Weekly News Check-In 3/20/20

WNCI-7

Welcome back.

Construction at the Weymouth compressor station site doesn’t accommodate the social distancing required to address our COVID-19 health crisis, and opponents of the project are requesting a temporary halt to activities there. More Massachusetts news: Columbia Gas will be purchased by Eversourse. We found a thought-provoking editorial suggesting that ownership should pass to the public instead.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), continues to dig in as an increasingly partisan approval mill for fossil fuel projects. Three of the four commissioners are now Republican,  a clear break with past tradition of balanced representation.

Our climate section leads with an MIT study showing that significant amounts of ozone-depleting CFCs are leaking from old refrigeration equipment and insulating foam previously considered too inconsequential to remove and remediate. We now know that CFC leakage from these sources delays recovery of the ozone layer, and is a source of powerful greenhouse gases.

We found some differing opinions among experts regarding how the social and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the deployment of clean energy like wind and solar. That is currently a more powerful dynamic in the U.S. than the familiar tug-of-war between the pro-fossil Trump administration vs the combination of progressive state and municipal governments and advances in green technology. Take a look at our offerings in clean transportation and energy storage to see what’s happening along those old familiar story lines.

The fossil fuel industry lost a significant court battle when a federal district court decided in favor of Massachusetts, agreeing that the state has jurisdiction to sue Exxon in Suffolk County Superior Court, where the giant corporation stands accused of “hiding its early knowledge of climate change from the public and misleading investors about the future financial impact of global warming.” This is one of a string of similar cases, all agreeing that states have jurisdiction in these lawsuits.

We close with an article on plastics recycling, because a plastics-to-fuel plant is being proposed in Rhode Island. A feasibility study is considering using the pyrolysis process (gassification at high heat) to remove plastic from the waste stream by converting it to usable fuel. The benefits are presented by a representative from the American Chemistry Council, with arguments against this process being clearly articulated by Kevin Budris, a lawyer from Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Rhode Island who heads up the Zero Waste Project.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

call for halt
Residents call for halt to compressor station construction
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
March 19, 2020

WEYMOUTH — Residents opposed to a natural gas compressor station being built on the banks of the Fore River want construction stopped amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought much of the country to a halt.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to suspend construction of the Weymouth compressor station, to help slow the spread of the virus.

“This isn’t just about the compressor station, it’s about protecting the community and workers from an ongoing public health crisis,” the group said. “The construction site does not have access to proper sanitation stations, like soap and water, and workers can’t consistently work 6 feet apart.”
» Read article

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

COLUMBIA GAS

Should the public buy Columbia Gas?
Right now, Eversource is proposing to buy the utility for $1.1b
By Craig Altemose, CommonWealth Magazine – Opinion
March 15, 2020

Public utilities are entities entrusted to provide critical public services to the public. That trust means that they are supposed to receive heightened regulation by the government while being given the gift of a government-sanctioned monopoly (i.e. if you live in their territory, they are your exclusive provider). This arrangement is meant to serve the public good, and yet in just the past two years, our public utilities failed us in virtually every way imaginable.

We have recently experienced massive lapses in safety, long-term disruptions of service, the lock-out and denial of healthcare benefits to trained workers, and continued refusal to embrace critical values of public health and climate stability in the governance of our utilities. Indeed, these utilities have used ratepayer dollars to fund exorbitant executive packages (Eversource CEO Tom May makes close to $10 million a year to head a company whose customers broadly had the choice of either buying from his company or sitting in the cold and dark in the homes) and lobby against the public interest.

So this sale is coming at a time ripe for consideration of the idea of public ownership of our public gas and electric utilities.
» Read article     

» More about Columbia Gas

FERC / LNG / OTHER PIPELINES

fossil boosting FERC
Bad news about FERC & Jordan Cove
By Drew Hudson, 198 Methods
March 20, 2020

As we feared, and warned only yesterday, in the midst of the global pandemic the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) conditionally approved the Jordan Cove fracked gas export terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline today.

The approval is conditioned on Pembina, the Canadian fossil fuel corporation behind the project, qualifying for critical permits from the state of Oregon, three of which have already been denied or withdrawn. But it’s still an incredibly disappointing decision from a rogue, rubber stamp agency.

It was only last Thursday that Senate Republicans rammed through a vote on James Danly to be a new commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Danly is the first totally partisan nominee – traditionally one Democrat and one Republican are nominated together. While a handful of Senators commented on the unusual decision to stack a supposedly bi-partisan commission with three Republicans and one Democrat.
» Read article

Senate Confirms Third Republican to FERC, Breaking With Precedent
James Danly’s confirmation breaks bipartisan norms at the federal energy regulator that’s already under fire for aiding fossil fuels in key decisions.
By Jeff St. John, Green Tech Media
March 12, 2020

The U.S. Senate confirmed James Danly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday, stacking a third Republican against the lone Democrat on the board of a federal agency that has increasingly been seen as using its authority over interstate energy markets to privilege fossil fuels over renewables.

Danly, who will fill the seat left vacant by the death of Chairman Kevin McIntyre, graduated from law school in 2013 and worked as a corporate energy lawyer before he was named general counsel at FERC in 2017. His lack of experience in the industries he will now regulate has drawn sharp criticism from Senate Democrats, and his nomination last year was initially rejected by the Senate in January, before being sent back by the Trump administration last month.
» Read article

» More about FERC / LNG / Other Pipelines    

CLIMATE

CFC banks
Emissions of several ozone-depleting chemicals are larger than expected
Recovering and safely destroying the sources of these chemicals could speed ozone recovery and reduce climate change.
By Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office
March 17, 2020

In 2016, scientists at MIT and elsewhere observed the first signs of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer. This environmental milestone was the result of decades of concerted effort by nearly every country in the world, which collectively signed on to the Montreal Protocol. These countries pledged to protect the ozone layer by phasing out production of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, which are also potent greenhouse gases.

While the ozone layer is on a recovery path, scientists have found unexpectedly high emissions of CFC-11 and CFC-12, raising the possibility of production of the banned chemicals that could be in violation of the landmark global treaty. Emissions of CFC-11 even showed an uptick around 2013, which has been traced mainly to a source in eastern China. New data suggest that China has now tamped down on illegal production of the chemical, but emissions of CFC-11 and 12 emission are still larger than expected.

Now MIT researchers have found that much of the current emission of these gases likely stems from large CFC “banks” — old equipment such as building insulation foam, refrigerators and cooling systems, and foam insulation, that was manufactured before the global phaseout of CFCs and is still leaking the gases into the atmosphere. Based on earlier analyses, scientists concluded that CFC banks would be too small to contribute very much to ozone depletion, and so policymakers allowed the banks to remain.

It turns out there are oversized banks of both CFC-11 and CFC-12. The banks slowly leak these chemicals at concentrations that, if left unchecked, would delay the recovery of the ozone hole by six years and add the equivalent of 9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere — an amount that is similar to the current European Union pledge under the UN Paris Agreement to reduce climate change.
» Read article

Czech resistance
EU Green Deal Should Be Canceled Because of Coronavirus, Czech PM Says
Will COVID-19 be a reason to accelerate or slow Europe’s energy transition? The battle lines are already being drawn.
By John Parnell, Green Tech Media
March 17, 2020

The Czech Republic’s prime minister, Andrej Babiš, has said the European Union should abandon its Green Deal and focus on fighting the spread of the coronavirus in an early sign of policy battles ahead.

Announced in December, Europe’s Green New Deal seeks to invest €1 trillion ($1.1 trillion) on the road to making the EU economy net-zero carbon by 2050. This would include a huge offshore wind build-out, accelerated electrification of heat and transport, the development of large-scale carbon capture projects and hydrogen storage and infrastructure.

But from the start, the plan came under heavy scrutiny from the coal-heavy Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, and the COVID-19 crisis appears to have opened a new avenue for attack.

“Europe should forget about the Green Deal now and focus on the coronavirus instead,” Babiš told reporters on Monday.
» Read article

Exxon watching the hen house
Exxon Now Wants to Write the Rules for Regulating Methane Emissions
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 16, 2020

ExxonMobil is a company capable of contradictions. It has been lobbying against government efforts to address climate change while running ads touting its own efforts to do so.

And while the oil giant has been responsible for massive methane releases, Exxon has now proposed a new regulatory framework for cutting emissions of this powerful greenhouse gas that it hopes regulators and industry will adopt. As Exxon put it, the goal is to achieve “cost-effective and reasonable methane-emission regulations.”

“It is not target-based, it is not volume-based,” Exxon’s Norton said. “Again, it’s starting a conversation, saying these are things that you can look at.”

Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist at Cornell University whose work focuses on methane emissions in the oil and gas industry, drew attention to areas of Exxon’s framework he thought were lacking. For starters, he pointed out that the proposed framework does not mention emissions from “imperfect well casings and from abandoned wells,” which Howarth says “can be significant.” He also noted that the proposal does not describe “a methodology for characterizing any of these emissions;  there are techniques for doing so, but there is not much demonstrated use of these techniques by industry.”

Finally — and this is the real danger with any sort of industry self-regulation — Howarth said there must be some type of independent oversight to assess actual emissions instead of relying on the industry to self-report. XTO’s well blowout in Ohio is an excellent example of why this third-party verification is critical. Without oversight, the “system is ripe for abuse,” according to Howarth.
» Read article

Greta Not
Heartland Launches Website of Contrarian Climate Science Amid Struggles With Funding and Controversy
Dogged by layoffs, a problematic spokesperson and an investigation by European journalists, the climate skeptics’ institute returns to its old tactics.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
March 13, 2020

The conservative Heartland Institute, which made its name undercutting mainstream climate science, has launched a new effort to try to influence public discussion and political debate about global warming.

The move comes as the organization is reportedly struggling financially and has fallen into renewed controversy over its work in Europe promoting climate denial there. Last week it laid off staff just weeks after it announced the hiring of a teenage German climate skeptic to counter the global popularity of environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

The new website, called Climate at a Glance, includes brief explanations of key climate science and policy issues, many of which are either misleading or inaccurate.

In February, European journalists published an investigation about Heartland’s efforts to sow its climate denial in Europe. The journalists went undercover, posing as public relations consultants working for clients in the energy and auto industries. The report detailed Heartland’s methods for channeling donations through a third party, and “how disinformation is professionally scattered around society.”
» Read article       
» Read Published Investigation (English)

» More about climate           

CLEAN ENERGY

COVID-19 threatens renewables
For Wind and Solar Sectors, Biggest Coronavirus Risk May Be a Damaged Economy
It seemed that nothing could slow the global renewable-energy juggernaut. Nothing, that is, until COVID-19.
By Karl-Erik Stromsta, Green Tech Media
March 15, 2020

It seemed that nothing could slow the global renewable-energy juggernaut. Nothing, that is, until COVID-19.

From the solar factory floors of China’s Jiangsu province to wind farm country in West Texas, the clean-energy industries are struggling to gauge the potential damage that lies ahead — and it’s not a pretty picture.

Late last week, Bloomberg New Energy Finance lowered its 2020 global solar demand forecast to a range of 108 to 143 gigawatts — a drop of 9 percent at the low end compared to the market researcher’s prior estimate. That could mean the first down year for global solar installations since the 1980s.

Jenny Chase, BNEF’s head of solar, said the issue of equipment supply seems to be sorting itself out as China’s factories rumble back into production.

“We think there will be a recession,” Chase said on Friday, and the implications could spell trouble for solar manufacturers. “In general, this is a sector of companies that are heavily indebted and making slim margins.”

In the U.S., the world’s second-largest renewables market after China, the biggest immediate threat from COVID-19 is to the wind industry, which was otherwise on track for a record year of installations.

2020 is critical because it’s the last year for developers to complete projects that qualified for the full production tax credit (PTC), the industry’s main subsidy. As a result, the industry was already expected to be pushed beyond its limits this year. Wood Mackenzie previously warned of many U.S. wind projects “at risk” of missing the 2020 deadline, threatening their underlying economics.
» Read article 

Could the Oil Price Collapse Drive More Investment Into Renewables?
Oil companies have long argued that renewables projects offer lower returns. “That argument no longer holds at $35 per barrel.”
By John Parnell Green Tech Media
March 13, 2020

Low oil prices will test the resolve of the majors’ energy transition plans, but analysts expect the companies’ long-term commitments to decarbonization and renewable energy to remain intact.

A dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia has sent a flood of cheap oil and gas into global markets just as the COVID-19 pandemic is stifling demand.

This market dislocation comes at a time when European oil majors including Shell, Total, Repsol and BP are embarking seriously down a path toward emission reductions and the diversification of their businesses into renewables, e-mobility and other energy services.

Oil companies have been notoriously slow in pivoting their businesses toward cleaner energy sources. Will the current market storm change that? Might it even accelerate the transition?
» Read article

interconnection queue
Wind, solar and storage take up 95% of ISO-New England interconnection queue, marking ‘dramatic shift’
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
March 9, 2020

About 95% of nearly 21 GW of energy resources currently proposed for the New England region are grid-scale wind, solar and battery projects, according to the Independent System Operator of New England (ISO-NE).

The number “reflects a dramatic shift” in the grid operator’s interconnnection queue, ISO-NE president and CEO Gordon van Welie said in a press call on Friday. Five years ago, the majority of projects sought by developers were natural gas resources, he said.
» Read article

» More about clean energy       

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

three states boost EVsFlorida, Utah, Washington approve bills to boost EVs, including $50M Rocky Mountain Power charging plan
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
March 16, 2020

State lawmakers took significant steps last week to bolster adoption of emissions-free transportation, in moves that could result in millions of dollars in charging infrastructure investment and more electric vehicles on the road.

Emissions benefits would be “maximized” if PacifiCorp reduces its reliance on coal-fired power plants and adds more renewable energy, “so those electric vehicles could be charged on a clean electricity grid,” Aaron Kressig, Western Resource Advocates’ transportation electrification manager, said in a statement.

PacifiCorp last year announced a plan to add nearly 7,000 MW of renewable generation and storage capacity by 2025 and shut down 20 of its 24 coal-fired units by 2038.
» Read article

EV tax credit threat
Oil Industry Front Group Launches Latest Attack on Electric Vehicle Tax Credit in Senate Energy Bill
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
March 13, 202
0

As this week the U.S. Senate tries to advance stalled bipartisan energy legislation, the American Energy Alliance (AEA) last week announced its latest initiative opposing any tax credit extension for electric vehicles (EV) in that bill.

Through a series of digital ads, the group, which receives a substantial share of its donations from an oil refinery trade group, is calling on Senate Republicans to squash a proposed amendment expanding the number of vehicles eligible for the credit.
» Read article

» More about clean transportation      

ENERGY STORAGE

module-level micro-storage
Yotta Energy is putting batteries under solar modules — in the same spirit as microinverters and optimizers
Yotta has a potential solution for solar-plus-storage in the urban environment. Will the micro-storage startup become the next SolarEdge or Enphase? Or the next JLM energy? And whatever happened to SolPad?
By Eric Wesoff, PV Magazine
February 18, 2020

Ten years ago, the idea of putting a microinverter or optimizer behind a rooftop solar panel was a bit of a reliability stretch. Today, module-level panel electronics warrants its own acronym and enjoys an 80% percent market share in the U.S. residential solar market.

Yotta Energy believes batteries are headed in the same direction — to module-level micro-storage — and is deploying a 52-pound, 1 kW-hr lithium iron-phosphate battery on the same solar module racking gear that holds the ballast.
» Read article       

» More about energy storage    

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Exxon Loses Jurisdiction Fight in Massachusetts Climate Suit
By Erik Larson, Bloomberg Green
March 17, 2020

Exxon Mobil Corp. suffered a setback in a climate change case when a federal judge ruled that a consumer protection lawsuit filed by Massachusetts should go back to state court.

U.S. District Judge William G. Young in Boston on Tuesday ordered the litigation back to Suffolk County Superior Court, where Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued in October. The state accused the energy giant of hiding its early knowledge of climate change from the public and misleading investors about the future financial impact of global warming.
» Read article

» More about fossil fuels   

PLASTICS RECYCLING

gasification graphic
Is turning waste plastic into fuel the answer to our waste management and energy woes? Probably not…
By Steve Ahlquist, Uprise RI
March 13, 2020

The first meeting of the “Special Legislative Commission to Study the Merits and Feasibility of a Pyrolysis or Gasification Facility in the State of Rhode Island” took place at the Rhode Island State House on Wednesday.

Presenting at the first meeting was Craig Cookson, Senior Director Recycling and Recovery at the American Chemistry Council and Kevin Budris, a lawyer from Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Rhode Island who heads up the Zero Waste Project.

Cookson’s presentation painted a very rosy picture of pyrolysis and gasification, Budris called into question or debunked nearly all of Cookson’s arguments.

Cookson argued that waste plastic, which is overwhelming our landfills, can best be dealt with by using pyrolysis to convert these plastics into liquid fuels, which can then be burned to power motor vehicles or satisfy other energy needs. Budris disagreed, saying that, “the best way to move away from waste plastics isn’t to find new, creative things to do with them once they become waste, it’s to just move away from them.”

Budris took issue with Cookson’s assertion that plastics are part of a “circular economy.”

“What we’re talking about here is producing fuels from plastics through gasification,” said Budris, countering Cookson. “Producing fuels from plastic is not a circular economy. That’s linear. You have plastic that moves through its life, it’s turned into fuel, and that fuel is burned. That is a one way street.
» Read article

» More about plastics recycling   

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