Working to keep the West special

This is our latest monthly newsletter with information about news and developments on climate disruption and its impacts and on climate action in the West. You can sign up for our newsletter, which is sent out by email, by sending your own email to admin@rockymountainclimate.org. To see more, previous newsletters, continue clicking on "Next" on the bottom right of this and subsequent pages.

 
 

July 2017

Featured Item
RMCO Report on Future Extreme Heat in Denver

Climate change is projected to lead to much more extreme heat in the Denver metropolitan area, according to a report released on June 8, 2017, by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the City and County of Denver's Department of Environmental Health.

With continued high heat-trapping emissions, the Denver metro area is projected to experience an average seven days a year at 100° or hotter in typical years by mid-century (2040-2059), and a full month’s worth—34 days a year—late in this century (2080-2099).

The figure above shows projections from 20 climate models, for four different possible levels of future heat-trapping emissions. The brighter portions of the columns show the range of the middle 80 percent of the projections, and the numerals show the medians. On the left, for context, are actual occurrences of days 100 degrees or hotter.

The above numbers are for typical years. The hottest year in mid-century is projected to have 25 days 100° or hotter, and the hottest year late in the century to have 72 – as many as the hottest year in Tucson’s history.

“This would be fundamentally different from the climate we know here, which only rarely hits 100 degrees,” said Stephen Saunders, the president of RMCO.

The projections make it very clear that the future extent of emissions will largely determine how much more extreme heat there will be in Denver. With very low future emissions, the frequency of 100-degree days would remain about as in recent years.

The RMCO report is based on an analysis of 29 million individual projections of daily temperatures from downscaled climate models, and the analysis apparently is the most detailed study yet done of local extreme conditions with climate change.

News About RMCO and Partners

News About RMCO Partners

City and County of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s annual state of the city speech features a 100 percent renewable energy goal, a $2 billion multi-modal mobility plan, and affordable housing. Housing affordability “cuts me to the core,” Michael Hancock says in laying out plans for fast-growing Denver, Denver Post, July 10,2017.

The City of Aspen’s attainment of 100 percent renewable energy sources for its municipal utility is profiled in an interview with Mayor Steve Skadron. Aspen charts a 100 percent renewable course. Can other cities match that?, Colorado Public Radio, June 28, 2017.

News About Climate Action

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies    

Colorado signs on to U.S. Climate Alliance, joining states committed to exceeding Trump’s rejected Paris climate targets, Denver Post, July 11, 2017. Governor John Hickenlooper announces an executive order establishing state goals to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by more than 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, aligning the state’s goals with the nation’s original commitment under the Paris Agreement. The Governor also agreed to join the U.S. Climate Alliance of now 13 governors committed to pursual of the Paris Agreement goals. The order also sets goals for emissions reductions from the electricity sector (25 percent by 2025 and 35 percent by 2030 from 2012 levels) and achieving electricity savings of two percent of electricity sales by 2020. Additionally, state agencies are directed to work closely with local governments to support local goals and resilience, plan to build out a statewide EV charging network, develop a greenhouse gas emissions reporting rule, and to work with communities affected by the transition away from fossil fuels on economic development strategies and other supportive services.    

Gov. Brown and Democratic leaders offer plan to extend cap and trade, with aim for approval this week, Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2017. Negotiations lead to two bills, one to extend (with modifications) the cap-and-trade system from 2020 to 2030, and another dealing with air pollution. See also California governor named adviser for UN climate conference, KOB4 news, June 13, 2017.

Public Opinion

Climate Change in the American Mind: May 2017, the latest in the series from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, finds that 58 percent of Americans understand that global warming is mostly human caused, the highest level since 2008. But only one in eight understand that nearly all climate scientists agree that it is human caused and only one in three Americans discuss global warming with family and friends “often” or “occasionally.”

Clean Energy

Xcel Energy gets go-ahead to modernize power grid and recoup costs, Denver Post, June 21, 2017. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission approves the utility’s proposal to make a substantial system-wide investment in installation of smart meters, as well as to decouple rates from sales if electricity consumption and sales drop over time due to increased efficiencies.

Reliability a concern if Colorado joins new power network, Denver Post, July 7, 2017. The major electric utilities in Colorado and Wyoming are moving closer to joining the integrated marketplace of the Southwest Power Pool, which serves 14 states from Texas to Montana, but regulators have questions about whether such a move could degrade the reliability of the states’ power supply.

Nevada governor signs law to revive rooftop solar industry, High Country News, June 19, 2017. Governor Sandoval signs a bill that largely reverses drastic cuts to rooftop solar net metering rates imposed by a 2015 law, but declines to sign a bill that would have increased the state’s Renewable Energy Standard from 25 percent by 2025 to 40 percent by 2030.

California invested heavily in solar power. Now there's so much that other states are sometimes paid to take it, Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2017. California produces so much solar power on some days that it pays Arizona to take its excess electricity its residents weren’t using to avoid overloading its own power lines, revealing a disconnect between legislatively mandated renewable energy goals and the propensity for state regulators to routinely greenlight utilities’ proposals to build more natural gas plants.

Effort to fund Colorado Energy Office fails after Republicans raise objections, Colorado Springs Gazette, June 20, 2017. The partisan divide at the Colorado legislature leads to defunding the executive branch office that under Democratic administrations has focused largely on clean and efficient energy.

Fossil Fuels

25 fossil fuel producers responsible for half global emissions in past 3 decades, Inside Climate News, July 9, 2017. A Carbon Majors reportfrom CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) points out that significant global carbon emissions reductions could be achieved by focusing more efforts on the top polluters.

Low gas, renewables prices spur Idaho Power to phase out most coal generation, Utility Dive, July 7, 2017 and Idaho officials approve utility’s plan to close coal plant, Associated Press, June 17, 2017. In its recently filed 2017 Integrated Resource Plan, Idaho Power proposes to phase out two coal units at the Jim Bridger Power Plant, to go along with an earlier settlement with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to close a northern Nevada coal plan ten years early in 2025.

EIA: Gas plant construction costs fell 30% in 2015, Utility Dive, July 6, 2017. According to the Energy Information Administration, among alternatives to coal plants, the cost per kilowatt to construct efficient combined-cycle gas plants was far lower than solar and wind generation, but all have declined significantly in recent years. Not addressed in this particular analysis is the cost to operate the plants once built.

Transportation

Coalition of 13 states challenge Trump on vehicle emission standards, autoblog.com, June 10, 2017. The 13 states who have adopted the California Clean Car Standards put the Environmental Protection Agency on notice they will vigorously defend the 2022-25 vehicle efficiency standards adopted by the Obama Administration, now under review by EPA for possible rollback.

National Climate Policies

An appeals court blocks the EPA's delay on methane regulations, Atlantic, July 4, 2017. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rules that the Environmental Protection Agency did not have the authority to delay an Obama-era rule that placed regulations on methane emissions leaking from new from oil and gas wells. See also Oregon, Washington threaten to sue EPA over methane rules, KUOW.org, June 29, 2017. Attorneys General from 14 states say that when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stopped the agency from developing guidelines for existing oil and gas facilities to go along with the rule on new facilities, he violated the Clean Air Act by failing to give notice and opportunity for public comment.

See also EPA's methane estimates for oil and gas sector under investigation, Inside Climate News, June 22, 2017. The EPA's Office of Inspector General will investigate how the agency estimates methane emissions from the oil and gas sector after an environmental group alleged that its emission estimates and regulations are based, in part, on faulty studies. An Environmental Defense Fund expert places industrywide methane escape rates of about 2 percent of production; the EPA estimate is 1.3 – 1.6 percent.

News About Climate Disruption

Extreme Heat

Sizzling heat wave creates health hazard in southwestern US, phys.org, June 19, 2017; Unprecedented heat in the Southwest shatters energy use records, USA Today, June 30; and It’s so hot in Phoenix that airplanes can’t fly, Washington Post, June 21, 2017. A June heat wave in the Southwest sets or nearly matches previous record highs. Phoenix hit 119°F, fourth highest on record, risking heat-related deaths mostly among poor populations and those without air conditioning. Extreme heat creates changes in the air density that make it harder for airplanes to take off, meaning pilots have to use more thrust and airlines must impose weight restrictions; regional carriers with smaller planes not designed to operate over 118°F had to cancel flights.

See also Rising temperatures could bump you from your flight. Thanks climate change., Washington Post, July 3, 2017 and Climate change and the impact of extreme temperatures on aviation, American Meteorological Society Journal, January 23, 2015, which found that the number of weight-restriction days between May and September will increase by 50%–200% at four major airports (Phoenix, Denver, LaGuardia, and Washington, D.C.) by 2050–70 under the RCP 8.5 high emissions scenario.

Too hot to handle: Study shows Earth’s killer heat worsens, Associated Press, June 19, 2017. A study led by University of Hawaii scientists examines past lethal heat events to identify global thresholds beyond which daily mean surface air temperature and relative humidity become deadly. Around 30% of the world’s population is currently exposed to such deadly thresholds for at least 20 days a year. By 2100, this percentage is projected to increase to about 48% under a very low heat-trapping gases emissions scenario and about 74% under a high emissions scenario.

Water

Latest forecast shifts Lake Mead from big gain to small loss, Las Vegas Review-Journal, June 16, 2017. The Bureau of Reclamation’s forecast of runoff declined from 130 percent of normal in April to 116 percent in June, but Lake Mead’s reservoir level is still expected to be just high enough in January 2019 to avoid triggering the first federal shortage declaration on the Colorado River.

Climate change is shrinking the Colorado River, Indian Country Today, June 17, 2017. Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck write about the results of their Colorado Basin “hot drought” study that attributes about one-third of flow reductions during the 2000-2015 drought years to climate-change-driven higher temperatures and projects as much as 40 percent reductions by century’s end under a high future emissions scenario of heat-trapping pollutants.

Wildfire

What a wet winter means for wildfire season, Water Deeply, June 19, 2017. In California and other locations, it means that in lower elevations grasses thrive until they dry out in June and July, creating what federal officials call a “robust fine-fuel crop.” See Raging wildfires across California force nearly 8,000 to evacuate: 'It was terrifying', Los Angeles Times, July 9, 2017. The National Interagency Fire Center’s nationwide statistics show that 2017 acreage burned exceeds the 2006-16 average by about a third.

Heat

Two new studies undermine climate denial arguments, Inside Climate News, July 5, 2017. The first one from Harvard University researchers brings the historical temperature records into alignment with what models predict by factoring in long term slow modes of temperature rise that take a century or more to play out. In the second one, scientists corrected for the drift of satellite orbits and other factors that had distorted the temperature observations from space, which had differed from those taken at ground level.

Resource of the Month

Solar Plus: A Holistic Approach to Distributed Solar PV 
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

A new National Renewable Energy Laboratory report analyzes “solar plus,” an emerging approach to distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment. Several states and utilities are moving away from net metering and have developed new residential time-of-use rate structures that could make distributed PV adoption less economically attractive to customers. At the same time, increasing PV adoption has raised concerns about the variability of PV generation and its impact on the electricity grid. "Solar plus" optimizes how PV interacts with other electricity loads at the household level and the grid more broadly by combining PV with technologies such as controllable domestic water heaters and air-conditioning units, batteries, and electric vehicles. These types of smart home devices can be programmed to maximize the use of PV electricity rather than grid electricity, allowing customers to shift more of their electricity load to earlier in the day, when their PV systems generate the most electricity.

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Suggestions and comments are welcome!

Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: saunders@rockymountainclimate.org
Tom Easley, RMCO director of programs: easley@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org

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