Weekly News Check-In 1/21/22

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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

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Weekly News Check-In 1/14/22

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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

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Weekly News Check-In 1/7/22

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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

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Weekly News Check-In 12/31/21

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Welcome back.

First, we’d like to acknowledge and thank everyone who traveled with us though this tumultuous year. You kept yourselves up to date on climate and energy issues by reading our newsletters, you contacted legislators, you stood with us in the street, and you supported us with donations. It’s slow, hard work, but we’re making tangible progress and, with you, we’re walking in good company.

A lot of reporting these past couple weeks has been retrospective, so it amounts to a useful overview of 2021’s major themes and sets us up for the coming year. The Weymouth compressor station is fully operational and managed to get though the year without another unplanned gas release. But it’s bad infrastructure in the wrong place, so opposition continues. The proposed peaking power plant in Peabody, MA is a similar old-think dinosaur, and we offer Ben Hillman’s latest video to explain why it shouldn’t be built.

Predictably disappointing results from recently concluded COP26 climate talks underscore the fact that governments have yet to rise to the level of action and commitment that meet the urgent demands of our three inseparable crises: climate, environment, and equity. But we’re seeing an increasingly effective trend in litigation, forcing action in areas where political will and diplomacy have failed. For an example of that political failure at a national level, look no farther than the fact that a single coal-loving Democratic Senator (along with every single Republican) has so far stopped the Build Back Better act, leaving the U.S. without desperately needed tools to drive emissions down. In the absence of Federal leadership, a few states and cities continue to show the way. New York City’s recent $3b pension fund divestment from fossil fuels is worth celebrating.

Greening the economy requires a lot of metals for batteries, and obtaining them requires mining and other forms of extraction and processing. Two stories highlight efforts to reduce environmental and social harms, while our Clean Transportation section shows why we’ll need so many batteries so quickly and also discusses how some battery chemistries are more sustainable than others.

During 2021 our changing climate seemed to force just about everyone on the planet to take precautions, take cover, or run for their lives. It’s difficult to find anyone who still believes it’s someone else’s problem. DeSmog Blog’s Nick Cunningham offers an excellent summary of what just happened and why it matters. Meanwhile we gained ground in clean energy and energy storage, while negative forces persist in hyping false solutions like carbon capture and storage, and some utilities take advantage of disruptions to gouge customers. All this while the fossil fuel industry is having a coal moment, largely resulting from our over-dependence on natural gas as a “bridge fuel”, rather than having invested early enough in renewable energy, storage, and grid modernization. So pandemic disruptions made gas temporarily scarce and expensive, and coal is filling the void.

We’ll close out the year by adding another topic to our watch list: waste incineration, or more broadly the whole suite of waste-to-energy technologies. These facilities are sources of nasty, toxic pollution, but bill themselves as producers of renewable energy. Renewable, that is, as long as humans create a nearly limitless supply of waste while failing to reduce, reuse, recycle, or compost a good percentage of it.

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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

stop Peabody peakerOutrage over plan for new dirty power plant in Peabody, MA.
By Ben Hillman, YouTube
December 22, 2021
» Watch video

» More about peaking power plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

view from Fore River Bridge
Neighbors dealt another blow in Fore River compressor station fight; court tosses lawsuit
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
December 24, 2021

WEYMOUTH – A state Appeals Court tossed out a lawsuit filed by residents challenging one of the approvals granted for the natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

A three-judge panel affirmed a Superior Court judge’s decision that the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station could not seek judicial review of the approval issued by the state Office of Coastal Zone Management.

The court ruled that the citizens group did not have a right to an agency hearing, and therefore did not have a right to judicial review.

Alice Arena of the anti-compressor group said the town initially filed the appeal and the citizens group intervened. But Arena said the residents were left “out in the ether” when the town dropped its appeal as part of a host community agreement with energy company Enbridge.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety risks.

Arena said several rehearing requests are pending in federal court, and the group’s appeal of the waterways permit will soon be heard in Superior Court.
» Read article             

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

blue marble head
COP26: Five Key Takeaways on the Rising Tide of Climate Litigation
By L. Delta Merner, Union of Concerned Scientists | Blog
December 22, 2021

Nation-states have been trying for nearly 30 years to address climate change through global diplomacy. Creating mechanisms and processes for making global commitments to address climate change is no easy task and, while a future in which global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5° C) above pre-industrial levels is still scientifically possible, the commitments that governments have made so far will not get us there– and not nearly enough is being done to help communities that are suffering from the impacts of climate change today.

I left COP26 more convinced than ever that climate litigation has an important role to play to help ensure the changes we vitally need to prevent worse impacts from climate change.

Before the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015, the world was on track for 4° C of warming; after the meetings in Scotland and assuming the commitments nations made there are realized, we are on track for a reality closer to 2.4° C of warming.

Unfortunately, 2.4 degrees would be devastating—and it is not aligned with the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty with a stated goal to limit global warming to well below 2, and as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible, compared to pre-industrial levels. So, change is happening and it is incremental, as the process promised.

During the meetings, speakers repeated that the science is clear. It’s clear that we need to limit emissions. It’s clear where the emissions are coming from. Yet, there’s no question something huge is standing in the way of real change. Standing in those meeting rooms, the sheer influence of the fossil fuel industry at the negotiations was also on clear display.

Over the last five years, the courts have made it clear that they have the power to rule on cases related to climate change and that governments and companies have a legal duty to address climate change, which includes reducing emissions and helping communities prepare and adapt to any unavailable impacts. These decisions are being made based on science,  and international and human rights law. The impacts of judicial decisions will continue to grow with new cases and new venues, including increased use of international legal bodies such as the international court of justice.
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

after Manchin
Why the collapse of Biden’s Build Back Better would be a major blow to the climate fight
It would be almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges without the $1.75tn package that Manchin refuses to support
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
December 22, 2021

The collapse of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation would have disastrous consequences for the global climate crisis, making it almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges made under the Paris accords.

The US president’s sweeping economic recovery and social welfare bill is in serious trouble after the Democratic senator Joe Manchin announced his opposition to the $1.75tn spending package that includes the country’s largest ever climate crisis investment.

The shock move by the fossil fuel-friendly West Virginia lawmaker came after a year of record-breaking fires, floods, hurricanes and droughts devastated families across America, and amid warnings that such deadly extreme weather events will intensify unless there is radical action to curb greenhouse gases.

The Build Back Better (BBB) legislation earmarks $555bn to tackle the US’s largest sources of global heating gasses – energy and transportation – through a variety of grants, tax incentives and other policies to boost jobs and technologies in renewable energy, as well as major investments in sustainable vehicles and public transit services.
» Read article             

» More about legislation

DIVESTMENT

divest NY‘Historic’ NYC Pension Fund Fossil Fuel Divestment Heralded as Model for Others
One activist said this is what “every pension fund can and should” do to address the climate crisis.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
December 22, 2021

In what climate campaigners on Wednesday celebrated as not only a “historic” win but also a model for the rest of the country, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and trustees of major public pensions funds announced a $3 billion divestment from fossil fuels.

“We’d like to thank Comptroller Stringer, for his years of public service and his leadership in protecting our pensions and our planet by divesting from fossil fuel investments. Thank you for joining the fight to reduce the money flowing to the world’s most dangerous polluters,” said 350NYC Steering Committee member Dorian Fulvio.

Stand.earth Climate Finance Program director Richard Brooks declared that “once again, New York City is a beacon of progressive climate action.”

“This ahead-of-schedule and unprecedentedly transparent completion of one of the biggest fossil fuel divestments translates words and commitment into real action,” he said. “Every pension fund and investor needs to pay attention: If divestment can be completed in New York, it can and should happen everywhere.”

Stand.earth earlier this month published what it called a “first-of-its-kind” analysis exposing how U.S. public pension funds are “bankrolling the climate crisis.” The advocacy group and fund beneficiaries nationwide responded to the findings by demanding divestment from fossil fuel holdings as well as investment in “just and equitable climate solutions.”

New York City leaders in January 2018 committed to divesting major public pension funds from fossil fuel reserve companies within five years, and have urged others to follow suit.

On Wednesday, Stringer and trustees of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS) and the New York City Board of Education Retirement System (BERS) revealed that those funds “have completed their process of divesting approximately $1.8 billion and $100 million in securities, respectively,” bringing the total for all funds to approximately $3 billion.
» Read article             

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

nickel processing plantCan a Tiny Territory in the South Pacific Power Tesla’s Ambitions?
Nickel is vital to electric car batteries, but extracting it is dirty and destructive. A plant with a turbulent history in New Caledonia is about to become an experiment in sustainable mining.
By Hannah Beech, New York Times
Photographs by Adam Dean

December 30, 2021

GORO, New Caledonia — From the reef-fringed coast of New Caledonia, the Coral Sea stretches into the South Pacific. Slender native pines, listing like whimsical Christmas trees, punctuate the shoreline. The landscape, one of the most biodiverse on the planet, is astonishingly beautiful until the crest of a hill where a different vista unfolds: a gouged red earth pierced by belching smokestacks and giant trucks rumbling across the lunar-like terrain.

This is Goro, the largest nickel mine on a tiny French territory suspended between Australia and Fiji that may hold up to a quarter of the world’s nickel reserves. It also poses a critical test for Tesla, the world’s largest electric vehicle maker, which wants to take control of its supply chain and ensure that the minerals used for its car batteries are mined in an environmentally and socially responsible fashion.

Tesla’s strategy, the largest effort by a Western electric vehicle maker to directly source minerals, could serve as a model for a green industry confronting an uncomfortable paradox. While consumers are attracted to electric vehicles for their clean reputation, the process of harvesting essential ingredients like nickel is dirty, destructive and often politically fraught.

Because of its nickel industry, New Caledonia is one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita. And mining, which began soon after New Caledonia was colonized in 1853, is intimately linked to the exploitation of its Indigenous Kanak people. The legacy of more than a century of stolen land and crushed traditions has left Goro’s nickel output at the mercy of frequent labor strikes and political protests.

If done right, the approach by Tesla, which has the capacity to churn out close to a million cars a year, could lead the way in setting global standards for the electric vehicle revolution, in yet another convention-defying move by the company’s enigmatic founder, Elon Musk. It also provides Western car companies a path to begin sidestepping China, which currently dominates the production of electric vehicle batteries.

If done wrong, Goro will serve as a cautionary tale of how difficult it is to achieve true sustainability. “Going green” or “acting local” are nice bumper stickers for a Tesla. Meeting these ideals, however, will require not just cash and innovation but also savvy about one of the most remote places on earth, a scattering of French-ruled islands hovering on the cusp of independence. Some of the world’s biggest nickel miners have tried to profit at Goro — and failed.
» Read article             

SQM Li plant
Chile Rewrites Its Constitution, Confronting Climate Change Head On
Chile has lots of lithium, which is essential to the world’s transition to green energy. But anger over powerful mining interests, a water crisis and inequality has driven Chile to rethink how it defines itself.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
Photographs by Marcos Zegers

December 28, 2021

SALAR DE ATACAMA, Chile — Rarely does a country get a chance to lay out its ideals as a nation and write a new constitution for itself. Almost never does the climate and ecological crisis play a central role.

That is, until now, in Chile, where a national reinvention is underway. After months of protests over social and environmental grievances, 155 Chileans have been elected to write a new constitution amid what they have declared a “climate and ecological emergency.”

Their work will not only shape how this country of 19 million is governed. It will also determine the future of a soft, lustrous metal, lithium, lurking in the salt waters beneath this vast ethereal desert beside the Andes Mountains.

Lithium is an essential component of batteries. And as the global economy seeks alternatives to fossil fuels to slow down climate change, lithium demand — and prices — are soaring.

Mining companies in Chile, the world’s second-largest lithium producer after Australia, are keen to increase production, as are politicians who see mining as crucial to national prosperity. They face mounting opposition, though, from Chileans who argue that the country’s very economic model, based on extraction of natural resources, has exacted too high an environmental cost and failed to spread the benefits to all citizens, including its Indigenous people.

And so, it falls to the Constitutional Convention to decide what kind of country Chile wants to be. Convention members will decide many things, including: How should mining be regulated, and what voice should local communities have over mining? Should Chile retain a presidential system? Should nature have rights? How about future generations?

Around the world, nations face similar dilemmas — in the forests of central Africa, in Native American territories in the United States — as they try to tackle the climate crisis without repeating past mistakes. For Chile, the issue now stands to shape the national charter. “We have to assume that human activity causes damage, so how much damage do we want to cause?” said Cristina Dorador Ortiz, a microbiologist who studies the salt flats and is in the Constitutional Convention. “What is enough damage to live well?”

Indeed the questions facing this Convention aren’t Chile’s alone. The world faces the same reckoning as it confronts climate change and biodiversity loss, amid widening social inequities: Does the search for climate fixes require re-examining humanity’s relationship to nature itself?

“We have to face some very complex 21st century problems,” said Maisa Rojas, a climate scientist at the University of Chile. “Our institutions are, in many respects, not ready.”
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

recap 20212021: Year in Review for Climate Change Wins and Losses
As the climate crisis worsens, the calls for more aggressive action grow louder. 2021 saw more business as usual, industry obfuscation and delay, but also some reasons for optimism.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
December 22, 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, we look back on a year that was full of climate chaos, relentless oil industry propaganda, and frustrating progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But 2021 also saw a significant number of victories against the expansion of the fossil fuel industry in the U.S. and around the world, and some glimmers of hope for climate action.

The year started with a conspiracy-fueled coup plot on the U.S. government by President Trump and his supporters in what was ultimately a failed attempt to stay in power. Two weeks later, President Biden was sworn into office, and he quickly signed a flurry of executive orders that included the cancelation of the Keystone XL pipeline and a pause on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. Those moves signaled an intention to prioritize climate change during the Biden era after years of giveaways to the fossil fuel industry.

But the oil industry and its allies fought hard this year to delay meaningful climate policy, part of a decades-long campaign to protect corporate profits at the expense of people and the planet. Campaigns of misinformation and misleading PR continue to characterize public discourse around energy and climate change, even as those corporate strategies and tactics evolve.

On a hopeful note, renewable energy and electric vehicles made substantial strides, putting the entrenched fossil fuel industry on the defensive. Looking forward, the clean energy transition will continue to progress even absent big federal policy. And strong grassroots movements once again demonstrated their ability to stop major oil and gas pipeline projects around the country, even against steep odds.
» Blog editor’s note: This is an excellent summary and analysis, and well worth reading the whole article!
» Read article             

tornado damage
The Year in Climate Photos
From the president’s desk to protests and disasters around the world, photos showed climate change is always easy to see but sometimes hard to look at.
By Katelyn Weisbrod, Inside Climate News
December 27, 2021
» Blog editor’s note: This is a roundup of Inside Climate News’ biggest stories from the past year. It includes striking photos, and also links to related articles.
» Read article             

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

more offshore wind in NE
Massachusetts taps Vineyard Wind, Mayflower Wind to deliver an additional 1.6 GW
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
December 20, 2021

Massachusetts on Friday announced the selection of two offshore wind projects totaling 1,600 MW of new capacity, bringing the state to 3,200 MW of a 5,600 MW offshore wind procurement goal by 2027.

The state’s third offshore wind procurement awarded two developers that are already working on large-scale projects in the area, Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind, doubling the amount of offshore wind secured by the state.

As of Friday, U.S. states have procured over 17,100 MW of offshore wind, nearly double the January total of 9,100 MW, according to the Business Network for Offshore Wind.

Massachusetts is also aiming to build up the supply chain, drawing investments to ports in Salem and Falls River, and supporting the construction of a cable facility at Brayton Point, through the latest contracts.

“Offshore wind is the centerpiece of Massachusetts’ climate goals and our effort to achieve Net Zero emissions in 2050, and this successful procurement will build on our national clean energy leadership and the continued development of a robust offshore wind supply chain in the Commonwealth,” Kathleen Theoharides, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said in a statement.
» Read article             

Dwight IL
Inside Clean Energy: Here Are 5 States that Took Leaps on Clean Energy Policy in 2021
While federal policy fell short of expectations, many states had high ambitions and delivered results.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
December 23, 2021

It’s understandable if people are feeling dour during this unseasonably warm December when, once again, the U.S. Congress has failed to pass major climate legislation.

But while the federal government might have failed in pushing through the Build Back Better bill, with its many climate provisions, 2021 has seen some long-awaited successes in the states.

Five states (Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, North Carolina and Rhode Island) passed laws requiring a shift to 100 percent carbon-free electricity or net-zero emissions. And Washington State passed a law that takes steps to implement its 2019 and 2020 climate and clean energy laws.

Several other states moved forward, even if they didn’t pass their own versions of “100 percent” laws. Colorado and Maryland are examples of states that are making progress on climate and clean energy through a series of smaller, targeted actions, rather than swinging for the fences on single pieces of legislation.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

graphene material
Australian discovered graphene material could be key to low-cost next-gen batteries
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
December 22, 2021

Australian researchers have struck a deal to commercialise a new next-generation graphene material they say could unlock cheaper and better performing lithium-ion batteries.

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), based at the University of Wollongong, say they have discovered a new form of graphene, called ‘Edge Functionalised Graphene’ (EFG), which is both highly conductive and processable for use in a range of electronics.

This includes lithium-ion batteries, with the innovative graphene material promising to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of battery technology used in energy storage devices and electric vehicles.

The research team, which included a collaboration with the Australian National Fabrication Facility – itself based at Melbourne’s Monash University – says the inclusion of graphene material in battery designs could help improve battery lifetimes and charging speeds by improving the conductivity of battery components.
» Read article             
» Caution: Graphene has potential for health and environmental harm

random Tesla photo
Volta bets on space technology for battery storage fire prevention
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
December 21, 2021

Energy storage developer Volta Energy Products last week announced a three-year deployment order with San Diego-based KULR Technology Group to apply KULR’s thermal safety solutions — initially designed for space missions — to energy storage.

KULR’s passive propagation resistant (PPR) solution suite — designed to stop lithium-ion battery failures from spiraling out of control without external fire suppression — has been used on NASA missions. The system prevents cell-to-cell thermal runaway and contains any fire and debris inside a battery pack protection, turning the system off to prevent any spread in damage.

The partnership between KULR and Volta parent company Viridi Parente marks the first application of PPR for energy storage and will see Volta deploy up to 1,000 new storage units with the safety technology. Viridi Parente CEO Jon Williams said the “failsafe system” can make energy storage safer and less expensive for a variety of residential and business uses by limiting the need for external fire suppression tools.

Although lithium-ion batteries are the dominant energy storage technology on the market because of their cost and availability of materials, they do carry safety risks. One of the biggest concerns is thermal runaway, where a cell in a lithium-ion battery pack overheats and causes a chain reaction of other overheated cells, resulting in a fire or explosion. While any number of factors can contribute to a cell overheating, experts say that preventing those failures from escalating is key for safety.

“For a pack system to be in someone’s home or a hospital or a daycare center or a university or gas station or even an accountant’s office, that pack has to be failsafe,” Williams said. “When everything fails, will it be safe? Getting there is critically important at a macro level to expand storage for renewables, but on a micro level for Volta, this is the most significant product we will have on the market.”
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

NJ diesel truck phaseout
In an East Coast first, New Jersey will phase out diesel trucks
New Jersey joins California, Oregon, and Washington in setting ambitious goals to electrify trucks by 2035.
By María Paula Rubiano A., Grist
December 23, 2021

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection earlier this week adopted a rule to phase out diesel-powered trucks – meaning anything bigger than a delivery van – starting in 2025. Based on California’s Advanced Clean Trucks rule, or ACT, New Jersey’s policy will require between 40 to 75 percent of new truck sales in the state be pollution-free, zero-emission by 2035.

“New Jersey is already experiencing the adverse impacts of climate change, but we have the power and obligation to reduce its worsening in the years ahead by acting now to limit our emissions of climate pollutants,” Shawn LaTourette, the state’s commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, said in a press release about the new rule.

Contributing to about 40 percent of New Jersey’s total carbon emissions, the transportation sector is the largest greenhouse gas source in the state. In turn, the almost 423,000 medium and heavy trucks that make up NJ’s fleet represent about 20 percent of vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, and Union of Concerned Scientists analyzing the benefits of implementing the rule. These vehicles are also responsible for large quantities of pollutants, including nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, which have been linked to multiple health issues like premature deaths, asthma, pulmonary cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
» Read article             

pretending to think
We ranked 3 types of EV batteries to find the most efficient and sustainable one
Lithium vs sodium vs solid-state batteries
By Ioanna Lykiardopoulou, The Next Web
December 28, 2021

Amidst the booming influx of electric vehicles worldwide, automakers and tech companies have been focusing on optimizing the most vital and expensive part of EVs: the batteries.

They aren’t all alike, and manufacturers use a range of different kinds of batteries. So we’ve decided to select and rank the three most prominent (or promising) battery types: lithium, solid-state, and sodium-ion batteries.

We’ll compare the batteries using four criteria: safety, energy density and charging time, sustainability, and price.

But before we begin, let’s brush up the basics we need to know.

Lithium-ion and solid-state batteries are very much alike. Both types use lithium to produce electrical energy and they have an anode (the battery’s negative terminal), a cathode (the battery’s positive terminal), and an electrolyte, which helps  transfer ions from the cathode to the anode and vice versa.

They primarily differ in the state of the electrolyte: lithium-ion batteries use liquid electrolytes and solid-state batteries use solid electrolytes.

As for sodium-ion batteries, imagine the exact same structure — the only difference is that sodium ions replace lithium ions.

And now that we’ve laid the basis, let’s rank these battery types on our selected criteria:
» Read article             

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

smells like fertilizer
Scientist: CO2 Pipelines are a ‘scheme’
By Elijah Helton, nwestiowa.com
December 27, 2021

Climate change is the purported catalyst for the multibillion-dollar pipelines set to scuttle across Iowa, but environmental experts say the ag projects smell like fertilizer.

Chris Jones is an environmental engineering researcher at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He argues that the carbon-capture pipelines — namely the Midwest Carbon Express and the Heartland Greenway — are more economical than ecological.

“This is more of a scheme to make money, and so, if we’re really serious about climate change and we’re going to use public dollars to address that, then we should focus our efforts on long-term strategies that are going to reduce the emissions,” he said.

Jones, like many others opposed to the pipeline, points out that the corporate interests behind the Midwest Carbon Express and Heartland Greenway are the ones poised to profit most off the nominally low-carbon biofuels.

“This is more of a strategy — it’s a lifeboat, if you will — for ethanol, which is now under some threat from electric vehicles emerging in their marketplace,” Jones said. “That’s what’s driving this.”
» Read article             

CO2 removal investors
The cash behind carbon removal: Big Oil, tech and taxpayers
By Corbin Hiar, E&E News
December 17, 2021

After making his mark in the advertising world, Andrew Shebbeare wanted to help the rest of the globe. It was 2018, a few years after the 500-person firm he’d helped found had been bought by the ad industry’s largest agency.

“The question was, where can I make the most difference?” Shebbeare recalled in an interview last week. The audacious answer he eventually settled on: bankrolling startups working to reverse climate change.

Shebbeare and the other United Kingdom-based founders of Counteract Partners Ltd. are part of a wave of investors betting on the world-saving potential of small, privately held carbon dioxide removal companies.

To remove heat-trapping CO2 from the atmosphere, the firms use nature-based approaches, like planting carbon-hungry trees and cover crops, or engineered systems, which can deploy fans, solvents and pipes to trap carbon molecules and inject them underground.

The startups are part of a burgeoning sector attracting billions of dollars from interests as varied as oil major Exxon Mobil Corp., movie star Leonardo DiCaprio and the U.S. government.

Once a theoretical tool to tackle climate change, sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has now become a necessity.

To have a shot at avoiding the collapse of coral reef ecosystems, widespread extreme heat waves and other impacts associated with warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the world will need to remove more than 5 billion tons of carbon from the air annually by midcentury, according to the most optimistic scenario in the latest United Nations climate report. By comparison, all the world’s forests combined currently offset 7.5 billion tons of CO2 each year, a recent peer-reviewed analysis found.

Then in the latter half of the century, the U.N. data shows billions more tons of yearly carbon removals would be needed — even as emissions fall. The slower emissions decline, the more need there would be for future CO2 removals.
» Read article             

» More about carbon capture and storage

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Uri post mortem
‘Anecdotal evidence’ points to price gouging during winter storm Uri, NERC official says
Robert Walton, Utility Dive
December 22, 2021

There is “anecdotal evidence” of natural gas price gouging in Texas during February’s winter storm Uri, according to an official with the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC). Millions were left without electricity during the storm as power plants struggled to obtain fuel and freezing temperatures halted some wind production.

Wellhead freeze-offs accounted for a large portion of the gas issues, as well as, to a lesser extent, power outages at compressor stations that move gas through pipelines, NERC Chief Technical Advisor Thomas Coleman said during a presentation on Friday to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

Texas regulators are rushing to make grid and market improvements ahead of potential freezing temperatures this winter. On Thursday, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) approved changes to the state’s wholesale markets intended to improve reliability when electricity supplies become scarce.

Coleman’s presentation to an ERCOT working group sheds new light on February’s outages across Texas and the U.S Southwest, and raises questions about whether consumers were cheated by gas producers.

A November joint report by NERC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that a combination of freezing and fuel issues caused about three-quarters of the unplanned generating unit outages, derates and failures to start in February. Of those, gas-fired units experienced 58% of all generator issues.

Most of the problem came from frozen gas facilities and, to a lesser extent, gas compressor facilities that lost power when electricity companies cut power.
» Read article             
» Read the NERC-FERC joint report

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Coal 2021
Coal isn’t dying yet. 2021 brought a record surge in use.
As much of the world emerged from lockdown, coal stepped in to meet energy needs.
By María Paula Rubiano A., Grist
December 17, 2021

In the span of a year, coal power generation went from a historic drop to an all-time high.

In 2021, global electricity generation from coal increased by nine percent, the highest in history, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency, or IEA. Most of that increase came from power plants in China and India, where the need for electricity jumped by nine and 12 percent, respectively. According to the IEA, Europe saw a 12 percent increase while the U.S. went up by 17 percent – despite nearly a decade of declines in coal power generation in both regions.

“Coal and emissions from coal are stubborn,” said IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol in a press call. “Without strong and immediate actions by governments to tackle coal emissions – in a way that is fair, affordable and secure for those affected – we will have little chance, if any at all, of limiting global warming.”

According to the IEA’s projections, as more economies recover from the pandemic, coal demand will increase, peaking in 2022 and staying elevated until at least 2024.

The IEA says the report should serve as a reality check of government policies, which they say are insufficient to curb coal use and its carbon emissions. The report, Fatih Berol says, “is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net zero.”
» Read article             
» Read the IEA report

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

Wheelabrator Saugus
Burned: Why Waste Incineration Is Harmful
By Daniel Rosenberg, Veena Singla, and Darby Hoover, NRDC | Expert Blog
July 19, 2021

Since the Biden administration took office, Congress is considering bills to fund infrastructure, tackle plastic pollution, and combat climate change. While legislative action is welcome, Congress must avoid ideas disguised as environmental advances that actually threaten public health and the environment. One example is the bundle of troubling technologies that all involve waste incineration, such as “waste-to-energy” or many forms of “chemical recycling” (processes frequently used to convert plastics into fuel that is then burned). These technologies are touted as being environmentally beneficial by various industries, but waste incineration—even if it’s masquerading as “chemical recycling”—is a false solution that Congress should firmly reject.

Regardless of what is being burned (mixed municipal solid waste, plastic, outputs from “chemical recycling”), waste incineration creates and/or releases harmful chemicals and pollutants, including:

  • Air pollutants such as particulate matter, which cause lung and heart diseases
  • Heavy metals such as lead and mercury, which cause neurological diseases
  • Toxic chemicals, such as PFAS and dioxins, which cause cancer and other health problems

These chemicals and pollutants enter the air, water and food supply near incinerators and get into people’s bodies when they breathe, drink, and eat contaminants.
» Read article             

» More about waste incineration

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Weekly News Check-In 12/17/21

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Welcome back.

We’re leading with an update on the 55MW gas/oil peaking power plant heading for construction in Peabody despite stiff opposition from activists and municipal leaders. Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, offers this: “I think it’s misguided. It has no place in a transition to a fossil fuel-free future.”

The transition to that future is not as straightforward as one would hope. A lot of this week’s reporting buzzed with the disappointing revelation that the Biden Administration’s recent leasing of huge Gulf of Mexico seabed tracts for new oil and gas drilling was not, in fact, compelled by court order as previously claimed. The move appears to have been a political bon-bon to coax West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to play nice and stop stonewalling critical climate legislation. And how did that go? The fossil fuel industry was the clear winner of this round, and Biden is now the subject of derisive holiday parody videos calling him out as a hypocrite.

Closer to home, utility Eversource heard from residents opposing its planned Springfield and Longmeadow pipeline expansion, and a bold energy efficiency plan that would have put solar panels, heat pumps, and batteries in low- and moderate-income Cape Cod households won’t be implemented quite yet. But here’s some good news: New York has become, by far, the largest US city to ban new gas hookups in new buildings.

Bill McKibben’s review of the past year’s climate news for New Yorker Magazine leans into just how strange, extreme, and unsettling the June/July Pacific Northwest heat event was – and what it says about the fragility of some very big systems that humans have knocked off-kilter.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently debunked utility claims that large amounts of Southwest wind power was being “curtailed” because the grid was over-supplied with renewable energy. In addition to the problem actually being too much inflexible fossil-fuel generators clogging that grid, insufficient storage was also a factor. Help is on the way. We’re seeing lots of action in long-duration energy storage lately, including an innovative air battery design from Israeli company Augwind.

This is a great time to think about what it might take for a state like Massachusetts or California to go the final mile in their journey to “net-zero” carbon emissions. Grist explains some of the opportunities, challenges, and hype surrounding carbon capture and carbon removal. We also delve into the real, “break glass in event of emergency” possibility that someone might initiate a solar geoengineering project in the future – and the scientific debate over how to prepare for that.

We check in on cryptocurrency developments because activities like Bitcoin mining consume increasingly ridiculous amounts of energy. So, if you move your modular servers into the Permian Basin and run them off waste gas from fracking rigs, are you saving the planet? Not really…. Which brings us tangentially to methane released from landfills, and news that the Environmental Protection Agency may be way off in accounting for it.

We’ll wrap up the same way we started – with a little common sense from people who know what they’re talking about. Partnership for Policy Integrity Director Mary S. Booth takes the Baker Administration to task for its relentless promotion of biomass energy, reminding us that “if you need to set it on fire, it isn’t clean.” And what about the plastics waste problem? Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering and coauthor of a high-profile report in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine writes, “Not producing waste in the first place is the best thing you can do environmentally.”

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

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

retiring peaker plant
Proposed Peabody ‘peaker’ plant ‘misguided,’ Environmental League of Massachusetts president says
By Mackenzie Farkus, WGBH
December 9, 2021

A proposed 55-megawatt peaking power plant in Peabody is drawing strong opposition from local climate activists. Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, joined Boston Public Radio on Thursday to share why she believes the area should look to alternative energy solutions.

“I think it’s misguided,” Turnbull Henry said. “It has no place in a transition to a fossil fuel-free future. I’m sorry that it’s moving forward.”

Peaking power plants, also known as peaker plants and “peakers,” are power plants that run when there is a peak demand in electricity. Peakers are typically turned on during the coldest and warmest days of the year to compensate for spikes in space heating and air conditioning. Most peakers run on oil or gas.

Critics of the Peabody peaker plant are concerned over high amounts of CO2 and other pollutants emitted from the plant, believing that the plant is incompatible with a new Massachusetts law aimed at lowering carbon emissions by at least 45% of 1990 levels by 2030 before attaining “net zero” emissions by 2050.
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Biden BabyCampaigners Say Biden ‘Deserves Lump of Coal This Christmas’ for Broken Climate Promises
Twelve days of “Biden’s Oily Christmas” events conclude with classic holiday movie parodies.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
December 13, 2021

Friends of the Earth on Monday concluded its campaign calling out U.S. President Joe Biden for breaking his promise to end new leasing of public lands and waters to fossil fuel companies with the release of three parody movie trailers based on classic Christmas films.

The trailers mark the environmental group’s final action as part of the “Biden’s Oily Christmas” campaign, which kicked off on December 2 with climate-emergency-themed carols and spanned a dozen days, inspired by the well-known song “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

The videos—A Christmas Barrel, Biden Baby, and A Wonderful Lie, parodies of A Christmas Carol, Santa Baby, and A Wonderful Life—will play on eight mobile billboard trucks across Washington, D.C. from 9 am to 5 pm local time on Monday.

“President Biden promised to be the first president of the United States to comprehensively address the growing climate crisis. But instead, his Interior Department failed to fully address climate in its recent report on oil and gas leasing and is plowing forward with new lease sales that wreck our public lands and exacerbate climate change—all while enriching Big Oil CEOs,” said Nicole Ghio, senior Fossil Fuels Program manager at Friends of the Earth.

Climate campaigners have slammed the November Interior report as a “shocking capitulation to the needs of corporate polluters” and demanded details by filing public records requests about its development as well as the administration’s auction for the Gulf of Mexico, which occurred last month despite Biden’s pledge as a presidential candidate.
» Blog editor’s note: You can watch the holiday movie parody video clips by clicking on the “Read article” link below.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

no expansion
Eversource natural gas pipeline proposal listening session held in Springfield
By Ashley Shook, Nick Aresco, WWLP Channel 22 News
December 14, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Advocacy groups in Springfield expressed their concerns over a proposed natural gas pipeline that would run through their local streets.

Elected officials and residents continue to question why a pipeline is necessary in Springfield’s South End neighborhood, some showing their opposition Tuesday afternoon. Massachusetts’ Rep. Carlos Gonzalez held a meeting with Springfield residents to discuss concerns over the proposed Eversource pipeline project.

Many who live in the area where the pipeline would be constructed oppose the project because of the potential dangers it could pose. Eversource has proposed a roughly $33 million, 16-inch diameter gas pipeline that would be constructed underground between Longmeadow and the South End of Springfield.

“There are multiple problems that I see with the proposal. One is environmental. We are trying to get away from fossil fuels. There is a national effort, and global effort. A lot of ecosystems are being destroyed by fossil fuels,” said David Ciampi of Springfield told 22News.

“I am concerned for the potential hazard the proposal may have on the residents of Springfield. My priority should be moving to a less hazardous and greener production of energy,” said Chairman Gonzalez.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

NATURAL GAS BANS

NYC skyline
New York becomes largest US city to ban new gas hookups
It’s the biggest city yet to do so and a bellwether for the rest of the US
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 15, 2021

The Big Apple just became the biggest city yet to say goodbye to gas hookups in new construction. New York City Council passed a bill today that prohibits the combustion of fossil fuels in new buildings, effectively phasing out the use of gas for cooking and heating.

Addressing building emissions is critical to New York City meeting its climate goals; they’re responsible for 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The ban will apply to structures under seven stories tall starting in 2024 and to larger buildings in 2027. The measure will drastically cut down on pollution that fuels climate change: according to a recent study by clean energy think tank RMI, it’ll slash 2.1 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2040, which has about the same impact as taking 450,000 cars off the road for a year.

For years, the so-called natural gas industry has sold itself as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels like oil. But scientists, and a growing number of cities, are no longer buying the argument. Natural gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas that has more than 25 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide over a 100-year timespan. Methane leaks along the natural supply chain from wells to people’s homes. During a high-profile climate summit in November, the US joined over 100 other countries in pledging to cut methane emissions by 30 percent this decade.

Berkeley, California, became the first city in the US to ban gas hookups in new construction in 2019. Since then, the gas industry has fought back by lobbying for policies that prevent local governments from implementing such bans.
» Read article               

» More about gas bans

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

methane accountingIs There Something Amiss With the Way the EPA Tracks Methane Emissions from Landfills?
Environmental groups say the agency’s methods are outdated and flawed, with considerable climate change implications. An EPA methane expert agrees.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
December 15, 2021

Three environmental groups are making a move to hold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accountable for accurately tracking heat-trapping gases emitted from the nation’s landfills.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Sierra Club have filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA, the first step in a legal process under the Clean Air Act. The groups claim the agency allows landfills to use methods that are more than two decades old, which are underestimating methane emissions by at least 25 percent.

The EPA under the law must review and, if necessary, revise its landfill gas emissions calculation methods every three years, and agency officials have known those emissions factors have been off since at least 2008, according to the 10-page legal notice, which was sent to Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, last week.

“When it comes to pollution, it’s very difficult to manage what you can’t measure,” said Ryan Maher, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, in a press release. “EPA needs to fix how it estimates emissions from this massive source of methane and other air pollutants, not only to help us understand the full extent of the landfill problem, but also to make sure that we’re holding polluters accountable and regulating these facilities properly.”
» Read article               

» More about the EPA

CLIMATE

climate year 21
The Year in Climate
A summer that really scared scientists.
By Bill McKibben, New Yorker Magazine
December 16, 2021

This year, a lot of the things we’ve come to expect with the climate crisis happened: there were heavy rains (New York City beat its rainfall record twice in eleven days); there was a big global conference (this one in Glasgow) with modest results; the price of renewable energy fell some more; and a record amount of solar power and wind power was produced, but not at a pace fast enough to catch up with climate change. Raging wildfires produced plumes of smoke that spread around the world; President Joe Biden tried to free up a lot of money for climate work and, so far, Senator Joe Manchin has prevented him from doing so.

But some unexpected things happened, too—such as December tornadoes and windstorms, which have devastated parts of the country, and which are increasingly linked to warming. The most unexpected event by far, though—the thing that was truly off the charts—came in June. Toward the end of the month, torrential rains across China created a lot of atmospheric moisture, which the jet stream sucked out over the Pacific. Meanwhile, the remnants of a heat wave in the American Southwest moved north. The two weather events met over the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, forming a giant dome of high pressure that diverted moisture to both the north and the south. Gradually, over a period of several days, the core of the high-pressure area freed itself of clouds, allowing the sun’s rays to blast down during the days immediately after the solstice.

The result was the most remarkable heat wave in recorded history. On Sunday, June 27th, Canada broke its all-time heat record, of a hundred and thirteen degrees Fahrenheit, when the temperature reached nearly a hundred and sixteen degrees in Lytton, a community of around two hundred and fifty residents on the Fraser River, in southern British Columbia. The next day, that record was broken, again in Lytton, when the temperature hit a hundred and eighteen degrees. On Tuesday, it was smashed again, when the temperature in the town soared to a hundred and twenty-one degrees. On Wednesday, Lytton, now parched dry, burned to the ground in a wildfire; only a few buildings were left standing. Breaking a long-standing record is hard (Canada’s old high-temperature record dated to 1937); surpassing it by eight degrees is, in theory, statistically impossible. It was hotter in Canada that day than on any day ever recorded in Florida, or in Europe, or in South America. “There has never been a national heat record in a country with an extensive period of record and a multitude of observation sites that was beaten by 7°F to 8°F,” the weather historian Christopher C. Burt said.

Records of almost equally incredible magnitude came in from across the region.

Essentially, this couldn’t have happened on the Earth we used to know. James Hansen, the planet’s most important climatologist, put it this way when I talked to him last month: “We’ve been expecting extreme events. But what happened in Canada was unusually extreme.”
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

wasted wind
Mythbusting “Wind Oversupply”
By Joseph Daniel, Union of Concerned Scientists | Blog
November 16, 2021

Wind energy is already a common source of electricity because it is abundant, clean, reliable, and a low-cost source of electricity. Wind turbines are also flexible. Grid operators can turn down (or curtail) the output from wind farms to balance electricity supply and demand.

Grid operators curtailing wind power have given rise to the myth that wind curtailment is caused by an “oversupply” of wind. However, a recent analysis shows that wind curtailment is not caused by an oversupply of wind energy. Rather, its main causes include insufficient transmission capacity, the inflexible operation of coal-fired power plants, and a lack of battery storage.

As we continue to add more wind resources, grid operators and others must address these shortcomings in the system. Otherwise, wind curtailment will increase and ultimately hinder the transition to a cleaner, more affordable power system.

The Union of Concerned Scientists commissioned Synapse Energy Economics to investigate how the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the grid operator in the Great Plains, handles wind curtailment. SPP has the highest level of wind adoption as a percentage of total load and is consequently the grid most likely to experience “wind oversupply” events.

The results were clear: “A wind oversupply does not exist in SPP.”

Rather, during all of the hours when wind was curtailed, other higher-cost, more-polluting resources were still online. And, because of coal resources’ higher marginal cost and emissions rate, electricity customers would be better off if SPP were able to curtail coal instead of wind. Customers could have saved more than $40 million and avoided nearly 1.2 million short tons of carbon emissions per year.
» Read article              
» Read the Synapse Energy Economics report            

solar coaster
The U.S. Faces ‘Solar Coaster’ Amid Challenges And Opportunities
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
December 14, 2021

The U.S. solar industry is set to be torn between huge opportunities and major stumbling blocks in the coming months and years, and it will likely see a wild “solar coaster” ride in the next few years, Wood Mackenzie said on Tuesday.

Supply chain setbacks and constraints could delay many projects and put gigawatts of capacity additions at risk, Michelle Davis, Principal Analyst, Solar, at WoodMac, says.

But on the other hand, if Congress passes President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, the U.S. solar industry will receive a shot in the arm with the multiple clean energy incentives set in the legislation, including an extension of the investment tax credit (ITC), Davis added.

Due to the opposing bullish and bearish dynamics, near-term U.S. solar capacity is set for the largest fluctuations since 2016, when the investment tax credit almost expired, WoodMac’s analyst noted.

“It’s the solar coaster like we’ve never seen it before,” Davis wrote.

Solar installations next year would be lower than previously expected due to supply chain constraints and rising prices, Wood Mackenzie reckons.

Utility-scale solar will be hit the hardest, the energy consultancy said, lowering its 2022 utility-scale outlook by 7.5 GWdc, or by 33 percent compared to last quarter’s outlook.

On the other hand, if Congress passes the Build Back Better Act, America would see an estimated 43.5 GWdc of additional solar capacity installed over the next five years, which is a 31-percent increase compared to the WoodMac’s base-case outlook.
» Read article               

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

roof panels
A Cape Cod efficiency compact wants to bundle solar, storage, and heat pumps — but state regulators rejected the plan
The Cape Light Compact says helping low- and moderate-income households install solar, storage, and heat pumps will compound the financial and environmental benefits, but state regulators have rejected the plan.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
December 15, 2021

A Cape Cod energy organization is appealing the state’s rejection of a proposal to provide a package of heat pumps, solar power, and battery storage to low-income customers.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities ruled in early November that the plan would violate state laws regarding the use of energy efficiency funding by supporting technologies that do not improve efficiency. The department also argued the plan would have uncertain financial impacts. Supporters of the plan, however, argue that the state has fundamentally misunderstood both the law and the proposal.

The Cape Light Compact, the organization behind the proposal, has filed an appeal arguing that the decision “is based upon error of law, is unsupported by substantial evidence and unwarranted based on facts found in the record.”

“We were given express legal authority to submit an energy plan that does more than the utilities and more than the state,” said Maggie Downey, administrator of the Cape Light Compact. “We believe that everything we’re doing is consistent with that legislation.”

While Massachusetts is generally considered a leader in both energy efficiency programs and solar incentives, lower-income households adopt these technologies at much lower rates than more affluent residents. A 2020 report by the state’s utilities found that residents of primarily White and higher-income areas took advantage of efficiency services at significantly higher rates than those in marginalized communities. And less than 1% of the solar projects that have received state incentives since 2018 are designated for low-income consumers.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Augwind air battery
IEC inks $8 million deal with company that uses air, water to store energy
Touted as a cost-competitive, sustainable alternative to lithium batteries, Augwind’s ‘air batteries’ can power turbines when needed
By Sue Surkes, The Times of Israel
December 15, 2021

An Israeli company that has developed a unique method of storing renewable energy using air and water announced Wednesday that it has signed an $8 million agreement in principle with the Israel Electricity Corporation to build the first facility of its kind in the world, in Dimona, southern Israel.

Augwind, short for augmented wind, has developed a closed, circular system that uses water to compress air. This in turn is stored underground in long, flexible, balloon-like tanks, and when the energy is needed, the air is released, pushing out water which in turn drives a turbine that creates electricity.

The Dimona facility will provide 40-megawatt hours of storage (enough to power a small town for a day). It will be built in 2023, subject to the signing of a detailed agreement with the IEC.
» Read article               

» More about long-duration energy storage

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CR v CC
Why California can’t fill a major gap in its climate strategy
The debate over a net-zero bill highlights some of the biggest tensions plaguing climate action around the world.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
December 15, 2021

In the past few years, many states have passed new laws requiring that they achieve “net-zero” emissions by mid-century. Virginia, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island all plan to cut emissions across their economies by 80 to 90 percent by 2050, and to offset any remaining emissions using either nature-based solutions known as carbon sinks, like trees and soils, or technology to suck carbon out of the air. Several more states, including Oregon, Colorado, and Minnesota, have legally binding targets to reduce their emissions by at least 75 percent by 2050.

Many of these laws were passed in response to a landmark report released by an international group of scientists in 2018. The report found that the whole world needed to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to fulfill the Paris Agreement’s promise of trying to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. The planet will not stop heating up until net-zero emissions is achieved.

But although California passed some of the first and strongest laws to tackle climate change in the nation, its legally mandated economy-wide emissions goals stop at 2030.

“We like to talk about how we’re leading the nation in the fight against climate change,” State Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi told Grist. “But increasingly we’re falling behind.”

This past legislative session, Muratsuchi introduced A.B. 1395, a bill that would have brought the state up to speed by enshrining in law a goal to achieve net-zero by 2045.

The story behind A.B. 1395 highlights one of the biggest areas of tension in the politics of climate change around the world right now: disagreement over the need for carbon capture and carbon removal.

That landmark 2018 report, and many studies since, have concluded that both carbon capture and carbon removal will be needed to stabilize the climate. But a large contingent of the climate and environmental movement, including researchers, justice advocates, and policy experts, reject these solutions due to concerns about locking in dependence on fossil fuels, further burdening communities with pollution, and wasting time and resources on plans that may never pay off.

As seen in California, the debate threatens to slow climate action at a time when it’s becoming increasingly urgent.
» Read article               

» More about CCS

SOLAR GEOENGINEERING

cheap and messy
Think Climate Change Is Messy? Wait Until Geoengineering
Someone’s bound to hack the atmosphere to cool the planet. So we urgently need more research on the consequences, says climate scientist Kate Ricke.
By Matt Simon, Wired
November 30, 2021

Here’s the thing about the stratosphere, the region between six and 31 miles up in the sky: If you really wanted to, you could turn it pink. Or green. Or what have you. If you sprayed some colorant up there, stratospheric winds would blow the material until it wrapped around the globe. After a year or two, it would fade, and the sky would go back to being blue. Neat little prank.

This is the idea behind a solar geoengineering technique known as stratospheric aerosol injection, only instead of a pigment, engineers would spray a sulfate that bounces some of the sun’s radiation back into space, an attempt at cooling the planet. It’s the same principle behind a supervolcano loading the stratosphere with aerosols and blocking out the sun. And it, too, would rely on those winds distributing the material evenly. “If you do it in one place, it’s going to affect the whole planet,” says climate scientist Kate Ricke, who studies the intersection of geoengineering, human behavior, and economics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Not just because you’ve cooled down and changed the global energy balance, but because the particles spread out.”

While it’s not likely that someone will colorize the atmosphere anytime soon, it’s getting increasingly likely that someone will decide it’s time for stratospheric aerosol injection. Emissions are not declining at anywhere near the rate needed to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and the climate crisis is worsening.

But the science isn’t ready. This anthropogenic geoengineering might trigger unintended effects, like droughts in certain regions and massive storms in others. Plus, if engineers abruptly stopped spraying aerosols in the atmosphere, temperatures would swing back to where they started, potentially imperiling crops and species.

Still, stratospheric aerosol injection would be fairly cheap. And there’s nothing stopping countries from unilaterally deciding to spray their airspace, even though those materials would ultimately spread around the globe. “I just have a hard time seeing with the economics of it how it doesn’t happen,” says Ricke. “To me, that means that it’s really urgent to do more research.”
» Read article              
» What is solar geoengineering?     

» More about solar geoengineering

CRYPTOCURRENCY

modular mining
A ‘false solution’? How crypto mining became the oil industry’s new hope
Climate experts warn that plans to repurpose waste gas is not a solution, but more like placing a Band-Aid over a gaping wound
By Leanna First-Arai, The Guardian
December 16, 2021

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, the most-popular decentralized digital currency, have a notoriously large carbon footprint (bitcoin mining alone consumes about half as much electricity in a year as all of the UK). So to leverage a cheap source of energy to run their bitcoin mining operations, Lochmiller and Cavness found themselves partnering with oil companies to repurpose a byproduct, primarily methane, that’s typically vented or burnt off in flares.

Their creation is part of a niche wave of tech startups that are now eyeing the oil and gas industry to help power the cryptocurrency boom. Lochmiller and Cavness, who started a bitcoin mining company called Crusoe Energy, see their fix as a marriage between two problems capable of “solving” one another: the wasting of gas flaring that contributes to the climate crisis, and the need for cheaper energy as crypto increases in popularity.

Climate experts, however, warn it’s a “false solution” so long as oil and gas production is allowed to continue. The world’s leading authority on climate science concludes that only a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will help avert a climate calamity; merely finding alternate uses for “waste gas” doesn’t confront the dire need to curb fossil fuel consumption. If anything, researchers warn, oil companies may feel incentivized to drill even more.

“At the end of the day, they’re still burning natural gas,” said Arvind Ravikumar, a methane researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, who deemed flare mitigation and companies proposing similar technologies a “scam”.
» Read article               

» More about crypto

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Deepwater Horizon file photo
Revealed: Biden administration was not legally bound to auction gulf drilling rights
Justice department admits a previous ruling did not force the detonation of what environmentalists call ‘huge carbon bomb’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
December 13, 2021

The Biden administration admitted that a court decision did not compel it to lease vast tracts of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, shortly before claiming it was legally obliged to do so when announcing the sell-off, the Guardian can reveal.

Last month, the US government held the largest-ever auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico’s history, offering up more than 80m acres of the gulf’s seabed for fossil fuel extraction.

The enormous sale, which took place just four days after crucial UN climate talks in Scotland, represented a spectacular about-turn from Joe Biden’s previous promise to halt offshore drilling and was denounced by outraged environmental groups as a “huge carbon bomb”.

The president’s administration insisted it was obliged to hold the lease sale due to a court ruling in favor of a dozen states that sued to lift a blanket pause placed on new drilling permits by Biden.

But a memo filed by the US Department of Justice before the lease sale acknowledges that this judgement does not force the government to auction off drilling rights to the gulf.

“The administration has been misleading on this, to put it mildly. It’s very disappointing,” said Thomas Meyer, national organizing manager of Food and Water Watch. “They didn’t have to hold this sale and they didn’t have to hold it on this timeline.

“We know this will exacerbate the climate crisis, it undermines US credibility abroad and it contradicts a campaign promise by Biden. If the administration was taking the climate crisis seriously they would be fighting tooth and nail to keep every molecule of fossil fuel in the ground. They are nowhere near to doing that.”

“This is not going to help with Democratic turnout next year,” said Meyer. “There is a core constituency of young people and people who care about climate change who are upset and feeling betrayed by the Biden administration.”

Some commentators have pointed to Biden’s need to appease senator Joe Manchin, a fossil fuel– friendly centrist Democrat who is a crucial vote for the president’s Build Back Better spending bill, as a reason for the drilling.

“If it is political, that is unfortunate because the climate doesn’t really care about politics,” said [Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney at Earthjustice]. “Climate change will continue to cause problems for the whole nation if we don’t address it.”
» Read article               

Newport Beach cleanup
Texas oil company charged in massive spill off southern California coast
Prosecutors say company repeatedly failed to act on alarms that alerted workers to pipeline rupture
By The Guardian
December 16, 2021

A Houston-based oil company and two subsidiaries have been charged over a massive oil spill off the coast of southern California in October that fouled waters and beaches and endangered wildlife.

Prosecutors say the spill was caused in part by failing to properly act when alarms repeatedly alerted workers to a pipeline rupture.

Amplify Energy and its companies that operate several oil rigs and a pipeline off Long Beach were charged by a federal grand jury with a single misdemeanor count of illegally discharging oil.

Investigators believe the pipeline was weakened when a cargo ship’s anchor snagged it in high winds in January, months before it ultimately ruptured on 1 October, spilling up to about 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) of crude oil in the ocean.

US prosecutors said the companies were negligent six ways, including failing to respond to eight leak detection system alarms over a 13-hour period that should have alerted them to the spill and would have minimized the damage. Instead, the pipeline was shut down after each alarm and then restarted, spewing more oil into the ocean.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

chip salad
Baker’s new biomass rules are step backward
Roll back climate, forest protections enacted in 2012
By Mary S. Booth, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
November 19, 2021

Mary Booth is director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, which provides science and legal support so that citizen groups, environmental organizations, and policymakers can better understand energy development impacts on air quality, water quality, ecosystems, and climate.

HERE’S  A QUICK tip for greening our heat and power: if you need to set it on fire, it isn’t clean.

That should be the guiding principle for the state’s new Commission on Clean Heat, which could finally shed some light on a sector rife with methane leaks, oil spills, and wood smoke. Skeptics may wonder if the commission is a way for Gov. Charlie Baker to slow-walk measures to curb pollution from heating systems, but a bigger concern is the administration’s ongoing and relentless promotion of dirty climate solutions, particularly biomass energy.

While many citizens may be aware of controversy around the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) making biomass power plants eligible for millions of dollars in subsidies, probably fewer know that the MA Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS) also subsidizes biomass power plants, as well as residential and commercial wood heating.

New changes to the RPS biomass rules proposed by Baker will roll back air quality, climate, and forest protections that were enacted in 2012 after a painstaking four-year process. One of the most shocking changes is the new rules will allow inefficient and polluting biomass plants in northern New England to once again qualify for millions each year in publicly funded subsidies, reversing the 2012 prohibition on such support.

As a concession to activists and scientists and an acknowledgement of how polluting wood-burning is, the new RPS rules will prevent biomass plants within five miles of environmental justice communities in Massachusetts from receiving subsidies. Meanwhile, similarly polluting power plants and residential and commercial heating units can still qualify for subsidies under the APS, with no restrictions on where they are built.
» Read article               

» More about biomass

PLASTICS BANS, ALTERNATIVES, AND INITIATIVES

reduce first
Beyond reusing and recycling: How the US could actually reduce plastic production
Whether it’s a cap on production or a market mechanism, it’s likely to meet industry opposition.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
December 13, 2021

A panel of experts last week made a simple, common-sense recommendation for dealing with the U.S.’s plastic pollution problem: Stop making so much plastic.

“Not producing waste in the first place is the best thing you can do environmentally,” said Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering and a coauthor of a high-profile report that was released last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

It’s an idea that environmental activists have espoused for years. Beyond recycling and reusing the 42 million metric tons of plastic that the U.S. tosses out annually, they say, we should reduce the tide of plastic that is manufactured in the first place. Plastic production is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution that harms frontline communities, and plastic waste clogs ecosystems around the world. Making less plastic would help on all three fronts.

Now that the recommendation is coming from the influential National Academies, advocates are hopeful that federal policymakers may give it greater credence, raising a major question: What would a national strategy to phase down the unsustainable production of plastic look like?
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» Read the report

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