Weekly News Check-In 5/14/21

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Welcome back.

Several narratives converged this week, making this collection of articles feel tightly related. The main topic is climate change. A new UN report stresses the urgency of immediately curbing methane emissions, especially from the extraction, transport, and use of natural gas. It amounts to a clear argument against the “bridge fuel” concept, and recommends a halt to all new gas infrastructure projects.

That is exactly what appears to be playing out in Peabody, MA, where strong local objections to the municipal utility’s plans for a new gas-powered peaking power plant prompted a pause in the project’s development so that carbon-free alternatives can be considered.

Elsewhere, efforts continue to scuttle ongoing pipeline projects, including calls to defund Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline in northern Minnesota.

This urgency to “kick gas” and other fuels doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Local economies and lots of jobs depend on pipelines, and shutting them down often affects interstate and international agreements. While we remain dependent on the fossil fuels that pipelines carry, their vulnerabilities to cyber attack pose ongoing risks of major economic disruption. The abrupt shutdown of Colonial Pipeline’s east coast fuel distribution network drove that point home this week.

Meanwhile, the future of clean energy came a step closer this week with Federal approval for the Vineyard Wind project. This marks the start of a massive buildup of U.S. offshore wind power. And because the green economy is just as competitive as the dirty one, Massachusetts already finds its lead position challenged as other states vie to provide materials, services, and labor for that emerging market.

Another week, and another report on a technology breakthrough in the race for solid state EV batteries. Researchers at Harvard report that their innovative, multi-layered lithium-metal battery cell solves a key stability problem that will allow the batteries to cycle many thousands of times without degradation.

Wrapping up, we offer a straightforward description of fracking, the fossil fuel extraction technique responsible for a surge in natural gas production over the past decade, along with unprecedented gas infrastructure build-out and disastrous releases of methane from every step in the process.

button - BEAT News button - BZWI  For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!

— The NFGiM Team (Note: taking two weeks off – back with you on June 4th)

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

electric meters
Peabody Power Plant Opponents Cheer Pause In Project
The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company says it will delay the project for 30 days to reassess and explore alternatives.
By Scott Souza, Patch
May 11, 2021

PEABODY, MA — Elected officials and climate advocacy groups cheered the “pause” announced Tuesday in the proposed gas power plant project in Peabody near the Danvers line.

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company, which had pushed the plant to satisfy surge capacity requirements for Peabody Municipal Light and the region, said Tuesday morning its board of directors authorized the 30-day “pause” during a special meeting held on Monday.

It said the delay was to address concerns brought before the board, while also “considering available options to fulfill its participants’ required capacity obligations under ISO New England rules.”

The halt comes amid recent outcry from North Shore residents and public officials about safety, quality of life and environmental concerns surrounding the project that was first proposed five years ago.

State Rep. Sally Kerans (D-Danvers), who represents Danvers and West Peabody, wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities asking for a review of the proposed plant based on the “environmental burden” the region already bears, including Route 128, a propane company, and a pipeline.

The power company had said the new plant was needed to provide emergency surge capacity in the case of a catastrophic event — such as what happened this winter in Texas when renewal forms of energy such as wind and solar were not considered reliable enough to meet demand follow a large snowstorm and ensuing freeze.

But on Tuesday MMWEC CEO Ron DeCurzio said the board of directors determined it is worth reexamining whether the needs can be met without an additional fossil fuel plant.
» Read article       

stealthy
Doctors cite health risks from new plant
87 physicians against natural power project in Peabody
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
May 11, 2021

PEABODY — Regina LaRoque, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the past year has taught her an incredible amount about the overlap between respiratory diseases and air pollution.

“Being exposed to air pollution actually puts you at increased risk for COVID, and we need to be speaking out about these associations so people understand that polluting our air is dangerous for people’s health,” LaRoque, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said.

This is one of the many reasons she was one of 87 Massachusetts physicians to sign a letter opposing the construction of a natural gas-powered peaking power plant in Peabody. The doctors cite both health and environmental concerns.

The letter states the proposed plant is “a project that expands natural gas and oil infrastructure, threatens the health of the surrounding community, and is in direct conflict with Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas reduction mandate.” In addition, the letter states the plant “is not needed as the demand for natural gas is declining and cleaner energy sources are becoming available.”

The letter, written primarily by LaRoque, is addressed to Charles Orphanos, the general manager of the Peabody Municipal Light Plant and a director at Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company. The proposed facility would be built on city property at PMLP’s Waters River substation, behind the Pulaski Street industrial park, and operated by MMWEC.

PMLP and MMWEC say the plant, which would help provide energy capacity for customers at peak demand times, is needed and has to be a reliable source of energy that’s not dependent upon weather patterns.
» Read article       

» More about peaker plants

PIPELINES

pipeline dilemmaBiden’s Pipeline Dilemma: How to Build a Clean Energy Future While Shoring Up the Present’s Carbon-Intensive Infrastructure
After Colonial’s cyber-attack and shutdown, he can’t ignore pipelines’ problems, but environmental groups want more aggressive action.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
May 14, 2021

Even as President Joe Biden worked this week to shore up support for his push to invest $2 trillion in a new energy future for the United States, his administration found itself bombarded with the harsh realities of the nation’s oil-dependent present.

More than a half-dozen federal agencies scrambled to contain fallout from a cyber-attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline, the nation’s largest petroleum products conduit, just as the start of the nation’s peak driving season approaches. Panic buying triggered gasoline shortages and price spikes all along the East Coast before Colonial restarted the line Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a legal and international conflict escalated in Michigan over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ordered shutdown of Enbridge’s Line 5, a 68-year-old oil pipeline on the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac that transports oil from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands. Another Enbridge tar sands pipeline project in Minnesota, Line 3, has become a flash point for environmental and Indigenous groups that want the Biden administration to intervene to stop construction. And a court ruling could come any day opening a new chapter in the six-year battle over the Dakota Access pipeline. Even though President Donald Trump pushed that project to completion, a court-ordered expanded environmental review is now in the hands of the Biden administration.

Throughout his campaign, Biden embraced the most ambitious climate platform ever advanced by a U.S. presidential nominee, without taking a stand on oil and gas pipeline investment. The events of the past week make clear that he won’t be able to avoid the issue, even though it threatens to divide his political coalition. Labor stayed with Biden even though he pledged to block the Keystone XL pipeline, a project they supported, but which had become emblematic of climate activists’ drive against fossil fuel expansion. But after fulfilling his Keystone pledge on his first day in office, Biden stayed away from pipelines, focusing instead on a message with appeal to both unions and environmentalists: that a transition to clean energy would be an engine of blue-collar job creation.

“They’re not focused on the supply side, as much as they are on the demand side,” said Daniel Raimi, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Resources for the Future. “So the policies that they have been outlining have to do with, for example, deploying more electric vehicles, which would reduce demand for oil. And so by reducing demand for oil, you’re reducing the need to build additional pipelines and operate existing ones.”

However, U.S. oil consumption is nearly back to its pre-pandemic level of 20 million barrels per day, most of it flowing at some point through the nation’s more than 190,000 miles of petroleum pipeline. More than half of that network was built before 1970. Even as Biden seeks to build an entirely new energy infrastructure, some of those pipelines are going to wear out or, as in Colonial’s case, face unexpected disruption.

“Regardless of your position on climate change,” said Raimi, “shutting down certain pipelines and doing it without planning can cause a lot of problems.”
» Read article       

showing its ageEnbridge continues Straits pipeline operation, defying Gov. Whitmer’s deadline
By Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press
May 12, 2021

In defiance of an order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to cease operations by Wednesday, Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge continued to flow 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids through Line 5, its controversial, 68-year-old twin pipelines on the Straits of Mackinac lake bottom.

Whitmer on Tuesday, in a letter to Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president for liquids pipelines, said continued operation of the line after Wednesday “constitutes an intentional trespass” and that the company would do so “at its own risk.”

“If the state prevails in the underlying litigation, Enbridge will face the prospect of having to disgorge to the state all profits it derives from its wrongful use of the easement lands following that date,” she said.

Whitmer in November moved to revoke Enbridge’s 1953 easement to situate the pipelines on state-controlled bottomlands near where Great Lakes Michigan and Huron connect, citing repeated violations of the easement’s terms on pipeline safety measures and an unreasonable risk to the Great Lakes from the aging pipes’ continued operation. The governor gave Enbridge 180 days to arrange for shutdown of the pipes, a deadline that ends Wednesday.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines

CYBERSECURITY

fuel jugular
‘Jugular’ of the U.S. fuel pipeline system shuts down after cyberattack
The infiltration of a major fuel pipeline is “the most significant, successful attack on energy infrastructure we know of.”
By GLORIA GONZALEZ, BEN LEFEBVRE and ERIC GELLER, Politico
May 8, 2021

The main fuel supply line to the U.S. East Coast has shut down indefinitely after the pipeline’s operator suffered what is believed to be the largest successful cyberattack on oil infrastructure in the country’s history — presenting a danger of spiking gasoline prices and a fresh challenge to President Joe Biden’s pledges to secure the nation against threats.

The attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which runs 5,500 miles and provides nearly half the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel used on the East Coast, most immediately affected some of the company’s business-side computer systems — not the systems that directly run the pipelines themselves. The Georgia-based company said it shut down the pipelines as a precaution and has engaged a third-party cybersecurity firm to investigate the incident, which it confirmed was a ransomware attack. It first disclosed the shutdown late Friday and said it has also contacted law enforcement and other federal agencies.

Biden received a briefing on the incident Saturday morning, a White House spokesperson said, adding that the government “is working actively to assess the implications of this incident, avoid disruption to supply, and help the company restore pipeline operations as quickly as possible.”

A shutdown that lasts more than a few days could send gasoline prices in the Southeastern U.S. spiking above $3 a gallon, market analysts said. That could deepen the political risks the incident poses for Biden, stealing momentum from his efforts to center the nation’s energy agenda on promoting cleaner sources and confronting climate change.

That means much depends on how quickly Colonial can restart the pipelines — which depends in large part on whether the company’s cyber consultants can determine that it’s safe to do so.

“They’ll learn that in the first 24 to 72 hours,” said Rob Lee, CEO of the cybersecurity firm Dragos and an expert in the risks to industrial computer systems. He added that if the attack was limited to Colonial’s business computer systems, “I think it’s going to be relatively short-lived.”
» Read article       

» More about cybersecurity

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

DefundLine3
Climate and Indigenous Protesters Across 4 Continents Pressure Banks to #DefundLine3
“Those who financially back Enbridge are directly implicated in its crimes,” says a Red Lake Anishinaabe citizen and organizer. “To put it bluntly, blood is on their hands.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
May 7, 2021

From fake oil spills in Washington, D.C. and New York City to a “people mural” in Seattle spelling out “Defund Line 3,” climate and Indigenous protesters in 50 U.S. cities and across seven other countries spanning four continents took to the streets on Friday for a day of action pushing 20 banks to ditch the controversial tar sands pipeline.

“Against the backdrop of rising climate chaos, the continued bankrolling of Line 3 and similar oil and gas infrastructure worldwide is fueling gross and systemic violations of human rights and Indigenous peoples’ rights at a global scale,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.

“It’s time for the big banks to recognize that they can and will be held accountable for their complicity in those violations,” Muffett added. His organization is part of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition, over 150 groups that urge asset managers, banks, and insurers to stop funding climate destruction.

The global protests on Friday follow on-the-ground actions that have, at times, successfully halted construction of Canada-based Enbridge’s Line 3 project, which is intended to replace an old pipeline that runs from Alberta, through North Dakota and Minnesota, to Wisconsin. The new pipeline’s route crosses Anishinaabe treaty lands.

Simone Senogles, a Red Lake Anishinaabe citizen and organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network, declared that “no amount of greenwashing and PR can absolve these banks from violating Indigenous rights and the desolation of Mother Earth.”
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

first position
Massachusetts sees more competition to bulk up offshore wind infrastructure

The state got an early jump on offshore wind development, but recent onshore infrastructure investments in New York, New Jersey and Virginia threaten to cut into the state’s claim as the leading hub for the industry.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
May 6, 2021

Massachusetts faces growing competition from other states trying to take advantage of the anticipated surge in offshore wind development by building onshore infrastructure to support the burgeoning industry.

Vineyard Wind, which would be the country’s first commercial-scale offshore wind development, is expected to receive a major federal approval within weeks, kicking off the growth of a long-simmering industry in the region. Anticipating this project in the waters off of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the state has made major investments in developing facilities to support the industry.

Recently, however, other states across the Northeast have announced their own ambitious plans for port infrastructure and economic development, and some in Massachusetts are feeling the pressure to confirm the state’s position as a leader.

“The opinion is relatively widely held that we could’ve been doing more in the last few years to maintain and increase our lead,” said Eric Hines, director of the Tufts University offshore wind engineering graduate program. “There’s a collective sense of urgency right now to really get serious about investing for the future on the land side.”

Massachusetts has been at the forefront of the offshore wind conversation since 2001, when businessman Jim Gordon proposed Cape Wind, a 468-megawatt wind farm that would have been located in the waters south of Cape Cod. Facing harsh opposition from powerful opponents, that plan was eventually defeated.

The state’s current push for offshore wind began in 2016 with the passage of a law calling for the procurement of up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy. In 2018, Vineyard Wind was awarded the contract for the first 800 megawatts; the following year Mayflower Wind was selected to provide the next 800 megawatts. Since then, Massachusetts has upped its total planned procurements to a total of 5,600 megawatts.

Along the way, public and private parties in the state have been developing support facilities on land. In the city of New Bedford, on the south coast, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center developed a $113 million marine commerce terminal designed specifically for use by the offshore wind industry. In Charlestown, a waterfront neighborhood of Boston, the clean energy center built a $40 million facility for testing turbine blades, the largest such facility in North America.

At the same time, other states joined in the pursuit of offshore wind. Along the East Coast, states have committed to procuring some 29,000 megawatts of offshore wind, according to the American Clean Power Association.

These states have also started planning port facilities and other onshore infrastructure to support the industry. New Jersey, which has aiming for 7,500 megawatts by 2035, is planning an offshore wind port for 200 acres along the Delaware River in the southern part of the state with an expected cost of $300 million to $500 million. The state has also pledged another $250 million to build a manufacturing facility for turbine components.
» Read article       

mega-warehouse smog
E-Commerce Mega-Warehouses, a Smog Source, Face New Pollution Rule
A plan aimed at the nation’s largest cluster of warehouses is designed to spur electrification of pollution-spewing diesel trucks and could set a template for restrictions elsewhere.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 8, 2021

Southern California is home to the nation’s largest concentration of warehouses — a hub of thousands of mammoth structures, served by belching diesel trucks, that help feed America’s booming appetite for online shopping and also contribute to the worst air pollution in the country.

On Friday, hundreds of residents flocked to an online hearing to support a landmark rule that would force the warehouses to clean up their emissions. The new rule, affecting about 3,000 of the largest warehouses in the area used by Amazon and other retailers, requires operators to slash emissions from the trucks that serve the site or take other measures to improve air quality.

“I’m just tired of living with warehouses, trucks — driving down the Sierra, having trucks pull up, having to put down your windows,” said Daniel Reyes, a resident and member of a group that has long sought changes like these. “I’m tired of seeing warehouses next to schools. I’m over it, man.”

The rule, which was adopted late Friday by the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s 13-member board in a 9-4 vote, sets a precedent for regulating the exploding e-commerce industry, which has grown even more during the pandemic and has led to a spectacular increase in warehouse construction.

Vast warehouse hubs have sprung up across the country, including in the Lehigh Valley in eastern Pennsylvania, as have sprawling installations in New Jersey, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago.

The changes could also help spur a more rapid electrification of freight tucks, a significant step toward reducing emissions from transportation, the country’s biggest source of planet-warming greenhouse gases. The emissions are a major contributor to smog-causing nitrogen oxides and diesel particulate matter pollution, which are linked to health problems including respiratory conditions.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

shut down the plantScrap new gas infrastructure, says UN report
Methane is a huge culprit in the climate crisis
By Justine Calma, The Verge
May 6, 2021

A major new United Nations report makes it extremely clear that relying on natural gas won’t help the world avoid climate catastrophe. Once seen as a “bridge fuel” that could provide a less-polluting alternative to coal and other fossil fuels, growing evidence shows that gas is a bigger culprit in the climate crisis than previously thought.

Though it’s been attractively branded as “natural” gas, the fuel is primarily plain old methane. When burned, the fuel does produce less carbon dioxide than coal and oil. The problem is that extracting so-called natural gas and bringing it to homes and buildings leads to a lot of methane leaks. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times more power to warm the planet than carbon dioxide especially in the first couple decades after it’s unleashed on the atmosphere. In fact, methane has been responsible for nearly a third of global warming that’s already taken place.

Human-caused methane emissions will need to drop by 45 percent this decade in order to avoid worst-case climate scenarios and meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the United Nations report warns. Expanding natural gas consumption and infrastructure would jeopardize those targets.

“One thing the report calls for very strongly is not building any more of this fossil fuel infrastructure,” Drew Shindell, lead author of the report and a professor at Duke University, said in a press conference. “When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.”

Fortunately, achieving those methane cuts is affordable and possible with existing technology, according to the report. For starters, fossil fuel industries need to do a better job of preventing leaks. But that alone won’t be enough. In the long run, keeping the current fossil fuel infrastructure would derail efforts to mitigate the climate crisis. And while emerging technologies that capture carbon dioxide from polluting power plants might do some good, “there are multiple risks that this technology will not work, will be too expensive, and/or will have so many side effects that society will not want to use it,” according to the report. Bottom line: the report calls for a sweeping transition to renewable energy, which it says would “remove the bulk of methane emissions” in the long term.
» Read article       
» Read the UN report

new normal
There’s a New Definition of ‘Normal’ for Weather
By Henry Fountain and Jason Kao, New York Times
May 12, 2021

The United States is getting redder.

No, not that kind of red. (We’ll leave that to the political pundits.) We’re talking about the thermometer kind.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week issued its latest “climate normals”: baseline data of temperature, rain, snow and other weather variables collected over three decades at thousands of locations across the country.

The normals — which are available on annual, seasonal, monthly, daily and even hourly timescales — are invaluable to farmers, energy companies and other businesses, water managers, transportation schedulers and any one who plans their activities in coming weeks or months based on what is likely, weather-wise. They come in handy, too, if you want to know how to pack for Oshkosh, say, in October, or if you’re past the last frost date and wondering if it’s safe to put out some tomato seedlings.

“What we’re trying to do with climate normals is put today’s weather in the proper context,” said Michael Palecki, who manages the project at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

Because the normals have been produced since 1930, they also say a lot about the weather over a much longer term. That is, they show how the climate has changed in the United States, as it has across the world, as a result of emissions of heat-trapping gases over more than a century.

“We’re really seeing the fingerprints of climate change in the new normals,” Dr. Palecki said. “We’re not trying to hide that.”

Not that they could. The maps showing the new temperature normals every 10 years, compared with the 20th century average, get increasingly redder.

“There’s a huge difference in temperature over time, as we go from cooler climates in the early part of the 20th century to ubiquitously warmer climates,” he said.

The change is especially drastic between the new normals and the previous ones, from 2010. “Almost every place in the U.S. has warmed,” Dr. Palecki said.

The temperature results are in keeping with what we’ve long known: that the world has warmed by more than 1 degree Celsius (about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1900, and that the pace of warming has accelerated in recent decades.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Vineyard Wind approved
Biden administration approves Vineyard Wind project, first major offshore wind farm in U.S.
By Alex Kuffner, The Providence Journal
May 11, 2021

The Biden administration has given the green light to Vineyard Wind I, a project of 62 turbines to be built in waters off Rhode Island and Massachusetts that would be the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in America.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was on the call with reporters Tuesday to announce final approval of the long-awaited $2.8-billion project that would be built between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, produce enough power for about 400,000 homes and go into operation in 2023. As Rhode Island governor, Raimondo oversaw construction of a five-turbine demonstration project off Block Island that in 2016 became the first offshore wind farm in the nation.

“In the process of doing that, I experienced first-hand how to make these projects a reality,” she said. “As governor, I saw that this is complicated to do it right.”

The 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, by proving the viability of an energy resource that had to that point been tapped only in Europe, was expected to usher in a wave of development on this side of the Atlantic. But in the nearly five years since it started sending power to electric consumers in Rhode Island, the offshore wind industry has stuttered forward in fits and starts.

While a fiercely contested auction in 2018 that raised an astounding $405 million merely for leasing rights off southern New England signaled a newfound confidence in the future of offshore wind, the delays experienced by Vineyard Wind in the face of opposition by commercial fishermen and under a less-than-friendly Trump administration were a sobering reminder that political support would be critical for anything to move forward.

The winds shifted with the election of Joe Biden last November and his adoption of a sweeping climate agenda that has prioritized the development of alternatives to fossil fuel-fired sources of power generation.

In March, the Biden administration announced an aggressive plan to boost offshore wind, setting a goal of installing enough turbines to generate 30,000 megawatts of energy by 2030. Approval of the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project, a joint venture of Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, is the strongest sign yet of the renewed federal commitment.
» Read article       

H2 fueling station
‘Universal’ faith in hydrogen could lock world into fossil fuel reliance: German study
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research concludes electrification should lead with H2 reserved for decarbonising air travel and heavy-emitting industries
By Darius Snieckus , Recharge News
May 6, 2021

Hydrogen should be reserved for focused use in decarbonising air travel and the world’s heavy-emitting industries or it could lock the world into longer-term fossil fuel reliance and drive up greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to a new German study.

Researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) concluded that hydrogen should only be used in sectors that “cannot be electrified” as production of the carrier is still “too inefficient, costly and [its] availability too uncertain, to broadly replace fossil fuels” in running cars or heating homes.

“For most sectors, directly using electricity for instance in battery electric cars or heat pumps makes more economic sense. Universally relying on hydrogen-based fuels instead and keeping combustion technologies threatens to lock in a further fossil fuel dependency and GHGs,” said PIK’s Falko Euckerdt, who led the study.

“Hydrogen-based fuels can be a great clean energy carrier – yet great are also their costs and associated risks. Fuels based on hydrogen as a universal climate solution might be a bit of false promise. While they’re wonderfully versatile, it should not be expected that they broadly replace fossil fuels.”

Hydrogen-based fuels will “likely be scarce and not competitive for at least another decade”, said Euckerdt.

“Betting on their wide-ranging use would likely increase fossil fuel dependency: if we cling to combustion technologies and hope to feed them with hydrogen-based fuels…then we [might] end up further burning oil and gas and emit GHGs. This could endanger short- and long-term climate targets.”
» Read article       

public DER
How New York Could Build Publicly Owned Electricity Without Taking Over Dirty Plants
A candidate for New York City comptroller has a novel idea for a municipally owned solar utility in a city with little space for giant panel farms.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffpost
May 5, 2021

As rising utility rates squeeze working-class New Yorkers and power plant owners seek to swap oil for other fossil fuels, calls have mounted in the nation’s largest city to remove the profit motive altogether and seize the means of electricity production.

But a government takeover of the city’s utility infrastructure would be no simple feat ― steep costs, lengthy legal battles, and that’s before you get to the challenge of replacing fossil fuels with cleaner alternatives. Blackouts, electrical accidents and pollution would become a political liability for anyone in power.

But Brad Lander, the progressive Brooklyn city councilman now running for comptroller, thinks he’s found a way to skip past that and start generating clean, publicly owned electricity almost immediately.

Lander envisions spending $500 million over the next eight years to install 25,000 solar panels on rooftops citywide. The city would own and operate the panels through a municipally run utility that, given how much electricity it would generate, could negotiate better rates with Consolidated Edison, the private utility giant that controls the city’s transmission lines.

The new city-owned entity would pay rent to landlords and homeowners in exchange for rooftop space and take on all the installation costs, making it an easy sell.

“It seems so obvious, yet no one in the U.S. that I can find at any scale is doing this,” Lander said. “It seems so straightforward, given, on the one hand, an appetite for public power and, on the other, the clarity that we need to do a giant expansion of rooftop solar.”
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

lithium-metal brakethrough
Battery breakthrough for electric cars
Harvard researchers design long-lasting, stable, solid-state lithium battery to fix 40-year problem
By Leah Burrows, SEAS Communications, in The Harvard Gazette
May 12, 2021

Long-lasting, quick-charging batteries are essential to the expansion of the electric vehicle market, but today’s lithium-ion batteries fall short of what’s needed — they’re too heavy, too expensive and take too long to charge.

For decades, researchers have tried to harness the potential of solid-state, lithium-metal batteries, which hold substantially more energy in the same volume and charge in a fraction of the time compared to traditional lithium-ion batteries.

“A lithium-metal battery is considered the holy grail for battery chemistry because of its high capacity and energy density,” said Xin Li, associate professor of materials science at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). “But the stability of these batteries has always been poor.”

Now, Li and his team have designed a stable, lithium-metal, solid-state battery that can be charged and discharged at least 10,000 times — far more cycles than have been previously demonstrated — at a high current density. The researchers paired the new design with a commercial high energy density cathode material.

The research is published in Nature.

The big challenge with lithium-metal batteries has always been chemistry. Lithium batteries move lithium ions from the cathode to the anode during charging. When the anode is made of lithium metal, needle-like structures called dendrites form on the surface. These structures grow like roots into the electrolyte and pierce the barrier separating the anode and cathode, causing the battery to short or even catch fire.

To overcome this challenge, Li and his team designed a multilayer battery that sandwiches different materials of varying stabilities between the anode and cathode. This multilayer, multimaterial battery prevents the penetration of lithium dendrites not by stopping them altogether but rather by controlling and containing them.
» Read article       
» Obtain the research paper

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

fracking 101Fracking 101: What You Should Know
By EcoWatch
May. 11, 2021

What is fracking?

Fracking is a process of blasting water, chemicals and frac sand deep into the earth to break up sedimentary rock and access natural gas and crude oil deposits. The fracking industry, which has sought to promote the practice as safe and controlled, has preferred the term “hydraulic fracturing.”

Fracking emerged as an unconventional, “relatively new” and extremely popular technique only about 20 years ago in the U.S., after advances in technology gave it an unprecedented ability to identify and extract massive amounts of resources efficiently.

Fracking is one of the most important environmental issues today, and it’s a prime example of how a new technology that offers immediate economic and political benefits can outpace (often less obvious) environmental and health concerns.

Why is fracking so controversial?

Modern fracking emerged so quickly, faster than its impacts were understood. Just as importantly, once scientists, health experts and the public started to object with evidence of harm it was causing, business and government succeeded in perpetuating a message of uncertainty, that more research was necessary, further enabling the “full speed ahead” fracking juggernaut.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

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