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Report: sage grouse need large buffer from drilling

WILDLIFE — A government study with significant implications for the U.S. energy industry says the breeding grounds of a struggling bird species need a 3-mile or larger buffer from oil and gas drilling, wind farms and solar projects.

The Associated Press reports that’s a much larger protective zone for the greater sage grouse than some states and federal agencies have adopted as the Obama administration weighs new protections for the bird.

The ground-dwelling bird ranges across 11 Western states. Its population dropped sharply in recent decades due to disease, pressure from the energy industry, wildfires and other factors.

Here's the rest of a still-evolving story by AP writer Matthew Brown:

Monday’s finding from the U.S. Geological Survey comes as state and federal officials scramble to come up with conservation measures to protect the grouse ahead of a court-ordered September 2015 decision on protections.

The USGS report represents a compilation of scientific studies aimed at seeing what it takes to protect the bird.

It was requested by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that oversees millions of acres of sage grouse habitat and also regulates the energy industry across much of the West.

It said a buffer of at least a 3.1-mile radius around sage grouse breeding sites known as leks would provide considerable protections for the bird. That radius would equal a circle around the leks covering 30 square miles.

By comparison, Montana and Wyoming have adopted management plans for the bird that call for a buffer of six-tenths of a mile around leks in key sage grouse habitat. That’s an area of less than 4 square miles.

The USGS did not recommend specific management recommendations. But survey scientists said it should help the Interior Department as it crafts a conservation strategy for the birds.

Carol Schuler, USGS senior science adviser, said that land managers also need to take into consideration local conditions across the grouse’s sprawling, 257,000-square-mile habitat.

“The buffer distances in this report can be useful in developing conservation measures, but should be used in conjunction with conservation planning that considers other factors,” she said.

A related bird, the Gunnison sage grouse of Utah and Colorado, received federal protection as a threatened species on Nov. 12.

Energy secretary touts nuclear power, warns of global warming

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, speaking at an Intermountain Energy Summit in Idaho Falls today, championed the use of nuclear power and urged politicians and leaders in the energy industry to adapt and modernize energy production to help minimize the fallout from global warming, the Associated Press reports. Other speakers at the conference included Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson. “The predictions of a world where we do nothing predict unhealthy outcomes for our forests,” Moniz said. “Working hard on it means innovating energy technology.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

Graphic illustrates wind energy impacts to birds

WILDLIFE — Following last week's milestone court settlement in which Duke Energy will pay $1 million to mitigate for the deaths of golden eagles and other birds caused by wind turbines in Wyoming, Northwest Public Radio featured this EarthFix graphic to help explain in simple terms the threats unrefined wind farms pose to bird populations.

Wind energy company prosecuted for killing birds

WILDLIFE — A wind energy company has agreed to pay about $1 million in fines and mitigation actions in the deaths of 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds in Wyoming. The American Bird Conservancy says its the first prosecution of a wind company in connection with bird deaths.

The Department of Justice on Friday announced a settlement on the prosecution of Duke Energy’s wind developments.

“Wind energy is not green if it is killing hundreds of thousands of birds,” said said George Fenwick, ABC president. “We are pro-wind and pro-alternative energy, but development needs to be Bird Smart. The unfortunate reality is that the flagrant violations of the law seen in this case are widespread.”

The enforcement action is the first time the government has drawn a line in the sand, said Michael Hutchins, coordinator of ABC’s National Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign.

“The boundaries for the wind industry are voluntary, meaning that companies have been able to pay lip service to bird protection laws and then largely do what they want,” he said. Poorly sited wind projects exist or are being planned that clearly ignore the advice of federal and state biologists who have few, if any, means of preventing them from going ahead.”

The charges stem from the discovery of 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows by the company at its “Campbell Hill” and “Top of the World” wind projects in Converse County between 2009 and 2013.   The two wind projects are comprised of 176 large wind turbines sited on private agricultural land. 

Report: Wind farms take alarming toll on bats

WILDLIFE — Researchers continue to quantify the impact wind turbines are having on wildlife, and the numbers are staggering.


Wind industry wins FERC ruling against Idaho Power

Idaho's wind industry has won a major victory over Idaho Power in a ruling from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Associated Press reports. FERC ruled that federal law doesn't allow a utility company to unilaterally curtail electricity purchases during times of light load when it has long-term power purchase agreements in place, like those Idaho Power has with wind-energy producers; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Idaho energy tussle - utilities vs. wind developers - sends international ripples

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A fight over rules governing Idaho alternative energy is sending out international shockwaves, with a Greek construction company now saying utilities' demands to get out of their contractual obligations to buy power from wind farms are a threat to its business. Athens-based Terna GKA said Wednesday that curtailment will negatively affect its efforts to finance its soon-to-be-completed 138-megawatt Mountain Air facility near Mountain Home. Idaho Power Co. seeks permission from Idaho regulators to shut off wind farms like Terna's when they can get power more cheaply from other sources. With the matter unresolved, lenders are wary their money is at risk. Already, Boise's Exergy Development Group has suspended $323 million worth of projects. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been asked to intervene to protect wind companies from utilities' demands. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Renewables have rough ride in Idaho…

Despite high hopes, Idaho's renewable energy sector has had a rough ride, reports the Associated Press, with major projects that the state enthusiastically touted ending up mothballed or killed, from Hoku Corp.'s $400 million Pocatello solar polysilicon plant to Micron Technology's solar energy venture, Transform Solar. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Big PUC hearings next week to focus on future of renewables in Idaho

Big hearings at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission next week are expected to attract a crowd of lawyers, utility executives and environmentalists, the AP reports, as the PUC weighs how to set the course for Idaho's renewable energy industry for years to come. “These issues have been going on since 2005,” said Gene Fadness, PUC spokesman. Commissioners “are more than ready to have all the parties come to some sort of agreement.”

Among the points of dispute: How to set the price utilities must pay renewables developers for their power; whether utilities can refuse to buy power from alternative projects when relatively few people are using electricity; and who has the rights to lucrative environmental credits that accompany renewable energy projects - the utilities or the renewables developers. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

SR: Labrador Bill A Boon To Big Oil

A reasonable U.S energy policy must account for two truths. First, fossil fuels will be depleted at some point, whether in 50 or 150 years. Second, by not placing a price on the environmental costs of carbon, the government is keeping oil costs down, which hinders the development of alternative energy sources. A bill co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, ignores both truths while purporting to let free markets determine the winners and losers in the energy field. The congressman and his co-sponsor, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (pictured), R-Kan., fail to understand that if we cannot accelerate the development of wind, solar, biomass and other emerging technologies, we’ll all be losers, Labrador held a press conference on Thursday to tout his bill, which would eliminate all energy tax credits and then use the savings to lower taxes for corporations, which is his real agenda and the reason anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist was present/Spokesman-Review Editorial Board. More here.

Question: Do you trust this bill?

Labrador wants to eliminate green energy tax incentives, cut corporate taxes

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador held a press conference in Washington, D.C. today joining, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, to announce that he's co-sponsoring legislation to do away with “all energy subsidies,” including tax incentives for plug-in electric and fuel cell vehicles, the production tax credit for renewable energy and the investment tax credit for equipment powered by solar, fuel cells or geothermal. “Instead of America's hardworking taxpayers footing the bill for billions of dollars in government subsidies, our legislation would empower the free market to determine which forms of energy our families and businesses use each and every day,” Labrador declared.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas; Labrador said it would eliminate $90 million in energy tax subsidies over the next 10 years, while reducing the corporate tax rate by a like amount. Groups backing it include Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by oil billionaire David Koch. You can read Labrador's full news release here.

Simpson On Top Energy Solon List

Idaho's 2nd District GOP Rep. Mike Simpson is No. 5 on AOL's list (of top energy lawmakers), according to a story published Thursday. Topping the list is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is noted for having blocked bills backed by Simpson and other House Republicans aimed at limiting the power of the Environmental Protection Agency. Simpson chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees EPA spending and has proposed an 18 percent cut in EPA's budget, including funding for air quality rules. He also seeks to prohibit EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses/Dan Popkey, Statesman. More here.

Question: Do you agree with Mike Simpson's energy politics?

Homeowners can learn how to go green in Sunday tour

Homeowners on Sunday can learn about techniques for going green, such as a custom-built straw bale home, a green kitchen remodel or an urban chicken coop designed with reclaimed materials.

The projects are on display throughout Spokane County as part of the second annual Green + Solar Home & Landscape Tour and Information Fair.

The free information fair will be held 2-6 p.m. at Eco Depot, 1326 East Sprague Ave., Spokane.
In addition, tickets are on sale for tours of new and remodeled projects showcasing differing sustainable design styles, construction strategies and lifestyle choices. Tickets range from $8 to $25 and can be picked up at Green Salon & Day Spa, 227 West Riverside Ave., Spokane.

The $8 rate is for those who wish to take a bicycle tour of five projects on the South Hill. Sunday is SpokeFest, the annual bike event with a series of route choices for riders.

The tour is sponsored by the Washington Department of Ecology, the Northwest Eco-Building Guild and the Emerging Green Builders.

Tour booklets and tickets are on sale at Auntie’s Bookstore, Eco Depot and the Main Market Co-op. Tickets can be purchased at Green Salon & Day Spa on Sunday morning.
Information: http://sustainableseptemberspokane.org.

Electric car much loved by owner

Roger Imes calls it totally guiltless driving and he loves it. About two years ago he set out looking for an electric car – a NEV, neighborhood electric vehicle – and he found one in Ohio.

It cost him a little more than $13,000, including shipping to Spokane, and he has never regretted buying it.

“It is a minimal car. It will get you from A to B with a minimal impact on the environment,” said Imes, one of the owners of Lorien Herbs South Perry. “There is no oil, no water, no gasoline - you can drive it and you wont feel responsible for Middle Eastern wars or anything like that.”

The ZENN (Zero Emission, No Noise) vehicle, is registered like any ordinary car and it looks much like a mix between a covered golf car and a tiny ordinary car. It can’t go on the freeway, but it can be driven anywhere else. Charging the batteries takes a little more than four hours and it will take the car 25 miles.

“The batteries will last four or five years,” said Imes. “We hardly drive our other cars anymore.”
The ZENN has a top speed of 25 mph and it’s a roomy little thing: it has plenty of room for groceries or a nice-sized dog in the back.

Imes said it is crash tested and all that, but he’s not too worried about getting in a wreck.

“Frankly, I think it’s so light it would just bounce off the other vehicle,” Imes said.

And no, his power bill hasn’t gone up since he started charging the car at home.

“It is not the car for everyone, but I love it,” said Imes. “And it’s perfect for just getting around the neighborhood.”

SEL to join Western Power Delivery Automation Conference in Spokane

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Inc. (SEL to those who know what it does) announces its participation in the 12th annual Washington State University Western Power Delivery Automation Conference (WPDAC), at Spokane’s Davenport Hotel, Washington on April 13-15.

 In conjunction with WPDAC, SEL will host an Automation and Integration Seminar at the Davenport Hotel on Monday, April 12.  

The SEL seminar, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., will offer eight presentations discussing a range of topics in power system automation and integration. Edmund O. Schweitzer, SEL founder and president, will be  keynote speaker.

The SEL seminar is free with walk-ins welcome.  To register go to  http://www.selinc.com/Events/wpdac2010/seminar.

Experts: Region’s energy resources form the ‘Middle East of North America’

The Pacific Northwest, on both sides of the Canadian border, is the “Middle East of North America” when it comes to energy resources, experts say, and it will eventually supply both nations with an array of fuels, from wind, geothermal and biofuels to oil, coal and uranium. “The resources are there, and in my opinion, they will get used in the future,” said John Grossenbacher, director of the Idaho National Laboratory. “So let’s do it in a way that 50 and 100 years away, we’re happy with the outcomes.”

Ken Cheveldayoff, minister of enterprise and trade for the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, said, “We all want a safe, secure, sustainable, clean energy supply. By working together, we can enhance our two countries’ goals.” Both spoke at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region conference in Boise on Tuesday, where 500 state and provincial lawmakers, other officials and business people from the United States and Canada are gathered to explore economic issues including energy, agriculture, border issues and economic development. Energy has been a key focus of the conference, which runs through Thursday. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Energy institute for lawmakers launched

Legislators from both the U.S. and Canada will have a chance to learn all about current energy issues through a new Legislative Energy Horizon Institute launched today at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region summit meeting in Boise. Gov. Butch Otter joined University of Idaho President Duane Nellis to announce the new certification program, along with Washington House Speaker Pro-Tem Jeff Morris, D-Mt. Vernon, and Idaho state Sen. Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa. Nellis said the institute will help prepare policy-makers for a “future that I think will be more promising as far as sustainability.”

The program will run for 18 months and result in a certificate in energy policy planning for the participating lawmakers. It’s a joint project of PNWER and the National Conference of State Legislatures, in partnership with the U of I and the U.S. Department of Energy, which is providing funding.

Energy is among the top issues that officials from both the United States and Canada are examining at the group’s annual summit meeting in Boise this week. The first keynote speaker this morning, Roger Woodworth, vice president of Avista Corp., told the several hundred delegates, “We are in an era of transition. … Our relationship with energy must and will change. … We are tremendously blessed with energy resources of all kinds here in the Pacific Northwest region - the question is how will we decide to optimize those.” He added, “If ever there was a time to be bringing policy leaders together to decide how are we going to deal with this … this is the time.”

A different view of energy…

Good morning, Netizens…

The ever-amazing Bob Kirkpatrick asks the hard questions, and takes a look at our energy crisis. Do we actually have enough energy? Yes/no? Hmm.


Charging stations on the freeway, car insurance by-the-mile, and lots and lots of weatherstripping and insulation: Senate D’s propose energy/jobs plan…

Echoing similar plans in the other Washington, Senate Democrats in Olympia Tuesday detailed their plans to combine “green jobs” with a renewed push for conservation and alternative sources of power.

“We now have a partner in the federal government in a way that we haven’t had a partner in the past,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. The Obama administration wants to spend $150 billion and create 5 million new jobs over the next decade with clean-energy efforts.

In Olympia, some of the proposals touted Tuesday were low-tech, like boosting efforts to weatherize drafty homes.

Others look further into the future. With some help from tax breaks, for example, Sen. Fred Jarrett said, he envisions electrical charging stations dotting Interstate 5 “from Vancouver to Tijuana.” When the parking lots full of charged cars aren’t driving, he said, they can be tapped as a massive battery to feed electricity back into the power grid at peak times.

Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, wants to reduce driving by encouraging auto insurers to offer some insurance plans linked to miles driven.

Among the skeptics: Todd Myers, who works for a conservative think tank called the Washington Policy Center. Lawmakers are gambling millions of dollar clutching at the latest “eco-fads,” he said, when they should be encouraging the private sector for better fixes.

“They were wrong on electric cars, biofuels and green buildings,” he said. “Now they want to create charging stations. But a few years back they were talking about the hydrogen highway.”
Myers thinks a better solution would be to charge people for their carbon emissions – encouraging them to limit the pollution – and spend the money on tax breaks to encourage innovation.

“These decisions are not best made in Olympia, Myers said. “They’re best made in Redmond, Seattle and the rest of the state.”

Otter signs Pickens pledge

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has signed a pledge to join T. Boone Pickens’ campaign to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. “One of my goals as Governor is to fully utilize Idaho’s resources to increase our own state’s energy supply,” Otter said.  “Establishing energy security for this state and this country should be a top priority.  While there are some aspects of the Pickens plan I still have concerns about, I am signing this pledge to lend my voice to T. Boone Pickens and others calling for a comprehensive energy plan to end our reliance on foreign oil.”

Pickens responded, “Gov. Otter recognizes that importing nearly 70% of the oil this country uses every day not only hurts our economy, but is a threat to national security. In order to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, this country needs a plan.  I am proud to have Gov. Otter on my side as we call on President-elect Barack Obama and Congress to enact an energy plan within the first 100 days of the new administration.” Otter joins more than 1.3 million others in endorsing the plan, making him a part of the “Pickens Army.” Click below to read the full pledge.