Working to keep the West special

This is an older 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 by sending an email to admin@rockymountainclimate.org. For more older newsletters, continue clicking on "next" at the bottom of this page.

 
 

September 2010

Featured Story

Many state and local climate and clean energy plans feature some level of smart meter and smart grid technology as an energy conservation and demand management strategy. Around the nation, electric utilities are investing in varying levels of sophistication of such systems, but some utilities are finding that the transition is not necessarily smooth. In Colorado, costs to install Xcel Energy's technologically ambitious SmartGridCity in the City of Boulder have tripled from original estimates, and Xcel is admitting that if they had it to do over in another location, they would not. Xcel's smart grid a "learning lab" for dos and don'ts and Xcel says costly SmartGridCity pilot project in Boulder won't be repeated or expanded, Denver Post, August 29 and August 24, 2010. Amid some controversy, the Public Utilities Commission agrees to allow Xcel to recover some of the costs through rate charges. Regulators agree to let Xcel bill customers for trial smart-grid project in Boulder, Denver Post, August 31, 2010.

In California, even far less sophisticated systems are confounding customers. PG&E is spending about $2.2 billion to install 10 million gas and electric meters, and nearly 5,000 customers have called to complain about excessive charges or malfunctioning meters. Testing shows nearly all meters to be accurate, but a commissioned study finds that there are serious flaws in PG&E's customer information strategies as it rolls out the program. Do smart meters boots energy bills? Not so, California study concludes, Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2010.

News About RMCO

On September 1, RMCO and Natural Resources Defense Council released a report, Virginia Special Places in Peril: Jamestown, Chincoteague, and Shenandoah Threatened by Climate Disruption. Part of a continuing program using Americans' love of national parks to bring the effects of climate change home, the report documents how Jamestown, the first permanent European settlement in what became the American colonies, could be inundated by higher waters of the tidal James River, pushed up by rising seas. Chincoteague's fragile barrier island faces fragmentation from higher seas and stronger coastal storms. Shenandoah could have less colorful fall foliage, now the park's greastest draw. All this threatens Virginia's economy, as six million visitors to these special places support over 4,000 local jobs. News coverage included: USA Today, Report: Climate change threatens historic Jamestown, Va; AOL News, Report: Historic Jamestown Could Be Wiped Off Map; Newport News Daily Press, Climate change report says rising seas, tropical storms cover Jamestown Island. Previous RMCO-NRDC reports focused on national parks across the country and on Glacier National Park. 

News About RMCO Partners

Denver Water and 24 other major public utilities meet in Denver to discuss concerns about observed changes increasingly affecting their operations, including earlier snowmelt from mountains, increased rain instead of snow, rising sea levels, flooding that leads to overflowing sewers, and drought. Water suppliers brainstorm in Denver about climate change, Denver Post, September 1, 2010.

Denver Water also announces a $33 million cost-share project with the U.S. Forest Service for forest restoration and wildfire protection projects in watersheds, many impacted by mountain pine beetle infestations, critical to water supplies and conveyance infrastructure. Forest to Faucet Partnership, news release, August 28, 2010.

Western Resource Advocates makes the news on several fronts. In September it releases "Fossil Foolishness: Utah's Pursuit of Tar Sands and Oil Shale," which examines what potential commercial development of oil shale and tar sands would mean for Utah: very little gain for the nation's oil supply but critically important impacts on the state's water, air quality, and other resources. WRA also in July releases " Protecting the Lifeline of the West: How Climate and Clean Energy Policies Can Safeguard Water," which compares the water use intensity of conventional fossil fuel power sources, emerging technologies such as combined cycle and carbon sequestration, and renewable sources, and also compares the energy use intensity of existing water supplies compared to that of proposed new projects. Both reports are highly recommended.

Also, WRA's John Michel testifies in support of a petition to the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board to adopt regulations that would require electricity generators and oil and gas operations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels. NM regulators hear greenhouse gas debate, Associated Press, August 16, 2010.  

News About Climate Action

National Policy

Homeowners must pay off energy improvement loans, New York Times, August 31, 2010. In July, the Federal Housing Finance Agency effectively derailed local government PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) programs when it issued guidance to lenders stating that the assessments were in effect liens that violated the underwriting standards of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (which buy and sell most of the nation's home mortgages). Proponents argue the assessments are not loans and should therefore run with the properties. Negotiations failed to produce much of a compromise: new FHFA guidance states that borrowers with sufficient equity in their homes must pay off the loans before refinancing but that those homeowners without enough equity to take cash out of their home to pay off the lien can refinance with the loan in place.

EPA delays release of final ozone standards, New York Times, August 23, 2010. EPA did not meet its late August goal of releasing new nationwide standards for ground-level ozone, likely to get worse with rising temperatures. While EPA now says it will release the standards "on or around the end of October," some observers think that after the November elections is more likely. The draft rule released last January proposes lowering the air quality standard for ozone to between 60 and 70 parts per billion (ppb) from the current 75 ppb standard, which is bound to raise concerns about state and local government compliance costs.

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies  

Proposition 23 a lose-lose issue for California GOP candidates, Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2010. Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and governor, are finding it difficult to come up with positions that will appeal to the clean energy business community and independents, while still appeasing the party's conservative base, regarding Proposition 23, which would suspend AB 32, the state law requiring reduction of its heat-trapping pollutants to 1990 levels by 2020.

Utah, western states may be key to clean energy future, Salt Lake Tribune, August 31, 2010. A new Brookings Institution report suggests that the federal government should take advantage of the Intermountain West's unique set of assets (world class research universities, national and corporate research labs, and abundant fossil and renewable energy sources) by funding commercialization-oriented sustainable energy research centers in the region.

Clean Energy

Wind turbine projects run into DOD resistance, New York Times, August 27, 2010. Concerns about wind turbines interfering with radar systems are raised by the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration, leading to abandonment or delay of significant levels of wind farm development in the West.

FERC, Colorado sign agreement on small hydropower development, news release, August 26, 2010. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the State of Colorado sign a Memorandum of Understanding to pilot streamlined procedures for authorizing the development of small-scale (less than 5 megawatts) hydropower projects in Colorado.

Feds fail to use land for solar power, Associated Press, September 1, 2010. Some observers say the Bureau of Land Management is not moving fast enough on leases of federal lands for solar projects and that its process has encouraged speculation. But see also Calif. desert on pace to become world's solar capital, New York Times, August 13, 2010.

Increased use of biomass energy, improved forest health require cohesive federal policy, news release, August 10, 2010. The Western Governors Association, citing m ore than 21 million acres of Western forests killed by pine bark beetles, decries the absence of a cohesive federal policy on the use of biomass for energy production, hurting efforts to improve forest health and to increaserenewable energy. 

Coal Plants

Black Hills Energy mulls power plant options and Xcel lays out natural-gas conversion plan for metro area, Denver Post, August 20 and 14, 2010. Following the Colorado legislature's passage of a law requiring investor-owned electric utilities to convert or retire some older coal plants, the utilities consider their compliance plans. Xcel estimates its $1.3 billion proposal will add an average of 1% to the typical ratepayer's electricity bill over the next 10 years.

See also Routt County to fight state agency about coal power plant decision , Steamboat Pilot, August 18, 2010. The county will join a suit filed by the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado to keep the older coal plants.


The life and death of Desert Rock, High Country News, August 13, 2010. Prospects dim for a coal plant near Farmington, NM, that the Navajo Nation has been pursuing since 2003.

News About Climate Disruption

Rising Temperatures

So far, 2010 is the world's hottest year on record, NOAA data show , Washington Post, August 16, 2010. January to July, the average global temperature was 58.1°F, 1.22°F above the 20th century average, and the highest since 1880, when reliable records begin.

Extreme Weather

In weather chaos, a case for global warming, New York Times, August 15, 2010 and How should we think about extreme weather events?, September 7, 2010, blog of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Extreme weather events during this past year, particularly flooding in Pakistan and the worst drought in the Russian historical record, have scientists reflecting on whether such events are caused by climate disruption or by natural variability - or both. "It's not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability,"says Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). "Nowadays, there's always an element of both."

Water

Lake Mead's Water Level Plunges as 11-Year Drought Lingers, New York Times, August 13, 2010 and Lake Mead at 54-year low, stirring rationing fear, Arizona Republic, August 12, 2010. Now just 40% full, the reservoir is at its lowest level since 1956 and is projected to this year get within 9 feet of triggering Interim Guidelines for shortages in the basin signed in 2007 by the Department of Interior and the seven basin states. If the lake level reaches the first drought trigger, water deliveries below Lake Mead are reduced by a little more than 10%. Additional cutbacks would occur if the lake continued to drop. For Arizona, the stakes are high, since it absorbs 96% of any water rationing on the river under a separate agreement that ensured construction of the Central Arizona Project decades ago. Nevada absorbs the other 4% under a separate deal with Arizona.

Meanwhile, Lake Powell is at 63% capacity according to the Bureau of Reclamation's Upper Colorado Region after a year in which inflow is 82% of average. Under the terms of the Interim Guidelines, BOR is considering Equalization provisions that would require the release of more water next year than normally required from the reservoir to help balance Lake Mead levels.

Ecosystems

Tundra research turns up the heat in Colorado high country, Denver Post, August 15, 2010. Near the Continental Divide, researchers start a five-year project to simulate the effects of a 7°F increase in temperatures on forest growth by erecting heat lamps and planting thousands of seedlings to test whether climate change may cause the timberline to gradually march up the mountain.

As 'plant productivity' dips, a search for answers, Christian Science Monitor, August 10, 2010. Dr. Steven Running of the University of Montana is one of the principal authors of a study finding that worldwide, forests and plants during the last decade have absorbed carbon at a declining rate, as compared to an increasing rate during the prior 20 years.

Wildlife

Colorado scientists study ptarmigans as bellwethers of climate change, Denver Post, August 30, 2010. In Rocky Mountain National Park, scientists are monitoring populations of white-tailed ptarmigans, which are being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Sought is whether warmer winter temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and the movement of treeline upslope will cause ptarmigan habitat to become unsuitable.

Grizzlies only scratch the surface of what it will mean to lose the whitebark pine, New West, August 31, 2010. Scientists point out that the potential loss of whitebarks from mountain pine beetle infestations fueled by warming temperatures and blister rust could lead to complex changes in ecosystems.

See also Yellowstone grizzlies will be hungry this fall, Associated Press, August 23, 2010.

Scientists report that whitebark pine nuts are scarce this year in the Yellowstone ecosystem, and that could mean more dangerous meetings with humans as grizzlies search for replacements to one of their favorite pre-hibernation food sources."Pack your bear spray: there's going to be run-ins," says grizzly researcher Chuck Schwartz with the U.S. Geological Survey.

And also, Going out on a limb to save whitebark pine, Jackson Hole News & Guide, August 10, 2010. In Grand Teton National Park, biologists are getting proactive by collecting seeds from trees that seem more resistant to blister rust and beetles to stock a seed bank.

Regional Climate Conditions and Reports

Western Water Assessment (WWA) - Colorado, Utah, Wyoming

Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) - Arizona, New Mexico

Climate Impacts Group (CIG) - Idaho, Oregon

California Applications Project (CAP) - California, Nevada

Support RMCO and this Newsletter

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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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