Category Archives: Coal

CEA Leads Coloradans in Challenging XCEL

The effort to decarbonize Colorado’s largest electricity supplier, Xcel Energy, advanced in Denver last month as Coloradans lined up to speak at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission hearing on Xcel’s 2016 Electric Resource Plan. Members of CEA led Coloradans from all walks of life in voicing their concerns about Colorado’s electricity future.

The hearing room at the Public Utilities Commission was overflowing as the people of Colorado addressed the three PUC Commissioners. They expressed a host of concerns about Xcel’s plan,  and asked for more focus on the abundance of cost-effective renewable energy available in Colorado, in accordance with Colorado’s laws and regulations.

The PUC is a part of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, and is responsible for regulating many parts of our state’s utilities, transportation, and telecommunications.

 

Issues raised during the public testimony included the need to:

  • Consider climate change and the urgency of reducing carbon emissions
  • Increase the reliance on renewable energy in order to reduce both emissions and costs
  • Accelerate the adoption of storage technologies to support the integration of higher levels of renewable energy
  • Begin contingency planning in the event of future coal bankruptcies and potential coal supply constraints
  • Allow new, cleaner resources to replace energy generation from older, dirtier, more expensive fossil fuel resources

Citizen witnesses also discussed the need to analyze the choices between renewable energy (with no future fuel costs) and fossil fuel resources (with billions of dollars of future fuel costs) using lower discount rates. A lower discount rate will show increased savings from cost-effective renewable energy because future fuel costs won’t be so heavily discounted.

Discounting the approximately $60 billion in future fuel costs associated with Xcel’s Electric Resource Plan at Xcel’s Weighted Average Cost of Capital (“WACC”) will have the effect of shrinking these future fuel costs and also shrinking the savings that will come from cost-effective renewable energy resources like wind and solar that don’t have future fuel costs.

More details on Xcel’s Electric Resource Plan and the key issues, including the importance of the choice of discount rate, are available in the public comment filing made by Clean Energy Action Board member Leslie Glustrom.

CEA is grateful that the new appointees to the Colorado PUC , Chairperson Jeff Ackerman and Commissioner Wendy Moser, along with Commissioner Frances Koncilja, are dedicated to hearing from the public and that the public is well enough informed to provide useful and compelling testimony!

You can also check out Christi Turner’s comprehensive article in Boulder Weekly and learn more about this important step froward in the fight for cheaper, cleaner power.

Selling the Taxpayers’ Coal

The United States government owns 700 million acres of mineral estates, 570 million acres of which is open for coal development. The Mineral Leasing Acts of 1920 and 1947 gave responsibility for these coal mineral estates to the Bureau of Land Management, who are in charge of leasing them to companies for mining. This federal coal system has not been reviewed in more than 30 years.

Taxpayers for Common Sense has been investigating the national coal program to make sure that American taxpayers are being paid what they are owed for the more than one billion tons of coal produced annually in the United States. Their 2013 report highlighted the urgent need for review and overhaul and spurred the Department of the Interior to launch their own multi-year review of the program. Check out TCS’s video and the great work they have been doing to promote transparency and protect American taxpayers.

 

IEEFA Analysis: The Economic Frailties and Rickety Finances Behind the Dakota Access Pipeline

The Dakota Access Pipeline has been the heart of several controversial issues, including tribal sovereignty and risks to drinking water.  This IEEFA article explains that the project may also be a very high-risk economic investment.

The article concludes that:

“If oil prices remain low, as currently projected, Bakken oil production will continue to decline, and existing pipeline and refinery capacity in the Bakken will be more than adequate to handle the region’s oil production. And if production continues to fall, the Dakota Access Pipeline will become a stranded asset—one rushed to completion largely to protect the favorable contract terms its developers negotiated in 2014.”

Read full article here

Coal is Not the Solution to Poverty

A refreshing report published by the Overseas Development Institute this month concludes that:

“The evidence is clear: a lasting solution to poverty requires the world’s wealthiest economies to renounce coal, and we can and must end extreme poverty without the precipitous expansion of new coal power in developing ones.”

Beyond Coal: Scaling up clean energy to fight global poverty

Read the full report here.

U.S. Energy Information Administration Projections Far from Accurate

EIA projections missed unprecedented growth in solar PV installations and a sharp downturn in coal production over the last decade.

For a more detailed analysis of inaccuracy in the EIA’s projections, see CEA’s white paper on the topic here.

Policymakers, utility commissions, investors, and energy companies rely on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) data for a wide range of energy analyses and while the historical data provided by the EIA has been extremely useful in many arenas, the EIA’s projections of future trends are often far from accurate. Our research summarizes a few examples of previously reported inaccuracies in EIA projections (for example, here, here, and here), but also provides what we believe to be the first look at the EIA’s inaccurate projections of U.S. coal production in almost a decade.

The projections published in the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) have invariably overestimated the cost of renewable electricity generation and fallen sadly short of predicting new additions of wind and solar capacity. For example, Figure 1 shows that the projections published in the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook repeatedly underestimated U.S. utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity from 2011 to 2015 and continue to predict that solar installations will largely stall through about 2025.

In reality, however, solar PV capacity is growing at an unprecedented rate. The Solar Energy Industries Association reported that by the third quarter of 2016, the cumulative U.S. utility-scale solar PV capacity (including capacity which was under contract but not yet operating) exceeded the AEO2015 projection for capacity in 2039. Accounting for planned capacity which had been announced but was not yet under contract by Q3 2016 indicates that utility-scale solar PV capacity will soon far surpass all AEO projections for 2040.

Solar PV Capacity and Projections
EIA reference case projections of U.S. utility-scale solar PV capacity and historical data (black, bold) as well as points which include planned capacity under contract in Q3 of 2016 and announced but pre-contract installations as of Q3 2016. Projection data taken from the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook, historical data taken from Solar Energy Industries Association’s U.S. Solar Market Insight Reports.

In addition to missing the sharp rise in solar photovoltaic installations, EIA projections also missed a dramatic downturn in coal production over the last decade. They failed to pick up on the trend year after year and still predict flat or rising coal production through 2040, as shown in Figure 2.

History (black, bold) and annual EIA projections of U.S. coal production from 1997 to 2040. Note that the vertical axis starts at 950 million short tons for clarity. Data taken from: the EIA's Annual Energy Outlook.
History (black, bold) and annual EIA projections of U.S. coal production from 2006-2015. Note that the vertical axis starts at 950 million short tons for clarity. Data taken from: the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook.

Disruptive innovations tend to precipitate new market trends that are notoriously difficult to predict. Just as the invention of the personal computer led to an abrupt decline in the typewriter industry in the late 1900’s, a massive transition toward renewable resources is transforming U.S. energy markets and so far EIA projections have failed to keep up with this transition. Every year, EIA forecasts predict a return to the trends of the 90’s, but the technological and political landscapes surrounding the U.S. energy industry are changing rapidly and historical precedent suggests that energy markets may never return to those of past decades.

For more details, readers are encouraged to download the full CEA White Paper here.