Oil and Water: Fracking in Nevada

 

Fracking in Nevada: natural gas pumping station in Nine Mile Canyon utah

Natural gas pumping station in Nine Mile Canyon Utah, near the fossil-fuel-rich Uinta Basin

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is when water and a mix of chemicals are injected deep underground to fracture oil and gas-bearing rock and provide cracks and fissures along which oil and gas can flow. Since most easy oil and gas in North America already has been pumped– no more Beverly Hillbillies-style gushers – fracking is how most oil and gas is obtained now.

Fracking in Nevada

Fracking is coming to Nevada. Noble Energy has drilled two test wells in Elko County, and the state’s first fracking occurred in one of them. This year the BLM is offering several oil and gas lease sales on public land throughout the state. In the environmental assessments the BLM says fracking is likely to take place in the development of oil and gas wells on public land

Oil and gas development in Nevada is not new. Over 48 million barrels of oil have been produced from Nevada oil fields. The oil reservoir currently of interest to oil and gas companies is the Chainman Formation, a layer of shale extending from north-central Nevada through western Utah which, according to some estimates, may hold up to a billion barrels of oil.

There are serious concerns with the impact of fracking on water quality and quantity, especially in an arid state like Nevada where every drop of water counts.

About 5% of fracking fluid consists of chemicals and other substances that are used to prop open cracks and fissures in the rock and to ease pumping. These contaminants cannot be removed. While a few companies are beginning to reuse fracking fluid, mostly the used fluid is disposed of – often left in lined ponds to evaporate. ***Transporting and treating used fracking fluid can result in spills, contaminating groundwater. The fracking process itself can contaminate groundwater when faulty wells and bore holes allow fracking fluid to leak into groundwater reservoirs.

Fracking uses a lot of water. Western Resource Advocates reports that in Colorado, annual water requirements for fracking are 22,100 to 39,500 acre-feet, enough water for 66,400 to 118,400 homes. In a recent report on fracking fluid and water stress, Ceres, an organization that advises investors on environmental risks, reports that in all wells fracked in the United States between 2011 and 2013, over 97 billion gallons of water were used. Almost half of all wells fracked were in regions with high or extremely high water stress.

That will probably be the case with fracking in Nevada. In its environmental assessment for oil and gas leasing in Elko Country, the BLM says “many of the hydrographic areas in Elko County- including those in this lease sale – are fully appropriated or over-appropriated.”

Why are we even thinking about allowing a process that uses and permanently contaminates so much water in Nevada, the driest state in the union?

Reese River Basin Citizens Against Fracking is asking the same question, asking a federal judge to halt the sale of BLM oil and gas leases in a lawsuit filed last week.

State Regulation

A bill introduced in the 2013 session of the Nevada Legislature would have required a beefed-up permitting process for fracking. Energy company lobbyists objected to the additional layer of permitting, and the heavily amended bill that passed says simply that the Divisions of Minerals and Environmental Protection should develop a program to assess the impacts of fracking on waters of the state of Nevada and require disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process.

If we are to properly care for the water of our state, that program should require well operators and regulatory agencies to evaluate and disclose the water volumes used in each oil basin; require operators to submit plans for minimizing water use through efficiency, recycling and reusing water; and include information on how much water returns to the surface after fracking operations take place.

The current draft regulations do not include any of these requirements. In comments on the proposed regulations John Hadder of Great Basin Resource Watch suggests “a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until all concerns are addressed and regulations are in place that will provide for protection of public health and the environment.”

A moratorium on fracking in Nevada is a good idea – it would give our legislature and regulatory agencies time to figure out how best to protect our most precious resource, our water, from the effects of ill-considered oil and gas development.

*** On subsequent research I found this to be incorrect. Most used fracking fluid currently is disposed of in deep injection wells, in which fracking fluid and other waste fluids that result from oil and gas operations are injected deep underground into porous rock formations.  Injection wells have been linked to manmade earthquakes, which may be caused by pressure changes due to the fluid injected deep below the surface.

This opinion piece by Anne Macquarie, NCARE blog editor, was originally published in the Nevada Appeal on July 11, 2014.

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What is the Clean Power Plan? FAQ’s for Nevada

Why FAQ’s?

Not everyone has the time or inclination to read the EPA’s 645-page proposed rule to reduce CO2 emissions rates from existing power plants, so we thought it would be useful to present answers to frequently asked questions about the rule. The following FAQ’s are distilled from EPA fact sheets, newspaper articles, and numerous webinars, white papers, and analyses that have appeared about the proposed rule since it was released on June 2, 2014.

Clean Power Plan FAQ's: Navajo Generating Station

Navajo Generating Station. Photo: EPA

What is the Clean Power Plan? On June 2, 2014, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposed rule that requires each U.S. state to reduce its CO2 emissions rate from existing fossil fuel plants to meet state-specific standards starting in 2020, with a final emissions reduction target date of 2030. EPA estimates that the rule will achieve a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions from the U.S. electric power sector in 2030 relative to 2005 levels. This interactive map from EPA shows CO2 emissions reduction targets by state.

What authority does EPA have to do this?

  • In 1970 the Clean Air Act was enacted by President Nixon to address growing national concern over air pollution. The Clean Air Act gave EPA the responsibility for setting emission standards for certain air pollutants.
  • In 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that greenhouse gases are air pollutants, so they must be regulated by EPA if they threaten or endanger public health.
  • In 2009 an EPA endangerment finding declared that current and projected concentrations of six key greenhouse gases— including CO2—threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations. With this finding, EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions was established.

Why all the different names: 111(d), Clean Power Plan, carbon rule?

These are all terms for the same thing.

  • 111(d) is the section of the Clean Air Act that gives the EPA authority to regulate dangerous air pollutants not specifically included in the original Act. This has become a very important section of the Clean Air Act because it allows EPA to regulate pollutants that were not understood to be hazardous in 1970 when the Clean Air Act was passed. The term 111(d) is now used by some people to denote EPA’s proposed rule to control carbon pollution from existing power plants.
  • EPA regulates air pollution by proposing and implementing “rules,” so “carbon rule” is another term used for the CO2 emission standards EPA is proposing.
  • Clean Power Plan is the term EPA is using for the proposed rule.

Why power plants? How much do they contribute to CO2 emissions?

Power plants are the largest source of CO2 emissions in the United States, making up a third of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Does the rule regulate all greenhouse gases?

No. The Clean Power Plan only sets emissions reduction targets for Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

How are CO2 emissions measured in the proposed rule?

Emissions are measured as a rate: Pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity generation, or lbs/Mwh

How will the Clean Power Plan affect Nevada?

EPA is proposing that Nevada develop a plan to lower its carbon pollution to meet a proposed emission rate goal of 647 lbs/Mwh in 2030.

EPA suggests “building blocks” for each state to meet its emission reduction goal. These building blocks consist of switching from coal generation to generation from either new or existing natural gas facilities; credit for new or existing nuclear power; using credit for renewable energy; and credit for energy efficiency improvements.  Nevada will choose how to meet the goal through whatever combination of measures reflects its particular circumstances and policy objectives. A state does not have to put in place the same mix of strategies that EPA used to set the goal.

Nevada may work alone or in cooperation with other states to comply with the proposed rule. EPA estimates that states could achieve their goals most cost effectively if they work with others.

What are Nevada’s CO2 emissions now from existing power plants? What will they be in 2030?

  • In 2012, Nevada’s power sector CO2 emissions were approximately 14 million metric tons from sources covered by the rule.
  • Nevada’s 2012 emission rate was 988 pounds/megawatt hours (lb/Mwh).
  • EPA is proposing that Nevada develop a plan to lower its carbon pollution to meet its proposed emission rate goal of 647 lb/Mwh in 2030. This is a reduction of 35%.

Is this just something EPA is imposing, or does the state have a say?

Under the Clean Power Plan, EPA sets a carbon emission reduction target for each state, then the states have flexibility in designing a plan to meet those targets. The ways states can meet their targets are broad and varied, and could include energy efficiency programs, switching from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas, expanding renewables like wind, geothermal and solar, and even joining together with other states in regional “cap-and-trade” markets. Only if states do not come up with a state plan to meet the emission reduction targets will EPA impose standards on them.

In the proposed rule, the emission reductions targets for each state are different. How did EPA determine what reduction target to assign to each state?

In determining the state-by-state reduction targets, EPA considered a wide range of potential measures to reduce CO2 emissions from existing power plants, and came up with a “Best System of Emissions Reduction” (BSER) that includes coal heat rate improvements, switching from coal generation to combined-cycle natural gas, increased deployment of renewable energy and nuclear power, and increased energy efficiency. EPA then used these four “building blocks” in a formula to calculate the emission reduction that each state could achieve. Since the existing mix of electricity generation and the capacity to switch to different fuel sources is different in each state, the reduction targets vary by state.

Though EPA relied upon these four “building blocks,” in calculating state-by-state emissions reduction targets, states have broad flexibility to use other strategies in implementing their own emissions reduction plans.

How do emission reduction requirements for Nevada compare with those for other states?

  • Nevada’s emission reduction target is 647 lbs/Mwh. This is a 35% reduction from 2012 levels.
  • The national average reduction target is 987 lbs/Mwh. This is a 25% reduction.
  • As a comparison, South Carolina is being asked to lower its emissions rate by 51%; Wyoming is being asked to lower its emissions rate by only 19%.

This interactive map from EPA shows CO2 emissions reduction targets by state.

Is it possible for Nevada to achieve the required reduction without “freezing in the dark?” CO2 emissions from electrical generation in Nevada have already dropped significantly over the past decade, as Nevada utilities switched from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas and to renewables. In the ten years from 2002 to 2012, CO2 emissions from electrical generation in Nevada dropped from about 21 million to 14.9 million metric tons annually.

The switch away from coal in Nevada will continue, EPA rule or not. SB123, passed in the last Nevada legislative session, mandated that NV Energy close the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant in southern Nevada and withdraw from its share of the Navajo coal plant in Arizona, replacing the coal capacity with natural gas and renewables.

With state and NV Energy initiatives including the implementation of SB123; a state Renewable Portfolio Standard mandating 25% renewable energy by 2025; the ongoing switch from coal made possible by the historically low price of natural gas as well as the plummeting costs of renewable energy; and building on energy efficiency efforts already underway, Nevada is in a good position to meet the emissions reduction target with minimal impact on ratepayers.

How much will it cost?

EPA projects  that the nationwide compliance costs for this rule would be between $7.3 billion and $8.8 billion annually by 2030. This would lead to about a 3 percent increase in electricity rates by 2030.

The New York Times reports that while “Opponents attacked Mr. Obama’s plan in vociferous terms, with the claim about Americans ‘freezing in the dark’…more optimistic assessments of the plan came from utility executives and many state officers who would have to carry it out. Some independent energy experts said that electricity prices may rise by a few percentage points in some states, but even that is not a foregone conclusion. ‘I predict this will be far easier and far faster and far cheaper than most people realize,’ said Hal Harvey, chief executive of Energy Innovation…”

A study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce puts the cost much higher, but according to an article in The New Republic, “The Chamber’s study included all kinds of shaky assumptions and its prediction of higher electricity prices was not actually that big. As Jonathan Chait observed in New York magazine, ‘Even the Chamber’s unrealistically dire number is still low enough that most people would barely notice it.’”

What are the benefits?

EPA says the Clean Power Plan will lead to climate and health benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion in 2030, including avoiding 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

What does the proposed rule say about nuclear power?

Nevada has no nuclear power plants, but in some states, nuclear power may play a role in achieving the state’s emission reduction goal. In the rule, the EPA acknowledges the role of “clean” nuclear power in achieving the state goals. The EPA assumes states will be “completing all nuclear units currently under construction, [and] avoiding retirement of about six percent of existing nuclear capacity” The EPA says that the challenge of nuclear waste disposal, contamination risks, and other environmental impacts associated with nuclear power are outweighed by its clean energy benefits.

What does the proposed rule say about energy efficiency as a way to meet emissions reduction goals?

The EPA proposes a “portfolio approach” to meeting a state’s emissions reduction goals. The portfolio could include energy efficiency measures implemented either by electrical generators or by other entities.

What difference will the proposed rule make in halting global warming?

According to the EPA, the Clean Power Plan will result in:

  • By 2030, a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions from U.S. power plants from 2005 levels
  • 30 million metric tons less carbon pollution

Unfortunately, this is not enough. According to the New York Times, “Climate scientists say that emissions in the developed countries need to fall 80 percent or more by 2050 if global warming is to be held to tolerable levels. Mr. Obama’s draft plan does not put the United States on a trajectory that would make such a huge cut likely to be achieved.”

But expected regulations reducing methane emissions from landfills and pipelines will also help the US reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels pledged by President Obama in 2009. Moreover, the Clean Power Plan sends a very strong message to the rest of the world that the US is serious about cleaning up carbon pollution. So it’s a start. And in the continued lack of congressional action on climate change, it’s much better than nothing.

What’s the timeline?

  • June 2, 2014: draft rule released
  • Comment period open until October 16, 2014
  • Rule finalized 2015 S
  • tates will have until June 2016 to submit initial state implementation plans
  • State plans finalized by June 2017 for stand-alone plans, and by June 2018 for multi-state plans
  • Emission reduction target date is 2030

How can I comment to the EPA about the Clean Power Plan?

Use this link to see a public meeting schedule or to comment (by October 16, 2014):  This link takes you to EPA’s webpage about the Clean Power Plan where there are also many fact sheets, as well as the full 625-page rule and technical supporting documents.

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Energy efficiency in Nevada a theme in Energy Committee meeting

Every committee member showed up and energy efficiency in Nevada was a theme

energy efficiency in Nevada: Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick wants to assure that low-income Nevadans share in energy efficiency improvements

Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick wants to make sure low-income Nevadans share in energy efficiency improvements

Starting off the energy efficiency theme in public comments, Jane Feldman of the Sierra Club urged a robust energy efficiency policy in Nevada.

Kevin Hill, Energy Efficiency Program Manager with the Governor’s Office of Energy,  described the Nevada green building tax abatement incentives for energy-efficient commercial building retrofits. Hill said his program has approved 39 projects across the state resulting in energy efficiency upgrades totaling $800 million.

Chris Lynch of UNR’s Business Environmental Program described a white paper recently completed by his organization about how to improve the regulatory and policy environment for energy efficiency in Nevada. Lynch told the committee that Nevada’s policies show preference for renewable energy over energy efficiency energy, and pointed out how efficiency is our lowest-cost, lowest- risk energy resource.

The BEP report made eight recommendations to improve energy efficiency policies in the state, including on-bill financing for energy efficiency improvements, supporting the expansion of an energy efficiency supply chain in Nevada, and support for alternative fuel vehicles.

Alternative vehicle recommendation prompts discussion about how to pay for roads

The alternative vehicles recommendation prompted discussion among committee members about how to pay for roadway improvements in Nevada – already in a funding crisis – with potential mass adoption of electric vehicles, which don’t pay gas tax but still use the roads. This will be an issue to watch as electric vehicles are more widely adopted.

Lauren Boitel of Energy Fit Nevada described her organization’s energy efficiency program for homeowners, prompting a question from Assemblywoman Kirkpatrick about what the organization is doing for low-income homeowners living in older housing that “will never really be” be energy efficient. Boitel said EnergyFit hopes to begin working with landlords of multi-family units.

Clean energy investments: “A ten-to-one rate of return”

Lydia Ball of the Clean Energy Project reminded the Committee of the economic benefits of clean energy : “A ten-to-one rate of return on our energy investments.” And with all the renewable energy conferences taking place in the state this year, Ball said “We are ground zero for clean energy.”

Energy education in schools

Monica Brett of Green Alliance described a new Nevada energy literacy guide for K-through-12 teachers. The program – the first in the nation – will be piloted in Myrtle Tate Elementary school in North Las Vegas next year.

1 Sun Solar: Supply part of SB123 capacity replacement with rooftop solar

Louise Helton of 1 Sun Solar , saying that rooftop solar can be a “game changer” for our state, made a pitch to the committee to require that 300 MW of capacity replacement required by SB 123 be provided by rooftop solar. Scott Shaw of the same company described the Property Assisted Clean Energy (PACE) funding mechanism that allows property owners to finance energy improvements with loans that are repaid through an assessment placed on property tax bills.

Solar for low-income families

Stanley Grescher of Grid Alternatives, the statewide program manager for the Affordable Solar Homes Programs (SASH and MASH) in California, described his agency’s programs, a New York State program and Colorado’s Solar Gardens concept as ways to make rooftop solar affordable to low-income families.

Natural gas in Nevada

Debra Gallo of Southwest Gas talked to the committee about the company’s pipeline infrastructure in Nevada. She asked for a legislative policy to promote the appropriate expansion of natural gas infrastructure to under-served areas in Nevada. Committee members asked her to get to them any information she has about whether any companies have in fact not relocated to areas without natural gas service because of the lack of service.

Copper Mountain grows

Kevin Sagara of Sempra U.S. Gas and Power described the company’s continuing large-scale solar developments, Copper Mountain 1 through 4 outside of Boulder City. The Copper Mountain Solar Complex is currently one of the largest photovoltaic (PV) solar facilities in the U.S.

Once Copper Mountain 3 is completed in 2015, the three facilities will generate over 450 MW of electricity. Copper Mountain 4, still in the planning stage, will add another 92 MW. The electricity generated at the complex is sold to California utilities.

Sagara also described battery storage projects the company is undertaking in Hawai’i and California,. Assemblyman Hardy asked, “Why not Nevada?”

Sagara said the projects are in those two states because state policies encourage battery storage. Concern about grid instability due to high solar penetration has prompted the policies.

Nevadans against Fracking

In public comment, Christian Gerlach of Nevadans against Fracking reminded the committee of the fracking moratorium petition he distributed that has gathered 9,000 signatures. Gerlach said “We don’t have the water” to maintain even the current level of fracking, and regulations currently being drafted by the state to regulate fracking are inadequate. Gerlach said, “We have best potential in nation to have a solar industrial complex. We need to focus on renewable energy, not on fuels that damage our water and air. “

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Climate change heats up this summer

Climate change heating up

Carson City after Waterfall Fire

Climate change heats up this summer – the issue as well as the air temperature – and what takes place this spring and summer will determine what we as a nation will do – or not do – to mitigate climate change.

No surprise, no action on climate is coming out of a deadlocked Congress . This month there were anti-climate amendments to a very good – now dead – energy efficiency bill, one of them sponsored by our own Dean Heller. And in the lack of action, the thirty-eight members of the Congressional Safe Climate Caucus continue to fight the “conspiracy of silence in Congress about the dangers of climate change” by standing up and talking about it at any opportunity. Their grandchildren will thank them.

Nevada’s Congressional Representatives Dina Titus, Joe Heck, Mark Amodei, and Steven Horsford are not part of the cCongressional Safe Climate Caucus. Maybe their constituents should ask that they join. Their grandchildren will thank them.

Executive action

It’s clear that the Obama Administration has settled on executive action to do what Congress will not. Here’s a rundown of how all this climate activity relates to Nevada.

EPA carbon standards for existing power plants due June 2

The EPA will issue draft standards for carbon pollution from existing electrical generation on June 2. The standards will apply to all existing electrical generation facilities, and they are the subject of much speculation: How much leeway will states have to draft standards to fit their own circumstances? Will utilities be allowed to use energy efficiency and renewable energy to offset their carbon emissions? Will the standards direct an actual reduction in the total amount of carbon emitted, or only a reduction in the carbon intensity? And finally, who will sue the EPA first?

What will Nevada do?

Nevada is in a good position to comply with new carbon standards. With the closure of three units of the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant this year, the closure of the forth unit next year, and withdrawal from its share in the Navajo Plant in Arizona, NV Energy’s only remaining coal-fired generation facility will be the Valmy Generating Station in northern Nevada. Natural gas has become the fuel of choice for NV Energy, and while some carbon pollution results from the burning of natural gas to generate electricity it is much less than coal. (Though methane pollution from mining, transporting and incompletely burning natural gas does occur – and methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.)

NV Energy also plans to replace a portion of the coal generation with renewable energy. If NV Energy established a firm commitment to move to renewable energy for most or all of its generation capacity, with the state’s abundant renewable resources, the state could be a leader in a clean energy economy.

Nevada’s Dean Heller joins in Republican resistance derailing Portman Shaheen energy efficiency bill

Republican resistance to EPA’s upcoming carbon standards helped derail a bipartisan energy efficiency bill this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to allow Republican amendments supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline and opposing the pending carbon regulations. Neither side backed down, and the bill died. Heller’s proposed amendment would have required the EPA to go through an exhaustive list of potential economic impacts before establishing any pollution standards for the production, use or supply of energy.

National Climate Assessment released last week – Nevada fact sheet

Last week the Obama administration released the third U.S. National Climate Assessment—the most comprehensive scientific assessment ever generated of climate change and its impacts across every region of America and major sectors of the U.S. economy. Here’s the climate change bottom line for our region:

“Increased heat and changes to rain and snowpack will send ripple effects throughout the region, affecting 56 million people – a population expected to increase to 94 million by 2050 … Severe and sustained drought will stress water sources, already over-utilized in many areas, forcing increasing competition among farmers, energy producers, urban dwellers, and ecosystems for the region’s most precious resource.”

Increased warming, drought, and insect outbreaks, all caused by or linked to climate
change, have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems in the Southwest.
Fire models project more wildfire and increased risks to communities across extensive
areas. ”

Maybe Dean Heller should start proposing amendments directing the EPA to evaluate the costs of drought and wildfire in the lack of significant action on climate change. This is, after all, the region he represents – as climate change heats up.

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We have fifteen years

 

Carbon pollution - Navajo Generating Station

Navajo Generating Station. Photo: EPA

We have fifteen years. That’s what the International Panel on Climate Change told us this month in their latest report. We can’t keep global temperatures from rising – it’s too late for that – but we can stop temperatures from rising to such an extent that unthinkable consequences occur. The IPCC says that delaying mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions until 2020 would make it very difficult to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. So that’s it – fifteen years in which we must work our hardest to maintain a livable world for our children, our grandchildren, and the other living beings on our planet.

The IPCC says it’s possible to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees using existing technology and at an affordable cost. A cost, I would add, that is surely more affordable than the costs of the economic, social, and ecological disruption that will be caused by uncontrolled climate change. Can we muster the will to do it?

There are powerful forces arrayed against action on climate change – mostly the extremely wealthy and powerful fossil fuel industry.

What can we do to counteract all that oil influence? Here’s some good news. This June, the Environmental Protection Agency is releasing standards that will set the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. We don’t yet know what those standards are going to be, but they should be strong enough to reduce power plant pollution by at least 35% compared to 2005 levels, if the President’s Climate Action Plan is to succeed in reducing US carbon pollution by 17% by 2020.

The other good news is that Nevada is well on its way to those levels of carbon reduction with the passage last year of Senate Bill 123 that mandated the closure of NV Energy’s Reid Gardner coal-burning power plant in southern Nevada – one of the biggest sources of carbon pollution in the state – and withdrawal of NV Energy from its share in the Navajo coal-burning plant – another huge regional polluter. We are far ahead of most states, and with our abundant solar and geothermal resources we can go even further. There is no need for coal in Nevada.

Remember this when the EPA’s carbon standards are released next month and we hear the inevitable screeching about how they’ll drive us and our economy to ruin. We are in a far better position than most states in our ability to take much of the carbon pollution out of our electricity generation – we’re doing it already. And with our abundant renewable resources, we’re in a great position to move quickly to a low-carbon economy, even exporting our clean energy to neighboring states. There is no reason why Nevada could not be a leader in the new, low-carbon economy of the future. We owe it to our children.

(This was originally published as a column in the Nevada Appeal on April 30, 2014.)

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Nevada clean energy and climate change news briefs

Utah State University researchers show link between fierce California/Nevada drought and climate change

New research by Utah State University climate scientists has shown evidence connecting the amplified wind patterns of last winter and this spring, consisting of a strong high pressure in the West and a deep low pressure in the East, to global warming.

This air pressure pattern, called a dipole, usually develops in the year before an El Nino event. According to the study, the strength of the dipole has been increasing since the 1970’s. The persistent dipole and subsequent drought in California is part of a natural variability related to the initiation of El Nino, but this relationship has strengthened in response to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Clean Energy Project helps you buy green

The Clean Energy Project will publish a Buy Green List on Earth Day, April 22. The Buy Green List is a free consumer guide to “give consumers in the Las Vegas Valley the power to reward businesses that have taken initiative in advancing the clean energy economy by supporting clean energy policies and adopting energy saving practices.” If your business is interested in being included in the Las Vegas Valley’s first Buy Green List, you can download the application HERE

DRI introduces new climate change “Green Box” for educators

Materials in the new box, designed for high-schoolers, will enable students to investigate how greenhouse gases affect air temperature, explore effects of different greenhouse gases, discuss connections between human activities and greenhouse gases and more. The climate change Green Box was created by Freda Vine, a highly regarded science educator at Clark High School in Las Vegas.

Southern Nevada Water Authority’s Pat Mulroy goes to Brooking Institution as climate change expert

Pat Mulroy, former executive director of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, is joining the Brooking institution as an expert on water and climate change. The Las Vegas Sun reports that “the managing director of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., said that his organization is ‘delighted’ to add former Southern Nevada water chief Pat Mulroy to its roster of experts tackling climate change.”

Bureau of Consumer Protection petitions for a separate rate class for net metering customers
The Nevada Bureau of Consumer Protection has petitioned the Public Utilities Commission to establish a separate ratepayer class for net metering customers. Solar advocates fear that this is a continuation of challenges to net metering by utilities across the nation, and say they will fight the petition.

Secretary Clinton to keynote seventh annual Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas

The Clean Energy Project announced last week that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will deliver the keynote address at the seventh annual National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Thursday September 4, 2014 at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

Catch Years of Living Dangerously on Showtime

Here’s what Showtime tells us about Years of Living Dangerously: “This groundbreaking documentary event series explores the human impact of climate change. From the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy to the upheaval caused by drought in the Middle East, YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY combines the blockbuster storytelling styles of top Hollywood movie makers with the reporting expertise of Hollywood’s brightest stars and today’s most respected journalists.”

New Climate Hero: People who watched the first episode agreed that despite the presence of Harrison Ford, the star of the show was Texas Tech climatologist Katharine Hayhoe, who is an evangelical Christian. My friends who watched the show say that Hayhoe, challenged to explain climate change to her skeptical pastor husband and churchgoing friends, has come up with some of the clearest explanations of climate change they ever have seen.

Years of Living Dangerously has eight episodes, so try to tear yourself away for at least a couple of Sunday nights from the worlds of Don Draper and Daenerys Targaryen and watch something about your own world.

If you have any Nevada clean energy and climate change news briefs, please send them to us. Happy Earth Day everyone -get out on your feet or your bike and enjoy it.

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Recycling CFL bulbs in Nevada

Just in time for Earth Day

Articles about recycling are big around Earth Day (April 22) so we thought we’d add our effort and let you know how and where you can recycle compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL’s) and fluorescent tubing in Nevada.

This piece is prompted by a question that Speaker of the Nevada Assembly Marilyn Kirkpatrick asked SWEEP’s Howard Geller when he spoke about energy efficiency opportunities in Nevada to the Legislative Committee on Energy last week. The Speaker asked where and how her constituents could recycle the mercury-containing CFL bulbs.

Why CFLs?

CFLs’ use about a third the power of traditional incandescent bulbs and last eight to fifteen times longer. CFL’s are more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but can save over five times the purchase price in energy savings. Here’s a page on the Energy Star website where you can calculate your savings from CFL and LED bulbs.

All that energy savings is good for the environment. According to Energy Star, in 2012 Americans saved $1.8 billion by switching to Energy Star-certified CFL and LED light bulbs. Changing these bulbs removes as much greenhouse gas pollution as planting 9.5 million acres of trees or taking 2 million cars of the road each year. The energy saved could light all households in a city the size of Washington D.C. for eight years.

About mercury

But CFL’s contain small amounts of mercury, a potent neurotoxin.

(Some parenthetical perspective: a coal-fired power plant produces 13.6 mg of mercury to power one 60-watt incandescent bulb, but only 3.3 mg to power an equivalent CFL. Even if the CFL has about 5 mg of mercury inside, using CFL’s results in 5.3 fewer grams of mercury per bulb than using incandescent lighting.)

Nevertheless, because of the mercury CFL’s are classified as hazardous waste, cannot be disposed of in regular household trash, and must be recycled.

To echo Speaker Kirkpatrick, where can we recycle CFL’s in Nevada?

A wealth of CFL recycling options

It turns out we have a wealth of options to recycle CFL bulbs.

Lowe’s recycles both CFL’s and tubes at no charge and with no limit on the number. Take the bulbs to the customer service desk.

Home Depot does the same. I asked the sales rep whether they have a limit to the number of bulbs people can bring in and he said, “Nope, people bring in boxes of them.”

Batteries Plus stores in both northern and southern Nevada accept CFL’s and tubes for recycling for a charge: the northern Nevada franchise charges 66 cents per bulb for CFL’s and 12 cents a foot for tubes; the southern Nevada franchise charges 35 cents a bulb for CFL’s and 50 cents per tube.

In Las Vegas, Republic Services accepts CFL’s at hazardous waste drop-off locations in North Las Vegas and Henderson.

What happens if you break a bulb?

A recycling guide put out by Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful has good advice on what to do if you break a CFL or fluorescent tube:

  • Open the window before doing any cleaning and leave open for at least 15 minutes to avoid inhaling mercury vapors. Exit and close the door behind you to prevent children and pets from exposure.
  • Wear rubber gloves and use a stiff paper towel or cardboard to scoop up broken glass and powder and put waste in a sealable plastic bag. Do not use a vacuum or a broom as dust will become airborne.
  • Thoroughly wipe down area with a damp cloth or paper towel.
  • Put everything used for cleanup in the plastic bag with the broken glass and powder. Seal bag. Put the sealed bag into a second sealable plastic bag.
  • Wash hands after cleanup. C
  • Contact the recycling resource in your community for collection sites that accept broken bulbs.

So there you go. – all you wanted to know about recycling CFL bulbs in Nevada.  Happy Earth Day.

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Nevada Legislative Committee on Energy: full agenda, few legislators

Nevada Legislative Committee on Energy April 2014 meetingLas Vegas – The second meeting of Nevada’s Legislative Committee on Energy had a full agenda and empty chairs – only three committee members were present, and Senator Roberson left early, leaving Senator Atkinson and Assemblywoman Kirkpatrick to hold down the fort.

Though committee members were sparse, the public was not

A dozen citizens showed up in northern Nevada to tell the commission, in Janette Dean’s words, “it is not only our state’s great opportunity but also its very great responsibility to reach its full 100% capacity on renewable energy production as quickly as possible.”

In southern Nevada, another dozen activists showed up to support more robust energy efficiency efforts.

Chairman Atkinson thanked the citizens for coming, telling them, “we take these issues very seriously,” but in his view, “before we talk about what’s next we have to see what’s happening with what we passed in the last session.”

Not perhaps the sense of urgency that the citizens who’d taken the time to show up wanted to hear, since the window of action for mitigating climate change is narrowing, and Nevada’s potential for renewable energy development and energy efficiency is so large.

Net metering benefits may outweigh costs to consumers

The committee received an update on net metering studies in general and the one being undertaken in Nevada in particular. Nevada has a lot of company in evaluating its net metering polices: Jason Keyes from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council gave the committee a run-down on the dozens of other states that are reconsidering net metering and how they’re valuing the benefits of the system.

Assemblywoman Kirkpatrick, ever vigilant about her constituents’ electricity bills, told Keyes,
“At the end of the day I want to know what the effect on my constituents’ power bills will be.”

Keyes answered, “My guess is that the impact on rates of your current net metering program will be only a few cents either up or down.”

And this does not even include the societal and environmental benefits of net metering. With those added in, the effect of net metering may be positive for all Nevadans. PUC Commissioner David Noble told the committee Nevada’s net metering study should be completed by May.

Solar City talks jobs

Jo Ferriter and Dan Chai from Solar City gave what they called a “’virtual tour” of Solar City Las Vegas. Not surprisingly, they were bullish on solar energy in Nevada. Solar City opened its second headquarters last year in Las Vegas (the first is in San Mateo). Jo Ferriter told the committee the company now has 372 employees in Las Vegas and plans to scale up to over 1,000 jobs by the end of 2015. Dan Chia pointed out that the US solar industry now employs more workers than coal mining, auto manufacturing, and the US iron and steel industry.

Energy Efficiency: what about low-income customers?

Howard Geller from the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project reminded the committee that Nevada has fallen from being a top-ranked state in energy efficiency programs, and suggested ways to jump-start the program.

Assemblywoman Kirkpatrick told Geller that her goal is to work with low income people first, especially landlords of multi-family housing: “Can we put together a program for landlords to incentivize effective energy efficiency improvements?”

Geller described a program they’re currently implementing in Colorado, and offered to work with the Assemblywoman on how a similar program might be carried out in Nevada.

The next meeting of the Nevada Legislative Committee on Energy is May 19.

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Nevada clean energy and climate change news briefs

Nevada clean energy and climate change news briefs for week of April 1, 2014

Nevada clean energy and climate change news briefsRepublican Senator Dean Heller joins in bipartisan support of wind energy tax credit

The Federal Production Tax Credit for Wind Energy was an important support for the development of wind energy in this country before Congress allowed it to expire at the end of 2013. We are happy to hear that our Senator Dean Heller joined a bipartisan group of Congressmen in sending a letter to their leaders urging an extension.

Nevada clean energy and climate change news briefsNV Energy’s mPowered home energy management program now available in northern Nevada

NV Energy residential electric customers in Northern Nevada can reduce their heating and cooling costs and help lower peak energy demand by participating in the new mPowered program.  The program’s innovative technology can lower cooling costs for an average single family home by as much as 15 percent. Participating customers will receive a smart thermostat with online energy saving software free of charge. The service saves energy and maintains comfort by continuously adapting the operation of the customer’s heating and cooling (HVAC) equipment based upon how the home heats up and cools down, outside weather conditions and the customer’s comfort preferences.

Just out from WRA– A Toolkit for Community Clean Energy Programs

Community organizations can be key players in moving clean energy into the mainstream. NCARE partner Western Resource Advocates has just published a guidebook for community groups who want to advance clean energy in their communities. A Toolkit for Community Clean Energy Programs provides a practical toolkit for community organziations to work collaboratively to advance local clean energy programs.

Desert Research Institute partners with Google in climate mapping project

The Las Vegas Review Journal reports that Nevada’s Desert Research Institute has partnered with Google to map and monitor droughts in the United States, and water consumption worldwide. Part of the Obama administration’s climate change Initiative, the maps and tools created will concern heat, drought, flooding and sea-rise and will be available at www.climate.data.gov.

Google will donate a petabyte of cloud storage to host high-resolution maps, as well as 50 million hours of cloud computing on the Google Earth Engine environmental monitoring platform. The partnership will allow DRI to access the program for free. “A petabyte is signicant,” said Jim Thomas, executive director of hydrologic sciences at DRI. “You have to have that kind of capacity to store this data.”

DRI was one of three academic institutions chosen by Google to take part in the project.

We post Nevada clean energy and climate change news briefs about once a week. Please send us any news items you may have.

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Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability

Working Group 2 of the international Panel on Climate Change is tasked with evaluating the impacts of climate change and how we might adapt to it. Their report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability came out today. Here’s some of the take-away, with links to more information.

“In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans.”

Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability

Shepherd and sheep in Tibet: A key risk of climate change is the loss of rural livelihoods, especially in the least developed countries. The impacts of climate change will be felt most strongly by the poor and vulnerable in all nations.

Here are key risks to human and natural systems that the working group has a high confidence will occur, based on the state of our knowledge so far:

food insecurity and the breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes, particularly for poorer populations in urban and rural settings.

loss of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for livelihoods.
loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for coastal livelihoods, especially for fishing communities in the tropics and the Arctic.
death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise.
severe ill-health and disrupted livelihoods for large urban populations due to inland flooding in some regions. risks due to extreme weather events leading to breakdown of infrastructure networks and critical services such as electricity, water supply, and health and emergency services.
mortality and morbidity during periods of extreme heat, particularly for vulnerable urban populations and those working outdoors in urban or rural areas.
loss of rural livelihoods and income due to insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity, particularly for farmers and pastoralists with minimal capital in semi-arid regions.
• Many key risks constitute particular challenges for the least developed countries and vulnerable communities, given their limited ability to cope.

“Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts. “

This is a sobering list. Loss of ecosystems. Increased food insecurity. Ill health. Disrupted livelihood.

Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability

This chart from the IPCC shows projected temperatures with little or no mitigation efforts (orange) and projected temperatures with mitigation efforts (blue).

Yet the effects will be even worse if we do nothing to mitigate climate change by lowering global greenhouse gas emissions and undertaking other mitigation efforts. The Climate Change 2014 report says that while some risks of climate change are considerable at 1 or 2°C above preindustrial levels, climate change risks become “ very high” with global mean temperature increase of 4°C or more.

These risks include “severe and widespread impacts on unique and threatened systems, substantial species extinction, large risks to global and regional food security, and the combination of high temperature and humidity compromising normal human activities. The precise levels of climate change sufficient to trigger tipping points (thresholds for abrupt and irreversible change) remain uncertain, but the risk associated with crossing multiple tipping in human and natural systems increases with rising temperature .”

“The overall risks of climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change. “

But all is not lost.

The Climate Change 2014 report says that risks are reduced substantially with lower temperature rise. Climate change impacts may be less likely to overwhelm human and natural systems and might be easier to adapt to. But the sooner mitigation efforts are undertaken, the less dire the consequences of climate change.

This is a challenge, when few national governments are making even close to the efforts that will be needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change. It is the task of everyone alive in the world today – and our governments – to make sure that the higher temperature rises do not occur. 

Here’s a link to a video about the Climate change 2014 report.
And here’s a link to a page where you can download the full Climate Change 2014 report or a summary for policymakers.

More on the IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.

The IPCC reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socioeconomic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. Thousands of sicentists from throughout contribute to the IPCC”s work (on a voluntary basis)
It is the role of the IPCC to inform governments about the most up-to-date scientific knowledge on an issue and, where appropriate, to highlight policy options to overcome challenges, but the IPCC never promotes one set of policy options over another.

The Assessment Report and the three working  groups

The decision to prepare a Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with three Working Group contributions and a Synthesis Report was taken by the member governments of the IPCC at their 28th Session in April 2008.
Working Group II assesses impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Working Group I assesses the physical science basis of climate change, while Working Group III assesses the mitigation of climate change.. Working Group I deals with “The Physical Science Basis of Climate Change”, Working Group II with “Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” and Working Group III with “Mitigation of Climate Change”. A Synthesis Report will draw on the assessments made by all three Working Groups

What does Working Group 2 do?

The IPCC Working Group II (WG II) assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change, and options for adapting to it. It also takes into consideration the inter-relationship between vulnerability, adaptation and sustainable development. The assessed information is considered by sectors (water resources; ecosystems; food & forests; coastal systems; industry; human health) and regions (Africa; Asia; Australia & New Zealand; Europe; Latin America; North America; Polar Regions; Small Islands).

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