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Mountain West News Energy Review

July, 2014

In both Utah and Colorado, state utility commissions are dealing with the issue of how utilities handle the excess power customers with solar installations feed back into the grid.

In Utah, the Public Service Commission held hearings on Rocky Mountain Power's request to charge each such customer a $4.65 monthly fee to help support the infrastructure needed to deliver the power from where it's generated to where it's used.

In Colorado, the Public Utilities Commission held workshops on Xcel Energy's to end its incentive program for homeowners and businesses that feed excess power from solar installations back into the grid.

In Montana, where the Public Service Commission held hearings on NorthWestern Energy's proposal to buy PPL Montana's hydroelectric dams, the utility's plan to sell the power generated by those dams for $60 a megawatt hour, and NorthWestern's proposal in another application before the board to buy power from small renewable energy projects at $40 a megawatt hour angered the operators of the small energy projects.

Oil production continued its upward trend in the American West, and the volume of oil shipped by rail also continued to rise in both the U.S. and Canada, where the quarterly reports for Canada's two largest railroads showed rising profits from moving oil by rail.

The movement of oil by rail was also cited by coal producers in Wyoming in their second-quarter reports, with both both citing shipment bottlenecks for losses reported that quarter.

Mountain West Perspective

New report highlights opportunities in the Colorado River Basin

On the Bookshelf

Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction reviews Grizzlies on my Mind
July 22, 2014

Mountain West Voices

We invite readers to listen to Mountain West Voices, a radio program that profiles an individual or community in the Rocky Mountain West, introducing listeners to the compelling stories that are part of the human landscape of our region.

Yellowstone Public Radio will broadcast Mountain West Voices at 7 a.m. on Sunday.

In this week's broadcast, a retired history professor shares his memories of his childhood in Montana during the Depression, and on the nature of poverty...and happiness.

Tune into Yellowstone Public Radio at 7 a.m. on Sunday to hear the program, or listen online via the Mountain West Voices' website.


Wyoming gives Wasatch Wind project a final extension
On Monday, the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council unanimously voted to extend Wasatch Wind's deadline on beginning construction of its Pioneer Park wind farm near Glenrock from August 2015 to February 2016.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/15/2014

Montana high court sends wind farm lawsuit to California court
After San Diego Gas and Electric filed a lawsuit in California against NaturEner, the Spain-based company that is building the 126-turbine Rim Rock wind farm in Montana near Cut Bank, alleging that NaturEner under-estimated the number of eagles and other raptors the wind farm could kill annually and asked that its contract to buy wind power from the Montana farm be voided, NaturEner filed a counter lawsuit in Montana, but on Friday, the Montana Supreme Court ordered the Montana lawsuit be dismissed and the entire case be heard by the California court.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 7/21/2014

South Dakota PUC rules against Wisconsin wind power company
Wisconsin-based Prelude LLC attempted to force six electric cooperatives in South Dakota to buy its wind-generated power using the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act, or PURPA, but South Dakota law doesn't regulate rates of such cooperatives, and the PUC rejected Prelude's attempt.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 7/28/2014


U.S. tariffs help rebalance solar-panel industry
After the U.S. Commerce Department found that Chinese solar panel companies dumped their product on the market at below cost prices, and new tariffs were imposed, the solar industry is seeing the market stabilize.
New York Times; 7/28/2014

Utility's experts tell Utah PSC solar-power producers a 'burden'
On the first day of the Utah Public Service Commission's hearing on Rocky Mountain Power's request to charge solar-power producers who feed excess electricity back into the grid, experts testifying on behalf of the utility said that such small producers of power don't help the utility much in either the production of power or reduce demand on its transmission grid.
Salt Lake Tribune; 7/29/2014

Former California congressman urges Utah PSC to not 'kill solar power'
Barry Goldwater, Jr., the former California congressman who now chairs the free-market group call TUSK, or Tell Utilities Solar Won’t be Killed, and a couple hundred of like-minded solar-power advocates rallied Tuesday morning before heading into the second day of hearings the Utah Service Commission is holding in Salt Lake City on Rocky Mountain Power's proposal to charge small solar-power producers in Utah who feed excess power back into the grid a monthly $4.65 net-metering fee.
Salt Lake Tribune; 7/30/2014

Utah groups criticize utility's 'net-metering' plan for Utah solar power producers
On Monday, the Utah Public Service Commission will take testimony on Rocky Mountain Power's proposal to charge customers that feed electricity produced from their home or business solar-power installations back into the grid a monthly $4.65 "net-metering" fee, and on Wednesday, religious and business groups spoke out against the proposal.
Salt Lake Tribune; 7/24/2014

Colorado PUC holds first workshop on Xcel's net-metering credit
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has scheduled three workshops to gather public comment on Xcel Energy's proposal to end the net-metering credit for customers of Colorado's largest utility who feed unused power from their rooftop solar installations back into the grid, and the first one began at 10 a.m. today in Denver at the PUC's headquarters.
Denver Post; 7/24/2014

Utility's filings with Montana PSC reflect differing rates for power
NorthWestern Energy has two filings pending before the Montana Public Service Commission: Its plan to buy 11 hydroelectric plants from PPL Montana that consumers would pay an estimated $60 per megawatt hour for electricity, but the utility is also asking the PSC to approve a plan that would allow it to pay small renewable energy power producers $40 per megawatt hour for excess power fed into the grid by those small projects, a discrepancy small power producers are questioning.
Helena Independent Record (Lee State Bureau); 7/27/2014

Construction to begin on solar project in British Columbia
The Sun Mine solar project will rack up several firsts when the $5.3 million project goes online early next year: It will be the first built on reclaimed mine lands, the first solar project to sell power to the BC Hydro grid, and the first commercial scale utility project to be developed, owned and operated by a municipality.; 7/8/2014

Solar industry urges Alberta to take advantage of perfect market conditions
A report released Monday by the Canadian Solar Industries Association said that Alberta has the best solar resources in Canada, and that the province should move quickly to tap into that power, given rising power prices, the retirement of coal-fired power plants, and the drop in price for solar installations.
Calgary Herald (Edmonton Journal); 7/28/2014

Utah should pencil out solar-power benefits before setting net-metering fee
Before the Utah Public Service Commission sets a fee for consumers whose solar panels generate enough power that some is fed back into Rocky Mountain Power's grid, the state commission must make a good faith effort to accurately quantify the benefit of such rooftop solar installations before setting the fee and not merely depend upon the utility's assertions about the benefits.
Salt Lake Tribune; 7/11/2014


Geothermal industry gains ground around the world
Using heat from deep beneath the Earth's surface to generate power is making slow and steady progress, with the U.S. leading the world in developing its geothermal resources, and with the upfront costs of finding and tapping into geothermal resources representing more than half of what's needed to build a geothermal power plant, companies are finding former oil and gas wells provide a good avenue to the resource.
New York Times; 7/23/2014


At Montana PSC hearing, state's deregulation of energy takes centerstage
On the first day of the Montana Public Service Commission's weeklong hearing on NorthWestern Energy's $900 million purchase of 11 hydroelectric dams in Montana, counsel for NorthWestern Energy called the deal a way to "put the failed experiment of utility deregulation behind us."
Montana Standard (Lee State Bureau); 7/9/2014

Economist urges Montana PSC to spread risk in dam deal around
At the ongoing hearing on NorthWestern Energy's proposed $900-million deal to buy 11 hydroelectric dams from PPL Montana, John Wilson, an economist for the Montana Consumer Counsel, urged the Montana Public Service Commission to either lower the rate of return the utility gets on its investment or require it to pay some share of future costs.
Missoulian (Lee State Bureau); 7/16/2014


Deal sends made-in-Alberta biogas technology to U.S.
Technology developed by Alberta-based Himark Biogas that uses anaerobic digesters to turn manure and food waste into a gas that can be used to generate electricity will be put to use in three facilities owned by NEO Energy in the Eastern U.S. to generate electricity and make fertilizer from food waste from supermarkets and restaurants.
Edmonton Journal; 7/23/2014


Encana Corp. to sell one Alberta power plant, share of another
At the TD energy conference in Calgary, Encana Corp. CEO Doug Suttles said the company's decision to sell a natural-gas power plant in Alberta and its share in another is just about keeping the company's focus on its oil and gas development.
Calgary Herald; 7/9/2014

Alberta Utilities Commission: No public hearing needed on Wabamun plants
Area landowners and environmental groups are questioning the decision in June from the Alberta Utilities Commission that Capital Power's proposal to add two natural-gas power plants near Wabamun did not require public hearings.
Edmonton Journal; 7/29/2014

Carbon sequestration

Dakota utilities express interest in Wyoming carbon-capture project
On Monday, Gov. Matt Mead announced that both South Dakota-based Black Hills Corp. and North Dakota-based Basin Electric Power Cooperative are interested in hosting the proposed laboratory to test carbon-capture technologies at a power plant in Wyoming.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/15/2014

Transmission/Pipeline Projects

Two more challenges of Canada's OK of Alberta-B.C. pipeline filed
The Heiltsuk and the Kitasoo-Xaixais First Nations and B.C. Nature filed challenges to the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline, bringing the total number of challenges filed within recent days to four.
Calgary Herald (CP); 7/15/2014

B.C. reaches out to First Nation's leaders to gain pathway for pipelines
British Columbia sent letters to 60 hereditary leaders of the Gitxsan First Nation offering $6.26-million for the Westcoast Connector and $5.81-million for the Prince Rupert gas line to cross their lands, as well as a signing bonus of $2.4-million payment if the deal is set by Sept. 30 and declines from there.
Toronto Globe and Mail; 7/21/2014

Another problem for Enbridge reflects poorly on pipeline company's safety promise
The National Energy Board's decision to halt construction of Enbridge's Line 3 Replacement Project in Manitoba due to compliance issues, none of which involved the pipeline itself but rather the lands across which it is being built, will no doubt resonate wide and far in Alberta and British Columbia, where the company plans to build the Northern Gateway pipeline, and Al Monaco, Enbridge's chief executive, should take steps to ensure the company's "unshakable commitment to safety and environmental protection," he pledged last fall makes its way onto the ground. A column by Stephen Ewart.
Calgary Herald; 7/28/2014


Federal board pushes back decision on railroad to Montana, Wyoming coal
The announced delay of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board's draft analysis of the proposed Tongue River Railroad, which would serve new coal mines in the Powder River Basin on the Montana-Wyoming border, is another bump in the road for coal companies seeking to tap into the international market.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 7/20/2014

Northern Colorado officials say May oil train derailment a 'wake-up call'
The May 9 train derailment near LaSalle that spilled nearly 8,000 gallons of crude oil that came close to reaching the South Platte River served as a wake-up call to community officials in Northern Colorado.
Greeley Tribune; 7/26/2014

Shipping oil by rail viewed differently in Wyoming
There are a couple of reasons that the marked increase of shipping oil by rail in Wyoming hasn't prompted the hue and cry heard elsewhere: Production of oil and its shipment by rail has been an ongoing situation in the state for years, and little, if any, of the volatile Bakken oil makes its way across the Cowboy State.
Casper Star-Tribune; 6/28/2014

U.S. rolls out proposed regulations to make shipping oil by rail safer
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation released proposed regulations designed to make shipping oil by rail safer, which include a measure to phase in the use of new tank cars, although the design of the new cars is still being hammered out; including ethanol in the regulations; and requiring trains with 20 or more cars of oil to travel at a lower speed.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 7/24/2014

What new oil train regulations mean for Washington, Oregon
The Portland Oregonian examines what proposed regulations of oil trains in the United States would mean for Oregon and Washington, but Oregon's federal lawmakers immediately criticized the new regulation for not requiring railroads to provide states information on all oil trains, not just those carrying oil from the Bakken formation.
Portland Oregonian; 7/25/2014

Oil, chemical industries resist U.S. safety plan for trains
Since March, White House and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration officials have met 13 times with representatives of the railroad, tank car manufacturing, petroleum, ethanol and chemical industries, with all lobbying for a solution to make shipping oil by railroad safer that doesn't impede their business.
Great Falls Tribune (AP); 7/13/2014

Groups petition to keep Bakken oil out of older railroad tank cars
The Sierra Club and ForestEthics have petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation to immediately ban the use of older railroad tanker cars, known as DOT-111s, to move Bakken oil, because the older cars rupture when involved in accidents, even at low speeds, and the oil from that formation is more volatile than other crude.
Great Falls Tribune (AP); 7/16/2014

BNSF says no Bakken oil spilled in Seattle train derailment
Three tank cars of an 102-car train carrying Bakken oil left the tracks in a Seattle train yard early Thursday morning, but BNSF spokesperson Guy Melona said no oil was spilled.
Christian Science Monitor; 7/25/2014

Canadian railroads' quarterly reports show profit from pipeline bottleneck
Both the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway reported record second-quarter profits last week, due in part to the dramatic increase in the amount of crude oil hauled on those rail lines. A column by Stephen Ewart.
Calgary Herald; 7/23/2014

Oil and Gas

Alberta has nearly a third of Canada's billion-dollar companies
A study released today by the Centre for Digital Entrepreneurship and Economic Performance said that 31 percent of Canada's 169 public billion-dollar firms are headquartered in Alberta, and that 41 of those 52 firms are oil and gas companies, representing 82 percent of Canada's billion-dollar firms in those industries.
Calgary Herald; 7/9/2014

Encana's quarterly report says Canadian natural gas company flush with cash
An income tax adjustment from 2013 pushed Alberta-based Encana Corp.'s net earnings in the second quarter to $271 million, compared to $730 million reported in the same quarter last year, but the CEO of the largest natural gas company in Canada told investors that the company's plan to diversify is working well, and that the sale of assets in Wyoming, Texas and in Canada had created a positive cash flow of $767 million for the quarter.
Calgary Herald; 7/25/2014

Alberta Energy offers royalty relief for enhanced oil recovery efforts
Changes made to Alberta Energy's royalty program are designed to make enhanced oil recovery work in the province's aging oil fields more economically feasible, and the relief program is retroactive to the first of this year.
Calgary Herald; 7/29/2014

Study finds oilsands pollutants in First Nations' diet sources
A study funded by the Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, National First Nations Environmental Contaminants Program and Health Canada found that the Northern Alberta's First Nations' natural food sources were contaminated by pollutants from oilsands operations, and that those First Nations had already changed their diets to exclude moose, muskrat and duck.
Toronto Globe and Mail; 7/7/2014

Analysis: Oil, gas spills in Colorado happening two times a day
The Denver Post's analysis of reporting records maintained by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission found that oil and gas companies reported 177 spills of liquids from their operations in the state, some of which reached groundwater and one into a river, which is more than reported in all of 2013.
Denver Post; 7/29/2014

Protesters arrested at Utah tar sands mine site quickly make bail
Seven of the 21 protesters arrested Monday at the U.S. Oil Sands tar sands mine construction site in Uintah County were from Salt Lake City, with the remainder from around the U.S. who participated in the weeklong peaceful demonstration called Climate Justice Summer Camp in Utah.
Salt Lake Tribune; 7/23/2014

Wyoming oil production continues steady rise
The number of drilling rigs in Wyoming has increased steadily over the past six months, as has oil production.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/22/2014

Anadarko reports oil production in Rocky Mountain West up 24 percent
Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum's second-quarter report released Wednesday showed a $266 million profit, due in part to the company's strong on-shore drilling operations, primarily in northeastern Colorado, although its operations in Wyoming's Powder River Basin continued steady production.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/31/2014

  • Investors press Texas-based Anadarko to develop Rocky Mountain leases
    Anadarko Petroleum Corp. owns mineral rights on 8 million acres in the Rocky Mountain West, including in Colorado's Wattenberg field and in the Niobrara play in Wyoming, and investors are urging the company either develop those rights or sell them.
    Denver Post (Bloomberg); 7/16/2014

Texas company divests share of LNG project in British Columbia
In its second-quarter report, Texas-based Apache Corp. announced it was withdrawing from the liquefied natural gas project it was developing with Chevron Corp. in Kitimat, B.C., as well as another LNG project in Australia, due in part to investor pressure to sell some assets.
Calgary Herald (Canadian Press); 7/31/2014

Debate on setbacks for oil, gas wells from homes moves to Wyoming
As oil and gas development moves closer to neighborhoods, states like Colorado and Texas struggle with allowing the drilling while protecting the public, and in Wyoming, where the setback between wells and homes is 350 feet, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is examining a proposal to expand that setback.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/28/2014

Colorado governor gives up on compromise oil, gas legislation
On Wednesday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper admitted his work for a legislative compromise on local control of oil and gas operations had failed, allowing the two initiatives on the statewide ballot to remain on the November ballot.
Boulder Daily Camera (Denver Post); 7/17/2014

BLM tries again to raise fees for inspections of oil, gas wells
The Bureau of Land Management is again asking Congress to raise fees for oil and gas well inspections, but a report issued earlier this year that found many high-risk wells had not been inspected as required may make the third request successful.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/24/2014

Colorado's inertia on oil, gas regulation puts public in driver's seat
It appears Congress isn't the only law-making body handcuffed by partisan politics, given Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's decision to give up on a legislative solution to the ongoing debate on where control of oil and gas operations should sit, a decision that will allow voters to decide and could result in constitutional amendments on the issue, because, of course, the constitution is just the place to enshrine such authority where adjustments to real-time conditions are unlikely to occur.
Denver Post; 7/18/2014

Hydraulic Fracturing

Study links reinjection wells, earthquake activity in Oklahoma
The results of a study done by researchers at the University of Colorado and Cornell University found that the use of deep reinjection wells in Oklahoma to dispose of discharge water from oil and gas drilling operations, including hydraulic fracturing operations, is linked to the surge of seismic activity in the state, which is now second only to California for earthquakes.
Los Angeles Times; 7/3/2014

Colorado allows waste-reinjection well in Weld County to reopen
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has completed its investigation of seismic activity near a deep reinjection well for oil and gas waste in Weld County, and after the company plugged the bottom of the well to keep fluids from permeable rock at that level, the commission has approved the well to again be used for disposal of waste fluids.
Denver Post; 7/18/2014


South Korea imposes new tax on Wyoming, Montana coal
A new tax on imported coal is designed to curb electricity use in South Korea, and while the tax will affect Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy, which exports coal to the Asian country, the tax is structured to impose a lesser tax on coal with a higher fuel value, putting the coal from Cloud Peak's Decker Mine in Montana in a lower tax bracket.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/10/2014

Wyoming coal mine celebrates 1 billion ton milestone
Last week, Cloud Peak Energy celebrated the 1 billionth ton of coal produced at its Cordero Rojo mine in Wyoming's Campbell County, a milestone few coal mines in the United States ever reach.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/3/2014

Peabody Energy reports coal production up at Wyoming, western mines
St. Louis-based Peabody Energy posted a $72-million loss for the second quarter of this year, and while shipments of coal from its mines in the Western United States, including Wyoming were up, delivery was hampered by rail congestion, and company officials said a weak market in Australia was primarily responsible for the quarter's loss.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/23/2014

Lack of coal leases puts Wyoming school projects on hold
No federal coal leases in 2013 in Wyoming means no money flowed from coal lease bonuses into the state's coffers, and state legislators are concerned that, should this trend continue, money for building new schools and renovating existing ones may dry up.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/28/2014

Companies with coal mines in Wyoming report 2nd-quarter losses
On Tuesday, Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy, both of whom produce coal in Wyoming, announced second quarter losses, and officials of both companies cited a lack of rail capacity for a factor in those losses.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/30/2014

New Hampshire power plant imports coal from Russia
Last winter's harsh weather forced coal-fired power plants to use much of their stockpiled coal, including the Public Service of New Hampshire’s Schiller power plant, which has imported coal from Russia to replenish that stockpile, and while that coal appeals to power plant operators due to its low sulfur content, concerns about shipping delays due to an railroad system overtaxed with oil and gas shipments, were also cited.
Bloomberg News; 7/17/2014

Study finds new Clean Air Act rule would boost Texas, Okla. economies
A study done by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Rhodium Group of the proposed federal regulation to cut greenhouse gas emissions found that Texas and Oklahoma, whose elected officials have been the most vocal opponents against the rule, would see the most economic gain, given the natural gas production in those states, while Wyoming, the top coal-producing state in the union, would face the largest economic hit.
New York Times; 7/23/2014

Wyoming needs a Plan B on federal coal regulations
Given that Wyoming produces the largest amount of coal in the United States, Gov. Matt Mead is right to challenge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed regulations that will affect the coal industry, but the state must also develop a Plan B that not only embraces wind-generated power, but also "clean-coal" technology, which would position the state in win-win scenario.
Casper Star-Tribune; 7/28/2014

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
at The University of Montana.
"W e would never intentionally do anything to lead to the death of a horse. But we are not going to support horses because they are not part of the natural ecology of the park."

On The Bookshelf
Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction reviews Grizzlies on my mind


Mountain West Perspectives
New report highlights opportunities in the Colorado River Basin
New report highlights opportunities in the Colorado River Basin


Mountain West Voices
Hear weekly stories from the Rocky Mountain West as gathered by Clay Scott

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West

at the

The University of Montana