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Montana governor, federal agency sign sage grouse deal

THREATENED SPECIES — Gov. Steve Bullock signed an agreement today with the U.S. Department of Agriculture pledging cooperation on efforts to protect declining populations of greater sage grouse — and, in turn, avoid the economic and political turmoil should the grouse be listed for protections under the Endangered Species Act.

The agreement signed at the Capitol in Helena calls for state, federal and local officials to meet annually to discuss sage grouse conservation. It includes no new spending or regulations, the Associated Press reports.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller said the agreement should help streamline and coordinate sage grouse conservation efforts on private land in the state. Seventy percent of sage grouse habitat in Montana is on private or state lands.

“It sets up the structure for really accelerating action on the ground,” Weller said of measures to help farmers and ranchers in the state voluntarily protect sage grouse habitat while maintaining grazing lands.

Sage grouse numbers fell dramatically across the western U.S. during the past several decades because of oil and gas drilling, residential and agricultural development and disease.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a Sept. 30 deadline to decide if the chicken-sized grouse needs federal protections, although Congress has blocked additional spending by the agency to put those protections in place.

Montana and other states want to demonstrate that sweeping federal protections aren’t needed.

Montana is the first state to sign such an agreement with the USDA regarding sage grouse. In addition to Bullock, the agreement was signed by representatives of the Agriculture Department and Montana’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

“Our economy, and our Montana way of life depends on all of us working together to ensure a bright future for the grouse and a continued thriving economy,” Bullock said. “The best possible outcome: the management of the bird is to stay within the state of Montana.”

Since 2010, the Natural Resources Conservation Service through a sage grouse program has invested nearly $300 million to conserve more than 4.4 million acres of sage grouse habitat in 11 western states in which sage grouse are found.

Weller said Monday that the conservation service plans to spend another $200 million throughout the 11 states, which was announced earlier this year. He did not say how much would go toward efforts in Montana, but he said officials are currently finalizing an investment strategy.

Bullock last year ordered restrictions on future oil drilling and other activities blamed for driving down sage grouse numbers, aligning Montana with other states rushing to head off federal intervention for the ground-dwelling bird. He also created a sage grouse oversight team in addition to the Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program.

The legislature earlier this year passed the governor’s bill to establish a fund that in part will be used by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to hire at least five new employees to manage the program.

Risch introduces bill to free Idaho Power from buying solar energy from small producers

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch has introduced a bill that would allow public utilities like Idaho Power to deny contracts to independent power producers if they can show they don’t need the electricity, Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker reports today, making a big modification to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978, or PURPA. It’s a change Idaho Power really wants; the company says it doesn’t need any new generation until 2021, but could be forced to buy power from new solar energy projects in Idaho under current PURPA requirements. Barker’s full report is online here.

Out of curiosity, I took a look back at the campaign finance reports from IDA-PAC Political Action Committee, Idaho Power’s PAC, and the PAC has donated $20,000 to Risch’s Senate campaigns since 2006, including $5,000 in September of 2014. Barker reports that on Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will look at more than 20 separate bills including Risch’s, as part of a larger energy package.

Sage grouse protections falling short, biologists say

THREATENED SPECIES — The government is preparing insufficient protections for a ground-dwelling bird that has declined significantly over the past century and soon will face a possible endangered species listing, according to 11 biologists who have studied the greater sage grouse.

Federal agencies have abandoned science-based conservation measures in favor of “more elastic, subjective measures” inadequate to address threats to the species, the scientists wrote Thursday to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Here's more from the story moved by the Associated Press:

“We strongly encourage you to direct federal planners to finalize conservation plans that prescribe objective, measureable and robust conservation measures based on the best available science,” the letter said.

Federal agencies including the U.S. Bureau of Land Management have adopted sufficient protection for the bird, an Interior Department spokeswoman said.

“Interior believes strong protections in the BLM management plan are an important part of successful conservation of the greater sage grouse, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is working in close collaboration with them to ensure the best outcome for both the bird and the Western landscape it embodies,” said the spokeswoman, Jessica Kershaw.

The Agriculture Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Greater sage grouse inhabit 11 states. Their numbers have declined from perhaps well over 1 million in pre-settlement times to no more than 500,000 today.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to decide by Sept. 30 whether the bird warrants protection as a threatened or endangered species, though Congress has withheld spending to implement any such protection.

In the meantime, the Bureau of Land Management continues to amend local-level planning documents to include protections for the greater sage grouse. Those changes fail to incorporate science-based recommendations for regulating oil and gas drilling, mining, livestock grazing, prescribed burns and other activity near sage grouse breeding areas, the scientists wrote.

Those signing included William Baker and Jeffrey Beck at the University of Wyoming and Edward Garton and Kerry Reese at the University of Idaho.

“We support the federal planning process and are prepared to assist your departments in developing measures to conserve and recover greater sage grouse, but federal planners must commit to science-based planning to achieve this goal,” the scientists wrote.

Idaho plan seeks to protect sage grouse habitat

THREATENED SPECIES —  The effort continues to avoid the restrictions that would go along with having an endangered native bird on western prairies.

The Idaho Department of Lands has put forward a draft plan to protect sage grouse habitat on state endowment land as part an effort to avoid a federal listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

The state agency that manages more than 2.4 million acres last week released the 33-page document that’s intended to guide activities on the nearly 700,000 acres of state land deemed important habitat for the football-sized bird, according to the Associated Press.

The plan has critics, especially regarding its guidelines for grazing.

The state agency is taking comments on its Proposed Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan through March 2. Later in March, the Idaho Land Board and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will vote on whether to approve the plan.

According to the AP:

The plan aims to protect habitat by creating enforceable stipulations in state leases, permits and easements. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will likely take Idaho’s plan into consideration when the agency makes a decision about listing sage grouse. That decision is expected in the fall.

“What the Service is looking for is mechanisms that provide certainty,” said Tom Schultz, director of the Idaho Department of Lands. “Just saying we’re going to do something without having mechanisms to make sure they get done won’t work.”

Idaho’s plan covers an array of activities that occur on state lands. Those include solar, wind and geothermal energy projects as well as oil and gas exploration and development. Mining and grazing are also covered as is the granting of rights of way. Also included are fire prevention and mitigation efforts to minimize loss of sage grouse habitat.

Agency officials said the plan complements Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s sage grouse plan he submitted for federal officials to consider as the government eyes protections. A listing could have ramifications for agriculture and energy, possibly damaging the economies of the 11 Western states where the bird resides.

In Idaho, about 10.5 million acres are designated either core or important sage grouse habitat. Of those 10.5 million acres, about 700,000 acres are Idaho endowment lands, or about 6.5 percent.

While Idaho endowment land with sage grouse habitat represents a small percentage of sage grouse habitat overall, the 700,000 acres nonetheless represent 44 percent of endowment rangeland in Idaho. So a sage grouse listing would likely decrease how much money the state can produce from its endowment rangelands.

The money generated from endowment land mostly goes to public schools. The Idaho Department of Lands is tasked with producing the most amount of money from the endowment land over the long run. That means the state agency is now trying to find a way to meet its mandate while also protecting sage grouse habitat.

“It’s a balance,” Schultz said, “but we think in the long run avoiding a listing is a good thing. If the bird gets listed, we will still have to have a strategy where we do not take birds.”

Schultz said his agency doesn’t have authority over private land but the agency’s plan contains conservation measures for private landholders that will be voluntary. A listing of sage grouse would also require private land owners to avoid activities that harm the bird or its habitat.

Travis Bruner of Western Watersheds Project, a conservation group based in central Idaho, said the plan lacks credibility when it comes to cattle grazing.

The plan states that, “Grazing has been determined to not be a primary threat to sage-grouse in Idaho.” The plan also calls for targeted grazing to reduce fire fuels and the use of grazing to help restore areas burned in rangeland fires.

“They seem to deny that there are any negative impacts at all on sage grouse due to grazing,” Bruner said. “That’s contrary to science.”

The state agency is taking comments on its Proposed Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan through March 2. Later in March, the Idaho Land Board and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will vote on whether to approve the plan.

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.

“Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Rail”

VICE News always has the best online documentaries and their latest on crude oil trains is a must-see feature.

Titled Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Rail, this 23-minute-long documentary investigates the explosive oil trains that regularly run from the Bakken shale to the Pacific Northwest (and through Spokane.) Yes, it's long for a web video but worth it as I've never seen footage like this before, especially the scary explosions at the five-minute mark.  

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Sustainable Works and the Water Department collaborate to help conserve

Even though it's been raining this week, mark my words: Summer is upon us. 

So prepare to "Slow The Flow." What does that mean? With a new rate structure in effect water customers are encouraged to conserve - especially in dry months. The City of Spokane Water Department and SustainableWorks, a non-profit organization that promotes energy efficiency, are partnering to help you save water.

City water customers who participate in Sustainable Works’ “Save Energy Today” audit program will receive a water conservation kit, provided by the City of Spokane, along with the energy-saving products and recommendations provided through the audit.

The City continues to encourage residents to “Slow the Flow” and conserve water. Earlier this year, the Spokane City Council adopted new water efficiency goals for indoor and outdoor water use. The City is working to reduce indoor residential water use by 0.5 percent a year and outdoor water use by residents, businesses, and government by 2 percent per year.

300 years of fossil fuels in 300 seconds

 

The Post Carbon Institute produced this illustrated guide to how we have become so reliant on fossil fuels and how we could shake off that addiction. Here's the film description: Fossil fuels have been the driving force behind the industrialisation of much of the world over the past two centuries. But as we reach the end of the era of cheap coal and oil it is time to look towards a post-fossil fuel future. 

On Earth Day, focus is on green cities

Happy Earth Day to all!

​Each year, I'm asked why Earth Day matters and I'm truthfully exhausted with that argument. It just matters, okay!? (For a longer piece on that issue, read an old blog post called Why Earth Day Matters.)

One of the key reasons of its relevance is awareness and the Earth Day Network works hard each year to develop global themes. This time it is Green Cities:

Earth Day Network launched the Green Cities campaign in the fall of 2013 to help cities around the world become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint. Focused on three key elements – buildings, energy, and transportation – the campaign aims to help cities accelerate their transition to a cleaner, healthier, and more economically viable future through improvements in efficiency, investments in renewable technology, and regulation reform.

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The campaign will also look at strategically placed cities and towns to organize grassroots efforts to improve local codes, ordinances, and policies that will help cities become model green cities.

After the jump, check the description on the three priorities - energy, green buildings, and transportation - and continue to follow the campaign HERE.

Bizarre 1962 oil advertisement that boasts about melting glaciers

This could be an idea for Mad Men.

Before Exxon there were the Esso, Enco and Humble brands. Exxon formerly replaced them in 1973. I don't know if they retained the services of the ad agency behind this gem in LIFE from 1962 but the companies brag about supplying enough energy to melt 7 million tons of glacier. It might be hard to see the text - go here for a closer look - but the copy reads:

This giant glacier has remained unmelted for centuries. Yet the petroleum energy Humble supples—if converted into heat—could melt it at the rate of 80 tons each second! To meet the nation’s growing needs for energy, Humble has applied science to nature’s resources to become America’s Leading Energy Company. Working wonders with oil through research, Humble provides energy in many forms — to help heat our homes, power our transportation, and to furnish industry with a great variety of versatile chemicals. Stop at a Humble station for new Enco Extra gasoline, and see why the “Happy Motoring” Sign is the World’s First Choice!”

How to save energy during the holidays

If you're looking for extra energy saving tips during the time of year you're spending extra dough on loved ones check out this list from Networx Chaya Kutrz

University of Minnesota economist Joel Waldfogel, Americans spend about $65 billion a year on Christmastime gifts. Add to that the increased cost of wintertime home heating, and you’ll see that December is a month of major spending. Your credit card bills might be big this January, but you don’t need to have the additional shock of a huge utility bills. You won’t have that sticker shock if you follow these tips.

1. Unplug holiday light displays during the day: Contrary to the rumor, turning lights on an off does not use more electricity than leaving them burning. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it is more energy-efficient to turn any kind of light bulb off than to leave it on. Regardless of whether you are using incandescent, fluorescent, or LED light bulbs, it takes more energy to keep lights burning than to turn them on and off. Since your holiday light display will have little visual impact during daylight hours, it pays to turn it off during the day. The cost of turning it back on at night is far less than the cost of leaving it on all day.

Sustainable Works launches Save Energy Today program


Here's a great way that Spokane residents can reduce their heating and cooling expenses.

SustainableWorks’ new Save Energy Today program can help you save energy, lower your utility bills, increase your home’s comfort and value, and reduce your carbon footprint. The one day energy-saving program combines an assessment of your home’s energy usage with immediate improvements to your home’s energy efficiency such as duct sealing, air sealing and installation of energy saving light bulbs. The Save Energy Today program is a $95 cost to the homeowner ($1200 value).

Here’s how it works:

1. Sign-up for Save Energy Today online by visiting www.sustainableworks.com, and clicking “Sign-up,” or by calling (509) 443-3471. Once you have signed up, we will contact you to schedule your Save Energy Today assessment, which takes about 4 to 6 hours.

Upcoming opportunities to speak out on oil by rail

Time to speak up or forever hold your peace.

The oil companies Tesoro and Savage are proposing to build the largest crude oil transit terminal on the West Coast at the Port of Vancouver, Washington. It would be nearly half the capacity of the Keystone XL pipeline and would transport crude oil by rail from the Bakken fields in North Dakota and tar sands in Canada, directly through Spokane and on to Vancouver, Washington.

With the capacity for a staggering 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day, this proposed oil transit terminal would require at least four mile-and-a-half long trains per day. For communities along the rail line, including Spokane, the consequences of a project of this magnitude are significant. Additional rail traffic through our region raises numerous concerns, especially because the train cars will be carrying crude oil.

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.

 

Idaho’s greenest hotel opens


​Follow the green carpet to see the hotel that is the first built to LEED standards in Idaho. SpringHill by Marriot just opened up on Seltice way in Coeur d’Alene and represents the highest standards of environmental technology.

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED Green Building Rating System is a voluntary standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings in the United States. Owner Kent Clausen said “Coeur d’Alene is a city that has a great deal of respect for the great outdoors. Building this hotel to meet LEED standards just make sense.

 

 

5 energy themed Jack-O-Lanterns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you haven't carved that pumpkin yet and are unsure of what to do, I've got your back: Get your green on with one of these energy themed Jack-o-lanterns from EnergySaver.gov.

 

 

Avista hosts Energy Fair at Emmanuel Family Life Center

Interested in learning more about energy efficiency and managing home energy bills? Check out the Avista Energy Fair,  a free event that will be held this Thursday, September 26, from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. at the Emmanuel Family Life Center, 631 S. Richard Allen Court. Fair goers will see demonstrations of how to install energy efficiency materials and Avista is providing complimentary food and beverages, door prizes, and activities for the kids.

The Avista Energy Fair will offer demonstrations of ways to keep homes comfortable and safe for the winter ahead. Fair attendees can speak with Avista staff and learn first-hand about low-cost and no-cost energy efficiency tips. They’ll see how to install draft stoppers like rope caulk, window plastic and v-seal. Free samples of these and other materials to help people maximize energy efficiency in their homes will be given out at the fair.

In addition, Avista’s community partners will be on hand to provide information about services and resources they provide to the community. Scheduled to attend in Spokane are: Aging & Long Term Care of Eastern Washington (ALTCEW), Bank On, Community Frameworks, Community Minded Enterprises, Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest, INHS Community Wellness, Kiemle & Hagood Company, Molina Healthcare, Money Management International, SNAP, Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, and WorkSource.

12 states leading in solar energy

A new report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center titled "Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America’s Top 12 Solar States" does a pretty fantastic job highlighting the solar energy boom across the country.

Here are the top 12 solar states ranked by per capita solar: Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, New Jersey, New Mexico, California, Delaware, Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Maryland.

C'mon Washington. Step up to keep your rep up. 

Inland Northwest New Economy Summit begins tonight!

The Inland Northwest New Economy Summit starts tonight and extends through Saturday. The Summit will focus on promoting ideas and strategies for a stronger and more sustainable regional economy, discussing local development opportunities and renewable energy strategies.

“Policy changes at the state level could incentivize the use of energy created by our Waste to Energy facility to help build our local economy,” Spokane City Councilmember Amber Waldref said, a featured speaker at the event. 

The event includes workshops covering topics from scaling sustainable agriculture, green building, alternative energy, green businesses job creation and leadership in the new economy.

There will also be a business pitch competition with cash prizes of up to $1000. Tonight's event will be held at the Gonzaga University Jepson Center, in the Wolff Auditorium from 6-9pm. Saturday participants will reconvene at 9:30am at the EWU Phase 1 Building, 668 N. Riverpoint Blvd.

Register HERE and a shout out to Joel, Jessica, Beth, and Kate for their hard work in putting this together.

“A Short History of Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 1”

Check this excerpt from Part One of an excellent three-part series on the political greenwashing of the tar sands in Canada, written by Jeff Gailus at Desmog Canada:

When I hatched the idea to write a book about the use of spin and propaganda in the battle over the tar sands, a close friend of mine suggested I avoid the term “tar sands.” His logic was simple: using this term, which has become a pejorative, would turn some people off, people who might benefit, he said, from reading my book.

His recommendation was meant to be helpful, but it speaks to the power of manipulating language to make people believe something appears to be something that it is not. “Greenwashing” refers to the strategy of intentionally exaggerating a product’s environmental credentials in order to sell it, and nowhere has greenwashing been more generously used than in the promotion of the tar sands and the new and bigger pipelines that proponents hope will carry it around the world.

Coal train cars derail in Missoula

Reminding us of the risks with coal transports, on Monday at midnight in Missoula, three cars on a Montana Rail Link train derailed spilling eighty tons of its contents. 

This doesn't exactly inspire confidence when sixty coal trains could be travelling through Spokane a day.

Full story HERE.

Friday Quote: “My 1,700 mile hike across the Keystone XL pipeline”

I’d felt strangely drawn to the Keystone XL.

In the fall of 2011, when I fantasized about walking the length of the 1,700-mile proposed pipeline — that, if approved, will carry oil from the Tar Sands of Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas — I was a lowly dishwasher at an oilman’s camp in Deadhorse, Alaska.

At the time, I was broke, just out of grad school, and demoralized with my situation. I had a miserable job that didn’t require a high school diploma, let alone the liberal arts degree that had nearly bankrupted me, and I was living in quite possibly the coldest, darkest, dreariest place on earth. I was an adventurer at heart, burdened with the duties of making a living.

I can say, from experience, that when you find yourself washing spoon after spoon, in the middle of the night, in a silent kitchen, at a working camp 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle, you will begin to question the direction of your life. But I can say this also: The soul must first be caged before it can be freed. And when Liam, the cook I worked with, suggested we go on an adventure the next summer and hike the XL, I knew his idea was both crazy and brilliant. I looked at him and said, with what must have been an almost frightening excitement, “We must!”

Infographic: “How archaic utility rules stall local solar”

John Farrell is a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance specializing in energy policy developments that expand the benefits of local ownership. His report Energy Self-Reliant States found that at least "three-fifths of the fifty states could meet all their internal electricity needs from renewable energy generated inside their borders."

Check his new infographic on challenges for a renewable energy future that stem from utility rules. From Farrell: "Many people expect that solar power will dramatically expand once it bursts through the cost barrier and becomes less expensive than grid electricity. But archaic utility rules can effectively cap local solar development at just 15% of peak demand. Fortunately, pioneering states like Hawaii and California are exploring ways to lift the cap and bring utility rules into the 21st century."

Tuesday Video: “First of all, I like trains,” says coal terminal advocate

Last week, I discussed the thousands of people who are showing up to statewide public meetings to comment on and protest building the nation's largest coal export terminal outside of Bellingham. It makes me wonder what Spokane's hearing on December 4th will look like

This awesome five-minute video might give us a hint. It's about the huge turnout in Bellingham, called Divided by Coal from How Loud Media. One of the best pro-coal terminal comments I've heard yet on camera:  "Instead of calling it coal, what if we called it ballet shoes? How would people feel about exporting ballet shoes? It's a legal commodity [and] coal's a legal commodity."

Once again, you can voice your opinion HERE. State and federal agencies are seeking public comment on the proposed terminal through January 21, 2013.

Video after the jump.

Where Obama and Romney stand on energy policy

Whie I won't endorse a candidate on this blog, you can consider this a bit of an environmental voter guide to the Presidential race. But when it comes to energy policy, I'm not really excited about our prospects with either Obama or Romney - hey, that's just how I swing on the environment -  yet it becomes increasingly clear there are significant differences. Check the below comparison. I do have to take issue with the last section on the Keystone XL Pipeline: Obama endorsed the building of the pipeline's southern half in Oklahoma to the Gulf saying "I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done.”

However, Romney will buld that Keystone XL Pipeline to Canada himself if he must!

After the jump, you can get into more detail on the above table with sources provided courtesy of Think Progress.

Scoping season begins in Spokane

You have until January 21st, 2013 to comment as part of the scoping process for the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) at Cherry Point. That is 120 days to speak now or forever hold your peace. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined the GPT and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail expansion projects are interrelated and may have significant impacts on the human environment so an Environmental Impact Statement will be prepared. 

Here are the details for the Spokane hearing:  Tuesday, Dec. 4th, 2012, from 4 pm to 7 pm, at Spokane County Fairgrounds, 404 North Havana Street, Spokane Valley. 

In a statement upon news of the scoping process, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart commented:  “The Spokane City Council previously unanimously voted to have our voice heard in the building of coal export facilities. Today’s announcement that a public hearing will held in Spokane as part of the Army Corps' evaluation process for the Cherry Point terminal proposal, is a big, but necessary win for Spokane. This announcement is only one piece of the puzzle in protecting our beautiful city. Now the Army Corps needs to commit to evaluating all of the coal export proposals, because Spokane has much to lose, and little to gain by allowing 62 new coal trains per day through our town. Such an increase would harm our air quality, transportation systems, and emergency response. Today is the first step in the right direction for Spokane in a lengthy process.”

More information is available at coaltrains.org/keyfacts

Learn how to send comments regarding the EIS after the jump. 

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.