Colorado Editorial Roundup
Posted September 8
The Gazette, Sept. 3, on widening Interstate 25 with the Volkswagen emissions settlement:
We can waste $68 million or put it toward fixing Interstate 25. We advocate the latter.
Colorado is due about $68 million in a settlement with Volkswagen over its notorious emissions tampering scheme. ColoradoPolitics.com's Joey Bunch reports how environmental groups want to spend the money.
They champion a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment draft proposal that recommends spending $18 million of the settlement on upgrading transit buses that serve about 4 percent of daily commuters. Another $18 million would pay for alternative fuel trucks and buses. An additional $10 million would go for electric vehicle recharging stations 30 miles apart. The charging stations would serve a small fraction of cars powered by batteries.
The money, based on the settlement terms, must to be used to reduce vehicle emissions. That seems appropriate.
Putting the money toward expanding I-25 between Castle Rock and Monument would reduce emissions, by a significant amount. Known as "The Gap," the narrow stretch of freeway has been a thorn in the side of the Colorado Department of Transportation for decades. Ignored by the Legislature in favor of metro Denver highway expansion projects, The Gap has become a death trap for drivers and an economic burden for Denver and Colorado Springs.
What isn't so obvious are the environmental problems associated with The Gap. Congestion, we have learned, generates huge amounts of pollution. Automobiles produce the least amount of pollution when they operate at the highway speeds they were designed for. It makes the pollution control systems work more efficiently and minimizes the time a vehicle is on the highway with the engine running. Just ask state, local and federal government experts.
"Idling just one car for 5 minutes per day can emit as many as 25 pounds of harmful air pollutants and 260 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, the primary greenhouse gas," reports Engines Off! Colorado, which calls itself a collaborative effort of federal, state and local governments to improve regional air quality by reducing vehicle idling, "Throughout the Denver Metro area, idling is responsible for an estimated 40,000 tons of harmful air pollution a year and 400,000 tons of CO2 emissions. This results in over 40 million gallons of fuel wasted while idling, costing area residences and businesses over $100 million dollars a year."
Stop-and-go and slow traffic generates pollution because vehicles are not operating at proper temperatures. Engines Off! Colorado says that means "fuel does not undergo complete combustion. This leaves fuel residue that can deposit on spark plugs and increase fuel consumption by up to 5 percent. Also, water condensation in the exhaust system can reduce the system's life."
A 2013 research study out of Beijing, which has some of the worst vehicle pollution on Earth, addressed the issue of traffic volume, traffic speed and the effects on pollution. A paper published in Mathematical Problems in Engineering concludes: "If the volume of vehicles is reduced by 27 percent, the speed of vehicles in the whole road network can be improved by 24 percent, while the average commuting time can be reduced by 19.4 percent . Furthermore, according to calculations, the exhaust emissions will be dropped as follows: Nitrogen oxide emissions will be reduced by 29.3 percent, CO2 emissions will be reduced by 42.2 percent and hydrocarbon emissions will be reduced by 40.9 percent."
Traffic slowdowns increase the length of time pollutants are emitted and increases the amount of pollution produced in a given time while idling or running at low speeds. That means adding lanes to congested highways, which reduces congestion, should be a priority in the pursuit of protecting our air. We have spent more than 25 years trying to lure people out of their cars, spending more than $5 billion on mass transit systems in Colorado that serve less than 5 percent of the public.
To best reduce emissions, we should stick with common sense and science. The science says to improve I-25. Volkswagen's $68 million would pay a big chunk of the cost.
The Denver Post, Sept. 6, on the Xcel's coal plant reduction plan:
Xcel Energy's plan to close two aging coal-fired units and add more wind and solar generation is a promising opportunity to ensure that, by 2026, more than half of the electricity it provides Colorado will come from renewable resources.
It is all the more attractive because the company says it can do that while promoting $2.5 billion in clean-energy projects in rural Colorado — and saving its customers tens of millions of dollars. The caveat to the plan, which Xcel has submitted to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, is that if it can't beat the electricity cost of the coal-fired plants, it won't go ahead with it.
Since 2010, Xcel has shuttered about 1,100 megawatts of coal-fired power plants, and closing the Comanche 1 and 2 units in Pueblo, by 2025, would add another 660 megawatts to the list.
"We are very committed to decarbonizing when the technology and policy choices make it possible to do so," said David Eves, president of Xcel's Colorado subsidiary. "It's all about the economics."
While all this sounds good, the PUC has already, and rightly so we think, raised a series of questions about the plan, questions for which there are still no clear answers.
Commissioner Frances Koncilja has voiced concerns about the cost of the program and its impacts on the southern Colorado economy. Commissioner Wendy Moser is questioning whether this plan fits within the statutory process of electric-resource planning.
The fact that Xcel filed this agreement in the waning days of August and wants a decision from the PUC before year's end places a burden on the commission. That is because there are no estimates yet about the cost to consumers of writing off the two units — even if it is buried in cost savings. Xcel has yet to give a figure. What will be the impact on Pueblo?
Closing the two units, leaving just one operating, will cut the Comanche station workforce, now 172, by more than half, and the property taxes on the facility, which were $19.6 million last year, could take a hit of $700,000 or more.
Xcel executives say that one of the gas-fired units could be located at the Comanche site, and construction of a new switching station could add to the tax base. The company has said it will also try to find jobs for displaced workers.
The utility and local officials are in discussions, and it is essential that any negative impacts be mitigated. A clean energy future is desirable, but not at the expense of a single community.
The plan would add 1,000 megawatts of wind, 700 megawatts of solar and 700 megawatts for natural-gas-fired generation. Some of it will be owned by Xcel, and some will come from contracts with independent power producers.
Driving the shift to renewables is the dropping price of wind and solar power. Between 2008 and 2016, the cost of wind power dropped 41 percent and solar dropped more than 50 percent, according the U.S. Department of Energy.
The competitiveness of the two has been bolstered by federal tax subsidies that are now being phased out and will expire in 2021. The Xcel plan and its urgency is also an effort to lock in some of those subsidies before they disappear.
Ultimately we agree with PUC Chairman Jeff Ackermann that while the concerns of his fellow commissioners are valid, the Xcel plan has "the makings of a significant opportunity." But the PUC must force Xcel to prove it can move forward in a transparent and cost-effective way.
The Greeley Tribune, Sept. 5, on universities' impact on northern Colorado:
We don't need an economic impact study to remind us we're lucky to have the University of Northern Colorado and Aims Community College.
But since UNC, Aims, Colorado State and the Front Range Community College did its first-ever combined study on the issue, well, here are a few numbers.
The first is the most staggering, in our mind.
The two public colleges and universities have a $2.4 billion impact on Larimer and Weld counties. The institutions employed more than 10,000 full-time and part-time employees in 2015-16.
Payroll amounted to $725 million, and most of that was spent in both counties to purchase clothing, food and other household goods and services. The impact also reaches into the hundreds of millions for research, construction and student spending, and the contribution from former students employed in the regional workforce amounts to $1.3 billion.
Those are impressive figures, and the best part of all of it is the impact of Aims and UNC goes beyond dollars.
Aims gives many students, both older and the more traditional, a less-expensive alternative to a university and a chance at a new life.
UNC gives Greeley a centerpiece to our downtown area, gives Greeley a chance to make the sporting spotlight and provides a plentiful supply of well-educated graduates to fill jobs in the community.
Both places contribute greatly to our arts community. In fact, UNC provides at least half of it and continually reaches out to include Greeley, with its jazz festival, the upcoming Day of Music and its many theater performances as three easy examples.
We are lucky to have them. That's what the numbers tell us.
The Durango Herald, Sept. 1, on fining owners of trash containers accessed by bears:
Bears are following their noses (and using their memories) and dining in Durango seemingly like never before. They have entered a couple of automobiles and done a lot of damage looking for their way out.
They have been in and out of dumpsters with cubs waiting expectantly alongside on their haunches for the results. Their favorite is the city's plastic residential trash container, placed out the night before, at the curb. By the debris around many an upended container, what occurred is clear.
According to the city's enforcement officer, more than 200 warnings or fines have been issued to trash container owners so far in 2017. Bears have been active since the incidents began in February.
It is time for humans, who know better, to handle their trash with more care.
Next week the city council will consider a get-tough emergency ordinance that will eliminate the warning, which is now issued to first-time offenders with unsecured containers, and instead begin the fines on their owners immediately.
Today, the first offense is $50 and subsequent offenses are $100.
Put your trash out before 6 a.m. and if it is seen strewn along the street later that morning, the fine will very likely occur. Trash pick-up drivers, and a roving code enforcement officer, will make note of your address.
The hope is that the elimination of the warning phase will focus homeowners' attention - fully and immediately - on the need to mind their trash and the bears will move on to other sources of food, and back into the hills.
The council's emergency action has a limit of 60 days, or so.
If the immediate fine does not work to encourage humans to properly tend to their garbage and discourage bears, the city may require that everyone obtain and use a bear proof container. That is a $200 expense (currently available to be paid over four years for $4 per month).
Let's get tougher with fines first to see if the public and bears respond, and the expense of a less accessible container for bears can be avoided.