Monthly Archives: September 2019

Weekly News Check-In 9/13/19

WNCI-8

Welcome back.

This week we’re tracking reports of concern that Columbia Gas may have failed to properly cap and test abandoned gas lines following the 2018 disaster in Merrimack Valley. Meanwhile, WGBH posted Episode 2 of its riveting “Fire in the Valley” podcast about those events.

On the regional energy scene, Connecticut is working a decarbonization plan that may free it from constraints imposed by grid operator ISO New England. And pipeline opposition won a significant circuit court victory against federal eminent domain taking of state land. This directly affects the PennEast natural gas pipeline in New Jersey, but other states have taken notice.

Climate change related events displaced a record number of people this year. Meanwhile, the astronomical cost of business as usual is becoming apparent. Of course, the other side of cost is revenue, so we can expect to learn of endless ways to monetize some of the carbon dioxide that must be removed from the atmosphere – some helpful, some not.

Getting from proposal to clean energy reality is proving challenging for Massachusetts, even as more developers bid on offshore wind development. And utilities are confronting grid challenges anticipated by rapid adoption of electric vehicles. On the innovation front, we found an interesting article showing how coastal areas and islands recovering from disasters like Hurricane Dorian could soon be helped by microgrids created from fleets of electric boats.

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry and liquefied natural gas sector continue to to receive bad news in the form of reports showing that substantial infrastructure assets will be stranded before recapturing their capital costs if the world meets its Paris Climate Accord commitments.

— The NFGiM Team

COLUMBIA GAS / MERRIMACK VALLEY DISASTER

Columbia Gas facing up to $1 million fines for abandoned gas service lines following Merrimack Valley explosions
By Michelle Williams, MassLive
September 12, 2019

The disconnected lines require inspections and potentially additional work to properly cap the lines, Nelson said.

State safety officials set a deadline for the initial phase of quality control work on the lines to be done by Nov. 16.

“The Department expects, however, that the company will prioritize this work and have it completed sooner,” Nelson said.

The state also set several mandates on the repairs, including daily updates on the work completed and leak surveillance of the 4,900 gas lines.
» Read article

Board demands safety report from Columbia Gas
By Jessica Valeriani, Eagle Tribune
September 12, 2019

ANDOVER — The Select Board called upon Columbia Gas representatives at the Monday night meeting to provide a safety presentation before members will vote on additional gas main replacement work the utility is seeking to do.

Columbia Gas wants to replace 2,300 feet of cast iron and bare steel gas main on Hidden Road, Gardner Avenue and Forbes Street. The replacement would keep the main at the same pressure it is now — intermediate — instead of increasing it to a high-pressure main.

Representatives said in seven to 10 years, the utility would come back to upgrade the main to high pressure through the same infrastructure installed now, making it less impactful to the community.
» Read article

Fire in the Valley
Episode 2: ‘I Had Never Gone Toward Explosions Before’
By Sean Corcoran, WGBH podcast
September 9, 2019

When WGBH reporters start making their way to the Merrimack Valley, all they know is that buildings and homes are blowing up and catching fire. When they arrive, they discover smoke-filled streets, frightened residents and entire communities wondering if this is over, and what comes next. Soon, one thing is clear: It’s not safe to go back home tonight, and no one knows when it will be.
» Play podcast

»  More on Columbia Gas / Merrimack Valley

REGIONAL ENERGY

Connecticut 100% carbon-free plan is chance to move beyond ISO-NE gas focus: DEEP chief
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
September 9, 2019

Connecticut’s 100% carbon-free goal is an opportunity for the state to move beyond grid operator-imposed reliability constraints that favor fossil fuels, Commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Katie Dykes told Utility Dive.

Gov. Ned Lamont, D, on Tuesday signed an executive order directing DEEP to produce an analysis on how to get the state to a 100% carbon-free electric grid by 2040. That gives Connecticut the chance to move away from gas-fired plants and toward ancillary services in order to meet regional capacity needs, said Dykes.

“In the absence of states having carbon policies that solve for both emission reduction and reliability, the ISO New England is driving investment in natural gas-fired power plants,” she said. “And so this analysis, it’s intended to help us solve for reliability with zero carbon resources so that we won’t need plants like this going into the future.”
» Read article

» More regional energy news

OTHER PIPELINES

New Jersey wins legal challenge to PennEast natgas pipeline
By Scott DiSavino, Reuters
September 10, 2019

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday barred PennEast Pipeline Co from using a federal law to seize properties controlled by the state of New Jersey in order to build a proposed $1 billion natural gas pipeline.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said in its decision that the U.S. Natural Gas Act does not allow companies to condemn state controlled land in federal court because states enjoy sovereign immunity from such actions under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
» Blog editor’s note: This is a huge victory against federal use of eminent domain and hopefully will set precedent for cases around the country.
» Read article

» More on other pipelines

CLIMATE

climate displaced
Extreme Weather Displaced a Record 7 Million in First Half of 2019
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
September 12, 2019

Extreme weather events displaced a record seven million people from their homes during the first six months of this year, a figure that put 2019 on pace to be one of the most disastrous years in almost two decades even before Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, which compiles data from governments, United Nations humanitarian agencies and media reports, concluded in a report published Thursday that floods, landslides, cyclones and other extreme weather events temporarily displaced more people in the first half of this year than during the same period in any other year.

“In today’s changing climate, mass displacement triggered by extreme weather events is becoming the norm,” the center said in its report, adding that the numbers represent “the highest midyear figure ever reported for displacements associated with disasters.” The center has been publishing annual data since 2003.
» Read article

youth climate strike - March 2019
The Massive Cost of Not Adapting to Climate Change
The world must invest $1.8 trillion by 2030 to prepare for the effects of global warming. A new report said the payoff could be four times that.
By Eric Roston, Bloomberg
September 9, 2019

The Global Commission on Adaptation was formed to help ensure that social and economic systems are hardened to withstand the consequences of climate change. But it was also given the job of publicizing the financial and economic incentives in doing so, namely that there are trillions of dollars to be saved.

In a new report, the 34-member group, led by Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva, concluded that $1.8 trillion in investment by 2030 concentrated in five categories—weather warning systems, infrastructure, dry-land farming, mangrove protection and water management—would yield $7.1 trillion in benefits.

Chief among them are avoiding the costs of waiting too long.
» Read article

Pulling CO2 out of the air and using it could be a trillion-dollar business
Meet “carbon capture and utilization,” which puts CO2 to work making valuable products.
By David Roberts, Vox.com
September 4, 2019

Scientists generally estimate that to hold the rise in global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius over the preindustrial baseline — a “safe” level of warming — humanity must stabilize the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide at around 350 parts per million.

This year, we reached about 410 ppm. There is already too much CO2 in the atmosphere. At this point, to truly vouchsafe a secure climate for future generations, we don’t just have to reduce emissions; we have to pull some CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Given that global carbon emissions are still rising and there are hundreds of gigatons on the way from existing fossil fuel infrastructure, almost every model used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that shows us reaching a safe climate involves burying gigatons of CO2, so-called “negative emissions.”
» Read article

» More climate articles

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

Offshore wind delays highlight increasing challenge to Massachusetts’ climate goals
By Benjamin Storrow, Climatewire in E&E News
September 10, 2019

Massachusetts has long been one of America’s most successful carbon cutters. The state regularly tops national energy efficiency rankings, helped launch the offshore wind industry in America and is a driving force behind a Northeastern cap-and-trade program for cars.

Greenhouse gases in Massachusetts fell 21% between 1990 and 2016, according to the state’s most recent emissions inventory.

But the Bay State’s carbon-cutting efforts now face a series of hurdles that threaten to undermine its ability to slash emissions further. It plans to rely to a great degree on buying large amounts of clean electricity. Actually building projects to deliver that power is proving a challenge.
» Read article

Latest round of offshore wind bid details released
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service in South Coast Today
September 5, 2019

The state and three utilities on Wednesday released the details of the three pitches they received from developers who want to build wind farms off the coast and deliver clean energy to Massachusetts homes and businesses, and will now use the next two months to select the project that most benefits Massachusetts.

Three companies submitted bids to the state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and electric distribution companies by the Aug. 23 deadline to be considered for the state’s second procurement of up to 800 megawatts of offshore wind energy. The state and the utilities stripped the bids of confidential or sensitive material and made them public Wednesday.

The state and Eversource, National Grid and Unitil are seeking to procure at least 400 megawatts of power but will consider proposals from 200 megawatts up to 800 megawatts. The procurement is expected to fulfill the second half of the Legislature’s 2016 authorization of 1,600 megawatts of wind power.
» Read article

turbines in desert
The unknown costs of a 100% carbon-free future
State approaches to a 100% carbon-free future vary and while several costs remain unknown, some solutions are emerging.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
September 3, 2019

Six states enacted ambitious laws requiring them to be at or near 100% renewables and zero emissions by mid-century.

Opponents claimed mandates in Hawaii, California, Washington, Colorado, New Mexico and New York would drive up electricity rates, but ample evidence in today’s falling renewables prices led to lawmaker approval. Now, utilities and policymakers are trying to determine what the full costs of a high renewables power system will ultimately be.

“There was plenty of opposition from people reluctant to believe the marketplace prices reported by Lazard and Xcel Energy,” Colorado Rep. Chris Hansen, D, co-sponsor of a bill requiring “100% clean energy by 2050, told Utility Dive. “Real world data shows renewables’ costs today make clean energy the lowest cost option. When we get to the 2030s, they will still be cheaper and better for the planet.”​
» Read article

» More clean energy articles

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV charging
City grids risk being overwhelmed by EV growth: Report
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
September 10, 2019

Cities’ increased reliance on electric vehicles (EVs) and electric buses could overwhelm their electric grids and result in outages, warned a new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Seattle City Light.

While the report’s analysis is primarily focused on Seattle, it offers lessons for other cities, including that grids must be upgraded if they are to rely more heavily on EVs. The report said utilities should partner with city agencies to support “aggressive electrification commitments” and to ensure they keep up with technological changes.
» Read article

» More clean transportation articles

MICROGRIDS

electric boat
Researchers Propose Floating Microgrids Made up of Electric Boats
By Lisa Cohn, Microgrid Knowledge
September 6, 2019

Electric boats may enable floating microgrids that could serve islands that have historically been powered by fossil fuels, according to a report from researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“Powering small islands with reliable, affordable and green electricity is a big challenge due to their dispersed geographical location with a limited number of consumers and the heavy dependence on fossil fuels,” said the study, “Real-Time Load and Ancillary Support for a Remote Island Power System Using Electric Boats.”

Floating microgrids made up of electric boat motors, renewable energy and controls offer a substitute that will help power an island and provide electricity after disasters.
» Read article

» More microgrid articles

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

compare electricity cost
Renewables, storage poised to undercut natural gas prices, increase stranded assets: RMI
If all proposed gas plants are built, 70% of those investments will be rendered uneconomic by 2035, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
September 11, 2019

Carbon-free resources are now cost competitive with new natural gas plants, according to a pair of reports released Monday by the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Wind, solar and storage projects, combined with demand-side management, have reached a “tipping point,” one report finds, meaning they’re now able to compete alongside natural gas on price while providing the same reliability services. But unlike the fluctuating price of fuels, these technologies’ prices are expected to continue dropping, the reports’ authors told Utility Dive.

This reality could leave many natural gas investors and utilities with stranded infrastructure assets, the second RMI report finds, and new gas investments should be made with caution.

This presents a new argument for how federal regulators should approach pipeline approvals, Gillian Giannetti, attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Sustainable FERC Project, told Utility Dive.

FERC approves pipelines based largely on public convenience and necessity under the Natural Gas Act, she said. But the report “really brings into focus the question of need, if need is to build a pipeline to serve a power plant that will be an uneconomic solution basically as soon as it’s finished,” she said.
» Read article 

The next target in the climate-change debate: your gas stove
By Valerie Volcovici and Nichola Groom, Reuters
September 9, 2019

Dozens of cities in liberal-leaning states such as California, Washington, and Massachusetts are studying proposals to ban or limit the use of natural gas in commercial and residential buildings. The movement opens a new front in the fight against climate change that could affect everything from heating systems in skyscrapers to stoves in suburban homes.

Natural gas companies alarmed by the trend are pushing back with ad campaigns and research promoting gas as a superior cooking fuel and an affordable option in a country that has become the world’s top gas producer.

“We are trying to get ahead of it,” said Stuart Saulters, the Director of Government Affairs of the American Public Gas Association. “We think there is a chance this can domino.”
» Read article

» More fossil fuel industry news

LNG NEWS

LNG v Paris Accords
Canada LNG among big oil projects deemed economically unviable under Paris climate pact by study
$50 billion worth of projects could be left ‘deep out of the money’ in lower carbon world
By Ron Bousso, Reuters
September 5, 2019

Major oil companies have approved US$50 billion of projects since last year that will not be economically viable if governments implement the Paris Agreement on climate change, think-tank Carbon Tracker said in a report published on Friday.

The analysis found that investment plans by Royal Dutch Shell, BP and ExxonMobil among other companies will not be compatible with the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Every oil major is betting heavily against a 1.5 degree Celsius world and investing in projects that are contrary to the Paris goals,” said report co-author Andrew Grant, a former natural resources analyst at Barclays.
» Read article

Trump’s hard sell of American LNG
By James Osborne, Houston Chronicle
September 5, 2019

More than 30 liquefied natural gas import terminals are spread across Europe, so many that tankers coming in from Qatar, the United States and other LNG-producing nations are not nearly enough to meet the facilities’ capacity.

Yet announcements of new import terminals in countries such as Germany and Poland keep coming. In part, that reflects the expectation that demand for liquefied natural gas will increase as the continent shifts away from coal and tries to reduce its dependence on gas delivered through Russian pipelines.

But governments in Europe and across the globe also are coming under increasing pressure to buy American LNG from a Trump administration that has shown a willingness to upend longstanding trade norms in the interests of increasing U.S. exports.
» Read article

» More LNG articles

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Weekly News Check-In 9/6/19

WNCI-7

Welcome back.

We’re pleased to bring you a nice profile article on our friend and ally Pat Martin, who has staunchly resisted the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure while tirelessly advocating for clean, renewable energy.

In local news, Weymouth has another delay in the compressor station approval process, and we have a link to an interesting podcast on last year’s Merrimack Valley gas explosions.

On the climate, we’re approaching a potential tipping point beyond which the Amazon rain forest cannot recover – a prolonged and terminal state of die-back. We also found a provocative and informative video to get everyone calibrated on how much renewable energy we really need as we fully decarbonize – and some uncomfortable choices we’ll face.

We’re making progress on renewables, but a new study finds we’re not moving fast enough. And as promised, the Trump administration appears closer to eliminating California’s independence in setting vehicle emissions standards.

Looking at the fossil fuel industry, we find continuing investments in new infrastructure that will not pay off in the event that the Paris Climate Accords are met. A red flag for investors and also for the planet.

— The NFGiM Team

FEATURE

Pat Martin, A Tireless Advocate for Clean Energy
Paul Cuno-Booth, SentinalSource.com
August 30, 2019

Patricia Martin still remembers the oil crisis of the 1970s. The gasoline rationing, the long lines at gas pumps.

Martin, then a young woman, also absorbed something else: “All the people talking about, ‘It doesn’t have to be this way.’ ”

It stayed with her. In the decades since, Martin has continued to think about energy issues and work on them in her spare time. Now, with humanity facing a much more severe crisis — that of climate change — she’s drawing on a lifetime of passion and expertise to tackle the issue on the local, state and regional levels.

Martin, 69, a Rindge resident, chairs her town’s energy commission. She gives to national climate-advocacy groups. She has been arrested twice in acts of climate-motivated civil disobedience.

Several years ago, she helped fight off the proposed Northeast Energy Direct gas pipeline, which would have run through Rindge and other Cheshire County communities. She tracks N.H. Public Utilities Commission dockets and comments on proposed fossil-fuel projects. She’s involved in efforts to bring more solar power to the Monadnock Region.

These days, much of her energy goes toward working with a group called Mothers Out Front, a national organization advocating for a transition to clean energy.
» Read article

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

State Delays Review Of Proposed Natural Gas Compressor Station In Weymouth
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service via WBUR
September 3, 2019

A key state agency’s decision on a natural gas compressor station proposal in Weymouth will not come this week as anticipated following an agreement to delay the review process once again.

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs told the News Service on Tuesday that the parties involved agreed to another one-month stay on Aug. 16. Regulators will now restart their review on Sept. 16 and complete it by Oct. 5 unless they seek further delays.
» Read article

» More Weymouth compressor station articles

COLUMBIA GAS / MERRIMACK VALLEY DISASTER

Fire in the Valley
Episode 1: The First Minutes Of A Disaster
By Sean Corcoran, WGBH Podcast
September 6, 2019

Within moments of the first alarms, homes and businesses in the Merrimack Valley are aflame. Hundreds of people call 9-1-1, as thousands of residents in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover run from their homes, seeking safety in the streets. By the time the gas is shut off, 131 buildings are damaged or destroyed, one person is dead, and nearly two dozen are transported to hospitals.
» Play podcast

» More on the 2018 disaster

CLIMATE

burned amazon
‘It’s Really Close’: How the Amazon Rainforest Could Self-Destruct
Climate change and man-made fires could set off a cycle of self-perpetuating deforestation, scientists warn.
By Max Fisher, New York Times
August 30, 2019

As fires rage across the Amazon, a growing number of scientists are raising the alarm about a nightmare scenario that could see much of the world’s largest rainforest erased from the earth.

Climate change, along with the fires and other man-made forces, appear on the verge of triggering a significant change in the Amazon’s weather system.

No one knows for sure whether and when this might happen, though some scientists who study the Amazon ecosystem call it imminent. If it does happen, a body of research suggests, the Amazon as a whole would cross a tipping point and begin to self-destruct — a process of self-perpetuating deforestation known as dieback.

If that is left unchecked, half or more of the rainforest could erode into savanna, according to some estimates, and then the rainforest, which has long absorbed the world’s greenhouse gases, could instead begin to emit them.
» Read article

First Gigawatt Down (Part II)
Video by Footprint to Wings
Published on July 30, 2019

Climate solutions like you’ve never seen them before. Are you ready to race to zero carbon? What’s your favorite play? Do you have what it takes to move your team to get a first gigawatt down in that play?
» Blog editor’s note: video contains excellent examples of what massive deployment of renewable energy sources like wind and solar entail. The conclusion to temporarily maintain nuclear energy in the mix is controversial but deserves sober consideration. Note that the video does not promote development of new nuke sites.
» Watch video

» More climate articles

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

Renewable Energy’s Booming, But Still Falling Far Short of Climate Goals
Power sector emissions would have been 15 percent higher in 2018 without the past decade’s renewable energy growth, a UNEP report shows.
By Kristoffer Tigue, InsideClimate News
September 6, 2019

Renewable energy capacity quadrupled worldwide over the past 10 years, with an estimated $2.6 trillion invested in its growth, a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme shows. But the speed of that growth still falls far short of what researchers say is needed to keep global warming in check.

To meet the Paris climate agreement aim of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last year that the world would need to invest an average of about $3 trillion to $3.5 trillion every year between 2016 and 2050.

“There is certainly a global shift,” said Kathy Hipple, an analyst with the Institute for Energy, Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). “The question is, ‘Is it moving fast enough from a climate perspective?’ And arguably it’s not.”
» Read article

» More clean energy alternatives articles

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

CARB independence
White House Prepares to Revoke California’s Right to Set Tougher Pollution Rules
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
September 5, 2019

President Trump is strongly considering a plan to revoke California’s legal authority to set state tailpipe pollution standards that are stricter than federal regulations, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The potential challenge to California’s authority, which would be a stinging broadside to the state’s governor and environmentalists, has been widely anticipated. But what’s notable is that the administration would be decoupling its challenge to California from its broader plan to weaken federal fuel economy standards, the latest sign that its plans for that rollback have fallen into disarray.
» Read article

» More clean transportation articles

FOSSIL FUEL NEWS

stranded fossil investments at 2C
New Oil Projects Won’t Pay Off If World Meets Paris Climate Goals, Report Shows

Not a single tar sands project is likely to pay back investors under a 2°C global warming scenario, Carbon Tracker found.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
September 6, 2019

The world’s leading oil companies increasingly have argued that they must be part of the world’s transition to a low-carbon future. But a new report shows that despite their rhetoric, they continue to spend their money as if that transition may never come.

In just the past year, the biggest global companies committed billions of dollars to projects that will likely lose money if the world slashes fossil fuel use fast enough to meet the Paris climate accord goals, the report, released Thursday night, shows. That poses serious risks to investors.
» Read article

2020 Looks Like the Breakout Year for Building Decarbonization in California
Policymakers are coalescing around electrification as the solution for squeezing carbon out of buildings. Is the market ready?
By Justin Gerdes, Greentech Media
August 23, 2019

California has just 25 years to achieve its economywide carbon-neutrality target. Buildings account for about a quarter of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, so concerted efforts will be needed to squeeze carbon out of the sector, especially existing buildings.

State policymakers are increasingly coalescing around a solution: electrification. As a recent California Energy Commission (CEC) report put it: “There is a growing consensus that building electrification is the most viable and predictable path to zero-emission buildings.”

Recent events underscore this sentiment. California regulators just overhauled a legacy policy that acted as a brake on building electrification. New incentives for electric appliances could be available by the end of this year. Meanwhile, local governments across California are moving to adopt bans on new natural-gas hookups, grabbing the attention of the state’s powerful oil and gas industry.
» Read article

» More fossil fuel articles

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