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2010 Government Field Program

August 16-21, 2010

Participants - Evaluations - Photos

Trip Summary

The 2010 EMFI Government Field Program began on Monday, August 16, with an orientation breakfast at the Hotel Monaco in Denver, Colorado. Gary Baughman, Director of the EMFI and of CSM's Office of Special Programs and Continuing Education, introduced the EMFI staff -- Tom Sladek, Dixie Termin, Jim Proud, and Jim Burnell -- and reviewed the rules of the road.

The participants introduced themselves and identified their respective affiliations. Some represented offices in the Legislative and Executive branches of the Federal Government, and some represented State agencies of Colorado. Dr. Baughman then provided an overview of various operational details of the trip, ranging from the importance of punctuality and attendance at all scheduled activities, to the use of the communicators and EMFI's proprietary "All-a-Board" device, to the ban on cell phone use during instructional portions of the trip.

The final introduction of the morning was Nick Jones, the bus driver from Gray Line Tours, in whose hands we placed our lives and limbs for much of the remainder of the trip. Nick has worked his magic on several EMFI tours, maneuvering the 47-passenger Big Red Bus into places most of us would have trouble driving cars. He is also a personable traveling companion who joined us on most site visits.

The tour began with a short walk to the Denver headquarters of Xcel Energy Inc., for a tour of Xcel's dispatch center. Our guides were Nick Detmer, Manager of Generation Control and Dispatch, and his colleague James Dominick, who works in Xcel's Trading and Market Operations group. The dispatch center, which resembles a trading floor on Wall Street, plays a crucial role in Xcel's utility operations in the Rocky Mountain states. Workers monitor forecasts of temperature, wind, and precipitation and attempt to satisfy predicted demands for electricity with supplies from power plants, energy storage facilities, and the interconnected power pools, such as the Western Area Power Administration. The increasing importance of wind power and solar energy has presented some challenges, because the output from the renewable energy facilities can vary substantially with season and even time of day. Xcel compensates for this variability, in part, by using energy storage facilities (such as the Cabin Creek pumped hydro project near Georgetown, Colorado) and peaking plants (such as the Plains End Power Plant near Golden, Colorado). These plants can respond rapidly to changes in power demand. Plains End, for example, can go from zero output to full load in only a few minutes.

Participants boarded the bus for a short ride to the Colorado Governor's Energy Office, where two speakers helped us understand how energy is produced and used in Colorado and how renewable energy resources are being encouraged and accommodated. Matt Futch, Utilities Program Manager at the CGEO and a participant in the 2010 EMFI, provided an overview of the State government's activities and described the CGEO's programs to promote energy efficiency and enhance the role of renewable resources. The CGEO recently released 2010 Colorado Utilities Report, which was prepared by Matt and his colleagues. The report documents the generation resources, operating data, and governance structure of Colorado's 65 electric and gas utilities. Nick Muller, Executive Director of the Colorado Independent Energy Association, described how his members design, build, own, and operate independent power plants that use natural gas, wind, sunlight, water, and biomass to produce electricity for the regional grid. There are more than seventy-five independent power projects in Colorado, and these account for nearly half of the installed generating capacity in the state.

After lunch, the EMFI group set out for a tour of an independent power plant – the Plains End Generating Station – which is located north of Golden, about 20 miles from downtown Denver. The plant was completed in two stages. Plains End I, containing 20 Wärtsilä engines and generators, was completed in May 2002. Plains End II added 14 units and began operating in 2008. Today Plains End is the world's largest gas-fueled power plant using reciprocating engines, with a design capacity of 227 megawatts (MW). The plant has "black-start" capabilities, meaning it can resume generating power, on its own, after a blackout of the regional grid. That generation can be employed to restart other power plants, such as the large coal-fired power plants that provide most of Colorado's electricity. Our hosts were Tommy Arnett, General Manager of Plains End, and Chris Stanley, O&M Supervisor.

Natural Gas Derrick

Several attendees inside Plains End Power Plant viewing one of the 34 natural gas-fired reciprocating engines and generators, together capable of generating 227 MW of backup power for Xcel Energy.

We then drove west on US 6 through the canyon of Clear Creek to I-70, and followed the highway through the Eisenhower Tunnel, past the ski areas of Summit and Eagle counties, and through splendid Glenwood Canyon to Glenwood Springs. Jim Burnell introduced the participants to the geology of this portion of the Rocky Mountain region and commented on the importance of geology to construction of roads and tunnels, the natural hazards of the area, and the methods for dealing with landslides, rock slides, and floods. Jim was ably assisted by Vince Matthews, Colorado State Geologist, Director of the Colorado Geological Survey, and a participant in the 2010 program. An informal group dinner was held at the 8th Street Deli, and we spent the night at the Hot Springs Lodge.

Natural Gas Derrick
Attendees gather around the Bill Barrett Corp. drilling rig near Silt, Colorado.

Tuesday began early with a presentation over breakfast by Duane Zavadil of Bill Barrett Corporation. Duane discussed his company's tight gas sands development activities along the Colorado River west of Glenwood and explained the directional drilling technology being used. Directional drilling allows the completion of numerous wells from a single drilling pad and enables access to the complex lens-shaped gas reservoirs. He also discussed how the whole process is regulated by State and Federal agencies. Directional drilling is widely employed in the gas producing areas in the West, and it will be used by Barrett to extract gas from under the Roan Plateau, which is an elevated section of the Piceance Basin in northwestern Colorado. Issuance of gas leases for "the Roan" was required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Leases were sold in August 2008.

Leasing affects only a small portion of the Roan's surface, specifically the land formerly occupied by Naval Oil Shale Reserve No. 1, one of three oil shale reserves set up early in the 20th century to secure fuel oil supplies for the U.S. Navy, which was then converting its ships from coal to oil. Barrett purchased all of the leases from the winning bidders and is currently negotiating a development plan with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the State of Colorado.

Duane rode with us on the bus to a drilling site near Silt, Colorado. Duane's colleague Monte Shed described the several stages in the drilling operation and provided an up-close view of the drilling platform and the ancillary systems for handling drilling mud and mounting the many lengths of drill stem on the string.

We then drove to the Battlement Mesa Activity Center, a pleasant facility overlooking the oil shale cliffs near the town of Parachute, for lunch and a panel discussion on energy development along the Colorado River and in the Piceance Basin. The Battlement Mesa community was a product of the oil shale boom of the late 1970s and the bust of the early 1980s. The panel consisted of Keith Lambert (Mayor of the City of Rifle), Alan Crockett (an attorney with BLM's Colorado River Valley Field Office who is closely involved in the leasing activities on the Roan), and Glenn Vawter, executive director of the National Oil Shale Association, who summarized the history of oil shale development around the world, with emphasis on current research programs in Colorado and Utah. EMFI participant Vince Matthews discussed the status of, and outlook for, conventional fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil) in the Nation's energy mix.

After lunch, we drove east to the Rifle Energy Innovation Center, a 130-acre industrial site southwest of the City of Rifle. Between 1958 and 1984, the site was used to produce uranium and vanadium concentrates by processing mill tailings and ore. Soils on the site were contaminated with radioactive tailings, and the groundwater was contaminated with arsenic, molybdenum, nitrate, selenium, uranium, and vanadium. Soils remediation was carried out between 1992 and 1996 by the U.S. Department of Energy, under the Uranium Mine Tailings Remediation Act. Cleaning of the contaminated groundwater continues.

In 2004, the State of Colorado transferred ownership of the site to the City of Rifle. The City installed a water treatment plant and a wastewater reclamation facility, together with an associated 2.3 MW photovoltaic array, on 12 acres of the site. The PV project is owned and operated by the solar utility SunEdison, which has a 20-year contract to deliver electricity to the City of Rifle, through Xcel's power grid, under a net metering tariff. Mike Braaten, Government Affairs and Energy Coordinator for the City, met us at the site and provided an excellent tour of the PV array and of the wastewater plant. We then returned to Glenwood Springs for a free afternoon and evening. We slept again at the Hot Springs Lodge.

On Wednesday, August 18, we rose early and drove south from Glenwood Springs along the Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers, past Carbondale and Redstone, to Somerset, where we divided into groups to tour three underground coal mines: Arch Coal's West Elk Mine, Oxbow Mining's Elk Creek Mine, and the Bowie No. 2 Mine of Bowie Resources Ltd. Our hosts were Sherry Wilson and Don Vickers at West Elk, Rob Thurman and Randy Litwiller at Elk Creek, and Jim Abshire at Bowie. We received training in the use of respirators and other safety gear and the processes for emergency evacuation. Each of us was equipped with hard hat, light, respirator, coveralls, gloves, and formidable rubber boots, and we entered our assigned mine in a diesel truck.

Longwall mining began in England in the 17th century and became relatively widespread in the 1950s and 1960s. It is now a very important technology for the large-scale extraction of bulk minerals such as coal and trona. More than half the coal mined in the United States is produced by longwall mines.

The first step is to create a tunnel with boring machines or continuous miners. Bolts are installed in the ceiling of the tunnel to prevent rock falls, and a large number of roof supports, or shields, are placed along the length of the tunnel, facing the panel of coal which is to be removed. A conveyor belt is installed in front of the shields, together with a track on which a cutter wheel, or shearer, moves. The shearer passes along the face of the panel, breaking the coal and dropping it onto the conveyor, which transports the coal beyond the panel area and drops it into haulage vehicles, which carry the coal to other conveyors, which move it out of the mine. When the cutter has completed its pass, hydraulic systems move the shields forward, into the mined-out area, and the process is repeated until the whole panel has been removed. The mine roof collapses behind the shields.

Longwall operations are highly mechanized and very big. A panel may be two miles long and 800 feet or more in width. The longwall system will use dozens of individual shields. About 80% of the coal in a panel can be recovered, compared with about 60% for more traditional room-and-pillar mining. Longwall can also be used for deeply buried seams, where room-and-pillar is impractical. However there are concerns. Subsidence is immediate and, over time, it can disturb the surface above the mine, which could be problematic if that surface has structures on it or is otherwise valuable.

Following an excellent box lunch and a Q&A session at West Elk, we boarded the bus and headed southwest towards the town of Delta and then north across beautiful Grand Mesa to Rifle, for our overnight stay at La Quinta Inn & Suites.

On Thursday, August 19, we drove straight north from Rifle for about 90 miles to Trapper Mine, near the town of Craig. Forrest Luke, Environmental Manager, described the history of Trapper Mine and its present operations, with help from Jim Mattern and Graham Roberts. Much of the presentation was focused on environmental planning and the reclamation programs that Trapper Mining employs and how pleased they are with the results. After a Q&A session, we rode the bus to an active mining area where we observed one of Trapper's three huge draglines, which strip overburden from above the coal seams. A dragline's bucket can move the equivalent of 1-1/2 truckloads of dirt and rock in one gulp. We also had the opportunity to peer over the edge of a working face, where coal was being extracted and loaded into large trucks.

Trapper Mine Loader

The 2010 EMFI Government Field Program attendees in the dragline bucket at the Trapper coal mine near Craig, Colorado

On the ride back to the Trapper office, the group observed the results of the land reclamation programs. This included seeing antelope and deer grazing on top of what was once an exposed coal seam. And while coal mining has a checkered past in the West, the Trapper people pointed out that their environmental efforts are more normal than exceptional in the modern industry.

Our next stop was the nearby Craig Station, a coal-fired power plant run by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. Following lunch and an introductory presentation by Operations Superintendent Marve Weible, we were treated to a comprehensive tour of the 1,304-megawatt facility, including a peek into the firestorm in an operating boiler and an elevator ride to the roof, where we viewed the coal storage yard, the plant's flue gas desulfurization units, Trapper Mine (which supplies most of the station's coal), the town of Craig, and the high voltage transmission lines that carry electricity from Craig to the more populous areas of Colorado. Our tour guides were Mr. Weible and his associates Bob Baca, Ron Gauthier, Sharon Green, and Heidi Wagner.

We then drove 42 miles east to the ski town of Steamboat Springs for dinner and overnight lodging at the Steamboat Grand Hotel. We were joined at dinner by Bob Baca from Craig Station and his wife JoEllen. Our after-dinner speakers were Jim Burnell and Vince Matthews of the Colorado Geological Survey. Jim discussed the essential link between mineral extraction and the technologies for producing energy from renewable resources and for reducing reliance on conventional fossil fuels. Vince discussed the global scramble for natural resources that has accompanied the swelling of the economies of China, India, and other developing nations.

On Friday, August 20, we drove 50 miles southeast to the small town of Kremmling, to visit a wood pelletizing plant. The plant was established by Confluence Energy LLC in response to Colorado's "red tree" problem. Red trees are pine trees that have died because of infestations by pine bark beetles. The beetles chew holes through a tree's bark and lay their eggs within. The beetles carry a fungus, which grows in the holes and eventually chokes off the tree's circulatory system. The fungus leaves a blue stain in the wood, which some consider decorative, but it is the red needles – denoting a dead pine tree – that have attracted the most attention. Foresters predict that 95% of Colorado's lodgepole pines may soon be dead or dying. The dead trees present a serious fire hazard, and when they fall they will create a major impediment to travel through the forests, especially for people and other large animals.

Some Colorado communities have taken advantage of the epidemic, by using the dead and dying trees as a fuel source, replacing expensive fossil fuels, especially propane. For example, the middle school in Oak Creek replaced an aging coal-fired heating system with a modern system that burns wood pellets made from beetle-killed pine. Those pellets are manufactured 50 miles away, at the Confluence Energy facility.

Mark Mathis, president of Confluence Energy, showed us how 200 tons per day of wood (mostly from trees killed by the beetles) is shredded and dried and pressed into pellets. The pellets are about ¼-inch in diameter and a few inches long. They are sold in bags in retail markets from Nevada to Pennsylvania and delivered in bulk to larger users, such as the Oak Creek school.

Another 40-mile drive took us to the town of Grand Lake and the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. The park occupies 415 square miles and is surrounded by national forests. It contains the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River, and the Continental Divide runs through it. There are more than 60 named peaks taller than 12,000 feet, and the tallest – Longs Peak – rises to 14,259 feet. Nearly three million people visit the park each year, making it the 6th most popular national park. In May 2010, TripAdvisor.com named the park as the No. 2 Outdoor and Adventure Destination in the world. No. 1 was the Queenstown area in New Zealand, where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed.

Rocky Mtn Park

The 2010 EMFI Government Field Program attendees on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Our guide to the park was Judy Visty, ecologist and research administrator in the National Park Service. She pointed out many of the park's outstanding natural features and discussed the research activities conducted and managed by her department. These include a multi-year study of the effect of nitrogen deposition on the park's ecological systems. Much of the nitrogen is released to the environment as emissions from fossil fuel power plants and production sites.

We moved slowly through the park and arrived a bite late at our final tour site: the Estes Powerplant. Estes was completed in 1950 as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The plant has a rated capacity of 45,000 kW. Kerry McCalman, Power Resources Manager in BuRec's Denver office and one of our participants, began our tour with an excellent presentation on BuRec's history and status and its strategy for encouraging the development of renewable energy projects. We then viewed an exhibit on the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and visited the generation and interconnection equipment and the two lakes that are separated by the power plant.

Colorado-Big Thompson is one of the largest and most complex natural resource developments undertaken by the Bureau. It consists of more than 100 integrated structures that gather and divert water from the western slope of the Rockies to the eastern slope for use in irrigation and for municipal and industrial purposes, hydroelectric power production, and recreation. Our visit was arranged by Kara Lamb of BuRec's Eastern Colorado Area Office. Guides included C. J. McCarol, Jackie Gould, and Chuck Peterson.

Stanley Hotel

The famous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.

After our tour, we drove a short distance to the historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, for dinner and an overnight stay. The Stanley was built by the inventor of the Stanley Steamer (an early automobile) and opened as a summer resort in 1909. It has hosted the glitterati of many eras since then, including the travelers in the 2010 EMFI and Stephen King, who was inspired to write his horror story The Shining. The Stanley was not depicted in either King's novel or in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film; however, a 1997 TV miniseries version of the book was filmed there. Kubrick's film plays in a continuous loop on the hotel's cable system. Future visitors should not watch it if they hope to sleep well.

Saturday began late, with an 8:30 breakfast at the Stanley. A very useful group wrap-up session followed, during which participants commented on the sites we had visited and the content of the program and suggested mechanisms to ensure continuation of the EMFI. We then drove the 75 miles to Denver International Airport, where most of the group left the bus to catch flights back home. We dropped a few stragglers in downtown Denver and a few more on the way to Golden, where we unloaded the bus and declared the end of another successful and rewarding Energy and Minerals Field Institute.

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