Colorado PUC won’t change current net-metering price for rooftop solar energy

A new study suggests photovoltaic systems add to the resale value of homes. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY.

A new study suggests photovoltaic systems add to the resale value of homes. Photo via U.S. Department of Energy.

Ruling will encourage more distributed renewable energy installations

Staff Report

FRISCO — The Colorado Public Utilities Commission this week rejected an attempt by Xcel Energy to roll back net net metering, a key financial incentive that has helped spur widespread installation of rooftop solar systems in the state.

Net metering gives consumers credit for the energy their systems put into the grid at the same rate residential customers are charged for electricity — about 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Continue reading

Morning photo: Golden days

Sweet sunrise …

FRISCO — With smoke and haze from distant wildfires hanging in the sky, the morning sunlight has been diffuse and gentle, creating some spectacular sunrise scenes along the shore of Dillon Reservoir. It may be slightly comforting that the fires are hundreds of miles away, but at the same time, it’s a reminder that the entire West has been getting warmer and drier for decades. There’s no reason to think that Colorado’s current moist phase will last forever. Based on the regional patterns, it seems a lot more likely that the next drought in the Rockies will be even worse than the last, but for now we have a respite and a chance to prepare for the next inevitable wave of wildfires when the weather turns dry once again.

Breckenridge, Vail Resorts compromise on proposed lift ticket tax

Morning alpenglow paints the summit of Breckenridge Ski Area.

Morning alpenglow paints the summit of Breckenridge Ski Area.

New ballot measure will exclude season passes

Staff Report

FRISCO — The ski town showdown over a proposed lift-ticket tax in Breckenridge ended with a whimper rather than a bang, as the town and Vail Resorts reached a compromise on the issue.

According to a press release from the town, the language of the ballot measure seeking voter approval of the new tax will be tweaked to exclude season passes and summer lift tickets from what town officials have called an admissions tax. Continue reading

Morning photo: ‘Walk me out in the morning dew …’

The beauty around us

FRISCO —Taking closeups with an iPhone camera — at least without a supplemental lens — isn’t always easy. The camera tends to want to zero in on something other than the subject, like the grass or shrubs in the background. But with some careful consideration to lighting, specifically the contrast between the subject and the background, I sometimes can make it work. Being able to capture sparkling morning dew on a bluebell, or a busy bee gathering food on a wildflower makes me happy. It’s like having a little miracle in the palm of my hand for a few moments, and it’s even better when I can share it with Summit Voice readers. Enjoy your Sunday and don’t forget to stop whatever you’re doing for a few moment to give thanks for all the beauty that surrounds us.

New documents show EPA tried to warn Colorado about blowout potential at Gold King Mine

New records show the agency was keenly aware of potential blowout danger at the mine

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The portal of sorrow at the Gold King Mine. Photo courtesy EPA.

*Story corrected Aug. 22 at 12:02 a.m. in paragraph 5. Colorado and Utah attorneys general are taking aim at the EPA, not the Colorado and Utah governors.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The EPA knew there was potential for a dangerous blowout at the Gold King Mine at least since the summer of 2014, when the agency issued a Task Order Statement of Work.

In the July 25, 2014, order, the EPA wrote that conditions at the “Gold King Mine present an endangerement to human health and the environment and meet the criteria for initiating a removal action …”

Just more than a year later, the mine spilled about 3 million gallons of water tainted with arsenic, zinc, manganese, cadmium and lead. Concentrations of some pollutants spiked to many times the level deemed toxic for fish and other aquatic life.

New information about what the EPA was doing when its contractors accidentally breached a rubble dam to trigger the spill are detailed in documents the agency publicly released last week.

The EPA published the documents in an effort to respond “to concerns and to evaluate impacts to water and sediment that may have been contaminated by the Gold King Mine release,” according to this agency web page.  the Denver Post reported that the Republican attorneys general of Colorado and Utah — apparently on a politically motivated EPA witch hunt — alleged that the EPA has withheld information about the mine.

“Given the experience with the August 5, 2015 blow out from pressurized water at the Gold King Mine, additional work is needed to ensure there are no more blockages holding back water which could contribute to future surges of contaminated water. The EPA and State responders have begun these efforts, but they have not yet been completed,” the agency wrote.

The work that was being done when the water surged out of the mine was aimed at relieving pressure buildup from historic construction operations at the interconnected mines by the previous mining operator. Among other things, the contractors working for the EPA were trying to improve site access, stabilize the mine structure and control water and metals.

The work order also describes previous work done by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, including trying to stabilize the existing opening to allow mine water drainage

The work order states that the existing conveyance channel shall be protected and maintained during the work.

“If it becomes necessary to remove these drainage features, then suitable measures must be installed to control flows during the work. A replacement conveyance system is required to be installed after the portal and underground work are completed,” according to the work order.

In a key passage, the work order describes what the EPA had in mind with future work:

“It is proposed to re-open the Gold King Mine portal and workings to investigate the conditions to assess the on-going releases. This will require the incremental de-watering and removal of such blockages to prevent blowouts. The work is intended to take place in September-October, 2014. In addition, the secondary purpose of the work is to attempt to identify and characterize specific water flows into the mine and evaluate potential means to mitigate those flows if possible.”

A key focus of the work was to repair the portal in order to try and control what the EPA knew to be a potentially disastrous surge of polluted water:

“In addition, specify the anticipated approach for removing overburden, debris and re-establishing a safe structure that can be used for entry and egress and secured when not in use. This includes installing a portal gate with a secured locking system …

“Measures will be taken to control water and metal precipitate sludge and sediment that are impounded behind any blockage at the portal or in the mine. This will include the treatment of surge water discharge as necessary to prevent an uncontrolled release and impact to surface water.”

The EPA also knew that the water at the Gold King Mine would have to be treated at some point:

“A temporary water retention and sludge management pond must be prepared and operated, as necessary, on site to manage mine water and sludge removed from the adit. This will be used to manage impounded mine water and base flows and metal precipitate sludge from the mine workings during theconstruction activities.”

The second key document released by the EPA is a May 2015 Action/Work Plan which names ENVIRONMENTAL RESTORATION, LLC as the contractor. The plan outlines the scope of work and the operational approach.

In a background section, the agency once again detailed historic conditions at the mine that likely primed the site for the toxic surge on Aug. 5 this year, clearly recognizing the potential for a disastrous blowout:

The Gold King Mine has not had maintenance of the mine working since 1991, and the workings have been inaccessible since 1995 when the mine portal collapsed. This condition has likely caused impounding of water behind the collapse. In addition, other collapses within the workings may have occurred creating additional water impounding conditions. Conditions may exist that could result in a blow-out of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals.

The Scope of Work section says that the contractor was to remove material covering the adit, which is probably what was being done when the mine spilled its guts.

Read all the EPA’s posted documents here: http://www2.epa.gov/goldkingmine/epa-posts-gold-king-mine-file-documents

EPA Action/Work Plan

https://www.scribd.com/doc/275630269/Gold-King-Mine-Action-Work-Plan

Gold King Mine Task Order Statement of Work

Rally in Breckenridge to support climate action

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Rally for climate action in Breckenridge on Aug. 20.

‘Beat the Heat’ event aimed at showing public support for Clean Power Plan

Staff Report

FRISCO — Summit County residents have a chance to show their support for meaningful action to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution at an Aug. 20 rally in Breckenridge organized by Environment Colorado. The rally will start 11 a.m. near Riverwalk Center, with Environment Colorado organizers doing one-on-one outreach to passers-by.

The Beat the Heat event is aimed at showing support for President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the single biggest step the U.S. has taken to address global warming. Activists want to make it clear that Coloradans want state leaders like Senator Michael Bennet and Senator Cory Gardner, as well as Governor Hickenlooper to lead on climate action. Continue reading

Gold King Mine spill investigations start

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What really happened at the Gold King Mine? Photo via EPA.

EPA expects to have some answers within 60 days

Staff Report

FRISCO — Responding to congressional requests for an investigation into the Gold King Mine spill that fouled hundreds of miles of the Animas and San Juan rivers with toxic pollutants, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General this week announced that it will launch a full review of the disaster.

On Aug. 5, workers at the mine near Silverton triggered the release, sending about 3 million gallons of water laden with arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury surging downstream.

According to the official notice on the investigation, the OIG’s Office of Program Evaluation, Office of Audit, and Office of Investigations will all be involved.

And as pledged by EPA chief Gina McCarthy, there will also be an outside review, led by the U.S. Department of the Interior, aimed at assessing the factors that led to the Gold King Mine spill. According to the EPA, the results will be released to the public within 60 days.

In a prepared statement, the EPA said the goal of the independent review is to provide EPA with an analysis of the incident that took place at Gold King Mine, including the contributing causes.

Both investigations will help inform ongoing and planned site assessments, investigations, and construction or removal projects.

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