Western Energy News Round-Up: Solar Financing and Surcharges, Fracking and Methane Regulation, and Fines for Wind Eagle Deaths

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

November 14 – December 20, 2013

Renewable Energy:

S.F. plans to revive a solar finance program that many cities praised until federal regulators canceled it three years ago. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing programs allowed homeowners and businesses to borrow money to install solar panels and then repay the money as a line item on their property taxes.  (SF Chronicle, November 26, 2013)

New Mexico regulators dealt a blow to the state’s renewable energy law, infuriating renewable energy advocates who said the move will stunt the state’s growing solar industry.  (Climate Progress, November 23, 2013); Then, they changed it back (mostly). (The New Mexican, December 19, 2013)

NRDC Blog: NRDC's Green Electronics Holiday Shopping Guide 2013: While shopping for the latest electronics device this holiday season, you can make sure it’s a gift that keeps on giving -- when it comes to energy (and $) savings and the environment – by following NRDC’s Green Electronics Holiday Guide.  (NRDC Switchboard, November 20, 2013)

Fossil Fuels:


Drilling rig in Wyoming. (Photo by Wendy Shattil/Bob Rozinksi under Creative Commons licensing.)

New rules on fracking in Wyoming for testing water wells near drilling sites. The new water rule, which takes effect in March, will require oil and gas companies to test wells or springs within a half-mile of their drilling site, both before and after drilling. On a related note, see NRDC’s blog on why we need a fracking moratorium on public lands. (NY Times, November 22, 2013)

(No) Enforcement in NM: 3,600 violations, 1 court case, 0 fines. New Mexico oil and gas regulators haven't fined a single driller for violations since March 2009, because the state Oil Conservation Division hasn't had the authority to levy fines. Since 2010, inspectors recorded more than 3,600 violations. (E&E News, November 14, 2013)


Nevada PUC approves sale of NV Energy to MidAmerican Energy. The $5.6 billion sale of NV Energy to Warren Buffet's MidAmerican Energy is now complete. The agreement refunds $20 million to NV Energy customers and promises that neither utility will charge customers for costs related to the merger. (Las Vegas Review-Journal, December 16, 2013)

In a blow to the Arizona utility, energy regulators approved a smaller solar surcharge. with a fixed fee of 70 cents per installed kilowatt. The new charge, which will begin next year, is only a fraction of what Arizona Public Service sought – which was to reduce savings from the solar incentive by roughly half.  (AZ Capitol Times, November 14, 2013)

Colorado proposes reducing methane leaks from energy production, the first effort in the country to address emissions of the greenhouse gas that is a byproduct of the domestic fossil fuel boom. (LA Times, November 18, 2013)

Climate Change:


Cattle ranch in Montana (Photo by Bitterroot under Creative Commons licensing.)

Guest opinion: Changing climate threatens Montana agriculture: Severe weather has obvious implications for livestock and crops, making climate change an issue we cannot afford to ignore in Montana. Heat waves and flooding pose significant danger not only for human health but also for livestock.  (Billings Gazette, November 20, 2013)

Climatologists warn of dry a winter for U.S. southwest and California. The region will probably not get the moisture it needs before next spring, quashing hopes that the region's three-year drought was ending. Moreover, winter conditions in Texas and California, where some water reservoirs have already dipped to worryingly low levels, are unlikely to bring relief. (E&E News, November 22, 2013)

Could weakening winds threaten Pacific Northwest's mountain water supply?  A paper published in the journal Science hypothesizes that climate change is behind a steady, 60-year slowdown of the westerly winds blowing off the North Pacific. The winds play a key role in carrying precipitation into the Cascade and northern Rocky mountain ranges, impacting the snow pack and the region's water supplies.  (E&E News, December 2, 2013)


Western governors unveiled a massive wildlife-mapping project that they hope will encourage economic development across the West while protecting the region’s environmental treasures. Five years in the making, the Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (“CHAT”) database will connect 16 Western states from California and Alaska to Montana and Oklahoma with a first-of-its-kind online group of colorful Geographic Information Systems maps displaying wildlife habitat, wetlands and other valuable natural resources.  (Arizona Central, December 12, 2013)

Duke Energy Renewables pled guilty in eagle deaths at wind energy facility. Duke was sentenced over deaths of protected birds, including golden eagles, at two of its wind facilities in Wyoming. The company must pay fines totaling $1 million as punishment for the deaths of 14 golden eagles and more than 140 other protected birds at its wind facilities between 2009 and 2013.  (KCET Rewire, November 22, 2013) Then, the Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a new rule, allowing 30 year permits for potential harm to eagles. (NRDC Switchboard, December 19, 2013)

RPT-California issues first forestry offset credits for CO2 market. California businesses covered by the state's cap-and-trade program will soon be able to use forest conservation projects to offset the carbon emissions from their plants and factories after the state issued the first batch of credits.  (Reuters, November 14, 2013)

Compiled by Meredith Connolly