Western Energy News Round-Up: Coal Expansion by Production and Rail, Solar Net Metering, and Desert and Sagebrush Conservation Plans

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

July 8 - 16, 2013

Renewable Energy:

Editorial: Timing of Nevada's energy push hits the sweet spot

Three new laws passed in the last legislative session and approved by Gov. Brian Sandoval are expected to provide a boost to renewable energy development in the state by freeing up new capacity from retiring plants, updating renewable energy credit requirements and restructuring tax abatements for local areas.

(Reno Gazette-Journal, July 14, 2013)

Fossil Fuels:

Greatest Growth in Coal Production: Western States

Western states' change in coal production has outpaced that of Appalachian states. Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico top the chart.

(Bloomberg, July 11, 2013)

Estonian company wants to pull 2.6 billion barrels of oil from Utah

An Estonian company with an American subsidiary, Enefit American Oil, has turned oil shale into fuel oil during the past 30 years. Now it wants to mine rock from a remote region of the Uintah Basin, tapping 2.6 billion barrels of oil in the decades to come. That staggering production, 50,000 barrels of oil per day, would represent one-third of Utah's liquid fuel consumption. Environmental groups worry about the use of water in Utah's arid climate and the emissions that would be produced by Enefit in a region already plagued by winter ozone problems.

(Deseret News, July 16, 2013)

Hundreds attend hearings in Oregon on coal exports from Montana, Wyoming

Hundreds of people attended hearings Tuesday in Hermiston and Portland on a proposal for a coal transfer terminal on the Columbia River at Boardman, some in favor and others arguing it would be an environmental disaster. The project would be the first port in the Northwest to export coal from Montana and Wyoming to Asia. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will consider the public comments as it considers application from Ambre Energy to move nearly 9 million tons of coal a year through the Pacific Northwest.

(Great Falls Tribune, July 10, 2013)

BLM approves New Mexico natural gas pipeline project

The federal government gave the green light to a proposal to build 234 miles of pipeline to transport natural gas liquids from one corner of New Mexico to the other and ultimately to markets in South Texas. The Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the Western Expansion Pipeline III project cames just a week after President Barack Obama unveiled his plan for combating climate change. With the new pipeline through New Mexico, Mid-America said its capacity would be boosted to about 350,000 barrels per day.

(Casper Star Tribune, July 8, 2013)

Hydroelectric Dams:

Hydro: Senate sends 2 bills for Utah dam projects to Obama's desk

The Senate unanimously approved two bills that would bolster energy production by hydroelectric dams in Utah, sending the measure to President Obama's desk for final approval. Backers of the legislation say it would waive fees that are hampering construction of new hydroelectric projects on Bureau of Reclamation property in Utah, namely $106 million in federal fees for developers of proposed hydro in the Diamond Fork watershed. Another bill unanimously approved by the Senate would transfer some of the federal duties of Utah's electric distribution system from Interior to the local utility.

(E&E News, July 11, 2013)


Arizona utility proposes changing solar rates

A proposed rate change for Arizona Public Service Co. customers who install rooftop solar panels could affect the future of the state's solar industry. The utility is proposing to give customers with new solar panel systems less credit for the electricity their systems supply to the power grid.

(Houston Chronicle, July 12, 2013)

Utilities Dealt Blow on Solar-Power Systems

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission last week rejected a proposal to raise monthly fees paid by homeowners and small businesses who install solar panels and have net metering, denying a petition from Idaho Power Co., which serves Boise and other parts of southern Idaho. Regulators sided with the solar-power industry and homeowners who have solar-energy systems, marking defeats for electric utilities faced with a fast-growing constituency. Utilities in Arizona and California—two of the largest U.S. solar markets—also are mulling proposals to cut payments for solar power.

(Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2013)

Climate Change and Conservation:

Massive projects that cross Utah are up for public review

Two massive energy projects in Utah are under review by federal agencies, with studies that spell out the consequences to wildlife, sagebrush landscapes and landmarks such as the Mountain Meadows National Historic Site. A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision forced both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management to take another look at a major pipeline's biological effects and right-of-way implications, specifically ordering a more intensive analysis of the cumulative impacts that the project adds to the four states that host its route. The other project, under review by the BLM is the TransWest Express transmission line, would be the nation's second largest direct current transmission line, powering up 3,000 megawatts of renewable power from the winds of Wyoming — enough for more than 1.8 million households.

(Deseret News, July 15, 2013)

BLM plan for sage-grouse habitat draws challenge

A conservation group is asking a federal judge to set aside federal land managers' plans to remove sagebrush, pinion pines and junipers across a large swath of public lands in eastern Nevada. The Western Watersheds Project contends that the Bureau of Land Management's plans to mow, chop, burn and poison sagebrush in Cave and Lake valleys south of Ely will harm habitat for imperiled sage grouse and other wildlife. Sage grouse mainly eat sagebrush, while nonnative cheat grass has been blamed for fueling major wildfires across the West.

(San Francisco Chronicle, July 8, 2013)

Death of endangered bird near unfinished solar plant sparks investigation

The recent discovery of the federally listed Yuma clapper rail at First Solar Inc.'s Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, which has been under construction since BLM approved it in late 2011, marks the first time a bird protected under the Endangered Species Act has been found dead at a solar power project. If the federal investigation concludes the unfinished solar plant caused the bird's death, it could create a new layer of regulatory concerns at a time of unprecedented growth in the industry. But officials with Fish and Wildlife caution that they have no evidence that the ongoing construction or any related equipment at the 550 MW photovoltaic power plant had anything to do with the death of the imperiled bird, which has rarely been seen in the Sonoran Desert.

(E&E News, July 11, 2013)

As World’s Largest Solar Thermal Plant Opens, California Looks to End Solar Wars

In a few weeks, the largest solar plant of its kind in the world will start producing power in California’s Mojave Desert. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System will supply both Northern and Southern California, inching the state one step closer to its ambitious renewable energy goal. But like many of the large solar projects being built in the Mojave, Ivanpah ran into delays and controversy over its environmental impact. In an effort to stem the conflict, California is trying to forge a smoother path for future projects through the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. The idea is to divvy up the desert into zones suitable for renewable energy development and conservation areas that are off-limits.

(KQED Science, July 12, 2013)

Compiled by Meredith Connolly