Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

 

New Report Finds That Only Coal Companies Have the Ability to Self-Bond, Which Harms Mining Communities and Taxpayers Nationwide

Federal law requires that companies reclaim any land that they disturb through development. This law affects all energy and natural resource sectors, including coal mining, oil and gas mining on federal lands, and wind and solar development on federal lands.

Normally, companies are required to provide financial assurances in the form of cash or assets set aside to guarantee that the land can be reclaimed even if the company goes bankrupt. However, Congress allows the coal mining industry to demonstrate financial assurance through self-bonds, which are simply financial promises with no collateral to back them up.

Since 2015, billions of dollars of reclamation self-bonds have been jeopardized by coal company bankruptcies, subjecting taxpayers to the risk of picking up the tab instead.

Furthermore, a new report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed that the coal mining industry is the only industry in the country that is allowed to self-bond, raising questions about why the coal industry is allowed to play by different rules than other forms of mining and energy production.

The GAO report was requested by several U.S. Senators in the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources including Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington.

“GAO has now confirmed that coal companies are getting a sweet deal at the expense of communities and taxpayers,” Sen. Cantwell said. “It’s time the rules for coal caught up to the rules for other forms of mining and energy production.”

Clean Energy Action has spoken out against self-bonding for years (see here and here), and it is encouraging to hear that the word has spread to Washington!

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.

9th Annual Schultz Lecture

9th Annual Schultz Lecture: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Electric Power Sector

Paul Joskow, MIT professor of economics

Thursday, September 22nd
5:30 pm
University of Colorado School of Law
Wold Law Building, Wittemyer Courtroom

 

This event is free and open to the public. You must be registered to attend. More information and registration available here.

 

Electricity generation accounts for about 30% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. While emissions have declined by about 20% in the last ten years, much of this reduction is due to the fortuitous availability of cheap natural gas which
has provided incentives to substitute less CO2 intensive natural gas for coal as a generation fuel. The sector faces many challenges to meet long run 2050 goals of reducing emissions by as much as 80% from 2005 levels. These challenges include the diversity of federal, state and municipal regulation, the diverse and balkanized structure of the industry from state to state and region to region, the failure to enact policies to place a price on all carbon emissions,
the extensive reliance on subsidies and command and control regulation to promote renewables and energy efficiencies, uncertainties about aggressive assumptions about improvements in energy efficiency beyond long-term trends, pre-mature closure of carbon free nuclear generating technologies, integrating renewables efficiently into large regional grids, methane leaks, and transmission constraints. The lecture will discuss these challenges and suggest policies to reduce the costs and smooth the transition to a low carbon electricity sector.

Paul L. Joskow became President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation on January 1, 2008. He is also the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics, Emeritus at MIT. He received a BA from Cornell University in 1968 and a PhD in Economics from Yale University in 1972. See full biography here.

Citizen Power Training

Sept. 3rd, 2014
6 – 8 pm
University of Colorado Boulder Campus
Hale Building, Room 260

How can students change energy policies in our state? How can we act in solidarity to move state legislators to fight for sustainability?

Clean Energy Action is bringing together Boulder students and community members to teach skills and tools to advocate for the clean energy market. This two-hour training will teach attendees how to craft their public narrative, set up meetings with their state legislators, and include a discussion of solutions to improve the state’s deficient energy market.

Register Here

Join fellow community members from diverse groups in an evening of action, empowerment, and solidarity. Learn how to speak truth to power and demand changes to our deficient energy market.

Training

This evening of action will focus on the economics behind the energy industry and discuss where we fit in as consumers. After skits and fact sheets, participants will have the opportunity to practice discussing the energy market with each other.

Next, we will practice the most valuable component of creating change: sharing our public narrative. Finally, we will end with the opportunity to sign up to meet with legislators and we’ll create action plans for how to move forward and organize for a better, more sustainable and equitable energy market.

Don’t miss this opportunity to stand in solidarity as community members, call on your legislators to create policy improvements to an energy market that is overdue for change, and be inspired by local community members who are demanding solutions for the climate and creating sustainability.

Logistics

Food will be provided at the beginning of the training. The space is wheelchair accessible. For other ability and language needs, please contact Katie Raitz at (719)640-5803 or katie.raitz@gmail.com Gender-neutral restrooms. We are unable to provide childcare for this event. Non-voting age youth are welcome to attend.

Sign up on the Eventbrite page, and include your zip code so that we can track your legislator and place you in a group with similar constituents. You don’t need to bring a ticket. The building is located on the University of Colorado’s campus, in Hale building, which is on Broadway and Pleasant Street. The training will be held in room 260. The building is accessible via RTD public transportation. There is metered parking on the Hill adjacent from campus.