Monthly Archives: June 2021

Weekly News Check-In 6/11/21

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Welcome back.

A public forum on the proposed peaking power plant in Peabody, MA is scheduled for June 22 at the Peter A. Torigian Senior Center at 6:30 p.m. This is an opportunity for clean energy advocates to show up and demand a healthy, emissions-free alternative to the project – one that’s compatible with public health and climate goals.

We welcome the news that Keystone XL pipeline is officially dead. Meanwhile, Enbridge is pushing hard on Line 3 construction across northern Minnesota in the face of surging resistance. This tug-of-war between citizens and fossil interests plays out as climate disruptors like carbon dioxide and methane reach new highs, and as wealthy nations continue to finance natural gas development in the developing world.

With a nod to the reality that climate imperatives don’t automatically prevail over Big Gas & Oil, regulators and legislators in Massachusetts are watching closely as we approach the implementation date for recently passed landmark climate legislation. Of particular concern is the Baker administration’s failure so far to embrace the net-zero language in the state’s future energy efficiency stretch code. Even so, an innovative new program to finance rooftop solar power on affordable housing units should help green up that often-underserved sector.

More broadly in New England, we have a report on proposed governance changes intended to help grid operator ISO-NE modernize to accommodate more rapid growth in renewable energy generation.

We’re heading back to the future, looking at clean transportation from a comfortable seat with amazing views. There’s not much a short-hop jet can do that a blimp can’t do better – bring it on! And for those of us traveling to the blimp port by electric vehicle, scientists have shown (in lab tests) how to extract lithium directly from seawater. If the technique is scalable, it could substantially reduce the environmental impact of obtaining this essential green economy component.

We have a few stories from the fossil fuel industry, including signs that ExxonMobil is exaggerating the performance of Permian Basin fracking operations to appear more favorable to investors. Liquefied natural gas developer Pieridae Energy is also presenting a brave face as it approaches the June 30th deadline to announce its final investment decision (FID) for the Goldboro LNG terminal in Nova Scotia. But we learned that their financial advisor recently stepped away from the project because it’s incompatible with the firm’s desired green image. A year ago, Pieridae lost its engineering firm, KBR, for similar reasons.

A recent International Energy Agency roadmap relies too heavily on biofuels, including forest biomass, according to analysis. Bottom line: we have to stop burning stuff. And in closing, we’re not going to solve the climate crisis without tackling the plastics problem.

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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

public forum scheduled
Proposed Peabody Power Plant Public Forum Set
The wholesale electric company behind the surge capacity plant project currently on pause will share information and solicit feedback.
By Scott Souza, Patch
June 10, 2021

PEABODY, MA —The wholesale electric company behind a proposed gas-powered surge capacity power plant in Peabody will hold a public meeting on June 22 to share information on the project and address resident concerns.

The project, which has been in the planning stages since 2015, was put on hold on May 11 amid growing opposition from climate advocacy groups and elected officials concerned about quality-of-life issues they say the plant will bring to an already overburdened environmental justice community.

But the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company has said the plant is necessary to satisfy mandatory surge capacity requirements in a way that renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydro cannot reliably accomplish.

The MMWEC said it will solicit feedback during the meeting set for the Peter A. Torigian Center at 6:30 p.m.

“As a capacity resource, Project 2015A — MMWEC’s proposed peaking plant in Peabody — is expected to run just 239 hours per year, producing fewer emissions than 94 percent of similar peaking resources in the region, and will help its participating municipal light plants maintain stable rates for their customers,” the MMWEC said in scheduling the forum.

But advocacy groups Breathe Clean North Shore, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network and Community Action Works plan to deliver a petition to the utility’s Ludlow offices Friday morning demanding that the project be abandoned or altered to only use “clean” energy sources.

They say in the petition that the plant — which would be built at the Waters Street substation near the Peabody/Danvers line — will add to pollution, hamper efforts to combat the climate crisis and potentially create a “stranded asset” whose cost will fall on ratepayers.

The groups had also called for more public input on the project, which until recently moved through the planning process in relative obscurity.
» Read article             

30-day minimum pause
Peabody Power Plant Battle Heats Up As ‘Pause’ Nears 30 Days
Climate advocacy groups will request plans for the oil and gas plant to be altered or abandoned ahead of a decision on the project’s future.
By Scott Souza, Patch
June 8, 2021

PEABODY, MA — As a pause in the plans to build a 60-megawatt gas and oil power plant in Peabody nears 30 days, climate advocacy groups are planning to deliver a petition to the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company behind the project demanding that the utility abandon it or replace it only using clean energy sources.

Breathe Clean North Shore, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network and Community Action Works plan to deliver the petition to the utility’s Ludlow offices Friday morning — one month after the project was delayed amid a sudden swell of community outcry about its potential safety, climate and quality of life impact on Peabody residents and those in surrounding communities.
» Read article             

» More about peaking power plants

PIPELINES

rest in pieces
The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Officially Dead
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
June 10, 2021

The Keystone XL pipeline is officially canceled.

TC Energy, the Canadian company behind the pipeline that would have moved oil from Alberta’s tar sands to Nebraska, confirmed Wednesday that it was giving up on the controversial project.

“The Company will continue to coordinate with regulators, stakeholders and Indigenous groups to meet its environmental and regulatory commitments and ensure a safe termination of and exit from the Project,” the company wrote.

The news was met with jubilation from environmental and Indigenous groups who had spent years battling the project over concerns it would worsen the climate crisis and harm the ecosystems and communities along its route.

“After more than 10 years — we have finally defeated an oil and gas giant! Keystone XL is DEAD!” the Indigenous Environmental Network tweeted in response to the news. “We are dancing in our hearts for this victory!”

The defeated pipeline would have extended 1,179 miles and transported 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, The New York Times explained. It would have ended in Nebraska, but connected to other pipelines that would help the oil complete its journey, as The AP reported.

However, environmental activists have long argued that now was the wrong time to lock in more fossil fuel infrastructure. For them, Wednesday’s victory was a long time coming. Protests against the pipeline first persuaded President Barack Obama to cancel a key permit for the project in 2015. Obama’s decision was then reversed two years later, when President Donald Trump restored the permit early into his term.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

hundreds arrested
Hundreds Arrested at Line 3 ‘Treaty People Gathering.’ Water Protectors Vow To Continue Until the Pipeline is Canceled

Indigenous activists in Northern Minnesota occupied sites of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, seeking to disrupt construction. The action puts national attention on an issue that President Biden has tried to ignore.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 8, 2021

Nearly 200 people were arrested on Monday while protesting the Line 3 pipeline, a long-distance tar sands pipeline that runs across Indigenous land and threatens food and water resources, including the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Indigenous and environmental groups, and even some elected officials, condemned the aggressive use of a helicopter to disperse protesters.

More than 2,000 people began gathering at an undisclosed location in Northern Minnesota over the weekend, answering a call from Indigenous Anishinaabe people and a coalition of environmental groups to disrupt the construction of the pipeline.

The “Treaty People Gathering” kicked off on June 7, when hundreds of water protectors arrived at construction sites where Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company, is ramping up construction of the Line 3 pipeline, which began in June after a several-month hiatus due to weather.

The direct action aims not just to delay and disrupt construction, but also to ratchet up the pressure on the Biden administration to intervene. Biden has avoided a public position on the issue, but growing national attention on the protests could make ignoring the water protectors increasingly difficult for the administration. The silence is all the more glaring as Biden has positioned himself as a champion of both climate action and Indigenous rights.

The Line 3 pipeline has been described as a replacement for an aging line, but much of it traverses new land, and the “replacement” will nearly double the current volume of oil traveling through the system, increasing it to 760,000 barrels per day. The emissions associated with the project would be equivalent to 50 coal-fired power plants.

The threat of oil spills is also not theoretical. In 2010, Enbridge’s Line 6B spilled nearly a million gallons of heavy oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

Those opposing the pipeline’s construction are seeking to deliberately highlight how the project violates Indigenous people’s treaty rights.

“We called this mobilization the Treaty People Gathering because we are all treaty people. Our non-native allies have a responsibility to stand with us against projects like the Line 3 pipeline that put our Anishinaabe lifeways at risk. Today, we’re taking a stand for our right to hunt, fish, and gather, and for the future of the climate,” said Nancy Beaulieau, Northern Minnesota Organizer with MN350 and co-founder of the Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging (RISE) coalition.

The gathering aims to rekindle the spirit and energy of the 2016 Dakota Access pipeline protests, led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a broad swathe of Native and non-Native allies, where thousands of people gathered in North Dakota for several months in the latter half of 2016.
» Read article             

opening day
‘Which Side Are You On?’: #StopLine3 Protesters Appeal to Biden on Historic Day of Action
“We still have time to save our sacred waters and land—our life sources,” said Indigenous organizer Dawn Goodwin.
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
June 7, 2021

In what organizers are calling the largest-ever demonstration of its kind in Minnesota history, more than 2,000 Indigenous-led water protectors on Monday continued nonviolent, direct action protests against the planned replacement and expansion of Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

Stop Line 3 campaigners said over 1,000 water protectors marched with Indigenous leaders to the headwaters of the Mississippi River on the third day of the Treaty People Gathering—which organizers billed as “the beginning of a summer of resistance”—to participate in a treaty ceremony at a proposed Line 3 crossing site.

The $9 billion pipeline project—which if completed will carry up to 750,000 barrels of crude tar sands oil, the world’s dirtiest fuel, from Alberta to the port of Superior, Wisconsin—is slated to traverse Anishinaabe treaty land without tribal consent. The proposed pipeline route crosses more than 200 bodies of water and 800 wetlands, raising serious concerns not only about the project’s impact on the climate emergency, but also about leaks and other accidents opponents say are all but inevitable.

South of the Mississippi headwaters gathering, over 500 activists in coordination and solidarity with the Indigenous women and two-spirit-led Giniw Collective shut down a Line 3 pumping station at Two Inlets, northwest of Park Rapids, with some demonstrators locking themselves to construction equipment.

A low-flying helicopter protesters said belongs to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security kicked up a large dust cloud in an apparent effort to intimidate and disperse activists from the pump station protest site. Water protectors continued their resistance even as police clad in riot gear arrived at the station and reportedly began arresting demonstrators later in the afternoon.
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

seawater mining
Scientists Find Cheap And Easy Way To Extract Lithium From Seawater
By MINING.com, in Oil Price
June 7, 2021

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology developed what they believe is an economically viable system to extract high-purity lithium from seawater.

Previous efforts to tease lithium from the mixture the metal makes together with sodium, magnesium and potassium in seawater yielded very little. Although the liquid contains 5,000 times more lithium than what can be found on land, it is present at extremely low concentrations of about 0.2 parts per million (ppm).

To address this issue, the team led by Zhiping Lai tried a method that had never been used before to extract lithium ions. They employed an electrochemical cell containing a ceramic membrane made from lithium lanthanum titanium oxide (LLTO).

In a paper published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, the researchers explain that the membrane’s crystal structure contains holes just wide enough to let lithium ions pass through while blocking larger metal ions.

The cell itself, on the other hand, contains three compartments. Seawater flows into a central feed chamber, where positive lithium ions pass through the LLTO membrane into a side compartment that contains a buffer solution and a copper cathode coated with platinum and ruthenium. At the same time, negative ions exit the feed chamber through a standard anion exchange membrane, passing into a third compartment containing a sodium chloride solution and a platinum-ruthenium anode.

Lai and his group tested the system using seawater from the Red Sea. At a voltage of 3.25V, the cell generates hydrogen gas at the cathode and chlorine gas at the anode. This drives the transport of lithium through the LLTO membrane, where it accumulates in the side-chamber. This lithium-enriched water then becomes the feedstock for four more cycles of processing, eventually reaching a concentration of more than 9,000 ppm.

According to the researchers, the cell will probably need $5 of electricity to extract 1 kilogram of lithium from seawater. This means that the value of hydrogen and chlorine produced by the cell would end up offsetting the cost of power, and residual seawater could also be used in desalination plants to provide fresh water.
» Read article            
» Read the research paper

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

plumeGlobal carbon dioxide levels continued to rise despite pandemic
Emissions rose to 419 parts per million in May, the highest such measurement in the 63 years that the data has been recorded
By Katharine Gammon, The Guardian
June 8, 2021

The data is in: carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere hit 419 parts per million in May. The levels have now reached the dangerous milestone of being 50% higher than when the industrial age began – and the average rate of increase is faster than ever.

The figure is the highest measurement of the crucial greenhouse gas in the 63 years that data has been recorded at the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii – despite slowdowns in air travel and industry during a global pandemic in the past year.

The 10-year average rate of increase also set a record, now up to 2.4 parts per million per year.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the reason is complex. Global emissions fell by 6.4% in 2020, but given the seasonal and natural variability, modest decreases wouldn’t make a big impact on the global tally of carbon emissions. And even as emissions dropped, wildfires burning through trees released carbon dioxide – maybe even at a similar rate as the modest lowering of emissions from the pandemic’s slowing impact on the global economy.

“The ultimate control knob on atmospheric CO2 is fossil-fuel emissions,” geochemist Ralph Keeling, whose father started gathering data at the Mauna Loa site, told Noaa. “But we still have a long way to go to halt the rise, as each year more CO2 piles up in the atmosphere. We ultimately need cuts that are much larger and sustained longer than the Covid-related shutdowns of 2020.”

In order to meet the goals of the Paris climate accords – to keep temperature rise to 1.5C – the United Nations Environment Programme report finds countries need to cut their global emissions by 7.6% every year for the next decade.

“Reaching 50% higher carbon dioxide than pre-industrial is really setting a new benchmark and not in a good way,” said the Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald, who wasn’t part of the research.

“If we want to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we need to work much harder to cut carbon dioxide emissions and right away.”
» Read article             

Akaraolu flare
Wealthy Nations Continue to Finance Natural Gas for Developing Countries, Putting Climate Goals at Risk
Advocates are calling for an end to natural gas development, but some poor nations say doing so would unfairly penalize them and stifle economic growth.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
June 7, 2021

As the world’s governments try to raise their collective climate ambitions, one of the biggest questions is whether developing countries can expand their access to energy and reduce poverty without driving a sharp rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

A new report warns that wealthy nations are still pushing in the wrong direction, by continuing to finance new natural gas infrastructure across the global south. While natural gas once held the promise of serving as a “bridge fuel” to a cleaner future, a growing body of scientific research suggests the fossil fuel will need to be phased out rapidly in coming decades in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The analysis, published Monday by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a climate think tank, looked at spending by multilateral finance groups like the World Bank and government lenders like the United States Export-Import Bank. It found that the groups provided an average of $15.9 billion annually to gas projects in low- and middle-income countries from 2017 through 2019, more than to any other energy source and four times as much as to wind or solar energy.

“What we’re seeing is increasing pressure on developing countries from the global gas industry and from international institutions to expand their production and consumption of natural gas,” said Greg Muttitt, senior policy adviser at the sustainable development institute and the report’s lead author. “We’re concerned about this because it’s quite clear that with how late we are in the climate crisis, we really need to be winding down fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

Muttitt said preliminary data from last year, which covers multilateral lenders only, shows an encouraging trend: For the first time, clean energy received more financing than fossil fuels—four times as much. Still, gas continued to draw billions of dollars in support, even as funding for oil and coal fell.

The report comes as leaders of the wealthy G7 nations prepare to meet this week in the United Kingdom. Last month, the climate and environment ministers from G7 countries issued a joint message committing to “take concrete steps towards an absolute end” this year to international financing of coal-fired power plants that aren’t fitted with technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions. They also said they would phase out support for fossil fuel energy more broadly, but did not set a timeline and allowed exceptions “in limited circumstances.”
» Read article             

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

STAR program MA
Massachusetts group tests new model for solar on affordable housing projects

The Solar Technical Assistance Retrofits will offer financial and technical assistance to community development agencies interested in rooftop solar, with private investors providing the upfront capital
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 11, 2021

A Massachusetts program announced Thursday that it has secured $10 million to invest in up to 3 megawatts of solar projects on affordable housing buildings.

The Solar Technical Assistance Retrofits program, or STAR, will offer financial and technical assistance to community development agencies interested in installing rooftop solar as a way to lower energy costs.

“We believe that affordable housing should have full access to clean energy just like everyone else — it’s an equity issue,” said Emily Jones, senior program officer at the Local Initiatives Support Corp. in Boston, one of the agencies developing the program.

Solar panels offer environmental and financial benefits to housing agencies, including freeing up money to invest elsewhere or pass savings on to residents. Community development groups also generally serve neighborhoods that stand to feel a disproportionate impact from climate change.

However, over the past decade or so, the tight budgets of these nonprofits have meant few new affordable developments have included solar panels. Many, perhaps most, have instead opted for solar-ready construction, with roofs and electrical systems designed to support a hypothetical future solar system.

But once a development is built, new challenges to going solar appear. The buildings are generally operated with very small margins, leaving the agencies with little money to invest in solar installations.

Furthermore, affordable housing agencies generally own multiple buildings, each with its own advantages and obstacles for solar panels. Researching the often complex and technical options and seeking out financing partners can be too much for agency staff that is already stretched thin. Even the seemingly minor detail of freeing up staff to gather the information and complete the paperwork a solar developer needs can become a major stumbling block.

The STAR program, which launched in January, is designed to address this complex set of obstacles in a way other programs have not. Participating organizations receive grants to help them launch the process, in-depth analyses of their solar options from a local solar developer, and access to financing to help them install solar panels, often with no upfront cost.
» Read article             

proceed with cautionThe Department of Energy is trying to make clean hydrogen this generation’s ‘moonshot’
New “Energy Earthshots” initiative aims to make clean hydrogen cheap.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
June 8, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy announced a new “Energy Earthshots” initiative on Monday, evoking the spirit of ambition that put astronauts on the moon in the 1960s. This time, the goal is to accelerate the development of clean energy solutions that will help tackle climate change.

The initiative will focus on bringing down the cost of technologies that will enable the U.S. to achieve a net-zero emissions energy system by 2050, a crucial benchmark for preventing runaway global warming. First up is the “Hydrogen Shot” —  a goal to get the cost of clean hydrogen from $5 per kilogram down to $1 by 2030, or an 80 percent drop.

“Clean hydrogen is a game changer,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “It will help decarbonize high-polluting heavy-duty and industrial sectors, while delivering good-paying clean energy jobs and realizing a net-zero economy by 2050.”

Hydrogen is a flexible fuel that can be used in a range of applications and doesn’t release any greenhouse gases when it’s burned. Today the United States produces about a seventh of the world’s hydrogen, which is primarily used in oil refineries and to produce ammonia for fertilizer. But hydrogen could be key to cutting emissions from some of the hardest-to-decarbonize activities, such as industrial processes, steelmaking, storing clean energy for the power grid, and powering heavy-duty vehicles.

The problem is that today, about 95 percent of all hydrogen is made by reacting steam with natural gas in a process that releases carbon dioxide emissions. The Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Shot initiative aims to scale up methods of producing the fuel cleanly, using renewable electricity, nuclear power, or natural gas or biomass with  carbon capture technology to prevent emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Clean hydrogen production does exist today at a small scale, and is mainly inhibited by cost. But larger projects are underway. A utility in Florida is building a pilot plant to produce hydrogen from excess solar power, and New York-based company Plug Power has announced plans for three new hydrogen production facilities in New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas that will produce the fuel using hydropower and wind energy.
» Blog editor’s note: Green hydrogen does have a place in our energy future, but producing it from natural gas or biomass (even with carbon capture) would be environmentally problematic. So would overuse of this resource – for instance, using it for any applications that could be handled by wind/solar/storage assets. We’ll be watching this topic closely.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

watch time
Watchdogs on alert ahead of climate law implementation
By Colin A. Young, WWLP, Chanel 22 News
June 9, 2021

BOSTON (SHNS) – Seventy-five days ago Wednesday, senators, representatives and administration officials gathered in the State Library to watch Gov. Charlie Baker sign a wide-reaching climate policy law. That means there are just 15 days left before it takes effect, and the lead Senate architect of the law made clear Wednesday he will be watching its implementation closely.

Sen. Michael Barrett spoke as part of the Northeast Clean Energy Council and Alliance for Business Leadership’s annual Massachusetts Clean Energy Day, an event that also featured his House counterpart Rep. Jeff Roy and Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock […].

“I want to emphasize the Senate’s interest in following through with implementation of the 2021 climate act. The Senate as a body has a lot invested here,” Barrett said, adding that even though the law was a result of legislative and executive branch collaboration, “small gaps” remain between how the Senate would like to see the law implemented and the Baker administration’s perspective.

The law Baker signed in March after months of stops and starts commits Massachusetts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, establishes interim emissions goals between now and the middle of the century, adopts energy efficiency standards for appliances, authorizes another 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power and addresses needs in environmental justice communities.

Barrett has taken a watchdog role in the law’s implementation since the governor’s signature was still wet. Minutes after the bill signing, he told the News Service he was concerned that the Baker administration had tried to “evade legislative intent” of the new law. On Wednesday, he pointed specifically to the law’s provision calling for a municipal opt-in net-zero stretch energy code — which was a major point of contention between the Legislature and governor during debate on the bill — as an area of concern.

“The framing, verbally, of the administration’s responsibility here by others in the administration has tended to drop the words ‘net-zero’ out of the conversation, which is really strange because we not only require in statute that there be a definition of net zero building, we also require that there be, and I’m quoting from the statute, ‘net-zero building performance standards’ promulgated by the end of 2022,” he said. The senator added, “So there’s still a difference between legislative intention, which is pretty clear, and what the administration says it intends to do with drafting the net-zero stretch energy code.”

Barrett said the Senate would be “dead serious” about making sure “that the politics within the executive branch, which may include builders and developers, don’t somehow throw us off path.”

“I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I haven’t seen a significant indication really that there’s unambivalent buy-in by the executive at the current time, current company exempted,” he said.

Barrett excluded Woodcock from his criticisms throughout his remarks Wednesday. During his own remarks, Woodcock mentioned that DOER is “moving forward with building code updates, not only with our stretch code but looking at a municipal opt-in that includes a definition of net-zero.”
» Read article             

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

MOPR reform
New England states push for governance changes in ISO-NE, ahead of anticipated MOPR reform
To quell state frustrations, regulators say conversations will have to move beyond reforming the controversial minimum price rule.
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
June 7, 2021

State regulators in the Northeast are cautiously optimistic that the new administration and improved relations with their grid operator will finally place their states — and their region — on a path toward dramatically reducing emissions in the next decade. But much of that progress depends on whether structures within the New England ISO change beyond the reversal of controversial orders in the region, they say.

Almost every state in the ISO New England footprint has an ambitious mandate or goal for clean electricity in the coming decades, requiring large amounts of renewable energy to come onto the power system. But efforts by the grid operator to prevent price suppression in the region, as a result of increasing levels of subsidized resources, led to tensions between the regional operator and state officials in recent years — specifically, rules set under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2018 to reform its capacity auction by splitting it in two. Under the first auction, the minimum offer price rule (MOPR) would apply, effectively raising the bidding price of all state-subsidized resources. The second auction is an attempt to somewhat rectify this by allowing cleared resources to substitute themselves out for newer, state sponsored resources, and get paid for doing so.

Ultimately, this rule, approved in 2018 and known as Competitive Auctions with Sponsored Policy Resources (CASPR), heightened the conflict between states and their regulators, and for a time cemented the MOPR as an appropriate response to concerns over state-subsidized resources. States felt the rules would interfere with the laws binding them to bring on more clean energy, and regulators became increasingly frustrated when faced with regional policies they believed would not allow them to fulfill their statutory duties to implement those laws.

But now, under a new FERC and faced with a wave of political backlash — including some states in the also MOPRed PJM Interconnection threatening to exit the markets altogether, and a letter sent to the ISO in October from five Northeast states demanding changes to the market’s design, planning process and governance — FERC and the grid operators are working to rectify those policies, and give states a more central voice in the discussion.

“The MOPR regimes and Eastern capacity markets have pretty much forced us to get to a situation where we’re at battle, in many cases, with the states — and needlessly so, in my opinion,” said FERC Chair Richard Glick, who consistently opposed the orders when he was a commissioner, during FERC’s second technical conference in May on re-evaluating resource adequacy in the markets.
» Read article             

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Airlander 10
Inside of world’s largest airship revealed in stunning images
By Edd Gent, Live Science
June 8, 2021

New details about one of the world’s largest aircraft, Airlander 10, reveal a spacious cabin with floor-to-ceiling windows (and plenty of legroom) inside the blimp-like exterior. And the futuristic aircraft will be loads better for the environment.

British company Hybrid Air Vehicles recently released concept images of its forthcoming airship, which is 299 feet (91 meters) long and 112 feet (34 m) wide, with the capacity to hold about 100 people. But rather than being crammed in like sardines, passengers will be treated to floor-to-ceiling windows and the kind of space and legroom commercial airlines currently reserve for business-class customers.

The firm thinks the vehicle, which is expected to enter service by 2025, will soon challenge conventional jets on a number of popular short-haul routes, thanks to its improved comfort and 90% lower emissions.

“The number-one benefit is reducing your carbon footprint on a journey by a factor of 10,” Mike Durham, Hybrid Air Vehicles’ chief technical officer, told Live Science. “But also, while you’re going to be in the air a little bit longer than you would if you were on an airplane, the quality of the journey will be so much better.”

The Airlander is so much greener than a passenger plane, Durham said, primarily because it relies on a giant balloon of helium to get it into the air. In contrast, airplanes need to generate considerable forward thrust with their engines before their wings can provide the lift to get them airborne.

Once it’s in the air, the airship relies on four propellers on each corner of the aircraft to push it along. In the first generation, two of these propellers will be powered by kerosene-burning engines, but the other two will be driven by electric motors, further reducing the vehicle’s carbon emissions. By 2030, the company expects to provide a fully electric version of the Airlander.
» Read article             

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

just another frackerExxon is Telling Investors its Permian Fracking Projects are ‘World Class’. The Data Says Otherwise.
A new report finds that the productivity of ExxonMobil’s wells in the Permian basin declined in 2019, raising “troubling questions about the quality” of its assets.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 10, 2021

ExxonMobil’s production numbers in the Permian basin in West Texas and New Mexico appear to have deteriorated in 2019, according to new analysis, calling into question the company’s claims that it is an industry leader and that its operations are steadily becoming more efficient over time.

Chastened by years of poor returns and rising angst among its own shareholders, ExxonMobil narrowed its priorities in 2020 to just a few overarching areas of interest, focusing on its massive offshore oil discoveries in Guyana and its Permian basin assets, two areas positioned as the very core of the company’s growth strategy.

Exxon has long described its Permian holdings as “world class,” and the company prides itself on being an industry leader in both size and profitability.

“For our largest resource, which is in the Delaware Basin, we’re only just about to unleash the hounds,” Neil Chapman, the head of Exxon’s oil and gas division, said at its March 2020 Investor Day conference. The Delaware basin is a subset of the Permian basin, stretching across West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

But while the pandemic and the oil market downturn forced cuts in spending, the company’s belief in the Permian and its assurances about its quality remain unshaken.

This is despite ExxonMobil’s wells in the Permian producing less oil on average in 2019 than they did in 2018, according to a new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). The decline raises “troubling questions about the quality” of those assets, the report states, and the company’s “ability to sustain the industry-leading production that the company has been touting to investors.”

IEEFA used data from IHS Markit, an industry analysis firm, the same data that Exxon itself uses in its presentation to investors. The data show that Exxon’s average first-year production per well in the Delaware portion of the Permian basin fell from 635 barrels per day in 2018 to 521 barrels per day in 2019. The slip in performance came as the company drilled twice as many wells over that timeframe.

“[A]s ExxonMobil drilled more Delaware Basin wells, the performance of its wells deteriorated year-over-year, both absolutely and in comparison with peers,” IEEFA analysts Clark Williams-Derry and Tom Sanzillo wrote in their report. Data for 2020 is not complete, but so far, the numbers suggest a further deterioration.
» Read article            
» Read the IEEFA report

Permian Basin flare
Cleaning Up Methane Pollution From Permian Super Emitters is ‘Low Hanging Fruit’ for the Climate, Study Finds
Experts shine a spotlight on the worst offenders in the Permian basin. The technological fixes are obvious, they say, but state regulators are so far unwilling to act.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 4, 2021

Only a handful of super emitters are responsible for an enormous amount of the methane pollution in the Permian basin, according to a new study. And ratcheting down these emissions can lead to quick and significant wins for the climate.

According to the study published on June 2 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, a relatively small number of sites — 11 percent — account for nearly a third of methane emissions in the region. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas — more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time-frame.

Between September and November 2019, a team of scientists from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University, conducted aerial flights over the Permian basin, using sensors to detect methane plumes, tracing them back to specific emitters. The researchers found that roughly half of all the methane was escaping from drilling sites, and the other half from pipelines and processing facilities, indicating a slightly larger pollution footprint for pipelines compared to other regions.

The findings come at the same time as a separate study from Ceres and Clean Air Task Force, published on June 1, which found that some smaller oil drillers in the Permian basin have worse methane pollution rates than the largest oil and gas companies’ operations there, including ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Slashing methane emissions represents prime targets for climate action. But while the solutions are well-known, researchers and legal experts told DeSmog that state regulators have done very little to compel the industry to clean up.
» Read article            
» Read the study

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Societe GeneraleCanada’s Pieridae Energy hires MUFG as SocGen exits over emissions worries
By Sabrina Valle and Simon Jessop, Reuters
May 28, 2021

RIO DE JANEIRO/LONDON (Reuters) – Canada’s Pieridae Energy Ltd has hired Japanese lender MUFG Bank to help raise $10 billion for its proposed Goldboro liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plant in Nova Scotia, it told Reuters on Thursday.

The decision to hire a new banker came after Societe Generale SA, its previous financial advisor, committed to phasing out of new shale financing on environmental grounds.

Societe Generale confirmed it had stopped providing support to both Goldboro and a separate project, Quebec LNG, to limit exposure to shale oil and gas production in North America by 2023.

Historically a backer of LNG projects, SocGen’s departure further reduces investment options for a dozen North American LNG projects still requiring financing. Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC also have tightened restrictions on lending for high-carbon energy projects.
» Blog editor’s note: Pieridae plans to develop the Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia – a potential destination for fracked gas traveling through the controversial Weymouth compressor station. A year ago, their engineering contractor KBR quit the project to clean up its environmental portfolio. Their financial advisor just did the same thing.
» Read article        

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

biomass facts for VicBiomass is false solution to climate change
Recent state decisions are a step in right direction
By Philip Duffy and Alexander Rabin, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
May 14, 2021
Dr. Philip Duffy is president and executive director of Woodwell Climate Research Center in Woods Hole and Dr. Alexander Rabin is assistant professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine specializing in pulmonary and critical care medicine.

FOR TOO LONG, burning wood has been wrongly considered “clean” energy, when in fact it is bad for both the climate and human health. With two recent decisions, Massachusetts seems poised to reverse direction on this false solution and prioritize healthier communities and a safer climate. While these are steps in the right direction, they are only the first of what is needed, and the Commonwealth has an opportunity to lead.

Springfield is the nation’s “asthma capital,” where residents face some of the highest rates of respiratory illness in the country as a result of decades of environmental hazards and heightened levels of air pollution. Springfield is also an environmental justice community, whose residents have spent 12 years fighting construction of a biomass plant proposed in their backyard. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection recently revoked the developer’s Air Plan Approval, citing “the heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution” in the nine years since the permit was first approved.

This decision and a new proposal from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to strengthen the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard are welcome recognition that the health and well-being of the community and the environment are inextricably linked.

While these are huge steps in the right direction for Springfield, as well as for other environmental justice communities, in Massachusetts and many other states burning wood to generate electricity is currently considered “renewable” and eligible for incentives under the states’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, a policy that is intended to drive adoption of “clean” energy. But biomass is a false solution that serves neither our climate nor our communities.

For humanity to have a viable future, climate and public health policies must be based on science, not industry messaging. And the science is clear: to have a chance of an acceptable future, we need to immediately and drastically reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere, and also remove a massive amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. Burning our forests is incompatible with both of those goals and harmful to our health.
» Read article            

IEA roadmap on bioenergy
The IEA’s New Net Zero ‘Roadmap’ is Dangerously Reliant on Destructive Bioenergy
The influential agency is also wildly overestimating the amount of bioenergy currently in production, argues Biofuelwatch’s Almuth Ernsting.
By Almuth Ernsting, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
June 1, 2021
Almuth Ernsting is Co-director of Biofuelwatch and Regional Focal Point for the Global Forest Coalition in Europe and North America.

The International Energy Agency’s new “Net Zero by 2050” report has won plaudits for its bold recommendations on how the world can limit warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement:  no investment in new fossil fuel projects, and an end to petrol and diesel cars by 2035.

But the vision it presents governments is fantastic in another sense of the word, too.

From 2030 onwards, the IEA sees technologies that don’t yet work at scale doing much of the heavy lifting. In reality, annual carbon dioxide emissions reliably mirror the state of countries’ economies, dipping only during recessions.

As for the not-yet-proven technologies, I can think of no better reply than Greta Thunberg’s tweet slamming US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry for his recent remark that half of emissions cuts would need to come from technologies we don’t currently possess: “Great news! I spoke to Harry Potter and he said he will team up with Gandalf, Sherlock Holmes & The Avengers and get started right away!”

The IEA is made up of thirty member states and eight associated countries, comprising most of the world’s economic power. Its reports both reflect and shape the prevailing paradigm for how governments respond to the climate crisis.

In this light, one of the most pernicious elements of the IEA’s net-zero scenario is the future role it foresees for bioenergy.

This bioenergy “vision” has been rightly criticised as a “false solution” by environmental NGOs. Converting land to biofuel production can have a disastrous impact on both the climate and biodiversity. Palm oil biofuels are linked to three times the carbon emissions of the fossil fuels they replace, and soy biofuels have twice the emissions footprint. Meanwhile, industrial crop and tree plantations are associated with widespread land-grabbing, human rights abuses, and loss of access to food.

So there are numerous drawbacks to the IEA’s supposedly modest bioenergy scenario, which by our estimates would involve a more than four-fold increase in land used for crop and tree plantations, as well as a growing reliance on forest wood. This would worsen climate change and biodiversity loss and lead to a new wave of land-grabbing likely accompanied by human rights abuses and loss of food sovereignty in the Global South.
» Read article             

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND ENVIRONMENT

ocean bound plastic
Ocean Plastic: What You Need to Know
By Audrey Nakagawa, EcoWatch
June 8, 2021

Ocean bound plastic is plastic waste that is headed toward our oceans. The term “ocean bound plastic” was popularized by Jenna Jambeck, Ph.D., a professor from the University of Georgia. In 2015, she and a team of researchers estimated the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean from land.

Addressing ocean bound plastic is a key element to ocean conservation. Around 80% of plastic in the ocean can be sourced back to ocean bound plastic. Plastics that end up near bodies of water such as rivers are at risk of ending up in the ocean. Other plastic can reach the sea through sewage systems or storms. For example, in 2011, after the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami and earthquake hit Japan, around 5 million tons of debris ended up in the ocean. Some of the debris sank while some ended up on the U.S. west coast. Additionally, trash and plastic can come from ships or offshore platforms. However, decades ago, countries dumped their waste directly into the sea. In the U.S. this was outlawed in 1988 in the Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988.

Plastic waste is a huge threat to our Earth, and diverting ocean bound plastic is one way we can do better to help the environment.

Each year, despite conservation efforts, 8 million tons of plastic reaches our oceans to meet the 150 million metric tons of plastic that already exists in marine environments. According to the Smithsonian, as of 2016, we produce around 335 million metric tons of plastic each year. Half of this plastic is single-use. Of the plastic we use globally, only around 9% of it gets properly recycled.

To create a mental picture of just how much plastic ends up in our oceans, imagine a garbage truck the size of New York City depositing its garbage into the ocean every minute of every day for a whole year. If this doesn’t frighten you enough, the amount of plastic that will be produced and consumed is supposed to double over the course of the next ten years. If nothing is done to address plastic consumption, and the aftermath, there could be over 250 million metric tons of plastic in our oceans in ten years.

Even if you don’t live on a coast, the plastic you throw away can still end up in the ocean. According to the World Wildlife Fund, plastic ends up in the ocean when it’s thrown away instead of recycled, when it’s littered on land, and when products we use are flushed down the drain or toilet. Additionally, cosmetic or cleaning products that contain parabens or microplastic beads can be washed into the ocean.
» Read article             

plastic debris
Who’s Making — and Funding — the World’s Plastic Trash?
ExxonMobil, Dow, Barclays, and more top lists in a new report ranking the companies behind the single-use plastic crisis.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
May 18, 2021

ExxonMobil is the world’s single largest producer of single-use plastics, according to a new report published today by the Australia-based Minderoo Foundation, one of Asia’s biggest philanthropies.

The Dow Chemical Company ranks second, the report finds, with the Chinese state-owned company Sinopec coming in third. Indorama Ventures — a Thai company that entered the plastics market in 1995 — and Saudi Aramco, owned by the Saudi Arabian government, round out the top five.

Funding for single-use plastic production comes from major banks and from institutional asset managers. The UK-based Barclays and HSBC, and Bank of America are the top three lenders to single-use plastic projects, the new report finds. All three of the most heavily invested asset managers named by the report — Vanguard Group, BlackRock, and Capital Group — are U.S.-based.

“This is the first-time the financial and material flows of single-use plastic production have been mapped globally and traced back to their source,” said Toby Gardner, a Stockholm Environment Institute senior research fellow, who contributed to the report, titled The Plastic Waste Makers Index.

The report is also the first to rank companies by their contributions to the single-use plastic crisis, listing the corporations and other financiers it says are most responsible for plastic pollution — with major implications for climate change.

“The trajectories of the climate crisis and the plastic waste crisis are strikingly similar and increasingly intertwined,” Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president, wrote in the report’s foreword. “Tracing the root causes of the plastic waste crisis empowers us to help solve it.”

The world of plastic production is concentrated in fewer hands than the world of plastic packaging, the report’s authors found. The top twenty brands in the plastic packaging world — think Coca Cola or Pepsi, for example — handle about 10 percent of global plastic waste, report author Dominic Charles told DeSmog. In contrast, the top 20 producers of plastic polymers — the building blocks of plastics — handle over half of the waste generated.

“Which I think was really quite staggering,” Charles, director of Finance & Transparency at Minderoo Foundation’s Sea The Future program, told DeSmog. “It means that just a handful of companies really do have the fate of the world’s single-use plastic waste in their hands.”
» Read article             

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 6/4/21

banner 09

Welcome back.

Plans for a new peaking power plant in Peabody are on hold while the developer and stakeholders explore the feasibility of greener alternatives. Pressure is building to make this exploration more public.

We have recently noticed a development in gas industry messaging – applied both to the Peabody peaker and Weymouth compressor station – that these facilities actually reduce overall fossil fuel consumption because they backstop intermittent energy sources like solar and wind. According to this narrative, readily availability gas-generated power allows the rapid and extensive integration of clean energy onto the grid. That’s true, but we now have reliable, non-emitting alternatives that accomplish the same result, often at lower cost.

So we consider this nothing more than pro-gas propaganda, and suspect that the consistency of the messaging results from gas industry coordination. Expect to see more of it. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) just released its flagship report stating that the climate can’t handle any new fossil fuel infrastructure. It is unequivocal – stop now. Not “soon”, and not once we’ve crossed some fantastical, conceptual “bridge”.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) just published a report describing this clean energy transition in great detail. The report places much higher importance on the development of demand side flexibility in conjunction with battery storage, in preference to the current model that underpins capacity with fossil fuel generation.

That overview sets the stage for a lot of recent news. In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities failed to get approval to build its Granite Bridge pipeline, and is now seeking other ways to increase sales of natural gas. Protests and actions continue worldwide, pushing back against continued efforts to add fossil fuel infrastructure. This includes risky activism in Uganda in opposition to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, and a big win as a Dutch court told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned. In related developments, a new financial disclosure rule in Switzerland requires large Swiss banks and insurance companies to disclose risks associated with climate change.

This all follows a very bad couple of weeks for the fossil fuel industry, when a combination of court rulings and climate-centered investors generated multiple “End of Oil” headlines. One exception is the Biden administration’s unfortunate approval of a major new Alaska oil drilling project. Contending for a new benchmark in the “absurd” category, ConocoPhillips will install chillers in the soggy permafrost which otherwise is too melty to support drilling rigs. That permafrost, of course, is melting because we have already burned too much fossil fuel and warmed the planet to dangerous levels. The chillers will re-freeze enough of that ground to allow the extraction, transport, and combustion of lots of oil for thirty more years.

Our Greening the Economy, Energy Storage, and Clean Transportation sections are all related this week. They grapple with environmental issues surrounding lithium – the primary component in electric vehicle and most grid-scale storage batteries. Articles explore greener sources and alternative technologies that could reduce the impact. We also launched a new section, Modernizing the Grid, to cover what promises to be a critical and complex project.

Wrapping up, we offer an opinion on how to eliminate recently approved rail transportation of liquefied natural gas, along with a view from North Carolina of the biomass pellet industry’s toll on health and the environment.

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

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

exploring batteries
Could batteries replace a proposed peaker plant in Massachusetts?   

As a municipal power supplier pauses plans to build a natural gas peaker plant, advocates are urging its backers to consider battery storage instead, but questions remain about whether it’s practical for the site.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 2, 2021

Environmental activists and local residents in Massachusetts are urging the group behind a planned natural gas power plant to consider whether battery storage could do the job with fewer climate concerns. 

“It’s six years since this project was proposed,” said Susan Smoller, a resident of Peabody, where the plant would be sited. “We have different alternatives available to us now and we should at least talk about it before we commit.”

The organization developing the plant announced last month that it will pause its plans for at least 30 days to address community concerns and reevaluate possible alternatives, but some involved are still skeptical that storage could be a viable solution. 

The proposed plant is a project of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), a nonprofit that helps municipal utilities procure power supply and advocates for their interests. The 55-megawatt facility would be a so-called “peaker plant,” intended to run only at times of peak demand, estimated at no more than 250 hours per year.

Opponents of the plant are concerned about the additional greenhouse gas emissions as well as the potential for ground-level pollution in an area that is already exposed to high levels of ozone. They also worry that laws and regulations will make the burning of fossil fuels obsolete, leaving consumers on the hook for an $85 million plant that isn’t even used. 

“I don’t want to be paying for an outmoded dirty peaker plant 25 years from now when it’s not even legal to run them,” Smoller said. 

Resistance to the proposed plant has picked up in recent months, as stakeholders have learned more about the plan and started speaking up. In May, a group of 87 health care professionals sent MMWEC a letter opposing the plan. 

In the face of this growing opposition, MMWEC decided to take what it called the “unusual step” of putting a hold on its plans to take “another look at whether advancements in technology make a different approach possible today.” 

Experts say that, in general, battery storage is a viable alternative for plants that only run when demand is highest. Batteries could charge up during times of lower demand, when the power supply is generally from cleaner sources, and then discharge at times of high demand, displacing the energy from peaker plants, which is generally dirtier and more expensive. A study by nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy found that two-thirds of Massachusetts peaker plants burn primarily oil, a high-emissions fuel. 

As more renewable energy is added to the grid, the power charging the batteries will get yet cleaner, amplifying the impact.

“It’s not a matter of, ‘Can it do it?’ It’s doing it,” said Jason Burwen, interim chief executive of the Energy Storage Association. “The question is the specifics.”
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants               

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no compressor stationThe Weymouth Compressor Station
By Joseph Winters, The Harvard Political Review
May 24, 2021

On Oct. 1, 2020, residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, gathered on the Fore River Bridge for a socially-distanced rally. Wearing masks and waving hand-drawn posters, they were protesting a natural gas compressor station that had been built in their community by the Canadian oil company Enbridge.

“Shut it down!” their signs read. “Stop Enbridge. Enough is enough.”

It was supposed to be day one of the compressor station’s operation. Despite six years of fierce opposition from community groups, elected officials, and environmental organizations, Enbridge had finally secured the suite of permits necessary to build and operate a natural gas compressor station — a facility needed to keep gas flowing north through the company’s pipelines — in the town of Weymouth, just a few miles south of Boston.

But things had not gone according to plan. Earlier that month, on Sept. 11, a system failure had forced workers to vent 169,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas and 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds from the compressor station, releasing it into the surrounding community. Some of those compounds included toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, damage to the liver and central nervous system, and more. 

Then, on the morning of Sept. 30, just one day before the compressor station was scheduled to begin operating, a roaring sound emanated from the facility, signaling another “unplanned release” of natural gas — a mechanical failure that automatically triggered the compressor station’s emergency shutdown system and vented more gas into the neighborhood.

Rep. Stephen Lynch alerted residents of the September 30 shutdown later that day. “These accidents endangered the lives of local residents,” he said in a tweet, “and are indicative of a much larger threat that the Weymouth Compressor Station poses to Weymouth, Quincy, Abington, and Braintree residents.”

Within hours, a federal agency issued a stay on the compressor’s operation until a safety investigation could be completed. 

So on Oct. 1, as the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) gathered on the Fore River Bridge, the compressor station had already been shut down — albeit temporarily. They continued with the demonstration anyway, folding the station’s system failures into their suite of objections to the project, alongside issues of safety, pollution, and environmental justice.

“2 system failures in one month!” one demonstrator’s sign read. “What the FRRACS is going on?”

Besides the long-term health consequences of industrial pollution, FRRACS and its allies have argued that the compressor station imposes an unacceptable risk of disaster onto the community. “They’re trying to plant a bomb in our neighborhood,” one resident said at a public hearing before the station was built.

The possibility of a catastrophic accident is neither negligible nor unprecedented. Most significantly, compressor malfunctions can cause highly flammable natural gas — including significant amounts of methane — to accumulate inside the facilities, raising the risk of a massive fire or explosion. That exact scenario unfolded in December 2020 when a Morris Township, Pennsylvania, compressor station caught fire, burning for more than two hours and causing a temporary evacuation.

Over the past few years, similar explosions have rocked Armada Township, Michigan; West Union, West Virginia; and Ward County, Texas, where a particularly bad explosion in 2018 claimed a man’s life. One report compiled for New York reported 11 more recent accidents at compressor stations across the country, from Utah to New Jersey.

The natural gas pipelines feeding into the compressor station may pose an even scarier safety threat. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), pipelines have caused more than 11,000 accidents since 1996, leading to more than $6 billion in damages and killing nearly 400 people.
» Read article            

force majeureWeymouth Compressor Shuts Down Again — For Fourth Time In Less Than A Year
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
May 21, 2021


The Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station is shut down for the fourth time since it began operating last year.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the company that owns and operates the compressor, said in a statement that the company is “performing maintenance work” and anticipates “safely returning the compressor station to service shortly.” He said the maintenance work was “on a piece of equipment which helps reduce compressor unit emissions”, but he did not say whether it was planned in advance.

On Thursday night, Enbridge posted a notice that the compressor station had “experienced an outage” and in a separate notice declared a “force majeure.” Loosely translated as an “act of God,” a force majeure usually means the shutdown occurred for reasons out of the company’s control.

“It is standard practice to declare a Force Majeure when a compressor station becomes unavailable for service,” the spokesperson said in an email. “In this case, we identified maintenance work to be performed and notified our customers that the Weymouth Compressor Station would be unavailable while the work was performed.”

However, Katy Eiseman, a lawyer and president of the advocacy group The Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast says “routine maintenance is not what I think of as a justifiable reason to claim force majeure,” though she says she’d have to review Enbridge’s customer contracts to be sure.

James Coleman, an energy law professor at Southern Methodist University agrees, noting that “a force majeure usually has to be something [that is not] within the control of the provider.”

State law requires Enbridge to report any gas releases that exceed 10,000 standard cubic feet. According to Enbridge, “there was minimal venting … well below reporting requirements” associated with this latest shutdown.

But for Sen. Ed Markey, a long-time opponent of the compressor station, this most recent shutdown is a cause for concern.

“Whether an act of God or a failure of man, the Weymouth Compressor Station’s fourth shutdown in a matter of months is a sign that it should not be operating now or ever,” the senator said in a statement. “It’s dangerous, unnecessary, and a clear and present threat to public safety.”

Markey said he’s asked the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to look into this most recent outage at the compressor.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

new Liberty
Liberty Utilities angles for 20-year natural gas contract
By Amanda Gokee, SentinalSource
May 17, 2021

Last year, Liberty Utilities withdrew what had turned into a very contentious proposal to construct a large, expensive pipeline called the Granite Bridge Project. Critics said it was too big, too expensive, and that it would harm the environment. It led to protests and drew fierce opposition from climate-change activists who oppose building new fossil fuel infrastructure.

In the wake of that failed proposal, Liberty has put forward another project that is now being considered by the Public Utilities Commission — a 20-year agreement to increase its natural gas capacity in the state by about 20 to 25 percent through a purchase agreement with Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The company says it needs to increase its capacity in order to meet customer demand. The new proposal was put forward in January, and it has been proceeding quietly ever since, with none of the dramatic opposition that Granite Bridge garnered. But some environmental advocates still oppose the 20-year contract as an unacceptable option in the face of climate change.

“This is a major step in the wrong direction,” said Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. The foundation is one of the parties involved in the docket at the utilities commission.
» Read article               

» More about the Granite Bridge pipeline project       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Stop EACOP
Despite Risks, Climate Activists Lead Fight Against Oil Giant’s Drilling Projects in Uganda
“We cannot drink oil. This is why we cannot accept the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
May 28, 2021

Climate campaigners in Africa and around the world on Friday continued demonstrations against Total, with activists accusing the French oil giant of ecocide, human rights violations, and greenwashing in connection with fossil fuel projects in Uganda. 

On the 145th week of Fridays for Future climate strike protests, members of the movement in Uganda global allies drew attention to the harmful effects of fossil fuel development on the environment, ecosystems, communities, and livelihoods. 

Friday’s actions followed protests at Total petrol stations in Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, and Uganda on Tuesday—celebrated each year as Africa Day—against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), now under construction, and the Mozambique Liquefied Natural Gas project.

“Total’s fossil fuel developments pose grave risks to protected environments, water sources, and wetlands in the Great Lakes and East Africa regions,” said Andre Moliro, an activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during Tuesday’s pan-African protests.

“Communities have been raising concerns on the impact of oil extraction on Lake Albert fisheries and the disastrous consequences of an oil spill in Lake Victoria, that would affect millions of people that rely on the two lakes for their livelihoods, watersheds for drinking water, and food production,” he added.
» Read article               

celebration at The Hague
‘Historic victory’: court tells Shell to slash emissions on Big Oil’s day of climate pain
Group to appeal verdict in Dutch court that activists claim has major implications as trio of supermajors face emissions scrutiny
By Andrew Lee, Recharge News
May 26, 2021

A court in the Netherlands on Wednesday told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned, in what climate activists claimed as a landmark ruling with implications for fossil fuel groups globally.

The Shell ruling came on a turbulent day for the world’s oil giants, with fellow supermajors ExxonMobil and Chevron also under pressure over their decarbonisation plans.

A Dutch judge ordered Shell to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 against 2019 levels, after hearing a case brought by Friends of the Earth and other groups, plus 17,000 Netherlands citizens.

The Anglo-Dutch group has so far committed to a carbon intensity reduction of its products of 20% by 2030 and 45% by 2035, compared to 2016 levels, as part of a 2050 net zero push.

But the court said those goals were “insufficiently concrete and full of conditions” as it ordered the far tougher action it said would bring the ambitions into line with the Paris climate agreement.

Although the judgment is open to appeal – which Shell indicated it would – Friends of the Earth labelled it a “historic victory” for climate action that has “enormous consequences for Shell and other big polluters globally” and should embolden other campaigners elsewhere.

Rachel Kennerley, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland said: “This ruling confirms what we already knew, that global polluters cannot continue their devastating operations because the costs are too high, and they have been that way for too long.

“Today an historic line has been drawn, no more spin, no more greenwashing, big oil is over. The future is in clean renewables.”

The International Energy Agency earlier in May recommended that no more new fossil project investments should be made in order to keep the world on a path to net zero.

Analysts were divided over the implications of the Shell judgment for the global fossil sector.

Liz Hypes, senior environment and climate change analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk and strategic consulting firm, believes the judgement could pave the way for legal action against energy companies.

“This case could mean open-season on heavy-emitters in the oil and gas industry, and it is not a stretch to envisage activists – or even unhappy investors – bringing similar cases against others in the industry and, potentially, their financial backers.

“While cases like this have to date been largely limited to the US and Europe, we’ve seen a rising trend outside of these countries of climate lawsuits ruling in the claimants’ favour.”

Hypes added: “What this signifies to investors and climate activists is that taking companies to court is an increasingly successful means of triggering climate action and, because of this, the number of climate cases faces carbon-heavy corporates will grow. It shows that the risks of inaction – or of what consumers, investors and the public see as ‘not enough’ action – is mounting.”

“It’s no longer a brand image issue for companies – they are facing genuine legal risks from which the repercussions may be significant and it’s triggering a real discussion about what is their fiduciary duty during the climate crisis.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions                

 

DIVESTMENT

finma
Swiss watchdog FINMA requires banks, insurers to disclose climate risks
By Reuters
May 31, 2021

ZURICH (Reuters) -Large Swiss banks and insurance companies will have to provide qualitative and quantitative information about risks they face from climate change, Swiss financial watchdog FINMA said on Monday as it released an amended publication here on disclosure.

FINMA’s updated circular on the new obligations, to take effect on July 1, follows similar moves by the European Central Bank, which last year announced plans to ask lenders in the 19-country currency union to disclose their climate-related risks.

The Swiss watchdog said it is fulfilling its strategic goal of contributing to sustainable development of the Swiss financial centre, by laying out how it will supervise banks and insurers on climate-related financial risk.

FINMA said it crafted the disclosure requirement after talking with industry representatives, academics, NGOs and the federal government last year. The watchdog has previously said the risks such as natural catastrophes are substantial for the sector and merited new disclosure standards.

“Banks and insurance companies are required to inform the public adequately about their risks,” FINMA said in a statement. “These also include the consequences of climate change, which could pose significant financial risks for financial institutions in the longer term.”

Credit Suisse has been in the crosshairs of climate activists, including protesters who blocked access to its Zurich headquarters over complaints of its financing of fossil fuel-related projects. Reinsurer Swiss Re said in April the global economy could lose nearly a fifth of economic output by 2050 should the world fail to check climate change.
» Read article               

» More about divestment                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

cleaning up
The plan to turn coal country into a rare earth powerhouse
With plans for a Made-in-America renewable energy transformation, Biden administration ramps up efforts to extract rare earth minerals from coal waste.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
May 26, 2021

At an abandoned coal mine just outside the city of Gillette, Wyoming, construction crews are getting ready to break ground on a 10,000-square-foot building that will house state-of-the-art laboratories and manufacturing plants. Among the projects at the facility, known as the Wyoming Innovation Center, will be a pilot plant that aims to takes coal ash — the sooty, toxic waste left behind after coal is burned for energy — and use it to extract rare earths, elements that play an essential role in everything from cell phones and LED screens to wind turbines and electric cars. 

The pilot plant in Wyoming is a critical pillar of an emerging effort led by the Department of Energy, or DOE, to convert the toxic legacy of coal mining in the United States into something of value. Similar pilot plants and research projects are also underway in states including West Virginia, North Dakota, Utah, and Kentucky. If these projects are successful, the Biden administration hopes that places like Gillette will go from being the powerhouses of the fossil fuel era to the foundation of a new domestic supply chain that will build tomorrow’s energy systems.

In an April report on revitalizing fossil fuel communities, administration officials wrote that coal country is “well-positioned” to become a leader in harvesting critical materials from the waste left behind by coal mining and coal power generation. Several days later, the DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 different research groups that plan to assess exactly how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, as well as explore ways to extract it. 

“We have these resources that are otherwise a problem,” said Sarma Pisupati, the director of the Center for Critical Minerals at Penn State University and one of the grant recipients. “We can use those resources to extract valuable minerals for our independence.”

Those minerals would come at a critical moment. The rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium, in particular, are essential to the powerful magnets used in offshore wind turbines and electric vehicle motors. A recent report by the International Energy Agency projected that by 2040, the clean energy sector’s demand for these minerals could be three to seven times greater than it is today.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

IEA gets on board
IT’S THE END OF OIL: Blockbuster IEA Report Urges No New Fossil Development
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
May 19, 2021

No new investment in oil, gas, or coal development, a massive increase in renewable energy adoption, speedy global phaseouts for new natural gas boilers and internal combustion vehicles, and a sharp focus on short-term action are key elements of a blockbuster Net Zero by 2050 report released Tuesday morning by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The more than 400 sectoral and technological targets in the report would be big news from any source. They’re particularly significant from the IEA, an agency that has received scathing criticism in the past for overstating the future importance of fossil fuels, consistently underestimating the uptake of renewable energy, and failing to align its “gold standard” energy projections with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. For years, the agency’s projections have been used to justify hundreds of billions of dollars in high-carbon investments, allowing multinational fossil companies to sustain the fantasy that demand for their product will increase through 2040 or beyond.

“Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required,” the IEA writes. “The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net-zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output—and emissions reductions—from the operation of existing assets.”

“It’s not a model result,” analyst Dave Jones of the clean energy think tank Ember told Bloomberg Green. “It’s a call to action.”

“Big Oil and Gas has just lost a very powerful shield!” wrote Oil Change International Senior Campaigner David Tong.

By 2040, the IEA sees all coal- and oil-fired power plants phased out unless their emissions are abated by some form of carbon capture. Between 2020 and 2050, oil demand falls 75%, to 24 million barrels per day, gas demand falls 55%, and remaining oil production becomes “increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers.” OPEC nations provide 52% of a “much-reduced global oil supply” in 2050 and see their per capita income from fossil production decline 75% by the 2030s.

“This is a huge shift from the IEA and highly consequential, given its scenarios are seen as a guide to the future, steering trillions of dollars in energy investment,” Kelly Trout, interim director of Oil Change’s energy transitions and futures program, wrote in an email. “Oil and gas companies, investors, and IEA member states that have been using IEA scenarios to justify their choices and also say they’re committed to 1.5°C are in a tight spot. Will they follow the IEA’s guidance and stop licencing or financing new fossil fuel extraction, or be exposed as hypocrites?”
» Read article            
» Read the IEA report                 

» More about climate              

 

CLEAN ENERGY

electrification futures study
Inside Clean Energy: Yes, We Can Electrify Almost Everything. Here’s What That Looks Like.
National lab wraps up groundbreaking project on electrifying the economy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
June 3, 2021

Many scenarios for averting the worst effects of climate change involve electrifying just about everything that now runs on fossil fuels, and shifting to an electricity system that runs mostly on wind and solar.

Can this be done reliably and with existing technologies?

Yes.

That’s one of the main findings of the Electrification Futures Study, an ambitious project of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that started four years ago and has now issued its final report.

The transformation to a highly electrified economy is an opportunity for consumers and businesses because of the potential for cost-savings and for developing and selling new generations of products, said Ella Zhou, a senior modeling engineer at NREL and a co-author of the report.

“This offers useful information literally for everyone, because electricity touches all of our lives,” she said.

In a sign of changing times and shifting control in Washington, the report’s introduction mentions “decarbonization” and “climate change mitigation” in its first sentence, something that would have been almost unthinkable from a national laboratory during the Trump administration. 

Zhou didn’t comment about the partisan shift, but she did note how much the conversation about the transition to clean energy had changed since the project started in 2017. The idea of electrifying the economy is much closer to the mainstream now than it was then, she said, as is the broad understanding that a shift to renewable energy can save money, compared to using fossil fuels.
» Read article            
» Read NREL’s final report, Electrification Futures Study                  

where it goes
Where Wind and Solar Power Need to Grow for America to Meet Its Goals
By Veronica Penney, New York Times
May 28, 2021

President Biden has promised to sharply reduce America’s planet-warming carbon emissions, which means changes to the country’s energy system may reshape landscapes and coastlines around the country. 

The United States is now aiming to bring emissions down to net-zero by 2050, meaning the country would eliminate as much greenhouse gas as it emits. To reach that goal, Americans will need to get a lot more of their energy from renewable sources like wind and solar farms.

One of the most recent studies on the subject, Princeton University’s Net-Zero America Report, charted five pathways to net-zero, and all of them required the United States to exceed the current pace of building for solar panels and wind turbines.

But what will all that energy infrastructure look like, and where could it go? Here’s a look at the factors and forces that will determine where renewable energy projects could be built.
» Read article           
» Read the Princeton University report         

» More about clean energy           

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

TOU rates for Maine
Advocates say Maine needs to expand time-of-use rates to hit climate goals

As more drivers switch to electric cars and buildings convert to heat pumps, changing customer behavior with new rate designs could be key to preventing expensive and polluting new investments in the state’s power grid.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
May 27, 2021

Maine clean energy advocates say it’s time to revisit and ramp up time-of-use rates, and the state’s major utilities and several other stakeholders agree. 

Meeting the state’s climate goals could add significant load to the state’s grid as drivers switch to electric cars and buildings abandon fossil fuels for heating. 

Unless some customers can be persuaded to put off drying clothes, running dishwashers or charging vehicles until nighttime, that new demand could force expensive upgrades to the system and make it harder to eliminate fossil fuels. 

That’s where time-of-use rates come into play. Unlike traditional flat rates, time-of-use rates charge customers different prices at different times of the day. Often this means customers pay a relatively expensive rate during the busiest hours of the day and less expensive rates during off-peak hours.

State legislation introduced this year, as well as a recent report on the future of Maine’s electric grid, called on state regulators to investigate how to roll out time-of-use rates on a broader scale than what’s currently offered.

A time-of-use rate needs to be structured so it actually encourages customers to shift their electricity use off-peak, said David Littell, a former Maine utilities commissioner who was part of the stakeholder group.

That requires establishing a sufficient difference between what customers are charged off-peak and on-peak, he said. The peak window also has to be reasonably timed: He found in previous research that, based on hundreds of rate pilots and operational rates, customers were more likely to sign up for time-varying rates when the peak windows were only three hours, as opposed to eight to 14 hours.

Littell and others in the stakeholder report also said time-of-use rates should include all aspects of customers’ bills, including supply and capacity.

“Most of what I’m seeing across the country right now is that if a utility is talking about doing a time-of-use rate, they prefer to start with the supply cost,” he said. That’s something utilities can easily do themselves, structuring the rate based on what it costs to deliver energy to customers.

Capacity would be harder, since utilities don’t have jurisdiction over the line items on customers’ bills for the energy itself. In deregulated utility markets like Maine, the energy is provided by suppliers separate from utilities, at a rate called the standard offer. Suppliers would have to implement their own time-of-use rates. But without making it mandatory for them to do that — something the commission could do — they’re not likely to take that path, Littell said, since it’s far easier to stick with the status quo.

In a small market like Maine, suppliers have less incentive to pursue the education and effort necessary to change their rate design without the guarantee that they’ll make money on it. “If it’s not mandated, it’s not going to happen at the standard offer level, full stop,” said Tom Welch, a former Maine utilities commission chair who also contributed to the recent grid modernization report.

Protections will also be necessary for low-income customers who end up paying more under the new rate than they currently pay, but Welch said that’s easily addressed, for example, with refunds for groups of customers that are unable to respond to the price signals.
» Read report            

» More about modernizing the electric grid          

 

ENERGY STORAGE

CO2 battery system
‘CO2 battery’ technology getting megawatt-scale demonstrator in Italy
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
May 27, 2021

A 2.5MW / 4MWh demonstration system using novel energy storage technology based on a “carbon dioxide battery” has begun construction in Sardinia, Italy.

The CO2 battery technology has been developed by Energy Dome, a Milan-headquartered company founded by technologist and entrepreneur Claudio Spadacini and incorporated two years ago. The battery can offer long durations of storage between three to 16+ hours, can be built using off-the-shelf components used in other industries and uses a closed loop thermodynamic process which can enable a high round-trip efficiency, the company claims. It also suffers “little or no degradation” over an anticipated lifetime of more than 25 years.

The battery charges by drawing CO2 from a dome where it is kept, condensing it into a liquid at ambient temperature, while heat created by the compression process is stored in thermal energy storage systems. It then discharges by evaporating and expanding the CO2 back into a gas by heating it using the thermal storage systems. The gas is driven through a turbine to inject power into the grid and then pushed back into the dome, ready to be used for the next charging cycle.

On its website, the company compares the technology as being potentially lower cost than compressed air energy storage (CAES) or liquid air energy storage (LAES), which might be considered competing energy storage technologies. This is because unlike CAES which requires very large underground sealed vessels such as salt caverns to store a large volume of air, or LAES which requires equipment to cool air until it liquifies, the liquid phase CO2 can be stored at ambient temperature, the company said.

Energy Dome also said in a press release this week that its solution could also overcome the limitations of lithium-ion, posing no fire risk, manufacturable without rare earth materials and also even has better performance and lower capital cost. The demonstrator in Sardinia is expected to be launched early next year.
» Read article           

Power Podcast 89
The Benefits of Flow Batteries Over Lithium Ion
By Aaron Larson, Power Magazine
May 27, 2021

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) is the most commonly talked about battery storage technology on the market these days, and for good reason. Li-ion batteries have a high energy density, and they are the preferred option when mobility is a concern, such as for cell phones, laptop computers, and electric vehicles. But there are different energy storage technologies that make more sense in other use cases. For example, iron flow batteries may be a better option for utility-scale power grid storage.

An iron flow battery is built with three pretty simple ingredients: iron, salt, and water. “A flow battery has a tank with an electrolyte—think of it as salt water to be simple—and it puts it through a process that allows it to store energy in the iron, and then discharge that energy over an extended period of time,” Eric Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS Inc., a manufacturer of iron flow batteries for commercial and utility-scale energy storage applications, explained as a guest on The POWER Podcast.

Iron flow batteries have an advantage over utility-scale Li-ion storage systems in the following areas:

  • Longer duration. Up to 12 hours versus a typical duration of no more than 4 hours for large-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Increased safety. Iron flow batteries are non-flammable, non-toxic, and have no explosion risk. The same is not true for Li-ion.
  • Longer asset life. Iron flow batteries offer unlimited cycle life and no capacity degradation over a 25-year operating life. Li-ion batteries typically provide about 7,000 cycles and a 7- to 10-year lifespan.
  • Less concern with ambient temperatures. Iron flow batteries can operate in ambient conditions from –10C to 60C (14F to 140F) without the need for heating or air conditioning. Ventilation systems are almost always required for utility-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Lower levelized cost of storage. Because iron flow batteries offer a 25-year life, have a capital expense cost similar to Li-ion, and operating expenses that are much lower than Li-on, the cost of ownership can be up to 40% less.

“People have been really interested in flow batteries for a lot of reasons, but the most common one that you’ll hear about is the long duration,” said Dresselhuys.
» Listen to podcast            

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

briny water
The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles
A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.
By Ivan Penn and Eric Lipton, New York Times
May 6, 2021

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste.

“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it,” said Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed mine site while two lawsuits seeking to block the project wend their way through federal courts.

The fight over the Nevada mine is emblematic of a fundamental tension surfacing around the world: Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.

That environmental toll has often been overlooked in part because there is a race underway among the United States, China, Europe and other major powers. Echoing past contests and wars over gold and oil, governments are fighting for supremacy over minerals that could help countries achieve economic and technological dominance for decades to come.
» Read article               

bunker fuel
Tasked to Fight Climate Change, a Secretive U.N. Agency Does the Opposite
Behind closed doors, shipbuilders and miners can speak on behalf of governments while regulating an industry that pollutes as much as all of America’s coal plants.
By Matt Apuzzo and Sarah Hurtes, New York Times
June 3, 2021

LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.

It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.

Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.

One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.

An agency lawyer underscored that point last fall in addressing the Saudi complaint. “This is a private meeting,” warned the lawyer, Frederick J. Kenney.

Next week, the organization is scheduled to enact its first greenhouse gas rules since Paris — regulations that do not cut emissions, have no enforcement mechanism and leave key details shrouded in secrecy. No additional proposals are far along in the rule-making process, meaning additional regulations are likely five years or more away.
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

methane emissions analysis
Here Are America’s Top Methane Emitters. Some Will Surprise You.
Oil and gas giants are selling off their most-polluting operations to small private companies. Most manage to escape public scrutiny.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
June 2, 2021

As the world’s oil and gas giants face increasing pressure to reduce their fossil fuel emissions, small, privately held drilling companies are becoming the country’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, often by buying up the industry’s high-polluting assets.

According to a startling new analysis of the latest emissions data disclosed to the Environmental Protection Agency, five of the industry’s top ten emitters of methane, a particularly potent planet-warming gas, are little-known oil and gas producers, some backed by obscure investment firms, whose environmental footprints are wildly large relative to their production.

In some cases, the companies are buying up high-polluting assets directly from the largest oil and gas corporations, like ConocoPhillips and BP; in other cases, private equity firms acquire risky oil and gas properties, develop them, and sell them quickly for maximum profits.

The largest emitter, Hilcorp Energy, reported almost 50 percent more methane emissions from its operations than the nation’s largest fossil fuel producer, Exxon Mobil, despite pumping far less oil and gas. Four other relatively unknown companies — Terra Energy Partners, Flywheel Energy, Blackbeard Operating and Scout Energy — each reported emitting more of the gas than many industry heavyweights.

These companies have largely escaped public scrutiny, even as they have become major polluters.

“It’s amazing how the small operators manage to constitute a very large part of the problem,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit investor network that commissioned the study together with the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group. “There’s just no pressure on them to do things better. And being a clean operator, unfortunately, isn’t a priority in this business model.”
» Read article              
» Read the Benchmarking Methane analysis           

ExxonMobil Chicago
Engine No. 1’s Big Win Over Exxon Shows Activist Hedge Funds Joining Fight Against Climate Change
“We can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value.”
By Mark DesJardine, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
May 27, 2021

One of the most expensive Wall Street shareholder battles on record could signal a big shift in how hedge funds and other investors view sustainability.

Exxon Mobil Corp. has been fending off a so-called proxy fight from a hedge fund known as Engine No. 1, which blames the energy giant’s poor performance in recent years on its failure to transition to a “decarbonizing world.” In a May 26, 2021 vote, Exxon shareholders approved at least two of the four board members Engine No. 1 nominated, dealing a major blow to the oil company. The vote is ongoing, and more of the hedge fund’s nominees may also soon be appointed.

While its focus has been on shareholder value, Engine No. 1 says it was also doing this to save the planet from the ravages of climate change. It has been pushing for a commitment from Exxon to carbon neutrality by 2050.

As business sustainability scholars, we can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder – particularly a hedge fund – has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value. That’s why we believe this vote marks a turning point for investors, who are well placed to nudge companies toward more sustainable business practices.
» Read article               

Conoco misstep
Biden officials condemned for backing Trump-era Alaska drilling project
DoJ says decision to approve project in northern Alaska was ‘reasonable and consistent’ and should be allowed to go ahead
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 27, 2021

Joe Biden’s administration is facing an onslaught of criticism from environmentalists after opting to defend the approval of a massive oil and gas drilling project in the frigid northern reaches of Alaska.

In a briefing filed in federal court on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice said the Trump-era decision to allow the project in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska’s north slope was “reasonable and consistent” with the law and should be allowed to go ahead.

This stance means the Biden administration is contesting a lawsuit brought by environmental groups aimed at halting the drilling due to concerns over the impact upon wildlife and planet-heating emissions. The US president has paused all new drilling leases on public land but is allowing this Alaska lease, approved under Trump, to go ahead.

The project, known as Willow, is being overseen by the oil company ConocoPhillips and is designed to extract more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Environmentalists say allowing the project is at odds with Biden’s vow to combat the climate crisis and drastically reduce US emissions.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Biden administration defending this environmentally disastrous project,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that have sued to stop the drilling. “President Biden promised climate action and our climate can’t afford more huge new oil-drilling projects.”

The Arctic is heating up at three times the rate of the rest of the planet and ConocoPhillips will have to resort to Kafkaesque interventions to be able to drill for oil in an environment being destroyed by the burning of that fuel. The company plans to install “chillers’ into the Alaskan permafrost, which is rapidly melting due to global heating, to ensure it is stable enough to host drilling equipment.

Monsell said the attempts to refreeze the thawing permafrost in order to extract more fossil fuel “highlights the ridiculousness of drilling in the Arctic”. Kirsten Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said Willow “is the poster child for the type of massive fossil fuel development that must be avoided today if we’re to avoid the worst climate impacts down the road”.
» Read article               

Nat and Gus
How natural gas propaganda made it into elementary classrooms in deep blue America
The incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms.
By Ysabelle Kempe, Grist
May 19, 2021


Gleb Bahmutov found something strange in his nine-year-old son’s backpack earlier this month. The longer he ruminated on what he discovered, the angrier he got. 

The afternoon started off like most, with the 41-year-old software engineer picking his son up from John M. Tobin Montessori School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But when his son opened his backpack, Bahmutov caught a glimpse of two children’s activity books emblazoned with the logo of Eversource, an energy utility that serves more than 4.3 million customers across New England. The booklets, one of which was titled “Natural Gas: Your Invisible Friend,” include natural gas safety tips and portray the fuel as an ideal, clean way to cook food, power vehicles, and heat and cool buildings. Bhamutov immediately noticed one gaping hole in the information provided in the booklets: They didn’t once mention that burning natural gas emits greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change.

“To come home and find books aimed at children touting how great gas is and how clean it is, that it’s the cleanest fuel possible, that’s just wrong,” Bahmutov told Grist. “It’s unacceptable.”

The activity books caused concern among parents in the climate-conscious city of Cambridge and prompted apologies from both Eversource and the school district. While the utility claimed it was attempting to promote natural gas safety — a particularly salient issue in Massachusetts, which experienced a series of pipeline explosions north of Boston in 2018 — the incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms. 

Cambridge Public Schools’ Chief Strategy Officer Lyndsay Pinkus told Grist that the booklets were mistakenly distributed to students. Any materials provided by outside organizations are typically reviewed by the deputy superintendent’s office, Pinkus explained, but a new staff member did not follow this procedure with the Eversource materials. “It really was an innocent mistake by a new staff member,” she said. In an email to parents, Tobin Principal Jaime Frost stressed that the booklets are not part of the curriculum and the school does not support the messaging. She wrote that the same booklets were sent to all Cambridge Public Schools two years ago, but were caught before being distributed. 

Eversource’s media relations manager, William Hinkle, wrote in an email that the booklets were created to raise awareness about natural gas safety at home, but acknowledged that the material could be improved. “Moving forward, we will work to include climate change information in future educational materials, as well as continue to provide important natural gas safety tips,” Hinkle told Grist. He said that there are various versions of the book for different grade levels that date back to 2011, and the material undergoes periodic updates.

While Hinkle said the books are provided to schools in Massachusetts or Connecticut upon request, Pinkus from Cambridge Public Schools was adamant that nobody in the district requested them. “There’s no way anybody currently or in any recent history would have requested anything even remotely close to this,” she said. Eversource did not respond for comment on this point.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

derailedRailroaded by the Gas Industry
How the Biden administration could use insurance requirements to halt LNG by rail.
By Eric de Place, Sightline Institute
March 22, 2021

It’s been less than three months since the Northwest dodged a bullet. On December 22, 2020, another oil train derailed and exploded into flames, this one just outside Bellingham, Washington. The crash spilled 29,000 gallons of crude oil that burned for eight hours while emergency crews hustled to evacuate neighbors and clean up the site before the oil contaminated groundwater. Yet as alarming as oil train derailments are, they may be only an appetizer for a much more destructive main course: trains loaded with highly explosive liquefied natural gas (LNG).

During the Obama years, federal regulators granted railroads in Alaska and Florida limited permission to haul small quantities of LNG on specific routes. Although the move garnered little public attention, it was seen by industry observers as the start of a slippery slope toward broader approval of a cargo that was, until 2015, considered too dangerous for railroads to handle. (DeSmog provides an excellent account of the serious risks of LNG rail transport.) As predicted, in 2020, the Trump administration enacted a new rule allowing rail shipments of LNG, despite criticisms that it lacks safeguards.

The Trump administration’s decision was a win for the gas industry that has found itself increasingly stymied by opposition to building new pipelines. It was also a victory for the rail companies that have for years lobbied for permission to carry LNG, including Union Pacific and BNSF, the dominant railways in Oregon and Washington that have been responsible for several hazardous derailments in the past decade. One of the worst was Union Pacific’s eleven-car derailment in Mosier, Oregon that resulted in a fiery explosion and an oil spill along the Columbia River in 2016. BNSF is responsible for its own oil train conflagrations too, including two North Dakota explosions in 2013 and 2015 that prompted towns to evacuate, a derailment in Illinois in 2015, and the recent explosion in Whatcom County, Washington.

LNG is far more dangerous than crude oil. In fact, experts calculate that it would take only twenty-two tank cars loaded with LNG to hold the energy equivalent of an atomic bomb. That’s not hyperbole. Even a single LNG rail car igniting could level buildings to deadly effect. It’s no wonder, then, that fifteen state attorneys general, including those in Oregon and Washington, have challenged the Trump administration’s approval of LNG trains, stating that it puts people’s lives at risk.

The risk is real, and federal accident statistics bear it out. Trains derailed no fewer than sixty-two times in Oregon and Washington in 2020, including at least fourteen derailments that were carrying hazardous materials. (These statistics almost certainly undercount derailments, a flaw that becomes clear when one realizes that they do not include the fiery oil train derailment in Custer, Washington in late December.)

What’s less understood than the risk to lives and property is the staggering risk to taxpayers. It’s a risk that could prove to be the endeavor’s Achilles’ heel, and it could give the Biden administration a commonsense way to halt LNG rail transport. As it happens, railroads are severely underinsured for many hazardous substance shipments, especially in urban areas, so simply requiring them to carry insurance proportional to the risk would almost certainly render the entire venture uneconomical.
» Read article               

» More about LNG                       

 

BIOMASS

Enviva promo
Communities of Color in Eastern North Carolina Want Wood Pellet Byproducts Out of Their Neighborhoods—And Their Lungs
By Caryl Espinoza Jaen and Ellie Heffernan, INDY week
May 27, 2021

Belinda Joyner describes her home of Northampton County as a dumping ground for undesirable uses—hog farms, landfills. Northampton was also slated to host the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s compressor station before the project was canceled. 

When Joyner stood at a podium in the North Carolina legislative building on Wednesday, she was most concerned about wood pellet facilities. 

“We have other states that have taken into consideration the cumulative impact, the health impact, on these communities and they’re saying no to these companies that are coming,” Joyner said. “You know what? North Carolina has become a cesspool, because everything that everyone else doesn’t want, we don’t have the laws to protect us.” 

Joyner was one of many speakers at a press conference and rally to draw attention to what they say is Governor Roy Cooper’s inattention to deforestation and pollution by the wood pellet industry. North Carolina residents, community leaders, and activists gathered to discuss how the state’s poorest communities are impacted by wood pellet companies such as Enviva Biomass. Speakers addressed their criticisms of environmental policies issued by Gov. Cooper and state government agencies.

The wood pellet industry, which is the third major contributor to rising carbon emissions in the state, is responsible for 60,000 acres of wood loss annually, according to rally organizers. In just seven years, Enviva Biomass logged enough acres to release 28 million tons of carbon dioxide. 

North Carolina is the biggest producer of wood pellets in the United States, and the industry receives $7.1 million in subsidies annually, said Emily Zucchino, the director of community engagement at the environmental advocacy nonprofit Dogwood Alliance. The United States sold 7.2 billion kilograms of  wood pellets with a value of $981 million last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau trade data. A bulk of these exports are burned for fuel in European power stations. 

“Yet the counties with these industries remain the poorest,” said Zucchino. “This use of taxpayer dollars does not advance the state or support long-term jobs at rural communities.”
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