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Plans for Colorado's new-energy economy get tangled in "green tape"

Politicians have been quick to pledge increasing use of clean energy and set ambitious production goals for solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and nuclear. ...But when land managers and investors float plans for building wind farms or tapping geothermal energy or stringing new transmission lines or processing uranium for nuclear power, the potential impacts to neighbors stir passionate resistance.

TELLURIDE - More than 50 locals are erupting - emotions are high as they pepper their county commissioners with questions and concerns about a proposed nearby uranium mill that not only would fuel the national push for alternative energy, but could resuscitate neighboring towns.

"Do you have the courage to protect people like me?" says businessman Dan Chancellor, who lives 60 miles west of the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill near Naturita.

If it is built, Piñon Ridge would be the first new uranium mill in the U.S. in 25 years. But the project is one of several alternative-energy development projects in Colorado mired in intense regulatory review, local opposition, lawsuits and a weak investment economy that threatens to derail the heard-everywhere promise of the New Energy Economy.

Politicians have been quick to pledge increasing use of clean energy and set ambitious production goals for solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and nuclear. Colorado lawmakers last spring upped the state's goal for renewable energy to 30 percent by 2020. Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff promises 50 percent by 2030.

But when land managers and investors float plans for building wind farms or tapping geothermal energy... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

TELLURIDE - More than 50 locals are erupting - emotions are high as they pepper their county commissioners with questions and concerns about a proposed nearby uranium mill that not only would fuel the national push for alternative energy, but could resuscitate neighboring towns.

"Do you have the courage to protect people like me?" says businessman Dan Chancellor, who lives 60 miles west of the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill near Naturita.

If it is built, Piñon Ridge would be the first new uranium mill in the U.S. in 25 years. But the project is one of several alternative-energy development projects in Colorado mired in intense regulatory review, local opposition, lawsuits and a weak investment economy that threatens to derail the heard-everywhere promise of the New Energy Economy.

Politicians have been quick to pledge increasing use of clean energy and set ambitious production goals for solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and nuclear. Colorado lawmakers last spring upped the state's goal for renewable energy to 30 percent by 2020. Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff promises 50 percent by 2030.

But when land managers and investors float plans for building wind farms or tapping geothermal energy or stringing new transmission lines or processing uranium for nuclear power, the potential impacts to neighbors stir passionate resistance, the regulatory maze lengthens, lawsuits stack up and the lofty talk of a brave new economy falls flat.

Karen Alderman Harbert, president and chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy, says the layers of federal, state and local "green tape" hindering new energy projects are "a plague on our economy and our energy security and our environment."

Harbert recently surveyed all the U.S. energy projects seeking licensing and siting approval and found 380 stalled or canceled "as a result of the abuse of the environmental

Gov. Bill Ritter, center, and then-U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, right, discuss oil and gas drilling as they fly to Rifle in 2007. Lawmakers have tried to balance the emphasis on drilling with renewable energy. (Associated Press file photo )permitting process." More than 40 percent of those are renewable-energy projects.

In the past three years, bureaucratic regulations have cost the country 250,000 new jobs and $560 billion in capital investment, Harbert said.

It's not just endless environmental review that bogs down projects.

Nearby residents often organize to elevate compelling concerns about their views, their air and their quality of life. Some file lawsuits to deepen the review process. Some of that opposition slides into the Not In My Back Yard category. But lately, the NIMBY chorus has been eclipsed by a more radical level of aversion, which Harbert calls BANANAism, or Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.

"Everyone has a right to make their views known," Harbert said, "but the views of a very few cannot hold the rest of the country hostage."

Not all projects are delayed.

New wind-power turbines in Weld, Lincoln and Elbert counties are expected to provide Colorado's largest utility company, Xcel Energy, with 500 megawatts of electricity over the next 25 years. Solar arrays are popping up across the state.

"There are many new energy projects that are moving ahead without confronting major hurdles," said Todd Hartman, spokesman at the Colorado Governor's Energy Office.

Still, despite the dreamy goals for new energy and green jobs, the impact of arrested approval and local resistance is evident. Xcel this month asked the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to permit it to cut already-approved solar energy plans by almost half, citing the difficulty in erecting new power-transmission lines out of the San Luis Valley, where the state's largest network of solar arrays generates enough electricity for about 50,000 homes.

Xcel, along with project partner Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, began planning the $180 million, 140-mile transmission lines connecting the sunny San Luis Valley with Pueblo in 2003, with hopes of having the lines in service by 2013. Reaching that goal is proving unlikely as local opposition - including by Louis Bacon, a billionaire New York hedge-fund manager and owner of the 171,400-acre Trinchera Ranch - in the

Click on image to enlarge San Luis Valley mounts and environmental review deepens.

The Governor's Energy Office recently launched the Renewable Energy Development Infrastructure Project to help untangle the challenges of installing new transmission lines needed to move power from wind and solar hot spots in Colorado to more populated areas.

"We really dug into the issue," Hartman said. "What kind of steps can we take to get more collaboration to get these lines built? We certainly defer to and respect local thoughts on siting those lines."

CSU project stalls

In 2007, Colorado State University leaders announced they were building a $500 million wind farm on several thousand acres north of Fort Collins. The ambitious Green Power Project, intended to generate more electricity than the campus consumes, was expected to go online by 2015.

As the university and its contractor, Wind Holding, LLC, waited for Larimer County planners to forge a process for approving the county's first large-scale wind farm, the economy withered and local opponents berated the plan. Last year, Wind Holding's financial backer withdrew, and the university canceled its contract. Earlier this month the school enlisted San Diego-based Cannon Power Group to build the 100-turbine wind farm.

The delay could pinch CSU's ability to tap federal renewable-energy incentives and grants set to expire next year. The university also hopes to take advantage of state funding for green-power transmission lines.

"The big thing right now is to give some stable financing incentives to these kinds of projects so people will be willing to invest and take the risk to move these things forward," said Bill Farland , CSU's vice president for research. "Sure there is a lot of interest, but it is a business."

Delays scare off investors, said Harbert with the U.S. Chamber.

"No one can afford to let their capital lay idle for that long," Harbert said. "It is increasingly likely that investors and developers will send that capital overseas."

Flak over geothermal leases

When Colorado's first geothermal auction by the federal Bureau of Land Management was announced in 2009, residents in Chaffee County's Chalk Creek Valley quickly girded for battle. The auction was planned to offer 799 acres beneath the valley floor, where hot springs draw tourists, heat homes and even warm year-round greenhouses.

The BLM was torn between a from-the-top, new-energy mandate to expedite geothermal lease auctions and distraught residents who own the land on top but not the mineral rights below.

In January, the BLM withdrew the lease offering for a third time, saying it would further study the environmental impacts of leasing the geothermal rights to an electricity provider.

The Colorado legislature this year approved a law that not only distributes some revenues directly to affected communities but also adopts the "reasonable accommodation doctrine" to reimburse surface owners impacted by geothermal-energy activities below the ground.

"I recognize there are people who oppose certain development for other reasons entirely," said Bob Randall, federal lands coordinator for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. "But what we can do as policymakers is to make sure there are standards in place that enhance the public's protection from the activity."

Lawsuits pile up

Citing the promise of a new industry and jobs in the depressed Paradox Valley, Montrose County commissioners last year unanimously approved the 880-acre Piñon Ridge uranium mill near Naturita. The mill plans to initially process 500 tons of ore a day, providing an annual stream of pelleted uranium oxide, or yellowcake, that could generate enough annual power for a city of 4 million.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will issue its licensing decision on the mill in January.

A Telluride environmental group is asking the state health department to conduct an intensive environmental review before it rules. The lawsuits from opponents outside Montrose County already are piling up.

Travis Stills, the managing attorney with Durango's Energy Minerals Law Center, has sued to overturn Montrose County's approval, arguing it permitted industrial use in an area zoned for agriculture. Representing the Telluride environmental group Sheep Mountain Alliance, Stills also is objecting in Water Court to the mill's water-rights request.

"Local organizations and local governments are very concerned with numerous inadequacies both in the disclosure of the impacts that a mill would have, but also in the failure to adequately look at any kind of plan to address a failure at the mill," said Stills, whose nonprofit law firm fights to mitigate impacts of extractive energy development.

Push for uranium use

Clinton Impson lifts his blackened hands from the tire he's wrestling onto an old Ford's rim at Jerry's Repair Shop in Nucla.

"All 10 fingers. Got 10 toes too. Don't have three legs, either," he said, chuckling at the notion that the uranium mining years earlier by his parents and grandparents would deform his appendages.

"People around here are hurting bad, and there are no jobs," said the 24-year-old, who has worked three years at the tire shop and was born shortly after the country's uranium bust triggered the economic collapse of the uranium-rich hamlets of Uravan, Paradox, Nucla and Naturita.

"Everyone here wants that mill to open. My whole family used to work in the mill at Uravan. I think it's real smart for us, as a country, to start looking at nuclear again," Impson said. "Imagine us telling those Telluride people what to do? How'd you think they'd like that?"

The mill site is a sandy steppe of sagebrush at the toe of a dormant, but ready-for-action Cotter Corp. uranium leach mine. Energy Fuels chief executive Steve Antony points out where he would build evaporation ponds and the processing plant for his Piñon Ridge mill.

The U.S. only generates 4 million pounds of yellowcake uranium annually, yet the country's 104 nuclear reactors gobble 55 million pounds of the stuff to provide 20 percent of the country's electricity. To make up the difference, the country shops abroad, even though the U.S. ranks fourth in the world for known uranium deposits.

If the country is serious about emission-free power and energy independence, the answer, Antony said, is in Paradox Valley. His company has spent $11 million in the past two years compiling 15 binders filled with environmental monitoring information for the state's licensing process.

More than 1,200 historic uranium mines riddle the Uravan Mineral Belt beneath his feet, which is the oldest uranium mining area in the country. Antony's mill would be one of five in the country. It would annually produce 850,000 pounds of uranium oxide pellets each the size of a pencil eraser, one of which can generate the same electricity as 100 tons of coal.

Solar faces same hurdles

It's not just the large-scale alternative-energy projects navigating barricades.

Michelle Tonti installed a big solar array on an apartment building she owns in Breckenridge, and town leaders heralded her initiative.

But farther up Colorado 9, the Blue River Board of Trustees denied her request for a 15-foot-by-15-foot solar panel on a pole next to a small cabin adjacent to the highway. Although the town's planning commission had already approved the array, the board rejected the plan, citing, among several things, "there was no evidence that that array would not interfere with traffic on the highway."

So Tonti's suing the town.

"I am shocked they want to go into this battle," said Tonti, who speaks swiftly and relishes a good rumble. "I'm blown away that in this day and age, anyone would oppose solar."


Source: http://www.denverpost.com/n...

JUN 27 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/26927-plans-for-colorado-s-new-energy-economy-get-tangled-in-green-tape
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