Continued Reliance on Coal Will Lead to Higher Utility Bills

Submitted by Amy Guinan on November 4, 2010

With growing foreign demand, diminishing “economically-feasible” coal reserves, and rising mining costs, since October of 2009, the price for a one- month contract for Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal, a main Colorado supplier, has risen 67 percent to $13.80 a ton.  Powder River Basin coal has historically been priced at $5 a ton.

With almost 60 percent of Colorado’s electricity generated from coal-fired power plants, the increasing cost of coal will likely continue to be reflected in rate-payers electricity bills.  Xcel Energy, for instance, has had three rate increases in the last 4 years in part to pay for construction of the utilities’ newest coal-fired power plant, Unit III, in Pueblo, CO.

And current electricity prices don’t take into account the impact of possible legislation to curb emissions of carbon dioxide at the federal and state level. “Legislation that’s now stalled in Congress could have placed up to a $17 charge on a ton of carbon emissions. Burning a ton of coal creates about 2.8 tons of carbon dioxide.”

For more information, visit the CEA Coal Supply Constraints Report: Coal_Supply_Constraints_CEA and the Denver Post article on rising coal costs.

Impressive Developments in Concentrated Solar Projects – The Sun Shines Bright!

Submitted by amyguinan on November 4, 2010 – 2:05pm

Concentrated solar power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors to focus a large area of sunlight onto a small area. Electrical power is produced when the concentrated light is directed onto photovoltaic surfaces or used to heat a transfer fluid for a conventional power plant.  Recent research and developments in CSP systems are yielding impressive results – and beyond the R&D phase, real CSP projects are moving forward and being implemented creating renewable energy and new jobs.

In our home state of Colorado, tests conducted by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden confirm that SkyFuel’s parabolic trough solar concentrator, the SkyTrough, has the highest standard for efficiency in its class.  NREL tests show the SkyTrough’s thermal efficiency at 350 degrees C (662 degrees F) to be over 73% efficient, meaning that nearly three quarters of the solar radiation striking the trough surface is converted into thermal energy.

In California six utility-scale solar power plants have been approved in California.  When completed, the combined power generation will be 2.8 GW, powering up to 2 million homes.   The largest of these 6 projects is the Blythe Solar Power Project, it will be the largest solar project ever on public land and will use parabolic trough similar to that used by SkyFuel in Golden.  Beyond the efficiency of this CSP systems, another advantage of this technology is that the heat can be stored in molten salt and used to create power when the sun isn’t shining.

For more information, visit

Hefty Price Tags for Indiana “Clean Coal” Plant

The effort of Duke Energy to build an Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle (IGCC) coal plant in Edwardsport, Indiana – or “clean coal” plant – has met with large cost over runs and considerable scandal in the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

In April of 2010, Duke Energy announced that the project’s scale and complexity would add approximately $530 million to the previously approved $2.35 billion estimate. That brought the total estimated cost of the plant to $2.88 billion.  The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) capped the costs of the Edwardsport coal gasification project that are passed on to consumers at $2.975 billion.  Its construction costs are nearly double the original 2007 estimate.

With approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), customer rates are expected to rise between 14-16% annually.  The rate increase will not come at once; costs began phasing into rates in January 2009, and gradually will be added to bills through 2013.

But significant controversy surrounds the IURC and it’s decision to appove the much-increased costs of the IGCC coal plant: Scott Storms, an IURC attorney and administrative law judge, allegedly discussed employment with Duke while presiding over hearings concerning the utility.  Storms left the IURC in September for a new position in Duke’s regulatory division.  Storms had handled matters related to the coal-gasification plant and consumer watchdogs from the Citizens Action Coalition say “(The IURC) has essentially given Duke Energy a blank check. We question all of those orders and the motivation behind them.” Storm has been placed on administrative leave with pay.

For more information, visit

Climate Skeptics Questions Answered – Columbia University

Submitted by amyguinan on September 28, 2010 – 6:14am

Columbia Climate Center at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, has released a paper which examines as many as possible of the major skeptic claims and counter-claims related to global climate changed caused by increase carbon in the atmostphere. The resulting paper makes for a very accessible study of the science related to climate change projections and is a well-researched tool for connecting with and explaining the challenge that is climate change.   Claims and counter-claims including climate projection models, conspiracy accusations, past warming cycles on Earth, and carbon sequestration are explored.



Global average temperatures have not risen since 1998. In fact, the decade of 2000 to 2009 is the warmest since measurements have been made. Multiple factors affect global average temperatures, including the long-term warming trend from GHGs. This time-varying interaction of climate drivers can lead to periods of relatively stable temperatures interspersed with periods of warming. The anomalously high global average temperatures in 1998 associated with the El Niño have been followed by comparably high values that reflect a combination of long-term warming and shorter-term natural variability. Periods of relatively constant temperature are not evidence against global warming.
Climate researchers are engaged in a conspiracy: global warming is a hoax. There is no evidence that scientists have engaged in alleged conspiracies. Three investigations discerned no scientific misconduct in emails stolen from University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. It has been claimed that the decline in the number of weather stations in the global network since the 1990s was due to purposeful removal, but there is no evidence to support this; furthermore, the reduction in number of stations reporting data has introduced no detectable bias in the trend of the global average temperature anomaly.  The IPCC reports undergo significant scrutiny, but as is inevitable in a 3000-page document, that scrutiny sometimes fails to detect errors. The few errors identified in the latest IPCC report were primarily in referencing and not in content.  Their existence does not support a conspiracy to misrepresent climate research.
Climate models are defective and therefore cannot provide reliable projections of future climate trends. We do not rely only on models for our understanding of the effect of greenhouse gases on climate. Theory (i.e. the physics and chemistry of the planet’s atmosphere and ocean) and observations are the foundation of our ability to understand climate and to assess and quantify forcing and impacts. Models represent the most formal way in which to project and quantify future conditions. Despite well known limitations to climate models such as the uncertainties of clouds, aerosols, and spatial resolution, climate models are increasingly able to reproduce a range of physical processes and feedbacks. They unanimously predict warming with increasing greenhouse gases of a magnitude consistent with estimates independently derived from observed climate changes and past climate reconstructions.
The greenhouse gas signature (tropospheric hot spot) is missing. Climate models predict that GHGs cause cooling in the stratosphere and warming at the surface and throughout the troposphere. Observations are consistent with these predictions.  Furthermore, new measurements in the tropics suggest greater warming in the upper troposphere than at the surface, as predicted by the models. Although the tropospheric hot spot (signature) is not unique to greenhouse gas forcing, the new observational data lend support to climate simulations.
The Medieval Warm Period was just as warm as, or warmer than, today. Northern hemisphere temperatures in the Medieval Warming Period (MWP) may have been comparable to today, but the estimates have high uncertainty because there are so few records and spatial coverage is spotty. However, a MWP warmer than the last decade does not challenge the case for anthropogenic warming.
Carbon dioxide levels increase after temperatures rise in the  ice core records. The correlation of records of atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic temperature over the past 800,000 years indicates that CO2 amplified the warming attributed to variability in Earth’s orbit in the transition out the ice ages. Different processes can and do affect climate concurrently.
Earth’s climate is driven only by the sun. While Earth’s climate is undoubtedly driven by the sun, the sun is not the only factor that determines climate. The observations of warming since the second half of the 20th century cannot be explained by solar activity because it has been decreasing. Sunspots, areas of the sun’s surface that appear darker in a telescope, have been observed since the invention of telescopes in 1610. Although climate predictions from sunspots have long been attempted, the predictions have not held up.
Water vapor is the most prevalent greenhouse gas. Water vapor plays a primary role in the natural greenhouse effect, but that does not diminish the impact of CO2-induced warming.  The concentration of water vapor is a positive feedback: as the earth warms, the atmosphere can hold more water vapor, which, in turn, warms it further.
CO2 in the atmosphere is already absorbing all of the infrared radiation that it can. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at pre-industrial levels already causes substantial radiation absorption.  Anthropogenic increases in carbon dioxide concentration cause further absorption (over a broader range of wavelengths) and change the height distribution of the absorption.  These effects generate warming and are fully incorporated in current climate models.
Climate sensitivity is overestimated in current climate models. Climate sensitivity is defined as the change in global mean temperature that occurs in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Values between 2 and 4.5oC are consistent with our understanding of forcing and past and present climate shifts. Lower estimates tend to disregard feedbacks, like water vapor, and delays associated with slower earth system components, like the ocean. Furthermore, sensitivity values below 2.5oC cannot explain the observed climate changes of the past.
Increasing carbon dioxide will stimulate plant growth and improve agricultural yield. Plant growth is stimulated by increased levels of CO2 under equal conditions of temperature and availability of water and nutrients. However, altered growing conditions due to projected shifts in climate will likely counter the fertilization effect in large parts of the already food-insecure world. Experiments to quantify the impact of CO2 enrichment indicate that increased growth does not occur for all plant species and that nutritional content of crops is sometimes negatively impacted.
Human society and natural systems have adapted to past climate change. Past climate changes have often been accompanied by migration, war, and disease. The growing human population will inevitably make environmental change more disruptive in the future, even in the face of increased technological prowess.

Feed-in tariffs for Renewable Energy save French millions

Conventional wisdom sometimes suggest that as more renewables are added to a utility’s generating mix, the average cost of electricity increases, but French feed-in tariffs for wind, hydro, biogas and other technologies not only did not cost money in 2008, they also saved French ratepayers five million Euros through the year.

Furthermore, generation from renewables in France increased nearly three fold from 2003 through 2009.

Previous studies in Germany, Denmark, and Spain illustrated the significant monetary benefit when renewables offset conventional generation.

Accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy