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New West Daily Roundup for Oct. 30, 2015

Today in New West News: Wyoming considers new oil and gas emission standards, Montana lawmakers concerned over Colstrip’s future, and Xcel wants to use Denver to test solar power battery storage.

The Wyoming Air Quality Advisory Board solicited public comment Wednesday regarding new air quality regulations in places like Laramie County in eastern Wyoming, according to the Billings Gazette. The move comes partly out of concerns voiced by environmental advocates, healthcare groups and landowners in the area. In addition, there has been an uptick in drilling in several eastern Wyoming counties. The new rules would create uniform regulations statewide, with the exception of the Upper Green River Basin and Pinedale Anticline Development Area. From the Gazette:

Environmental groups and health advocates say the proposal, which would only affect new or modified wells, is needed to ensure the local air quality is kept at safe levels.

“These revisions for oil and gas production facilities in the statewide area are important and needed,” said Bruce Pendery, chief legal counsel for the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “Since the start of 2014, more than 80 percent of the newly permitted oil and gas wells were approved in the eastern half of the state, yet these counties have had the weakest air quality rules.”

The American Lung Association, Wyoming Public Health Association, Wyoming Comprehensive Cancer Control Consortium, Wyoming Society for Respiratory Care and Wyoming Health Council also submitted a joint statement urging the state to adopt stronger emission controls.

Several local residents testified during Wednesday’s meeting.

“Given the inevitable rise in price of oil and gas, we will see a significant increase in drilling in Laramie County,” said Casey Quinn, representing the Cheyenne Area Landowners Coalition and the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “We would like to see preventive care happen so we don’t have to act reactively later.”

Alex Bowler, a rural Laramie County resident who also is president of the landowners coalition, added he and many other local residents don’t oppose the oil and gas activity. But he said they “would like to see it happen in an environmentally sound way.”

There is some dissent regarding the proposal, of course. Some environmental and health representative say the limits don’t go far enough. John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, has called the measures at best unnecessary and at worst detrimental to local economies. The Board is expected to vote on the proposal in a month.

Over in Montana, state lawmakers voiced their concerns with Washington state lawmakers over the fate of a Colstrip coal plant southeast of Billings. Although the plant is located in Montana, several Washington utilities own a portion of Colstrip. Since coal power is projected to become more expensive, Washington lawmakers are considering a shift toward cheaper energy sources, which could mean a partial shut-down of the plant, according to Montana Public Radio. Most of the Montana representatives were against the shut-down—with the exception of Jim Jensen of the Montana Environmental Information Center, who welcomed shutting down part of the plant. From MTPR:

Puget Sound Energy, the utility company in Washington that owns a big stake of the Colstrip coal-fired electricity plant in Montana is facing numerous challenges to keep it open. That’s what representatives of the company told Montana and Washington state lawmakers at a meeting Wednesday in Spokane.

Puget Sound Energy imports a lot of electricity from Colstrip, and Washington state regulators watch them closely to make sure they keep costs down. Company vice president Steve Secrist told lawmakers that the price of electricity from coal could go up significantly due to several factors, including new carbon dioxide limits proposed by the EPA in August.

“Second: Carbon Washington. This is the environmental group pushing to enact a carbon tax by citizen initiative. This proposal would establish a carbon tax of approximately $25 a ton.”

Washington’s governor is also talking about a cap on carbon emissions that could affect Colstrip. Washington regulators are studying how much it would cost to shut down and clean up Colstrip. If it’s cheaper to shut the plant down and buy electricity from other sources, hundreds of jobs at Colstrip could disappear.

Finally, in Colorado, Xcel Energy Inc. is asking the state to approve testing of new batteries for renewable energy. The company, according to the Denver Business Journal, wants to add the batteries to its commercial grid at the planned Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Company development, located near Denver International Airport. Xcel also wants to install batteries in the Stapleton neighborhood. If Xcel gets the go-ahead, they could start running tests in 2016 or 2017, through to 2018. From the Journal:

“Our goal is to use these demonstration projects as a foundation for how to efficiently manage renewable energy on our Colorado system, and to continue to provide our customers with insight into the energy choices they want and value,” said David Eves, president of Public Service Co. of Colorado, Xcel’s subsidiary in the state.

Most people think of battery storage systems to provide back up power for solar power installations, but they can do more, Eves said.

Batteries can regulate voltage on distribution lines; they can increase the ability of the electric grid to use renewable generation; and they can store power produced when its cheap and release it when demand — and the cost of production — is high, he said.

Xcel (NYSE: XEL) filed its request to run the two tests Thursday with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which must sign off on the plan. The tests would be conducted via the utility’ Innovative Clean Technology program. The PUC has approved the program, but most also approve individual projects.

Test projects done under the program give Xcel the chance to see if new technologies can work in a commercial setting before being implemented on a wider scale, Eves said.

Each test will have different aims and parameters, with the hopes of demonstrating the batteries’ potential and Xcel’s ability to manage renewable energy generation and storage.

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