Energy blog

Group wants higher tax on carbon of snowmobiles

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – British Columbia already has a carbon tax, although at just $30 per ton, it probably isn’t high enough to actually change behavior or suppress emissions.

But an environmental group would like to raise the ante in Revelstoke, stiffening the tax on the use of fossil fuels used for snowmobiling and possibly for heli-skiing and heli-hiking.

The North Columbia Environmental Society not only wants the levy assessed on snowmobiling but also wants the city to stop promoting snowmobiling. The group would have the local government use the revenues to relieve its carbon tax obligations.

The group, according to a report by the Revelstoke Times, calculates that one two-stroke snowmobile can emit up to 84 kilograms of carbon per day. A Bell 212, helicopter, which is commonly used for heli-skiing, emits 4,800 kilograms per day.

Perhaps the best evidence about the production of carbon dioxide by snowmobiles was done at Yellowstone National Park in the late 1990s. Since then, however, two-stroke engines have been largely replaced by four-stroke engines, which burn fuel more efficiently and produce less pollution.

But regardless of the exact production of snowmobiles in the Revelstoke area, the debate probably will be more general. Daniel Kellie, the president of the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club, told the newspaper that 28,000 snowmobilers who used the club’s trails last year already paid an extra 3 cents per litre for gasoline. “As a user, we’re already paying our taxes.”

One commenter on the newspaper’s website, though, thought it was a fair request. “If people travel in a polluting manner in order to participate in an athletic adventure that has hefty carbon footprint, it follows they have money to burn and we should ask them to bear their fair share of the civic carbon tax burden.”

How California’s C02 tax helps run ski lifts at Aspen

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California put a price on carbon, effectively bumping up the price of gasoline by about 15 cents a gallon. Has it worked in suppressing greenhouse gas emissions?

California state officials say yes, that emissions fell by 1.5 million tons in 2015. They said that’s the equivalent of pulling 300,000 cars off roads.

The state, reports the Sacramento Bee, is on target to meet 2020 benchmarks established in a landmark climate change law passed in 2006.

But the newspaper, after talking with a great many people, reports divergent opinions. Critics say that the climate change initiatives have dented economic growth, and they predict an even larger impact as new, more stringent carbon targets are imposed by state leaders in coming years.

California’s cap-and-trade program requires fuel wholesalers, along with other big industrial firms, to purchase emissions allowances. In addition, fuel producers—from giant oil refiners to ethanol manufacturers—must purchase separate credits to comply with the state’s low-carbon fuel standard. The costs get passed along to consumers.

This price in carbon has had somewhat surprising results in Colorado. Several years ago, a coal mine about 100 miles west of Aspen was outfitted to capture methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and the methane is now captured and burned to produce electricity instead of being allowed to rise to the troposphere.

Part of the economic package to make the project work included payments from California’s cap-and-trade market. The electricity is purchased by Holy Cross Energy, which distributes power that operates the ski lifts at Vail and Aspen.

Richard Martin’s new book, “Coal Wars,” looks to be a lively read and with a good Colorado hook

Richard Martin, who works for energy consultant Navigant as the firm’s only writer, has a new book out called “Coal Wars: The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet.” It looks to be a dandy read.

On Tuesday evening, Martin previewed the book before a crowd of about 15 at Tattered Cover’s location on East Colfax in Denver. Telling us that it seemed silly to stand before such a small crowd, he remained seated as he explained that his book is not one about “policy advocacy or environmentalism or any other ism. It’s a book about people.”

Coal WarsThen he proceeded to provide a brief tour of several locations around the world, starting with Harlan County, Kentucky. The picture he painted was not of a nice place, a prosperous place, or a healthy place. “It’s easier for Mitch McConnell to stand on the floor of the Senate and rail about the war on coal,” he said. It’s much different to live in these communities.”

In Colorado, he talked about the Twentymile Mine coal mine south of Steamboat Springs but also of the dependence on coal in Craig, located 42 miles west of Steamboat. These three coal burners and the Trapper Mine collectively produce two-thirds of the revenues in Moffat County.

What do you do with places like Craig? People convinced that coal must be replaced as a fuel source because of the carbon dioxide emissions have been asking that question for several years. Martin said he sees no “silver bullet.”

But he did offer that he spent time with the mayor of Craig, a 30-year veteran of the coal sector there – and the mayor is accepting that there will be change. Somehow, places like Craig need to be helped, and Martin described it as a “moral obligation, but a practical one as well.”

At the same time, this does not necessarily mean propping up Craig and Moffat County. In times past, people have had to move, to update their skills in new and relevant ways. This, he suggested, is no different.

Craig plants downsized

The Craig Station power plants, coupled with the nearby Trapper Mine, provide most of the paychecks in Craig and most of the property tax base in Moffat County. Photo/Allen Best

Martin showed a splendid photograph of the new solar garden at Craig with the trio of smokestacks from the Craig Station in the distance. Solar gardens, he said, are not the way out.

China obviously has to be part of the story, and Martin spent three weeks there in his research. It’s the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal. It also burns about as much coal as the rest of the world combined each year.

Even so, burning of coal flattened in China last year while expansion of renewables continued robustly.

I asked Martin about carbon capture and storage, mentioning a story in Wired magazine last year. The environmental community has denounced CCS as wildly impractical and a boondoggle. The story in Wired made the case that even if its impractically costly now, the technology must be made to work if for the simple reason that the emerging countries, particularly China and India, will continue to burn coal.

Martin answered my question, but not to my satisfaction. He said CCS won’t be practical for 30 years. He ignored the core argument: If China and India continue to burn coal, don’t we have to figure out a way to make it work? And in dismissing technological development, he more or less used the argument that was long used against renewable energy: it’s too expensive.

Despite my dissatisfaction with his answer, I plunked down $30 for this book and look forward to reading it. Travelogue stories don’t work particularly well for me. Yet I suspect I will learn a great deal from this book. Martin is knowledgeable and he obviously writes well.

On Tuesday evening, Martin previewed the book before a crowd of about 15 at Tattered Cover’s location on East Colfax in Denver. Telling us that it seemed silly to stand before such a small crowd, he remained seated as he explained that his book is not one about “policy advocacy or environmentalism or any other ism. It’s a book about people.”

Then he proceeded to provide a brief tour of several locations around the world, starting with Harlan County, Kentucky. The picture he painted was not of a nice place, a prosperous place, or a healthy place. “It’s easier for Mitch McConnell to stand on the floor of the Senate and rail about the war on coal,” he said. It’s much different to live in these communities.”

In Colorado, he talked about the Twentymile Mine coal mine south of Steamboat Springs but also of the dependence on coal in Craig, located 42 miles west of Steamboat. These three coal burners and the Trapper Mine collectively produce two-thirds of the revenues in Moffat County.

What do you do with places like Craig? People are convinced that coal must be replaced as a fuel source because of the carbon dioxide emissions have been asking that question for several years. Martin said he sees no “silver bullet.”

But he did offer that he spent time with the mayor of Craig, a 30-year veteran of the coal sector there – and the mayor is accepting that there will be change. Somehow, places like Craig need to be helped, and Martin described it as a “moral obligation, but a practical one as well.”

At the same time, this does not necessarily mean propping up Craig and Moffat County. In times past, people have had to move, to update their skills in new and relevant ways. This, he suggested, is no different.

Martin showed a splendid shot of the new solar garden at Craig with the trio of smokestacks from the Craig Station in the distance. Solar gardens, he said, are not the way out.

China obviously has to be part of the story, and Martin spent three weeks there in his research. It’s the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal. It also burns about as much coal as the rest of the world combined each year.

Even so, burning of coal flattened in China last year while expansion of renewables continued robustly.

I asked Martin about carbon capture and storage, mentioning a story in Wired magazine last year. The environmental community has denounced CCS as wildly impractical and a boondoggle. The story in Wired made the case that even if its impractically costly now, the technology must be made to work if for the simple reason that the emerging countries, particularly China and India, will continue to burn coal.

Martin answered my question, but not to my satisfaction. He said CCS won’t be practical for 30 years. He ignored the core argument: If China and India continue to burn coal, don’t we have to figure out a way to make it work? And in dismissing technological development, he more or less used the argument that was long used against renewable energy: it’s too expensive.

Despite my dissatisfaction with his answer, I plunked down $30 for this book and look forward to reading it. Travelogue stories don’t work particularly well for me. Yet I suspect I will learn a great deal from this book. Martin is knowledgeable and he obviously writes well.

I paid Tattered Cover $30, with tax, because local book stores need to be supported. They sponsored this reading, and Joyce Meskis has been an important local voice in First Amendment issues over the years . However, I see on Amazon you can buy it used for less than $10 plus shipping. — Allen Best

David, Goliath and Colorado’s intensifying debate about drilling

by Allen Best

In Colorado’s intensifying debate about oil and natural gas drilling, each side has claimed to be David going into battle against a carpet-bagging Goliath.

Now, with Loveland’s election about a proposed two-year moratorium history, and the finance disclosure reports submitted, as required by law, we’re getting an idea of who the real Goliath really was. It’s really no surprise. Drilling interests spent a massive amount of money to eke out a narrow victory in Loveland by a narrow margin of 52 to 48 percent. They also got the support of the local newspaper, the Reporter-Herald, and the local chamber of commerce.

In a story posted by the Colorado Independent on July 7, the grassroots group called Protect Our Loveland spent $8,000. Protect Colorado, an industry aligned group, spent $2.2 million in just the last two weeks of June and had a total war chest of more than $3 million. Biblical parables aside, it looks like Goliath won once again.

Twin drilling rigs bore into the hydrocarbon-bearing formations of the Wattenberg field between Brighton and Longmont in Colorado’s northern Front Range. Photo/Allen Best

This is very different than the story than B.J. Nikkel, a former state legislator from Loveland, gave me in April as I researched a story for Colorado Biz Magazine. She said that out-of-state environmental groups had used the university towns of the Northern Front Range, Boulder and Fort Collins, to pluck easy victories (residents of nearby Broomfield, Lafayette and Longmont have also adopted restrictions on drilling). And she hinted darkly that Tom Steyer, the retired hedge fund billionaire who has been investing large sums in hopes of defeating the Keystone XL pipeline, would likely arrive to drop large amounts of money.

Of course, nobody disputes that Jared Polin, the congressman from Boulder, has large amounts of money, and he has been pushing ballot initiatives that would more sharply restrict oil and gas drilling operations. His proposals are nowhere near as restrictive as Amendment 75, which is also coming out of Boulder County and would totally upset Colorado’s apple cart by giving local jurisdictions broad latitude in rejecting proposals. Currently, local governments are subsets of the state. This would make them more equal, however, Tom Steyer’s billions haven’t shown up. The only out-of-state billionaires with their paws in this fight are the oil and gas companies.

Film has been a powerful stick in this argument. Josh Fox premiered his movie “Gasland” at Mountainfilm in Telluride several years ago. The pivotal image came form Colorado: Somebody near Fort Lupton, north of Denver, used a cigarette lighter to ignite a flame from a kitchen faucet. The implication was that it was caused by drilling. Months before, Colorado regulators and drillers had disputed that allegation, arguing that it almost certainly was caused by biogenic sources. In other words, the methane was natural in the drinking water, not from deeper underground, from the formations exploited for natural gas.

This year, a set of movies called “Dear Governor Hickenlooper” was shown at Mountainfilm. The seminal figure is an individual named Shane Davis who identifies himself as “fractivist,” even including it in his e-mail title. He makes for an interesting figure, having actually lived in the drilling country of Colorado’s Weld County for a couple of years. If you’re in a mood to be persuaded, he makes powerful arguments, and the film is now making the rounds. In Telluride, he came across as smart, determined, and surly. He sees a line in the sand of the Wattenberg field, and the people on the other side are bad people. He’s David, and they’re Goliaths.

Denver’s Westword sorts through this film as well as the broad debate in a lengthy story this week. It doesn’t try very hard to see the world from the eyes of the drillers, but it’s a good and worthy read nonetheless (and frankly has a few lines I wish I had used). It also frankly adds some perplexity to the story from Fort Lupton, making me wonder if I dug hard enough in that case when I did some reporting last year on oil and gas and water.

Where will this all end? Who knows, but I doubt there will be much hand-shaking with truth in the coming months and certainly not nuance. We’re entering that stage when all the rhetoric is black and white.

Ultimately the issue is about risk and how we define risk. Nothing is without risk, but he allegations in this debate about oil and natural gas drilling are that the dangers to people and the environment upon which they depend have not been adequately disclosed or, perhaps, are not understood.

I like how I ended my story in Colorado Biz: “Whether cheap energy today has hidden, long-term costs is ultimately what Colorado voters in November must decide.”

Again, check out:

• The Colorado Independent story about financing. (The Loveland Reporter-Herald has an update from later in the week).

• The Westword story, the ambitiously titled “How Colorado became ground zero in America’s energy wars.”

• Both shorter and broader, but somewhat outdated, is my own report in Colorado Biz, “Energy: Divided over drilling.”

One Response to Energy blog

  1. Nicholas Schroeder, BSME, PE says:

    The Clean Power Plan and Lipstick on the Federalist Pig

    If a Republican becomes president, CPP will simply be dismantled and tossed. If a Democrat becomes president, CPP still has to survive the legal challenges. If CPP does survive the challenges, its schedule will be set back the duration between the stay and the final ruling, which appears to be at least two years, so: The states have until September, 2018 to submit their plans, NLT 2026 for initial compliance and 2032 to meet the final performance standards, missing Obama’s 2030 COP21 goal. That’s four more administrations any one of which could “spike” it.

    There seems to be a great misunderstanding that CPP spells the end of coal fired electric power. Not so. Traditional coal fired Rankine plants produce about 2,100 lb CO2/MWh. It’s chemistry and math, fuel composition and efficiency. The same Rankine plant firing natural gas will produce about 1,100 lb CO2/MWh. The CPP FF 2030 standard is 1,305, no way for coal, piece of cake for NG. Simple cycle gas turbines, the Brayton cycle, will also produce about 1,100 lb/MWh. Can’t meet 771, but they are peakers. A combined cycle, combustion turbine Brayton cycle, with the exhaust gasses generating steam in a HRSG to power a steam turbine Rankine cycle will produce about 650 lb/MWh (standard is 771). While the standard for fossil fired EGUs, 1,305 lb/MWh, is impossible for both existing and new coal plants to meet without expensive CCS, that’s not how it really works.

    The states must inventory the EGUs under their jurisdiction and develop a plan that will meet their performance standard, for Colorado -1,374, California – 828, Nebraska – 1,296. (BTW IMHO this violates the equal protection clause) So by shifting baseload generation toward natural gas through co-firing with coal, a common practice, or converting coal boilers to NG, another common practice when that ability is not already included, and building CCPP plants, the state can, in aggregate, meet their standard without wholesale demolition of coal plants. NG CCPPs are especially popular due to the low NG prices, robust designs, fast track environmental approvals, siting advantages, and quick erection. Excel’s Cherokee 5, 6, 7 is an excellent example. So older, less efficient coal plants will be retired, SC or CCPP installed, some might be converted/co-fire NG (NOT what EPA had in mind), newer designs might be dispatched less, but will press on. Old NG Rankine stations can be refurbished, new NG Rankine units built both brown and green fields (but why not just do CCPP?). So the state’s overall, collective, aggregate generation mix plans are what matter, not the individual units.

    Building blocks, emissions credit swapping, aggregation of EGUs, flexibility and autonomy in meeting the state’s goals all lip stick on the Federalist pig attempting to disguise its overreach. The states should take the initiative and EPA at its word and manipulate its EGUs as needed to meet their performance standard. WECC, ERCOT and the western states should get together and manipulate both existing and new generation to achieve their aggregate performance standards. Once the numbers fall chances are the impact on coal would be minor, certainly not fatal.

    California with a lot of NG could swap with Utah allowing intermountain, Huntington, Hunter, et al. to press on with little real change. Colorado and Nebraska trade with Wyoming and the Dakotas. Vermont has no coal fired EGU’s, but it does have other EGUs including FF fired and should have a standard like every other state it could use to play in the credit swapping game.

    Different standard for different states violates the equal protection clause. There should be one lb CO2/MWh which achieves the national goal of a 32% reduction and applied to ALL including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam. All states with EGUs start with the same number of chips which they can then trade, swap, sell, negotiate to achieve the national goal.

    And what is CPP supposed to accomplish? A 32% reduction in CO2 output from US power generation (not just coal). The US is responsible for about 16% of the world’s anthropogenic CO2 output (anthro CO2 is 2/3rd fossil fuel and 1/3rd land use changes). Power generation represents about 31% of US CO2 production. Therefore – 16% * 31% * 32% = 1.6%. CPP will reduce the global anthropogenic C2 output by 1.6%. China and India will cancel that out with their next dozen coal fired power plants.

Comments are closed.