Western Energy News Round-Up: Efficiency Delivers, Renewable Energy on the Cheap, Solar Advances in Utah and Wyoming, Loans to Clean up Coal, and Texas Drought Impacts Estuary


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

September 25 – October 8, 2013

Renewable Energy:

NREL: Wind, solar power benefits can outweigh fossil fuel costs

Increasing the amount of renewable energy on the grid increases maintenance costs for coal- and natural gas-fired power plants, but savings generated by not buying fossil fuels outweigh those costs, according to a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

(Denver Business Journal, September 24, 2013)


Sunset over a wind farm in Oregon. (Photo © Dennis Glisson, used with permission)

What the US Government Shutdown Means for Renewable Energy

The Interior Department is working to approve up to 20 GW of renewable energy production on public lands by 2020, which is delayed due to the federal government shutdown. At the BLM, processing of applications and any kinds of NEPA analysis will be suspended until the budget is passed by Congress.

(Solar Energy World, October 3, 2013)

Governor Brown Signs AB 327

California Governor Brown has signed AB 327, the landmark bill that will provide much-needed stability for California's rooftop solar industry. Among other things this bill removes the suspension on net metering that would have gone into effect at the end of next year and removes the 33% ceiling on the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard.

(Solar Novus, October 8, 2013)

NRDC Report: America’s Energy Productivity and Security Has Never Been Better

Key economic, security, and environmental indicators show the state of the U.S. energy economy has never been better. The United States has found so many innovative ways to save energy that the nation has more than doubled its economic productivity from oil, natural gas, and electricity over the past 40 years, which means energy efficiency has contributed more to meeting America’s needs than all other resources combined.

(NRDC, October 8, 2013)

New solar energy system in Utah is making some progress

The Energy Capital Group is negotiating a power purchase agreement for a new solar energy system that is planned to take root in Utah. The solar energy system is expected to be the largest of its kind in the state and will boast of a total capacity of 300 megawatts.

(Hydrogen Fuel News, September 30, 2013)

Wyoming ranchers and farmers tap sun to provide water in many dry pastures and fields

In many dry pastures of Wyoming, water is scarce, but sunshine abundant. Some farmers and ranchers are using solar-powered pumps to provide water for their livestock.

(Daily Journal, September 29, 2013)

Interior to evaluate Ore. floating-turbine project

The Interior Department is evaluating a Seattle company's proposal to install what could be the nation's first commercial-scale floating wind turbines off the coast of Oregon. While wind is plentiful along the West Coast, waters are generally too deep to moor wind turbines to the seabed like what is being pursued along the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.

(E&E News, September 30, 2013)

Fossil Fuels:

Fight Over Energy Finds a New Front in a Corner of Idaho

A Nez Perce tribe tried to stop a giant load of oil-processing equipment from coming through their tribal lands, linking their fight to climate change. That road, a hauling company said in getting a permit for transit last month from the state, is essential for transporting enormous loads of oil-processing equipment bound for the Canadian tar sands oil fields in Alberta.

(NY Times, September 25, 2013)

U.S. Revives Aid Program for Cleaner Energy

The Obama administration has decided to revive a controversial loan guarantee program at the Energy Department. The program would devote as much as $8 billion to helping industries like coal and oil make cleaner energy by funding technology to limit carbon emissions.

(NY Times, September 19, 2013)


NorthWestern Energy buying dams from PPL Montana for $900 million

NorthWestern Energy is buying 11 hydroelectric dams from PPL Montana and forgoing PPL's coal-fired generating assets. When the sale is complete, about half of NorthWestern’s total electric energy needs in Montana will be met with hydro and wind generation.

(Great Falls Tribune, September 26, 2013)

Xcel Energy Buying Utility-Scale Renewables at Prices Competitive With Natural Gas

Utility Xcel Energy recently submitted a proposal to Colorado regulators that identifies 170 megawatts of solar and 450 megawatts of wind as the most cost-effective resources. It's the first time that Xcel Energy, which serves eight states in the West and Midwest, chose solar and wind in its planning process strictly for economic reasons, rather than to meet the state's renewable energy standard.

(GreenTech Media, October 2, 2013)

Climate Change:


Birds flying over Matagorda Bay, Texas. (Photo by Reader of the Pack, under Creative Commons licensing)

Texas authority votes to cut off water to state's second-largest estuary

Texas' second-largest estuary, Matagorda Bay, is facing a cutoff of freshwater flows from the region's two artificial reservoirs, threatening oysters, shrimp and fish species who live there. It's upstream users versus downstream users in southeast Texas as a record-breaking, five-year drought forces authorities to make tough decisions about who gets access to dwindling water supplies -- and who doesn't.

(E&E News, September 30, 2013)


Solar Flux-Related Bird Deaths Reported at Ivanpah

The 392 MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, nearing completion in the Mojave Desert reported its first avian mortalities from solar flux, or concentrated solar energy. The bird deaths are a red flag for environmental advocates who have urged regulators to slow down the permitting process for the 500 MW Palen Solar Electric Generating System—a similar but larger power-tower plant—until environmental impacts at Ivanpah are better understood.

(California Energy Markets No. 1251, September 27, 2013)