CLEAN ENERGY

Midwest Energy News: Net Metering Policies Drive Solar Growth

Turns out, solar energy is good for rate payers, good for the grid and good for the environment.

ELPC’s Brad Klein spoke with Midwest Energy News about what a new Environment America study on the value of solar  means for the on-going discussion about the role of solar in the energy future of the Midwest.

From that story:

“…In the Midwest, many feel like solar is under attack. In states including Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, utilities are seeking — or state regulators have adopted — policies that impede net metering or solar more generally. Clean-energy advocates lament that these decisions have generally been made without referencing data, hence they hope evidence like that presented in Environment America’s report will help shape future decisions.

“When [utilities] argue about the cost of solar they never use any specifics, they’re generalized arguments that don’t reflect the level of solar penetration and don’t reflect any benefits that solar brings to the grid,” said Brad Klein, senior attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC).

“And the more systemic issue is those arguments completely fail to recognize the benefits of solar, all the things this report lays out. When you study distributed solar on the grid, you learn there are a whole host of benefits utilities are ignoring when they claim net metering is unfair.”

Read the whole story here: http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2015/06/24/report-net-metering-policies-drive-solar-growth/

 

News: ELPC Leads Letter Calling for Petcoke Standards

The following is re-posted from Midwest Energy News.

Advocates Blast Illinois EPA For Passing On Petcoke Oversight

by Kari Lydersen

Petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” is still a problem in Chicago despite city regulations, and it could quickly become a problem in other parts of the state if there are no limits or rules on storage of the toxic powdery byproduct of oil refining.

That’s the message of groups that sent a letter to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) on June 11, decrying the agency’s decision not to pursue making such statewide rules.

In January 2014, the IEPA had asked the Illinois Pollution Control Board for permission to make emergency rules regarding the storage of petcoke and other bulk materials in the state.

The move was sparked by controversy over petcoke storage on Chicago’s Southeast Side, including by the Koch Industries subsidiary KCBX Terminals. In asking for rules the IEPA cited fugitive particulate matter air emissions and run-off from petcoke storage piles into water.

At the time the Illinois Pollution Control Board denied the IEPA the authority to make an emergency rule, but said “the rules governing bulk terminal operations for petcoke and coal could be improved,” and urged the IEPA to go ahead with a standard rule-making procedure.

A docket was opened and over the following months the IEPA told the pollution control board it was conducting outreach and meetings with stakeholders. But, as the pollution control board indicated in its April 16 final opinion, the IEPA repeatedly asked for stays of the proceedings and appeared to be making little progress. In January the board warned the IEPA that the docket could be closed if a rule wasn’t proposed within 90 days.

In April, the IEPA informed the board that it would not pursue new rules on bulk storage, stating simply that: “The Agency has updated the new administration regarding this matter. Further, the Agency has considered the effect of the City of Chicago’s recent promulgation of an ordinance addressing petcoke-related operations in the City, as well as pending litigation related to petcoke activity in the City.”

The groups called the IEPA’s decision “unreasonable and contrary to the public interest.” The letter indicated that Chicago’s regulations do not do enough to curb petcoke pollution, and that Chicago regulations do nothing to protect residents outside the city. The letter also said they do not consider the new administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner to be “an excuse” not to move forward with the rules.

“This is a health problem, regardless of who’s sitting in Springfield,” said Rachel Granneman, associate attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the lead signers of the letter. “IEPA has the responsibility to communities to protect them from this health threat. We don’t think that’s changed in any way.”

The IEPA did not respond to a request for comment.

Calling for prevention
While petcoke so far has not been an issue in Illinois outside Chicago, environmental and health advocates note that extensive petcoke storage could easily happen in other parts of the state. That’s especially likely given the city regulations prohibiting new petcoke storage and placing limits on existing facilities.

“It’s just unconscionable to think Illinois EPA had enough concern to call for emergency rules last year but now is essentially saying the city took care of the problem for the entire state?” said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, which signed the letter. “That just doesn’t make any sense at all. I just don’t understand why the Illinois EPA now thinks that the rest of the state doesn’t deserve the same protections people in Chicago are getting.”

Chicago-area industrial waterways, including the Calumet River, which is the artery for the KCBX facility, also run outside Chicago city limits. There are also locations along rail lines or rivers including the Mississippi River that could be convenient for storing petcoke.

Advocates say state rules are imperative to pre-empt situations like that which played out in Chicago. Granneman said it is ironic that the IEPA cited lawsuits by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan regarding petcoke as a reason state rules are not needed. Rather, the lawsuits are evidence that rules are needed to prevent such situations elsewhere in the future, she said.

“You can have lawsuits, but that’s after the fact, just dealing with that specific issue at that specific location,” said Granneman. “You really need very specific prescriptive regulations dealing with how wet the coke has to be, what to do to shut it down if the wind picks up. There aren’t these types of regulation in place [statewide]. We don’t want to have the whack-a-mole situation” dealing with problems once they arise.

KCBX spokesman Jake Reint said state rules are not necessary.

“For the products we handle at KCBX, we continue to believe further regulation isn’t necessary given what we know about the effectiveness of the existing requirements and our own bulk material handling practices,” he said.

Other companies and trade associations representing coal, oil, shipping, chemicals and manufacturing also opposed state rules on bulk storage, which would affect other commodities along with petcoke.

Chicago regulations not enough
Local residents and advocacy groups say state rules on petcoke are also needed for Chicago, because they don’t believe the city’s regulations are strict enough or being enforced enough to adequately protect residents.

KCBX was granted some variances to rules issued by the city health department. And company officials have repeatedly said they cannot meet a city deadline of June 2016 for enclosing petcoke piles. The company had essentially been in a standoff with city officials over the matter until just before February elections where petcoke was a campaign issue; then KCBX promised to remove petcoke piles by the deadline.

Reint said that is still the plan.

“By next summer there will be no petroleum coke or coal piles at either of our terminals, as the city’s rules require,” he said.

But given the company’s statements and record in the past, residents are not convinced KCBX will keep its promise. Meanwhile they are also worried that even if KCBX eventually builds an enclosure, serious air pollution could still occur if high volumes are delivered on barges and rail cars, which do not have to be covered. The letter also points to problems in recent months, despite KCBX’s investments in dust suppression.

“Even with the City of Chicago regulations in effect, facilities in Chicago are still failing to comply with national air pollution standards that US EPA set to protect public health,” said the June 11 letter, whose signers included the Southeast Chicago Coalition to Ban Petcoke, State Representative Barbara Flynn-Curie, the Sierra Club Illinois, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, Blacks in Green, the National Nurses United labor union and other community and regional organizations.

The letter noted:

“As recently as February 14, 2015, the 24-hour average concentration of particulate matter less than ten micrometers in diameter (PM10) at the southeast monitoring site at KCBX’s North Terminal was 175 micrograms per cubic meter, while the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for PM10 is 154 micrograms per cubic meter.2 The City of Chicago regulations are unable to ensure compliance with national standards; they certainly provide no acceptable basis to forgo state regulations.”

Reint countered that the company’s monitoring and soil testing show that the company is not causing pollution.

In January, the City Council passed an ordinance ordering the Department of Planning and Development to set limits on how much petcoke or coal can be passed through a facility. The ordinance included a deadline of March 31 for the limits, but so far none have been set. A Department of Planning and Development spokesman did not respond to requests for comment or information.

Residents say this apparently missed deadline is among the reasons they don’t trust the city administration to effectively regulate petcoke, despite tough talk from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials. And if powerful politicians like Emanuel don’t do enough to crack down on companies that store petcoke, they ask how residents in low-income and/or rural areas without such political clout will fare.

“Other smaller local governments where petcoke is or might be stored may be bamboozled or threatened into forgoing local health protections by the powerful corporations in this business,” said Urbaszewski. “Some may not even have the ability to set strong local rules to protect their own residents. People living in Illinois should be protected from corporate actions that put their health at risk, no matter where they live in the state.”

ELPC, NRDC and other signers of the letter to the IEPA are members of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.

Crain’s Chicago Business: Exelon’s nuke partner is also a rival

Exelon has a frenemy in Warren Buffett.

The billionaire chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns Des Moines, Iowa-based utility MidAmerican Energy, is playing an outsized role in Illinois’ energy future. MidAmerican is co-owner with Exelon of the Quad Cities nuclear plant, which Exelon has threatened to close unless lawmakers vote to hike electricity rates on most state residents to provide more revenue to the company’s six Illinois nukes, including Quad Cities.

But MidAmerican is arguably a major contributor to Quad Cities’ woes.

Exelon consistently has blamed the sale of wind power from Iowa into Illinois for driving wholesale energy prices down to levels that make it impossible for some Exelon nukes—in particular Quad Cities, which sits along the Mississippi River—to make money.

Who’s building all that wind power? Since 2004, MidAmerican has developed more than 2,800 megawatts, about half the wind capacity in Iowa, according to the American Wind Energy Association, and significantly more than the 1,819-megawatt capacity of the Quad Cities nuke.

On May 1, MidAmerican announced plans to invest $900 million in the construction of two wind farms next year that will add 552 megawatts. Buffett is an enthusiastic supporter of renewable energy, saying last year that he would be happy to invest $15 billion in green energy over coming years. For his company, investing in Iowa wind farms comes virtually without risk because they’re approved by the state’s utilities board and ratepayers cover their cost. But the operations generate more power than can be sold exclusively in Iowa, so excess output is sold into Illinois and elsewhere.

While Exelon says Quad Cities is losing money, those losses are borne solely by Exelon, not MidAmerican. That’s because MidAmerican, which owns 25 percent of the plant, sells its portion of the output to its own ratepayers in Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota at regulated rates, ensuring it’s profitable. Exelon, operator and 75 percent owner of Quad Cities, sells its share at market prices, with no guarantee those rates will cover its costs.

MidAmerican says it supports Exelon’s proposed legislation in Illinois, which would impose a surcharge on customers of Commonwealth Edison, which serves northern Illinois, and Ameren Illinois, which delivers power downstate. The fee would support “low-carbon” forms of power and is crafted so that Exelon’s Illinois nukes would get the vast majority of the $300 million in revenue it would generate.

The bill wouldn’t impose that charge on MidAmerican’s 85,000 customers in the Quad Cities region of Illinois. That’s despite the fact that one of Exelon’s arguments for subsidizing its nukes is to preserve their high-paying union jobs and the tax base in affected communities.

So, MidAmerican’s support for its business partner is qualified. “Exelon has described the legislation as not negatively impacting MidAmerican Energy’s Illinois customers, which is critical to the company’s support,” MidAmerican spokeswoman Ashton Newman says in an email. “If future versions of the legislation impose additional costs that harm our customers, MidAmerican Energy will need to re-evaluate the measure.” MidAmerican says it wouldn’t be fair to charge its Illinois customers when they pay for MidAmerican’s part of the plant in their rates.

Yet MidAmerican has raised rates in Illinois just once since 1992. As a result, Illinoisans in the Quad Cities pay 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, 17 percent less than the 13.3 cents ComEd households pay. An average household using 653 kilowatt-hours per month pays $87 to ComEd and $72 to MidAmerican. Exelon says its proposed surcharge would add about $2 a month to the average residential bill.

“Many businesses are willing to support Exelon getting more money for its nuclear plants as long as someone else is paying for it,” says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago and a frequent Exelon critic.

For its part, Exelon says it has no position on whether MidAmerican customers should pay the surcharge. It wrote the bill to exclude them because past state laws to aid specific forms of energy have affected only ComEd and Ameren customers.

Regarding MidAmerican’s role in harming the economics of Quad Cities, Exelon spokesman Paul Elsberg says in an email, “We cannot fault any company for taking advantage of governmental support available to them.”

Exelon continues to lobby Congress to end federal tax credits for new wind farms that it says distort the energy markets. In the meantime, Elsberg says, “If Illinois’ nuclear plants were permitted to compete on an equal footing with other low-carbon energy sources through (Exelon’s surcharge), we believe the plants would return to a modest level of profitability.”

So far, Exelon hasn’t persuaded state lawmakers to act despite threats that it will start the process of closing Quad Cities and two other nukes without immediate action. CEO Chris Crane said at an investor conference on May 28 that Exelon would move in September to start the process of closing Quad Cities without financial relief. If so, Exelon won’t be able to do so unilaterally.

Exelon will need its frenemy’s acquiescence. “It is a legal issue that would need to be worked out between MidAmerican Energy and Exelon,” says Newman, adding the company “hopes the plant will continue to operate for a number of years.”

Progress Illinois: Chicago High Schoolers Rally For Climate Action, Illinois Clean Jobs Bill (VIDEO)

Chicago high schoolers held a climate action rally at the Thompson Center late Thursday afternoon to show their support for the Illinois Clean Jobs bill. The pending legislation is designed to strengthen statewide standards around energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Maria Sanchez, a Northside College Prep junior, was one of about a dozen students from various Chicago high schools at the rally.

“We think the clean energy jobs bill is something that will benefit our communities,” she said. “In general, clean energy is the future, and if Illinois is able to become a leader in that, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Sanchez said it is important for young people to get organized around climate issues.

“Climate change knows no boundaries, no language, no race. It affects everyone,” she said. “We think that youth have been the driving force of many different movements, and this is no exception. Taking climate action, especially now, is important, because we are going to be affected by the effects of not taking climate action.”

Here’s more from the rally, including comments from Quincy Hirt, a sophomore at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School:

WBEZ: Chicago youth organize rally for climate change

Chicago Public School students from all over the city organized Thursday at the Thompson Center to send a message to Illinois lawmakers about climate change. But before the rally kicked off, we spoke to two youth activists: Eve Robinson is a student at Whitney Young, and Maria Sanchez is from Northside College Prep.

Post-Dispatch: Ameren Illinois customers could pay for Exelon’s nuclear plants

Ameren Illinois customers could pay more to keep three nuclear power plants outside of Southern Illinois profitable for Chicago-based Exelon Corp.

Illinois legislation backed by the nuclear power giant that also runs Chicago utility ComEd could add about $2 per month to the bills of utility customers — even Ameren Illinois customers who buy much of their power from coal power plants downstate.

The measure is one of several energy-related bills bouncing around Springfield as the legislative session winds to a close this month. Another bill, the so-called “Clean Jobs Bill,” is backed by a large coalition of clean-energy and efficiency advocates, and there’s also smart-meter legislation for the Chicago area and the possibility of new rules requiring power plants to use more Illinois coal.

Observers say a large energy package could come out of the Legislature before the end of the year, if not this session. A recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling invalidating a pension reform measure has lawmakers scrambling to plug a giant hole in the budget by the end of the month, but many expect an energy package to be negotiated during the fall veto session.

“It’s very typical when we have competing bills that they all will come together for a common resolution,” said Senate President Pro Tem Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, the chief sponsor of the Clean Jobs Bill.

The Exelon bill pending in Springfield would require the state’s utilities — ComEd in northern Illinois and Ameren Illinois downstate — to deliver 70 percent of their power from “low-carbon” sources. They could offset that cost with a surcharge on customer bills, capped at around 2 percent.

Exelon says its nuclear plants, which emit no carbon dioxide, would have to compete with other sources, such as wind and solar. The company argues that renewable energy prices are distorted by federal tax policies and other initiatives that have led to a boom in wind generation. Exelon warns it may close three nuclear power plants it says are no longer profitable.

“All we are seeking through this legislation is a level playing field where nuclear energy can compete on an equal footing with other forms of low carbon energy,” Exelon spokesman Paul Elsberg said.

But critics contend the bill is crafted to ensure Exelon has an edge over renewables and is essentially a subsidy now that its nuclear plants are struggling to compete with natural gas, wind and solar.

Exelon advocated for a deregulated electricity market in Illinois and reaped profits for years when power prices were higher, said David Kolata, head of Illinois utility customer advocacy group the Citizens Utility Board.

But now that prices are down, the company’s no longer interested in the open market and is pushing a bill that by CUB’s estimate would divert $300 million a year to the nuclear plant owner, he said.

“Exelon wants to have its cake and eat it too, and have proposed a situation where they win either way,” Kolata said. “They profited when natural gas prices were high. That’s how markets work. What Exelon seems to be saying is markets are great when prices are high but markets are bad when prices are low.”

Only one of the three plants Exelon says it may close is in Ameren Illinois territory — Exelon’s Clinton nuclear plant, 30 miles north of Decatur. While Ameren Illinois customers can buy power from plants outside the utility’s territory, a large portion of the downstate Illinois electricity comes from Houston-based Dynegy, which acquired Ameren’s Illinois coal plants.

But Exelon and some legislators warn that electricity prices across the state would rise and thousands of jobs would be lost if the plants shut down.

“These are benefits for everyone in the state,” Exelon’s Elsberg said. “These aren’t jobs only located at the plants. These plants are massive spenders on in-state businesses.”

An analysis from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity estimated that 7,000 jobs and labor income of $620 million would be lost if the three plants shut down.

But Dynegy, whose coal power plants would be disadvantaged by the law because of their carbon emissions, said Southern Illinois customers would see little benefit from paying more to make sure Exelon’s plants keep operating.

“We believe it is a bailout if they give it to them,” said Dynegy spokesman Micah Hirschfield. “You have downstate and Southern Illinois customers paying for a problem that is northern Illinois in nature.”

An analysis from northern Illinois grid operator PJM Interconnection estimated that if the Clinton plant closed, energy costs would rise between 1.2 percent and 2.7 percent in Southern Illinois. If the northern Illinois plants closed but Clinton didn’t, some scenarios actually predict a decrease in prices for downstate customers.

In ComEd’s territory, PJM found that any plant closure would lead to a price increase.

Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville and a sponsor of the Clean Jobs Bill, said the Exelon legislation appears to put too much of a burden on downstate customers, who won’t see as much of a benefit from keeping the plants open.

“I do understand that we need to make sure that these plants remain viable,” he said. “They’re important to our power grid. But I think whatever comes out of that needs to be more equitable to us.”

‘CLEAN JOBS’ PUSH

Kolata said the state should pursue the Clean Jobs Bill to offset any impact from a nuclear plant closure. The increase of energy efficiency alone could save consumers about $100 per year, he said.

“There’s likely to be a comprehensive energy bill at some point and we would hope the concepts in the Clean Jobs Bill would become law because that’s the best way to keep rates low,” he said.

The Clean Jobs Bill includes provisions that make it easier for residents to fund community solar projects and a fix for the state’s renewable energy credit market that environmental groups have long pushed for.

Advocates hope that will spur more renewable projects from companies hesitant to invest because of the flaw in the market, said Sarah Wochos, co-legislative director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“If we lose another year, I think a lot of companies will look at Illinois and say it’s not worth our time,” she said.

Harmon, the Clean Jobs Bill sponsor, said the prospect of Exelon closing plants was “very worrisome” to those communities, but he said he thinks there “are better ways to address the situation than to simply subsidize a very profitable corporation.”

Before moving forward with a legislative response, Harmon said he wants to wait for an electricity price auction Exelon will participate in this summer to learn “about the true nature of Exelon’s situation.”

In the meantime, the Clean Jobs Bill is the only one that has the potential to lower electricity prices, he said.

“A clean energy infrastructure is going to be built in America, the only question is who gets to build it and who gets the jobs.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Ameren Illinois customers could pay for Exelon’s nuclear plants

Ameren Illinois customers could pay more to keep three nuclear power plants outside of Southern Illinois profitable for Chicago-based Exelon Corp.

Illinois legislation backed by the nuclear power giant that also runs Chicago utility ComEd could add about $2 per month to the bills of utility customers — even Ameren Illinois customers who buy much of their power from coal power plants downstate.

The measure is one of several energy-related bills bouncing around Springfield as the legislative session winds to a close this month. Another bill, the so-called “Clean Jobs Bill,” is backed by a large coalition of clean-energy and efficiency advocates, and there’s also smart-meter legislation for the Chicago area and the possibility of new rules requiring power plants to use more Illinois coal.

Observers say a large energy package could come out of the Legislature before the end of the year, if not this session. A recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling invalidating a pension reform measure has lawmakers scrambling to plug a giant hole in the budget by the end of the month, but many expect an energy package to be negotiated during the fall veto session.

“It’s very typical when we have competing bills that they all will come together for a common resolution,” said Senate President Pro Tem Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, the chief sponsor of the Clean Jobs Bill.

The Exelon bill pending in Springfield would require the state’s utilities — ComEd in northern Illinois and Ameren Illinois downstate — to deliver 70 percent of their power from “low-carbon” sources. They could offset that cost with a surcharge on customer bills, capped at around 2 percent.

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North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy Elects ELPC’s Mindi Schmitz as President

JAMESTOWN – Mindi Schmitz, Jamestown, has been elected President of the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy (NDARE).

Schmitz is a Government Relations Specialist working in the Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Jamestown office on renewable energy development policies and implementing the Farm Bill’s clean energy development programs.

Mindi Schmitz
ELPC Government Relations Specialist Mindi Schmitz is based in our Jamestown, ND, office.
“NDARE advocates for renewable energy and energy efficiency in North Dakota and the vast majority of North Dakotans support growing the renewable energy sector,” Schmitz said, noting that membership is open to all individuals, businesses, agencies and organizations that are involved with renewable energy and energy efficiency activities.

According to a public opinion survey commissioned by NDARE this winter, almost all (97%) North Dakotans feel that energy efficiency is somewhat or very important and more than one-half of the survey respondents believe that additional energy efficiency and renewable energy projects will create jobs in the state.

North Dakota currently ranks 5th in the US for the percentage of electricity provided by wind power and 10th in the US for installed ethanol production capacity.

“Interest in renewable energy, including wind, biofuels and solar energy, continues to grow in North Dakota.  Consumers and businesses are also increasingly turning to energy efficiency as a way to save money on their energy bills,” said Schmitz.

Other officers elected include Vice President, Dr. Kenneth Hellevang, NDSU Ag and Biosystems Engineering, Fargo; Secretary, JoAnn Rodenbiker, Northern Plains Electric Cooperative, Cando; and Treasurer Kim Christianson, Bismarck.  Newly elected board members include Russell Schell, RJ Energy Solutions, Fargo and Zac Smith, North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Mandan.  Kayla Pulvermacher, North Dakota Farmers Union, Mandan, also serves on the board of directors.

The North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy is a diverse membership-based advocacy organization that works with citizens, industry, government, interest groups, and educators to promote the development and use of renewable energy – including biofuels, biomass, and wind energy, as well as the widespread adoption of cost-effective energy efficiency and conservation practices.

For more information on NDARE, visit www.ndare.org.

Bismark Tribune: Rural electric cooperatives consider solar options

While wind power is the dominant source of renewable energy in North Dakota, the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy maintains there is a future for solar energy in the state as well.

Consumer interest in solar power is growing, according to Dennis Hill, the general manager of North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, which held a workshop Tuesday to keep cooperatives informed on solar technology advancements.

Three cooperatives have solar projects in North Dakota.

Cass County Electric has recently announced a solar project partnership with Fargo in which members can by a $1,670 share in a solar farm. The power created is credited to their monthly bill. The community project will start at 100 kilowatts but could be as large as 300 kilowatts if demand allows. The larger the project gets the less it will cost customers.

Northern Plains Electric, headquartered in Carrington, is launching a pilot project to power its office building. Members will be able to track the panel’s output and weigh the benefits of solar energy.

For more than a decade, Verendrye Electric Cooperative in Velva has offered solar-powered water pumps for remote stock tanks. Because of the tanks’ far-flung locations, the solar panel is more economic than running power lines.

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ELPC’s Mindi Schmitz: N.D. lawmakers willfully ignored environmental issues

The following op-ed was published in the Grand Forks Herald Journal on May 13, 2015:

BISMARCK—The 64th Legislative Assembly of 2015 chose to blatantly disregard a persistent environmental problem facing North Dakota: the flaring of natural gas in the Bakken.

We are getting all of the pollution and none of the energy from a valuable natural resource.

A recent poll shows that North Dakotans want this embarrassing, wasteful flaring problem fixed ASAP.

The poll was commissioned by the Dakota Resource Council and the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club and was conducted Feb. 18-March 6 by UND’s College of Business and Public Administration. And according to the poll, 64 percent of respondents think oil companies are flaring off more gas than they should, while 58 percent support withholding drilling permits until the oil company has in place the means to capture the gas.

Some 65 percent of respondents also support requiring royalty payments to mineral owners for wasted gas.

There were two bills introduced in the North Dakota Senate that dealt directly with the flaring of natural gas.

The first was SB 2287, a bill to amend the North Dakota Century Code by reducing the time a well is allowed to flare from one year down to 90 days. This would have made state law consistent with the gas capture plans that are the foundation of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Gas Flaring Policy.

For unlike conventional oil wells, Bakken wells generally produce most of their oil and gas in the first two years, after which production drops off dramatically. So, if Bakken wells are allowed to flare their associated natural gas for the first year of production, most of the gas that that well will produce will be wasted through flaring.

However, SB 2287 was defeated on the Senate floor. So today, if push comes to shove and an oil company decides not to follow their 90-day gas-capture plan, the Industrial Commission is powerless to force them to do so because current state law allows flaring for up to a year.

The second, SB 2343, started out on the Senate side as a bill to require oil and gas developers in the Bakken to pay royalties to mineral owners and taxes to the state on natural gas that is wasted by flaring. This would have not only provided a fair return on a valuable asset currently wasted, but also incentivized the capture of natural gas at the well site.

But ironically, almost cynically, the bill was “hoghoused” by the Senate. This means that the bill’s language—which was meant to fairly compensate mineral owners and collect taxes for the state—was struck and replaced with language designed to sabotage the Industrial Commission’s efforts to reduce gas flaring in the Bakken.

The final language in the version of SB 2343 that passed is a kind of code. It attaches a fiscal burden to—and thus, potentially kills—any policy that tries to mitigate the environmental impacts from oil and gas development in the state.

The fact that it is retroactive to one year before the North Dakota Industrial Commission adopted its current gas-flaring policy makes the intention clear.

In the course of missing opportunities, the 2015 Legislature ignored the “will of the people”and showed total apathy toward the environment, North Dakota taxpayers and private mineral owners.

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