Western Energy News Round-Up: Action on Climate Pollution from Power Plants Promised by EPA, Success of Energy Efficiency Programs, Wind and Solar Markets Growing, and Drought Impacting Salmon Runs

Western Energy News Round-Up is a weekly selection of news highlighting recent energy and environmental issues in the western United States.

July 17 – 31, 2013

Climate Change:

As new EPA chief, Gina McCarthy vows to act on climate change

After finally getting confirmed, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy made a full-throated defense of her agency’s right to address greenhouse-gas emissions and other pollutants, saying that air-quality regulations and environmental cleanup efforts have already produced economic benefits in the United States. She said climate change was now the top priority for the agency, which plans to model its efforts on the administration’s earlier agreement with the auto industry on stricter fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks.

(Washington Post, July 30, 2013)

Low waters threaten Klamath salmon run

One of the biggest West Coast salmon runs in years is expected this fall, but river conditions may prevent the fish from making the trip. Little rain and snow has fallen in California over the past two winters, resulting in low reservoirs, rivers and tributaries. The existing waters -- which officials have predicted will hit new lows in August and September -- may not be enough to keep the chinook salmon alive. The crisis comes as the ongoing controversy over the Klamath River's usage continues, pitting farmers against conservationists and, in this case, the government.

(E&E News, July 23, 2013)

Energy Efficiency:

Seattle's cost-saving pilot program may help commercialize energy efficiency

The first commercial application of metered energy efficiency, a pilot program at an early stage in Seattle, was highlighted as a prime case study during a forum at the World Bank. In the next three years, the municipal utility will evaluate data to decide whether it will complete or opt out of a 20-year contract with the service company. The meeting between the Energy Efficiency Community of Practice and the International Finance Corp. explored upcoming models in energy efficiency financing and opportunities that may unlock a $1 trillion market in the United States alone.

(E&E, July 18, 2013)

NEEA: Savings since '97 would power 660k homes

The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a nonprofit alliance of more than 100 Northwest utilities and energy efficiency organizations says it has conserved enough to power 660,000 Northwest homes a year since spearheading its energy-saving initiatives in 1997. The organization estimates the energy savings of 906 average megawatts of power has saved the region from having to build two coal-fired power plants or equivalent facilities. The work includes such campaigns as efficiency training and certification for refrigeration engineers, testing efficiency controls for streetlights and piloting programs that forward green-building standards. California’s energy efficiency model has also demonstrated many successful policies.

(Sustainable Business Oregon, July 23, 2013)

Renewable Energy:

US wind industry poised for robust recovery

The US wind energy industry is poised for a dramatic recovery over the next 12 months, despite the market grinding to a standstill during the first half of this year. New figures released this week by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) confirm that the high profile row in Congress at the end of 2012 over whether or not to extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC) had a chilling effect on the market. The pipeline for new projects has now recovered strongly with more than 20 requests for proposals (RFPs) issued for new projects during the three month period, totaling almost 5GW of capacity.

(Business Green, July 31, 2013)

Arizona No. 1 for solar in new report of industry’s best states

Arizona got the best grade of 12 states advocating solar, pulling in the top spot in a review of the nation’s solar policies. Data pulled from the Solar Energy Industries Association show Arizona ranks first in terms of the total amount of solar power per capita and installed solar per capita in 2012. That means the state has 167 watts of solar power for every person in the state overall, and installed 108 watts per person last year.  The future of solar power is less certain, though, as utilities have geared up to undo some of the state’s most successful policies.

(Phoenix Business Journal, July 23, 2013)

Colorado solar-energy groups oppose Xcel plan to trim credits

A coalition of solar-industry and environmental groups Tuesday called upon the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to reject an Xcel Energy proposal they say would curtail rooftop solar installations. Xcel, the state's largest electricity provider, has suggested trimming the "net metering" credit that homeowners and small businesses with solar arrays get for putting electricity on the grid.

(Denver Post, July 30, 2013)

Testing the Waters: Tapping Idaho's Geothermal Potential

Expectations are high at Walker Ranch, where ThermaSource Rig 101 soon will drill one of Idaho’s few geothermal energy exploration wells in recent memory. They hope their years of planning will result in a $150 million, 25-megawatt power plant built there by the end of 2015. Hurdles have prevented other companies from harnessing geothermal energy in Idaho. Geothermal is riskier than other renewable energies, because it’s hard to determine where economic resources are hidden under ground. But the payoff is immense — a reliable renewable energy source in a world of dwindling fossil fuels.

(Southern Idaho Times-News, July 25, 2013)

BLM revises massive Calif. solar project to lessen species impacts

The Bureau of Land Management has prepared a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS) for the 500-megawatt Palen Solar Electric Generating System. The proposed $2 billion project would cover about 3,800 acres of BLM land in Riverside County and would produce enough electricity to power roughly 170,000 homes and businesses. The revised project proposal would cover the original 5,200-acre right-of-way area but disturb only about 3,700 acres -- far less than the original proponent Solar Trust of America's 2008 proposal, resulting in fewer impacts to federally protected Mojave desert tortoises, according to the draft document.

(E&E News, July 26, 2013)

Fossil Fuels:

Navajo electric plant offers alternative emissions plan

Owners of the Navajo Generating Station submitted a plan to the EPA for review, possibly shutting one of the plant’s three generating units to be shut down by 2020, delaying installation of equipment to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions until 2030 and for an end to coal use after 30 more years, in 2044. The plan unveiled Friday was drawn up by the Navajo Nation, the Central Arizona Project, the Department of Interior, the Gila River Indian Community along with representatives of two environmental groups. Two of the current owners – Nevada Energy and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power – have committed to exit the plant in the coming years. The Navajo Generating Station currently emits one of the largest amounts of nitrogen oxide in the West.  NRDC did not join the agreement, but recognized the Department of interior for progress in committing to cleaner energy..

(Tuscon Sentinel, July 29, 2013)

Compiled by Meredith Connolly