing two coal units at Comanche, the 750-MW unit 3, which came on line in 2010 at a cost of $1 billion, is slated to operate through 2070. Jackson called it “a wonderful baseload unit” and “cost effective for our customers.”

New technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the smokestack for reuse or storage may be on the horizon and could make Comanche 3 carbon neutral, Jackson said.

Platte River’s Frisbie called the 280-MW Rawhide Energy Station, in Wellington, “our Comanche.” It is the largest generating unit in the system.

“Our view is that it is going to run for a very long time,” Frisbie said. “How that squares with 100 percent, I don’t know.”

Rising Sun

More from The Colorado Sun

Superior looks toward oil and gas regulation in wake of Rocky Flats drilling scare

Superior’s temporary — and ill-fated — brush with oil and gas has made a lasting impression on the town.

Though United Kingdom-based drilling firm Highlands Natural Resources Corp. dropped its plans to drill within the town’s 4-square-mile border last week, the area remains open for future applications, town officials say, and the community is wasting no time shoring up its slim regulations ahead of another drilling proposal.

The first step likely will be to enact a drilling moratorium — a familiar initiative among its fracking-averse east Boulder County neighbors — ahead of plans to work with lawyers to beef up drilling rules, town documents suggest.

The proposed stay is on the books for next week’s Board of Trustees meeting, as well as a vote to hire oil and gas attorney Matt Sura to come on board as special counsel.

“We just felt like the Highlands proposal was a real wake-up call for us and we were fortunate it was withdrawn,” Mayor Clint Folsom said Wednesday. “Now we’re going to take this opportunity to look at our current regulations and see how they can be improved.”

Read more at dailycamera.com.

The newest vehicle in Denver’s bike lanes cost $221,000, and cities nationwide are envious

“It’s the case with all kinds of roads — even highways,” said mobility advocate and architect Jonathan Fertig. “Everybody wants to cut a ribbon on something new, but nobody wants to deal with the logistics of maintaining it.” A daily cyclist, Fertig frequently harangues the city on Twitter for its failure to keep the bike lanes clear of cars, snow and construction equipment. This month, his photo of an icy Cherry Creek Trail prompted a TV news report and a quick plow job. Without good maintenance, he said, the city will never have a year-round commuter network. And with Mayor Michael Hancock’s goal of 125 new miles of various types of bike lanes, the question’s not going away. The new sweeper seems to be making a good impression already. In a test run, cyclists offered plenty of enthusiastic thumbs ups, rather than the vitriol that sweepers sometimes encounter, Tokunaga said. “They were very excited about not having a diesel or gasoline engine going down a bike lane,” he explained. The Dulevo has an Italian lineage. In a promotional video, the stubby truck with enormous windows wends through classical archways and along mountainous shorelines to an electronica soundtrack. Denver’s purchase marks the first time it’ll come stateside, Tokunaga said. A non-electric bike-lane sweeper can be had for $210,000, about 5 percent less than Denver paid for its electric model. Los Angeles also is racing to get one of the new sweepers: “We hope to be either the first or second locality in the US to operate this made-in-Italy electric sweeper,” wrote Greg Spotts, assistant director of the L.A. Bureau of Street Services, on Twitter. Denver’s sweeper will be a tiny companion to a fleet of 21 full-sized machines, also new from Dulevo. It wasn’t an easy choice: The city even hosted a showdown to see how much flour, sand, water and debris the units could handle. “The funny thing about it: They invited all our competition to show up for this comparison,” said Tokunaga, CEO of HardLine Equipment. “We were the only ones to show up.” Meanwhile, he said, the industry already is working on the next big leap: autonomous sweepers.

Extraction Oil and Gas looking to acquire mineral leases in Gunbarrel

Denver-based Extraction Oil and Gas is looking to acquire mineral leases from property owners in Gunbarrel, alerting residents, Boulder County and city officials that more drilling of publicly owned open space might be imminent.

Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera
Heatherwood neighborhood resident Leesah Patt and her 3-year-old son Gavin Jr. on Tuesday sit on the front porch of their home in Gunbarrel. One of several residents of the neighborhood who received letters offering to lease minerals, Patt opposes the possibility of nearby fracking and is working to organize opposition to the plan.

Residents of the Heatherwood neighborhood, east of North 75th Street and just north of Jay Road and Boulder Creek, last week received letters from Denver-based Rocky Mountain Hydrocarbon on behalf of Extraction offering to lease minerals.

Copies of letters shared by residents with the Daily Camera and Times-Call indicate the leases would be for four-year terms, with two-year extension options, and would provide property owners a 15-percent royalty on any minerals developed.

But most residents who have received such offers are uninterested in accepting, opting instead to push back against any efforts to drill near their homes or underneath the city and county open space parcels that surround the neighborhood to the north, south and east, according to resident Leesah Patt.

She has organized an effort to hold neighborhood meetings and to work with Boulder County to find the best route to prevent any drilling below the neighborhood’s homes or on the adjacent open space properties.

Read more at dailycamera.com.

Ask Amy: Person wonders whether to “pay it forward”

Dear Amy: My income is derived entirely from Social Security and a small pension that has not increased one penny in 31 years.

Because I have always managed to avoid getting into debt, my life in retirement is quite rich: A European river cruise and two Caribbean cruises so far this year, and a transatlantic and two more Caribbean cruises are scheduled for next year.

Recently, upon returning to a grocery store to pick up two items that I had forgotten to purchase, a young lady in line behind me wanted to pay my tab to get a “blessing.”

I refused this offer as being unnecessary.

Was it wrong to reject the offer? Should I have tried to pay it forward?

— Wondering Senior

Dear Senior: You seem to feel insulted by this generosity because you don’t actually need the money. But this was not about the money — it was about spreading a small kindness, which, hopefully, would inspire yet more kindness. Oops, you went another way.

The person in back of you in line at the grocery store might have left her house that day, feeling fortunate and wanting to proactively spread her good fortune. Or perhaps she saw an older person in line and spontaneously wanted to honor your seniority, the way she hoped someone else might honor her own parent or grandparent.

Every once in a while, I’ll be in the drive thru line at Dunkin’, and when I get to the window, I’ll learn that the person ahead of me has picked up the tab for my coffee. Even though I can afford to buy my own coffee, I’m always tickled when this happens — and it sets up a little chain of good fortune, because it reminds me that even small kindnesses are powerful. And so yes, I gratefully accept the opportunity to pay the kindness forward for the person in the car behind mine.

You can respond to this “mitzvah” by forgiving yourself for your reaction, and by doing a good deed now for someone else. You’ll feel better when you do.

Dear Amy: To “Sad Mom,” who was overwhelmed with love for her new baby, but not feeling any love for her toddler; more than 50 years ago I gave birth to three little girls within 2-1/2 years. It was tough, even with two sets of loving grandparents nearby. There were days I never took off a flannel nightgown until dinnertime, when I was buried by mountains of diapers and baby clothes, stacks of dishes, a vacuum sitting in a corner and a load to put in the dryer downstairs.

I’ve been there. My advice to Sad Mom is this: if there are any young teenagers (12 or older) in your neighborhood and you can afford to pay them for an hour or two a day two afternoons a week, right after school, hire them immediately to come and play/watch your kids while you go for a walk, take a shower or a bath, get a manicure, go grocery shopping — whatever you need to give yourself a break. It will be the best money you will ever spend. It will save your sanity, even your marriage.

If grandparents are nearby and are willing to help, take them up on their offers or ask for their help.

You do not have to go through this alone. No money? Even if you and a neighbor trade kids for an afternoon, figure out a way to get help.

Your babies will be better off for it, and so will you.

— Been There

Dear Been There: Such sage advice! Many people who responded to this situation noted how expensive child care is, but I completely agree with you that a “mother’s helper” or a neighborly tradeoff will help this overwhelmed mother immensely.

Dear Amy: I just read this line in your column, responding to a person who was judging someone else very harshly:

“You should feel compassion toward someone who doesn’t have your expansive capacity.”

Amy, this brought tears to my eyes. This applies to so many different situations. Thank you. I’m going to remember this.

— A Fan

Dear Fan: Thank you very much.

I want you (and other readers) to know that over the many years of writing this column, my own compassion toward people with problems — large or petty — has expanded to fit the space.

This has been the most surprising impact of being an advice-giver: I may have many of the answers, but I still have problems — and empathy for others who are also struggling.

Attorney general asked to review Gov. Hickenlooper’s alleged trip on Tesla jet prior to seeking new emission rules

Colorado’s attorney general is being asked to look into a trip Gov. John Hickenlooper allegedly took to visit Tesla Automotive’s Nevada facility for making electric cars just before ordering the state to take up low-emission vehicle standards.

The trip was allegedly on a corporate jet owned by Tesla or its co-founder and CEO, Elon Musk, according to a letter Sen. John Cooke sent Thursday to Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Hickenlooper’s office on Thursday said the claims were false.

Cooke, the senate’s majority whip and a Greeley Republican, said the trip has “a terrible appearance of impropriety,” largely because Tesla would stand to benefit from the executive order and because Hickenlooper didn’t report the free travel as required by law, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Denver Post.

“If any government official receives an illegal benefit days before unilaterally changing the law to financially benefit that same corporation, the matter warrants immediate review,” Cooke wrote to Coffman.

Cooke was not specific about when the trip occurred, but wrote that Hickenlooper “communicated to multiple individuals” about traveling on a private jet to Tesla’s facility.

Hickenlooper’s office said the governor has never flown with Elon Musk or to see any facility in Nevada.

“The allegations in Sen. Cooke’s letter to the attorney general are false,” Hickenlooper’s press secretary, Jacque Montgomery, told The Post in an email. “The governor has never flown on a plane owned by Elon Musk or Tesla. The governor also has never visited a facility in Nevada.”

Coffman’s office did not respond to a Denver Post request for comment, though it normally does not confirm the existence of specific complaints or investigations.

“With or without three months left in office, he simply needs to be held accountable,” Cooke told The Post on Thursday. “If it was me, I’d expect the same, and it has nothing to do with how much time you have left in office. It’s about acting appropriately or not.”

Hickenlooper in June ordered the state to take up low-emission vehicle standards by 2025, and Tesla could likely be one of its biggest beneficiaries.

Cooke’s letter comes almost five weeks after a far-reaching ethics complaint was filed against the governor alleging that he made a habit of crisscrossing the globe on private jets owned by wealthy benefactors, accepted luxury hotel stays and all-expense-paid events, and then did not disclose them as the law requires.

Amendment 41, approved by voters in 2006, prohibits any state or local elected official or their employees in the executive or legislative branches from accepting virtually any gift worth more than $59.

Part of the ethics complaint, which the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission said it will investigate, includes allegations that Hickenlooper has close ties to Musk, who owns multiple aircraft. One of those ties is to Musk’s brother, Kimbal Musk, a Boulder resident whose April wedding Hickenlooper officiated at in Dallas, allegedly after flying there on a Tesla-owned plane from Rocky Mountain Regional Airport, according to the complaint.

The 189-page complaint by newly formed Public Trust Institute — a nonprofit run by former House Speaker Frank McNulty, a Republican — lays out nearly 100 questionable flights Hickenlooper has taken since September 2011, when he first took office, primarily focusing on those taken in the last year.

Hickenlooper has dubbed the ethics complaint “frivolous” and a “political stunt” that will come out in his favor. He has until next week to file a response with the IEC, though extensions are often granted.

If Hickenlooper personally paid for the travel and events up front, there’s no need to report them. If he accepted any freebies or even if he reimbursed his hosts after the fact, he must report them, even if they are allowed under Amendment 41 rules. The rules, for example, allow family and close friends to give a public official a gift on special occasions.

Hickenlooper has filed just one gift-disclosure report — in 2017 for a $500 painting given by the first lady of Zambia — since 2013. In that year, he said he had received only T-shirts and hats to the Million Dollar Quartet Musical worth just $90.

Cooke’s letter notes that Executive Order B2018-006 would provide “substantial benefits to Tesla … the only company that initially receives financial benefits from the new program” launched by it.

At the time he announced the order, Hickenlooper said “low-emissions vehicles are increasingly popular with consumers and are better for our air. Every move we make to safeguard our environment is a move in the right direction.”

The order requires the state Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a rule that would establish the LEV program and, in part, incorporate some of the requirements already in place in California. Hickenlooper wants the nine-member Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to take up the proposed rule, which it did Thursday.

The executive order was met with concern from Colorado’s auto dealers, mostly because it leans too much on another state’s programs, where standards and vehicle market share are much different. In particular, nearly 75 percent of Colorado’s registered vehicles are considered trucks, such as pickups and SUVs, whereas California’s figure stands at 53 percent.

Oil and gas company drops all plans to drill beneath Rocky Flats following intense backlash

A company with plans to drill for oil and gas underneath the long-shuttered Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, which prompted a loud outcry from Superior residents worried about the potential disturbance of buried plutonium, said Thursday it will drop all efforts to develop minerals on the edge of the 6,200-acre site northwest of Denver.

Highlands Natural Resources Corp., registered in the United Kingdom, issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying “the best course of action is to withdraw all of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spacing and permit applications” related to Rocky Flats.

“This determination comes after extensive discussions with communities and other stakeholders, including people who live in the project area, mineral owners, county, state and federal representatives, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, COGCC and others,” the company said. “Highlands appreciates the concerns and debate raised by its Jefferson County development plans and is taking the conscious step back from its development plans to affirm its commitment to being a responsible and transparent operator within the state of Colorado.”

Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Southeast ...
Joe Amon, The Denver Post
Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge on May 1, 2018 in Golden.

The company already had announced this week that it would withdraw applications it had submitted to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for 31 wells inside Superior at the corner of Colorado 128 and McCaslin Boulevard, but Highlands hung on to plans for a multi-well pad along Colorado 93 that would rely on horizontal drilling to reach hundreds of feet underground into the refuge.

Plans for that remaining pad were put on ice Thursday.

The company’s Rocky Flats drilling proposal, first revealed in late October, triggered a fierce reaction from nearby Superior residents, who packed town hall on Monday night to condemn the plan and express concern about the proposed wells’ proximity to a town water tank. Superior Mayor Clint Folsom told The Denver Post that he had “never seen a crowd of that size” in town hall before.

“There’s a great amount of concern among our residents about any type of use at Rocky Flats,” the mayor said. “In terms of severity of concern, the prospect of drilling in an area with possible plutonium contamination was unprecedented.”

Highlands’ proposal came to light just days before the Nov. 6 election, in which voters rejected a highly controversial ballot measure that would have dramatically increased the distance new oil and gas wells would have to be situated from homes, schools, lakes and rivers. Monday’s meeting in Superior occurred less than a week after Highlands withdrew applications to drill for oil and gas under Standley Lake and a popular dog park in Westminster.

Superior, with a population of 13,000 on Boulder County’s southern border, long has had concerns about any activity — be it construction of the Jefferson Parkway or the public opening of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge — that might disturb the soil at Rocky Flats, where triggers for nuclear warheads were manufactured for four decades starting in the early 1950s.

The plant, notorious for fires and ground contamination from leaking barrels of plutonium-laced waste stored on site, had to undergo a $7 billion, decade-long cleanup before it could open to the public. A core 1,350-acre area in the middle of the refuge where weapons production occurred is still an active Superfund site that is off-limits to visitors.

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees the core “central operable unit” at Rocky Flats, repeatedly have pointed to testing over the last couple of decades that they say shows that levels of any contaminants at the sprawling site north of Arvada are well within health and safety limits.

Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Southeast ...
Joe Amon, The Denver Post
Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge on May 1, 2018 in Golden.

But allowing drilling and hydraulic fracturing — in which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals are injected under high pressure underground to fracture rock and loosen oil and gas deposits to flow back up to the surface — so close to where plutonium-contaminated sections of buildings remain buried in place was a red flag too far for many.

Even though those building slabs are buried a dozen or so feet deep, and while drilling typically goes down thousands of feet, David Abelson, executive director of the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council, said not enough is known about how intensive industrial activity like drilling might affect the refuge’s wider hydrology and whether it might increase chances for exposure to contaminants.

“Any proposal to conduct oil and gas operations that either are on or under the Rocky Flats refuge merit a discussion of what is legal and what the potential risks are,” Abelson said.

A quick reading of closure documents published after the plant cleanup makes it clear that “excavation, drilling, and other intrusive activities below a depth of three feet are prohibited, without prior regulatory review and approval pursuant to the Soil Disturbance Review Plan.” But Abelson said those regulations were put into place before horizontal drilling — where wells can extend underground laterally for a mile or two from where the well was drilled at the surface — became widespread.

What about a plan, like the one Highlands put forward, where drilling takes place outside refuge boundaries and reaches back into the refuge thousands of feet below the surface?

“There is a clear prohibition on drilling inside the old production area, but the new element of horizontal drilling raises questions about how that prohibition might be interpreted,” Abelson said.

Highlands likely faced rigorous vetting by multiple agencies before it would have been able to proceed with drilling and fracking. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told The Post that the agency’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division would likely have gotten involved with a “regulatory review” of any proposal involving drilling under the central operable unit.

And a spokeswoman with the Denver office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees Superfund sites in the United States, said it was ready to coordinate “closely with CDPHE in reviewing proposed activities, technical information, and potential impacts or concerns” before any oil and gas operations commence.

Jeremy Jackson, a 3-year resident of Superior who helped spearhead citizen opposition to Highlands’ plans, said people were concerned not only about soil disturbance at the surface but also about possible “seismic activity well above the drilling depths.”

He said within days of hearing about the proposal, a group called Safe Superior Citizens Action Group sprung up and quickly gathered more than 500 followers.

“Asking residents to have faith that no accidents can possibly occur when the repercussions of an accident happening on a site like that are life-and-death is a hard pill to swallow,” he said. “Also, it’s not necessary. We’re not experiencing an energy shortage. There are other sites to drill that aren’t through a national Superfund site.”

Denver ground zero for public airing of Trump administration’s proposed rollback of methane rules

The overwhelming majority of speakers at a public hearing Wednesday urged federal officials not to weaken the regulation of methane pollution from oil and gas operations. But a handful of industry representatives said the proposed changes will reduce unnecessary costs for producers.

The hearing at the regional Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters in Denver will be the only public hearing on the proposed rollback of a methane rule approved in 2016. The rule was part of the Obama administration’s efforts to address climate change and is, along with the proposed reversal of stricter vehicle fuel-economy standards, part of the Trump administration’s stated goal of reducing regulations.

Methane, a primary component of natural gas, is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas, more potent than carbon dioxide.

Matthew Todd with the American Petroleum Institute, a national trade association, said the industry has shown leadership and applied technological innovations to reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases even while oil and gas production has surged.

“We’re committed to identifying sound regulatory policies that lead to cost-effective solutions that provide real environmental benefit,” said Todd, adding that API supports the proposed changes to the methane rule.

However, many of the speakers said the EPA should maintain what they called common sense safeguards. Colorado residents, as well as people who traveled from Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, said the EPA has a responsibility to protect the public’s health and the environment.

“We’re quite concerned about the impacts of air pollution on children’s health and also the impact of climate change,” said Christine Berg, the mayor of Lafayette, mother of two daughters and the Colorado field consultant for the environmental group Moms Clean Air Force. “It’s time to protect people over corporate profits and to stop playing politics with our children’s health.”

The rule, open for public comment until Dec. 17, would reduce the frequency of required inspections of oil and gas equipment for methane leaks. Wells would have to be inspected once a year instead of twice a year, as currently required. Low-producing wells would have to be checked every other year instead of once a year under the current rule.

Compressor stations, which compress the gas to keep it moving through the lines, would be inspected one or twice a year instead of four times a year.

Rolling back the current requirements would be a huge blow to efforts to rein in climate change, speakers said. Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide, but it is 25 times more efficient at trapping radiation, according to the EPA. Oil and gas operations are the largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.

Speakers also said preventing methane leaks helps stem the release of other harmful pollution, including benzene, known to cause cancer, and a mix of organic compounds that form ground-level ozone, a component of smog.

The EPA’s own analysis shows that loosening the methane regulations would add hundreds of thousands of tons of more methane in the air. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry would save up to $75 million annually, according to the EPA.

The 2016 methane rule was fashioned after one Colorado approved in 2014 when it became the first state in the nation to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The rules require companies to find and fix methane leaks and install equipment to capture most of the emissions. That has spurred a growth in businesses specializing in capturing and selling the gas.

Only a handful of other states, including California and Pennsylvania, regulate methane emissions.

There are several technical issues with the current federal methane rule, but the bigger problem is that it creates unnecessary red tape, especially in states with their own rules, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a Colorado-based trade organization. The requirements also make it hard for companies to use new and innovative technology to look for and prevent leaks, she added.

“The proposal provides for better flexibility for technology rather than prescribing a certain type of technology,” Sgamma said.

Dan Grossman, the Environmental Defense Fund’s national director of state programs for oil and gas, expressed dismay with oil and gas companies that have seen how stemming methane leaks can be cost-effective and yet fail to speak up for keeping the current rule.

“What is unfortunate is their silence really calls into question the role that natural gas can play in a clean energy future,” Grossman said.

Because it burns more cleanly than coal, producing about half as much carbon dioxide, natural gas has been seen as “bridge fuel” in a transition to the use of mostly renewable energy sources.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who couldn’t attend the hearing but submitted written testimony, said during a call with reporters Tuesday that Colorado’s experience shows that “a well-crafted rule for fugitive methane can improve public health and strengthen the economy without harming oil and gas production.

“With this record, it makes absolutely no sense why the Trump administration would want to repeal the national methane standards,” Bennet added.

Dozens plead with Trump administration to keep methane rules at one-and-done hearing in Denver

By Dan Elliot, The Associated Press

Dozens of people who live near oil and gas wells pleaded with the Trump administration Wednesday not to roll back rules for methane pollution, while industry representatives said the changes should go further.

The Environmental Protection Agency held a hearing in Denver on the administration’s plans to loosen regulations imposed by the Obama administration in 2016. The rules require energy companies to step up the detection and elimination of methane leaks at well sites and other oil and gas facilities.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and also is a greenhouse gas.

Opponents argued Wednesday that changing the rules would threaten people’s health, worsen climate change and squander natural gas by allowing leaks to go undetected. They also argued it would cost taxpayers, investors and mineral owners money from the lost sale of the gas.

Many accused the EPA of abetting polluters, looking out for the wealthy and failing its legal duty to protect public health and the environment.

“Polluters do not need your protection. I do,” said 13-year-old Alexis Elliott, who said emissions from oil and gas wells near her school are causing her nosebleeds, rashes, bruising and other health problems.

Susanne Beug told agency officials, “The EPA is the Environmental Protection Agency, not the Energy Protection Agency.”

Matthew Todd of the American Petroleum Institute said the industry is already reducing methane emissions even while natural gas production is increasing. He said the EPA should do more to allow technological innovation and streamline the rules.

When it unveiled the new, looser rules in September, the EPA said they would save energy companies up to $75 million a year. But the agency conceded that the rules “may also degrade air quality and adversely affect health and welfare.”

It said the new rules would allow an additional 380,000 U.S. tons (350,000 metric tons) of methane and 100,000 U.S. tons (91,000 metric tons of volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere from 2019 to 2025. Volatile organic compounds an ingredient of ozone or smog.

The EPA wants to reduce the frequency of inspections for methane leaks and give energy companies more time to repair leaks after they are detected. The changes would also allow an energy company’s in-house engineers to certify some aspects of methane control instead of requiring an outside professional engineer to do so.

The EPA also wants to let energy companies opt to follow state rules instead of the federal rules in California, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah.

The EPA rules apply to oil and gas drilling on private land and some public land.

The administration is also relaxing a separate set of methane rules imposed by the Interior Department on oil and gas drilling on U.S. public lands and tribal lands.

Loosening the methane rules is part of a broad effort by the Trump administration to roll back environmental protections, particularly ones that apply to coal, oil and gas.

The hearing in Denver is the only one the EPA has scheduled. Some people urged the agency to hold more sessions in other cities.

Rising Sun

More from The Colorado Sun

Power restored to most of 10,000 customers affected in Cherry Hills Village area

A cluster of power outages in the Cherry Hills Village area near Denver impacted more than 10,000 customers Wednesday morning, Xcel Energy reported.

Most customers’ power was restored 30 minutes after the outages were reported, said Michelle Aguayo, a spokeswoman for Xcel Energy.

The cause of the outage is still under investigation. The rest of the power outages are expected to be restored around 9:15 a.m., according to Xcel’s outage map.

The Trump administration is holding its only hearing on rollback of methane rules Wednesday in Denver

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is holding its only public hearing on the Trump administration’s plans to roll back Obama-era rules for methane pollution from the oil and gas industry.

Nearly 125 people have asked to speak at the daylong session in Denver on Wednesday.

The EPA wants to replace a 2016 rule by the Obama administration that required energy companies to step up the detection and elimination of methane leaks at well sites and other oil and gas facilities.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas. It is also a greenhouse gas.

The EPA says relaxing the 2016 rules will save $75 million annually in regulatory costs. But the agency concedes it would allow additional methane into the atmosphere, which could degrade air quality and worsen public health.

Environmental groups are fiercely pushing back on the change. On Tuesday evening in downtown Denver, the group Earthworks projected images of methane being emitted from oil and gas sites as part of their protests. 

Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, is one of those speaking out against the rule change. 

“It makes absolutely no sense why the Trump administration would want to repeal the national methane standards,” he said on a conference call Tuesday with reporters. 

Colorado has served as a model for methane emissions rules.

Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report. 

Rising Sun

More from The Colorado Sun

Developer of Aurora project near DIA makes deal with one company on drilling, in talks with another

Aurora Highlands and ConocoPhillips said the terms of their agreement are confidential and declined to say if they include compensation for the energy company, which will have to drill horizontally about three miles to reach the oil and gas. Although drilling that far could stretch the limits of companies’ technical capabilities, Ferreira said the developers assembled a team of oil and gas engineers, geologists and land planners to determine what was feasible. The approach worked when the partners built Shadow Creek Ranch in the Houston area, he said. “Texas is the most mineral-friendly state in the U.S.,” Ferreira said, referring to his mixed-use development in Houston. “Colorado, being more of a purple state, we thought it would be easier here than in Texas. But it wasn’t.” The developers started talking to ConocoPhillips and Extraction about where to locate the wells because they didn’t want to gamble with people’s property and safety, Ferreira said. He referred to a home explosion in Firestone in 2017 that killed two people when a flow line attached to an oil well 170 feet from the house was cut. Investigators say an odorless mix of propane and methane seeped into the house through drains and a sump pump and ignited.

Boulder County promises transition to electric government vehicle fleet

Boulder County commissioners on Tuesday morning pledged to the eventual electrification of county government’s entire fleet of vehicles

A resolution approved by commissioners states that “100 percent of the new light-duty vehicles purchased by the county will be electric vehicles when the technology accommodates the needs of the vehicle use.”

That includes goals that all new sedans the county buys will be electric starting in 2020, all new SUVs will be electric by 2025, and all new pickup trucks will be electric by 2030.

The term “electric vehicles,” as defined in the resolution, can include battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

The resolution approved by Commissioners Elise Jones and Deb Gardner further promises that the county “will transition to medium- and heavy-duty zero-emission vehicles and off-road equipment as these vehicles become available in Colorado.”

Read more at timescall.com.