Western Energy News Round-Up: Coal Mining, Solar Planes, Clean Fuels, and Forest Thinning

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

July 1 - 7, 2013

Renewable Energy:

Washington State Solar Energy Sales Tax Exemption Extended Through 2018

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5882 into law June 30 which extends the Washington state sales tax exemption on small solar energy systems for another five years. The last-minute bill also reinstates the previously expired sales tax exemption for solar hot water systems, and allows photovoltaic systems over 10 kW to continue to qualify for a 75% remittance from the Department of Revenue.

(Sustainable West Seattle, July 4, 2013)

US Geothermal Industry Targets Technology and Policy

Geothermal developers and industry advocates assembled in Reno last week for the Third Annual National Geothermal Summit focused much of their discussion on the potential for cost reduction through the use of new technology, and on revealing geothermal energy as more competitive with sun and wind renewables. Among areas of cost reduction highlighted during the conference were better geological research, a broader use of heat recovery technology and enhanced geothermal systems to boost site production.  (I had the pleasure of attending- a great event).

(Renewable Energy World, July 2, 2013)

Solar Impulse plane ends American odyssey with fears, tears and cheers

The Swiss-built Solar Impulse airplane ended its two-month-long, solar-powered trip across America with a nail-biter of a flight from Washington to New York on Saturday. The "Across America" odyssey began on May 3 with a flight from Moffett Field, near San Francisco, to Phoenix, and continued with hops to Dallas-Fort Worth, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Washington. Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, co-founders of the Solar Impulse venture, traded turns piloting the single-seat plane. Piccard has said that solar-powered planes could conceivably go commercial within five years or so, but Borschberg emphasized the potential applications for clean-energy technologies on the ground.

(NBC News, July 7, 2013)

Fossil Fuels:

BLM won't allow new mining claims on lands tagged for solar

The Bureau of Land Management announced today that it has withdrawn more than 300,000 acres of federal land in six Western states from new mining claims in an effort to preserve the lands for commercial-scale solar energy development. All 303,900 acres are in one of 17 solar energy zones (SEZs) established last fall by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The SEZs are part of a programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) that identified more than a quarter-million acres of public lands in the six states where commercial-scale projects would be most suitable.

(E&E News, July 5, 2013)

House panel looks at Western coal industry

Congress is poised to enter the debate over whether taxpayers are getting a fair return on coal mined from public lands in the Western U.S. as a House committee plans a Tuesday oversight hearing on the industry. Most coal sales from public lands occur in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, which accounts for more than 40 percent of U.S. coal production.

(Billings Gazette, July 7, 2013)


Obama nominee led Colorado clean power initiative

President Obama's nominee for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman is being praised by clean energy groups (including NRDC) and criticized by the coal industry. Binz is being targeted for the clean energy policies that he oversaw as Colorado's top utility regulator.

(E&E, July 1, 2013)

NorthWestern Energy CEO: Utility expecting greenhouse gas rules, but still grasping on to coal

Bob Rowe, CEO and President of Montana’s dominant electric utility, NorthWestern Energy, said the company plans to bring on more renewable power, such as wind, and continue its programs that encourage energy conservation by customers, but he is still stuck on coal-fired power, which provides about half the electricity NorthWestern sells to its Montana customers.

(Independent Record, July 7, 2013)

Climate Change:

Oregon Senate rejects 'clean fuels' bill, a top priority for environmental lobby

The Senate on Saturday rejected a "clean fuels" bill that was the environmental lobby's top priority to combat global warming. Senate Bill 488 would lift a 2015 sunset date for Oregon's "clean fuel" program, which aims to cut the carbon in car and truck fuel 10 percent a gallon by 2025. California also has a low-carbon-fuel rule in place.

(The Oregonian, July 6, 2013)

As fires burn, GOP renews push for forest thinning

Congressional Republicans, who have long pushed for aggressive logging on public land, will renew their push for stepped-up cutting after the deaths of 19 firefighters in Yarnell, Ariz. They have called a hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation next Thursday to examine how “excessive growth” in forests may be adding to the risk of wildfire.

(LA Times, July 3, 2013)

Crater Lake park to truck in water after shut-off

Drought-triggered water shutoffs in the upper Klamath Basin that have been drying up irrigated pasture for tens of thousands of cattle will soon extend to the creek that serves as the sole source of drinking water for Crater Lake National Park. This year's snowfall of 29 feet at the park was 15 feet short of normal, contributing to low streamflows in the Klamath Basin. Late snowfalls that sometimes come in April and May never materialized.

(The Oregonian, July 1, 2013)

Compiled by Meredith Connolly