Monthly Archives: September 2017

Save the Date! FERC Protest in D.C. on September 20th

A quorum has been restored at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with the confirmation of Trump’s two nominees, Robert Powelson and Neil Chatterjee. By adding these pro-fossil fuel commissioners to FERC, the abuses of power will only continue and get worse as they carry out Trump’s dirty energy agenda.

All of this is happening as the Senate and House are moving bills that would expand FERC’s authority. One of the House bills actually strips the president of the border crossing authority used to stop Keystone XL and gives it to FERC. But the worst of the bills is the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017, S. 1460. It expands FERC’s authority by requiring other permitting agencies to “give deference” to FERC and it limits FERC’s review of LNG facilities to 45 days.

FERC will be back to holding monthly meetings, starting with the meeting they’ve scheduled for Wednesday, September 20th. We need to be there in big numbers that day to let FERC and Congress know that the direction they plan to take the country is unacceptable and that we won’t tolerate it.

Rushed approvals, refusal to consider climate impacts, approvals with insufficient information. And Congress wants to expand FERC’s authority? No way! Unacceptable!

We’ve been FERCed long enough! Join us in D.C. to send that message on September 20th!

September 20, 2017
Beginning 8:30 AM
At the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First St, NE, Washington, DC 20426

Afternoon lobbying on the hill to begin around 11:30, starting with a lunch time gathering in the Lower Senate park next to the Russell Senate Office Building, the corner of D St. and Delaware Ave NE.

Day’s agenda:
8:30 Gather and Rally from 8:30 until 9:30 am

10:00: Attendees encouraged to attend FERC’s open public meeting which begins at 10 am

11:00 (or thereabouts): At 11 am folks will be invited to grab a bag lunch and join together to drop in on Congressional offices to deliver the Stop Trump’s Dirty Energy Agenda sign on letters.
11:30: Over lunch at the park outside the Senate office buildings we will talk about the message and how to effectively drop in and drop off materials.
12:30: Head into congressional buildings to drop materials and ask for drop in meetings
2:45: Reconvene in the park outside Senate building to share your experience of the day
3:30: Head home feeling good that you have been part of delivering a powerful message of opposition to FERC, Trump’s Dirty Energy Agenda, and advocating for reform and change.

Those who cannot rally or go into the FERC meeting but just want to lobby in the afternoon are welcome to simply meet us at the park at 11:30

People are also encouraged to set up meetings with their own House members and/or Senators. Contact Bridget at for materials that can be left with those you meet with.

Organizations can endorse our action here:
And can sign on to the letter to be delivered to congress here:

Individuals can sign up to attend the rally, other actions, and housing here:
And can sign on to the letter to be delivered to congress here:

Housing: There is low-cost housing in a church about a 10 minute walk from FERC the night of September 19th. You will be asked to pay $27 for this, the cost to us, though no one will be turned away who needs housing. Mattresses on the floor are available, there are showers and there will be food for dinner on the 19th and for breakfast on the 20th. Be sure to fill out this form to reserve a spot.

Food will be available the early evening of September 19th at the church and the early morning of the 20th. There will be bag lunches distributed to people in front of FERC before we walk over the Capitol Hill.

Beyond Extreme Energy: BXE is organizing a strategy meeting the evening of the 20th from 7-9 pm and the morning of the 21st from 9 am -1 pm. If you are interested contact Ted Glick at for more information.


Supporters Of this Day of Action Include:
Delaware Riverkeeper Network
Berks Gas Truth
Beyond Extreme Energy
Green America
OVEC—Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
Safe Energy Rights Group, Inc.
Coalition for Responsible Siting of LNG Facilities
River Healers
Wild Virginia
Agape Community
Center for Health, Environment and Justice
198 methods
The Enviro Show
No Fracked Gas in Mass
Lancaster Against Pipelines
Resist Spectra
Safe Energy Rights Group
Bold Alliance
ECHO Action NH
PAUSE—People of Albany United for Safe Energy
350 NYC
Resist the Pipeline
Center for Biological Diversity
Stop NED
Alliance to Protect Our People and the Places We Love
Food and Water Watch
Toxics Action Center
Sullivan Area Citizens for Responsible Energy Development
Berkshire Environmental Action Team
The Shalom Center
Northjersey Pipeline Walkers
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability
Pa. Alliance for Clean Water and Air
Northern NJ Chapter, National Organization for Women
The Essene Church of Peace
Global Coalition for Peace
Gas Free Seneca
Seneca Lake Guardian, a Waterkeeper Alliance
Sullivan Area Citizens for Responsible Energy Development (SACRED)
Christians for the Mountains
Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community
Athens County (Ohio) Fracking Action Network
STOP (Stanisfield Taxpayers Opposing the Pipelines)
Frack Free Genesee
Interreligious Eco-Justice Network
Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy
Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development
NJ Industrial Union Council
Oil Change International
Interfaith Moral Action on Climate
350 NJ
350 Central Mass
Aytzim: Ecological Judaism
Potomac Riverkeeper Network
Green Education and Legal Fund
350 Fairfax
Pay It Forward Global Foundation
Greenbrier River Association

A Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Moment for Natural Gas in NH

by D. Maurice Kreis, Power to the People
InDepth NH, September 11, 2017

Liberty Utilities is on the march, working hard to grow its natural gas empire in New Hampshire. What’s a ratepayer advocate to do? What does the public interest require?

The questions are anything but abstract at this point. Last week, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) held a hearing on Liberty’s latest expansion request: a bid for a utility franchise to provide natural gas service to Lebanon and Hanover.

In February, Liberty won PUC approval for a franchise to serve Pelham and Windham, neighboring communities in southeastern New Hampshire that are near the so-called Concord Lateral, the backbone of New Hampshire’s natural gas pipeline network.

Serving Hanover and Lebanon is a different kettle of fish altogether; the two Upper Valley communities on the Connecticut River are far from the existing distribution network and Liberty will have to truck natural gas to any system it builds there.

Of even greater potential importance is the divergent public reaction to Liberty’s plans. Town officials in Pelham and Windham were unequivocal supporters of having a natural gas utility.

In the Upper Valley, the two municipalities oppose the petition and grassroots activists have intervened in the PUC proceeding to argue that the only good natural gas is no natural gas – i.e., that given the need to act decisively to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere we have no business doing anything to double down on fossil fuel.

In this sense, Liberty’s proposal for Hanover and Lebanon is less like the Windham and Pelham deal and more like the recently completed Addison Natural Gas Project in Vermont. When Vermont Gas Systems first proposed extending its pipeline network south from Burlington in 2012, the utility expected dancing in the streets.

What it got was outspoken and principled opposition, as affected landowners and municipal officials found common purpose with climate activists, particularly those of college age, who perceived that the establishment was doing little to reduce our collective reliance on fossil fuels.

» Read the full article

PUC Holds Hearing on the Fracked Gas Pipeline

by Energy and Climate – Upper Valley
September 11, 2017

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC) took testimony on Thursday on the fracked natural gas storage facility and pipeline proposed for Lebanon and Hanover.  Much of the focus during the three and a half hour hearing was on a “settlement agreement”, signed the previous week by Liberty Utilities, PUC staff and the New Hampshire Office of the Consumer Advocate (OCA), to which citizen intervenor Jonathan Chaffee, representing himself without an attorney, voiced strong opposition.  None of the other parties to the review, the City of Lebanon, the Town of Hanover, and a second citizen intervenor, offered any support for the agreement.  The settlement was negotiated during sessions that were closed to all but the three signing parties.  It can be read here.

The agreement, if approved by the three-member PUC, would grant Liberty Utilities a monopoly franchise to distribute gas by pipeline in Lebanon and Hanover.  Construction of each of the two initial phases of the system would not start until customer commitments for gas service reach a certain threshold of guaranteed revenue.  However, under questioning by Commissioner Kathryn Bailey, PUC staff analyst Stephen Frink acknowledged in his testimony that, although his office would review the financial projections provided by Liberty once the company claims it has met the revenue threshold, nothing in the agreement would prevent Liberty from building the system if the analysis were to be found insufficient.  So far, the company has announced no commitments in the form of contracts from large potential customers.

Chaffee, who is the former director of the Lebanon Housing Authority, provided powerful testimony against the proposed pipeline and the settlement agreement.  He offered evidence in the form of peer-reviewed scholarly research that natural gas, and especially fracked gas, has a greater climate changing greenhouse impact than any of the fuels that it would replace in Lebanon or Hanover, refuting Liberty’s assertion that natural gas is environmentally friendly.  Using a spreadsheet “calculator” provided by Liberty Utilities, he demonstrated that virtually all households in the two communities that are currently heated with oil would pay more to heat with gas, a point that was eventually conceded by the company.

» Read the full story

Energy and Climate – Upper Valley is a group comprising community members and organizations, including representatives from the New Hampshire Sierra Club Upper Valley Group and the Academy for Systems Change.

WV DEP vacates permit for Mountain Valley Pipeline

by Ken Ward Jr., West Virginia Gazette
September 8, 2017

Faced with a deadline to defend their permit approval against a federal court challenge, West Virginia regulators moved this week to back off their certification that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would not violate the state’s water quality standards.

The state Department of Environmental Protection said in a Thursday letter to the pipeline developers and other state and federal agencies that it “hereby vacates and remands” its water quality certification for the controversial natural gas pipeline.

Scott Mandirola, director of the DEP Division of Water and Waste Management, said in the letter that the move would allow DEP “to reevaluate the complete application to determine whether the state’s certification is in compliance” with the federal Clean Water Act.

“We’ve been asking DEP to take a closer look at the more than 600 streams affected by this massive project from the beginning, so DEP’s letter is a positive step,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would run about 300 miles from Northwestern West Virginia to Southern Virginia. It is a joint project of EQT Midstream Partners LP; NextEra US Gas Assets LLC; WGL Midstream; and Vega Midstream MVP LLC. The pipeline originates in Wetzel County and goes though Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers, and Monroe counties before entering Virginia.

Earlier this year, DEP Secretary Austin Caperton refused a request by citizen groups for a hearing on their administrative appeal of his agency’s approval of the water quality permit for the MVP project. Caperton did not explain his reasons for that decision.

The Sierra Club, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and other groups then filed a court challenge against Caperton and the DEP. The state agency is due to file a response by next Thursday to the brief filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the citizen groups by lawyers from Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

Among other things, the citizen groups specifically challenged the DEP for not fully reviewing the potential for the MVP project to degrade streams.

More than 15 years ago, the DEP had sought to exempt projects that receive certain types of permits — such as the Clean Water Act general dredge-and-fill permit that MVP obtained from the federal Army Corps of Engineers — from needing to be fully reviewed under the state’s water quality anti-degradation rule. But in a 2003 decision, U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin threw out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of that part of the DEP’s water quality rules.

Citizen group lawyers noted that ruling by Goodwin in their brief to the 4th Circuit and commented that water quality standards that haven’t been approved by EPA “are not operative,” meaning that DEP could not use the rule Goodwin threw out to avoid anti-degradation review of MVP.

The MVP project is among a collection of pipelines that are proposed or under construction across the region that are meant to take advantage of the Marcellus Shale gas boom, but are drawing opposition from local citizens and from national environmental groups.

When it initially approved the pipeline’s 401 certification, the DEP issued a news release about the action and pointed members of the media to the MVP developer’s website for “information about the potential economic benefit” of the project.

In that press release, DEP described MVP as a project that would “transport West Virginia’s abundant natural gas to meet the growing need for power generation in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions.” The release also said that stream and wetland mitigation required of MVP under the permit would “put West Virginians to work improving streams and wetlands throughout the state.”

Jake Glance, DEP’s communications director, said in an email late Friday that during the agency’s review of the legal challenge at the 4th Circuit, DEP officials determined that “the information used to issue” the water quality certification “needs to be further evaluated and possibly enhanced.”

Glance said that DEP acted “out of an abundance of caution” and “to ensure that all aspects of the potential environmental impact” of the pipeline are considered. Glance also said that DEP had suspended a second permit for MVP that had been issued under the agency’s program for stormwater pollution associated with oil and gas construction activities. He said that action was also “to allow for proper consideration and response to all comments received.”

“The fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline is dirty, dangerous and needlessly endangers West Virginia’s waterways, wilderness and communities and should be rejected,” said Justin Raines, gas committee chairman for the West Virginia Sierra Club. “This project never should have been approved in the first place and we hope this pipeline now receives the scrutiny it deserves.”

MVP officials did not respond before press deadlines to a request for comment.

It was not immediately clear what impact the DEP decision would have on the state agency’s mandate to meet a one-year deadline to review and act on a water quality certification like MVP’s or — by not acting one way or the other — waiving the state’s authority to do so.

» Read original article

*NOTE: This is a different scenario than other recent developments regarding 401 Water Quality Certificates for pipelines in other states.  401 permits in New York and New Jersey have been denied for the Constitution, Northern Access and PennEast pipelines (as well as NY’s  Valley Lateral Pipeline). This is the first case we know of where a permit, originally granted, has been vacated. All of these cases show that states DO have some control over pipeline issues, usually regarded as federal-only decisions.

Gigantic Batteries Help Grow Renewable Energy In Maine, New England

by Fred Bever, WNPR
August 30, 2017

For more than half a century, a massive, oil-fired plant has been churning out electricity from an island in the heart of Maine’s Casco Bay, where sailors use its towering smokestack for navigation.

The old generator is expensive to run and dirtier than new technologies, so these days it comes on only a few times a year. Nonetheless, since December, the wires on the island have been humming pretty much nonstop.

“It’s the 60 hertz hum, we engineers call. It’s the sound we like to hear ‘cause we know we’re running,” says Jeff Plew, project manager for NextEra, a national electricity company that focuses on renewable energy.

Here, in the shadow of the old fossil-fuel plant, Plew led the development of New England’s biggest-yet battery. Giant batteries are starting to make a mark on the electricity grid that serves all of New England — the unique characteristics of which could supercharge solar and wind energy development in the region.

He says grid-scale batteries can serve many functions. The setup here helps stabilize the frequency of the electricity that flows through the regional grid, at that 60 hertz, or cycles per second.

“We’ll go into the battery room now,” Plew says.

The battery room — a former warehouse — holds eight concrete blocks as big as cargo containers, housing a total of 1,300 individual lithium-ion batteries, each about the size of a desk computer. They throw off some heat.

“Just like your phone, you can kind of feel it getting hot. We have cooling systems in place just to maintain the equipment at their optimal operating parameters,” Plew says.

Every four seconds, computers at grid operator ISO New England’s Holyoke, Massachusetts, headquarters tell the batteries here whether to pull in energy and store it, or to discharge it back onto the grid. It helps to balance the inevitable mismatch that occurs between the amount of energy generators are pushing onto the grid at any given moment and the amount that customers are taking from the grid.

It can be much more efficient to ask energy storage systems like this to fine-tune the grid’s frequency than, say, to try to toggle a big natural gas plant’s output up and down.

“It’s just on a much faster ramp than you’d see with a typical generator. A typical generator might ramp at a rate of 1-10 megawatts maybe per minute. This battery can do that full range in a second or less,” Plew says.

Ideally, NextEra can provide the service at a price that reduces costs for consumers and still make a profit. And this is really just the beginning.

Battery technology is advancing quickly, partly thanks to the rise of electric vehicles, and costs are coming down. Stephen Rourke, a senior system planner at ISO New England, says they’ve really just started studying the technology.

“I would say it’s just been really in the last year or so that we’ve had a grid-scale battery in our study queue at all. In fact the Casco Bay project up in Maine was the first to go through our study process,” he says.

It won’t be the last: There are now eight more such projects seeking study and approval by ISO New England. And a lot is happening on a smaller scale, too.

On a former landfill in Rutland, Vermont, utility Green Mountain Power has paired a battery array with a solar array. Project manager Josh Castonguay says the batteries can reduce the burden on the regional grid on high-demand days by delivering stored-up solar electricity directly to local consumers.

One hot summer day last year, that “peak-shaving,” as it’s called, saved GMP customers some real money.

“We discharged the batteries right at that right hour, lowered our demand overall and just that one hour saved our customers $200,000 in capacity costs,” Castonguay says.

On top of that, GMP’s batteries solve a vexing renewable energy challenge: how to handle surges and drop-offs in the bulk electricity that wind and solar plants deliver, depending on whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Batteries can soak up excess energy when it’s being produced, and then push it onto the grid when the generators go silent.

The batteries’ “firming” and “smoothing” abilities allow energy produced by intermittent resources to match up with real-time system needs, 24/7. Plew says they will be a significant driver for the next wave of wind and solar development.

“It gives you the same ability essentially as what you get from a traditional generator. It is the Holy Grail for renewables,” he says.

NextEra, for one, is grabbing the grail with both hands. It has proposed to pair batteries even bigger than the Casco Bay array with wind turbines and solar generators in western Maine. And that’s just one of several such projects that are being proposed around New England, as state and regional climate policies seek to inject ever more renewable energy into the mix.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative. Eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

» Read / listen to original article

Grid Batteries Are Poised to Become Cheaper Than Natural-Gas Plants in Minnesota

A new report suggests the economics of large-scale batteries are reaching an important inflection point.

by Michael Reilly, Technology Review
July 12, 2017

When it comes to renewable energy, Minnesota isn’t typically a headline-grabber: in 2016 it got about 18 percent of its energy from wind, good enough to rank in the top 10 states. But it’s just 28th in terms of installed solar capacity, and its relatively small size means projects within its borders rarely garner the attention that giants like California and Texas routinely get.

A new report on the future of energy in the state should turn some heads (PDF). According to the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab, starting in 2019 and for the foreseeable future, the overall cost of building grid-scale storage there will be less than that of building natural-gas plants to meet future energy demand.
Minnesota currently gets about 21 percent of its energy from renewables. That’s not bad, but current plans also call for bringing an additional 1,800 megawatts of gas-fired “peaker” plants online by 2028 to meet growing demand. As the moniker suggests, these plants are meant to spin up quickly to meet daily peaks in energy demand—something renewables tend to be bad at because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.

Storing energy from renewables could solve that problem, but it’s traditionally been thought of as too expensive compared with other forms of energy.

The new report suggests otherwise. According to the analysis, bringing lithium-ion batteries online for grid storage would be a good way to stockpile energy for when it’s needed, and it would prove less costly than building and operating new natural-gas plants.

The finding comes at an interesting time. For one thing, the price of lithium-ion batteries continues to plummet, something that certainly has the auto industry’s attention. And grid-scale batteries, while still relatively rare, are popping up more and more these days. The Minnesota report, then, suggests that such projects may become increasingly common—and could be a powerful way to lower emissions without sending our power bills skyrocketing in the process

» Read original article



OpEd: Massachusetts’ leaders should go big on clean energy

by E. Denise Simmons, Alex Morse, and Ben Hellerstein
MassLive, September 6, 2017

The news coming out of Washington, D.C., on energy is alarming. Federal officials are pulling out all the stops to keep the nation hooked on polluting fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.

But here in the Northeast, there’s a different story to tell. Local leaders from all parts of the political spectrum are working together to make real progress on expanding renewable energy and reducing carbon pollution.

In Massachusetts, communities like Cambridge and Holyoke are taking major strides towards 100 percent renewable energy.

Cambridge has adopted a Net Zero Action Plan, setting a trajectory to reduce carbon emissions associated with heating, cooling, and powering all of the buildings in the city by 70 percent by 2040. Holyoke is sourcing more than 94 percent of its electricity from carbon-free resources, including 6.3 megawatts of solar developed in cooperation with the municipal utility, and has reduced energy consumption from its municipal buildings by 21 percent since 2010.

Leadership at the state level is also important. Recently, Gov. Baker and the leaders of eight other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States proposed to cut power plant pollution by at least 30 percent from 2020 to 2030.

The proposal, put forward by Democratic and Republican governors, would strengthen the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program that limits carbon pollution from power plants and invests money in clean energy and energy efficiency projects. Over the past decade, this program has helped reduce carbon pollution in Massachusetts by 61 percent, while generating more than $400 million in funding for clean energy and energy efficiency projects across the state by making polluters pay for their emissions.

While this proposal is a step in the right direction, our states can do even more.

According to a recent report from the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, strengthening RGGI to reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2030 would provide $4 billion more in funding for clean energy and energy efficiency.

We can also invest more of the RGGI funds in communities that have faced disproportionate pollution from fossil fuel plants, as well as programs to expand access to clean energy and energy efficiency for low-income homeowners and renters.

Accelerating the growth of renewable energy will make us healthier. Nationally, the increase in wind and solar generation from 2007-2015 saved between 3,000-12,700 lives, thanks to reductions in harmful pollution from fossil fuels. This pollution disproportionately affects low-income communities and people of color, leading to higher rates of disease.

Renewable energy is good for our economy, too. Already, more than 100,000 Massachusetts residents are employed in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industry.

And last but not least, shifting to renewable energy can limit the harmful impacts of global warming. Scientists predict that sea levels could rise by more than 7 feet in the Boston area by the end of this century as a result of climate change, while residents could experience more than 90 days each year with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. By replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, we can do our part to protect our climate and our communities, including our most vulnerable populations, from increasing heat waves and worsening extreme weather.

Across Massachusetts, mayors know that moving to 100 percent renewable energy is good for our climate, our health, and our economy. There’s a lot we can do locally to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, but we can’t do it all alone. Especially in the absence of federal leadership, we need officials in Massachusetts to raise the bar.
Governor Charlie Baker and other northeastern state leaders should do everything they can to move our region closer to 100 percent renewable energy, starting with strengthening the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to reduce pollution by 50 percent by 2030.

Moving away from dirty fuels is the right thing to do. So let’s all work together and pick up the pace.
E. Denise Simmons is the Mayor of Cambridge, Alex Morse is the Mayor of Holyoke, and Ben Hellerstein is the state director for the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center.

» Read original publication