Weekly News Check-In 11/5/21

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Welcome back.

We’ll start with the somewhat obscure Energy Charter Treaty, a post-cold-war relic intended to integrate ex-Soviet energy markets with the west. Lately, the treaty has allowed fossil fuel companies to sue countries for hundreds of millions of dollars, claiming their attempts to reduce emissions have hurt profits. While we’ve been quick to support court action that slows or stops the expansion of fossil fuel projects, this is an uncomfortable reminder that the legal blade cuts both ways.

With COP26 climate talks underway in Glasgow, we’re highlighting a new report from Climate Analytics warning that we need to cut total natural gas use by 1/3 this decade to maintain a shot at keeping global warming within the Paris agreement limits. Note that the Paris warming limits of 1.5C to 2.0C aren’t just random numbers – exceeding them triggers a cascade of really bad things. Bearing that in mind, it’s difficult to justify the Eversource push for a gas pipeline expansion in Springfield. We agree that neighborhoods served by a single aging gas line are vulnerable. But our solution would be to double down on energy efficiency and electrification – and rapidly eliminate the gas dependence. We have all the tools to do that.

Connecticut offers another cautionary tale regarding the continued build-out of gas infrastructure when it should have been trimmed back.

Checking in on another fossil fuel, the COP26 40-country agreement to phase out coal is less significant than it seems on the surface. Big coal burners like China, Australia, India, and the US didn’t sign on. And even for its limited scope, the timeline is a decade slower than science demands for a total shutdown. In another softball lobbed to industry, a US proposal to increase tax credits for carbon capture and sequestration has environmentalists concerned that its practical effect will be to extend the life of fossil fuel plants. Note that CCS is still neither economical nor effective, but it’s talked up enthusiastically by industry as the magic pixie dust justification for continuing business as usual.

A hugely important energy efficiency effort is just starting to ramp up, especially in states with ambitious emissions reduction targets. That’s a career opportunity for tens of thousands just in Massachusetts, with jobs ranging from building insulation and sealing to installing and servicing heat pumps. And those workers need to come onboard quickly.

Elsewhere on the green scene, passage of a Maine ballot initiative blocked a proposed transmission corridor meant to carry hydro power electricity from Quebec to Massachusetts. The move upsets MA emission reduction plans, and presents a case study in the siting impacts of renewable energy resources.

We’ll close with fossil fuels, an industry that realized decades ago it could either transition to clean energy or cook the planet. That its leaders chose to cook the planet is now a matter of record. What’s almost stranger is the industry’s continuing campaign to spin facts and rebrand products, as if keeping the party going a while longer might make it fun again. “Responsibly sourced” fracked gas? Please!

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Uniper suit
Secretive court system poses threat to Paris climate deal, says whistleblower
Treaty allows energy corporations to sue governments for billions over policies that could hurt their profits
By Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian
November 3, 2021

A secretive investor court system poses a real threat to the Paris climate agreement, activists have said, as governments taking action to phase out fossil fuels face a slew of multimillion-dollar lawsuits for lost profits.

New data seen by the Guardian shows a surge in cases under the energy charter treaty (ECT), an obscure international agreement that allows energy corporations to sue governments over policies that could hurt their profits.

Coal and oil investors are already suing governments for several billions in compensation for lost profits over energy policy changes. For example, the German energy company RWE is suing the Netherlands for €1.4bn (£1.2bn) over its plans to phase out coal, while Rockhopper Exploration, based in the UK, is suing the Italian government after it banned new drilling near the coast.

“It’s a real threat [to the Paris agreement]. It’s the biggest threat I am aware of,” said Yamina Saheb, a former employee of the ECT secretariat who quit in 2018 to raise the alarm.

“The Paris agreement … means that we need to decarbonise in the current decade before 2030,” said Saheb, also a co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on mitigation. She has estimated that foreign investors could sue governments for €1.3tn until 2050 in compensation for early closure of coal, oil and gas plants – a sum that exceeds what the EU hopes to spend on its green deal in the next decade.

As compensation to companies is paid by public funds, governments would have less money to pay for new technology to make buildings, transport and industry greener. Saheb argued these payments could endanger the green transition. “It’s impossible to do everything,” she said.
» Read article                  

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

alternative routes
Concern about gas pipeline proposed from Longmeadow to Springfield
By And Another Thing Team, NEPM
November 3, 2021

A proposed natural gas pipeline from Longmeadow to Springfield has some residents of both communities up in arms, but utility Eversource insists the five-mile pipeline is safe and essential to assure reliable service. What’s called the Western Massachusetts Natural Gas Reliability Project is a proposed pipeline that would take one of four routes from Longmeadow to a regulator station in Springfield.
» Listen to report              

both sides now
A Russian Pipeline Changes Direction, and Energy Politics Come to the Fore
Amid an energy crunch in Europe, one of Russia’s largest natural gas pipelines began pulling gas out of Western Europe back eastward, Russian news agencies reported.
By Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times
October 30, 2021

Natural gas, already in short supply in Europe this fall, began moving away from Germany on Saturday and back toward the east in an unusual reversal in a major Russian pipeline, Russian media reported.

In themselves, the Russian reports were no cause for alarm, and the giant Russian energy firm, Gazprom, said Saturday that it is filling all European orders. One Russian news media report even suggested the flow reversal was a short-term problem caused by balmy weather in Germany over the weekend.

But the reversal is playing out against a backdrop of a politically charged explosion in gas prices in Europe and accusations that the Kremlin is restricting gas supplies for political purposes. One such purpose is to prod the E.U. into approving a new pipeline, Nordstream 2, that would bring gas from Russia directly to Germany, bypassing Eastern Europe.

More broadly, analysts say, the Kremlin may be sending a message about renewable energy, illustrating that too quick a pivot away from natural gas will leave the Continent vulnerable to fickle wind and solar supplies.

Analysts say Russia has for weeks now been slow to supply fuel to make up for shortfalls, often by limiting deliveries to its own storage facilities. The reversal of the direction of flow on the major Yamal-Europe pipeline was seen as a potential new wrinkle.

The pipeline connects Russia to Germany and crosses Belarus and Poland. It accounts for about 20 percent of Russia’s overland supply capacity to the European Union, suggesting a significant shortfall if its operations were halted.
» Read article                  

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

cheapest energyReasons to be hopeful: the climate solutions available now
We have every tool we need to tackle the climate crisis. Here’s what some key sectors are doing
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
October 31, 2021

The climate emergency is the biggest threat to civilisation we have ever faced. But there is good news: we already have every tool we need to beat it. The challenge is not identifying the solutions, but rolling them out with great speed.

Some key sectors are already racing ahead, such as electric cars. They are already cheaper to own and run in many places – and when the purchase prices equal those of fossil-fueled vehicles in the next few years, a runaway tipping point will be reached.

Electricity from renewables is now the cheapest form of power in most places, sometimes even cheaper than continuing to run existing coal plants. There’s a long way to go to meet the world’s huge energy demand, but the plummeting costs of batteries and other storage technologies bodes well.

And many big companies are realising that a failure to invest will be far more expensive as the impacts of global heating destroy economies. Even some of the biggest polluters, such as cement and steel, have seen the green writing on the wall.

Buildings are big emitters but the solution – improved energy efficiency – is simple to achieve and saves the occupants money, particularly with the cost of installing technology such as heat pumps expected to fall.

The real fuel for the green transition is a combination of those most valuable and intangible of commodities: political will and skill. The supply is being increased by demands for action from youth strikers to chief executives, and must be used to face down powerful vested interests, such as the fossil fuel, aviation and cattle industries. The race for a sustainable, low-carbon future is on, and the Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow will show how much faster we need to go.
» Read article                  

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Watford CityWorld urged to slash gas use by a third to avoid climate disaster
‘Gas is the new coal’, says Climate Analytics report that finds it the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
November 4, 2021

The escalating rollout of gas for heating, electricity and cooking is turning it into the “new coal” and its use worldwide must be slashed by nearly a third this decade to avoid disastrous climate effects, according to a new report.

Gas has often been referred to as a “bridge fuel” as it emits about half the carbon dioxide of coal, and many countries have embraced it while also promising to transition to renewable energy in order to cut planet-heating emissions.

But this energy source, which has become easy and cheap to access due to the advance of fracking for its extraction, is still a fossil fuel, and the new analysis finds that it is now the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide emissions, putting the world at risk of blowing past dangerous global heating thresholds.

“Natural gas is not a bridging fuel. It is a fossil fuel,” said Bill Hare, chief executive of Climate Analytics and lead author of the new report. “Gas is the new coal. Governments, investors and the financial sector must treat it the same way as they do coal: phase it out as soon as possible.”

But growth in gas has had a significant influence over global heating, with the Climate Analytics report finding that gas was the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions increase in the past decade, rising by 42% and causing 60% of the methane emissions from fossil fuel production. Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas that is many times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat.

If the world is to avert disastrous 1.5C of global heating the use of gas should already be in decline, according to the report, but it is projected to cause 70% of the fossil CO2 emissions increase by 2030 under current policies.

This means unabated gas use must peak this decade and then drop sharply, the analysis finds, necessitating a decrease of 30% below last year’s levels by 2030 and then a 65% decrease by 2040. Renewable energy such as solar and wind should be ramped up to take the place of gas, according to the report.
» Read article                 
» Read the report: Why gas is the new coal

Tom Goldtooth
Tom Goldtooth at COP26: Absolute Carbon Reduction “Issue of Life and Death” for Indigenous Peoples
By Democracy Now, YouTube
November 2, 2021

» Watch video                  

Brianna Fruean
Samoan Climate Activist Brianna Fruean: If Pacific Islands Drown, the Rest of the World Is Doomed
By Democracy Now, YouTube
November 2, 2021

» Watch video                     

Dipti Bhatnagar
Voices from Global South Shut Out of U.N. Climate Summit As Vaccine Apartheid Limits Travel to U.K.
Democracy Now, YouTube
November 1, 2021

» Watch video                    

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

underwhelmingMore than 40 countries agree to phase out coal-fired power
Critics say pledge to end use of dirtiest fuel source in 2030s and 40s does not go far enough
By Fiona Harvey, Jillian Ambrose and Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian
November 3, 2021

More than 40 countries have agreed to phase out their use of coal-fired power, the dirtiest fuel source, in a boost to UK hopes of a deal to “keep 1.5C alive”, from the Cop26 climate summit.

Major coal-using countries, including Canada, Poland, South Korea, Ukraine, Indonesia and Vietnam, will phase out their use of coal for electricity generation, with the bigger economies doing so in the 2030s, and smaller economies doing so in the 2040s.

However, some of the world’s biggest coal-dependent economies, including Australia, China, India and the US were missing from the deal, and experts and campaigners told the Guardian the phase-out deadlines countries signed up to were much too late.

The goal of “consigning coal to history” has been a key focus for the UK as host of the Cop26 summit, which aims to put the world on track to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Expert assessments have found that for the world to stay within 1.5C, developed economies should phase out coal before 2030, rather than in the 2030s as in the deal announced on Wednesday night.

Elif Gündüzyeli, senior coal policy coordinator at the campaign group Climate Action Network Europe, said: “This is not a game-changer. A 2030 phaseout deadline should be a minimum, and this agreement doesn’t have that. Coal is already expensive [compared with renewable energy] and no one wants to put money in coal any more.”
» Read article                  

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

EE worker
Report: Massachusetts doesn’t have enough workers to meet its efficiency goals

A recent report by the clean energy nonprofit E4TheFuture says the state will need to attract some 35,000 people to energy efficiency related fields this decade if it wants to hit targets for 2030 and beyond.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
November 1, 2021

Massachusetts needs to grow its energy efficiency workforce by some 35,000 people if it is to make significant progress updating its aging homes by 2030, according to a recent report.

Massachusetts is already a leader in clean energy workforce development, advocates said, but the sector was already struggling to find qualified job candidates before the pandemic upended the labor market. More must be done if the state is to reach its goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050.

“We have to make the financial commitment,” said Pat Stanton, director of policy for E4TheFuture, the Massachusetts-based organization that developed the report. “How do we convince young people that going into the trades is a smart career path? And how do we help that whole sector grow?”

Energy efficiency is the largest employer in the energy sector nationwide, but it is particularly prominent in Massachusetts, where leading energy efficiency incentives, some of the oldest housing stock in the country, and cold winter temperatures combine to boost demand for efficiency services. In Massachusetts, efficiency jobs make up nearly 57% of the total energy workforce, well above the national average of 40%, according to the E4TheFuture report.

Still, the need for workers who can install heat pumps, operate high performance systems, conduct energy audits, and construct well-sealed building envelopes far outstrips the availability of trained workers in the state.

And demand is only likely to grow. Boston earlier this month passed new regulations calling for large buildings to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and the climate bill signed this spring will allow towns to require new buildings to have net-zero emissions. The state’s decarbonization roadmap estimates a million buildings will need heating system retrofits by 2030 to remain on pace to reach the state’s emissions-reduction goals.
» Read article                 
» Read the report

» More about energy efficiency

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY

shot down
Maine voters tell Mass. to stick its transmission line
Backers of project say referendum was unconstitutional
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
November 2, 2021

MAINE VOTERS delivered a shock to Massachusetts on Tuesday, overwhelmingly approving a ballot question that would block the Bay State’s bid to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by building a 145-mile transmission line delivering hydro-electricity from Quebec.

The ballot fight was the most expensive in Maine history. Opponents of the ballot question heavily outspent supporters and most of the state’s political and media establishment urged a no vote. But with 77 percent of the vote counted Tuesday night, the tally was 59 percent in favor of the question, 41 percent opposed.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine called the victory a landslide. Pete Didisheim, the group’s advocacy director, urged Central Maine Power to halt construction work on the transmission line immediately.

“We also call on Massachusetts to honor this electoral outcome by selecting an alternative option for meeting its climate goals without imposing significant environmental harm on another New England state,” Didisheim said in a statement.

Central Maine Power is likely to challenge the ballot outcome in court, possibly on the grounds that the question attempts to retroactively overturn regulatory approvals on which the utility relied in moving ahead with construction of the power line.

Clean Energy Matters, a political group affiliated with Central Maine Power, issued a statement saying “we believe this referendum, funded by fossil fuel interests, is unconstitutional. With over 400 Maine jobs and our ability to meet our climate goals on the line, this fight will continue.”
» Read article                  

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

smoke and steamProposed U.S. carbon capture credit hike cheers industry, worries greens
By Richard Valdmanis, Reuters
November 1, 2021

A proposed tax credit hike for U.S. carbon capture and sequestration projects being mulled by Congress could trigger a big jump in use of the climate-fighting technology to clean up industry, but environmentalists worry the scheme will backfire by prolonging the life of dirty coal-fired power plants.

Carbon capture sequestration (CCS) is a technology that siphons planet-warming carbon dioxide from industrial facilities and stores it underground to keep it out of the atmosphere. The administration of President Joe Biden considers it an important part of its plan to decarbonize the U.S. economy by 2050.

Under the proposal, embedded in the Biden administration’s $1.75 trillion spending package, CCS projects would become eligible for an $85 credit for each metric ton of carbon dioxide captured and stored, up from the current $50-per-ton credit that the industry says is too low.

Some environmental groups expect the credit will have the unintended consequence of extending the lives of big polluters like coal-fired power plants, among the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, by giving them a new revenue stream.

Under the credit proposal, industrial facilities would be required to capture at least 50% of their carbon emissions to be eligible for the credit, with that threshold rising to 75% for power plants – thresholds green groups say are too low.

“Such a handout to the fossil industry risks putting a sharp stop to the transition plans of coal-fired utilities, causing them to pursue speculative and expensive carbon capture dreams that are likely never to be realized, to the detriment of the climate and taxpayers,” said the Sierra Club, an environmental group focused on speeding the retirement of coal plants.
» Read article                  

» More about CCS

GAS UTILITIES

stock pipeline image
Expert says natural gas program ‘has been a complete fleecing of utility ratepayers’
By Kimberly James | The Center Square contributor
October 29, 2021

A natural gas program designed to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year has yet to materialize in Connecticut, and is instead leaving homeowners and businesses who converted to it facing an expensive winter.

Former Gov. Daniel P. Malloy’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy included a large-scale natural gas expansion, in part to bolster the economy and in part to reduce high energy prices. By 2020, 300,000 homes were to be connected to natural gas.

“At a high-level, the program assumed that the economics of converting from fuel oil to natural gas would drive a substantial number of conversions, with some additional assistance through this program,” Taren O’Connor, director of Legislation, Regulations and Communications at Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, told The Center Square. “However, the relative prices of fuel oil and natural gas through the life of this program have proven more price competitive, leading to fewer conversions than projected through the CES and at the outset of the program.”

Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, told The Center Square the plan was built on a faulty premise that natural gas prices would remain low for decades. “At the end of the day, DEEP was wrong when it came to the economics and on the environmental benefits of natural gas.”

With natural gas prices currently soaring, those homes and businesses that have made the switch are looking at a costly winter season.

Herb said that conservation is the only proven way to cut costs and reduce emissions.

“At Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) insistence, an important discounting mechanism was taken away from the CT Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) when they dedicated non-firm margin which was used to discount the cost of natural gas, was given to the utilities to build new pipelines,” Herb said. “This was a fundamental flaw with the expansion plan that hurt consumers.”
» Read article                  

» More about natural gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Marcellus drill site
The Problem With Calling Fracked Gas ‘Responsibly Sourced’
The natural gas industry is increasingly trying to market its product to environmentally and socially conscious investors, but two environmental advocates argue these efforts leave out fracked gas’s massive water and waste issues.
By Ted Auch, PhD, FracTracker Alliance, with contributions from Shannon Smith of FracTracker Alliance, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
November 1, 2021

The fracked natural gas industry has never been the most responsible or efficient consumer of resources. Drillers are using ever-increasing amounts of water and sand in order to produce the same volume of gas, with a corresponding rise in the levels of solid and liquid waste created.

Nevertheless, the industry has begun a new wave of branding around “Responsibly Sourced Natural Gas,” or RSG. But what does RSG really mean?

We argue that right now it’s an inadequate and ill-defined measurement of the overall ecological and social burden imposed by fracking. Instead, we suggest a new ratio for more accurately calculating fracked gas’s full impacts so that the fossil fuel industry can’t use RSG standards as a thin green veil for continuing its polluting practices.

Quantifying methane emissions is central to most of the RSG programs, but none of them  require full public disclosure of the methane levels that are actually released. That practice mirrors the secretive nature of the fracked oil and gas industry, which also does not publicly disclose the full list of chemicals used during the fracking process.

There are benefits to the natural gas industry reducing methane emissions — most notably for the rapidly destabilizing climate — but it represents low-hanging fruit for the industry to clean up its practices. Given the scale of the climate crisis, we need a much more serious commitment on the part of policymakers and energy companies to phase out fracked oil and gas production entirely and in the interim to significantly lessen its resource demands and waste production.

After all, RSG programs do not transform natural gas from a fossil fuel that accelerates climate change into a renewable fuel that does not. Instead, the RSG label offers the oil and gas industry an undeserved pass to continue gobbling up resources and polluting the environment, at the expense of people and the climate.
» Read article                  

two energy futures
In Their Own Words: The Dirty Dozen Documents of Big Oil’s Secret Climate Knowledge
Science historian Ben Franta unpacks some of the most critical documents exposing what the fossil fuel industry knew and when they knew it.
By Paul D. Thacker, DeSmog Blog
October 29, 2021

“Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes,” said ExxonMobil lobbyist Keith McCoy. “Did we join some of these ‘shadow groups’ to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true. But there’s nothing illegal about that.”

For years, academics, journalists, and activists have been unearthing documents proving that the fossil fuel industry knew about the dangers of climate change since the late 1950s. That’s many, many years before McCoy was even twinkle in his daddy’s eye and decades before he came to Washington to join in Exxon’s campaign to deny science and delay action to save the planet from “catastrophic climate change” — a term Exxon used back in 1981.

These documents show how companies worked to erode public acceptance of climate science over the years — including Exxon corporate reports from the late 1970s, revealed by DeSmog in 2016, which stated “There is no doubt” that CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels was a growing “problem.”

To explain the long history of what the fossil fuel industry knew and when they knew it, Stanford University science historian Ben Franta has collected a dozen of his favorite documents.

The fossil fuel industry was first warned about climate change back in 1959 by famed physicist Edward Teller, known as “the father of the hydrogen bomb.” Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, oil and gas companies continued to gather evidence that burning fossil fuels was going to change the planet, perhaps even catastrophically. By the early ‘80s, the science was clear enough that oil and gas companies began to strategize on ways to control messaging about climate change and regulations. In 1989, they launched the Global Climate Coalition, a massive lobbying effort to undermine science and attack any attempt to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Franta and I recently discussed these key documents, what they say, how they were found, and what this means for the fossil fuel industry. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
» Read article                  

» More about fossil fuels

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