We’re leading this week with a letter-writing action organized by the #StopLine3 movement, including a link with a sample you can customize and send to Army Corps of Engineers Assistant Secretary Jaime Pinkham, requesting a federal environmental impact statement to assess threats to treaty rights, water protection, and climate related to this tar sands oil pipeline. The local tie-in is Canadian energy giant Enbridge, which also developed the Weymouth compressor station and operates an office in Westwood, MA.
Meanwhile, the environmental impact statement just released by Mountain Valley Pipeline left environmentalists unimpressed, but was accepted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Construction will continue for now.
So far, central banks (and large commercial banks) have been slow to recognize the urgent need for fossil fuel divestment, but the insurance industry appears to be catching on quickly. Damages related to climate-driven disasters are stacking up serious numbers, exposing insurers – and shareholders – to mounting financial risk.
The green economy should redress some longstanding economic, social, and racial inequities, and a recent labor agreement related to the offshore Vineyard Wind project reveals that Massachusetts construction labor unions are going to have to diversify their ranks to comply with new requirements.
Our climate news is once again about weird weather. For the first time on record, it rained at Summit research station atop two miles of ice at Greenland’s highest elevation. And it wasn’t just sprinkles….
A Canadian utility has created a marketplace for distributed clean energy resources like rooftop solar panels, using blockchain technology. Meanwhile, electric cooperatives are playing a role as laboratories of the modern grid – experimenting with everything from smart meters to large batteries as they innovate in the best interest of rate payers. Related to this, energy storage had a big year in 2020, but the pace of battery installation has to increase significantly to meet climate goals.
Staying with the battery theme, our Clean Transportation section considers what to do with the coming tsunami of retired electric vehicle batteries, and also provides an update on the Chevy Bolt recall.
We recently added a section on the siting impacts of renewables, and this week we offer two illustrative reports. One considers how far irritating noises can travel from land-based wind farms. That’s important because these sounds may impact the health of humans and wildlife. We also found an excellent article on a solar development proposed for a 25 acre wooded area in Mount Pleasant, NY. Reporter Michael Gold does an excellent job discussing the most important reasons why cutting trees for solar is undesirable.
The fossil fuel industry isn’t going to call it quits until every last hydrocarbon molecule they can get their hands on is extracted, sold, and burned. And as the inevitable clean energy transition bears down, extraction operations are getting riskier and moving at breakneck speed. All the hype around blue hydrogen and carbon sequestration serve to delay the transition while continuing the fossil infrastructure build-out. Floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) is ripe for similar greenwashing and promotion as a (false) climate solution.
— The NFGiM Team
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
#StopLine3 And Its Westwood Connection
Enbridge Inc., the embattled company of the #StopLine3 movement, has an office here in Westwood.
By Heather T. Ford, Patch
August 22, 2021
#StopLine3 is a movement supporting the Ojibwe people, their community, and environmental groups in Minnesota. They have fought for six years to stop Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy from building the massive Line 3 pipeline in Northern Minnesota. The purpose of the Line 3 pipeline would be to take oil from Canada’s tar sands region to Superior, Wisconsin.
The pipeline violates several treaties with the Ojibwe people that establish their right to hunt, fish, and gather along the proposed route. The pipeline would cross 200 bodies of water, including the Mississippi River, twice.
But what does a pipeline in Minnesota have to do with Westwood, MA? First of all, the controversial Weymouth Compressor Station in North Weymouth, MA is less than twenty miles from our town. Like Line 3, it is operated by Enbridge, Inc.
To quote the No Compressor site:
“This compressor station will create air, noise, and odor problems that will affect residents in Weymouth, Quincy, Braintree, and the South Shore. Compressors pose a serious health risk, especially when in such close proximity to a dense residential area. There’s also a history of catastrophic accidents at similar Compressors that could paralyze traffic, devastate our waterfront, and put residents at serious risk.”
Enbridge’s M&N Operating Company, which is in charge of the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline (where the Weymouth compressor is located), has an office at 8 Wilson Way in Westwood, MA.
Shareholder group sues Santos over “misleading” claims that gas is “clean energy”
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
August 26, 2021
A shareholder advocacy group has launched legal action against oil and gas company Santos in the [Australian] Federal Court, alleging the company has made multiple breaches of corporate and consumer protection laws by making false claims that gas was a form of “clean energy”.
In legal proceedings launched on Thursday, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) will allege that Santos has breached the Corporations Act and the Australian Consumer Law, with the advocacy group claiming that Santos undertook “misleading or deceptive conduct” when the gas company claimed to be a producer of “clean energy” and that it was a producer of “clean fuels” in its 2020 annual report.
ACCR will also allege that Santos made misleading representations that it has a clear and credible pathway to achieve “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, that the company’s plans were reliant on unproven technologies, and that Santos had plans to expand its natural gas operations.
The group said that the legal action was a ‘world first’ test of a fossil fuel company’s commitment to a zero emissions target, as well as the viability of relying on unproven technologies, including carbon capture and storage and the production of “blue” hydrogen, to meet those targets.
» Read article
FERC releases Mountain Valley Pipeline environmental statement
By Paul J. Gough , Pittsburgh Business Times
August 16, 2021
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has released a new environmental statement on Equitrans Midstream Corp.’s $6.2 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline, recommending that FERC say there won’t be any significant impact to human life with the revised construction methods.
MVP and Equitrans had been told to go back to the drawing board with environmental impacts and changes to the plans, particularly for water crossings. FERC, in a document with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that the amended plan would lead to fewer direct impacts. It said that there would be added noise and emissions, but it wouldn’t be significant in the long term.
“Therefore, we recommend that the Commission Order contain a finding of no significant impact and include the measures listed below as conditions in any authorization the Commission may issue to Mountain Valley,” FERC said in the statement. It also said that MVP should continue to comply with environmental conditions and continue with the trenchless crossing measures and other measures on waterbodies.
Environmental advocates, who have been fighting the pipeline from the beginning, weren’t impressed.
“Given that a comment period for this project just ended 10 days ago and that the public submitted hundreds of pages of comments and a large volume of data and analyses, it is difficult to believe that FERC has even read and understood all of that information, let alone responsibly incorporated it into this document,” said David Sligh, conservation director at Wild Virginia. “It seems that, once again, the FERC staff is pushing this process forward at a breakneck speed to serve MVPs timeline, not doing the job it was required to do.”
» Read article
Insurers Move ‘at Light Speed’ to Limit Exposure to Fossil Industry Risk
By Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press, in The Energy Mix
August 24, 2021
With global climate change threatening to wreak havoc on their industry, insurance companies are increasingly looking to limit their exposure to the fossil fuel sector.
“This was not an issue that was central in the insurance sector, even seven years ago,” Robin Edger, national director of climate change for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, told The Canadian Press. “But now it is moving at light speed.”
In the past three years, 23 major global insurance companies have adopted policies that end or limit insurance for the coal industry, and nine have ended or limited insurance for the Canadian tar sands/oil sands.
Other insurers are making changes on the asset side of their books, divesting fossil fuel investments and adding green energy to their investment portfolios. In July, eight of the world’s largest insurance companies—including Swiss Re, Zurich Insurance Group, and Aviva—committed to transitioning their portfolios to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The “sustainable finance” movement—which seeks to use the power of investment capital to move toward a lower-carbon economy—also includes pension funds, banks, and mutual funds, CP says (although progress has been decidedly uneven). But of all the institutional investors, insurance companies have perhaps the most on the line when it comes to climate change.
» Read article
Central Banks Accused of ‘Dawdling’ on Climate as World Burns
“Instead of using their power to cut off finance for fossil fuels, they are making themselves busy tinkering around the edges of the climate crisis.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
August 24, 2021
Despite needing to “play a critical role in catalyzing the rapid shift of financial flows away from oil, fossil gas, and coal,” 12 major central banks “have instead tinkered at the edges,” according to a report released Tuesday.
The new analysis (pdf) from two dozen advocacy groups including Oil Change International (OCI) examines financing and policies of central banks from Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The report says that “with a few isolated exceptions—such as decisions by the French and Swiss central banks to partially exclude coal from their asset portfolios—central bank activity on carbon pollution and the climate crisis has been limited primarily to measures to increase financial market transparency.”
“While some central bank executives claim that tackling the climate crisis is beyond their mandates,” the report continues, “at the same time they have positively reinforced fossil fuel financing, and even directly financed fossil fuel production.”
“The science is clear,” the report emphasizes, noting that even the International Energy Agency now acknowledges that limiting global heating to 1.5°C this century—the more ambitious temperature target of the Paris climate agreement—requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
» Read article
» Read the analysis
GREENING THE ECONOMY
Vineyard Wind’s labor deal exposes tensions overs unions, worker diversity
Most Massachusetts building trade union members are White, and most minority-owned contractors are non-union. Will Vineyard Wind’s commitment to union labor make it harder to meet workforce diversity targets?
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
August 23, 2021
Workforce diversity advocates worry a recent commitment by Vineyard Wind to exclusively use union labor to build the project will impair efforts to diversify Massachusetts’ offshore wind workforce because of unions’ historical lack of diversity.
While unions rarely share racial data, it’s generally agreed that a significant majority of building trades union membership in Massachusetts is White. At the same time, most minority-owned contractors in the Boston area are non-union.
So an agreement announced last month between Vineyard Wind and the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council raised concerns among some, despite the inclusion of diversity targets as part of the deal.
“What Vineyard Wind has done is not just shut but slammed the door tight on any meaningful participation by minority contractors,” said John Cruz, chief executive of Cruz Companies, a third-generation, Black-owned contracting company based in Boston.
Supporters of the labor agreement say they are working to develop a strong pipeline of women and people of color into the unions. However, there is little reason to believe these efforts will bear fruit, said Travis Watson, chair of the Boston Employment Commission, a panel tasked with overseeing employment policies on city-supported construction projects. Union leadership has historically employed strategies both subtle and blatant — from biased union admission testing to explicit racism — to keep people of color out of the ranks, he said. Watson is not convinced that these attitudes have changed, he said.
» Read article
It Rained at the Summit of Greenland. That’s Never Happened Before.
The showers are another troubling sign of a changing Arctic, which is warming faster than any other region on Earth.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
Aug. 20, 2021
Something extraordinary happened last Saturday at the frigid high point of the Greenland ice sheet, two miles in the sky and more than 500 miles above the Arctic Circle: It rained for the first time.
The rain at a research station — not just a few drops or a drizzle but a stream for several hours, as temperatures rose slightly above freezing — is yet another troubling sign of a changing Arctic, which is warming faster than any other region on the planet.
“It’s incredible, because it does write a new chapter in the book of Greenland,” said Marco Tedesco, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. “This is really new.”
At the station, which is called Summit and is occupied year-round under the auspices of the National Science Foundation, there is no record of rain since observations began in the 1980s. And computer simulations show no evidence going back even further, said Thomas Mote, a climate scientist at the University of Georgia.
Above-freezing conditions at Summit are nearly as rare. Before this century, ice cores showed they had occurred only six times in the past 2,000 years, Martin Stendel, a senior researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute, wrote in an email message.
But above-freezing temperatures have now occurred at Summit in 2012, 2019 and this year — three times in fewer than 10 years.
The Greenland ice sheet, which is up to two miles thick and covers about 650,000 square miles, has been losing more ice and contributing more to sea-level rise in recent decades as the Earth has warmed from human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
The surface of the ice sheet gains mass every year, because accumulation of snowfall is greater than surface melting. But overall, the sheet loses more ice through melting where it meets the ocean, and through the breaking-off of icebergs. On average over the past two decades, Greenland has lost more than 300 billion tons of ice each year.
» Read article
Canadian utility creates marketplace for DER households using blockchain technology
By John Engel, Renewable Energy World
August 23, 2021
Canada’s largest municipally-owned electric utility has launched a pilot program that allows customers with distributed energy resources (DERs) to participate in an energy marketplace using blockchain technology.
Alectra has launched a transactive software platform, GridExchange, to enable customers with solar panels, battery storage, and electric vehicles to participate in a marketplace. Twenty-one households in Ontario will participate in the three-month pilot program.
“The GridExchange pilot project plays a pivotal role in supporting consumers by offering them greater control over their energy usage,” said Brian Bentz, president and CEO, Alectra Inc. “In alignment with Alectra’s commitment to be net-zero by 2050, the launch of GridExchange will help us continue to lower emissions and create value for customers and the Ontario power grid.”
» Read article
MODERNIZING THE GRID
From smart meters to big batteries, co-ops emerge as clean grid laboratories
A wave of pilot programs by Minnesota electric cooperatives is saving customers money and providing useful data for larger utilities considering new technology and pricing models to encourage grid efficiency.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
August 26, 2021
Minnesota electric cooperatives have quietly emerged as laboratories for clean grid innovation, outpacing investor-owned utilities on smart meter installations, time-based pricing pilots, and experimental storage solutions.
“Co-ops have innovation in their DNA,” said David Ranallo, a spokesperson for Great River Energy, a generation and distribution cooperative that supplies power to 28 member utilities — making it one of the state’s largest co-op players.
Minnesota farmers helped pioneer the electric co-op model more than a century ago, pooling resources to build power lines, transformers and other equipment to deliver power to rural parts of the state. Today, 44 member-owned electric co-ops serve about 1.7 million rural and suburban customers and supply almost a quarter of the state’s electricity.
Co-op utilities have by many measures lagged on clean energy. Many still rely on electricity from coal-fired power plants. They’ve used political clout with rural lawmakers to oppose new pollution regulations and climate legislation, and some have tried to levy steep fees on customers who install solar panels.
Where they are emerging as innovators is with new models and technology for managing electric grid loads — from load-shifting water heaters to a giant experimental battery made of iron. The programs are saving customers money by delaying the need for expensive new infrastructure, and also showing ways to unlock more value from cheap but variable wind and solar power.
» Read article
Battery power capacity in the US grew big time in 2020
But a lot more capacity is needed
By Justine Calma, The Verge
August 19, 2021
2020 was a big year for big batteries in the US, which is crucial for getting grids to run on more renewable energy. Power capacity — a measure of how much power a battery can instantly discharge — for large-scale batteries grew at an unprecedented pace in the US last year, according to an annual report released this week by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).
2020 smashed the previous record set in 2018 for the biggest growth in power capacity in the US with 489MW of large-scale battery storage added. That’s more than twice what was added in 2018. By the end of last year, there was 1,523MW of large-scale battery power capacity in the US. For comparison, the largest solar farm in the US has a capacity of 579MW and can generate enough electricity for about 255,000 homes.
That’s all good news for renewable energy, but way more batteries are needed to clean up the electricity grid. “It’s great that it’s growing. But by the scale of the grid, it’s still a pretty small drop in the bucket,” says Gerbrand Ceder, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. For perspective, Ceder says, the total battery power capacity in the US at the end of 2020 is still “no bigger than one or two big power plants.”
» Read article
GM expands battery-fire recall to Chevy Bolt EUV, every Bolt EV made
By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
August 20, 2021
General Motors has expanded the recall of Chevrolet Bolt EV models due to battery-related fire concerns—to include 2019-2021 Bolt EV models and new 2022 Bolt EV and EUV models. GM just earlier this week confirmed that it planned to replace all battery modules on affected 2017-2019 Bolt EV models, subject to be adjusted after an additional investigation. It’s now expecting to do the same with the rest of the Bolt EV population, including models recently delivered and those in dealer inventories.
Both issues are related to the same two potential battery defects, stemming from reports of fires when Bolt EV vehicles had been plugged in and or recently charged to full. The Bolt EV and EUV models use cells made by LG Chem in South Korea through mid 2019, and then Holland, Michigan from mid-2019 on. GM had previously said that the so-called “design level N2.1” made in Michigan were unaffected; it hasn’t yet disclosed whether it’s aware of instances of fire with the newer cells.
SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES
Wind turbine swoosh “more annoying” at night, new study finds
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
August 20, 2021
New federally funded research investigating the association of wind farm noise with adverse effects on humans has found that the “swoosh” sound made by spinning turbine blades was likely to be more noticeable – and more annoying – to nearby residents during the night than during the day.
The research, led by Flinders University PhD candidate Duc Phuc Nguyen and acoustic expert Dr Kristy Hansen, has combined long-term monitoring of wind farm noise with machine learning to quantify and characterise the noise produced by wind turbines.
The resulting two new publications mark the latest findings in the five-year Wind Farm Noise study that was funded by the federal government’s National Health and Medical Research Council, with funding also supplied through Australian Research Council grants.
The Wind Farm Noise Study, based at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep health at Flinders University, is investigating noise characteristics and sleep disturbances at residences located near wind farms, to inform what the researchers describe as the “ongoing debate” around turbine noise and adverse effects on human health.
Claims that wind turbine noise – both those sounds that are detectable to the human ear and the “infrasound” that is undetectable – can affect the health and well-being of humans (and animals) have indeed sparked much passionate and sometimes pretty sensational discussion within and without the renewable energy industry.
» Read article
Gate of Heaven Solar Farm Denial Fails in Deadlocked Vote
By Michael Gold, The Examiner
August 17, 2021
The Mount Pleasant [NY] Planning Board deadlocked 3-3 on Aug. 5 in a vote that would have denied a 5.75-megawatt ground-mounted solar array on a 25-acre portion of Gate of Heaven Cemetery to move forward.
With board member Jane Abbate absent, the project will be subject to a new vote at a future meeting.
“The clear-cutting of this forest is just immoral,” said Planning Board member Joan Lederman, who proposed the resolution to deny. “And I’m a member of the Church.”
“Destroying the flora and fauna is just plain wrong,” Lederman added.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York owns the cemetery and CES Hawthorne Solar, LLC is the listed applicant. Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses, which owns, develops and operates renewable energy infrastructure, is facilitating the project.
Residents, environmental groups and board members who have been skeptical of the proposal cited various concerns during the Aug. 5 public hearing, including the significant destruction of trees.
Saw Mill River Audubon Society chapter member and Briarcliff Manor resident Thomas Ruth argued that the organization supports solar projects on building roofs and parking lots. But in this case, the forested area in the cemetery is “sequestering carbon and protecting biodiversity,” Ruth said.
Pace University Energy and Climate Center wrote in support of the project on May 17, then withdrew its support two weeks later, citing the need to safeguard natural resources, including forests.
Steven Kavee, chairman of the Mount Pleasant Conservation Advisory Council, said the habitat for plants, animals and trees is too valuable to undertake wholesale clearing of the acreage where the panels would be installed.
“The idea of clear-cutting woodlands for solar is the wrong path,” Kavee said in a telephone interview with The Examiner. “We want to see renewable energy, but not at the expense of irreplaceable woodlands. We need to look at places where solar can be done without jeopardizing natural resources. The planet is at risk. This is not zero-sum.”
» Read article
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
The World’s Newest Oil Countries Are Racing To Exploit Reserves
By Irina Slav, Oil Price
August 20, 2021
The new kids on the oil block—Guyana, Suriname, and Ghana—have no plans to let their newly discovered oil wealth go to waste by joining global decarbonization efforts.
They plan to exploit them as best as they can before they become worthless, Reuters has reported, citing statements by government officials made at this week’s Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.
Billions of barrels of crude oil have been discovered in the Guyana-Suriname Basin offshore the two South American neighbors as well as in Ghana in recent years.
“We have millions of people without electricity in Africa,” Ghana’s Energy Minister Matthew Opoku Prempeh said at the event. “Energy transition does not mean we’ll see our resources unexploited.”
» Blog editor’s note: Last week, we carried an article about developing countries leapfrogging straight to clean energy – skipping the fossil phase entirely. This story shows that fossil interests will try hard to prevent that.
» Read article
LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS
Floating LNG can turn ‘constraint into commercial opportunity’
LNG could help cut offshore flaring and venting while opening up new line of income
By Mark Passwaters, Upstream Online
August 18, 2021
Floating liquefied natural gas is still a fairly novel concept, but industry experts speaking at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston on Tuesday argued it could be a major asset for the oil and gas industry in the coming years.
Supporters of FLNG said the process could cut emissions by reducing offshore venting and flaring, opening up an additional revenue stream in the process.
Jean-Philippe Dimbour, Technip Energies’ director of business development and technology for offshore, said global gas flaring is near 150 billion cubic metres, or 25% of US gas consumption and 50% of Africa’s total power consumption.
“It is a massive energy loss,” he said. “Approximately 30% of associated gas is lost offshore due to existing infrastructures.”
Dimbour said associated gas from offshore projects drilling for oil could be a “showstopper” due to greenhouse gas emissions constraints.
With reinjection an unlikely prospect, he said, a centralised FLNG vessel could prove to be cheaper and more efficient for producers needing to dispose of associated gas than sending it to shore — especially for those operating in deep water.
» Blog editor’s note: we’ll keep an eye on FLNG. Ideally, it could capture and use methane that is currently being vented (terrible) or flared (bad), and reduce the need for an equal volume of fracked gas extracted elsewhere while we transition to clean energy. More likely, the industry will see this as a natural gas market growth opportunity, give us a greenwashed sales pitch, and double down on expanding its infrastructure (disastrous).
» Read article
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