Monthly Archives: January 2022

Weekly News Check-In 1/28/22

banner 05

Welcome back.

News broke just after the lackluster COP26 climate summit concluded, that the Biden administration would offer up the largest offshore oil and gas drilling lease in history. It was a huge carbon bomb lobbed at the climate, and it made the environmental community furious. Lawsuits came swiftly, and now we’re thrilled to report that the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia has revoked those leases. The ruling states that the Interior Department must consider the climate effects of fossil fuel extraction. Pipeline projects are bogging down in similar legal thickets, partly because of climate impacts, but also for direct environmental harms and safety hazards posed by their construction and operation.

Stanford scientist Robert Jackson took some of the shine off our beloved gas stove with a peer-reviewed study showing considerably higher rates of methane leakage than were previously understood. It’s challenging to send gas through pipes, valves, fittings, and appliances without at least a little bit leaking, and a little bit from a lot of places adds up to a serious problem. This new data bolsters the gas ban movement.

Food for thought: natural gas – methane (CH4) is a huge molecule compared to hydrogen (H2). We obviously don’t have a system that adequately contains methane, but the gas industry is pushing hard to send various mixtures of methane and hydrogen, and eventually all hydrogen, into our homes to perform the same functions currently served by natural gas. You good with that?

Sometime during the recent period of sustained environmental assault by the federal government, America was nudged toward greatness again (in some minds) by delaying the planned phase-out of inefficient, incandescent light bulbs. The effect on greening the economy wasn’t much, but it perversely served to raise the cost of living for people already struggling to get by. This is a good example of choices we make as we address the climate and environmental crises. There are obvious good or bad moves, and then there are unintended consequences – plus entrenched interests eager to game the system to their advantage. We’re seeing these dynamics play out in efforts to modernize the grid, source and site renewable resources, implement a meaningful system of carbon offsets and reforestation, and figure out an appropriate role for carbon capture and storage.

We’re keeping an eye on pushback within the European Union regarding attempts to classify natural gas and nuclear as sustainable energy. Meanwhile, the most blatant EU boondoggle of swapping coal for “carbon neutral” biomass took a hit, as its biggest offender, Drax Group, was booted off the S&P Global Clean Energy Index. And while we’re thumping the EU, what is going on with minimum flight benchmarks that are causing airlines to fly nearly-empty planes just to maintain airport slots?!!

Closer to home, Massachusetts lawmakers are pressing the Baker administration to finalize new energy efficiency standards in the building code. And we found some just plain good news in the latest press on Energy Vault’s gravity-based, long-duration energy storage system. We’ve featured this California company’s technology before, because it’s a standout in terms of simplicity, durability, and minimal environmental impact.

We’ll wrap up with a couple things to keep watching closely. First, the scope of cleaning up the fossil fuel industry’s abandoned and orphaned wells is rising now that the government has offered substantial funds for the task. We predict that cleanup costs will only grow – the mess is worse than industry and regulators have admitted. We’re also tracking growing concern about the prospect of someone implementing solar geoengineering in some form, in a desperate attempt to cool the planet.

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

Port Aransas platform
Court Revokes Oil and Gas Leases, Citing Climate Change
A judge ruled that the Interior Department must consider the climate effects of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico before awarding leases.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 27, 2022

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday canceled oil and gas leases of more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, ruling that the Biden administration did not sufficiently take climate change into account when it auctioned the leases late last year.

The decision by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia is a major victory for environmental groups that criticized the Biden administration for holding the sale after promising to move the country away from fossil fuels. It had been the largest lease sale in United States history.

Now the Interior Department must conduct a new environmental analysis that accounts for the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the eventual development and production of the leases. After that, the agency will have to decide whether it will hold a new auction.

“This is huge,” said Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, one of several environmental groups that brought the lawsuit.

“This requires the bureau to go back to the drawing board and actually consider the climate costs before it offers these leases for sale, and that’s really significant,” Ms. Hardy said, adding, “Once these leases are issued, there’s development that’s potentially locked in for decades to come that is going to hurt our global climate.”

Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said the agency was reviewing the decision.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden promised to stop issuing new leases for drilling on public lands and in federal waters. “And by the way, no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period,” Mr. Biden told voters in New Hampshire in February 2020. Shortly after taking office, he signed an executive order to pause the issuing of new leases.

But after Republican attorneys general from 13 states sued, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked that order, and also ruled that the administration must hold lease sales in the Gulf that had already been scheduled.

Biden administration officials have said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland risked being held in contempt of court if the auction was not held. Environmental groups, however, argued that the administration had other options, including doing a new analysis to examine the ways that the burning of oil extracted from the Gulf would contribute to climate change.
» Read article        
» Listen to coverage on NPR        

» Read the U.S. District Court decision

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Peters MountainMountain Valley Pipeline loses permit to cross through Jefferson National Forest
By Laurence Hammack, Roanoke Times
January 25, 2022

For the second time, a federal appeals court has thrown out government approvals for a natural gas pipeline to pass through the Jefferson National Forest.

A written decision Tuesday from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marked the latest of many setbacks for the Mountain Valley Pipeline since construction began in 2018.

A three-judge panel of the court found that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management failed to properly predict — and to prevent — erosion and sedimentation problems caused by building the massive infrastructure project.

Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote in the panel’s unanimous decision that the agencies “erroneously failed to account for real-world data suggesting increased sedimentation along the pipeline route.”

The ruling sends the permit back to the Forest Service and BLM for reconsideration. The first time the court did that, in July 2018, it took two years for the agencies to approve a second permit — which now has also been found lacking by the Fourth Circuit.
» Read article         

Line 5 at Mackinaw Station
Pipeline expert warns of Line 5 tunnel explosion risk, Enbridge balks
By Sheri McWhirter, MLive
January 7, 2022

An oil and gas expert warned Michigan utility regulators not only would a tunnel for the Line 5 pipeline not be a failsafe replacement for the underwater section of the line, but possible accidents could cause a catastrophic underground explosion.

But Enbridge doesn’t even want the possibility considered by decision-makers.

The Canadian oil and gas pipeline company wants much of that expert testimony tossed from the record in the state’s ongoing tunnel permit case review before the Michigan Public Service Commission. An administrative law judge will decide next week.

Enbridge argued the oil and gas expert’s testimony on behalf of Bay Mills Indian Community shouldn’t be considered because of a legal technicality – that nobody has suggested a tunnel explosion before now so it can’t be considered rebuttal testimony.

The company also objected to official statements from a slew of others, including experts who testified on behalf of tribal governments and nonprofit environmental groups opposed to the tunnel proposal and continued use of the existing pipeline.

A Chicago-based lawyer for the Bay Mills tribe said the expert’s testimony is, in fact, intended to rebut prior testimony from MPSC employees who contend the proposed tunnel is a basically foolproof solution to the risk of oil spills from the dual pipelines that currently run across the Great Lakes bottomlands in the Straits of Mackinac.

“We saw what was being submitted in the case with respect to how the tunnel was being characterized – and specifically the pipeline running through the tunnel – and there was a repeated theme from witnesses offered by the MPSC staff, that the tunnel was going to eliminate a risk of a spill or catastrophic event in the Straits,” said Christopher Clark, of nonprofit Earthjustice which is working pro bono on behalf of the state’s Indigenous tribes with co-counsel Native American Rights Fund.
» Read article         

» More about pipelines

GAS BANS

leaky gas stovesYour gas stove is always polluting, even when it’s turned off
Scientists may have just found a source of missing methane in cities.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
January 27, 2022

When we fire up a gas stove, we’re releasing a powerful climate pollutant into kitchens and beyond. But a new study found that this isn’t just happening when the stove is on. Even when turned off, a typical gas stove will send methane up to the atmosphere.

The new peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, helps answer a particular question that’s been nagging scientists for years. The puzzle has been accounting for all the sources of methane as concentrations in the atmosphere have risen to record levels. They know the natural gas industry, and specifically leaks from its pipelines, is the biggest contributor (natural gas is mostly methane). Other well-documented sources are livestock and landfills.

But there was a mystery when it came to urban environments: In one study in Boston, researchers noted that pipeline leaks couldn’t explain the high levels of methane emissions they detected. There had to be other leaks, most likely from gas-burning appliances inside homes.

So Stanford scientist Robert Jackson, one of the study’s coauthors, set out to track down this missing methane inside homes and buildings. And he was surprised at what his team found.

Basically all stoves “leak a bit when they’re burning,” Jackson said. “And they all leak a bit when you turn them on and off, because there’s a period of time before the flame kicks in. The most surprising was almost three-quarters of the methane that we found emitting from the stoves came from when they weren’t running.”

In other words, the gas stove, a feature of 40 million American homes, is likely always releasing a greenhouse gas. Gas stoves are still a relatively small source of methane compared to pipelines and refineries, and they aren’t even the biggest gas-guzzling appliance in buildings — gas furnaces and water heaters use much more of the fuel through the day and night. But the methane emissions from stoves are roughly equivalent to the carbon dioxide released by half a million gas-powered cars in a year, the researchers found.
» Read article        
» Read the study              

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

incandescent
Old-Fashioned, Inefficient Light Bulbs Live On at the Nation’s Dollar Stores
A Trump administration weakening of climate rules has kept incandescent bulbs on store shelves, and research shows they’re concentrated in shops serving poorer areas.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York TImes
January 23, 2022

For years, Deborah Turner bought her light bulbs at one of the many dollar stores that serve her neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio.

But the bulbs for sale were highly inefficient, shorter lasting, incandescent ones — the pear-shaped orbs with glowing wire centers — meaning that over time Mrs. Turner, who lives in a neighborhood where a quarter of the residents are below the poverty line, would spend hundreds of dollars more on electrical bills, because of the extra power they use, than if she’d purchased energy-saving LED lights.

It’s a pattern repeated nationwide. Research has shown that lower-end retailers like dollar stores or convenience shops still extensively stock their shelves with traditional or halogen incandescent bulbs, even as stores serving more affluent communities have shifted to selling far more efficient LEDs. One Michigan study, for instance, found that not only were LED bulbs less available in poorer areas, they also tended to cost on average $2.50 more per bulb than in wealthier communities.

“You just don’t see them in places like Dollar General,” said Mrs. Turner, a semi-retired addiction-treatment counselor.

The continued prevalence of incandescent bulbs in the United States is one result of a successful effort during the Trump presidency, by an industry group representing the world’s biggest light-bulb makers, to stall energy efficiency standards in the United States. By contrast, in the European Union, those same companies have adhered to a phaseout of incandescent bulbs.

The delay has enabled manufacturers to prolong profits from an inefficient technology, often at the expense of lower-income households, which end up having to replace the short-lived bulbs more frequently, while also paying more to power them.
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLEAN ENERGY

Paris nuke plant
EU Scientists and Politicians Clash Over Gas and Nuclear as ‘Sustainable’ Investments
Lobbyists and an alliance of some EU governments push gas and nuclear in a sustainable investing guide. Scientific experts are “deeply concerned.”
By Stella Levantesi, DeSmog Blog
January 25, 2022

The European Union’s scientific and political communities are locked in a battle over whether gas and nuclear can be considered green investments. The latest development in this years-long fight came on Monday, when the European Commission’s scientific expert group, the Platform on Sustainable Finance (PSF), pushed back against including gas and nuclear in the EU taxonomy, an official guide on sustainable investments. The expert group stated that it is “deeply concerned about the environmental impacts that may result.”

In December 2021, after months of lobbying, strong pushback from pro-gas and pro-nuclear supporters, and informal alliances between governments, the Commission asked the Platform on Sustainable Finance to provide feedback on a draft amendment that included gas and nuclear in the taxonomy, thereby recognizing them as sustainable.

In July 2020, the European Union established the EU Taxonomy Regulation, “a classification system establishing a list of environmentally sustainable economic activities.” It’s a “green investment guidebook,” said Henry Eviston, spokesperson on sustainable finance at WWF European Policy Office. In other words, to call an investment “green,” it needs to be taxonomy compliant.

Economic activities comply with the taxonomy if they pass a number of technical screening criteria and meet at least one of six environmental objectives, without harming any of the others: mitigating climate change; adapting to climate change; protecting and sustainably using water and marine resources; transitioning to a circular economy; preventing and controlling pollution; and restoring and protecting biodiversity.
» Read article         

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

gas-lit flame
Lawmakers want Baker to move faster on new code for green buildings
By WBUR News & Wire Services
January 19, 2022

Frustrated with what they see as foot-dragging from the Baker administration, lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday on bills that would give cities and towns the power to ban natural gas, heating oil or propane infrastructure in new buildings.

State law currently prohibits local governments from banning gas and oil hookups in new construction projects. But the state’s ambitious climate law passed last spring is supposed to change that, allowing communities to “opt in” to a stricter building code.

The law requires the Baker administration produce a draft of this “stretch” energy code by the end of 2022, but legislators said they were expecting one sooner.

“[The Baker administration] told the public to expect a draft of the code by last fall. But something’s happened. It’s not seen the light of day, and we hear some developers want it weakened,” said Sen. Michael Barrett and Rep. Jeffrey Roy, chairmen of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, in a statement. “On the off chance the stretch energy code either does not emerge soon, or emerges but departs from legislative intent, we’re looking at contingency steps the Legislature may want to take.”

At a virtual hearing Wednesday, Barrett said the lack of a draft is a “discouraging early sign of whether or not we’re on track” to live up to the 2021 climate law.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Energy Vault Resiliency Center
We Can Store Our Excess Renewable Energy In An Energy Vault
The company, Energy Vault, has commercialized the ultimate energy storage technology that will build the foundation of a clean energy future – brick by brick.
By James Conca, Forbes
January 27, 2022

The Energy Vault stores excess electrical energy by efficiently transforming it into gravitational potential energy using 35-ton bricks that can be raised and lowered at will, and that can sit still storing the energy for any amount of time, before transforming the energy back to electrical energy when needed.

It is not a battery that can degrade over time. It does not need water or rare elements like Li or Co. It does not depend on the weather and is not affected by extreme weather. It can withstand Cat 4 hurricane winds and magnitude 8 earthquakes (tested at the California Institute of Technology).

It uses common materials like dirt to make the bricks, even solid waste, that can be obtained locally and does not use cement to bind them together. It does not use ten times the steel and concrete that renewables use relative to nuclear or gas. And it has one of, if not the, lowest carbon footprints of any energy generation or storage system.

And this technology comes just in time. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge Market Report 2020, the World Energy Council, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg NEF and Lazard, the projected grid-related storage deployments between now and 2030 needs to be about 830 GWh. The cumulative investment in this grid-related storage required over this time period is about $270 billion.

I know that game-changer is an overused term, but this technology really is a game-changer. With it, we can achieve a low-carbon future by mid-century. And we don’t need to waste lithium.
» Read article         

» More about energy storage        

MODERNIZING THE GRID

No Eastie Substation
Opponents appeal East Boston substation’s waterfront license
By Walter Wuthmann, WBUR
January 27, 2022

Environmental advocacy groups and East Boston residents are making a renewed attempt to stop construction of an Eversource electrical substation in the neighborhood.

On Monday the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) filed an appeal with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, saying the state should not have granted a waterfront license for the project.

“This waterways license is yet another example of our state agency making the wrong decision and Eversource Energy not making a good decision,” said Staci Rubin, CLF Vice President of Environmental Justice. “There is a pattern of our governmental decisions granting permits to pollute in communities of color, low-income neighborhoods, and places with limited English-proficient residents.”

Neighbors have long opposed the substation site, which sits on a flood-prone area near Chelsea Creek, across the street from a popular playground, and near tanks of jet fuel for Logan Airport.

Eversource says it needs a new substation in East Boston to meet the neighborhood’s increasing electrical demands. Substations are key components of the grid, converting high-voltage electricity from power plants to a lower voltage for residential use.
» Read article        
» Read background reporting
» Read assessment and alternatives from Union of Concerned Scientists

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Ko-Solar panels
MassDOT finds an unusual place to hang solar panels: highway sound barriers
New panels along Route 128 will generate enough power for up to 120 homes
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
January 25, 2022

Solar developers are finding interesting places to put their panels: landfills, parking garages, warehouses, shopping malls.

Now, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is adding a particularly unusual spot to the list: highway sound barriers.

On Monday, MassDOT announced it had signed a letter of intent to create the first such solar “photovoltaic noise barrier,” or PVNB, by mounting solar panels on an existing sound barrier along Route 128 in Lexington in the coming months. The 638-kilowatt project could provide enough power for up to 120 homes. Solect Energy will finance, install, and maintain the 3,000-foot-long project, while Ko-Solar, a Natick startup owned by Koray Kotan, is developing it. Kotan said Ko-Solar is in talks with transportation agencies in several states but the MassDOT project will be the first of its kind in the United States.

A MassDOT spokeswoman said the agency expects to receive a financial benefit of about $23,000 a year over the course of a 25-year lease period, from a combination of lease payments and electric utility savings from the credits the agency will receive for providing the power for the area’s electric grid. The state Department of Energy Resources awarded a $345,000 grant to help subsidize this pilot project.
» Read article         

Tiehm’s wild buckwheat
In a battle between this endangered flower and a lithium mine, who should win?
The decision about whether to allow a mine supplying the materials to build batteries on the habitat of a rare flower exposes questions about how we manage the tradeoffs between preserving nature now versus protecting the climate in the future.
By Adele Peters, Fast Company
January 25, 2022

In a remote corner of Nevada a four hour drive north of Las Vegas, there’s a small yellow flower that exists nowhere else in the world: Its entire global habitat takes up a chunk of federally-owned land a little smaller than two football fields. That land also happens to be the site of a proposed lithium mine, which could produce enough lithium each year for the batteries in 400,000 electric cars.

Later this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make a final decision on whether to list the wildflower, called Tiehm’s wild buckwheat, on the Endangered Species List. And the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for granting mining leases on federal land, will decide whether the mine can move forward, potentially destroying 90% of the rare plant’s habitat. It’s one example of a recurring challenge: How far should we go to speed up the energy transition if that also threatens the environment in other ways?

The site is unique, as one of only two places in the world known to contain large amounts of both lithium and boron. In fact, the mining company plans to produce much more boron than lithium. (While lithium is a key ingredient used in batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, boron plays less of a starring role in the energy transition, though Ioneer has pointed out that boric acid is used in things like magnets in electric cars and wind turbines.) Because the company can mine both boron and lithium simultaneously, it helps substantially lower the cost of production.

Some people living in the area support the mine because it would bring new jobs and tax revenue. And the mine could help with the supply of lithium, which currently can’t keep up with demand, forcing battery costs higher at a time when the car industry needs to switch to electric vehicles to reduce climate risks. Other proposed lithium projects in the U.S. are also facing opposition because of environmental impacts.

“I think we need lithium,” [Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that has been fighting in court to protect the flower for more than three years] says. “It’s not a foregone conclusion we need open pit lithium mines. And we definitely don’t need open pit lithium mines that drive species extinct. That’s not a green technology. That’s just the same old way of doing business that got us to the place we are today. We’re on the brink of the climate crisis and ecological collapse because we drive species extinct, right? You need a new way of doing business.”
» Read article         

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

spooky
Airlines flying near-empty ‘ghost flights’ to retain EU airport slots
Analysis from Greenpeace finds deserted flights are generating millions of tons of harmful emissions
By Arthur Neslen, The Guardian
January 26, 2022

At least 100,000 “ghost flights” could be flown across Europe this winter because of EU airport slot usage rules, according to analysis by Greenpeace.

The deserted, unnecessary or unprofitable flights are intended to allow airlines to keep their takeoff and landing runway rights in major airports, but they could also generate up to 2.1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions – or as much as 1.4 million average petrol or diesel cars emit in a year – Greenpeace says.

“The EU Commission requiring airlines to fly empty planes to meet an arbitrary quota is not only polluting, but extremely hypocritical given their climate rhetoric,” said Herwig Schuster, a spokesperson for Greenpeace’s European Mobility for All campaign.

“Transport emissions are skyrocketing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible of the EU to not take the low-hanging fruit of ending ghost flights and banning short-haul flights where there’s a reasonable train connection.”

When the Covid pandemic began, the European commission suspended a benchmark requiring airlines to maintain 80% of their flight operations to keep their slots open.

In October, Brussels upped the benchmark to 50%, and it will rise again to 64% in March.

Lufthansa CEO, Carsten Spohr, said that his airline may have to fly 18,000 “extra, unnecessary flights” to fulfil the adjusted rules, and called for the sort of “climate-friendly exemptions” used in other parts of the world.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CARBON OFFSETS AND REFORESTATION

incinerated assets
Carbon offsetting is not warding off environmental collapse – it’s accelerating it
Wealthy companies are using the facade of ‘nature-based solutions’ to enact a great carbon land grab
By George Monbiot, The Guardian | Opinion
January 26, 2022

There is nothing that cannot be corrupted, nothing good that cannot be transformed into something bad. And there is no clearer example than the great climate land grab.

We now know that it’s not enough to leave fossil fuels in the ground and decarbonise our economies. We’ve left it too late. To prevent no more than 1.5C of heating, we also need to draw down some of the carbon already in the atmosphere.

By far the most effective means are “nature-based solutions”: using the restoration of living systems such as forests, salt marshes, peat bogs and the seafloor to extract carbon dioxide from the air and lock it up, mostly in trees or waterlogged soil and mud. Three years ago, a small group of us launched the Natural Climate Solutions campaign to draw attention to the vast potential for stalling climate breakdown and a sixth mass extinction through the mass revival of ecosystems.

While it is hard to see either climate or ecological catastrophe being prevented without such large-scale rewilding, we warned that it should not be used as a substitute for decarbonising economic life, or to allow corporations to offset greenhouse gases that shouldn’t be produced in the first place. We found ourselves having to shed a large number of partner organisations because of their deals with offset companies.

But our warnings, and those of many others, went unheeded. Something that should be a great force for good has turned into a corporate gold rush, trading in carbon credits. A carbon credit represents one tonne of greenhouse gases, deemed to have been avoided or removed from the atmosphere. Over the past few months, the market for these credits has boomed.

There are two legitimate uses of nature-based solutions: removing historic carbon from the air, and counteracting a small residue of unavoidable emissions once we have decarbonised the rest of the economy. Instead, they are being widely used as an alternative for effective action. Rather than committing to leave fossil fuels in the ground, oil and gas firms continue to prospect for new reserves while claiming that the credits they buy have turned them “carbon neutral”.
» Read article         

» More about carbon offsets         

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

milestone missed
Shell’s ‘Milestone’ CCS Plant Emits More Carbon Than It Captures, Independent Analysis Finds
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
January 24, 2022

The federal government is looking into independent analysis claiming that carbon capture at a highly-touted Shell Canada demonstration project in Alberta is producing more greenhouse gas emissions than it prevents, The Energy Mix has learned.

The report issued late last week by London, UK-based human rights organization Global Witness acknowledges that Shell’s Quest carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility near Edmonton captured five million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2015 and 2019, in what the company celebrated as a major milestone in July 2020.

But Global Witness came up with rather different numbers. “Our new research reveals that Quest is in fact emitting more than it is capturing,” the organization states. Despite the five megatonnes captured, the facility “has emitted a further 7.5 million tonnes of climate-polluting gases during the same time,” the equivalent of 1.2 million internal combustion cars per year.

Shell says it captured emissions equivalent to 1.25 million cars over a five-year span.

Global Witness’s analysis concludes that Quest captured just 48% of the emissions from hydrogen production at its Scotford bitumen upgrader and refinery—far less than the 90% standard promised by fossil executives and lobbyists. That’s because, while the CCS system captured 80% of the emissions from the steam methane reforming (SMR) production process to which it’s attached, it didn’t touch the 40% of total emissions that go into the atmosphere as flue gas, Global Witness says.

“When the plant’s overall greenhouse gas emissions are factored in, such as methane pollution from the fossil gas supply chain, only 39% of its emissions are captured,” the report adds.

For that result, Global Witness says Shell invested US$1 billion in the facility, including US$654 million in government subsidies, despite sustained opposition from many Indigenous communities focused on the industry’s “severe environmental damage”.

Shell maintains the plant has exceeded expectations, capturing more than its target of a million tonnes per year at lower cost than expected. But “Global Witness believes these claims about the CCS facility are misleading,” the report states. “They create the impression the hydrogen plant is less damaging for the climate than is actually the case, while Shell’s promotional materials give no sense of the proportion of carbon dioxide emitted” by Quest.
» Read article         

bubble column
Decarbonisation tech instantly converts CO2 to solid carbon
Researchers have developed a smart and super-efficient new way of capturing carbon dioxide and converting it to solid carbon, to help advance the decarbonisation of heavy industries.
By RMIT University, Melbourne
January 18, 2022

The carbon dioxide utilisation technology from RMIT researchers is designed to be smoothly integrated into existing industrial processes.

Decarbonisation is an immense technical challenge for heavy industries like cement and steel, which are not only energy-intensive but also directly emit CO2 as part of the production process.

The new technology offers a pathway for instantly converting carbon dioxide as it is produced and locking it permanently in a solid state, keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The research is published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Co-lead researcher Associate Professor Torben Daeneke said the work built on an earlier experimental approach that used liquid metals as a catalyst.

“Our new method still harnesses the power of liquid metals but the design has been modified for smoother integration into standard industrial processes,” Daeneke said.

The RMIT team, with lead author and PhD researcher Karma Zuraiqi, employed thermal chemistry methods widely used by industry in their development of the new CCS tech.

The “bubble column” method starts with liquid metal being heated to about 100-120°C.

Carbon dioxide is injected into the liquid metal, with the gas bubbles rising up just like bubbles in a champagne glass.

As the bubbles move through the liquid metal, the gas molecule splits up to form flakes of solid carbon, with the reaction taking just a split second.

“It’s the extraordinary speed of the chemical reaction we have achieved that makes our technology commercially viable, where so many alternative approaches have struggled,” Chiang said.
» Blog editor’s note: the “liquid metal” isn’t specified. But mercury comes to mind as an obvious low-temperature liquid metal. Whatever is used, toxicity and environmental impact could be a real issue if this process is scaled up.
» Read article         

» More about CCS

SOLAR GEOENGINEERING

measuring aerosolsEfforts to dim Sun and cool Earth must be blocked, say scientists
By Shanna Hanbury, Mongabay
January 24, 2022

Blocking the sun’s rays with an artificial particle shield launched high into Earth’s atmosphere to curb global temperatures is a technological fix gaining traction as a last resort for containing the climate crisis — but it needs to be stopped, wrote a coalition of over 60 academics in an open letter and article released in the WIREs (Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews) Climate Change online publication on January 17.

“Some things we should just restrict at the outset,” lead author Aarti Gupta, a professor of Global Environmental Governance at Wageningen University, told Mongabay. Gupta placed solar geoengineering in the category of high-risk technologies, like human cloning and chemical weapons, that need to be off-limits. “It might be possible to do, but it’s too risky.”

The color of the sky could change. The chemical composition of the ozone layer and oceans may be permanently altered. Photosynthesis, which depends on sunlight, may slow down, possibly harming biodiversity and agriculture. And global weather patterns could change unpredictably.

Despite the potential dangers, no mechanism exists today to stop an individual, company or country from launching a solo mission, said Gupta. To prevent this, the open letter suggests five urgent protective measures: no outdoor experiments, no implementation, no patents, no public funding, and no support from international institutions such as the United Nations.
» Read article        
» Read the open letter

» More about solar geoengineering

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

orphan well
Abandoned oil well counts are exploding — now that there’s money on the table
$4.7 billion released by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has states rethinking their abandoned oil well tallies.
By Naveena Sadasivam, Grist
January 21, 2022

From 2020 to 2021, the number of wells that the state of Oklahoma listed as abandoned — and therefore the government’s responsibility to clean up — jumped from 2,799 to a whopping 17,865. In Colorado, the orphan well tally hovered around 275 from 2018 to 2020 but increased by almost 80 percent last year. In California, the tally almost doubled in the last two years. (It started even lower in 2019, when the state identified just 25 abandoned wells.)

What changed? In 2020, Congress began seriously considering sending states money to plug orphan wells. The proposal had support from both political parties and was ultimately included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enacted in November, which set aside $4.7 billion for this purpose. States have long known that their orphan well tallies are outdated and incomplete, but without a source of funding to clean up the wells, many didn’t invest the resources required to identify abandoned wells. That changed as the funding slowly became a reality over the past couple of years.

Orphan oil and gas wells are a climate and public health menace. Abandoned by companies who abscond after fraudulent activity or fall into bankruptcy, these wells quietly belch the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere and pose a threat to public safety. Last year, a Grist and Texas Observer investigation found that the abandoned well count in Texas and New Mexico is poised to balloon by nearly 200 percent in the coming years. It’s widely accepted that cleanup costs run in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars nationwide — but both the true cost and the true count are unknown. The EPA estimates the unplugged orphan well count could be as high as 2.1 million across the U.S.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Pinnacle wood pellet plant
Tree-burning Drax power plants dropped from green energy index
The world’s largest biomass-burning power generator faces doubts over the sustainability of burning of wood pellets as a replacement for coal
By Adria Vasil, Corporate Knights
January 11, 2022

Here’s a green riddle for you: if a tree falls in the forest and it’s chipped, then shipped to be burned for electricity, is it carbon neutral?

It’s a question that’s been tripping up national carbon calculators around the globe since the days of the Kyoto Protocol. From the late 1990s, industry and governments have largely considered burning wood pellets in power stations to be renewable, zero-emitting energy, since planting new trees should, theoretically, absorb enough carbon dioxide to cancel out the emissions that come out of smokestacks as they burn.

But doubts regarding the science behind those claims and the sustainability of the practice have been mounting as more countries ramp up the burning of woody biomass as a replacement for coal.

In October, the world’s largest biomass-burning power generator, Drax Group, was one of 15 companies booted off the S&P Global Clean Energy Index. S&P also ditched the French bioenergy firm Albioma. The reason given: their “carbon-to-revenue footprint” was too large.

That same month, a study led by Princeton University, published in the journal Science, called out a “serious” error in the climate accounting rules widely applied to biomass energy since the Kyoto Protocol. “This accounting erroneously treats all bioenergy as carbon neutral regardless of the source of the biomass…. For example, the clearing of long-established forests to burn wood or to grow energy crops is counted as a 100% reduction in energy emissions despite causing large releases of carbon.

The carbon-neutral assumption might be true if you’re using perennial grasses or twigs, but scientists say that tree plantations don’t store as much carbon as natural forests, and regrowth takes time. It could take 40 to 100 years for planted trees to absorb the carbon debt released by biomass power plants (in boreal forests those estimates jump to 100 years).

Back in 2018, MIT scientist John Sterman concluded that “burning wood to produce energy can actually worsen climate change, at least through the year 2100 – even if wood displaces coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel.” In early 2021, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council affirmed that using woody biomass for power “is not effective in mitigating climate change and may even increase the risk of dangerous climate change.”

Meanwhile, the carbon accounting loophole has fuelled a boom in the biomass industry in Europe, the U.S., Canada and the U.K., where it’s highly subsidized. In the EU, biomass accounts for about 59% of all renewable energy consumption.
» Read article         

» More about biomass

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 1/21/22

banner 04

Welcome back.

Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) met to consider the fate of Canadian energy giant Enbridge’s Weymouth compressor station. Their conclusion boiled down to this: “Gosh, folks, you’re right! We never should have approved such a dangerous, polluting facility right there in your neighborhood…. But we did. Sorry. Nothing to be done. Next!” It was a variation on Governor Charlie Baker’s earlier claim that even if he opposed construction of the compressor, there was nothing he could do about it. Given that level of spinelessness from our Governor and Federal regulators, we’re doubly fortunate to have Alice Arena’s Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and their many allies including U.S. Senator Edward Markey and other state and local leaders, continuing to press for closing this climate-busting “mistake”. If you can support FRRACS, please do.

A little farther west, Massachusetts’ largest utility, Eversource, is running its own play to foist unwanted and unnecessary gas infrastructure on Longmeadow and Springfield communities through its proposed pipeline expansion, but the Longmeadow Select Board is unsatisfied with the utility’s answers to some basic questions like, “Who’s going to pay for this?” Meanwhile, cities and towns all over the state would love to cut the use of gas but can’t initiate bans because the Baker administration is months late delivering an updated building code that reflects emissions reduction requirements already on the books. Of course, those same regulations classify electricity produced through waste incineration as renewable….

To round things out, the MA Department of Environmental Protection is providing Boston with twelve new propane-powered school buses, even though the state’s climate legislation calls for a move away from fossil-fueled transportation and electric models are available. Did someone recently change the state motto to Coming up short!?

Now that we’ve aired a load of Massachusetts’ dirty laundy, let’s talk about Georgia, and how the Feds are stepping in because state regulators are on the cusp of accepting utility Georgia Power’s argument that they don’t really need to clean up unlined toxic coal ash storage pits that are in contact with ground water. While in North Dakota, a deal is being done to sell the state’s largest coal plant to investors chasing a scheme to use U.S. government subsidies for carbon capture and storage equipment, and thereby avoid shutting the plant down. So far, CCS has proved far better at wasting money than at removing CO2 from smokestacks.

This has been a bit of a rant, and we’re almost to the positive news. But first have a look at how the Permian Basin frack-fest has turned west Texas into an earthquake zone, and treat yourself to a romp through some of the lawless corners of the cryptocurrency world, where unpermitted gas plants in Alberta power bitcoin mining, and a rogue region of Kosovo compounds an energy crisis while refusing to pay electric bills.

While all of the above was going on, oceans absorbed record amounts of heat, and the divestment movement is expanding its scope beyond banking, insurance, and investments – calling for funds to be pulled from fossil-focused advertising and public relations campaigns.

Hydrogen continues to be a hot topic in the clean energy sector, but we’re seeing some encouraging debate about how it’s sourced and what it should be used for. At the same time, money from the recently-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is about to be applied to modernizing the grid – making it more resilient and able to bring renewable generation and storage onboard more quickly.

We’ll close with some intriguing news: Chinese battery maker CATL has developed a flexible, modular, battery-swapping scheme for electric vehicles with the potential to lower the cost of EV ownership while dropping road trip recharge times to just a few minutes. It’s disruptive, scalable, and very cool.

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

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FRACCS and friendsFeds: Regulators ‘should never have approved’ Weymouth compressor, too late to shut it down
“What (FERC) did was morally, ethically and legally wrong on every level, and they just recommitted to that.”
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
January 20, 2022

WEYMOUTH – While several members said regulators shouldn’t have approved the project to begin with, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says it won’t revoke authorization for the natural gas compressor station in Weymouth.

After reexamining operations and safety at the station following several accidental releases of natural gas, Richard Glick, the commission’s chairman, said regulators “should never have approved” the compressor on the banks of the Fore River, a “heavily populated area with two environmental justice communities and a higher-than-normal level of cancer and asthma due to heavy industrial activity.”

But Glick said the review and findings don’t justify revoking approval for the station, which the commission initially granted in January 2017. The compressor station is owned by Algonquin Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of Spectra Energy, which was later acquired by Enbridge.

“Going forward, the commission needs to pay attention to the impacts of its (decision) and I will push for the those changes,” he said. “I recognize that is cold comfort to the folks who live near the Weymouth compressor station.”

“This is their job. They get to set precedent. They get to say, ‘We went back and looked at this, and we looked into whether (Enbridge) ever needed the compressor in the first place, and the answer is no,’” Arena said. “(The commissioners) can say whatever they want that helps them get through the night, but what (FERC) did was morally, ethically and legally wrong on every level, and they just recommitted to that.”

State regulators also issued several permits for the project despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents. Arena likened the commission’s response on Thursday to that of state regulators and Gov. Charlie Baker.

“They’ve done exactly what Charlie Baker did and said, ‘Our hands our tied. There’s nothing we can do,’ ” she said.

Arena sad the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station will push forward with its opposition to the project in court. Several rehearing requests are pending in federal court, and the group’s appeal of the waterways permit will soon be heard in Superior Court.
» Blog editor’s note: You can follow and support Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) through their website or Facebook.
» Read article       
» Watch WBZ-TV news coverage of the reaction to FERC’s decision

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

no expansion
Longmeadow Select Board unsatisfied with Eversource’s pipeline answers
By Sarah Heinonen, The Reminder
January 12, 2022

Longmeadow Select Board Chair Marc Strange read answers provided by Eversource after a December 2021 public hearing on the proposed natural gas pipeline and metering station. The board had requested responses to five questions that the utility company’s representatives were unable to answer during the meeting.

The first question was regarding a 10 percent return on investment that Eversource had stated it would receive from the pipeline project. The board had asked if the return the company would receive was 10 percent of the total capital investment or if it would receive a return annually. After reading Eversource’s response, which cited a Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities docket and stated shareholders would not see a return from the project unless “deemed prudent,” it went on to talk about the relationship between rate base and capital investments and year-long “rate case” proceedings involving the attorney general.

After reading the response, Strange asked, “Does anybody understand what it says?” causing members of the board to chuckle at the legal jargon and industry terminology used.

Select Board Vice Chair Steve Marantz pointed out that Eversource insisted the project will not involve an increase in the amount of gas it moves to customers and questioned how the company can receive a return on its investment without selling more gas.

Select Board member Mark Gold responded that the $40 million investment will be written off in taxes. Fellow Select Board member Thomas Lachiusa agreed, saying, “Eversource will pay less in taxes while increasing their footprint.”

Marantz opined that the cost of the investment will be passed on to ratepayers.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

climate lies uncovered
450+ Climate Scientists Demand PR Industry Drop Fossil Fuel Clients
“To put it simply, advertising and public relations campaigns for fossil fuels must stop,” states an open letter to ad agencies and major firms.
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
January 19, 2022

In a new letter stressing the need for an “immediate and rapid transition” away from planet-heating fuels, a group of over 450 scientists on Wednesday called on public relations and advertising agencies to no longer work with fossil fuel clients.

“As scientists who study and communicate the realities of climate change,” they wrote, “we are consistently faced with a major and needless challenge: overcoming advertising and PR efforts by fossil fuel companies that seek to obfuscate or downplay our data and the risks posed by the climate crisis.”

“In fact,” the scientists continued, “these misinformation campaigns represent one of the biggest barriers to the government action science shows is necessary to mitigate the ongoing climate emergency. ”

Organized by scientists including Drs. Astrid Caldas, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, and Michael Mann, along with the Clean Creatives campaign and the Union of Concerned Scientists, the letter is being sent to a number of public relations and advertising agencies including Edelman—the world’s biggest PR firm—and major clients of those companies including Amazon, Microsoft, and North Face.

“If PR and advertising agencies want to be part of climate solutions instead of continuing to exacerbate the climate emergency,” the scientists wrote that those companies “should drop all fossil fuel clients that plan to expand their production of oil and gas, end work with all fossil fuel companies and trade groups that perpetuate climate deception, cease all work that hinders climate legislation, and instead focus on uplifting the true climate solutions that are already available and must be rapidly implemented at scale.”

“To put it simply,” the letter adds, “advertising and public relations campaigns for fossil fuels must stop.”
» Read article       

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

bleached corals
Oceans Absorb Record Heat in 2021
By The Energy Mix
January 16, 2022


The Earth’s oceans yet again absorbed record high levels of heat in 2021 as part of a steady and dangerous 63-year warming trend fueled by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, concludes a recent study authored by researchers from China, Italy, and the United States.

Published last week in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, the analysis confirms that the rate at which oceans have been absorbing heat, especially over the last 40 years, would be impossible in the absence of carbon emissions produced by human activity, reports the Washington Post.

The “long-term upward trend” has shown dramatic increases in recent years, with the oceans warming eight times faster since the late 1980s than in the three previous decades, said study co-author John Abraham, a professor of thermal engineering at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

“We’ve built up so much greenhouse gas that the oceans have begun to take in an increasing amount of heat, compared to what they previously were,” he told the Post.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

BayoTech hydrogen generator
New Mexico front and center in nationwide debate over hydrogen
By Kevin Robinson-Avila, Albuquerque Journal
January 17th, 2022

[The] potential wholesale embrace of everything hydrogen is facing a wall of opposition from environmental organizations, which say the governor and local hydrogen supporters are rushing forward to build a new industry that could actually slow New Mexico’s transition to a clean energy economy, and possibly even worsen carbon emissions here. Rather than produce a new, “clean fuel” to help decarbonize things like transportation and residential and commercial heating, environmentalists say full-scale hydrogen production could instead perpetuate mining and consumption of natural gas for 20 years or more at a time when New Mexico and the nation are aggressively working to replace fossil fuels with renewables like solar, wind and backup-battery technology.

That’s because nearly all of today’s hydrogen production uses natural gas in a process that extracts hydrogen molecules from methane, a potent greenhouse gas, with substantial amounts of carbon emitted during operations. Industry and hydrogen supporters say carbon capture and sequestration technology can mitigate nearly all the carbon emissions, but that only intensifies the controversy, because carbon capture must still be proven environmentally and economically effective in commercial projects.

As a result, environmentalists want to halt the hydrogen-promotion bills in this year’s session and instead launch a broad public process to fully evaluate the pros and cons of hydrogen before moving forward. Thirty environmental, clean energy and local community organizations sent a joint statement to New Mexico’s state and federal officials last fall outlining “guiding principles” to better determine whether and how hydrogen development could potentially be used as a supporting tool to combat climate change.

The local controversy reflects growing debate at the national and international levels over the role hydrogen can play as the world works to achieve carbon neutrality by midcentury.
» Read article       

blue is out
Germany’s Massive Boost for Hydrogen Leaves Out Fossil-Derived ‘Blue’ Variety
By The Energy Mix
January 19, 2022

Germany’s new coalition government has unveiled plans to massively accelerate the country’s national hydrogen strategy, while excluding fossil-derived “blue” hydrogen from eligibility for federal subsidies.

“Clean hydrogen is seen as a potential silver bullet to decarbonize industries like steel and chemicals, which cannot fully electrify and need energy-dense fuels to generate high-temperature heat for their industrial processes,” Euractiv reports.

“However, Germany will make no subsidies available for so-called ‘blue hydrogen’, which is created by using fossil gas and sequestering the resulting CO2 emission using carbon and capture (CCS) technology,” the publication adds, citing Patrick Graichen, state secretary to Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck.

At an event earlier this morning, Clean Energy Wire reports, energy and climate state secretary Patrick Graichen said the country may obtain the “blue” product from Norway for a transitional period. “We will go for green hydrogen in the long term, and whenever we put money on the table, it will be for green hydrogen,” he told a panel discussion on energy cooperation between the two countries, hosted by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry and German Chambers of Commerce Abroad.

That’s despite concerns from Germany’s oil and gas lobby, the European Commission, and non-profits like the U.S. Clean Air Task Force that “green” hydrogen produced from renewable electricity can’t scale up in time to do its part to reduce emissions.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Beverly HS solar array
All around Massachusetts, cities and towns want to go fossil fuel free. Here’s why they can’t.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
January 18, 2022

Across Massachusetts, dozens of cities and towns have said they want to outlaw the use of fossil fuels in newly constructed buildings — considered an easy and effective step toward a carbon-free future.

The state’s new climate legislation aimed to do just that, and required the state to come up with a new building code that would allow cities and towns to move ahead.

The Baker administration promised a draft by fall 2021 but failed to deliver. And now some climate-concerned legislators want the administration to answer for it.

“Each additional day of delay means one day less of public discussion,” said Senator Mike Barrett, who cochairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, which is scheduled to discuss the delays — and what to do about them — at a hearing Wednesday. “The clock is ticking down, and Baker’s people know it.”

In light of the delay, Wednesday’s hearing will consider legislative action that would allow cities and towns to require new residential and commercial buildings to be “all-electric.”

The exact details of the building code won’t be known until the Baker administration releases it and it goes through a public comment period and a series of five public hearings. It is required to be finalized by December of next year. But the intent, as laid out by the climate law passed last year, is that cities and towns could require new buildings and gut rehabilitations would have net-zero emissions. This likely means a future of heat pumps to deliver heat, solar panels to generate energy, and onsite batteries to store what is produced to get to net zero.

But net zero is not zero, and the climate legislation allows for some wiggle room.

Advocates fear the draft from the Baker administration could ultimately allow for buildings to have fossil fuel hook-ups as long as emissions are offset in another way, like the installation of solar panels. While the offsetting is important for the climate, the continued use of fossil fuels in new buildings would ensure that the required infrastructure remains in place into the future, potentially putting the state’s climate targets at risk.

“The thing we’re really waiting for is to make sure that the code is what it needs to be” said Cameron Peterson, director of clean energy for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “The definition I would like to see would have a building that has no combustion in it, but depending on how they write the performance standards, it’s possible that fossil fuel hook-ups could be allowed.”
» Read article       

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

Deepwater Wind
Biden administration announces major new initiatives to clean up the electric grid
Federal agencies announced plans to open up public lands and waters and lay new transmission lines
By Justine Calma, The Verge
January 12, 2022

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced a slew of new moves to transition the US to renewable energy, with a focus on upgrading the power grid and using public lands and waters to harness solar, wind, and geothermal energy. It’s the administration’s latest effort to clean up the nation’s electricity grid, as Democrats struggle to make headway on key legislation needed to tackle the climate crisis.

The Department of Energy is rolling out a “Building a Better Grid” initiative, which will put federal dollars to work after the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure law allocated $65 billion for grid improvements. Notably, there’s $2.5 billion earmarked for new and improved transmission lines that will be crucial for zipping renewable energy from far-flung solar and wind farms to communities. Another $3 billion will go towards smart grid technologies that aim to make homes more energy efficient and reduce pressure on the grid while balancing the flow of intermittent sources of renewable energy like wind and solar.

There’s also more than $10 billion in grants to states, tribes, and utilities for efforts to harden the grid and help prevent power outages. As the grid ages and extreme weather events are worsened by climate change, blackouts have grown longer in the US, with the average American going more than eight hours without power in 2020 — twice as long as was typical when the federal government started keeping track in 2013. Things could get worse without efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article       

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Evogo swap
CATL rolls out one-minute EV battery swapping solution, entire business around it

By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
January 18, 2022

Battery swapping, once considered a solution that had been outmoded by the capability for faster road-trip charging, is back—with the world’s largest battery supplier CATL onboard and launching an entire business around it.

That business, called Evogo, makes a lot of sense right now that the longtime reduction in battery cell cost has reversed course, largely due to supply constraints. Most EV owners tend to buy the vehicle with the bigger battery so as to eliminate range anxiety, when only 10-20% of the total capacity of the battery is needed for daily use. “They have paid a high sunk cost for a power capacity that is rarely needed,” the company sums.

In terms that customers, automakers, and regulators will all like, it’s a scheme that will allow lower-priced EVs, and more of them.

Evogo, will revolve around “an innovative modular battery swap solution” that uses standardized battery blocks and has “high compatibility with vehicle models.”

That takes the form of a new bar-like battery—nicknamed Choco-SEB and designed around the idea of battery sharing, supporting cell-to-pack technology and an energy density of more than 160 watt-hours per kg, with a volumetric energy density of 325 Wh/L.

CATL says each 26.5-kwh block can enable a driving range of about 200 km (124 miles). And the idea is that you may only need one of these blocks for daily commuting, while three of these will comprise a long-range battery, with customers at battery swaps potentially swapping just one block or all three as needed.Likewise, customers could potentially lease one block with the vehicle but rent additional blocks as needed for a long trip.
» Read article       

detour at best
Boston is getting more propane school buses to combat pollution. They aren’t the cleanest option.
By Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
January 13, 2022

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will spend $350,000 on 12 propane-powered school buses for Boston at a time when the state’s climate plan calls for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels in transportation.

The school buses are part of a $2 million round of Massachusetts grant funding provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency announced this week. The funding aims to cut pollution by getting rid of diesel-powered vehicles. The state said it will spend $740,324 on five electric school buses for Springfield contractor First Student Inc., and the 12 buses bound for Boston will use propane, a fossil fuel.

Governor Charlie Baker praised the funding announcements Tuesday.

“Our administration continues to identify and advance projects that better position the state in combating against the impact of climate change with an equitable approach,” he said in a statement. “The shift to cleaner vehicles will reduce the exposure of our citizens to diesel emissions, improve air quality, and assist us as we work to meet the Commonwealth’s ambitious climate goals.”

Those goals, part of climate legislation signed by Baker last year, are reducing the state’s carbon emissions at least 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 75 percent below those levels by 2040, and getting to “net zero” emissions by 2050. Key to achieving those goals is electrifying most of the transportation sector, according to the state’s own road map.

The majority of Boston’s school bus fleet already runs on propane, but advocates bemoaned the city adding more vehicles powered by fossil fuels rather than moving to electric school buses as some other Massachusetts cities are doing.

“It’s time for the city to step up and be a leader on electric buses,” said Staci Rubin, vice president of environmental justice at the Conservation Law Foundation. “Ideally this would have been the time to get electric buses and figure it out.”

Data from the US Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory’s transportation fuel calculator tool show that electric school buses far outperform propane school buses in reducing air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. Compared to diesel school buses, propane school buses emit less nitrogen oxides, which contribute to harmful air pollution. Depending on the age and fuel efficiency of the diesel engine, propane buses can provide a slight reduction or a slight increase in greenhouse gases compared to diesel buses.

“It’s a detour at best, a dead end at worst,” said Daniel Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at University of California Davis.
» Read article       
» Check out the Argonne National Lab’s fuel calculator tool

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

questionable value
Bitcoin Creates ‘Regulatory Hornet’s Nest’ as Alberta Orders Third Gas Plant Shutdown
By Jody MacPherson, The Energy Mix
January 18, 2022

A company facing more than C$7 million in penalties for operating two gas-fired power plants in Alberta without approvals has been ordered to shut down a third facility, after the plant in Westlock County was also found to be operating without approvals.

The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has also reopened its investigation into the previous two operations, combining it with the new Westlock investigation. At issue is whether the company was generating power for its own use and if the original penalty amount should change with the new information provided by the company.

Energy consumption and environmental concerns with bitcoin mining have surfaced around the world with a number of countries—including China—banning it outright.

China cited environmental concerns and cracked down on bitcoin mining this past summer. In August, an American company announced plans to power up to a million bitcoin “rigs” relocated from China to Alberta.

“It’s a question of what is the highest-value end use of an electron,” said clean energy policy consultant Ed Whittingham, former executive director of the Pembina Institute, in an exclusive interview with The Energy Mix. “Is it to mine a bitcoin? Or is it to help to get to these long-term goals that really balance environmental and social benefit?”

Whittingham said he would like to understand the environmental and social benefits produced by cryptocurrencies like bitcoin “because right now, it seems pretty opaque to me.”
» Read article       

Bitcoin accepted
Panic as Kosovo pulls the plug on its energy-guzzling bitcoin miners
Speculators rush to sell off their kit as Balkan state announces a crypto clampdown to ease electricity crisis
By Daniel Boffey, The Guardian
January 16, 2022

For bitcoin enthusiasts in Kosovo with a breezy attitude to risk, it has been a good week to strike a deal on computer equipment that can create, or “mine”, the cryptocurrency.

From Facebook to Telegram, new posts in the region’s online crypto groups became dominated by dismayed Kosovans attempting to sell off their mining equipment – often at knockdown prices.

“There’s a lot of panic and they’re selling it or trying to move it to neighbouring countries,” said cryptoKapo, a crypto investor and administrator of some of the region’s largest online crypto communities.

The frenetic social media action follows an end-of-year announcement by Kosovo’s government of an immediate, albeit temporary, ban on all crypto mining activity as part of emergency measures to ease a crippling energy crisis.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are created or “mined” by high-powered computers that compete to solve complex mathematical puzzles in what is a highly energy-intensive process that rewards people based on the amount of computing power they provide.

The incentive to get into the mining game in Kosovo, one of Europe’s poorest countries, is obvious. The cryptocurrency currently trades at more than £31,500 a bitcoin, while Kosovo has the cheapest energy prices in Europe due in part to more than 90% of the domestic energy production coming from burning the country’s rich reserves of lignite, a low-grade coal, and fuel bills being subsidised by the government.

The largest-scale crypto mining is thought to be taking place in the north of the country, where the Serb-majority population refuse to recognise Kosovo as an independent state and have consequently not paid for electricity for more than two decades.
» Read article       

» More about cryptocurrency

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Coal Creek power plant
Sale of North Dakota’s Largest Coal Plant Is Almost Complete. Then Will Come the Hard Part
Minnesota co-op utilities must vote on approval of the plant’s sale. The new owner is betting on carbon capture to extend its life.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
January 15, 2022

A plan to sell, rather than close, the largest coal-fired power plant in North Dakota is nearly final. The completion of the sale would allow the buyer to move on to the much greater challenge of making the plant financially viable and installing a carbon capture system.

Great River Energy of Minnesota originally planned to close the plant, Coal Creek Station, after years of financial losses, but the company changed course and decided to sell the plant after intense pressure from elected officials in North Dakota. State officials have been zealous in trying to preserve coal jobs, to the point that they helped to arrange the sale and hope to use government subsidies to help retrofit the plant with a carbon capture system.

The efforts by officials to keep the plant open is part of a larger pattern of state and local governments, from Montana to West Virginia, downplaying concerns about the high costs and emissions from burning coal and working to secure a future for coal mines and coal-fired power plants. In some of those places, the coal industry and government leaders are embracing carbon capture, despite warnings from energy analysts that this is a costly investment that is unlikely to be successful at substantially cutting emissions.

Minnesota environmental advocates have opposed the sale every step of the way.

“We need somebody to be held accountable,” said Veda Kanitz, an environmental advocate who also is a customer of one of the co-ops, Dakota Electric Association, that receives power from the plant. “We’re not seeing a true risk-benefit analysis. And I don’t think they’re properly factoring in the climate impacts.”
» Read article       

» More about CCS

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Plant Scherer
How a Powerful Company Convinced Georgia to Let It Bury Toxic Waste in Groundwater
Documents reveal Georgia Power went to great lengths to advocate for risky waste storage. After a ProPublica investigation exposed this practice, the EPA is trying to block the move.
By Max Blau, ProPublica
January 18, 2020

For the past several years, Georgia Power has gone to great lengths to skirt the federal rule requiring coal-fired power plants to safely dispose of massive amounts of toxic waste they produced.

But previously unreported documents obtained by ProPublica show that the company’s efforts were more extensive than publicly known. Thousands of pages of internal government correspondence and corporate filings show how Georgia Power made an elaborate argument as to why it should be allowed to store waste produced before 2020 in a way that wouldn’t fully protect surrounding communities’ water supplies from contamination — and that would save the company potentially billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

In a series of closed-door meetings with state environmental regulators, the powerful utility even went so far as to challenge the definition of the word “infiltration” in relation to how groundwater can seep into disposal sites holding underground coal ash, according to documents obtained through multiple open records requests.

Earlier this month, Georgia Power was on its way to getting final approval from the state to leave 48 million tons of coal ash buried in unlined ponds — despite evidence that contaminants were leaking out. Georgia is one of three states that regulate how power companies safely dispose of decades worth of coal ash, rather than leaving such oversight to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency itself.

But last week, the EPA made clear that arguments like the ones Georgia Power has been making violate the intent of the coal ash rule, setting up a potential showdown among the federal agency, state regulators and the deep-pocketed power company. In a statement last week, the EPA said that waste disposal sites “cannot be closed with coal ash in contact with groundwater,” in order to ensure that “communities near these facilities have access to safe water for drinking and recreation.”

The EPA’s action follows a joint investigation by Georgia Health News and ProPublica that found Georgia Power has known for decades that the way it disposed of coal ash could be dangerous to neighboring communities.
» Read article       

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Permian Basin gas plant
Texas went big on oil. Earthquakes followed.
Thousands of earthquakes are shaking Texas. What the frack is going on?
By Neel Dhanesha, Vox
January 20, 2022

It’s been a big winter for earthquakes in West Texas. A string of small tremors rocked Midland County on December 15 and 16, followed a week later by a magnitude-4.5 quake, the second-strongest to hit the region in the last decade. Then a magnitude-4.2 quake shook the town of Stanton and another series of small earthquakes hit nearby Reeves County.

That’s an unsettling pattern for a state that, until recently, wasn’t an earthquake state at all. Before 2008, Texans experienced just one or two perceptible earthquakes a year. But Texas now sees hundreds of yearly earthquakes of at least magnitude 2.5, the minimum humans can feel, and thousands of smaller ones.

The reason why is disconcerting: Seismologists say that one of the state’s biggest industries is upsetting a delicate balance deep underground. They blame the oil and gas business — and particularly a technique called wastewater injection — for waking up ancient fault lines, turning a historically stable region into a shaky one, and opening the door to larger earthquakes that Texas might not be ready for.

Early signs of trouble came in 2008, when Dallas-area residents felt a series of small earthquakes that originated in the nearby Fort Worth basin. More earthquakes followed, and a magnitude-4 quake hit a town southwest of Dallas in 2015. No damage was reported, but according to the US Geological Survey, the impact of a magnitude-4 earthquake can include: “Dishes, windows, doors disturbed; walls make cracking sound. Sensation like heavy truck striking building. Standing motor cars rocked noticeably.”

Earthquakes in West Texas increased from a grand total of 19 in 2009 to more than 1,600 in 2017, according to a 2019 study, coinciding neatly with the rise of wastewater injection in the area. Nearly 2,000 earthquakes hit West Texas in 2021, a record high. According to the TexNet, the University of Texas’ earthquake catalog, 17 of those were magnitude 4 or higher.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

garbage crane
Trash is a burning question with mixed answers in some Mass. towns
By Hannah Chanatry, WBUR
January 20, 2022

Massachusetts categorizes trash incineration as renewable energy. In fact, it’s almost always one of the leading sources of renewable energy in the region, according to ISO New England’s real-time analysis of energy use, usually beating out solar and wind.

The designation as renewable is a critical problem for the Conservation Law Foundation.

“It’s really just a greenwashing campaign,” said Kirstie Pecci, and environmental attorney with the organization.

Pecci has worked opposing incinerators for a decade. While the idea of energy production sounds good, she said the pollution coming from the facilities is too dangerous for public health and the environment.

“The ash has got dioxin, furans, heavy metals,” she said, “all kinds of [other] nasty chemicals in it as well.” Dioxins are a class of organic pollutants, some of which are highly toxic and are known to cause cancer and reproductive problems.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection also identifies nitrogen oxides, which can cause breathing problems and are the primary ingredient in smog, as among the possible emissions from incinerators. Incinerators are required to take  measures to limit emissions below federal and state caps, and conduct continuous and annual monitoring for specific pollutants. Each incinerator is permitted by both MassDEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for air quality, water quality, stormwater and spills on site.

The Conservation Law Foundation and other environmental organizations want the state to move to close the incinerators.
» Read article       

» More about waste incineration

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 1/14/22

banner 03

Welcome back.

Soon after Netflix released director Adam McKay’s doomsday thriller Don’t Look Up, the climate activist network started buzzing. For decades, those of us urging action have been frustrated by the vague, “sometime in the future” aspect of global warming’s effects, which has enabled a lot of can-kicking down the road. In this context, the film’s killer comet allegory is brilliant. If civilization’s end were total, certain, and precisely timed, it might finally focus the mind.

Divestment from fossil fuels has been increasingly impactful, to the point that Big Oil & Gas is having some trouble financing expansion projects. An even more direct action is to mount an actual takeover of a corporate polluter, and aggressively reorient it toward sustainability.

Pipeline developers often gain access to agricultural land by promising to bury the structure under fields and then “fully restore” the surface. The pitch to farmers: get some steady income for very little bother. Except that research now confirms that the combination of soil compaction by heavy construction equipment combined with the mixing of topsoil with deeper material, results in years of significantly reduced crop yield.

Of course, a great way to discourage those pipelines is to kick the gas habit. Massachusetts recently established the Commission on Clean Heat, with a mission to develop a pathway to greener buildings. Activists are keeping up the pressure for full electrification and gas hookup bans.

People all over the northern hemisphere who suffered the deadly combination of record temperatures, long brutal heat waves, epic floods, intense drought, and hellish wildfires, probably felt a little let down by recent climate reports that ranked 2021 only the 6th warmest year on record. We found an article that puts it all in perspective – and yes, your pain is real.

This week was full of encouraging news regarding innovations that will speed up a green transition. Battery recycling is developing quickly, roofing materials giant GAF announced a promising solar roof shingle, and Massachusetts startup AeroShield promises to revolutionize energy efficient windows using materials better known for heat-resistant tiles on space shuttles. We also take a closer look at long-duration energy storage using gravity, cranes, and heavy blocks.

On the clean energy downside, current-generation geothermal plants need to be located near relatively near-surface sources of very hot water. This often carries negative environmental and cultural impacts. But new deep-drilling methods may help solve that problem by allowing geothermal facilities to locate almost anywhere.

With huge SUVs increasingly clogging roadways, and with most legacy car manufacturers introducing their first round of EV models on crossover, SUV, and light truck platforms, we were wondering if there’s a future for the basic four-door sedan or hatchback. The answer is yes, and it looks pretty sleek.

We explore why so many states continue to approve new gas power plants, and also expose the plastics industry’s greenwashing efforts behind their big push for federal dollars to improve recycling.

And we close with coal, which is throwing a party that the planet just can’t afford.

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

POPULAR CULTURE

don't look up
Don’t Just Watch: Team Behind ‘Don’t Look Up’ Urges Climate Action
The satirical film, about a comet hurtling toward Earth, is a metaphor for climate change that has broken a Netflix record. Its director hopes it will mobilize the public.
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
January 11, 2022

“Don’t Look Up” is a Hollywood rarity on several fronts. It’s a major film about climate change. It racked up a record number of hours viewed in a single week, according to Netflix. It also unleashed a flood of hot takes, along with — in what may be a first — sniping between reviewers who didn’t like the film and scientists who did.

What remains to be seen is whether the film fulfills a primary aim of its director, Adam McKay, who wants it to be, in his words, “a kick in the pants” that prompts urgent action on climate change.

“I’m under no illusions that one film will be the cure to the climate crisis,” Mr. McKay, whose previous films include “The Big Short” and “Vice,” wrote in an email to the Times. “But if it inspires conversation, critical thinking, and makes people less tolerant of inaction from their leaders, then I’d say we accomplished our goal.”

In “Don’t Look Up,” a planet-killing comet hurtling toward Earth stands in as a metaphor for the climate crisis, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence playing distraught scientists scrambling to get politicians to act, and the public to believe them.

After the film premiered in December, climate scientists took to social media and penned opinion essays, saying they felt seen at last. Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that it seemed like a documentary. Several admirers likened the film to “A Modest Proposal,” the 18th-century satirical essay by Jonathan Swift.
» Read article  

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

fracker flipped
Leading UK fracking firm taken over by green energy group
Third Energy now has ‘absolutely no interest in fossil gas’ and is targeting renewable energy
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 14, 2022

A high-profile UK fracking company has been taken over by a green energy group and now has an anti-fracking campaigner as a director.

Yorkshire-based Third Energy was at the forefront of efforts to produce fossil gas and intended to use high-pressure fluids to fracture shale rocks under the county. But it was hampered by permit delays and fierce local opposition.

Now the company has been taken over by Wolfland Group, a renewable energy company. It has halted all fossil fuel production from its conventional gas wells and has no plans for further exploration or development. Instead it will focus on green energy, including solar farms, and the use of existing wells for geothermal energy and the burial of captured carbon dioxide emissions.

Steve Mason was a leading figure in the anti-fracking campaign in Yorkshire and is now a director of Wolfland Group. “The current energy crisis has shown that we must be energy independent as a nation and that fossil fuels need to be urgently replaced by clean renewable energy supplies, which will lead to cheaper energy and help us tackle climate change,” he said.

“We believe we’re now a real-life example of walking the talk and turning stranded fossil fuel assets into green energy solutions.”
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

keeps on robbing
Pipelines keep robbing the land long after the bulldozers leave
A flurry of new research shows the long-term effects of pipelines on crop yields.
By Jena Brooker, Grist
January 7, 2022

Before it began digging into the earth to bury its two-and-half-foot-wide, 1,172-mile-long pipeline in the ground, Dakota Access, LLC promised to restore the land to its previous condition when construction was finished. The pipeline company signed that pledge in its contracts with landowners stretching from North Dakota to Illinois, and the project was approved by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission under that condition. But farmers in the path of the pipeline have a different story to tell – one of broken promises and sustained damage to their land.

Now, there’s data to back them up.

Researchers at Iowa State University found that in the two years following construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline corn yields in the 150-foot right-of-way declined by 15 percent.  Soybean yields dropped by 25 percent.

One of the selling points that energy companies often tout is that pipeline infrastructure is seemingly invisible, buried and forgotten over the long run. The new study, published in the journal Soil Use and Management, seems to contradict that claim.

The scientists said the major issue is that soil is compacted by heavy machinery during pipeline construction, and that topsoil and subsoil are mixed together. Taken together, the damage “can discourage root growth and reduce water infiltration in the right-of-way,” Robert Horton, an agronomist at Iowa State and the lead soil physicist on the project, said in a statement. He and his colleagues also found changes in available water and nutrients within the soil.

The findings are important for a number of planned pipelines across the Midwest. In one instance, the planned Midwest Carbon Express would be built on land already used for the Dakota Access pipeline, leaving farmers reeling from double impact on their crops.
» Read article             
» Read the study

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

on the edge
Climate Justice Through Divestment
By Ray Levy Uyeda, Yes! Magazine
January 4, 2022

In recent years, a growing movement to achieve climate justice has connected the root cause of climate change not just with greenhouse gases but also with a more entrenched, insidious foe: capitalism. The United States supports a system that allows a few corporations and people to earn money off climate degradation, mainly through the extraction and proliferation of fossil fuels, such as coal or gas. And the very people who are tasked with regulating these industries, like federal elected officials, continue to choose not to. Time is running out to curb emissions and restore balance to global ecosystems, which is why front-line land defenders and climate activists are going straight to the source of climate chaos: financial firms.

The movement is called “divestment,” and it’s growing both inside and outside financial institutions’ walls. The idea is simple: Pull money, talent, and public approval away from banks and financial institutions that invest in fossil fuel extraction. Most often, this comes in the form of grassroots student-led campaigns at universities and colleges, as was the case with the Harvard students whose protests convinced the president and board of trustees to divest its $42 billion endowment from fossil fuel-related investments.

Divestment first emerged as a strategy in the 1980s in the fight against South African apartheid. Environmental activist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben was one of the first major U.S. figures to recycle the idea to apply to universities and financial firms, outlining the case for divestment in a 2013 Rolling Stone piece. “The logic went something like this: Most people don’t live near a coal mine [or] oil pipeline, but everyone is near some pot of money—their college endowment, their church pension fund, their local pension fund in their community,” McKibben says. “Those are all sites where you could take effective action about climate change.”
» Read article                      
» Read Bill McKibben’s 2013 Rolling Stone article

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

battery recycler
Inside Clean Energy: Here Come the Battery Recyclers

As battery use skyrockets for EVs and energy storage, a recycling industry is taking shape.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
January 13, 2022

The battery economy is booming, and with it a recycling industry is bracing itself for a wave of battery waste.

Battery Resourcers of Worcester, Massachusetts, said last week that it is planning to build a plant in Georgia that will be capable of recycling 30,000 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries per year. It will be the largest battery recycling plant in North America when it opens later this year.

But its reign will be brief because Li-Cycle, based in the Toronto area, is building an even larger battery recycling plant near Rochester, New York, that is scheduled to open in 2023. The company said last month that it is modifying its plans in a way that increases the plant’s size, a response to forecasts of high demand for recycling.

To help understand what’s happening, I reached out to Jeff Spangenberger, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and also director of the ReCell Center, a collaboration between the government and industry to improve battery recycling technologies.

“If the process is good enough, there’s no reason why you can’t make battery materials from the battery materials,” he said.

For him, the development of a battery recycling industry is one of the most important and exciting parts of the transition to clean energy.

It’s important because the growth of electric vehicles and battery storage systems will eventually lead to millions of tons of batteries that are unusable unless they are recycled. And it’s exciting because researchers and entrepreneurs are coming up with cost-effective ways to reuse most of that waste.
» Read article                       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

locally hotLast Year’s Overall Climate Was Shaped by Warming-Driven Heat Extremes Around the Globe
A quarter of the world’s population experienced a record-warm year in 2021, research shows.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
January 14, 2022

Earth’s annual average temperature checkup can mask a lot of the details of the climate record over the previous year, and 2021 showed that deadly heat-related climate extremes happen, even if it’s not a record-warm year.

Global average temperature isn’t always the most important measure, University of Michigan climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck said, after United States federal agencies released the Global State of the Climate report, ranking 2021 as the sixth-warmest year on record for the planet.

“As with politics, it is often what happens locally that matters most, and 2021 was one of the most deadly and destructive years on record because of the unusually warm atmosphere that is becoming the norm,” he said. “Extreme heat waves were exceptional in 2021, including the deadly Pacific Northwest U.S. and Canada heatwave that killed hundreds and also set the stage for fires that wiped out a whole town.”

Last year, the climate “was metaphorically shouting to us to stop the warming, because if we don’t, the warming-related climate and weather extremes will just get worse and worse, deadlier and deadlier,” he said. “Even tornadoes are now thought to strengthen as a result of the warming, and this effect probably also was the reason we had tornadoes in 2021 that reached northward into parts of Minnesota for the first time ever in December.”

The Pacific Northwest heat wave was the most extreme hotspot in a series of heat extremes that together seemed to stretch across the entire northern hemisphere for much of the summer, said Chloe Brimicome, a climate scientist and heat expert at the University of Reading.

“What really stood out for me was this period in summer, in July,” she said. “Everywhere you looked, consecutive records in many countries for temperature were being broken, day on day on day. I don’t think we’d ever really seen that before, or at least we hadn’t heard about it in the same way before.”
» Read article                       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

roof disrupted
New Nail-On Solar Shingle Could Transform Residential Solar Industry
By The Energy Mix
January 12, 2022

California-based GAF Energy has developed a mass-market shingle that could revolutionize rooftop solar generation.

“What we’ve built is a nailable solar shingle that goes on as fast or faster than a regular shingle, looks great, and generates electricity,” GAF President Martin DeBono told Canary Media.

GAF Energy is a division of Standard Industries and was co-launched with GAF, one of the largest roofing materials companies in the world. With Tesla and other tech companies pushing towards new approaches to rooftop solar, the roofing giant put its foot in the game to “disrupt the roofing industry” before someone else does.

According to DeBono, GAF Energy’s edge comes from approaching the shingles from the perspective of a roofing company, rather than a solar company. Their emphasis on the product’s utility as a roofing material can help rooftop solar move away from the (relatively) clunky panels we’ve come to know and love.

Customer acquisition is typically costly for solar businesses, but because GAF Energy is already embedded in the roofing industry, it’s in a good position to solarize the roofing market, a quarter of which GAF already commands, Canary Media says.

The 45-watt shingles take one to three days to install and measure 60 inches long, 16 inches tall, and less than a quarter-inch deep. The design strings together mono PERC (Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell) solar cells that contain a single crystal of silicon and are coated on the back to reflect back into the panel any light that passes through. At 23% efficiency when using standard industry technology, the product is at the high end of average range for the industry as a whole. The stringed cells are then laminated onto a backsheet made of a common commercial waterproofing membrane, then “encapsulated and topped with glass and a textured material that allows the shingle to be walked on,” writes Canary Media.
» Read article                       

headwinds for gas
Reality Check: US Renewable Energy Portfolios Can Outcompete New Gas Plants
By Laurie Stone, RMI | Blog
January 4, 2022

As coal plants shut down across the United States, there is a pervasive belief that gas is the necessary “bridge” to a low-carbon grid. As of late 2021, utilities and other investors are anticipating investing more than $50 billion in new gas power plants over the next decade. However, currently available renewable energy technologies are often cheaper than gas.

In fact, a recent RMI report found that clean energy portfolios—combinations of renewable energy, efficiency, demand response, and battery storage—are a cheaper option than more than 80 percent of gas plants proposed to enter service by 2030. At least 70 GW of proposed gas plants could be economically avoided with cleaner alternatives, saving $22 billion and 873 million metric tons of CO2 over project lifetimes. This is the equivalent of taking more than 9 million vehicles off the road each year.

Already, more than half of gas plants proposed to come online in the past two years have been canceled before construction began:

For example, in New Mexico, the Public Service Company (PNM) is planning to retire the coal-powered San Juan Generating Station in 2022. To replace capacity, PNM proposed a 280 MW gas plant, the Piñon Energy Center, along with solar and storage projects. However, stakeholders pushed back on the plan, and in July 2020, the commission approved an alternate 100 percent renewable and storage replacement for San Juan based on costs, economic development, and New Mexico energy law.

And in Maryland, the Mattawoman Generating Station—a 990 MW gas plant—was approved in 2015 in a majority-Black community of Prince George’s County. However, due to economics (clean energy portfolios became cheaper than the proposed gas plant in 2018), a federal civil rights complaint, and pipeline cancellations, the project was declared no longer feasible, and was canceled in January 2021.

Replacing all of the proposed power needs with clean, renewable power also has other benefits, based on RMI’s report. It creates 20 percent more job-years, mostly in construction and manufacturing, and would prevent $1.6 billion to $3.7 billion in health impacts each year​ compared with fossil alternatives. And many of these job and health impacts will be found in low-income communities and communities of color.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

clean heat now
Commission on Clean Heat eyes road map to cut building emissions
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, in The Berkshire Eagle
January 14, 2022

The new advisory commission created to help the state meet its carbon reduction requirements by shifting to cleaner buildings and addressing heating fuels that contribute to emissions was sworn in Wednesday and will begin gathering public input on the transition in March.

Gov. Charlie Baker created the Commission on Clean Heat, which his office says is a first-in-the-nation effort, through an executive order last year and gave the panel a Nov. 30 deadline to recommend policies that “seek to sustainably reduce the use of heating fuels and minimize emissions from the building sector while ensuring costs and opportunities arising from such reductions are distributed equitably.”

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides tapped Undersecretary of Energy and Climate Solutions Judy Chang to serve as her designee and chair of the commission. The commission’s roster also includes William Akley, the president of Eversource’s gas business; Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts President Emerson Clauss III; Passive House New England founder Mike Duclos; Dharik Mallapragada, a research scientist working on MIT’s Energy Initiative; Robert Rio, senior vice president of government affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts; NAIOP Massachusetts CEO Tamara Small; and Environmental Defense Fund Director of Energy Markets and Regulation Jolette Westbrook.

“Climate leadership over the next decade will require a fundamental transition in how we heat and cool our homes and buildings,” Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said.
» Read article                       

high temp HP
Vattenfall launches high-temperature heat pump solution to replace gas boilers
Developed in partnership with Dutch heating specialist Feenstra, the all-electric heat pump solution will initially be available in the Netherlands. The system’s buffer works as a heat battery that is used to provide heat to radiators and generate hot tap water.
By Emiliano Bellini, PV Magazine
January 7, 2022

Swedish utility Vattenfall and Dutch heating and hot water systems provider Feenstra have launched in the Netherlands a high-temperature heat pump solution for existing single-family homes that is claimed to be an easy replacement for traditional gas central heating boilers.

“The similarities between Dutch and British gas central heating mean these high-temperature heat pumps could be suitable for UK housing in suburban and rural areas,” the two companies said in a joint statement. “They could enable households to swap out their existing gas boilers without needing to go to the additional expense and disruption of changing the rest of their heating system or installing additional insulation at the same time.”

The heat pump is claimed to be able to provide a water temperature of between 60 and 80 degrees Celsius, which means its use doesn’t require the improvement of a house’s insulation, the setting up of underfloor heating or the adaptation of radiators, all of which is necessary when a conventional air heat pumps are utilized.

The system’s buffer works as a heat battery that is used to provide heat to radiators and generate hot tap water.
» Read article                       

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

AeroShield
Massachusetts startup sees path to more efficient windows with new material

AeroShield is working to commercialize a clear, lightweight material that, when sandwiched between two panes of glass, produces windows that are more insulating than bulkier, more expensive options.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
January 13, 2022

A new material developed in Massachusetts could someday help make super-efficient windows more affordable for home and business owners.

A Cambridge startup called AeroShield has developed a clear, lightweight material that, when sandwiched between two panes of glass, produces windows that are more insulating than even bulkier, more expensive options.

Early research by the company indicates that windows incorporating its material could cut residential heating and cooling costs by 20%. The first prototypes could be installed in demonstration projects by the end of 2022, and products could hit the wider market in 2023 or 2024.

“We’re really excited by a change we could start in the industry by enabling some better designs and some better products,” said co-founder Elise Strobach.

As the country grapples with the urgent need to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the energy consumption of buildings is a key problem to solve. Fossil fuel combustion in buildings accounted for about 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2018, according to a report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Virginia-based climate and clean energy nonprofit.

Lowering these emissions will require switching from fossil fuels to electricity wherever possible, generating cleaner electricity on the grid, and reducing overall power usage. And a key strategy for decreasing energy consumption is to create extremely tight building envelopes.

Windows, however, have always posed a challenge to achieving high levels of efficiency: Heat lost or gained through windows is responsible for up to 30% of the energy used to heat or cool a home, the federal Department of Energy estimates.

AeroShield began with research Strobach conducted for her doctorate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, searching for ways to better insulate solar panels so they would generate power more efficiently. She looked to silica aerogel which, despite what its name suggests, is not sticky or oozy. It is a very light, highly porous solid glass that is such a good insulator that NASA has used it to protect critical equipment.

First invented in 1931, aerogels are not a new technology. However, silica aerogel has always been a cloudy, pale blue color, too opaque to let sufficient sunlight pass through to solar panels. Strobach’s goal was to figure out how to make the material transparent.

“It’s one of the most insulating materials in the world,” Strobach said. “But it had never been clear.”

Her research succeeded even beyond her original goal. The material she created not only let adequate sunlight pass, but it was also clear enough to see through. Essentially, she explained, her team made nanoparticles of glass and the pores between them smaller than the wavelength of visible light, so, in the final material, the light doesn’t interact with the material.
» Read article                       

» More about building materials

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

heavy blocks
Gravity Could Solve Clean Energy’s One Major Drawback
Finding green energy when the winds are calm and the skies are cloudy has been a challenge. Storing it in giant concrete blocks could be the answer.
By Matt Reynolds, Wired
January 4, 2022

Without a way to decarbonize the world’s electricity supply, we’ll never hit net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Electricity production and heat add up to a quarter of all global emissions and, since almost every activity you can imagine requires electricity, cleaning up power grids has huge knock-on effects. If our electricity gets greener, so do our homes, industries, and transport systems. This will become even more critical as more parts of our lives become electrified— particularly heating and transport, which will be difficult to decarbonize in any other way. All of this electrification is expected to double electricity production by 2050 according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. But without an easy way to store large amounts of energy and then release it when we need it, we may never undo our reliance on dirty, polluting, fossil-fuel-fired power stations.

This is where gravity energy storage comes in. Proponents of the technology argue that gravity provides a neat solution to the storage problem. Rather than relying on lithium-ion batteries, which degrade over time and require rare-earth metals that must be dug out of the ground, Piconi and his colleagues say that gravity systems could provide a cheap, plentiful, and long-lasting store of energy that we’re currently overlooking. But to prove it, they’ll need to build an entirely new way of storing electricity, and then convince an industry already going all-in on lithium-ion batteries that the future of storage involves extremely heavy weights falling from great heights.
» Read article                       

» More about long-duration energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

low Cd
In the shift to electric, the three-box sedan is obsolete: Here’s why

By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
January 12, 2022

Not everyone who wants an electric vehicle wants an SUV. There’s still life for longer and lower electric cars—especially as highway models that are optimized toward maximizing driving range.

But fewer of them than you might think will be traditional three-box sedans, with a hood, a cabin, and a trunk. And more of them will have swoopy “kammback” rooflines and hatchbacks.

Simply put, if you design a car around lower aerodynamic drag, it will be able to cover more highway miles per kilowatt-hour of stored battery energy—which means a lower cost and a lower environmental footprint for the car. The sedan shape is turbulence-prone behind the rear window, but a softer slope and tapered sides near the rear remedy the issue.

That’s especially critical for entry luxury models, where all the numbers have to stand out versus basic commuter devices and yet keep to a price point. It’s why, with the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX, which previews a generation of compact to midsize EVs on the upcoming MMA platform debuting in 2024, Mercedes went all out with aero.

The EQXX concept achieves an excellent 0.17 coefficient of drag—far below that of any current production four-door. And company officials pointed to its aerodynamics as one of the keys to its projected real-world range of 621 miles on a battery pack with less than 100 kwh, perhaps with air-cooling for the battery.
» Read article                       

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY

BLM in hot water
Clean energy goes up against tribal rights and biodiversity in Nevada
A geothermal power plant is the latest battlefield for Biden’s green vision.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
January 7, 2022

The Biden administration is facing critical questions about how to balance the urgency of transitioning to clean energy with other progressive priorities. On Monday, a U.S. district judge halted construction of two geothermal power plants on public land in Nevada. The decision was in response to a lawsuit filed in December by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental nonprofit, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, against the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, for approving the project.

Geothermal power plants pump hot water from deep underground and use it to generate steam to produce clean electricity. The Nevada plants are set to be built on a verdant wetland in the desert called Dixie Meadows. The suit alleges that the project threatens to dry up the hot springs that support the wetland and are of religious and cultural significance to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone. The ecosystem is also home to the Dixie Valley toad, a species that is not known to exist anywhere else on Earth.

The plaintiffs have reason to be skeptical. The geothermal company behind the Dixie Meadows project, Ormat Technologies, opened a geothermal power plant in 2011 about 40 miles away on another hot springs called Jersey Valley. The springs dried up entirely a few years after the plant began operating.

To date, geothermal power plant development has been limited to areas with known geothermal resources close to the surface of the earth, which are often indicated by natural hot springs. But research underway at the Department of Energy and by private companies to tap into geothermal resources much deeper underground could open up new areas to geothermal development, potentially sparing treasured natural resources like Dixie Meadows.
» Read article                       

» More about siting impacts

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

unused and useless
Unused and useless: States must act to end flawed natural gas power plant buildouts
By Grant Smith, Utility Dive | Guest Opinion
January 11, 2022
Grant Smith is senior energy policy advisor at Environmental Working Group (EWG)

Nothing exemplifies the irrational utility business model more than the billions of dollars companies have wasted on the massive buildout of natural gas capacity over the last decade, ignoring obvious market trends favoring renewables and energy storage.

One great tool to end this financial mismanagement would be enforcing the once prominent “used and useful” standard through which states could mandate that new power plants be completed and providing service before a utility can recover costs from ratepayers. And those generation resources must remain economic, or useful, throughout their lifecycles.

But states have scrapped or severely weakened this requirement across the U.S.

And their approval of new, unnecessary natural gas infrastructure also rests in part on power companies’ misleading claims in their investment plans.
» Read article                       

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

coal was dying
Coal was dying. Then 2021 happened.
The dirtiest fossil fuel is on the rise — and with it, U.S. carbon emissions.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
January 10, 2022

Coal was supposed to be on its deathbed. For the past seven years, coal use in America has been trending down. Faced with falling natural gas prices and the growth in wind and solar energy, coal plants from Illinois to New Mexico closed their doors. In 2005, coal plants generated 2 trillion kilowatt-hours of American power; by 2020, that number had been cut by more than half. And as coal vanished, replaced by less carbon-intensive natural gas, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions edged down. In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic cratered carbon dioxide emissions overall, coal use fell by a whopping 19 percent.

Then 2021 happened.

According to a report released Monday by the energy research firm Rhodium Group, coal use rebounded for the first time since 2014, growing 17 percent in 2021. That coincided with a rebound in overall greenhouse gas emissions as the economy slowly recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, U.S. emissions fell by 10.3 percent, the largest drop since World War II; in 2021, they climbed 6.2 percent — not returning to 2019 emission levels, but perilously close.

That’s bad news for the climate. Over the past decade, most of the United States’ emissions cuts have come from cheap natural gas replacing coal. But last year, rising natural gas prices helped resuscitate the dirtiest fossil fuel. A cold winter and declining supply sent natural gas prices skyrocketing to more than double their 2020 average. In response, utilities leaned more on coal to generate electricity across the country — and emissions climbed.
» Read article                      
» Read the Rhodium Group report

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS RECYCLING

single use
Energy Department slammed for funding ‘false’ plastics solutions
Advocates say the agency’s efforts to develop chemical recycling are a “waste of tax dollars.”
By Joseph Winters, Grist
January 14, 2022

The U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, announced this week that it will invest $13.4 million in research funding to address the plastic industry’s contributions to pollution and climate change. But while the agency cast the investment as an opportunity to address urgent environmental problems while creating an “influx of clean manufacturing jobs for American workers,” environmental advocates said it was the wrong approach.

“It’s a waste of tax dollars,” said Judith Enck, a former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and founder of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics. Taking aim at the funding’s focus on “upcycling” and biodegradable plastics, she said the grants perpetuated “false solutions” that would keep the U.S. hooked on single-use plastics and do little to reduce the glut of plastic waste entering the oceans each year.

Enck’s take is a stark departure from the tone set by the DOE’s press release, which says it will contribute up to $2.5 million each to seven plastic-related research projects led by corporations and universities. It cites the need to “build a clean energy economy and ensure the U.S. reaches net-zero carbon emissions by 2050” and includes laudatory quotes from Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

But environmental advocates say most of the projects set to be funded by the DOE — “infinitely recyclable single-polymer chemistry,” “catalytic deconstruction of plasma treated single-use plastics to value-added chemicals” — are just industry-speak for a process known as “chemical recycling.” This process, which theoretically melts plastic into its constituent molecules so it can be repurposed into new plastic products, has been criticized as an industry pipe dream; due to technological and economic difficulties, most chemical recycling facilities end up just melting used plastic into oil and gas to be burned. One 2020 analysis from the nonprofit Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, or GAIA, found that of the 37 chemical recycling facilities proposed in the U.S. since 2000, only three are operational, and zero specialize in plastic-to-plastic conversion.

According to GAIA, the plastics industry has spent decades researching chemical recycling without much to show for it.
» Read article                      
» Read the GAIA analysis

» More about plastics recycling

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 1/7/22

banner 02

Welcome back.

Let’s kick it off with a conversation with Holly Jean Buck, author of “Ending Fossil Fuels / Why Net Zero Is Not Enough”. Ms. Buck cuts through industry fog to illuminate false solutions like “low carbon” fuels and carbon capture, and guides us across the slippery terrain of “net zero” world toward a future with very low total emissions.

Also cutting through the fog – and now with a supportive court decision – are journalists investigating Energy Transfer’s use of private security firm TigerSwan in 2016 to counter the Indigenous-led movement against construction of the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock.

Changes are coming as we green the economy, and the California port of Humboldt is working hard to transform itself into a 21st century hub for offshore wind power. Also changing: the ubiquitous American gas station.

As snow falls in the Berkshires and with a sub-zero chill on the way, let’s recalibrate with a study published in the journal Climate that shows New England warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. The region has already surpassed the Paris Climate Agreement threshold of 1.5°C, and we should expect significant ecological and economic challenges as a result.

Massachusetts recently experienced a couple big setbacks to its clean energy plans, and the Baker administration just finalized new solar and electric truck initiatives intended to help get the state back on track. Meanwhile, Vermont is attempting to increase its rate of home weatherization projects over the next decade, and is coordinating with existing training programs to ensure a supply of skilled workers.

In the near future, your electric vehicle may double as your home’s battery storage for emergency backup power and demand management, so a new generation of chargers is arriving to manage all those electrons flowing between solar panels, your vehicle, your home, and the grid. Meanwhile, smart meters are helping to modernize that grid, allowing for increased efficiencies and time-of-use billing.

Everyone who’s paying attention understands that the transition to green energy presents substantial environmental risks along with the obvious benefits. Mining probably represents the greatest negative impact, so it’s good to start seeing articles that indicate a growing awareness of the need for better planning and stronger regulations. Meanwhile, the world continues to stumble toward a truly frightening precipice that marks the onset of deep-seabed mining.

We’ll wrap up with two stories: news that Nova Scotia appears to have pulled away the welcome mat from a number of large fossil fuel projects, followed by a detailed report on how Europe’s continued reliance on biomass is devastating forests in the U.S. Southeast.

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

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Holly Jean Buck
‘Net-zero is not enough’: A new book explains how to end fossil fuels
Sociologist Holly Buck wants you to know that fossil fuel phaseout isn’t a “fringe” idea.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
December 22, 2021

In just a couple of years, “net-zero” pledges have become the gold standard of climate action. According to one online tracker, more than 4,000 governments and companies around the world have pledged to go net-zero. But as the concept has caught on, it has invited fierce backlash from climate advocates who worry that it is malleable to the point of meaninglessness.

In her new book, Ending Fossil Fuels: Why Net Zero is Not Enough, sociologist Holly Jean Buck explains how striving for net-zero emissions opens up a wide range of possible futures, some of which could include lots of oil and gas. Buck argues that in addition to focusing on emissions, climate policy should be directed at phasing out fossil fuels.

A net-zero pledge is a promise to achieve a state of equilibrium. It implies that any planet-warming emissions you dump into the atmosphere will be offset by actions to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. In theory, if the whole world achieved this balance, the planet would stop heating up. But Buck writes that the phrase creates ambiguity that can be exploited by policymakers and corporate interests.

Focusing on net-zero could lead us toward a “near-zero emissions” world powered by renewable energy, or it could also lead us toward a “cleaner fossil world” where we continue burning oil and gas and build a vast network of infrastructure to capture the resulting carbon and bury or reuse it. Indeed, companies and policymakers are already promising to produce “lower carbon” fossil fuels. The U.S. Department of Energy has a new Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management focused entirely on meeting climate goals while minimizing the environmental impacts of fossil fuels.

Buck concedes that this cleaner fossil fuel future is technically possible but argues that ending fossil fuels is more desirable, with benefits for human health and the potential to rebalance power, restore democracy, and end corruption. The book is a guide for anyone who agrees and wants to fight for this version of the future.
» Read article               

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

veterans confront policeJudge Rules Against Pipeline Company Trying to Keep “Counterinsurgency” Records Secret
In a legal fight over public records, press advocates say that Dakota Access pipeline company Energy Transfer engaged in “abusive litigation tactics.”
By Alleen Brown, The Intercept
January 6, 2022

Last week, a North Dakota court ruled against a bid by the oil company Energy Transfer to keep documents about its security contractor’s operations against anti-pipeline activism secret. The court thwarted the pipeline giant’s attempt to narrow the definition of a public record and withhold thousands of documents from the press. Judge Cynthia Feland ruled that Energy Transfer’s contract with the security firm TigerSwan cannot prevent the state’s private security licensing board from sharing these records with The Intercept, refusing to accept the company’s attempt to exempt the records from open government laws.

“This is the first opinion that I’ve been aware of that’s made it clear that when you give records to a public entity like this private investigation board, they become public records,” said Jack McDonald, attorney for the North Dakota Newspaper Association. “What relationship there was between Energy Transfer and TigerSwan — that doesn’t affect the records.”

The North Dakota case revolves around 16,000 documents that an administrative law judge forced TigerSwan to hand over to the state’s Private Investigation and Security Board in the summer of 2020 as part of discovery in a lawsuit accusing the company of operating without a security license. TigerSwan was hired by Energy Transfer in September 2016 to lead its security response to the Indigenous-led movement to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, or DAPL, at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Humboldt vision
As the Biden Administration Eyes Wind Leases Off California’s Coast, the Port of Humboldt Sees Opportunity
The administration wants to sell its first lease in 2022, and a new bill in California requires a plan. Some in Humboldt have been waiting years for this moment to arrive.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, Inside Climate News
January 5, 2022

In the early 20th century, the U.S. Census Bureau declared Humboldt County, California—now famous for its redwoods—the “principal center” of the state’s lumber industry. In 1900, the product accounted for nearly 60 percent of the region’s exports.

But now, though lumber yards and wood suppliers still line Humboldt Bay, the industry is a shadow of its former self.

“You look at old photographs of Humboldt Bay from back then and there’s mills everywhere, pulp mills and ships and docks,” said Matthew Marshall, executive director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority. “As that retracted there’s a lot of available land and waterfront …. So, there’s a big opportunity.”

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA)—a power organization formed by the County of Humboldt and Northern Californian cities such as Trinidad and Eureka—has been working for years to prepare for that opportunity. In 2018, RCEA submitted an unsolicited application to the U.S. Department of the Interior in hopes of building wind energy in waters just west of Humboldt Bay.

That bid helped gain the attention of offshore wind players across the world. Many drew up plans to build off California’s coast. The U.S. government floated several places where wind projects could work. So far, progress in the state has been halting. Meanwhile, the East Coast built pilot projects, crafted designs for offshore wind hubs, and started to build out its ports.
» Read article               

out of service
What Does the Future Hold for the American Gas Station?
The end of the gas car will eventually leave 100,000 stations behind.
By Dan Farber, Legal Planet | Blog
January 3, 2022

Gas stations have been fixtures in our world for a century or more. There are even books of photos of picturesque gas stations, some futuristic, others quaint. We’re transitioning into a world dominated by electric vehicles. What does the future hold for these icons of the fossil fuel era?

There are now about a hundred thousand  gas stations in the U.S. A majority are owned by operators with only one station, making them quintessential small businesses. They don’t actually make a lot of money selling gas. The margin over wholesale prices is about twenty cents a gallon, but the actual profit is only a fraction of that. The real money is in the convenience store inside the gas station. In other words, selling gas is in large part just a way of getting people into the store.

It’s going to take time to phase out gas powered cars even after EVs take over the new car market, which means the business of selling gas isn’t going to disappear overnight. Replacing diesel for heavy trucks may take even longer, especially on long-haul routes. That means that the gas business won’t disappear overnight, but obviously there’s going to be sharply declining demand.

All that means that the future of current gas stations is likely to be as convenience stores.  Older stations are often on small lots that will need to be expanded for  profitable stores. However, stations often sit on corner lots at major intersections, making them prime retail spots.

Still, reuse is going to be a major issue. In Canada, for instance, there are said to be thousands of former gas stations that haven’t been redeveloped because of clean-up costs. We may be able to learn from efforts there and in Norway, which is banning new fossil-fuel cars only a few years from now.

There are lessons to be drawn from the gas station example. One is about the need to deal with the leftover damage of the fossil fuel era — not just contaminated soil at gas stations, but emissions from old wells, refineries, and storage sites. We’re likely to be dealing with those problems for years after gasoline motors are gone.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

MA coastline - ISS view
New England is warming faster than the rest of the planet, new study finds
By David Abel, Boston Globe
December 30, 2021

New England is warming significantly faster than global average temperatures, and that rate is expected to accelerate as more greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere and dangerous cycles of warming exacerbate climate change, according to a new study.

The authors of the scientific paper, which was published in the most recent edition of the journal Climate, analyzed temperature data over more than a century across the six New England states and documented how winters are becoming shorter and summers longer, jeopardizing much of the region’s unique ecology, economy, and cultural heritage.

The warming in the region already has exceeded a threshold set by the Paris Climate Accord, in which nearly 200 nations agreed to cut their emissions in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If global temperatures exceed that amount, the damage from intensifying storms, rising sea levels, droughts, forest fires, and other natural disasters is likely to be catastrophic, scientists say.

With New England’s annual temperatures expected to rise sharply in the coming decades, the authors of the study said the region should expect major disruptions to its economy, including coastal waters that will become increasingly inhospitable to iconic species such as cod and lobster; fewer days when skiing and other winter recreation will be possible; less maple syrup and other agricultural products produced; and a range of other consequences.
» Read article               
» Read the study

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

blue array
Baker approves solar, truck emission initiatives
Moves follow setbacks on transportation, hydroelectricity
By Matt Murphy and Colin A. Young, Statehouse News Service, in CommonWealth Magazine
January 3, 2022

With two of its key climate change policies dead or near-dead, the Baker administration approved two initiatives last week to incentivize the development of solar power and expand the use of zero emission vehicles.

The Department of Public Utilities finalized on Thursday a long-delayed regulatory process for a solar incentive program expected to yield 3,200 megawatts of power, double the size of the existing program. And on the same day the Department of Environmental Protection adopted California regulations requiring a faster adoption rate for zero emission light and heavy-duty trucks.

Both initiatives come after the administration’s Transportation Climate Initiative was declared dead after it failed to gain traction with states in the northeast and a Massachusetts-financed power line bringing hydroelectricity from Quebec was shot down by voters in Maine.

The DEP estimates the total cost of the solar expansion to be $3.6 billion over the next 25 years, which is considerably less per megawatt hour than previous solar incentive programs.

Under the order issued by the Department of Public Utilities, the state’s three private utilities — Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil — have until January 14 to submit proposals for how the newly approved funding for the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, program will be recovered from ratepayers.

Solar advocates hailed the decision, but said the long delay in moving ahead set the industry back. The SMART program launched in 2018 and was expanded to 3,200 megawatts in 2020, but final approval bogged down amid negotiations with the utilities over tariff rates.

Also on Thursday, the Department of Environmental Protection filed emergency regulations and amendments to immediately adopt California’s Advanced Clean Trucks policy, which requires an increasing percentage of trucks sold between model year 2025 and model year 2035 to be zero-emissions vehicles.
» Read article               

mislabeled
Fury as EU moves ahead with plans to label gas and nuclear as ‘green’
Brussels faces backlash and charges of greenwashing after publishing draft proposals on New Year’s Eve
By Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian
January 3, 2022

The European Commission is facing a furious backlash over plans to allow gas and nuclear to be labelled as “green” investments, as Germany’s economy minister led the charge against “greenwashing”.

The EU executive was accused of trying to bury the proposals by releasing long-delayed technical rules on its green investment guidebook to diplomats on New Year’s Eve, hours before a deadline expired.

The draft proposals seen by the Guardian would allow gas and nuclear to be included in the EU “taxonomy of environmentally sustainable economic activities”, subject to certain conditions.

The taxonomy is a classification system intended to direct billions to clean-energy projects to meet the EU goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Robert Habeck, who became the economy and climate action minister last month as part of a traffic-light coalition of Social Democrats, business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens, said the plans “water down the good label for sustainability”. Habeck, a co-leader of the Greens, also told the German press agency dpa it was “questionable whether this greenwashing will even find acceptance on the financial market”.

Austria’s government repeated its threat to sue the commission if the plans go ahead. Leonore Gewessler, the country’s climate action minister, said neither gas nor nuclear belonged in the taxonomy “because they are harmful to the climate and the environment and destroy the future of our children”.
» Read article               

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

worker drills holes
Vermont aims to weatherize 90,000 homes this decade. Can it find enough workers to finish the job?
A new initiative aims to boost and coordinate existing workforce training programs in hopes of preparing thousands of workers in the coming years to meet the state’s mandatory climate targets.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
January 6, 2022

A group of lawmakers, advocates and nonprofit leaders hopes to hash out a plan in the coming months to help Vermont build the workforce it needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.

The initiative, one of the winning pitches at a recent competition hosted by the nonprofit Energy Action Network, aims to reduce barriers to creating Vermont’s “climate workforce,” covering the clean energy and conservation sectors. This could include coordinating training programs and aligning them more directly with employment opportunities, as well as launching a marketing campaign to build interest in working in the clean energy sector.

Vermont’s climate targets, which are legally binding under the 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act, include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% from 2005 levels by 2025 and by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030.

Like other states, progress in Vermont will largely depend on electrifying the transportation and building sectors and weatherizing homes so they use less energy for heating. The state’s recently released Climate Plan — commissioned as part of the 2020 law — calls for another 90,000 homes to be weatherized in Vermont by 2030, in addition to the roughly 30,000 that have been weatherized in recent decades.

“That takes people,” said Gabrielle Stebbins, a state representative and senior consultant at Energy Futures Group, and one of two co-chairs on the new initiative. “And that takes people being trained in the near term so that we can get those folks out and working in the near term” to meet emissions targets.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

wallbox
American households might use EVs as backup power with this bidirectional charger

By Stephen Edelstein, Clean Car Reports
January 5, 2022

At the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Wallbox Industries will unveil its second-generation bidirectional home charging station for the North American market.

Like its predecessor, the Wallbox Quasar 2 can draw power from an EV’s battery pack, allowing the car to serve as an emergency backup power source for homes. Bidirectional charging effectively turns electric cars into energy-storage units, giving homeowners more flexibility in energy use, Wallbox said in a press release.

Homeowners can also schedule charging sessions when electricity rates are low, store that power in their EV, and discharge it to power their homes when electricity rates are higher. Those with home solar installations can also store excess energy in an EV and use it during peak-rate periods, the company claims.

The Quasar 2 provides up to 11.5 kilowatts of power, and is compatible with the Combined Charging Standard (CCS) used by most new EVs. It connects to a dedicated app via WiFi, Bluetooth, a 4G data connection, or Ethernet.

Several automakers have announced bidirectional charging as a built-in feature for new EVs.
» Read article               

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

foundational AMI
US smart meter penetration hits 65%, expanding utility demand response resources: analysts
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
December 21, 2021

As of 2020, about 65% of electricity meters across the United States had “smart” capabilities including integrated data processing and two-way communications, according to Guidehouse Senior Research Analyst Michael Kelly. The penetration of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has been steadily growing by about 4-5% annually since 2016, he said.

Utilities are headed towards about 90% AMI uptake by the end of the decade, though penetration varies by type, according to Guidehouse data. Cooperative utilities have about 78% smart meters on their systems, while investor-owned utilities sit around 65% and public power companies at 55%.

Smart meters are a foundational part of the energy transition and can help transform electric vehicle (EV) and building electrification efforts into flexible grid resources. Tens of millions of older meters remain on the grid, and the full transition will take more than a decade, but Kelly said progress on replacing them has been steady for years.

“The only kind of barrier would be on the regulatory side,” said Kelly. And increasingly, regulators are seeing the value of AMI, he added.
» Read article               

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Hells Kitchen Lithium2021 was the year clean energy finally faced its mining problem
A clean energy revolution will hinge on getting mining right
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 29, 2021

This year, the clean energy sector finally started grappling in earnest with one of its biggest challenges: how to get enough minerals to build solar panels, wind turbines, and big batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. Figuring that out will be critical for escaping fossil-fueled ecological disaster. It’ll also be crucial for policymakers and industry to move forward without throwing certain communities under the bus in the transition to clean energy.

Instead of cutting through landscapes with oil and gas wells and pipelines, clean energy industries and their suppliers will open up the Earth to hunt for critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, and copper. Compared to a gas-fired power plant, an onshore wind turbine requires nine times more mineral resources, according to the International Energy Agency. Building an EV requires six times more minerals than a gas-powered car.

It’s about time to scrutinize what that hunger for minerals might cause, given the recent boom in pledges from countries and companies alike to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Digging up the necessary minerals is already proving to be a minefield. Protests are popping up at proposed mines that no one really wants in their backyard. The conflicts that cropped up in 2021 are just the beginning of a challenging road ahead.
» Read article               

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CCS vapor
Plans to capture CO2 from coal plants wasted federal dollars, watchdog says
The DOE funded projects that never came to fruition
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 30, 2021

The Biden administration wants to shove more money into projects that are supposed to capture CO2 emissions from power plants and industrial facilities before they can escape and heat up the planet. But carbon capture technologies that the Department of Energy has already supported in the name of tackling climate change have mostly fallen flat, according to a recent report by the watchdog Government Accountability Office.

About $1.1 billion has flowed from the Department of Energy to carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects since 2009. Had they panned out, nine coal plants and industrial facilities would have been outfitted with devices that scrub most of the CO2 out of their emissions. Once captured, the CO2 can be sent via pipelines to underground storage in geologic formations.

That’s not what happened. The DOE doled out $684 million to coal six coal plants, but only one of them actually got built and started operating before shuttering in 2020. Of the three separate industrial facilities that received $438 million, just two got off the ground. Without more accountability, “DOE may risk expending significant taxpayer funds on CCS demonstrations that have little likelihood of success,” the GAO says.
» Read article               
» Read the GAO report

» More about carbon capture and storage

DEEP-SEABED MINING

driving blind
Mining the Bottom of the Sea
The future of the largest, still mostly untouched ecosystem in the world is at risk.
By Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker
December 26, 2021

It’s rare that a tiny country like Nauru gets to determine the course of world events. But, for tangled reasons, this rare event is playing out right now. If Nauru has its way, enormous bulldozers could descend on the largest, still mostly untouched ecosystem in the world—the seafloor—sometime within the next few years. Hundreds of marine scientists have signed a statement warning that this would be an ecological disaster resulting in damage “irreversible on multi-­generational timescales.”

Nauru, which is home to ten thousand people and occupies an eight-square-mile island northeast of Papua New Guinea, acquired its outsized influence owing to an obscure clause of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. Under ­UNCLOS, most of the seabed—an area of roughly a hundred million square miles—is considered the “common heritage of mankind.” This vast area is administered by a group called the International Seabed Authority, which is based in Kingston, Jamaica.

Large swaths of the seabed are covered with potentially mineable—and potentially extremely valuable—metals, in the form of blackened lumps called polymetallic nodules. For decades, companies have been trying to figure out how to mine these nodules; so far, though, they’ve been able to do only exploratory work. Permits for actual mining can’t be granted until the I.S.A. comes up with a set of regulations governing the process, a task it’s been working on for more than twenty years.

Marine scientists argue that the potential costs of deep-ocean mining outweigh the benefits. They point out that the ocean floor is so difficult to access that most of its inhabitants are probably still unknown, and their significance to the functioning of the oceans is ill-understood. In the meantime, seabed mining, which would take place in complete darkness, thousands of feet under water, will, they say, be almost impossible to monitor. In September, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which compiles the “red list” of endangered species, called for a global moratorium on deep-sea mining. The group issued a statement raising concerns that “bio­diversity loss will be inevitable if deep-sea mining is permitted to occur,” and “that the consequences for ocean ecosystem function are unknown.”
» Read article               

» More about deep-seabed mining

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

going bust
Why Nova Scotia’s fossil fuel energy megaprojects are going bust
Changing attitudes, financial hurdles posed challenges for troubled projects
By Frances Willick, CBC News
January 2, 2022

Several of Nova Scotia’s energy megaprojects have fizzled in recent months and years, and some say the societal shift toward renewables is the reason.

AltaGas, the company with a plan to store up to 10 billion cubic feet of natural gas in underground caverns, announced in October it was pulling the plug on the project due to the “repositioning of the business and the challenging nature of the storage project economics.”

In July, Pieridae Energy announced it would not proceed with its proposal to build a processing plant and export facility for liquefied natural gas in Goldboro, Guysborough County, citing cost pressures and time constraints.

The future of the Bear Head LNG project, a proposal to bring in natural gas to Port Hawkesbury from Western Canada or the U.S., and then export it to Europe, is uncertain after the company behind the project tried to sell it last year.

The province’s offshore oil and gas future looks less than rosy after a call for exploration bids this year yielded no interest.

Last year, the Donkin coal mine — which produced both thermal coal for electricity generation and metallurgical coal for steelmaking — closed permanently, with the company blaming geological conditions in the underground mine.

Jennifer Tuck, the CEO of the Maritimes Energy Association, said the industry’s transition away from fossil fuels is affecting the energy landscape in Nova Scotia.

“Focus on climate change, achieving global emissions reductions targets, all of those things, I think, make it challenging in the fossil fuel sector,” she said.

Tuck said investment funds have been pulling out of funding oil and gas projects, and federal policy changes are focusing more on clean energies and technologies.

Community and global resistance to fossil fuels also likely played a role in the demise of some of Nova Scotia’s energy megaprojects, said Noreen Mabiza, an energy co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

“It is definitely a factor, not a factor to be ignored,” said Mabiza. “People have been on the ground for years saying they don’t want these sorts of projects.”
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

SouthEast wood pellet plants
How Burning Wood Pellets in Europe Is Harming the U.S. South
A globe-trotting tale of questionable renewable standards, market-driven forest management, and shaky carbon accounting.
By Jake Dean, Slate
January 3, 2022

In November, world leaders arrived to the city of Glasgow, Scotland, in a fleet of carbon-emitting private jets for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as COP26. And while COP26 president Alok Sharma called the agreements reached there “historic” in an interview with NPR, many feel the achievements were woefully underwhelming.

Indigenous groups around the world lamented the bureaucracy and structural barriers minimizing their participation, with groups like the Hoopa tribe in California and the Mexican collective Futuros Indígenas decrying the COP26 deal as a failure on climate action. Climate and earth science experts noted that even with provisions and national commitments in the updated deal, the world will almost certainly miss the 1.5 degree Celsius warming target. Even Sharma himself apologized for having to change the language on coal from “phasing out” to “phasing down.”

Among other things, COP26 failed to address biomass energy, which many European nations have relied on as a “renewable energy” source. At best, that terminology is a semantic stretch. At worst, it’s greenwashing a dirty fuel at the worst possible moment. One thing is for certain: Biomass has fueled quite the controversy.

Biomass energy comes from organic material like waste crops and animal manure—but it’s mostly wood burned in the form of compressed particle pellets. It’s not super common in the U.S.: According to U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics, biomass energy (again, mostly made from wood) represented roughly 5 percent of total domestic primary energy use during 2020. But the Build Back Better Act passed by the House of Representatives would support increasing its use. It’s already more common across the Atlantic: Biomass energy is the second-largest source of renewable electricity in the U.K., having provided 12 percent of its electricity in 2020. Woody biomass accounts for more than half of the European Union’s renewable energy sources. And a lot of that wood is coming from the Southeastern U.S.
» Blog editor’s note: If Build Back Better ever passes with provisions to increase the use of biomass energy, we guarantee that legions of environmental groups will quickly act to remove it.
» Read article               

» More about biomass

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!