Weekly News Check-In 9/30/22

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Welcome back.

Climate activists were central to a big story this week, as persistent, intense, and coordinated pressure resulted in Senator Joe Manchin agreeing to pull his “dirty deal” on fossil fuel project permitting “reform” legislation from the must-pass funding bill. Don’t think for a second that Big Oil&Gas is giving up on this though – they’re already maneuvering for a comeback. They need to grease the skids to keep the party rolling – the United States is currently building (or planning to build) more miles of new pipelines than any other country.

Why is that a bad idea? Aside from the obvious climate-busting problems associated with continuing to burn fossil fuels, there are real and significant local health implications for anyone living or working near power plants, pipelies, and other infrastructure. A new study shows for the first time what industry has tried hard to conceal: natural gas transported by interstate pipelines contains hazardous air pollutants and known human carcinogens. These leak into the air both intentionally and by accident at numerous points along the transmission path.

Methane flaring is a different but related issue, and largely occurs around fossil fuel production, storage, and processing sites. This is the practice of burning off methane (natural gas) that may be a byproduct at an oil well, or otherwise can’t easily be transported away for commercial sale. Flaring, when successful, produces carbon dioxide, soot, and nitrogen oxides – all nasty, but arguably less immediately damaging to the climate than allowing methane to directly enter the atmosphere. Except that flaring turns out, in practice, to let an awful lot of methane slip past the flame.

For fans of the classic “Wizard of Oz” movie, we’ve arrived at the part where the scene shifts from black & white to color. Here’s the good stuff:

In a glimpse of the future green economy, a Massachusetts renewable energy company has developed a way to help low-income consumers nationwide access the financial benefits of clean energy with a new platform that allows homeowners to share excess solar credits. Homeowners will receive state incentives for the power generated, while the credits generated by the additional energy production are passed on at no cost to low-income residents, who can use them to offset their electricity bills.

Also, the U.S. Senate just ratified the Kigali Amendment, which adds to the 1987 Montreal Protocol that saved life on Earth by phasing out ozone-gobbling CFCs. This latest amendment will transition the economy away from HFC refrigerants in refrigerators, air conditioners, and heat pumps, and replace them with climate-friendlier chemistries. HFCs are very powerful but short-lived global warmers, so we’ll see the benefits quickly.

New York just launched a 2 GW renewable energy solicitation as natural gas prices are driving up electricity bills. The city is working to obtain 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and continues to build utility-scale projects alongside a flourishing base of distributed resources.

We’ve run many stories covering the hype around clean hydrogen. A new review of scientific papers in the UK throws another wet blanket over that flame, concluding that hydrogen is unsuitable for use in home heating, and likely to remain so, despite the hopes of the UK government and plumbing industry. The same calculations apply here. California is having none of it. Regulators just voted unanimously to develop new rules that would effectively ban the sale of natural gas-powered heating and hot water systems beginning in 2030, a first-in-the-nation commitment. That’s related to hydrogen because mixing hydrogen with natural gas for home heating is an enduring gas utility fantasy. Nope. Not gonna do it.

Recognizing that “clean energy” carries its own environmental burdens, the Biden administration is proposing a new permitting program for wind energy turbines, power lines and other projects that kill bald and golden eagles. As unpleasant as that is, “birds tell us that climate change is the biggest threat they face,” said Garry George, director of the National Audubon Society’s Clean Energy Initiative. If it’s executed responsibly, he said the new program could strengthen protections for eagles as renewable energy expands.

In clean transportation  a pair of hyperlocal ride-hailing startups in Chicago are positioning themselves to better serve predominantly Black neighborhoods that are under-served by traditional ride-hailing services and public transit. This is a form of small-scale, electrified transportation that addresses the “last mile” problem of sparse public transit routes. Meanwhile, the Federal government is working on legislation to maximize reuse and recycling of end-of-life electric vehicle batteries in federal fleet vehicles.

We’ll close with developing stories around the energy transition as it relates to modernizing the grid. New England allowed itself to become much too dependent on natural gas for electricity generation, and now finds itself with precarious fuel supplies during winter cold snaps – when gas is also critically essential (for now) to heat buildings. There’s a big debate underway, and we’re working hard for a short term solution to get us through the transition without any build-out of additional gas infrastructure.

Part of the solution is the deployment of long-duration energy storage, of the type that iron flow battery maker ESS has agreed to supply the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, including 2 gigawatt-hours of storage. The city-owned power company is committed to ending carbon emissions by 2030.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

we resist
‘People Power Has Won The Day’: Manchin Dirty Deal Defeated
The win was the result of “hundreds of national and grassroots organizations, along with concerned Americans from coast to coast, working together for the health and safety of frontline communities and a livable future for the planet,” said one campaigner.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
September 27, 2022

Climate campaigners and people on the frontlines of the planetary emergency celebrated Tuesday after Sen. Joe Manchin requested that his fossil fuel-friendly permitting reforms be stripped out of a stopgap funding bill.

“People power has won the day,” said Protect Our Water Heritage Rights Coalition (POWHR) organizer Grace Tuttle. “Thank you to everyone who rallied together to stop this bill. We will keep fighting alongside you. Our letters, calls, rallies, and grassroots activism secured this victory.”

“We recognize that the fight is not over, and we stand with all frontline communities from the Gulf Coast to Alaska facing fossil-fueled injustices,” Tuttle vowed. “Our movement to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline is bigger and stronger than ever. We will keep fighting to end the era of fossil fuels and for the future we deserve.”

Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter declared that “tonight’s turnaround represents a remarkable, against-all-odds victory by a determined grassroots climate movement against the overwhelming financial and political might of the fossil fuel industry and its Senate enablers.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed to hold a vote on permitting reforms in exchange for Manchin (D-W.Va.) supporting the Inflation Reduction Act. However, a growing number of lawmakers indicated in recent days that they would oppose an urgent government funding bill if it included the “dirty deal,” which would fast-track fossil fuel projects.

Given the mounting opposition to his Energy Independence and Security Act, Manchin on Tuesday evening asked Schumer to cut out his proposal.

“While the campaign against polluting oil and gas is far from over,” said Hauter, “this repudiation of Sen. Manchin’s so-called permitting reform bill marks a huge victory against dirty energy—and also against dirty backroom Washington deal-making.”

“This victory would not have been possible without the coordinated efforts of hundreds of national and grassroots organizations, along with concerned Americans from coast to coast, working together for the health and safety of frontline communities and a livable future for the planet,” she stressed.
» Read article    

third act founder
Bill McKibben: Victory Over Big Oil as Sen. Manchin Forced to Drop “Hideous Deal” on Energy
Democracy Now, Youtube
September 27, 2022


”All environmental victories are temporary. This one may be more temporary than most. There’s already news today that Manchin and the Republicans are going to try and bring it back, attaching it in December not to the budget but to the Defense Authorization Act. Look. Big Oil never sleeps and it never gives up. But for a day anyway, an impressive win by grassroots environmentalists.”
» Watch video      

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

crude guys
15K Miles of New Oil Pipelines Worldwide Show ‘Almost Deliberate Failure to Meet Climate Goals’
The United States is currently developing more new oil pipeline capacity than any other country, a global analysis shows.
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
September 27, 2022

As climate scientists and frontline communities plead with governments to urgently phase out planet-wrecking fossil fuels, an analysis released Tuesday shows that nearly 15,000 miles of new oil pipelines are currently in development worldwide, potentially imperiling the hopes of curbing runaway warming.

Titled Crude Awakening: Oil Pipelines in Development Across the Globe, the new report from Global Energy Monitor (GEM) finds that the United States is currently pursuing more new oil pipeline capacity by length than any other country, with a total of around 1,700 miles of pipelines either proposed or already under construction.

The majority of U.S. pipeline construction is linked to the Permian Basin, a massive carbon bomb located in the country’s southwest.

“Buoyed by record profits in 2021–22, the oil industry is moving ahead with a massive expansion of the global oil pipeline system,” the report states. “Over 24,000 km of crude oil transmission pipelines are in development, about 40% of which are already under construction.”

“Despite taking a backseat to the global gas boom in recent years,” the analysis warns, “this expansion of crude oil infrastructure creates a substantial stranded asset risk for project developers and is dramatically at odds with plans to limit global warming to 1.5°C or 2.0°C.”

[…] The new analysis comes as the U.S. Senate is preparing to vote on a permitting reform plan pushed by right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that, if passed, would pave the way for final approval of the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline and fast-track other polluting oil and gas infrastructure.

Baird Langenbrunner, a research analyst at GEM, told The Guardian that the continued push for new oil pipelines in the face of dire warnings from scientists, the head of the United Nations, and others about the consequences of more fossil fuel development “shows an almost deliberate failure to meet climate goals.”

“Despite climate targets threatening to render fossil fuel infrastructure as stranded assets,” Langenbrunner added, “the world’s biggest consumers of fossil fuels, led by the U.S. and China, are doubling down on oil pipeline expansion.”
» Read article    
» Read the report

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

too chummy
Sen. Manchin pulls environmental permitting ‘reform’ bill from stopgap funding legislation
By Eric Schaeffer, Oil and Gas Watch
September 27, 2022

With the clock ticking on a possible government shutdown on Friday, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin late today pulled from a stopgap funding bill his proposed legislation that would fast-track permitting reviews of major energy projects.

Senator Manchin made the move after failing to receive support from Republicans and some Democrats for his “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022.” The permitting “reform” legislation was part of a deal struck with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden to earn Manchin’s vote on landmark climate legislation last month.

Manchin and Schumer claimed that the permitting fast-track bill had to be rushed through Congress as part of an emergency funding resolution to keep government open because the U.S. allegedly needed to speed up the permitting of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, multi-state pipelines, and other very large energy projects.

However, the bill was criticized from both sides of the aisle – and did not have political support or a sound factual basis. The argument that permit reviews for oil and gas projects must be accelerated did not withstand close scrutiny.  And despite promising not to weaken the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws, the Manchin bill would have done the opposite. The bill would have flat-out ordered federal agencies to approve construction of the controversial Mountain Valley pipeline in Manchin’s home state while prohibiting any judicial review of that decision.

So it is good that the bill was pulled.

A review of recent decisions to issue permits for LNG terminals suggests the Manchin bill was a solution in search of a problem.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has the lead responsibility for approving such projects, after determining that they are a public “necessity,” minimize damage to natural and cultural resources as required under the National Environmental Policy Act, and have environmental permit approvals from the EPA and other agencies.
» Read article     

» More about legislation

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

added burden
Research shows neighborhoods near new plant face high rates of health issues
By Caroline Enos, The Salem News
September 21, 2022

PEABODY — A new peaker plant in Peabody would be built in an area with higher rates of health disparities, new research confirms.

As of now, the project would be completed without any prior health and environmental impact reports done by the state, something Peabody’s Board of Health and local activists are hoping to change.

The 55-megawatt “peaker” plant would be powered by oil and natural gas and only run during peak times of energy use for at most 1,250 hours annually. Construction on the $85 million project is expected to be completed by summer 2023.

The new peaker would be more efficient and produce fewer emissions than the Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s decades-old 20-megawatt generator currently in use at the same site, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company, the owner and operator of the new plant. MMWEC hopes the old generator will be decommissioned by 2026.

Still, the new peaker would use fossil fuels that emit carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and other harmful particles into the air, the Board of Health said in a joint letter to the state last year.

This was emphasized again during a presentation of new research at the board’s meeting Thursday night.

“(The research) demonstrated that there are residents in proximity to the proposed plant who have vulnerabilities that could be exacerbated by air pollution, and that residents in these neighborhoods show a heavier burden of diseases,” said Sharon Cameron, the city’s public health director.

Kathryn Rodgers, a Ph.D. student in environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health, conducted this research during an internship with the Massachusetts Climate Action Network this summer. These concerns had been raised last year as well by doctors and other advocates opposed to the peaker plant.

“Populations living closer to the proposed power plant face significantly more health burdens than the rest of the state,” Rodgers said of her findings.

[…] Seven new air monitors were installed earlier this month to collect air pollution data on Pulaski Street and in other neighborhoods.

They will start running this week and upload live data to a fire and smoke map at https://tinyurl.com/fireandsmokemap.

“We expect that data from the Purple Air monitors will be useful in additional assessment of the potential impact of air pollution on our community,” Cameron said.
» Read article     

» More about peakers

GAS LEAKS

pollutant concentrations
Natural Gas Leaked from Interstate Pipelines Contains Hazardous Air Pollutants and Carcinogens
By Adrienne Underwood, PSEhealthyenergy.org
September 20, 2022

OAKLAND, CA – Natural gas transported by interstate pipelines contains hazardous air pollutants and known human carcinogens, according to a first of its kind study published in Environmental Research Letters by researchers at the nonprofit research institute PSE Healthy Energy.

In the United States, interstate transmission pipelines that transport natural gas release significant quantities of unburned gas during routine operations and unintentional leaks (e.g., blowdowns and blowouts). In 2020 alone, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that natural gas transmission infrastructure leaked over 1.4 million tons of methane—a potent greenhouse gas. Despite this, no previous analysis has evaluated whether the gas in this system contains hazardous air pollutants.

“Interstate natural gas pipelines are critical energy infrastructure that is normally off limits to researchers,” said the study’s leading author Curtis Nordgaard, an environmental health scientist at PSE Healthy Energy and a board-certified pediatrician. “This is the first study to investigate the chemicals moving through our nation’s vast natural gas transmission network. Our results indicate that there are surprising levels of harmful air pollutants and carcinogens, creating potential health risks if gas leaks into nearby communities.”

Using industry-reported data from infrastructure applications submitted to federal regulators, PSE scientists calculated the concentration of hazardous air pollutants in natural gas transmission pipelines. The researchers found BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes) and hexane reported in nearly all filings that disclosed hazardous air pollutant data. Industry reports also included other health-damaging compounds, including mercury, the radioactive gas radon, and hydrogen sulfide. While concentrations of these chemicals varied, some were health-relevant. In the case of benzene, concentrations in transmission gas were reported as high as 299 parts per million, or 30,000 times the short-term exposure level considered low-risk by the California Environmental Protection Agency. Concentrations of benzene in condensate were much higher. Many of the chemicals reported in this pipeline gas are known to cause neurodevelopmental impairments, lung cancer, leukemia, and respiratory illness.

“We know that natural gas transmission infrastructure is responsible for methane emissions that damage the climate. This new study indicates that these leaks also contain chemicals that are dangerous for human health,” said PSE Healthy Energy Executive Director Seth B.C. Shonkoff. “Stopping natural gas leaks is critical for the climate and to protect the health of our communities.”
» Read article    
» Read the study         

» More about gas leaks

GREENING THE ECONOMY

solar equity
Massachusetts program allows homeowners to share excess solar power

The program encourages homeowners considering solar panels to opt for larger systems than they need, then pass credits for the extra energy along to help offset the electricity bills of residents who aren’t able to install solar themselves.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
September 26, 2022

A Massachusetts renewable energy company hopes to help low-income consumers nationwide access the financial benefits of clean energy with a new platform that allows homeowners to share excess solar credits.

The Solar Equity Platform, created by Boston-based Resonant Energy, encourages homeowners with sufficient space to install systems larger than their households need. Homeowners will receive state incentives for the power generated, while the credits generated by the additional energy production are passed on at no cost to low-income residents, who can use them to offset their electricity bills.

“We take people who have the structural advantage of having large homes and capitalize on that asset,” said Ben Underwood, co-founder and co-CEO of Resonant Energy. “It’s taking some of that value and sending it to people in low-income neighborhoods.”

Currently, the platform is operating only in Massachusetts. However, Resonant hopes to expand the concept into other states as well. And it isn’t just its creators who see the promise in the idea: The platform made it to the final round of the U.S. Department of Energy’s American Made Solar competition.

Even as solar power proliferates across the country — solar installations made up close to half of the new electric generation capacity added nationwide in 2021, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association — low-income households are often left out of this progress. The upfront costs of installing a system are often too high for a family struggling to pay the bills. Low-income consumers are also more likely to live in rental units or in houses with older roofs or outdated electrical systems that can’t support solar panels.

In an attempt to narrow this gap, Massachusetts’ solar incentive plan, the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program (SMART), offers additional money for systems on the homes of low-income families as well as those that allocate part or all of the clean energy produced to low-income households, allowing these residents to receive the benefit of stable, generally lower prices on their electricity.

So far, though, this incentive has gained limited traction: Just 10% of the capacity the program has received applications for has claimed some form of these higher incentives.

The Solar Equity Platform is designed to boost these numbers by simplifying the process of building and sharing excess capacity.
» Read article    

Kigali ratified
Senate Votes to Ratify the Kigali Amendment, Joining 137 Nations in an Effort to Curb Global Warming
The binding agreement will reduce the use of HFCs used in refrigeration and air conditioning, which will almost immediately slow global warming and create domestic manufacturing jobs.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
September 24, 2022

With rare, bipartisan support including a phalanx of Republican lawmakers, the U.S. Senate voted 69-27 Wednesday in favor of ratifying a key international climate agreement that will significantly curb global warming and, climate advocates say, could serve as a springboard for further emissions reductions.

The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is a binding agreement to reduce production and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning that are also potent, short-lived greenhouse gases. President Joe Biden is expected to soon sign the agreement, something he has called for since his inauguration. The United States would join 137 other countries in an agreement that is projected to prevent substantial additional warming by the end of the century.

“I am thrilled to see the U.S. rally to the support of this vital agreement,” John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, who, as U.S. Secretary of State, helped forge the initial agreement in 2016, said in a written statement.

“Businesses supported it because it drives American exports; climate advocates championed it because it will avoid up to half a degree of global warming by the end of the century; and world leaders backed it because it ensures strong international cooperation,” Kerry said.

A 2018 report by the U.S. air conditioning and refrigeration industry found that by 2027, the Kigali amendment would increase U.S. manufacturing jobs by 33,000, increase U.S. exports by $5 billion, and reduce imports by nearly $7 billion.

The United States began phasing down the production and use of HFCs after Congress passed the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, legislation that was signed by then President Donald Trump in 2020. Subsequent regulations released by the EPA in 2021 are compliant with the Kigali Amendment, which requires the U.S. and other developed countries to reduce production and use of HFCs by 85 percent by 2036.

[…] Phasing down HFCs is of particular importance because the chemicals are “short-lived climate pollutants.” HFCs remain in the atmosphere for 15 years on average, far shorter than carbon dioxide which remains in the atmosphere for 300 to 1000 years. Any effort to curb HFC emissions or other short-lived climate pollutants such as methane will have a near-instantaneous impact on slowing global warming.
» Read article    

Fiona over Puerto Rico
Puerto Ricans: We Won’t Become Resilient Until We Have an Equitable and Just Recovery
By Juan Declet-Barreto, Senior Social Scientist for Climate Vulnerability, UCCSUSA
September 28, 2022

“Refuse to glorify resilience; demand accountability.” Thus reads a meme on Puerto Rican social media, the background image a house with a wind-battered roof, a combination of rusted tin and ragged palm tree leaves. It is illustrative of the growing discontent of Puerto Ricans at being called resilient in the face of Hurricanes Maria and Fiona. But wait…aren’t Puerto Ricans resilient to the torrential rains, flooding, and winds that hurricane season brings year after year? Aren’t they (shouldn’t they!) be used to, adapted to, resilient to, the undeniable climate and extreme weather realities that are part of living in the Caribbean? Before answering the question, let’s unpack these assumptions first.

The idea that populations facing climate and other social, economic, or environmental disasters are innately resilient to climate and other environmental impacts is long-standing and incorrect. It is a harmful framing that romanticizes the conditions of duress under which impacted populations attempt to survive disasters when they already live, day in, day out, in precarious circumstances. It is also a convenient framing that leaves governments off the hook and unaccountable for their own unwillingness to prioritize the wellbeing of vulnerable populations and adequately respond to risks to which scientists have provided plenty of warning and solutions.

And the etymology of resilience contributes to the problem as well. It evokes elasticity—of a rubber band or a NERF ball, for example—that allows something that becomes deformed or bent out of shape by an external force to return to its original form or condition. But people and the social, technological, economic, and political systems upon which they rely to live their lives are not rubber bands or foam balls. Even if people and the things they require had such elasticity, in the face of climate upheavals spiraling out of control, it is not desirable to return to the original form.

What is desirable and needed is to reshape into a form that can prevent or minimize the deformation in the first place, especially when the strength of the force is increasing under a changing climate.
» Read article    

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

speeding up
On top of Mount Washington, signs of changing climate

Research shows warming temperatures, fewer cold days
By Kevin Skarupa, WMUR
September 28, 2022

MOUNT WASHINGTON, New Hampshire — At a height of over 6,000 feet, Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeast and is known as having the world’s worst weather, but that weather has been changing recently.

Mount Washington is an iconic spot in New Hampshire, and for decades, researchers have been stationed at the peak.

“Anytime we have a lot of icing events — frozen precipitation, freezing rain, glaze ice — sometimes we can get inches and inches of it per hour, which does a lot of damage to some of our instruments,” said Jay Broccolo, director of weather operations.

It’s hard work living there, but it has paid off over the years. Researchers might not have known how important it would be when they started gathering data in 1935, but it’s incredibly rare to have hourly observations at that altitude.

“We definitely rely on our data set, which now at 90 years, it’s getting to be longer than most people live,” Broccolo said.

Coupled with detailed data from nearby Pinkham Notch, Mount Washington is being looked at carefully by the scientific community to better understand the magnitude of the warming of Earth’s atmosphere.

Georgia Murray, a staff scientist at the Appalachian Mountain Club, released a study recently that showed that while people living below 6,000 feet have been feeling the effects of a warming planet for some time, Mount Washington and Pinkham Notch have been exempt up until about 20 years ago.

“We look at the annual temperature trends,” Murray said. “Our paper found that for the first time, the summit is tipping to what we call significantly warming.”
» Read article    

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

big apple
New York launches 2 GW renewable energy solicitation as natural gas prices drive up electricity bills
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
September 22, 2022

New York is working to obtain 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and continues to build out utility-scale projects alongside a flourishing base of distributed resources.

New York “is moving ahead with full force as we look to build more large-scale renewable energy projects across the state,” NYSERDA President and CEO Doreen Harris said in a statement.

The solicitation is expected to result in the generation of approximately 4.5 million MWh annually, sufficient to reduce the state’s carbon emissions by 2 million metric tons, officials said.

NYSERDA will host a webinar on Oct. 6 to provide more information on the solicitation. Projects must show the ability to reach commercial operation by May 2025, though the solicitation provides an option to extend the deadline until May 2028.

Solar developers in New York celebrated the solicitation.

“The clean energy projects awarded through NYSERDA’s predictable solicitation process will add to the more than 12,000 solar jobs in our state,” Zack Dufresne, executive director of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement.

The solicitation for utility-scale renewables follows NYSERDA’s competitive solicitation for offshore wind, issued in July.

New York is also looking to distributed solar to help meet its climate goals. On Wednesday, the state announced 4 GW of community, residential, small commercial and industrial solar projects have been installed — sufficient to power more than 710,000 homes.

The state is on track to exceed its goal of having 6 GW of distributed solar installed by 2025, officials said, en route to 10 GW by 2030.

New York is racing to add renewables as the price of natural gas drives up electricity costs.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

less efficient
Hydrogen is unsuitable for home heating, review concludes
Too many technical difficulties to overcome to make it a viable low-carbon heating fuel, say researchers
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
September 27, 2022

Hydrogen is unsuitable for use in home heating, and likely to remain so, despite the hopes of the UK government and plumbing industry, a comprehensive review of scientific papers has concluded.

Hydrogen lobbyists are out in force at the Labour party conference this week, sponsoring several events in Liverpool, and will be plentiful at the Conservative party conference that begins this weekend.

They are hoping to persuade the UK government to push ahead with a mooted large-scale rollout of hydrogen for home heating, as a replacement for the gas used to heat the vast majority of British homes. Hydrogen proponents say it would avoid households having to replace gas boilers with heat pumps, the other main contender for low-carbon home heating.

But researchers reviewed 32 studies of hydrogen and concluded that it was unlikely to play a major role in home heating, either as a full replacement for fossil fuel gas heating, or as a blend with natural gas.

Jan Rosenow, Europe director at the Regulatory Assistance Project, an energy thinktank, and co-author of the study, said there were too many technical difficulties to overcome to make hydrogen a viable and economic low-carbon heating fuel.

“Using hydrogen for heating may sound attractive at first glance. However, all of the independent research on this topic comes to the same conclusion: heating with hydrogen is a lot less efficient and more expensive than alternatives such as heat pumps, district heating and solar thermal,” he said.

The study, published on Tuesday in the peer-review scientific journal Joule, is the third major blow in the past week to proponents of hydrogen for home heating. Earlier this week, a separate study by the analyst company Cornwall Insight concluded that hydrogen would be close to twice as expensive for home heating as using gas alone. Last week, the Guardian revealed problems with a hydrogen pilot project in Scotland.
» Blog editor’s note: the same economics and physics apply in the U.S. as they do across the Pond.
» Read article    
» Read the study

dump it
California’s 2030 ban on gas heaters opens a new front in the war on fossil fuels
The first-of-its-kind plan will purge gas from existing buildings, not just new construction.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
September 26, 2022

California regulators voted unanimously last week to develop new rules that would effectively ban the sale of natural gas-powered heating and hot water systems, a first-in-the-nation commitment. The California Air Resources Board, or CARB, an agency that oversees the state’s climate targets and regulates pollution, passed the measure on Thursday as part of a larger plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions and comply with federal air quality targets.

Beginning in 2030, homeowners in California looking to replace their furnace or hot-water heater will only be able to purchase zero-emission appliances. Regulators expect this to primarily mean a switch to heat pumps — very efficient electric devices that can both heat and cool homes — as well as heat pump water heaters.

It will be the first legal mandate in the country designed to purge natural gas from existing buildings — in contrast with past policies aimed at stopping new developments from using the fuel.

“We are celebrating this historic win as California becomes the first state to end the sale of polluting fossil fuel appliances,” said Leah Louise-Prescott, a senior associate at the clean energy think tank RMI. “California’s leadership sets a clear example for other states to follow in their transition to a healthy, all-electric future.”

The use of fossil fuels in homes for space and water heating, drying clothes, and cooking food is responsible for about 10 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. California municipalities have been at the vanguard of tackling these emissions for several years now, beginning in 2019 when the city of Berkeley passed an ordinance preventing new developments from hooking up to the gas system. Cities around the state and across the country have since followed with similar policies, including Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and, most recently, Chicago.

California has also led the way at the state level. Last year it adopted a landmark building code change that strongly encourages all new buildings in the state to forgo gas hookups. And earlier this month, the Golden State’s utility board took another pioneering step to end subsidies for gas line extensions to new buildings. In many states, utilities do not charge new customers the full cost of extending a gas line to their building — instead incorporating those costs into rates and spreading them across their customer base.
» Read article    

» More about energy efficiency

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Sacramento
ESS inks largest-ever US flow battery purchase with Sacramento utility
The innovative deal will supply 2 gigawatt-hours of storage over multiple years and includes provisions for workforce training in and around the California capital.
By Julian Spector, Canary Media
September 27, 2022

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District will soon be decarbonizing its power supply — in part by pumping iron.

The city-owned power company has committed to ending its carbon emissions by 2030, an aggressive timeline compared to California’s statewide 2045 deadline to do the same. That means the state capital can’t wait any longer to figure out how to close the gap between abundant daytime solar production and post-sunset demand for electricity.

Last week, SMUD took a decisive step toward its clean energy goal when it signed a contract with iron flow battery company ESS to deliver 200 megawatts/​2 gigawatt-hours of its products, which store electricity in a liquid electrolyte containing dissolved iron.

A purchase of this size is a massive step forward for flow battery storage, a technology that just might help rid the grid of fossil fuels if it ever gets sustained market traction.

The deal contains a master supply agreement for ESS to deliver units over the course of the next few years. It will start with several megawatts over the next 18 months, said Hugh McDermott, senior vice president for business development and sales. Then it will ramp to tens of megawatts in the second phase and then potentially up to the 100-megawatt level.

The multiyear commitment is meant to track the natural planning cycles of utility procurement and project development, McDermott told Canary Media in the expo hall of the RE+ convention in Anaheim, California last week.

“This is a very uncertain supply situation for the rest of this decade, for everybody,” McDermott said of the grid storage market. “[SMUD is] going to get certainty on supply — a major bonus — and they’re going to get a commitment that we’ll have the manufacturing behind that. We’ll get the visibility [to future demand] so we can plan our manufacturing expansion.”
» Read article    

» More about long-duration energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

cold in Houston
Trouble brewing in the power grid as officials warn of possible electricity shortages in N.E. this winter
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
September 27, 2022

The prospect is alarming: rolling blackouts across New England as temperatures plummet below freezing for days on end, the result of a power grid that can’t keep up.

Mindful of the debacle in Texas, where failures in the power grid resulted in hundreds of deaths during a freezing spell in February 2021, energy officials here are issuing unusually strident warnings about the potential for shortages if this winter turns out to be especially cold.

The culprit? Russia’s war with Ukraine has destabilized energy markets, particularly supplies of liquefied natural gas, while pipelines that bring natural gas in from other parts of the United States remained constrained. The threat also underscores the stark choices New England faces for its energy future, as gas and pipeline companies push to bring more gas to the region, while clean energy and climate advocates warn that will harm the planet and only make the region’s dependence on gas worse.

The concern is great enough that earlier this month, the five commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission made a rare visit to New England to hold a daylong meeting in Burlington to come to grips with just how serious the problem is.

[…] The challenge is daunting, as New England has limited ways to bring in natural gas — pipeline, ship, truck, or barge. In addition to being the dominant fuel for home heating, natural gas is used to generate more than half of the electricity in New England. And in winter, when demand is high, gas goes to heating buildings first before generating electricity.

“The underlying problem is that we’re overly dependent on a single fuel,” said Rebecca Tepper, chief of the energy and environment bureau at the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. “We’re overly dependent on natural gas and the entire region is at risk any time we have any disruption on that system.”

But while the region is racing to switch from fossil-fuel-fired power plants to renewable energy, some experts say this winter is exposing the challenges of that transition, with the best clean energy solutions, such as offshore wind, not yet on line, leaving officials to scramble for solutions that don’t further tie the region to fossil fuels.

When ISO-New England has issued similar warnings in previous years, clean energy advocates say, the grid has looked first to solve the problem by securing more supplies of gas.

“Investing in more fossil fuel infrastructure is not going to solve the problem,” said Melissa Birchard, the director of clean energy and grid transition for the Acadia Center, a clean energy advocacy group. “It just continues our cycle of not investing in clean resources, and can exacerbate climate change.”

Instead, she and other advocates want the region to reduce demand by doubling down on its existing successes with energy efficiency, while also pushing for more conservation efforts and working to get clean energy on line quickly.

Right now, Massachusetts is on the cusp of an offshore wind boom. The first phase of one project, the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind farm, is expected to be up and running next year. In 2025, a second offshore wind farm, Mayflower Wind, is expected to bring roughly the same amount on line. Two years later, an additional 1,600 megawatts are expected to be powering the grid.
» Read article    

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

clounds and shadows
US proposal would permit eagle deaths as renewables expand
The Biden administration is proposing a new permitting program for wind energy turbines, power lines and other projects that kill bald and golden eagles
By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press, in The Berkshire Eagle
September 29, 2022

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Biden administration on Thursday proposed a new permitting program for wind energy turbines, power lines and other projects that kill eagles, amid growing concern among scientists that the rapid expansion of renewable energy in the U.S. West could harm golden eagle populations now teetering on decline.

The Fish and Wildlife Service program announced Thursday is meant to encourage companies to work with officials to minimize harm to golden and bald eagles.

It’s also aimed at avoiding any slowdown in the growth of wind power as an alternative to carbon-emitting fossil fuels — a key piece of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda. It comes after several major utilities have been federally prosecuted in recent years for killing large numbers of eagles without permits.

The federal government already issues permits to kill eagles. But Thursday’s proposal calls for new permits tailored to wind-energy projects, power line networks and the disturbance of breeding bald eagles and bald eagle nests.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams said the new program would provide “multiple pathways to obtain a permit” while also helping conserve eagles, which she described as a key responsibility for the agency.

Bald eagle numbers have quadrupled since 2009 to about 350,000 birds. There are only about about 40,000 golden eagles, which need much larger areas to survive and are more inclined to have trouble with humans.

The number of wind turbines nationwide more than doubled over the past decade to almost 72,000, according to U.S. Geological Survey data, with development overlapping prime golden eagle territory in states including Wyoming, Montana, California, Washington and Oregon.

[…] Illegal shootings are the biggest cause of death for golden eagles, killing about 700 annually, according to federal estimates. More than 600 die annually in collisions with cars, wind turbines and power lines; about 500 annually are electrocuted; and more than 400 are poisoned.

Yet climate change looms as a potentially greater threat: Rising temperatures are projected to reduce golden eagle breeding ranges by more than 40% later this century, according to a National Audubon Society analysis.

“Birds tell us that climate change is the biggest threat they face,” said Garry George, director of the National Audubon Society’s Clean Energy Initiative. If it’s executed responsibly, he said the new program could strengthen protections for eagles as renewable energy expands.
» Read article   

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

hyper local
Black-owned companies seek to close electric transportation gaps in Chicago
A pair of hyperlocal ride-hailing startups in Chicago are positioning themselves to better serve predominantly Black neighborhoods that are underserved by traditional ride-hailing services and public transit.
By Audrey Henderson, Energy News Network
September 30, 2022

The transition to electric vehicles is well under way, but the benefits will be slow to arrive in communities where private car ownership is still a luxury.

Long before app-based ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, unlicensed cabs known as “jitneys” provided a similar service in Black neighborhoods that conventional White-owned taxi companies frequently refused to serve. Today, ride-hailing service is also low in several predominantly Black neighborhoods on Chicago’s Far South Side, corresponding with low rates of household vehicle ownership.

Hyperlocal shared ride services represent a potential alternative. In Chicago, two Black-owned companies — Jitney EV and GEST Chicago — are positioning themselves to fulfill that role, while also trying to ensure that environmental justice communities are not left behind in the transition from fossil fuel-based transportation.

“Post COVID and as a result of climate change, we have a once-in-a-lifetime investment in public infrastructure to address climate change and to address the transition away from fossil fuel production, toward clean energy, both in building and transportation. So it’s important that our community does not get left behind,” said William “Billy” Davis, general manager for Jitney EV.

Their efforts are specifically targeting the “last mile” gap between public transit stops and destinations such as grocery stores, banks and entertainment, along with providing an option for reliable transportation to and from work for residents within its service area, Davis said.

“We have, in Illinois, a transit system that is required by statute to generate 50% of its operating revenue from the fare box. So that tends to drive routes based on ridership. And it tends to punish those routes that have low ridership, even if they are in disadvantaged communities,” Davis said.
» Read article    

Fed recycling plan
US Senate passes bill to maximize EV battery recycling for federal fleet vehicles
Sponsors of the bipartisan bill say the federal government needs a plan to bolster recycling and reuse of EV batteries, to lessen U.S. dependence on international markets for battery components.
By Megan Quinn, Utility Dive
September 16, 2022

The Strategic EV Management Act, which aims to maximize reuse and recycling of end-of-life electric vehicle batteries in federal fleet vehicles, passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. It now heads to the House of Representatives.

The bill calls for federal agencies such as the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget to collaborate with the U.S. EPA, manufacturers and recyclers to create a strategic plan for reusing and recycling EV batteries. It also calls for coordinating with scientists, labs and startups working on such projects. The amended version passed in the Senate also calls for a report on how costs to operate and maintain electric vehicles in the federal fleet compare with costs for vehicles with combustion engines.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah; Gary Peters, D-Mich.; Richard Burr R-N.C.; and Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn.

“As the federal government’s electric vehicle fleet continues to grow, it must also ensure it has a coordinated strategy for optimal battery longevity,” Romney said in a statement. “The federal government should lead by example, and the more cost-efficient we are in this space, the less dependent we will be on foreign suppliers.”

Current recycling technologies can recover up to 95% of the minerals and materials needed to manufacture new batteries, he added.

The Senate’s passage of the bill marks another recent instance of federal action in the EV and lithium-ion battery recycling space.

The Department of Energy is working to allocate $335 million in funding for lithium-ion battery recycling included in the 2021 infrastructure law. That’s in addition to about $60 million in funding for second-life applications and recycling processes for EV batteries.

Government policies that incentivize EV recycling could have an impact on recycling markets for materials such as nickel and lithium in the near future, said Joe Pickard, chief economist and director of commodities for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, during a media briefing about the U.S. economy on Thursday.
» Read article    

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Permian flare
Methane Might Be a Bigger Climate Problem Than Thought, Study Finds
Flaring, meant to burn off the planet-warming gas at industrial sites, doesn’t always work as intended, according to researchers.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
September 29, 2022

The oil industry practice of burning unwanted methane is less effective than previously assumed, scientists said Thursday, resulting in new estimates for releases of the greenhouse gas in the United States that are about five times as high than earlier ones.

In a study of the three largest oil and gas basins in the United States, the researchers found that the practice, known as flaring, often doesn’t completely burn the methane, a potent heat-trapping gas that is often a byproduct of oil production. And in many cases, they discovered, flares are extinguished and not reignited, so all the methane escapes into the atmosphere.

Improving efficiency and ensuring that all flares remain lit would result in annual emissions reductions in the United States equal to taking nearly 3 million cars off the road each year, the scientists said.

“Flares have been kind of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” said one of the researchers, Eric A. Kort, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Michigan. “But they actually matter more for climate than we realized.”

[…] Methane is the primary component of natural gas, also known as fossil gas, which can leak into the atmosphere from wells, pipelines and other infrastructure, and is also deliberately released for maintenance or other reasons.

But vast amounts are flared.

Gas that is flared is often produced with oil at wells around the world, or at other industry facilities. There may not be a pipeline or other means to market it economically, and because it is flammable, it poses safety issues. In such cases, the gas is sent through a vertical pipe with an igniter at the top, and burned.

The International Energy Agency estimated that worldwide in 2021, more than 140 million cubic meters of methane was burned in this way, equal to the amount imported that year by Germany, France and the Netherlands.

If the combustion is efficient, almost all of the methane is destroyed, converted into carbon dioxide, which has less of an immediate climate impact. The Environmental Protection Agency, in studies conducted in the 1980s, calculated that flares destroyed 98 percent of the methane sent through them.

But the new research found that flaring was actually far less effective, especially when unlit flares were taken into account. Emissions from improper flaring accounted for as much as 10 percent of all methane emissions in the oil and gas industry, the scientists said. The findings were published in the journal Science.
» Read article    

fossil database
A Global Database on Fossil Fuel Projects Goes Live
The Global Registry of Fossil Fuels offers an in-depth, free, and publicly-available look at oil, gas, and coal projects from around the world, shedding light on an industry threatening global climate targets
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
September 20, 2022

A new database cataloging the world’s oil and gas reserves reveals extensive data on the global fossil fuel industry for the first time.

The Global Registry of Fossil Fuels, launched by Carbon Tracker and Global Energy Monitor, is the first public and free-to-use database of fossil fuel production, reserves, and emissions. The registry contains more than 50,000 fields across 89 countries, and it covers 75 percent of global production. The database is not only a high-level look at figures for a whole country, but it also includes data that drills down to the individual project level.

“The Global Registry will make governments and companies more accountable for their development of fossil fuels by enabling civil society to link production decisions with national climate policies,” Mark Campanale, founder of Carbon Tracker and Chair of the Registry Steering Committee, said in a statement. “Equally, it will enable banks and investors to more accurately assess the risk of particular assets becoming stranded.”

Data included in the registry suggests that simply burning through existing oil, gas, and coal reserves, would unleash more than 3.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, amounting to more than seven times the remaining carbon budget that would keep the world beneath the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warming target.

In fact, the U.S. and Russia alone have enough remaining fossil fuel reserves still in the ground that, if burned, would result in the world blowing past climate targets even if all other countries halted production.

The data stands in sharp contrast to calls from global climate scientists to wind down the extraction and production of dirty assets. Fossil fuel production must “start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C,” the UN warned in its 2021 Production Gap report.

But the buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure continues. In the U.S., for example, three large liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects are under construction, which will expand U.S. LNG export capacity by roughly a third by the mid-2020s. Natural gas production is at record levels, and crude oil production, while short of a pre-pandemic peak, continues to edge up. There is no national plan or policy to manage the necessary decline in output over time. Few countries, if any, have mapped out how to unwind their fossil fuel industries.
» Read article    
» Explore the database

» More about fossil fuel

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Weekly News Check-In 9/16/22

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Welcome back.

This has been one of those weeks when a particular theme connected wide-ranging news stories with a coherent thread. The so-called Law of the Instrument was having a moment. Simply stated, “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. That could be why utilities, in the face of growing calls for gas bans, see strategies like injecting hydrogen and “renewable natural gas” (RNG) into our current pipeline system that distributes fossil (natural) gas to homes and businesses, as a solution. Nice job, National Grid – “nailed” it!

It might also explain why private equity firms, rather than divesting from fossil fuels, continue pumping billions of dollars into projects that are exposing investors, including pensioners, to unknown financial risks as the planet burns and governments face escalating pressure to act.

The world is drowning in plastics. The solution? Make more! Two stories illustrate the pressures and the stakes for communities and the planet. A third story, describing fossil fuel industry efforts to chemically recycle plastics into… more fossil fuels… draws a line under our Law of the Instrument theme.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s motivating powerful people, though. That’s where the Law of the Instrument seems a bit naive. A more applicable rule might be the one widely attributed to either novelist Upton Sinclair or journalist-curmudgeon H. L. Mencken: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

We’re on thin ice whenever we ascribe motives to someone else’s actions, but “salary” (also wealth, power, influence, etc.) is a hard one not to settle on when observing industry resistance to the necessary and inevitable shift away from fossil fuels. Climate science lays out a very clear path to follow, and makes a strong case against continuing business as usual. But the fossil fuel industry continues to probe for opportunities to expand throughout Africa before countries there can leapfrog straight to clean generation. Utilities in this country knew for decades about coming climate impacts, yet chose to broadcast denial and sow confusion to buy more time to build profitable pipelines and power plants. The European Union is fully aware of the climate and ecosystem devastation resulting from their embrace of biomass energy, yet continue to classify it as a renewable resource.

It’s also easier to keep “not understanding” something when you can lock up pesky activists who try to get in your face about it. With help from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), anti-protest legislation is chilling actions against pipelines and other gas and oil expansion projects in 24 Republican-dominated states.

But let’s talk about the good stuff, starting with an explanation of the idea of a just transition to a green, sustainable economy. It’s a concept closely related to the environmental justice movement founded decades ago by Dr. Robert Bullard and others.

We took a tour through some exciting innovations that will help get us to that greener future. Clean energy is heading into deeper, windier waters with a big infusion of cash aimed at developing floating offshore wind. The Gulf of Maine and much of the West coast are too deep for today’s fixed turbine platforms.

Researchers at MIT and elsewhere announced initial success with a new kind of energy storage battery made from inexpensive, abundant materials, and promising excellent safety and durability performance. The importance of batteries in the modern grid can’t be overstated. A big reason California’s grid survived the recent record heatwaves is the massive batteries that have recently come online there.

In terms of powering electric transportation, engineers at Harvard are developing a solid state battery that appears to solve some of the reliability and lifecycle problems plaguing other design teams. Prototypes have shown an ability to last 10,000-lifetime cycles, and can charge in as little as three minutes.

We’re learning more about co-locating utility-scale solar installations on productive agricultural land. “Agrivoltaics” has come to a research corn field at Purdue, which is studying the impacts on crop production.

And finally, if the world can stop burning trees for energy and figure out how to reverse the decline of forests, sustainably-harvested timber could be used in mid-rise buildings as a substitute for steel and concrete – both huge carbon emitters. But we can’t see timber buildings as just another forest product to monetize, because that would further accelerate the decline of critical habitat.

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

GAS BANS

home heat
Hydrogen shouldn’t have a role in heating buildings
Green hydrogen should only be used where decarbonization is difficult
By Kyle Murray, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
September 11, 2022

NATIONAL GRID New England President Stephen Woerner recently wrote an op-ed noting how Greek architects practiced “a methodical, systematic style that appropriately balanced aspiration with sound architectural order for enduring results.” He compared this approach to National Grid’s planned strategies for injecting hydrogen and “renewable natural gas” (RNG) into our current pipeline system that distributes fossil (natural) gas to homes and businesses. Had the ancient Greek architects utilized such a short-sighted approach, the Parthenon would have long since crumbled to dust.

Far from the safe and successful heating source that National Grid describes, hydrogen is a highly combustible fuel that poses a significant safety risk in the context of residential and commercial buildings.  In fact, the lion’s share of energy flowing through the gas system would still be made up of methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 84 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

This methane can come in several forms – natural gas, “renewable natural gas,” or “synthetic natural gas” – but they all suffer from a common problem: producing, distributing, and using these fuels results in massive amounts of methane being released directly to the atmosphere. Updates to New York state’s greenhouse gas accounting for natural gas emissions revealed that over 47 percent of total emissions associated with natural gas consumption in New York are the result of methane leaks along the entire gas supply chain. Massachusetts has gas infrastructure that is in similar shape, if not worse.

In “Majority of US Urban Natural Gas Emissions Unaccounted for in Inventories,” a long-term study by Harvard scientists released in 2021, the authors found six times more methane leaking into the air around Boston than reported in the Massachusetts Greenhouse Gas Inventory compiled by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

[…] We agree with National Grid that there are industries which are genuinely difficult to decarbonize, such as shipping and aviation, and will require creative solutions that include green hydrogen. However, that is a far cry from utilizing it for home heating, where better choices are available. It’s essentially the equivalent of saying you could heat your home using $20 bills as kindling in your living room fireplace. Sure, you may be able to do it, but is that really the wisest idea?
» Read article       

» More about gas bans

LEGISLATION

Alec backlash
Revealed: rightwing US lobbyists help craft slew of anti-protest fossil fuel bills
Legislation drafted by Alec part of backlash against indigenous communities and environmentalists opposing oil and gas projects
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
September 14, 2022

Republican-led legislatures have passed anti-protest laws drafted by an extreme right corporate lobbying group in a third of all American states since 2018, as part of a backlash against Indigenous communities and environmentalists opposing fossil fuel projects, new research has found.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) helped draft legislation criminalizing grassroots protests against pipelines, gas terminals and other oil and gas expansion projects in 24 states, under the guise of protecting critical infrastructure.

Alec, which is funded by rightwing state lawmakers, corporate sponsors and trade groups, and wealthy ideologues, creates model legislation on a whole range of conservative issues such as gun control, abortion, education funding and environmental regulations.

The laws were passed in 17 Republican-controlled states, including Oklahoma, North and South Dakota, Kansas, West Virginia and Indiana, where protesters now face up to 10 years in prison and million dollar fines, according to a new report from the nonprofit Climate Cabinet.

The anti-protest bills, which were rolled out in response to the success of mostly Indigenous-led campaigns slowing down fossil-fuel infrastructure projects, have used intentionally vague language to create a chilling effect on free speech and assembly – both constitutionally protected rights, according to the report Critical Infrastructure Laws: A Threat to Protest & the Planet.

“Indigenous-led demonstrations opposing fossil-fuel projects have been one of the most successful and effective forms of climate action to date … in an affront to the protected freedoms of our constitution, state legislatures have found a new legislative mechanism to oppress frontline communities and cause further harm and destruction to our planet,” said Jonathon Borja, co-author of the report.
» Read article       

revolting
Progressive Revolt Against Manchin’s Energy Side Deal Could Snarl Government Funding
More than 70 House Democrats warned leadership against a special deal with West Virginia’s Democratic senator to win his Inflation Reduction Act support.
By Jonathan Nicholson, Huff Post
September 9, 2022

Seventy-two House Democrats, including several committee chairs, warned House leadership Friday not to agree to ease restrictions on new energy projects in the push to keep the federal government funded past Sept. 30.

The warning came in a letter organized by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, and follows similar opposition by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Senate. With Democrats holding paper-thin margins in each chamber, almost any defections on a temporary funding bill vote could cause big problems.

“In the face of the existential threats like climate change and MAGA extremism, House and Senate leadership has a greater responsibility than ever to avoid risking a government shutdown by jamming divisive policy riders into a must-pass continuing resolution,” Grijalva said in a statement about the letter.

“Permitting reform hurts already-overburdened communities, puts polluters on an even faster track, and divides the caucus. Now is just not the time,” he said.

Grijalva had been circulating the letter for weeks. Though it was signed by many members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, 19 of the signatories were not CPC members, according to a Natural Resources Committee spokesperson, and 13 signers were members of the pro-business New Democrat Coalition. The chairs of the Financial Services, Armed Services and Budget committees were among those who signed.

To keep government agencies open past the end of the government’s fiscal year on Sept. 30, Congress must pass at least a temporary funding bill, known as a continuing resolution. Continuing resolutions generally just keep funding at existing levels and allow the government to operate through a specific date until a longer-term agreement can be reached. But as must-pass legislation, they can and often do become legislative Christmas trees for lawmakers to festoon with other bills that could not pass on their own.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) reached an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in the summer to pass changes in site permitting requirements for new energy projects, including pipelines, in exchange for Manchin’s support of the Democrats’ big climate and tax law, the Inflation Reduction Act.

But with the IRA now signed and Manchin’s leverage gone, Democratic leaders face a tough fight to make good on Manchin’s “sidecar” pact, especially after Manchin angered progressives earlier in the process by causing the climate and tax bill to be stripped of most of its social spending.
» Read article       

» More about legislation

DIVESTMENT

private equity beachPrivate equity still investing billions in dirty energy despite pledge to clean up
Carlyle, Warburg Pincus and KKR are the worst offenders according to a new scorecard of private equity climate risks
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
September 14, 2022

Private equity firms pumping billions of dollars into dirty energy projects are exposing investors, including pensioners, to unknown financial risks as the planet burns and governments face escalating pressure to act, new research finds.

The first-of-its-kind climate risks scorecard ranks Carlyle, Warburg Pincus and KKR as the worst offenders among eight major private equity companies with significant fossil fuel portfolios.

All three continue investing heavily in greenhouse-gas-emitting projects with no adequate plan on transitioning away from oil and gas, according to the analysis by two financial watchdog non-profits of publicly available information. The firms also have scant transparency on political and climate lobbying, the report finds.

Private equity refers to an opaque form of financing away from public markets in which funds and investors buy and restructure companies including startups, troubled businesses and real estate operations.

The eight firms on the scorecard manage a combined $3.6tn in assets including about $216bn in energy projects – an amount equivalent to the fossil fuel financing by the world’s five biggest banks last year.

Carlyle is rated F, the lowest in the climate credentials scorecard that has been created by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project (Pesp) and Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund (Afref).
» Read article     
» Read the report and scorecard

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

JT explained
What does ​‘just transition’ really mean?
Here’s a primer on the term advocates use to describe the shift to a clean energy economy that benefits everyone.
By Alison F. Takemura, Canary Media
September 15, 2022

To address the climate crisis, the world must rapidly shift from fossil fuels to clean energy. For this transition to be a just one, we need to repair the harms of the fossil-fuel economy and equitably distribute the benefits of the clean energy economy, so that no one is left behind.

U.S. labor organizer Tony Mazzocchi is thought to have pioneered the concept of a just transition in response to the unfair treatment of workers as stronger environmental regulations throughout the 1970s and ​’80s led to job losses in toxic U.S. industries.

For example, in 1987 the Environmental Protection Agency brokered an agreement with the Velsicol Chemical Corporation under which the company stopped selling chlordane and heptachlor, two pesticides linked to cancer, liver damage and seizures. Not long after, Velsicol closed one of its manufacturing plants, located in Marshall, Illinois, and laid off all of its hourly workers. The EPA designated the facility a Superfund site and dedicated more than $10 million to its cleanup. But the plant’s employees, Mazzocchi wrote in a rousing 1993 article, were ​“tossed onto the economic scrap heap.”

Mazzocchi supported stricter environmental laws but also championed workers’ rights, arguing that the government should provide workers transitioning out of toxic industries with broad financial and educational support.

[…] The phrase ​“just transition” quickly took root among environmental justice advocates, who expanded the term to include support for communities who bear a disproportionate burden of industrial and fossil fuel pollution while being denied commensurate economic benefits. Among these are the low-income communities of color dwelling in sacrifice zones, where toxic air inflicts health problems such as asthma and high rates of cancer.

Today, as the clean energy economy gains momentum, a just transition is a rallying cry for fossil fuel workers and front-line communities. It has even taken on global resonance as countries with economies that rely on coal and other fossil fuels call for assistance from wealthier nations to help them switch to clean energy.

Crucially, the concept is as relevant to new industries in the energy transition as it is to old ones. The manufacturers of clean energy technologies can also exploit workers and communities — take, for example, forced Uyghur labor in China used to produce polysilicon, a key component of solar panels, and the often-problematic ways in which minerals integral to clean energy technologies are mined. A just transition also means improving conditions for those who work in or live near these industries.
» Read article

Robert Bullard
At 75, the Father of Environmental Justice Meets the Moment
The White House has pledged $60 billion to a cause Robert Bullard has championed since the late seventies. He wants guarantees that the money will end up in the right hands.
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
September 12, 2022

HOUSTON — He’s known as the father of environmental justice, but more than half a century ago he was just Bob Bullard from Elba, a flyspeck town deep in Alabama that didn’t pave roads, install sewers or put up streetlights in areas where Black families like his lived. His grandmother had a sixth grade education. His father was an electrician and plumber who for years couldn’t get licensed because of his race.

Now, more than four decades after Robert Bullard took an unplanned career turn into environmentalism and civil rights, the movement he helped found is clocking one of its biggest wins yet. Some $60 billion of the $370 billion in climate spending passed by Congress last month has been earmarked for environmental justice, which calls for equal environmental protections for all, the cause to which Dr. Bullard has devoted his life.

Some environmentalists have slammed the new legislation for allowing more oil and gas drilling, which generally hits disadvantaged communities the hardest. For Dr. Bullard, the new law is reason for celebration, but also caution. Too often, he said, federal money and relief funds are doled out inequitably by state and local governments, and away from people of color and poor communities, who are the most afflicted by pollution and most vulnerable to climate change. This might be a major moment for environmental justice, he said, but never before has so much been at stake.

“We need government watchdogs to ensure the money follows need,” Dr. Bullard said in a recent interview. “Climate change will make the inequities and disparities worse, and widen that gap. That’s why this time, we have to get this right.”
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

tipping points
Climate tipping points may be triggered even if warming peaks at 1.5C
By Fritz Habekuss, Bloomberg, in Boston Globe
September 9, 2022

The drought- and flood-stricken summer of 2022 has shown the impact of 1.1° Celsius of global warming — the amount that’s already occurred since pre-industrial times. Now a major scientific reassessment finds that several critical planetary systems are at risk of breaking beyond repair even if nations restrain warming to 1.5°C, the lower threshold stipulated by the Paris Agreement.

At that level of warming, coral reefs may die off, ice sheets in Greenland and the West Antarctic may melt and permafrost may abruptly thaw, according to a new paper in the journal Science.

The paper compiles evidence that major changes in the climate system, with massive environmental and societal consequences, are likely to occur at lower temperatures changes that previously assumed. It was written by a team of international scientists led by David Armstrong McKay of Stockholm University in Sweden and the University of Exeter in the UK.

“With this paper we show clearly that 1.5°C is not a climate limit to take lightly,” said Johan Rockström, one of the authors and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “Exceed it, and we are likely to trigger several tipping points.” The current trajectory of planetary warming is estimated to reach about 2.6°C.

Rockström and colleagues analyzed global and regional “tipping points”— thresholds beyond which climatic changes become self-perpetuating. The authors break them down by sensitivity to warming and offer confidence levels of low, medium and high in estimating the temperatures that will trigger them and the timescales in which they may happen.

Crossing these thresholds isn’t the planetary equivalent of suddenly driving off a cliff, from safety to danger. Rather, every increment of warming raises the odds of changes that become self-perpetuating. “Every tenth of a degree counts,” Rockström said.

At about 1.5°C some tipping points may be reached, including for the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, accelerated thawing of boreal permafrost, and die-off of tropical coral reefs. But the authors “cannot rule out” that ice-sheet tipping points have already been passed and that some other tipping elements have minimum thresholds in range of 1.1°C to 1.5°C of warming.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

make it float
The Biden administration’s big new plans for floating offshore wind turbines
Floating turbines can go where no fixed-bottom turbine has gone before
By Justine Calma, The Verge
September 15, 2022

The Biden administration announced splashy new goals today aimed at positioning the US as a leader in the development of next-generation floating wind turbines. The announcement substantially expands Biden’s previous offshore wind ambitions by opening up new areas that traditional fixed-bottom turbines haven’t been able to reach.

Those turbines haven’t been able to conquer depths greater than 60 meters deep, where most of the world’s usable offshore wind resources can be found. Nearly 60 percent of the US’s offshore wind resources are at those depths. That includes much of the west coast, which has lagged behind the East Coast when it comes to offshore wind development because the Pacific Ocean drops off steeply close to the California and Oregon shore.

“Offshore wind is a critical part of our planning for the future. Some of the nation’s best potential for wind energy is along the southern coast of Oregon and the northern coast of California,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said on a press call. “At the same time, the depth of our oceans off the West Coast and other technical challenges necessitate the development of floating offshore wind technology,” Brown said.

By 2035, the Biden administration wants to deploy 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind capacity. It would be enough energy to power more than 5 million American homes, according to the Department of Interior (DOI). To make that happen, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced nearly $50 million of funding to research and develop floating offshore wind technologies.

The US Departments of Energy, Interior, Commerce, and Transportation jointly launched what they’re calling the “Floating Offshore Wind Shot.” They plan to work together to bring down the costs of floating offshore wind energy by 70 percent. The goal is for the technology to reach $45 per megawatt hour by 2035. For comparison, the average cost of fixed-bottom offshore wind projects in the US was $84 per megawatt-hour in 2021.
» Read article       

bathtub ring
What the Western drought reveals about hydropower
By Jason Plautz, E&E News
September 13, 2022

The relentless Western drought that is threatening water supplies in the country’s largest reservoirs is exposing a reality that could portend a significant shift in electricity: Hydropower is not the reliable backbone it once was.

Utilities and states are preparing for a world with less available water and turning more to wind and solar, demand response, energy storage and improved grid connections. That planning has helped Western states keep the lights on this summer even in severe drought conditions.

Take California, which experienced record demand during a heat wave last week but did not have to impose any rolling blackouts. That’s despite the fact that hydropower — which on average makes up about 15 percent of the state’s power generation mix under normal conditions — has dipped by as much as half this summer.

“Obviously, water and energy are very much intertwined,” said Newsha Ajami, the director of urban water policy for Stanford University’s Water in the West initiative. “The interesting part here is that losing reliability in one is impacting reliability of the other. It’s hotter, it’s drier and people are using a lot more electricity as we rely on hydropower as one of our baseline power generators, but lake levels are lower.”

During the heat wave, officials timed releases from hydropower projects, which accounted for as much as 10 percent of the electricity for the state at some times of day, according to data from the California Independent System Operator. Elsewhere across the West, planners are accounting for growing demand while factoring in reductions in hydropower.

According to the 2018 National Climate Assessment, Southwestern hydropower and thermal power plant generation are “decreasing as a result of drought and rising temperatures.” A February study in the journal Water using World Wildlife Fund data found that by 2050, 61 percent of global hydropower dams will be at very high or extreme risk of droughts and/or floods.
» Read article      
» Read the study

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

three shots
A new concept for low-cost batteries
Made from inexpensive, abundant materials, an aluminum-sulfur battery could provide low-cost backup storage for renewable energy sources.
By David L. Chandler, MIT News Office
August 24, 2022

As the world builds out ever larger installations of wind and solar power systems, the need is growing fast for economical, large-scale backup systems to provide power when the sun is down and the air is calm. Today’s lithium-ion batteries are still too expensive for most such applications, and other options such as pumped hydro require specific topography that’s not always available.

Now, researchers at MIT and elsewhere have developed a new kind of battery, made entirely from abundant and inexpensive materials, that could help to fill that gap.

The new battery architecture, which uses aluminum and sulfur as its two electrode materials, with a molten salt electrolyte in between, is described today in the journal Nature, in a paper by MIT Professor Donald Sadoway, along with 15 others at MIT and in China, Canada, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

“I wanted to invent something that was better, much better, than lithium-ion batteries for small-scale stationary storage, and ultimately for automotive [uses],” explains Sadoway, who is the John F. Elliott Professor Emeritus of Materials Chemistry.

In addition to being expensive, lithium-ion batteries contain a flammable electrolyte, making them less than ideal for transportation. So, Sadoway started studying the periodic table, looking for cheap, Earth-abundant metals that might be able to substitute for lithium. The commercially dominant metal, iron, doesn’t have the right electrochemical properties for an efficient battery, he says. But the second-most-abundant metal in the marketplace — and actually the most abundant metal on Earth — is aluminum. “So, I said, well, let’s just make that a bookend. It’s gonna be aluminum,” he says.

Then came deciding what to pair the aluminum with for the other electrode, and what kind of electrolyte to put in between to carry ions back and forth during charging and discharging. The cheapest of all the non-metals is sulfur, so that became the second electrode material. As for the electrolyte, “we were not going to use the volatile, flammable organic liquids” that have sometimes led to dangerous fires in cars and other applications of lithium-ion batteries, Sadoway says. They tried some polymers but ended up looking at a variety of molten salts that have relatively low melting points — close to the boiling point of water, as opposed to nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit for many salts. “Once you get down to near body temperature, it becomes practical” to make batteries that don’t require special insulation and anticorrosion measures, he says.

The three ingredients they ended up with are cheap and readily available — aluminum, no different from the foil at the supermarket; sulfur, which is often a waste product from processes such as petroleum refining; and widely available salts. “The ingredients are cheap, and the thing is safe — it cannot burn,” Sadoway says.
» Read article      
» Obtain the technical paper

Kearny cubes
Op-Ed: California’s giant new batteries kept the lights on during the heat wave
By Mike Ferry, Los Angeles Times
September 13, 2022

California just stared down its most extreme September heat event in history and survived better than expected — thanks in part to a new system of huge, grid-connected batteries.

The severity and duration of this latest climate-driven heat tested the state’s electricity grid like never before, setting records for power demand that pushed the supply to its limits. But the system held. The lights stayed on.

Additional tests lie ahead, for California and other states and nations. But after this round, California has a clear lesson for the world: Battery storage is a powerful tool for grids facing new strains from heat, cold, fire, flood or aging networks. And just as important, batteries are key to the zero-carbon future we need to avoid even greater stresses down the line.

Californians delivered big time this month when asked to cut use at critical moments during the crisis. But without storage capacity from new battery systems, reducing demand might not have been enough, and many consumers would have faced painful outages.

To be clear, the batteries that saved California this month are not like the ones in your phone, tablet and laptop, or even the bigger batteries in some homes ready to provide power during outages. The batteries that saved California are big — industrial big. Individual units weigh tens of thousands of pounds, and entire systems can be larger than a football field.

Many are installed at utility-scale solar fields, while “standalone” systems are strategically located throughout the state. These are not small add-ons to our electricity grid — they play the role of major power plants. In fact, some of the biggest batteries literally occupy the real estate and buildings that once housed fossil-fueled generators. And California has more batteries than anywhere else in the world, having grown its fleet more than 10-fold in just the last two years. Altogether, California’s batteries are now its biggest power plant.

For the vast majority of the year, these batteries play an essential role in stabilizing the grid, smoothing power flows and balancing variable energy. They also play a big part in leveling wholesale energy prices by charging up when electricity is cheap — usually during the midday “solar peak” — then discharging the energy back to the grid later that day, when prices are higher, a practice that keeps the market in check and reduces energy costs for Californians. But early this month, these batteries went from being everyday workhorses to crisis saviors.
» Read article      

» More about energy storage

BUILDING MATERIALS

timber framed
‘Timber Cities’ Might Help Decarbonize the World
New research suggests that using wood for construction could avoid 100 gigatons of CO2 emissions through 2100, but building skylines of timber requires careful forest planning.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
September 12, 2022

Buildings constructed with more wood, and less cement and steel, would help decarbonize the construction and housing industries in line with global goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050, new research shows.

The paper, published Aug. 30 in Nature Communications, explains that building mid-rise wood dwellings to meet the demand from rapidly expanding urban populations could avoid about 100 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions through 2100—about 10 percent of the reduction needed to cap global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

“We do know we need to reach this net zero target as soon as possible,” said lead author Abhijeet Mishra, with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research. “Reaching 1.5 degrees is getting quite dicey to achieve. An earlier paper from our colleagues really looked at how buildings can be a global carbon sink.” But that work did not answer the question of where the wood would come from. “The idea was to fill that gap,” he said.

The scale of wood construction envisioned would require about 555,000 square miles of additional tree plantations, an area slightly bigger than Alaska, on top of the 505,000 square miles of tree farms that exist globally today.
» Read article      
» Read the paper

» More about building materials

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

tasseling
Research seeks ways to grow solar and crops together in the skeptical Corn Belt
By Sarah Bowman/Indianapolis Star, Brittney J. Miller/The Gazette and Joshua Rosenberg/The Lens, in Energy News Network
September 14, 2022

Acres of corn stand tall on both sides of a narrow country road in northwest Indiana. It’s late August and the corn is tasseling, its golden crown coated in dew droplets that are glinting off the morning summer sun. Then there is a different gleam on the horizon, one that’s brighter.

Sprouting out of the corn like a super crop are four arrays of solar panels standing 20 feet high and towering above the stalks growing below. Both corn and panels are harvesting the sun.

“Either way, they are storing solar energy,” said Mitch Tuinstra, a professor of plant breeding and genetics at Purdue University. “One is storing them as electrons and the other in the plants.”

Tuinstra is one of several Purdue faculty and graduate students studying these solar arrays on the university’s research field, just a few miles off campus in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Farmland is well suited for solar development of all kinds, for the same reasons it’s good for growing crops — it’s largely flat, drains well and gets lots of sun. What makes these Purdue research panels different is that they haven’t taken farmland out of production — they’re built overtop of the corn itself.

It’s a practice known as “agrivoltaics” or “agrisolar,” where active farming and solar happen in the same place instead of separately. The approach brings many complications that researchers are still trying to address — but they see big benefits in trying to hone in on best practices.

Farmers who want to lease their land for solar as an extra income source will reap even more economic benefits if that land stays in production — and some approaches to agrivoltaics may even help the crops themselves, researchers say.

“We want to see if we can devise systems that have minimal losses in terms of crop productivity, while maximizing their electricity output,” Tuinstra said.

Moreover, he said, researchers want to see how the co-location strategy could be a salve to a growing strain between solar and farming in the Corn Belt — where residents and towns are pushing back on what they see as industrialization in rural communities.
» Read article       

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Adden Energy
Harvard engineers develop solid-state battery with performance, reliability improvements
By Joey Klender, Teslarati
September 12, 2022

Engineers in the lab of Xin Li, an Associate Professor of Materials Science at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, have developed a new solid-state battery that is capable of 10,000-lifetime cycles and a charge rate as fast as three minutes. The revolutionary technology has brought in an exclusive grant from Harvard’s Office of Technology Development for Li’s startup Adden Energy, Inc., which will help develop cells with improvements in reliability and performance that could be used in future applications for electric vehicles.

Li, along with Fred Hu, William Fitzhugh, and Luhan Ye, all Ph.D. recipients at Harvard, founded Adden Energy in 2021. The startup was launched last year to help develop palm-sized pouch cells for various applications. The cells are essentially a trial run for future projects, which include a full-scale vehicle battery within the next three to five years.

“If you want to electrify vehicles, a solid-state battery is the way to go,” Li said in an interview with Harvard. “We set out to commercialize this technology because we do see our technology as unique compared to other solid-state batteries. We have achieved in the lab 5,000 to 10,000 charge cycles in a battery’s lifetime, compared with 2,000 to 3,000 charging cycles for even the best in class now, and we don’t see any fundamental limit to scaling up our battery technology. That could be a game changer.”

Solid-state batteries utilize a solid material to allow energy to flow from the cathode to the anode, instead of traditional lithium-ion cells, which utilize a liquid electrolyte solution. EV makers have not been able to switch to solid-state technology as of late due to its complex manufacturing processes. Additionally, researchers have not been able to find ideal solutions for the material it would utilize in the batteries, and this continues to be a pain point of the development.

However, Adden Energy’s grant from Harvard, along with a $5.15 million funding round earlier this year, will help develop the recently-successful palm-sized cell into an upstream process that will hopefully yield a new, full-scale EV battery. Adden’s cell achieved charging rates as fast as three minutes and over 10,000 cycles in its lifetime. It also displayed high energy density and stability that was incredibly more predictable than lithium-ion cells.

Li, along with other Adden founders, all maintain that developing a solid-state cell could help improve affordability, availability, and the overall EV market share.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

utility climate denail
America’s electric utilities spent decades spreading climate misinformation
Utilities knew about climate change as early as the 1960s and misled the public in order to continue turning a profit.
By Zoya Teirstein, Grist
September 7, 2022

America’s electric utilities were aware as early as the 1960s that the burning of fossil fuels was warming the planet, but, two decades later, worked hand in hand with oil and gas companies to “promote doubt around climate change for the sake of continued … profits,” finds a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The research adds utility companies and their affiliated groups to the growing list of actors that spent years misleading the American public about the threat of climate change. Over the past half decade, oil companies like BP and ExxonMobil have had to defend themselves in court against cities, state attorneys general, youth activists, and other entities who allege the world’s fossil fuel giants knew about the existence of climate change as far back as 1968, yet chose to ignore the information and launch disinformation campaigns. Recent investigations show the coal industry did something similar, as did fossil fuel-funded economists.

But while the role Big Oil played in misleading the public has been widely publicized, utilities’ culpability has largely flown under the radar. So researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara began collecting and analyzing public and private records kept by organizations within the utility industry.

[…] Emily Williams, a postdoctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the lead author of the study, told Grist that the documents provide a sense of when the utility industry’s climate denial began — and how it has evolved over time. The takeaways are stark: Utilities became aware of the dangers of burning fossil fuels in the 1960s and ‘70s, and acknowledged the risks it posed for the industry. “If [climate change turned] out to be of major concern, then fossil fuel combustion will be essentially unacceptable,” an article by the Electric Power Research Institute stated in 1977. But for the next two decades, those same utilities promoted false doubt about humanity’s role in climate change and tried to delay action. An article from the Edison Electric Institute published in 1989 said that, “any plan calling for urgent and extreme action to reduce utility CO2 emissions is premature at best.”

By the 2000s, the industry and its related groups had publicly acknowledged the scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for warming the planet, but shifted from a strategy of denial to one of delay. The sector has spent some $500 million over the past two decades lobbying Congress and state legislatures against renewable energy and climate policies.
» Read article      
» Read the study

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

pyramid scheme
Exclusive: African civil society speaks out against continent’s $400bn gas trap
Civil society groups argue that $400bn being spent on natural gas will not benefit the African people, and would be better spent on the new green economy.
By Nick Ferris, Energy Monitor
September 14, 2022

Civil society groups have spoken out against plans to develop new gas infrastructure across Africa, as an investigation from Energy Monitor reveals that $400bn worth of new projects are on the way.

The figure is based on a new analysis of exclusive datasets provided by GlobalData, Energy Monitor’s parent company, and includes planned upstream, midstream and downstream developments. In all, it is worth around 15% of the entire GDP of Africa in 2021.

“The $400bn pipeline poses major threats to Africa’s energy sovereignty,” says Amos Wemanya from the Kenya-based think tank Power Shift Africa. “Beyond accelerating the already run-away climate crisis, investing in fossil fuels infrastructure such as pipelines risks leaving African economies with stranded assets and debts to repay.”

Avena Jacklin, from the South Africa-based environmental NGO Groundwork, adds that developing Africa’s gas pipeline will only benefit “European countries looking for alternative gas supplies, and oil and gas multinational corporations looking to make huge profits”.

“The IEA’s net-zero 2050 report states that if the world is to avoid irreversible, catastrophic climate change, no new oil and gas fields should be developed,” she said.

Debate rages over whether gas can be considered a ‘transition fuel’ for Africa. On the one hand, the remaining global carbon budget is so limited scientists now stress there is no scope for licensing new gas extraction if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. Renewables are also now a cheaper source of power in most markets.

At the same time, with more than 600 million people still lacking access to electricity and 930 million people lacking access to clean cooking fuels, Africa’s development needs remain profound. Many governments are keen to extract gas to bring in export revenue, while gas power plants represent a route to reliable grid power. Advocates for gas also point out that Africa is responsible for just 4% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, and gas produces around half the emissions of coal when burnt.

Many African leaders are calling on rich nations to continue funding gas extraction and gas-fired power stations in their countries. At an August 2022 summit, the African Union (AU) called on nations to “continue to deploy all forms of its abundant energy resources including renewable and non-renewable energy to address energy demand”. It added that financing gas continues to make sense “in the short to medium term”.

However, many civil society groups take issue with this point of view.

“The AU’s position that Africa needs gas to develop is only intended to benefit developed countries and certain vested interests in Africa,” says Charity Migwi, a Kenya-based campaigner with grassroots environmental movement 350Africa. “It serves to delay and threaten the potential investments into clean, affordable, decentralised renewable energy for the people.

“Africa’s development relies on a rapid shift away from harmful fossil fuels and towards a sustainable energy future.”

Groundwork’s Jacklin agrees: “Investing $400bn in fossil fuel infrastructure means misdirecting limited resources that are needed to enable development of clean, affordable, easily deployable renewable energy systems to end Africa’s energy hunger.”
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

weak compromise
EU votes to curb tree burning for fuel, but falls short of phasing it out
By Jim Regan, Renew Economy
September 15, 2022

The European Union is moving to limit the damage inflicted on the climate by its own biomass policies after voting for an exclusion of primary woody biomass subsidies and capping the amount that can count as renewable energy, drawing a mixed reaction from conservationists.

The vote by members of the European Parliament revises the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, which critics have claimed encourages member states to burn more trees in the name of climate action, despite this practice increasing harmful emissions.

While the EU Parliament’s environment committee previously agreed to end support for burning trees entirely, the latest vote is seen as a compromise that will still regard woody biomass as a source of renewable energy.

[…] In the EU, alone, scientists estimate that carbon emissions from burning woody biomass are now over 400 million metric tonnes per year – roughly equal to the combined CO2 emissions of Poland and Italy.

“EU bioenergy policies are a serious climate threat and for years have been a stain on EU climate leadership, but today marks a turning point for the first time an EU institution has recognised that burning trees might not be the best way of getting off fossil fuels and stopping runaway climate change.” said Alex Mason, head of EU climate and energy policy at WWF European Policy Office.

“But there’s still some way to go. A majority in the parliament is still in thrall to the biofuels lobby, and can’t seem to understand that growing crops to burn just increases emissions compared to fossil fuels,” Mason said.

Conservationists have also voiced concerns that the outcome of Wednesday’s vote will mean that the EU continues to promote the burning of forest wood as a source of renewable energy to member states.

“Burning trees and crops for energy destroys nature and exacerbates the climate crisis,” said Ariel Brunner, head of policy for Birdlife Europe. “It should not be supported as a renewable energy.”

He said  it was “disappointing” that the parliament “agreed to a weak compromise” that does little to protect tree populations.
» Read article      

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Cancer Alley skyline
Judge Tosses Air Permits For $9.4 Billion Louisiana Plastics Plant
The sharply worded ruling dismantled the state Department of Environmental Quality’s rationale for permits that would have allowed Formosa Plastics to emit more than 800 tons of toxic pollution a year into predominantly Black St. James Parish. “People’s lives are worth more than plastic,” says one activist.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
September 15, 2022

Citing a litany of failures by Louisiana environmental regulators, including their analyses of environmental justice and climate impacts, a state judge has thrown out the air permits for a giant plastics manufacturing complex to be located 55 miles west of New Orleans.

The decision is another major blow to the $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics complex, which in 2020 was forced, following a separate lawsuit, to revisit a Clean Water Act permit that had been issued, and then suspended, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had put the project on hold.

When the complex and its planned 10-year buildout was announced by Formosa in 2018, it was hailed by Gov. John Bel Edwards as an economic boon and source of 1,200 jobs. But the complex, to be built on 2,400 acres along the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, has also faced fierce opposition from local and national environmental groups fighting to curtail greenhouse gas emissions amid a climate crisis.

Point by point in a sharply worded 34-page ruling made public on Wednesday, 19th Judicial District Judge Trudy White dismantled the rationale for some 15 air permits that the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued for the massive complex. The permits would have allowed Formosa to emit more than 800 tons per year of toxic pollution into a predominantly Black, low-income community, and send as much as 13.6 million tons per year of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, an amount roughly equivalent to 3.5 coal-fired power plants.

“I think this is the beginning of a change,” said Sharon Lavigne, founder and president of RISE St. James, one of several local and national environmental groups that brought the lawsuit in 2019. “It’s a beginning. It’s a new way this industry is going to do business. It will make DEQ think twice” in future permit applications.

In the end, she said, the ruling “is about saving our lives.”

In Louisiana, the petrochemical industry “is used to getting what it wants,” said Corinne Van Dalen, senior attorney at Earthjustice, the nonprofit legal organization that represented plaintiff groups, and the lead attorney on the case. “This is how they do their work and this decision dismantles that.”
» Read article      
» Read the ruling

titans
The Titans of Plastic
Pennsylvania becomes the newest sacrifice zone for America’s plastic addiction.
By Kristina Marusic, Environmental Health News
September 15, 2022

During the summer of 2018, two of the largest cranes in the world towered over the Ohio River. The bright-red monoliths were brought in by the multi-national oil and gas company Shell to build an approximately 800-acre petrochemical complex in Potter Township, Pennsylvania—a community of about 500 people. In the months that followed, the construction project would require remediating a brownfield, rerouting a highway, and constructing an office building, a laboratory, a fracked-gas power plant, and a rail system for more than 3,000 freight cars.

The purpose of Shell’s massive complex wasn’t simply to refine gas. It was to make plastic.

Five years after construction began at the site, Shell’s complex, which is one of the biggest state-of-the-art ethane cracker plants in the world, is set to open. An important component of gas and a byproduct of oil refinery operations, ethane is an odorless hydrocarbon that, when heated to an extremely high temperature to “crack” its molecules apart, produces ethylene; three reactors combine ethylene with catalysts to create polyethylene; and a 2,204-ton, 285-foot-tall “quench tower” cools down the cracked gas and removes pollutants. That final product is then turned into virgin plastic pellets. Estimates suggest that a plant the size of the Potter Township petrochemical complex would use ethane from as many as 1,000 fracking wells.

Shell ranks in the top 10 among the 90 companies that are responsible for two-thirds of historic greenhouse gas emissions. Its Potter Township cracker plant is expected to emit up to 2.25 million tons of climate-warming gases annually, equivalent to approximately 430,000 extra cars on the road. It will also emit 159 tons of particulate matter pollution, 522 tons of volatile organic compounds, and more than 40 tons of other hazardous air pollutants. Exposure to these emissions is linked to brain, liver, and kidney issues; cardiovascular and respiratory disease; miscarriages and birth defects; and childhood leukemia and cancer. Some residents fear that the plant could turn the region into a sacrifice zone: a new “Cancer Alley” in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

“I’m worried about what this means for our air, which is already very polluted, and for our drinking water,” said Terrie Baumgardner, a retired English professor and a member of the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community, the main local advocacy group that fought the plant. Baumgardner, who is also an outreach coordinator at the Philadelphia-based nonprofit environmental advocacy group Clean Air Council, lives near the ethane cracker. In addition to sharing an airshed with the plant, she is one of the approximately 5 million people whose drinking water comes from the Ohio River watershed. When Shell initially proposed the petrochemical plant in 2012, she and other community advocates tried their best to stop it.

And the plant’s negative impact will go far beyond Pennsylvania. Shell’s ethane cracker relies on a dense network of fracking wells, pipelines, and storage hubs. It’s one of the first US ethane crackers to be built outside the Gulf of Mexico, and one of five such facilities proposed throughout Appalachia’s Ohio River Valley, which stretches through parts of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. If the project is profitable, more like it will follow—dramatically expanding the global market for fossil fuels at a time when the planet is approaching the tipping point of the climate crisis.

For the residents who live nearby, Shell’s big bet on plastic represents a new chapter in the same story that’s plagued the region for decades: An extractive industry moves in, exports natural resources at a tremendous profit—most of which flow to outsiders—and leaves poverty, pollution, and illness in its wake. First came the loggers, oil barons, and coal tycoons. Then there were the steel magnates and the fracking moguls.

Now it’s the titans of plastic.
» Read article      

» More about plastics, health, and the environment     

PLASTICS RECYCLING

opposite of progress
A New Plant in Indiana Uses a Process Called ‘Pyrolysis’ to Recycle Plastic Waste. Critics Say It’s Really Just Incineration

After two years, Brightmark Energy has yet to get the factory up and running. Environmentalists say pyrolysis requires too much energy, emits greenhouse gases and pollutants, and turns plastic waste into new, dirty fossil fuels.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
September 11, 2022

ASHLEY, Indiana—The bales, bundles and bins of plastic waste are stacked 10 feet high in a shiny new warehouse that rises from a grassy field near a town known for its bright yellow smiley-face water tower.

Jay Schabel exudes the same happy optimism. He’s president of the plastics division of Brightmark Energy, a San Francisco-based company vying to be on the leading edge of a yet-to-be-proven new industry—chemical recycling of plastic.

Walking in the warehouse among 900 tons of a mix of crushed plastic waste in late July, Schabel talked about how he has worked 14 years to get to this point: Bringing experimental technology to the precipice of what he anticipates will be a global, commercial success. He hopes it will also take a bite out of the plastic waste that’s choking the planet.

[…] But the company, which broke ground in Ashley in 2019, has struggled to get the plant operating on a commercial basis, where as many as 80 employees would process 100,000 tons of plastic waste each year in a round-the-clock operation.

Schabel said that was to change in August, with its first planned commercial shipment of fuel to its main customer, global energy giant BP. But a company spokesman said in mid-August that the date for the first commercial shipment had been pushed back to September, with “full-scale operation…extending through the end of the year and into 2023.”

[…] Its business model must contend with plastics that were never designed to be recycled. U.S. recycling policies are dysfunctional, and most plastics end up in landfills and incinerators, or on streets and waterways as litter.

Environmental organizations with their powerful allies in Congress are fighting against chemical recycling and the technology found in this plant, known as pyrolysis, in particular, because they see it as the perpetuation of climate-damaging fossil fuels.

“The problem with pyrolysis is we should not be producing more fossil fuels,” said Judith Enck, a former regional director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the founder and executive director of Beyond Plastics, an environmental group. “We need to be going in the opposite direction. Using plastic waste as a feedstock for fossil fuels is doubling the damage to the environment because there are very negative environmental impacts from the production, disposal and use of plastics.”
» Read article       

» More about plastics recycling     

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Weekly News Check-In 9/9/22

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Welcome back.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s notorious side deal that allowed the Inflation Reduction Act to proceed included a hefty push to resurrect the fortunes of the troubled Mountain Valley Pipeline. The sudden national publicity around this bad idea has drawn a lot of unwanted attention. Yesterday, thousands of protesters gathered in Washington, DC to demand a stop to this particular pipeline madness.

Aside from that notably crummy deal, the law is pretty good. Billions of dollars in new federal funds are expected to reshape the struggle over gas bans and electrification in residential and commercial buildings. How this plays out will influence emissions and fossil fuel development for decades. It has also accelerated the pace of clean energy projects all over the country. And the right technologies are working toward commercial scale – the exciting news about batteries this week involves Massachusetts-based Ambri, currently deploying their antimony-based liquid metal battery in Aurora, Colorado to field test under harsh conditions. Antimony isn’t supply-constrained like lithium, and the batteries should last much longer.

Those are big batteries, but small ones matter too. It won’t be long till thousands – even millions – of electric vehicles will be in direct communication with the grid, offering a couple kWh here and there for a fee collected by each vehicle’s owner.

All that electrification (both supply and demand) requires modernization of the grid, but a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds that if the US economy decarbonizes its grid in just 13 years it would save up to $1.2 trillion in avoided health and climate costs. Right now, Team Electrification is feeling pretty good.

And for those folks looking at their soaring electric bills and wondering why, exactly, are we proposing to plug in even more stuff, we offer an excellent article explaining what’s been happening to utilities recently – particularly in New England where we sleep-walked into an over-dependence on natural gas power plants. Read that and then take a look at what’s happening in Asia – getting in really deep with its own build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure. Then swing back around to Europe, waking up to the environmental consequences of their move toward biomass – but seemingly unable to kick the habit. The problem is our species’s obsession with burning stuff.

Taking a wider look at greening the economy, the U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday published an industrial decarbonization road map, laying out a comprehensive strategy to reduce emissions associated with five sectors: chemical manufacturing, petroleum refining, iron and steel, cement production, and the food and beverage industry. All this economy-altering investment is opening a path to good jobs – many of them strategically targeted to areas, like Appalachian coal country, that have been losing fossil industry employment for years.

We’ll wind down with a report on the cryptocurrency Ethereum, which has just kicked off “The Merge” – intended to shift to an energy-efficient blockchain transaction verification protocol that should reduce its electricity consumption by an estimated 99.95 percent. We hope it works, because last week the cryptocurrency network was estimated to use as much electricity annually as the country of Bangladesh.

And we’ll close with how the plastics industry. Facing global pressure to curb massive volumes of waste, it’s floating all sorts of chemical recycling proposals. But close examinations by environmental advocates and media organizations over the last few years have found few commercial successes, and concerns about environmental risks.

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

PIPELINES

welcome to the south
Dangerous Mountain Valley Pipeline Has No Place in Manchin’s Deal With Democrats
By Jacob Hileman, Truthout | Opinion
September 5, 2022

Thanks to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) conditioning his vote for the Inflation Reduction Act on a backroom permitting reform deal that would complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), this highly contentious fracked gas pipeline has become a household name.

The attention is not good news for the MVP.

While the MVP has long been a scourge to rural Appalachian communities in Virginia and West Virginia, with Manchin’s help, the MVP has morphed into a full-blown national scandal.

Before Congress considers any legislation addressing the MVP, it is vital to understand why this pipeline is a terrible idea.

Firstly, the MVP is not just another pipeline.

At 42 inches in diameter and 303 miles long, the MVP is among the largest methane gas pipelines in the U.S. However, what sets the MVP apart is the unprecedented level of risk associated with the pipeline’s route. Over 200 miles of the MVP crosses areas that have experienced landslides in the past and are highly susceptible to future landslides, including over 75 miles of steep mountain slopes.

No other gas transmission pipeline in the U.S. has ever attempted to cross so many miles of such unforgiving terrain.

According to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, from 2001-2020, landslides were one of the most frequent causes of “significant incidents” involving gas transmission pipelines in Appalachia. The MVP has already been impacted by multiple landslide events during construction, including one where “the installed pipe shifted … in at least three locations.”

When a high-volume, high-pressure gas pipeline like the MVP ruptures, the common industry assumption is that there is at least an 80 percent chance of an explosion. Landslides have caused no fewer than five major gas pipeline explosions in Appalachia in just the past four years. Thankfully, gas has never flowed through the MVP — the blast zone is nearly a half-mile wide.

Secondly, the MVP cannot rightly be considered a critical infrastructure project.

If it were, then it stands to reason the developers would have selected the route that would give the MVP the greatest chance of success. Not the shortest, and presumably cheapest, route between its beginning and endpoint. Appalachia is crisscrossed by many major gas pipelines — including pipelines considerably longer than the MVP — yet none come close to crossing as many steep, landslide-prone slopes.

There is no guarantee that the MVP, if completed, will be able to provide the safe and reliable supply of gas touted by its developers. Furthermore, given the increase in heat waves and wildfires in the West, catastrophic flooding in Appalachia and worldwide droughts being driven by climate-busting fossil fuels, bringing any additional methane gas out of the ground is inherently unsafe.
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

exec order
Appalachian, Indigenous pipeline foes protest climate deal
By Ellie Silverman, Washington Post
September 8, 2022

[…] To secure the support of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Democratic leadership reached a side deal with Manchin that would overhaul the process for approving new energy initiatives and expedite the 300-mile-long Mountain Valley Pipeline project — a natural gas pipeline across West Virginia and Virginia that those rallying in D.C. on Thursday have opposed for years.

[Roishetta] Ozane, an organizer for Healthy Gulf, an environmental justice organization, was one of the hundreds protesting Thursday at the Robert A. Taft Memorial Carillon, joining people from Appalachia and as far away as Alaska to demand that lawmakers reject this side deal, said Grace Tuttle, a lead organizer of the rally who has been advocating against the Mountain Valley Pipeline for three years. Tuttle said the demonstration will be a show of solidarity among communities affected “first and worst” by fossil fuel developments.

The landmark Inflation Reduction Act will significantly advance the fight against climate change, spending about $370 billion to bring the country closer to achieving the emissions cuts scientists say are required to avoid the devastating consequences of the Earth’s warming.

Rally organizers argue that the side deal, if passed, would “gut bedrock environmental protections, threaten tribal authority, endanger public health, fast-track fossil fuel projects, cut public input and push approval for Manchin’s pet project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline.”

[…] Those rallying are especially concerned with the easing of permitting restrictions, warning it could weaken an important environmental protection law that Indigenous people have frequently used to challenge projects they believed would harm their communities.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

NATURAL GAS BANS

under construction
‘Huge amount of money’ in climate law could spawn gas bans
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
September 7, 2022

The climate and energy law signed by President Joe Biden last month may reshape a national tug of war over gas bans and electrification, with the outcome influencing emissions and fossil fuel development for decades.

Billions of dollars in new federal funds from the Inflation Reduction Act are set to flow to building owners and residents who swap out gas boilers, stoves and water heaters for electric-powered technologies. The dollars come on top of city-level policies in at least seven states banning fossil fuels in new buildings, including dozens of municipalities in California that followed the city of Berkeley in enacting the nation’s first gas ban in 2019. New York City, Seattle and much of the state of Washington followed with similar measures.

Additional bans could emerge in new jurisdictions partly because of the new federal law, some electrification advocates said.

The climate law signed by Biden in August “totally transforms all of those conversations [over banning fossil fuels] and makes all of this so, so much easier,” said Ben Furnas, a former sustainability chief for New York City, where lawmakers passed a law last year prohibiting new buildings from using fossil fuel heat, starting in 2023.

Yet gas advocates are vowing to fight electrification mandates, and they may get help from state officials, existing statutes and a lawsuit in California. Twenty states also have passed laws that preempt cities from restricting buildings’ access to fossil fuels, meaning the Inflation Reduction Act’s voluntary electrification programs won’t lead to New York City-style bans.

“Over the past three years, we have seen the energy policy debate veer away from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to an anti-fossil fuel and anti-infrastructure push,” said George Lowe, vice president of governmental affairs and public policy for the American Gas Association, in a written statement.

Limiting fossil fuel access is a “mistake” that would “negatively impact customers and keep us from achieving our shared goals” for decarbonization, Lowe added. “Over the next several years, we will continue to see these debates play out in state capitols across the country,” he predicted.

The climate law provides tax credits for installing heat pumps, rebates for whole-home retrofits, and extra financing for local and state programs that promote electrification of buildings. Under the plan, U.S. manufacturers of heat pumps could also see the Department of Energy step up as a buyer, drawing from $500 million in new Defense Production Act funds.

In some cases, funds from the law could pay for higher-performing gas products, but billions are allocated explicitly for abandoning fossil fuels.

One such program, known as the High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program (HEEH), sets aside $4.5 billion in rebates for homeowners who switch out fossil fuel appliances for electric heat pumps, water heaters and induction stoves. Up to $8,000 can be provided per household for electric heat pumps, which can cost in the vicinity of $20,000.

“Every ambitious city councilperson or mayor of small or medium cities could see it as a real feather in their cap to push for this stuff, and they’ll know the feds have got their back,” added Furnas, who is now executive director of the 2030 Project, a climate initiative at Cornell University.

However, a factor working against the law is that states led by Republican critics may have significant influence over funds funneled through the Department of Energy.
» Read article      

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

energy dense
To decarbonize industry, DOE road map focuses on efficiency, electrification and low-carbon fuels
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
September 8, 2022

The U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday published an industrial decarbonization road map, laying out a comprehensive strategy to reduce emissions associated with five sectors: chemical manufacturing, petroleum refining, iron and steel, cement production, and the food and beverage industry.

Heavy industry is the source of about 30% of primary energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, the department says. Its approach will focus on energy efficiency improvements, electrification, the use of low-carbon fuels, and carbon capture utilization and storage, or CCUS.

Alongside the new road map, DOE announced a $104 million funding opportunity for industrial decarbonization technologies. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy called the road map a “landmark plan” to help companies address emissions at scale.

The United States has been investing in clean industry technologies for years, but the plan released yesterday “embodies a bolder approach,” according to ACEEE Industrial Program Director Edward Rightor, who is also co-chair of the team that developed the DOE report.

DOE’s new plan is “a more ambitious strategy, grounded in a cohesive approach incorporating partnership opportunities for industry to accelerate decarbonization,” Rightor said.

The road map will focus on five of the most CO2-intensive industries, which DOE says represent slightly more than half of energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. industrial sector and 15% of economywide total CO2 emissions.

The industrial sector is “critical to our economy and daily lives, yet it currently accounts for an enormous portion of greenhouse gas emissions, and is particularly difficult to decarbonize,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

The strategy and funding opportunity “couldn’t come at a better time,” White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said in a statement. The announcements build on funding in the Inflation Reduction Act and bipartisan infrastructure law, she said, and the initiatives will make investments “in our workforce while reducing pollution burdens on fenceline communities.”

The strategy leans on energy efficiency, the electrification of industrial processes, use of low-carbon fuels — including green hydrogen and biofuels — and CCUS, which DOE said will focus on “permanent geologic storage as well as developing processes to use captured CO2 to manufacture new materials.”
» Read article    
» Read DOE’s Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap

lecture
‘This is the future’: rural Virginia pivots from coal to green jobs
Region’s long awaited energy and economic transition will be substantially boosted by US’s first climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
Photographs by Mike Belleme
September 8, 2022

[…] Wise county is a picturesque Appalachian community bordering eastern Kentucky where for decades coal dominated the economy – and almost every aspect of life. It’s home to the self-proclaimed cleanest coal plant in America, a sprawling polluting and economically unviable mountain ridge plant currently scheduled to keep operating until 2045.

The population has declined by 12% since 2010 to just over 35,000. Fancy houses built with coal wealth are scattered across the mountain ridges, but the poverty rate stands at about 21%, more than 50% higher than the national average, and the county’s schools qualify for universal free school meals.

Over the past five years or so Appalachian Voices has been among a consortium of non-profits working with communities, unions, businesses and local governments to help the region transition to a more environmentally and economically sustainable renewable energy economy.

It’s taken time to help change local and state laws, but even longer to shift attitudes and the deep connection people feel to coal. “The politics around clean energy are not as simplistic as Democrat or Republican,” said Chelsea Barnes, the group’s legal director. “It’s been difficult even proving that solar jobs can be good union jobs, like coal.”

But the work has paid off, and central Appalachia is in a good place to take advantage of the IRA provisions and historic investments.

The youth apprenticeship scheme is the brainchild of entrepreneurs at Secure Futures and Got Electric – Virginia-based companies installing distributed solar systems for government agencies, hospitals, schools and commercial properties.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

unaccounted
The most influential calculation in US climate policy is way off, study finds

Carbon emissions cost society at least three times more than the government’s official estimate.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
September 1, 2022

The United States doesn’t have any federal laws that say electric utilities have to switch to carbon-free power. We don’t yet have any national rules mandating the sale of electric vehicles or plans to phase out oil and gas drilling. Despite years of talk about a tax on carbon, we don’t have that either. What we do have, when it comes to regulations that address climate change, is a decidedly duller but still effective tool called the social cost of carbon, or SCC.

The social cost of carbon is a dollar amount that approximates the cost to society of adding — or the benefits of not adding — 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. It is underpinned by scientific models that look deep into the future to estimate what that CO2 will mean in terms of lost lives, reduced crop yields, and damage caused by rising seas. The government uses this number as one of several key metrics to evaluate the costs and benefits of policies that affect greenhouse gas emissions, like fuel economy standards for vehicles or oil and gas leasing plans. It makes decisions that increase carbon output look a lot more expensive than those that do the opposite.

But perhaps not expensive enough. A new study published in the journal Nature on Thursday found that the social cost of carbon should be more than three times higher than the $51 dollar figure the Biden administration currently uses.

“We are vastly underestimating the harm of each additional ton of carbon dioxide that we release into the atmosphere,” said Richard Newell, president of the nonprofit think tank Resources for the Future and one of the authors of the study, in a press release. “The implication is that the benefits of government policies and other actions that reduce global warming pollution are greater than has been assumed.”

The study arrives as the administration’s plans to re-evaluate this crucial metric have stalled. One of Biden’s first executive actions called for publishing a new social cost of carbon by January 2022 along with recommendations for improving the way it is calculated. Progress was delayed by lawsuits, and the administration has not announced a new timeline for the update. In the interim, the government is using a social cost of carbon of about $51, relying on the methodology used by the Obama administration.

“This Administration remains committed to accounting for the costs of greenhouse gas emissions as accurately as possible,” a spokesperson for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget told Grist. “We continue to assess how best to account for these costs in regulatory and budgetary contexts in the future.”

The new study finds that each ton of carbon dioxide emitted costs society about $185 in today’s dollars.
» Read article     
» Obtain the study

pet rescue
US flood maps outdated thanks to climate change, Fema director says
Deanne Criswell makes admission as ‘extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation’ hits Georgia
By Edward Helmore, The Guardian
September 4, 2022

Flood maps used by the federal government are outdated, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or Fema, said on Sunday, considering a series of devastating floods caused by excessive rainfall induced by climate change.

Deanne Criswell told CNN’s State of the Union: “The part that’s really difficult right now is the fact that our flood maps don’t take into account excessive rain that comes in. And we are seeing these record rainfalls that are happening.”

Criswell was questioned about the situation in Jackson, Mississippi, where city water facilities failed in the aftermath of heavy flooding on the Pearl River, leaving residents without drinkable or usable water.

On Sunday, thunderstorms and heavy rain pounded parts of north-west Georgia, sparking flash floods. Local news reports showed roads under water and homeowners struggling.

The Georgia governor, Brian Kemp, declared a state of emergency in Chattooga and Floyd counties, directing all state resources to help with “preparation, response and recovery activities”.

The National Weather Service (NWS) reported rainfall of up to an inch an hour. Up to 12in was estimated to have fallen, according to Kemp’s executive order.

“This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation,” the NWS said. “Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order.”

Such excessive rainfall and flooding will bring back into focus difficulties in predicting and responding to the climate crisis.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Commerce battery plant
Clean Energy Projects Surge After Climate Bill Passage
Investments in battery factories, solar panel manufacturing and mining will help the Biden administration meet targets for reducing greenhouse gases.
By Jack Ewing and Ivan Penn, New York Times
September 7, 2022

In the weeks since President Biden signed a comprehensive climate bill devised to spur investment in electric cars and clean energy, corporations have announced a series of big-ticket projects to produce the kind of technology the legislation aims to promote.

Toyota said it would invest an additional $2.5 billion in a factory in North Carolina to produce batteries for electric cars and hybrids. Honda and LG Energy Solution announced a joint venture to build a $4.4 billion battery factory at a location to be named.

Piedmont Lithium, a mining company, said it would build a plant in Tennessee to process lithium for batteries, helping to ease America’s dependence on Chinese refineries — a key aim of the Biden administration. First Solar, a big solar panel manufacturer, said it would invest up to $1.2 billion to build its fourth factory in the United States, probably somewhere in the Southeast, largely because of renewable energy incentives in the climate bill.

But those projects, announced last week, also illustrate how much work remains to be done. Factories take time to build, and until then electric vehicles are likely to remain scarce and expensive. Toyota’s factory in North Carolina and Honda’s venture with LG will not produce batteries until 2025.

Some of the projects were in the works before the federal legislation passed, and before California added an extra push by banning sales of new gasoline cars by 2035. The big climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, is the latest in a series of policy moves and geopolitical developments that have pushed automakers and suppliers to invest in the United States. The trade war with China, disruption of supply chains by the pandemic, changes in free-trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, and the bipartisan infrastructure law last year have all had a powerful impact on where companies decide to build factories.

The timing of Toyota’s announcement, two weeks after Mr. Biden signed the climate law, was a coincidence, said Norm Bafunno, a senior vice president at Toyota Motor North America whose responsibilities include the North Carolina plant.

But he added that the legislation could be a “catalyst for our domestic battery production.” And he said Toyota was working hard to fulfill provisions of the bill that encourage companies to get raw materials and components for batteries from the United States and its trade allies.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

Ambri demo
Liquid battery startup Ambri ready to embark on first utility demonstration project with Xcel Energy
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
September 6, 2022

Massachusetts-based startup Ambri plans to begin heating up the battery market — quite literally — over the next few years.

Xcel Energy and Ambri announced on August 25 that the two companies would install a liquid battery system in Aurora, Colorado, to evaluate the technology’s performance in real-world, grid-connected scenarios at the Solar Technology Acceleration Center.

“We are pleased to work with Ambri as we continue bringing our customers the clean, affordable energy they depend on,” Alice Jackson, senior vice president, system strategy, and chief planning officer at Xcel, said in a statement. “We look forward to learning what their technology can accomplish in a range of extreme environmental conditions as we look to build out the long-duration energy storage that will help us reach our carbon reduction goals.”

Although Ambri is also trialing its batteries at a data center, Briggs said the company aims to continue demonstrations with utilities and other large-scale applications through the year to come because the company believes its technology is particularly well suited to grid-scale applications.

Unlike lithium-ion batteries, which must be cooled while operating to avoid overheating, Ambri’s liquid batteries operate in a high-temperature environment, Briggs explained. The batteries are housed within insulated containers so that after the start-up phase, the heat from their own operation keeps the batteries online. This removes the cost and energy loss associated with cooling systems, Briggs said.

The antimony-based technology also has the added benefit of having a longer lifespan relative to lithium-ion technology, with Ambri’s batteries experiencing minimal capacity loss over a 20-year lifespan, Briggs said. One study cited by NREL put the average lifespan of lithium ion battery packs used in EVs at around 10.5 years, although multiple factors influence battery longevity.
» Read article      

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

GeminiBuilding a zero emissions grid in US in just 13 years would save $US1.2 trillion
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
September 4, 2022

A landmark new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US finds that if the world’s biggest economy decarbonises its grid in just 13 years it would save up to $US1.2 trillion in avoided health and climate costs.

The new study, done in conjunction with the US Department of Energy, plots a range of scenarios on how to reach net zero emissions on the world’s biggest grid in just 13 years.

Three of the four scenarios require additional power systems costs of between $US330 billion and $US400 billion, while a fourth – limited by transmission constraints and amount of wind that can be deployed – requires more storage, and more nuclear, that doubles the cost to around $US740 billion.

But each of the scenarios delivers considerable more benefits in avoided health impacts and climate change because it shuts down the combustion of fossil fuels for electricity.

According to NREL, those savings from a net zero grid include avoiding 130,000 premature deaths, saving up to $US400 billion, with a further saving of more than $US1.2 trillion when factoring in the avoided cost of damage from the impacts of climate change.

“Decarbonizing the power system is a necessary step if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided,” said Patrick Brown, an NREL analyst and co-author of the study.

“The benefits of a zero-carbon grid outweigh the costs in each of the more than 100 scenarios modeled in this study, and accelerated cost declines for renewable and clean energy technologies could lead to even larger benefits.”

The biggest challenge, according to the study, is finding a solution to the last 10 per cent to net zero.

The NREL says there is a growing body of research that shows that switching to high renewable energy power systems are possible and cost effective. But the “last 10 per cent challenge” is the part that adds significant costs because of the seasonal mismatch between variable renewables (wind and solar) and consumption.

NREL says it has been studying how to solve the last 10% challenge, including outlining key unresolved technical and economic considerations and modeling possible pathways and system costs to achieve 100% clean electricity.

Among the potential solutions cited by NREL are green hydrogen, advanced nuclear, price-responsive demand response, carbon capture and storage, direct air capture, and advanced grid controls. But they all require further R&D.

“There is no one single solution to transitioning the power sector to renewable and clean energy technologies,” said Paul Denholm, the principal investigator and lead author of the study.

“There are several key challenges that we still need to understand and will need to be addressed over the next decade to enable the speed and scale of deployment necessary to achieve the 2035 goal.”
» Read article     

Leaf V2G
This New England utility will soon pay EV owners to help to back up the grid
The New Hampshire Electric Co-op is testing a “transactive” energy rate that pays owners of electric vehicles and battery storage systems for discharging power back onto the grid during periods of high demand
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
September 7, 2022

The largest electric distribution co-op in New England is experimenting with real-time energy rates meant to help members wring more value out of their electric vehicles and battery storage devices.

The New Hampshire Electric Co-op plans to offer members what is called a transactive energy rate as soon as the end of this year. It will essentially enable members to become partners with the co-op, supplying energy from their batteries when it is most needed, and charging up when demand — and prices — are low.

“We recognize that members can provide the resources that we need through their distributed energy resources,” said Brian Callnan, vice president of power resources and access. “We need to create a system that allows them to participate.”

A central goal of the co-op’s strategic plan, the transition to a transactive energy model is key to integrating distributed energy resources into the grid, while also making adoption of the technologies more affordable for members, and increasing system reliability, he said.

Here’s how it will work: The co-op has developed a pricing signal that can be routinely sent out over the internet showing the price of power during every hour of the following day. That’s the transactive energy rate.

Customers may choose to use that pricing signal to pre-determine their charging — or discharging — behavior. They may simply limit their energy usage during peak hours, thereby saving money on their bill. Or they might use bi-directional charging technology to discharge power to the grid during those peak hours and receive a bill credit for that discharge at the transactive rate, Callnan said.

While participating members will benefit from lower energy bills, the rate’s impact on moving load around should increase overall system reliability — a benefit for all 85,000 customers, Callnan said.

The co-op, which is based in Plymouth, New Hampshire, has partnered with the state university there to test the rate’s application. The results so far are promising.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

telematics
A better way to do smart EV charging: Talk to the car
Telematics can give utilities and companies like WeaveGrid and ev.energy more ways to tap EVs to help the power grid — and make sure EV owners stay in the driver’s seat.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
September 6, 2022

Some electric-vehicle owners may be happy to earn money by letting utilities control when they charge, a way to lessen strain on the power grid. But they also want to be confident they’ll have a full battery when they need it. What’s a good way to ensure that happens? Enable utilities to communicate directly with EVs.

That’s why Apoorv Bhargava, CEO of WeaveGrid, sees telematics — the onboard computers and communications tech inside EVs — as a focal point of smart EV-charging programs. While most utilities have relied on EV chargers to serve that role, WeaveGrid partners with utilities to enable them to tap into telematics for the information they need to manage smart-charging programs. The company’s utility customers include Baltimore Gas & Electric, Xcel Energy in Colorado, Oregon’s Portland General Electric and, most recently, California’s Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).

That connection to the EV itself can ​“build a cleaner picture of what’s happening in mobility to inform what’s happening in electricity,” he said. ​“How does a customer behave? What value can that behavior create for the electric grid? Having an incomplete picture on the data side makes that very difficult.”

Getting accurate data about customer needs is particularly important if EV owners are facing an impending grid blackout, such as those occasionally triggered in California to reduce the risk of sparking a raging wildfire.

Last week, WeaveGrid and PG&E teamed up to launch evPulse, a smart-charging pilot program available exclusively to customers who live in areas at risk of having their power shut off as part of PG&E’s regime of wildfire-prevention grid outages on hot and windy days. These ​“public-safety power shutoffs,” or PSPS events, have left hundreds of thousands of customers without power, some for days at a time, over the past three years — and for EV drivers, that loss of power could leave them stranded.

The evPulse program, designed to support between 8,000 and 16,000 customers when fully rolled out, will alert EV owners before these outages occur, Bhargava said. That can help ​“ensure that their cars are charged whenever they need them to go, whether it’s to drive to Grandma’s during a PSPS event,” or, as vehicle-to-home charging technology becomes more widely available, ​“to have them on hand whenever they need their [home electricity] to be backed up.”
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

uneven burden
Why electricity prices are rising unevenly across New England
By Miriam Wasser – WBUR, and Mara Hoplamazian, on New Hampshire Public Radio
September 8, 2022

You may have noticed that your most recent electric bill is higher than usual — and if that change hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably coming this fall. These price spikes are occurring across New England, but bills are rising more in some places than others.

Some ratepayers in New Hampshire saw the price of electricity double this summer, resulting in bills up to $70 higher, while many in Massachusetts are only paying an extra $11 per month.

If it seems unfair, blame the energy markets. And if it’s confusing because everyone in New England shares an electricity grid, well, read on.

What’s happening is complicated and poses a disproportionate burden on those who can least afford higher monthly bills. But it also opens up some interesting conversations about what a future powered primarily by renewable energy sources like wind and solar could mean for your electric bill.

Here’s what you need to know:

[…] The primary reason for the spike is our reliance on fossil fuels. Specifically, natural gas.

Natural gas accounts for about 38% of the country’s electricity, though here in New England, it’s more like 53%. And the price of our main source of energy is anything but stable.

[…] Historically, New England burned oil and coal for power, but we switched many of our plants over to natural gas after the “fracking boom” in the early 2000s. Supply was high and prices were cheap, which was good for consumers, but not sustainable, said Dennis Wamsted, an analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Indeed, prices started to rise after the U.S. began turning its glut of natural gas into liquefied natural gas (LNG) and exporting it.

The COVID pandemic in 2020 temporarily disrupted this trend; the global economy came to a halt and many oil and gas operations curtailed production. But as demand for fossil fuels began to rebound in 2021, supplies haven’t recovered as quickly. This has meant steadily rising prices. Add in some record-setting cold temperatures in many parts of the country this past winter, and prices have gone up even more.

“And then Russia invaded Ukraine and the world changed,” said Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association. “We are now facing the largest international energy crisis of my lifetime. [We’re] seeing enormous volatility across all the energy commodities, and in particular, natural gas and oil.”
» Read article     

» More about electric utilities

CRYPTOCURRENCY

merging
How The Merge will slash Ethereum’s climate pollution
If The Merge is successful, it will drastically shrink the cryptocurrency’s energy use
By Justine Calma, The Verge
September 6, 2022

Ethereum just set The Merge in motion — and the stakes are huge for the planet. The Merge is arguably one of the most anticipated events yet in cryptocurrency history, when the Ethereum blockchain will switch from a disturbingly energy-hungry method of validating transactions to a new strategy that uses a fraction of the electricity as the network gobbled up before.

The transition is supposed to slash Ethereum’s energy consumption by a whopping 99.95 percent. That’s a seriously big deal since, just last week, the cryptocurrency network was estimated to use as much electricity annually as the country of Bangladesh. All that energy, of course, comes with a lot of carbon dioxide pollution that’s exacerbating climate change. Ethereum’s native token, Ether, is the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization after Bitcoin.

How is nearly all the pollution Ethereum was previously pumping out supposed to virtually disappear? It’s complicated, so let’s break it down as simply as we can.

It boils down to a dramatic change in how transactions are recorded on the Ethereum blockchain. A blockchain is a record of transactions that’s maintained communally rather than by a single institution like a bank. “Blocks” of transaction records are added to the chain by many different players, which is why blockchains are often described as “distributed ledgers.”

With so many players — also known as nodes — involved, blockchains need a security system to make sure no one screws with or takes over the ledger. Ethereum’s old version of a security system happens to be intentionally energy-intensive, so the network is switching to a new one through The Merge.
» Read article     
» Read The Verge’s handy blockchain explainer

» More about crypto

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

caulk bead
Exclusive: The $500bn Asia gas trap
Asian countries are investing at least $490bn in new gas infrastructure, in plans that are laden with climate and financial risk.
By Nick Ferris, Energy Monitor
September 6, 2022

Countries across Asia are investing in $500bn of new gas infrastructure, reveals an investigation by Energy Monitor. The figure is based on a new analysis of exclusive datasets provided by GlobalData, Energy Monitor’s parent company.

The investment will lock countries into polluting power generation, heating and industrial activities for decades to come. This future is incompatible with net zero by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

It also risks forcing consumers to pay inflated prices for energy – as current soaring energy prices in Europe demonstrate – as opposed to cheaper energy from low-cost renewables like solar and wind.

In all, the data shows that $186bn is being spent on new gas-fired power plants, $112bn on developing new gas fields, $81bn on new gas pipelines, $77bn on new regasification plants, $13bn on new liquefaction plants, $8bn on new storage facilities, and $4bn on new gas-processing facilities. These figures include facilities under construction, as well as those that are in the process of permitting, or have simply been announced.

“Gas used to be a regional fuel that was delivered nearby by pipelines, but it is clear that gas is going global,” says Deborah Gordon, senior principal at the think tank RMI. “Gas is becoming akin to oil: with arbitrage, geopolitical pressures, weaponisation and increasing price volatility.”

“The findings here demonstrate just how big the bubble for natural gas and LNG in Asia is getting,” adds Sam Reynolds, from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).
» Read article      

security guardRadioactive Waste ‘Everywhere’ at Ohio Oilfield Facility, Says Former Worker
Community groups present health and environmental justice concerns to the EPA, alleging workers at Austin Master Services are coated in dangerous levels of radioactive waste.
By Justin Nobel, DeSmog Blog
August 31, 2022

As Bill Torbett and his colleagues went about their work, handling the sloppy radioactive detritus of oilfields in a cavernous building in eastern Ohio, their skin and clothing often became smothered in sludge. Waste was splattered on the floor and walls, even around the electrical panels. At the end of their shifts, they typically left their uniforms in the company washing machine, which didn’t always work, and left their sludge-caked boots and hard hats in the company locker room. But when the men arrived home after a long day, the job came with them too.

“We were literally ankle-deep in sludge and a lot of times knee-deep in different spots. All that shit is dripping down on you,” says Torbett, a 51-year-old former employee of Austin Master Services, a radioactive oilfield waste facility in Martins Ferry, Ohio. “You’re saturated in it, your hands are covered in it, the denim of your uniform would hold it, and the moisture would soak right through your under-clothes and into your skin.”

“How wet?” Torbett says. “Like if you got caught outside in the rain without an umbrella. Soaking wet.”

In fact, so alarming are the conditions at Austin Master and so lax is the oversight that workers have taken things into their own hands. In one case, a second former worker has covertly passed along their dirty boots, hard hat, and headlamp for independent radiological analysis. The levels of the radioactive element radium found in the sludge on this worker’s boots was about 15 times federal cleanup limits for the nation’s worst toxic waste sites.

And yet, Austin Master appeared to keep workers in the dark about what they were handling. “They really didn’t tell me the gist of the material, I just knew it came from frack sites,” according to Torbett, who worked at the facility from November 2021 to February 2022. “There was no discussion of the material and its radioactivity.”

In April, DeSmog revealed that Concerned Ohio River Residents, a local advocacy group, had documented elevated levels of radium outside the main entrance to the Austin Master facility, that state inspection reports showed a lengthy history of concerning operating practices, and that rail cars leaving the facility for a radioactive waste disposal site in the Utah desert had arrived leaking on five occasions.

The situation at the Ohio facility appears so severe that top officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5, which covers much of the Midwest, joined local organizers in a conference call in July and made an in-person visit to the area earlier this month.

The state of Ohio has authorized Austin Master Services to receive 120 million pounds of radioactive oilfield waste at its Martins Ferry location each year.
» Read article      

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

not renewable
Europe Is Sacrificing Its Ancient Forests for Energy
Governments bet billions on burning timber for green power. The Times went deep into one of the continent’s oldest woodlands to track the hidden cost.
By Sarah Hurtes and Weiyi Cai, New York Times
Photographs by Andreea Campeanu
September 7, 2022

Burning wood was never supposed to be the cornerstone of the European Union’s green energy strategy.

When the bloc began subsidizing wood burning over a decade ago, it was seen as a quick boost for renewable fuel and an incentive to move homes and power plants away from coal and gas. Chips and pellets were marketed as a way to turn sawdust waste into green power.

Those subsidies gave rise to a booming market, to the point that wood is now Europe’s largest renewable energy source, far ahead of wind and solar.

But today, as demand surges amid a Russian energy crunch, whole trees are being harvested for power. And evidence is mounting that Europe’s bet on wood to address climate change has not paid off.

Forests in Finland and Estonia, for example, once seen as key assets for reducing carbon from the air, are now the source of so much logging that government scientists consider them carbon emitters. In Hungary, the government waived conservation rules last month to allow increased logging in old-growth forests.

And while European nations can count wood power toward their clean-energy targets, the E.U. scientific research agency said last year that burning wood released more carbon dioxide than would have been emitted had that energy come from fossil fuels.

“People buy wood pellets thinking they’re the sustainable choice, but in reality, they’re driving the destruction of Europe’s last wild forests,” said David Gehl of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington-based advocacy group that has studied wood use in Central Europe.

The industry has become so big that researchers cannot keep track of it. E.U. official research could not identify the source of 120 million metric tons of wood used across the continent last year — a gap bigger than the size of Finland’s entire timber industry. Researchers say most of that probably was burned for heating and electricity.

Next week, the European Parliament is scheduled to vote on a bill that would eliminate most industry subsidies and prohibit countries from burning whole trees to meet their clean energy targets. Only energy from wood waste like sawdust would qualify as renewable, and thus be eligible for subsidies.

But several European governments say that now is no time to meddle with an important energy industry, with supplies of Russian gas and oil in jeopardy. In the Czech Republic, protesters have mobbed the streets, furious with rising energy costs, and the French authorities have warned of rolling blackouts this winter.

Internal documents show that Central European and Nordic countries, in particular, are pushing hard to keep the wood subsidies alive.

The debate is an acute example of one of the key challenges that governments face in fighting climate change: how to balance the urgency of a warming planet against the immediate need for jobs, energy and economic stability. The European Union has been a leader in setting green policies, but it is also racing to find energy sources as Russia throttles back its supply of natural gas.
» Read article      

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

color codes
A Houston Firm Says It’s Opening a Billion-Dollar Chemical Recycling Plant in a Small Pennsylvania Town. How Does It Work?
Gov. Wolf touted jobs and less plastic pollution when the plans were announced in April, but a professor from Carnegie Mellon who’s studied the technology says it can lead to “sustainability fraud.”
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
September 6, 2022

POINT TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania—Randall Yoxheimer, chairman of the locally elected board of supervisors here, has seen economic development proposals come and go, but the latest one—a $1.1 billion chemical recycling plant for plastic waste—has left him, and even some scientists, perplexed.

Announced in April, the plant would use first-of-its-kind technology and employ hundreds of workers to turn waste plastic into new plastic. With the promise of taking a bite out of a serious global plastics problem, the new facility sounds like a terrific idea, Yoxheimer said as he sat under the bright fluorescent lights of the township’s office.

[…] With the plastics industry facing global pressure to do something to curb its waste that has touched all corners of the planet—microplastics have also been detected in human blood, feces and even human placentas—chemical recycling proposals like Encina’s have sprung up across the United States.

The concept of breaking down plastics into their core chemical elements and then using those chemicals to make new plastics in a sort of “closed loop” or “circular” economy, is advanced by many industry representatives as a desirable goal because it would, in theory, reduce the need to drill for more fossil fuels, the primary source of plastic products.

That’s how Encina officials see their efforts, said Sheida R. Sahandy, the chief sustainability officer and general counsel for the company.

“When we say that it’s circular, the idea is that you get it back to virgin quality, you can just keep reusing it and reusing it or reformulating it into another product and reformulating it into another product,” she said.

[…] But close examinations by environmental advocates and media organizations over the last few years have found few commercial successes with the chemical recycling of plastics, and concerns about environmental risks. They’ve found plants that do little more than make new fossil fuels, and produce a lot of waste, falling short of the promise of a circular economy.

“This whole chemical recycling is a charade,” said Jan Dell, a chemical engineer who has worked as a consultant to the oil and gas industry and now runs The Last Beach Cleanup, a nonprofit that fights plastics pollution and waste. “It’s a hoax. And it’s been perpetrated for 30 years. Every time the public has some interest in, ‘Oh, there’s too much plastic waste,’ they trot it back out again.”

[…] The global news agency Reuters last year published a report that found most of some 30 advanced recycling operations it examined internationally were operating on a modest scale or had shut down. The industry faces “enormous obstacles,” the news agency found, including the cost of collecting and managing plastic waste and creating products that can compete economically with fossil fuels or virgin plastic.

Environmental organizations have come to similar conclusions.

Greenpeace in 2020 found that most advanced plastics recycling plants that were being promoted by the industry were not recycling plastic waste into new plastics, but rather they were making fuel for combustion and barely putting a dent in the glut of waste plastics.

Greenpeace sees the industry efforts more as a form of public relations known as greenwashing, rather than a viable solution, similar to other unproven or uneconomical industry-backed solutions to intractable environmental problems, such as capturing and storing greenhouse gases to curb climate change.
» Read article      

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 9/2/22

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Welcome back.

While many of us are still basking in the glow of recently passed federal climate legislation, it’s important to remember that closing the deal with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin left a lot of good folks tossed under the proverbial bus. We’re paying particular attention to the inappropriately buoyed fortunes of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a boondoggle that activists had rightly beaten back through years of hard, science-based work. Facing defeat on the merits, industry played its money/influence/corruption card – so the fight continues. Beyond the MVP, plenty of other fossil misdeeds are drawing push-back both in court and on the street.

Back to the Inflation Reduction Act, which has a lot of good programs in spite of Manchin. We found a calculator that helps show what funds might be available to help individuals offset all sorts of expenses, from the purchase of electric vehicles or heat pumps, to upgrading windows and insulation in homes. Along those lines (news you can use!), you can now replace your fossil fueled water heater with an efficient electric heat pump model that plugs into the same 120V outlet – no electrical upgrade required.

Like other states taking steps to ban new gas connections, Massachusetts is beginning to grapple with the problem of phasing out gas without saddling the dwindling roster of customers with ballooning utility bills as fewer remaining users support an aging and obsolete fossil fuel infrastructure.

And the idea that fossil fuels can be completely phased out is gaining traction, as experts polish their crystal balls and gaze at the coming green economy. Only a few years ago, this idea was considered largely aspirational. Taken in context with disturbing new studies showing the extent of accelerating methane pollution in the atmosphere, this new confidence in a totally-renewable energy future is welcome indeed. Unfortunately, human conflict and persistent wars remind us that modern militaries are huge users of fossil fuels. When they’re the only customers left, where will their fuel come from? Just musing… this question keeps me up at night.

But energy transition is underway, so modernizing the grid moves to the front of the line. Recent delays in interconnecting the growing roster of renewable energy resources has exposed a glaring need. On top of that, where we place those renewables and how we mine materials for them remains fraught. In particular, deep-seabed mining raises a deafening ruckus of alarm bells. Fact is, we need to build millions of electric vehicles and stationary batteries quickly, and we’re in a race to figure out how to do it without screwing up an important pillar of the environment that sustains all life.

Meanwhile, fracking operations in the Permian Basin are creating oceans of toxic water that nobody quite knows what to do with,  and yet another report shows that the fossil-burning industry’s favorite fig leaf, carbon capture and storage, has yet to show much effectiveness. Hint: stop burning stuff.

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

PIPELINES

unfair
‘It’s a deal with the devil’: outrage in Appalachia over Manchin’s ‘vile’ pipeline plan
The fossil-fuel friendly senator has resurrected the Mountain Valley pipeline, leaving residents with a bitter pill to swallow
By Nina Lakhani and Oliver Milman, The Guardian
August 26, 2022

Taking on the fossil fuel industry in West Virginia was always going to be a David v Goliath type battle, but after years of protests, lobbying and lawsuits, 68-year-old Becky Crabtree thought the community-led resistance had beaten the Mountain Valley pipeline (MVP) in a fair fight.

So when news broke earlier in August that the state’s fossil-fuel friendly senator Joe Manchin had resurrected the beleaguered pipeline, Crabtree, a high school science teacher who teaches students about the climate crisis, felt “numb”.

Manchin, a conservative Democrat who receives more campaign financing from the fossil fuel industry – including pipeline companies – than any other lawmaker in Congress, had agreed to back his party’s historic climate legislation before the crucial midterm elections. But only after he negotiated a side-deal to fast-track the MVP.

“It’s the unfairness that makes me so angry. It’s a deal with the devil,” said Crabtree, 68, who owns a 30-acre sheep farm in Lindside, Monroe county.

The deal is a sweet one for the pipeline’s supporters. Democratic leaders agreed to advance separate legislation in September that would “require the relevant agencies to take all necessary actions to permit the construction and operation of the MVP and give the DC circuit jurisdiction over any further litigation”.

This could help the pipeline company circumvent judges who have suspended construction and overturned permits over environmental concerns, and have future legal cases heard in an appeals court in Washington, which is considered more favourable to developers.

It’s part of a broader set of concessions negotiated by Manchin to diminish environmental protections and expedite permits and construction of pipelines and other energy infrastructure, limiting legal challenges by concerned communities and environmental groups.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

calculator
Could you get home energy and EV incentives under the climate law?
Find out which tax credits and upfront discounts you can earn for heat pumps, solar, electric vehicles and more — and how much money they could save you.
By Alison F. Takemura, Canary Media
August 30, 2022

The new climate law is chock-full of incentives to electrify your home and car, but the specifics are a maze to navigate. To help you find your way through, pro-electrification nonprofit Rewiring America has released an online calculator that tells you which of the incentives you’ll likely qualify for. And over 200,000 people have already tried it.

“I’m so excited that we put this out because it does seem like it’s being legitimately useful to people trying to figure out what the [law] means for them,“ said Sam Calisch, head of special projects at Rewiring America.

Consumer choice is a big deal for the climate. According to Calisch, more than 40% of U.S. energy emissions stem directly or indirectly ​“from the decisions households make at their kitchen tables” — things like ​“where they get their electricity from, what they use to heat and cool their homes, and what they drive.”

The calculator can inform those decisions, pointing Americans to the home and vehicle electrification discounts, rebates and tax credits that are, or will soon be, available to them thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act.

Still, when Canary staff tried the calculator, some furrowed their brows; the results that it delivers can be a little confusing. So think of this article as your unofficial guide to how it works and what you can do with your results.
» Read article     
» Try the online calculator

» More about legislation

GAS BANS

holding the bag
As wealthy towns go electric, who will pick up the tab for aging gas infrastructure?
Advocates in Massachusetts say the time is now to start thinking about how to protect lower-income residents as those with the financial means begin to abandon the natural gas system
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
September 2, 2022

As the first Massachusetts cities and towns prepare to ban new residential fossil fuel systems, some advocates say now is the time to create a long-term strategy to make sure lower-income residents aren’t left to pay for a sprawling and aging natural gas system they can’t afford to opt out of.

“Absent a policy intervention, our most vulnerable consumers could be left holding the bag,” said Michael Colvin, director of regulatory and legislative affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker last month signed a sweeping new climate bill that includes authorization for up to 10 towns and cities to ban the use of fossil fuels in new construction or in substantial remodeling projects, as long as at least 10% of the housing units in the municipality qualify as affordable. New homes would not be allowed to install oil or propane tanks or use natural gas for heating or cooking.

[…] There are already signs, however, that the idea of fossil fuel bans may be picking up momentum. Activists are already starting to push for a statewide authorization in the next legislative session. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has said she’d like the city to join the list of ten. There are questions about whether that would be possible under this legislation, but her announcement suggests the strategy may be gaining supporters.

[…] Though these bans are likely to slow the growth of fossil fuel demand by a small amount, it’s also likely that more affluent residents will be the first to benefit. The 10 municipalities set to adopt the bans first all have median household incomes well above the state average. And higher-income residents are also more likely to be able to afford the new homes or major remodels that regulations apply to.

Early on, that disparity is less concerning, said Dale Bryk, director of state and regional policies at the Harvard law School Environmental and Energy Law Program.

“In some ways it’s not bad to have wealthier towns work out the kinks and figure out how to do this,” she said.

The authorization of fossil fuel bans, however, signals a pivotal shift in the way utilities and policymakers need to look at the natural gas system, Colvin said. Until now, the assumption was always that the infrastructure would continue to expand to meet the energy needs of a growing population: “It was never in the cards that we weren’t going to add capacity, that we weren’t going to build a new pipeline,” he said.

Now signs suggest the reach of natural gas could actually be headed in the other direction. And if the bans become more widespread, they could create significant inequities if there are no policy interventions, Bryk said.

As households step away from the natural gas system, there will be fewer customers left to pay for the infrastructure. And that infrastructure is aging and leak-prone, and expected to require repairs costing as much as $16.6 billion in Massachusetts alone in coming years, according to a report from nonprofit consulting group the Applied Economics Clinic.

Statewide policies are necessary to make sure that financial burden isn’t put disproportionately on lower-income residents and people of color, advocates said. And policymakers and legislators need to start crafting these strategies immediately, they added.
» Read article     
» Read the Applied Economics Clinic report

» More about gas bans

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

welcome to Lytton
After Deadly Fires and Disastrous Floods, a Canadian City Moves to Sue Big Oil
A potential lawsuit by Vancouver would be the first in Canada to target the fossil fuel industry’s role in climate change.
By Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times
August 29, 2022

LYTTON, British Columbia — Nothing has been rebuilt since flames devoured the tiny village of Lytton last year, turning it into a national symbol of climate change. It was in Lytton, about 90 miles northeast of Vancouver, that temperatures set a national record of 49.6 degrees Celsius — 121.3 Fahrenheit in Canada! — before the deadly fire erupted.

Blue fencing on either side of Main Street blocks off access to the ruins of the village. Charred trees, flattened roofs, collapsed walls and piles of debris stretch over the full length of the village center, the silence broken only by helicopters dumping water to try to extinguish more recent fires in the nearby mountains.

“It’s a flashback of what happened last year,” said Phyllis Speinks, 54, who was filling her truck up at a nearby gas station and had been evacuated for two weeks because of this summer’s fires. “I was afraid.”

The heat that started the inferno in Lytton killed 619 people in the province last year and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. It has sent government officials scrambling for policies, tools and approaches they can use to steer the province away from more disasters by stemming the effects of climate change, which scientists believe contributed to the extreme heat and other destructive weather events of the past year.

Now, the region is fighting back. Vancouver’s City Council took preliminary steps in July toward suing major oil companies, seeking damages for the local costs of climate change.

The move, in a city that has been a leader of the environmental movement in Canada and was the birthplace of Greenpeace, would be the first lawsuit of its kind in the country against the fossil fuel industry, whose carbon emissions contribute to global warming.
» Read article    

willow alaska drilling
Lawsuit challenges ANOTHER Arctic drilling program (that’s worse for the climate than Willow)
By Friends of the Earth, in RedGreenandBlue.com
August 28, 2022

Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit Thursday on behalf of Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace USA challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of Peregrine, an exploratory drilling program entering its third year in the Western Arctic in Alaska. The complaint takes the agency to task for its failure to consider the greenhouse gas consequences of burning the oil the developer hopes to discover and produce. According to EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions calculator, extracting and burning the quantity of oil that could be found at the Peregrine site would be the carbon equivalent of emissions from 173 coal-fired power plants operating for a year.

The plans were submitted by Emerald House, a subsidiary of Australian petroleum firm 88 Energy. After drilling an initial oil well labeled “Merlin-1” in the winter of 2020/2021, the company told investors it believed the remote and undeveloped public-lands area where it intends to drill could contain 1.6 billion barrels of petroleum. If that proves true, extracting and burning that total volume would release 645 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to expert analysis. By comparison, ConocoPhillips’ Willow project – which has attracted significant opposition from climate advocates – would release an estimated 275 million metric tons of CO2.

The lawsuit alleges that the Biden administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to analyze the greenhouse gas emissions consequences of allowing this project to move forward when issuing a permit, particularly given the existing climate impacts arising from fossil fuel projects already underway on federal lands.

“We are beyond frustrated with Biden’s rubber stamping of Big Oil’s drilling in Alaska’s vulnerable and wild places,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director for Friends of the Earth. “Unfortunately, the administration failed to see how this unlawful decision throws yet another carbon bomb at our rapidly warming planet. We hope the court system helps ensure that the federal government fully upholds our bedrock environmental laws before approving such harmful activities.”
» Read article     

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Lake Lugano
Ukraine sets plans for ambitious ‘green’ reconstruction
Ukraine’s reconstruction from Russia’s full-scale war gives Europe’s most energy-intensive economy the opportunity to become a hub for green electricity and hydrogen exports to Europe.
By Anna Gumbau, Energy Monitor
August 24, 2022

Even as Russian hostilities against Ukraine continue, Kyiv has kickstarted its plans for a green reconstruction after the war.

Ukrainian authorities and international partners – including the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and the World Bank – met in Lugano, Switzerland, on 4–5 July to outline plans as well as the financial support needed for the country’s post-war recovery. There, the Ukrainian government and its National Council for the Recovery of Ukraine presented a draft reconstruction plan – written over one-and-a-half months with the support of industry and civil society groups in “a big, hugely inclusive process”, says Anna Ackermann, founding member of Ukraine-based NGO Ecoaction and a policy analyst at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

“We don’t want to do things as we used to,” said Ukrainian energy minister German Galushchenko during the Ukraine Reconstruction Conference. “We want to reconstruct [Ukraine] based on the modern possibilities which exist in the energy sector.”

That reconstruction “has to rebuild Ukraine in a sustainable manner aligned with the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and the Paris Agreement, integrating social, economic and environmental dimensions including green transition”, said the declaration that emerged from the conference.

[…] “We expect the reconstruction will be sustainable and according to the highest European standards as we have a good opportunity to rebuild an even more progressive and technological country,” Myronko tells Energy Monitor. “Moreover, [we expect] that decarbonisation will be one of the key principles in Ukrainian economic development. Nevertheless, the priority is to stop the war.”

In fact, the Ukrainian reconstruction plan has upgraded its renewables commitment to make it to 45% of its energy mix by 2032, and the country now aims to build as much as 30 gigawatts (GW) of solar, hydro and wind capacity by 2030, with the prospect of exporting part of that renewable power to and producing “green hydrogen” for export.
» Read article     

future looks sweet
Wind turbine blades could be recycled into gummy bears, scientists say
By Chelsie Henshaw, The Guardian
August 23, 2022

The next generation of wind turbine blades could be recycled into gummy bears at the end of their service, scientists have said.

Researchers at Michigan State University have made a composite resin for the blades by combining glass fibres with a plant-derived polymer and a synthetic one. Once the blades have reached the end of their lifespan the materials can be broken down and recycled to make new products including turbine blades – and chewy sweets.

Wind power is one of the dominant forms of renewable energy. However, turbine blades, usually made of fibreglass, can be as long as half a football field and cause problems with disposal, with many discarded in landfills when they reach the end of their use cycle.

To combat the waste, researchers designed a new form of resin. Digesting the resin in an alkaline solution produced potassium lactate, which can be purified and made into sweets and sports drinks.

“We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candies, which I ate,” said John Dorgan, one of the authors of the paper.

The alkaline digestion also released poly(methyl methacrylate), or PMMA, a common acrylic material used in windows and car taillights.

On eating gummy bears that are derived from a wind turbine, Dorgan says “a carbon atom derived from a plant, like corn or grass, is no different from a carbon atom that came from a fossil fuel. It’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown that we can go from biomass in the field to durable plastic materials and back to foodstuffs.”

He added: “The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it, and that releases it from whatever matrix it’s in so that it can be used over and over again in an infinite loop. That’s the goal of the circular economy.”
» Read article     

» More about greening the economy  

CLIMATE

methane bubbles
Methane Hunters: What Explains the Surge in the Potent Greenhouse Gas?
Levels of the gas are growing at a record rate and natural sources like wetlands are the cause, but scientists don’t know how to curb it.
By Leslie Hook and Chris Campbell, The Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
August 24, 2022

Every year, 6,000 flasks arrive at a laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. Inside each is a sample of air, taken from one of a chain of 50 monitoring stations that spans the globe. Together, these samples could help answer one of the most important questions facing the planet: why is there so much methane in the atmosphere?

[…] The laboratory measures the levels of different gases inside the samples, from carbon dioxide to nitrous oxide and sulfur hexafluoride, compiling a meticulous record that forms the basis for major climate models. About 15 years ago, its researchers observed an uptick in atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a warming impact 80 times greater than CO2.

Many researchers initially assumed the increase was linked to fossil fuel production. Methane is the primary ingredient in natural gas but is also produced by other human activities such as landfills, rice paddies and raising cattle.

In the past few years, however, that uptick has accelerated into a surge. The implications for global warming are immense: of the 1.1 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures since pre-industrial times, about a third can be attributed to methane. Atmospheric methane had its highest growth rate ever recorded by modern instruments in 2020, and then that record was broken again in 2021. Nobody knows exactly why.

“It is shocking,” said Lindsay Xin Lan, a researcher based in the Boulder laboratory who is analyzing the data. “A lot of research, a lot of scientists, are trying to explain it.”

[…] The sources of the methane may be natural, but a climate warmed by human activity is fueling these emissions. Climate change is expected to lead to more intense rainfall in east Africa; and these wetter, warmer wetlands will produce more methane. Other natural sources of methane—melting permafrost, and wildfires—are also linked to climate change.

[…] A concerted global effort to reduce methane emissions using existing technologies could slash anthropogenic emissions by 45 percent by 2030, according to a May 2021 report from the U.N. Environment Program, avoiding 0.3 degrees Celsius of warming by the 2040s.

The quickest methane fixes are in the fossil fuel sector, which accounts for about one-third of anthropogenic emissions. Special venting installed in coal mines; early detection of gas leaks; reducing methane venting during oil and gas production and other “readily available” measures could cut methane emissions by more than 40 million tons a year, according to the report. Capturing natural gas from landfills would even pay for itself because of its resale value.

Still, it’s not clear this will be enough. The world’s biggest methane emitters—China and Russia—have not signed the COP26 pledge. And even if they did, it’s not clear that reductions in human-caused methane will be enough to compensate for the increase from natural sources.

If the warming Earth is already starting to release more methane, then this vicious cycle—in which warming triggers more warming—could become self-perpetuating. Although that moment could still be decades in the future, once that tipping point is reached, it will be very hard to reverse.
» Read article     

slow current
It’s Happened Before: Paleoclimate Study Shows Warming Oceans Could Lead to a Spike in Seabed Methane Emissions
Shallow deposits of frozen methane beneath oceans may be more vulnerable to thawing than previously known.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
August 22, 2022

The slowdown of a key ocean current could release methane that is frozen in layers of organic seabed sediments along some of the world’s coastlines, a new study shows.

Cold temperatures and high pressure on sea floors currently sequester about one-sixth of the world’s methane, a potent but short-lived greenhouse gas, in an ice-like form called methane hydrate, or clathrates. Sudden thawing of those clathrates could result in a surge of methane emissions that would spike the planet’s fever. The new research, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that some of the shallower layers in the Atlantic Ocean could be more vulnerable than previously thought to warming that could release that methane, and that such events have happened in the distant past.

The trigger for such warming and thawing, according to the study, is a large inflow of fresh, frigid water from melting Arctic ice, which can disrupt the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current, a slow ocean heat pump, pushing cold water in the Arctic deep down and southward, and warm water to the surface and northward.

Temperature, density and salinity contrasts drive the pump. But in recent decades, the influx of water from rapidly melting Arctic ice, especially the Greenland Ice Sheet, appears to be weakening the current, which could warm the ocean at depths of 300 to 1,300 meters to destabilize methane hydrates buried 20 to 30 feet deep in the seabed.
» Read article     
» Read the PNAS study

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

look again
The Idea of 100 Percent Renewable Energy Is Once Again Having a Moment
Wind, solar and other renewable sources could supply all of the world’s energy, according to a growing body of research.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
August 25, 2022

In 1975, Danish physicist Bent Sørensen published a paper examining the possibility that his country could run on 100 percent renewable energy. Appearing in the journal Science, it could have been an important moment for beginning to look seriously at transforming the way the world produces energy.

Instead, crickets.

“It was not a loved idea at all,” said Christian Breyer, a faculty member at LUT University in Finland, in a video interview from his office.

But things have changed. In the last five years or so, as the world faces the escalating toll of climate change, the concept of 100 percent renewable energy has gotten a much more serious look from scientists, policy analysts and governments.

Breyer is the lead author of a new paper published by IEEE Access tracing the development and growth of this idea, and the pushback. The concept of 100 percent renewable energy hasn’t quite reached the mainstream in most large economies, but it’s getting close, he said.

I should specify that Breyer is not a neutral party in this discussion. He and the roughly two dozen co-authors of the paper include some of the best-known researchers who focus on, and advocate for, 100 percent renewable energy. This includes Mark Jacobson of Stanford and Auke Hoekstra of Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.

The paper is a valuable primer for understanding what 100 percent renewable energy means, where these ideas have found the most support in government and what others say are the major flaws.

One of the people cited is Amory Lovins, an American physicist who wrote about the possibility of an all-renewable system in 1976. He would go on to be co-founder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, now called RMI.

Lovins told me this week that the Breyer paper is “impressive and important” and he is pleased to see that Sørensen’s work is getting proper credit for being ahead of its time.

“It’s become increasingly obvious over the past few decades that all-renewable electricity can work well pretty much anywhere,” Lovins said. “Denial is increasingly confined to the uninformed.”
» Read article     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

plug and play
Finally, a heat-pump water heater that plugs into a standard outlet
How a public-private collaboration brought a key climate-change-fighting tool to market: an efficient 120-volt water heater that can be easily installed in homes.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
August 29, 2022

Last month’s launch of Rheem’s ProTerra 120-volt heat pump water heater might not seem like a big step forward in the fight against climate change. In terms of home electrification accessories, it’s not as sexy as a rooftop solar array, Tesla Powerwall battery or Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck.

But to home electrification policy wonks, an efficient electric water heater that can plug into a standard wall socket is a major advance in getting U.S. households off fossil fuels. It’s also an example of what climate activists, policymakers and big businesses can accomplish when they work together.

That’s how Panama Bartholomy, executive director of the Building Decarbonization Coalition, described the multiyear effort that has enabled major U.S. water heater manufacturers to fill a big gap in the U.S. electric appliance lineup.

Back in October 2018, Bartholomy’s group and fellow nonprofit New Buildings Institute gathered state policymakers, utilities and representatives of major U.S. water heater manufacturers at a conference in San Francisco to start tackling a problem that was impeding California’s building decarbonization goals: More than nine in 10 of the 14.5 million water heaters in California homes burn fossil gas. Few of those homes are wired for 240-volt heat pump water heaters, which were the only models available at the time. Asking homeowners and contractors to undertake expensive rewiring or electrical panel upgrades to support these more power-hungry replacement units could have triggered pushback from customers and contractors, and left many smaller homes or renters locked out of the market altogether.

So ​“we pulled together over 100 people and worked for six months on a specification for a ​‘retrofit-ready’ heat pump water heater,” Bartholomy said. The goal was to provide a clear signal to companies that their work on a novel product would bear fruit, or as he put it, to do some ​“trust-building — the basis of any good relationship.”

Now, more than three years later, that trust-building has paid off. Rheem’s ProTerra is expected to be followed by the launch of 120-volt heat pump water heaters from A.O. Smith, General Electric and Nyle over the coming year, said Amruta Khanolkar, senior project manager at the New Buildings Institute.

“There are about 118 million residential water heaters nationwide, and more than 50 percent of them are using fossil fuel for heating water,” she said. About 7 million water heaters are replaced every year in the country, and those customers ​“need a solution to easily plug in.”
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

legacy transmission
Why the energy transition broke the U.S. interconnection system
The same processes that created the U.S. power system may now be preventing its transition to clean generation.
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
August 22, 2022

Boone Staples, director of transmission analysis for the engineering and construction group at energy developer Tenaska, has been doing essentially the same job for the last 15 years. And in spite of his tenure, he says he can’t remember a single solar project that hasn’t run into interconnection delays.

“We have projects in the [Midcontinent Independent System Operator] queue that have been there for four and a half years now. In [the Southwest Power Pool]…we’re looking at eight years start to finish on a project. In PJM we have projects that have been there since March 2019 – these projects were shovel ready. They have offtake contracts completed with full permits ready to start construction, just waiting on PJM,” Staples recounts. “Those have been put on pause. With queue reform it looks like they will get kicked out to late 2025, so that’s pretty severe for us.”

Tenaska, Staples says, is ready and willing to participate in interconnection studies and pay for transmission upgrades. And yet the ever-growing queue times, he says, continue to cost the company projects. Power purchase agreement negotiations have fallen apart, and options on land have even expired, as projects wind their way through the lengthy interconnection process – difficulties that can trigger the cancellation of an entire project.

Data from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory show that interconnection queue times have increased dramatically since 2005, when a typical solar project could be built, start to finish, in two years. Today, the average developer can expect to need four years or more to complete a project, according to Joseph Rand, a senior scientific engineering associate tracking interconnection queues at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

But it’s not just that navigating the queue takes longer today than in the past decade, Rand says. Projects are also significantly less likely to succeed. Less than a quarter of the projects that enter interconnection queues around the U.S. will make it through to completion. Between the delays and the need for developers to hedge their bets, the U.S. currently has roughly 700 GW of solar, 400 GW of energy storage, and more than 200 GW of wind energy sitting in overflowing interconnection backlogs – just gigawatts shy of what the Biden administration projects is needed to generate 95% carbon-free energy by 2035.

“Our backlogs are indicating that our wind and solar developers are eager to meet that demand,” Rand says, “but that our transmission and interconnection system and procedures are not keeping pace with meeting that demand.”

So how did we get here? After decades of dominating the energy and technology scenes, the U.S., it seems, got complacent. Instead of upgrading the grid and related bureaucratic systems, industry, regulatory and government leaders took a business as usual posture that assumed the nation’s traditional ad hoc, bottom-up approach to energy development would work for renewables, too.

And it did – partially. But the bottlenecks this process creates, experts say, now threatens the nation’s ability to transition to clean energy with the same speed seen in countries with more cohesive regulatory systems.
» Read article     

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

on the line
Maine court finds part of referendum blocking transmission line to Massachusetts unconstitutional
Now, it’s up to a lower court judge to decide whether the project can go ahead.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
August 30, 2022

Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Tuesday that part of a referendum effectively blocking a transmission line that would bring hydroelectric energy to Massachusetts was unconstitutional, sending the case back to a lower court to decide its future.

It’s not a full green light for the project, which is seen as critical to Massachusetts achieving its clean energy mandate, but advocates in the state cheered the ruling as a much-needed step in the right direction. Opponents to the project, meanwhile, say the fight is far from over.

The $1 billion transmission line, known as the New England Clean Energy Connect, was dealt a serious blow in November of last year, when nearly 60 percent of Maine voters approved a ballot question to kill the power line.

The five members of the court found it was unconstitutional to retroactively apply the referendum because the project had already completed substantial construction based on the permits it had already received, and sent it back to a lower court for further proceedings.

Some clean energy advocates in the region were happy to have the ruling.

“Like everyone, we were waiting with bated breath to see what the court would say, and wasn’t clear which direction they would go,” said Daniel Sosland, president of the clean energy advocacy group the Acadia Center.

The project’s future depends on whether a lower court finds that, at the time of the statewide referendum vote, the transmission line was far enough along that it had established what’s known as vested rights.

Opponents to the transmission line argue that Central Maine Power, a subsidiary of Avangrid, sped up its timeline to complete as much work as possible despite knowing that the referendum was coming. “We think it’s very well documented that CMP really rushed to build this, despite the fact that this referendum was ongoing, despite the fact that they knew they were going to lose this referendum,” said Adam Cote, an attorney with Drummond Woodsum who is representing opponents to the transmission line.

Massachusetts cannot reach its mandate of net-zero emissions by 2050 without greening the electricity grid, and while wind and solar are expected to make up a significant portion of that, Canadian hydro is “an essential element,” according to the state’s roadmap for reaching that goal.
» Read article     
» Read the court’s decision     

wild blueberries
Maine farmer pairs solar panels with wild blueberries. Will it bear fruit?

The University of Maine is studying how mounting solar panels in wild blueberry patches will affect income and production. The plants rebounded well from construction but so far show signs of producing fewer berries.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
September 1, 2022

Maine’s wild blueberries are a unique crop that can’t be planted from seed, explains lifelong blueberry farmer Paul Sweetland. They must be gently cultivated where the low-lying bushes grow naturally, and the small, sweet berries are sold in the local area, too delicate to easily transport far.

But blueberry land and other parcels of rural Maine are being increasingly eyed for housing development, and Sweetland feels the wild blueberry sector is under pressure, especially when blueberry market prices drop.

He hopes that a new “crop” growing in tandem with berries could help boost the local industry and preserve farmland. That would be solar panels that have been installed across 11 acres of the land where Sweetland farms blueberries in Rockport, Maine.

The University of Maine is studying this example of dual-use agrivoltaics. The solar installation was developed by the Boston-based solar developer BlueWave, and it is owned by the company Navisun, which makes lease payments to the landowner. Sweetland tends, harvests and sells the blueberries, and shares profits with the landowner.

Across the country, farmers regularly lease their land for utility-scale or community solar installations, but typically crops are not grown on that same land. With dual-use agrivoltaics, crops are grown under or between the rows of solar panels, with the aim of generating renewable energy without removing farmland from production.

Farmers or landowners can collect incentives for solar energy, and some states including Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have or are considering incentives specifically for agrivoltaics. Agrivoltaics work best with crops that don’t grow too high, that are picked by hand, and that benefit from the shade the panels provide.
» Read article     

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

designated driver
Massachusetts likely to ban new gas-powered cars, thanks to California
By Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe
August 26, 2022

California’s newly announced ban on sales of fossil-fuel-burning cars and small trucks starting in 2035 has cleared the way for a similar ban in Massachusetts. That’s because of a provision in Massachusetts’s new climate change law, as well as a unique feature in federal law that lets California set environmental standards for other US states.

In late 2020, Governor Charlie Baker endorsed a ban on fossil-fuel vehicles by 2035, and language to that effect was included in the climate bill he signed earlier this month. But Massachusetts couldn’t enforce the requirement unless California went first.

It all goes back to an unusual feature of the Clean Air Act, which empowers the federal government to set environmental standards for cars and trucks. While automakers chafed at government regulation, they hoped that the new law would at least give them a single set of nationwide standards.

“The carmakers of course did not want 50 states setting up all different rules,” said Larry Chretien, executive director of Green Energy Consumers Alliance in Boston.

However, some states still wanted the right to impose even tougher anti-pollution rules. In the end, Congress came up with a compromise. California, the most populous US state, and one with severe air pollution problems, could apply to the federal government for permission to impose stricter standards. No other state is permitted to do this.

However, if a tougher California regulation is approved by the federal government, any other state can adopt the rule as well. Massachusetts, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s environmental standards for automobiles.

Chretien said that carmakers could urge the US Environmental Protection Agency to reject the California and Massachusetts rules. But he predicted little opposition, noting that the industry is already spending billions on an aggressive transition to electric vehicles.
» Read article     

EV charging
So you’re in the market for an electric vehicle? Here’s how the new federal and Mass. laws will help
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
August 18, 2022

August has been a big month for the environment. At the national level, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocates over $360 billion to help fight climate change. And more locally, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a sweeping state climate and clean energy bill into law.

Both laws cover a lot of ground. But one notable commonality is the emphasis on getting more electric vehicles on the road. To help make this happen, the laws establish tax credits or rebates for consumers — you don’t have to choose one, you can take advantage of both — as well as mandates and incentives for building charging infrastructure.

So whether you’re already in the market for an EV, or just starting to think about making the switch, here’s what you should know about how these two new laws can help.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

under-performing
10 of 13 ‘Flagship’ CCS Projects Failed to Deliver, IEEFA Analysis Concludes
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
September 1, 2022

After a half-century of research and development, carbon capture and storage projects are far more likely to fail than to succeed, and nearly three-quarters of the carbon dioxide they manage to capture each year is sold off to fossil companies and used to extract more oil, according to a sweeping industry assessment released today by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

The report lands just as analysts in the United States warn of major verification problems with a CCS tax credit that received a major boost in the Biden administration’s new climate action plan, and as Canadian fossils lobby for more tax relief to match what’s becoming available in the U.S.

One of the case studies in the 79-page IEEFA report [pdf] concludes that the troubled Boundary Dam CCS project in Saskatchewan has missed its carbon capture by about 50%. The 13 “flagship, large-scale” projects in the analysis account for about 55% of the world’s current carbon capture capacity, the institute says in a release.

Those 13 projects captured a grand total of 39 million tonnes of CO2 per year, the report found, about one-ten thousandth of the 36.3 billion tonnes that emitters spewed into the atmosphere in 2021.

“CCS technology has been going for 50 years and many projects have failed and continued to fail, with only a handful working,” said report co-author Bruce Robertson, a veteran investment analyst and fund manager now serving as IEEFA’s energy finance analyst for gas and LNG. The report, co-authored by energy analyst Milad Mousavian, concludes that seven of the 13 projects underperformed, two failed outright, and one was mothballed.

“Many international bodies and national governments are relying on carbon capture in the fossil fuel sector to get to net-zero, and it simply won’t work,” Robertson said in the release. Though there is “some indication it might have a role to play in hard-to-abate sectors such as cement, fertilizers, and steel, overall results indicate a financial, technical, and emissions reduction framework that continues to overstate and underperform.”
» Read article     
» Read the IEEFA report

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Permian pump jack
Texas Study Finds ‘Massive Amount’ of Toxic Wastewater With Few Options for Reuse

Oil and gas companies produce 3.8 billion barrels of wastewater per year in the arid Permian Basin.
By Dylan Baddour, Inside Climate News
August 31, 2022

Oil and gas extraction in the Permian Basin of arid West Texas is expected to produce some 588 million gallons of wastewater per day for the next 38 years, according to findings of a state-commissioned study group—three times as much as the oil it produces.

The announcement from the Texas Produced Water Consortium came two days before it was due to release its findings on potential recycling of oilfield wastewater.

“It’s a massive amount of water,” said Rusty Smith, the consortium’s executive director, addressing the Texas Groundwater Summit in San Antonio on Tuesday.

But making use of that so-called “produced water” still remains well beyond the current reach of state authorities, he said.

Lawmakers in Texas, the nation’s top oil and gas producer, commissioned the Produced Water Consortium in February 2021, following similar efforts in other oil-producing states to study how produced water, laced with toxic chemicals, can be recycled into local water supplies.

The Texas study focused on the Permian Basin, the state’s top oil-producing zone, where years of booming population growth have severely stretched water supplies and planners forecast a 20 billion gallon per year deficit by year 2030.

[…] Their estimate—about 170 billions of gallons per year [of produced water from the Permian]—equals nearly half the yearly water consumption in New York City.

That quantity creates steep logistical and economic challenges to recycling—an expensive process that renders half the original volume as concentrated brine which would have to be permanently stored.

“It’s a massive amount of salt,” Smith said. “We’d essentially create new salt flats in West Texas and collapse the global salt markets.”

He estimated that treatment costs of $2.55 to $10 per barrel and disposal costs of $0.70 per barrel would hike up the water price far beyond the average $0.40 per barrel paid by municipal users or $0.03 per barrel paid by irrigators.

On top of that, distributing the recycled water would require big infrastructure investments—both for high-tech treatment plants and the distribution system to transport recycled water to users in cities and towns.

“We’re going to need pipelines to move it,” Smith said. “We have quite a gap we need to bridge and figure out how we’re going to make it more economical.”

That is only if produced water in West Texas can be proven safe for consumption when treated.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuel

DEEP-SEABED MINING

TMC
Secret Data, Tiny Islands and a Quest for Treasure on the Ocean Floor
Mining in parts of the Pacific Ocean was meant to benefit poor countries, but an international agency gave a Canadian company access to prized seabed sites with metals crucial to the green energy revolution.
By Eric Lipton, New York Times
August 29, 2022

As demand grows globally for metals needed to make batteries for electric vehicles, one of the richest untapped sources of the raw materials lies two and a half miles beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

This remote section of the seabed, about 1,500 miles southwest of San Diego, could soon become the world’s first industrial-scale mining site in international waters.

The Metals Company, based in Vancouver, has secured exclusive access to tons of seabed rocks packed with cobalt, copper and nickel — enough, it says, to power 280 million electric vehicles, equivalent to the entire fleet of cars in the United States.

“No mining has ever been done on a scale like this on the planet,” said James A.R. McFarlane, former head of environmental monitoring at the International Seabed Authority, an agency affiliated with the United Nations that will regulate mining by the Metals Company and the many other businesses and countries expected to follow.

An examination by The New York Times of how the Metals Company is prepared to exploit this new frontier in the green energy revolution — the firm calculates it will clear $31 billion in earnings over the 25-year life of the project — tells the story of a single-minded, 15-year-long courtship of the small Jamaica-based seabed agency that holds the keys to the world’s underwater treasures.

Interviews and hundreds of pages of emails, letters and other internal documents show that the firm’s executives received key information from the Seabed Authority beginning in 2007, giving a major edge to their mining ambitions. The agency provided data identifying some of the most valuable seabed tracts, and then set aside the prized sites for the company’s future use, according to the materials.

The sharing of that information has angered employees at the agency, who said some of the data was meant for developing countries trying to compete with richer countries, something the agency is mandated under international law to assist. “You are violating the legal concept behind the Seabed Authority,” Sandor Mulsow, who held top positions at the agency before leaving in 2019, said in an interview. “It’s scandalous.”

The Metals Company is one of nearly two dozen contractors that have exploration deals with the agency; most of them are held by nations. But the firm has been especially aggressive in pushing the Seabed Authority to allow it to start mining, and is now racing to begin in late 2024.

The undertaking has raised concerns among environmentalists about the perpetually underfunded agency’s commitment to protecting life on the ocean floor, and has renewed broader questions about who gets to profit from the riches of the sea.
» Read article     

» More about deep-seabed mining

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Weekly News Check-In 8/19/22

banner 19

Welcome back.

Our last two newsletters focused on two big pieces of climate legislation, one in Massachusetts, and the other – the Inflation Reduction Act – for the whole country. We’re leading this week’s news with climate activist Bill McKibben’s thoughts on what needs to be done next.

Here in Massachusetts, we’re watching developments as Boston declares its intent to file a home rule petition which may allow it to ban natural gas hookups in new buildings. Trouble is, the climate bill only allows ten communities to participate in a pilot project banning those hookups, and that list is already full. Boston’s participation depends on one of those smaller communities getting bumped.

Gas bans are surging nation wide, and both rules and opportunities vary by state. Rockie Mountain Institute offers a guide for communities who want to require electrification in new construction.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is looking at a permit request from the Regional Energy Access Expansion (REAE) pipeline project, designed to support growing demand for natural gas in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Typical of pipeline projects, it’s the developer (Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC in this case) that’s claiming increased gas demand. New Jersey state officials, however, have told FERC that the Garden State doesn’t need more gas, in part because of the state’s climate policies and energy efficiency goals. The case offers an opportunity for FERC to reconsider its approach – something clean energy advocates have requested for years.

Two reasons that states are projecting lower demand for gas include more building electrification along with surging demand for weatherization services. Maine is seeing a doubling of projects over the past year, and contractors are having a hard time keeping up with demand.

Climate change is intensifying heat waves, which are growing longer, hotter, and deadlier.    A new study predicts that a Midwestern ‘heat belt’ will come to dominate dangerous-conditions forecasts over the next 30 years. For those of us living outside the Midwest – don’t feel left out – there’s plenty to go around.

The proliferation of wind farms in the West is displacing coal production, benefiting the climate, and providing lots of good jobs. But wind turbines are killing golden eagles. This is a powerful narrative for considering the tradeoffs and uncomfortable choices associated with the energy transition. Turns out, climate change is more of a threat to the overall golden eagle population than turbine blades, and eagle collisions can be reduced by properly siting wind farms.

For some green energy good news, we can report that new solar installations around the world are expected to grow by a whopping 30% this year, and the industry believes double-digit annual growth will continue through 2025.

Energy storage is surging too, and will be considerably goosed by investment tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act. Importantly, the IRA extends these credits to standalone projects (just batteries, for example – not hybrid projects co-locating batteries with renewable energy technologies like solar or wind). This will allow an acceleration of storage build-out, which is essential for a clean, resilient grid.

And in long-duration energy storage, Oregon-based iron flow battery company ESS Inc has recognized revenues for the first time since it publicly listed, while also closing in on its targeted annual production capacity of 750MWh. Theirs is a battery made entirely of non-toxic, non-flammable, Earth-abundant materials – yes, yes, yes!

Our neighbors in Vermont are showing how widely-distributed small residential storage batteries increase the resiliency of a modern grid. Utility Green Mountain Power helped thousands of customers get home batteries, and now it taps them at peak times to prevent high costs and grid outages. Meanwhile, traditional utilities have resorted to emailing their customers on hot days, begging them to back off their air conditioners.

The electric vehicle revolution is upon us, but the public charging system has some catching up to do. EV early adopters mostly recharge at home, and that’s both convenient and reliable. But drivers taking occasional long road trips, and folks dependent on public facilities are encountering a high percentage of broken chargers. With a major effort underway to build hundreds of thousands of public chargers – the federal government alone is spending $7.5 billion – improving reliability is a top issue.

We’re learning more about health effects from the witches brew of chemicals pumped into the ground during fracking operations. A new peer-reviewed study conducted by the Yale School of Public Health finds that young children living near fracking wells at birth are up to three times more likely to later develop leukemia.

The fracking industry has always guarded its secrets – declining to disclose the full list of chemicals used to smash open subterranean rock and facilitate the flow of hydrocarbons. That obfuscation – especially under-reporting emissions – goes right up the chain as the fuels are transported, processed, and eventually burned. A recent example is Cheniere Energy, a major exporter of U.S. liquefied natural gas. The company is engaged in “greenwashing”  its operations in order to portray gas exports as a climate solution and clear the way for further expansion, according to a new report.

Global demand for gas has soared in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine, sparking a scramble by U.S. gas exporters to increase export volumes, with the backing of the Biden administration.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

BABY BOY LOOKING UP AND POINTING

BABY BOY LOOKING UP AND POINTING

One Down – Reflections on a Remarkable Year
By Bill McKibben, Substack.com
August 14, 2022

Well, check off one of the Crucial Years. If our civilization has a fighting chance of survival, we need to cut emissions in half by 2030; it’s the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced as a species, and the greatest drama imaginable.

I’ve been writing this newsletter for a particularly remarkable trip around the sun. It’s been a pivot year: the U.S. Congress finally passed climate legislation, by the thinnest of margins, and filled with all the gifts to Big Oil that Joe Manchin could cram in. But it’s what we should have done 30 years ago: started moving aggressively towards clean energy. And so now the game is on. The next year is going to see at least three crucial things

1)     Having gotten some concessions from Politics, the movement is now going to go hard against Money—Wall Street will be as much the target as Washington

2)    They don’t call it global warming for nothing, and so it will be fascinating to see if the Biden administration can leverage American action to help move the rest of the world (which is a way of saying I’m looking forward to reporting from the climate talks in Cairo)

3)    Execution. With the burst of money from DC, it’s time to build out all those EV chargers and offshore wind farms; figuring out how to make it happen in timely fashion is going to be crucial.

So we’ll watch these things together—but this is a fighting newsletter. So we’ll also figure out ways to help spur change on.

In our first year together we had one clear win as a community: convincing the president in late spring to sign legislation using the Defense Production Act to start producing heat pumps as a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom” went from a newsletter post to American policy inside a hundred days, and you folks made it happen, with a storm of organizing. More to come.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

NATURAL GAS BANS

Mayor Wu
Boston seeks to ban fossil fuels in new buildings
By The Associated Press, in WBUR News
August 16, 2022

Boston is seeking to ban fossil fuels from new building projects and major renovations, Mayor Michelle Wu announced Tuesday.

The Democrat said the state’s largest city will take advantage of a key provision in the climate change bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker last week.

That legislation, which is meant to bring the state closer to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, calls for a pilot project allowing 10 Massachusetts cities and towns to require new building projects be all-electric, with the exception of life sciences labs and health care facilities.

Wu said the city will file a home rule petition with the state Legislature to join the pilot.

“Boston must lead by taking every possible step for climate action,” she said in a statement. “Boston’s participation will help deliver healthy, energy efficient spaces that save our residents and businesses on utilities costs and create local green jobs that will fuel our economy for decades.”

Wu’s office said natural gas, oil and other fossil fuels used in buildings represent more than one-third of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Other major U.S. cities have already moved to ban fossil fuel hookups in new buildings, including New York City and Washington, D.C.
» Read article     

Concord Millrun
Ten cities and towns are poised to ban fossil fuels from new buildings
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
August 14, 2022

The small housing development just off Main Street in Concord is almost complete. Many of the neat one-, two- and three-bedroom homes are already occupied, and the rest have just a few plumbing and electrical jobs that need wrapping.

From the outside, this 14-unit development looks relatively unremarkable — except for one key difference: there are no gas hookups, no oil or propane tanks. All the homes are completely fossil-fuel free.

In recent years, small developments such as Concord Millrun have cropped up in recognition that the climate crisis calls for radical changes in our use of fossil fuels. And now, a new climate bill signed last week by Governor Charlie Baker contains a provision that could change the landscape significantly: 10 communities in the state can participate in a pilot program that bans the use of fossil fuels in new buildings and major renovations. Where once they were the exception, in these 10 communities, fossil-fuel-free developments will become the rule.

And if the effort succeeds in those communities, advocates say, the rest of the state could eventually follow.

“Ultimately, we need to stop building with fossil fuels, and the easiest way to decarbonize our buildings is for them not to be carbon-full from the beginning,” said Amy Boyd, policy director of the clean energy advocacy group Acadia Center. “The more we keep building with fossil fuels, the harder it’s going to be.”

Cutting emissions from buildings, which account for nearly one third of emissions in Massachusetts, is key to addressing the climate crisis and reaching the state’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. To get there, the state’s climate roadmap calls for widespread electrification of homes, primarily through the use of heat pumps that use electricity to heat and cool homes.

While progress has been slow so far, updates to the energy efficiency program known as Mass Save aim to change that, with new incentives up to $10,000 for installing heat pumps as the sole source of heating and cooling.

[…] “It will, ideally, show that a natural gas ban or a building electrification requirement is feasible, cost-effective, and not something to be afraid of, particularly in the Northeast region of the country,” said Amy Turner, a senior fellow with the Cities Climate Law Initiative at Columbia University’s Sabin Center. “By allowing a handful of municipalities to go ahead and do this, we hopefully will get some more data to support building electrification movement generally.”

Ten cities and towns have already secured local approval and have submitted home rule petitions: Cambridge, Newton, Brookline, Lexington, Arlington, Concord, Lincoln, Acton, Aquinnah, and West Tisbury. But it’s unclear if all of them will meet the affordable housing requirement, and other towns and cities can still apply. The Department of Energy Resources will decide which communities participate.

One potential contender: the city of Boston, where a spokesperson for Mayor Michelle Wu said they are “closely reviewing the rules for participating in the pilot program as part of our broader agenda.” If Boston were to pass a ban on fossil fuels in new buildings, it would be among the first major US cities to take the step, joining New York City, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
» Read article      

skyline
How Local Governments and Communities Are Taking Action to Get Fossil Fuels out of Buildings
By  Leah Louis-Prescott,  Rachel Golden, RMI | Blog Post
August 9, 2022

Across the United States, 80 cities and counties have adopted policies that require or encourage the move off fossil fuels to all-electric homes and buildings. As of August 2022, nearly 28 million people across 11 states live in a jurisdiction where local policies favor fossil fuel-free, healthy buildings. And the momentum behind these policies keeps building — dozens more local governments have strong commitments to decarbonize their buildings stock, which will soon become formal policy.

This national wave of action is motivated by the numerous benefits — in terms of climate, air quality, health, economics, resilience, and safety — of shifting from fossil fuels to zero-emissions electric appliances.

Local governments across the nation are feeling the heat and are eager to help their residents and businesses get off fossil fuels like gas. With the help of local experts, they have created a range of policy solutions, including:
» Blog editor’s note: This article will be of particular interest to activists and policy makers who wish to implement fossil-free building guidelines in their communities.
» Read article     

» More about gas bans

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

high pressure on FERC
N.J. pipeline project could shake up FERC gas reviews
By Niina H. Farah and Miranda Willson, E&E News
August 17, 2022

A proposed Northeast pipeline expansion could test the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approach to scrutinizing demand for new natural gas infrastructure at a time when a slew of states are trying to use less of the fossil fuel.

The Regional Energy Access Expansion (REAE) project is designed to support growing demand for natural gas in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, according to developer Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC. New Jersey state officials, however, have told FERC that the Garden State doesn’t need more gas, in part because of the state’s climate policies and energy efficiency goals.

The tension offers an unusual opportunity for the commission to consider a state’s climate targets before signing off on a pipeline project, according to some legal experts. At the same time, it exposes a key question for the commissioners as they contemplate new approaches to natural gas reviews: What evidence and perspectives should carry the most weight?

“We finally get to see what FERC will do now that they have these data from the state showing that we don’t need more gas capacity,” said Jennifer Danis, a senior staff attorney at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian-leaning think tank that is representing the New Jersey Conservation Foundation opposing the project before the commission.

In a potential first for a pipeline proceeding, the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) have presented FERC with an independent study on the state’s natural gas capacity. Conducted by the consulting firm London Economics International for the BPU last year, the analysis concluded that New Jersey was “well-positioned with available interstate supply beyond 2030,” contrary to gas utilities’ claims of potential shortfalls.

The study was commissioned by the BPU last year as New Jersey seeks to transition off fossil fuels. The Garden State has a target of 100 percent clean energy by 2050 across the electric power, transportation and buildings sectors.
» Read article     

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

heavy demand
Maine weatherization contractors race to hire and expand as demand booms
Contractors registered with Efficiency Maine are on pace to insulate twice as many houses this year as last, with wait times now close to three months. State incentives and soaring oil prices are driving the surge in demand.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
August 16, 2022

Maine weatherization contractors are scrambling to hire and expand as state incentives and soaring oil prices cause a surge in demand for their services.

Contractors registered with Efficiency Maine, the major administrator of efficiency programs in the state, are on pace to insulate twice as many houses this year as last. The average wait time to receive services is now close to three months.

“Every contractor is fully booked,” said Andy Meyer, senior program manager for Efficiency Maine. “Most for months, some for more than that.”

Weatherization is one of the strategies Maine is using in its efforts to cut emissions by 80% by 2050. The state has set a goal of weatherizing 35,000 homes by 2030. And in the past year, several factors have converged to pique consumers’ interest in implementing such measures.

At the beginning of 2022, Efficiency Maine increased its rebates for weatherization services, boosting the rebate rate from 30% to 50% and the lifetime cap on rebates from $3,500 to $5,500. In concert, it launched a $1 million marketing campaign spreading awareness of the incentive program.

Then, fossil fuel prices shot up: The price of heating oil more than doubled from May 2021 to the same month this year, bringing the cost of filling a standard tank over $1,500 in a state where 60% of homes use heating oil.

Now, record numbers of homeowners are interested in better insulating and sealing their homes to cut down on fuel use and costs. By June of this year, requests for rebates were up 254% over June 2021.
» Read article     

sea jack
World’s biggest offshore wind farm company sets 100% renewable target for all suppliers
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
August 15, 2022

Denmark’s Ørsted – the world’s biggest developer of offshore wind projects – has set “a clear expectation” for all its suppliers to use 100% renewable electricity by 2025, marking them as the first company in the world to do so.

In April 2020, Ørsted asked its main suppliers to disclose their own emissions and to set science-based carbon reduction targets, and to begin using 100% renewable electricity in the manufacturing of wind turbines, foundations, cables, substations, and components.

Ørsted is now expanding its supply chain decarbonisation programme to include all its 22,000 suppliers across component manufacturing, transportation, installation, and operation of renewable energy assets, requiring them all to begin using 100% renewable electricity.

“A sustainable future for our planet requires a rapid transition to renewable energy and limiting global warming to 1.5 °C,” said Mads Nipper, group president and CEO of Ørsted.

“That’s why the renewables industry must lead the pack by decarbonising its own supply chain. We’ve transformed Ørsted into a global leader in renewable energy and strongly believe that companies must demand science-aligned climate action from each other as well.”

“We recognise the efforts undertaken by all existing and new suppliers who share our ambitions and will commit to using 100 % renewable electricity. We look forward to working together to achieve this goal as soon as possible and to set a new gold standard for the renewable energy industry.”

Ørsted’s overarching goal is to become carbon-neutral in its own energy generation and operations by 2025, on track to achieving a carbon neutral footprint across the company, its supply chain, and energy trading by 2040.
» Read article     

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

extreme heat belt
Climate study predicts Missouri will see days of 125 degrees by 2053 as part of ‘heat belt’
By Andrew Sullender, Springfield News-Leader
August 17, 2022

Amid this year’s heat wave in southwest Missouri, a new study predicts a new Midwestern ‘heat belt’ to dominate forecasts over the next 30 years.

Released Monday, the peer-reviewed ‘Extreme Heat Model’ created by the First Street Foundation studies the future of climate change in the United States and “identifies the impact of increasing temperatures at a property level, and how the frequency, duration, and intensity of extremely hot days will change over the next 30 years from a changing climate.”

In the study, “Extreme Danger Days” of heat are defined as when temperature exceeds 125 degrees in a given day. The model predicts only 50 counties next year will experience an Extreme Danger Day of heat. But more than 1,000 counties in the United States will experience days of over 125 degrees by 2053.

The vast majority of these counties are geographically concentrated in the Midwest, the model finds — dubbing the more than quarter of U.S. land mass the “Extreme Heat Belt.” This emerging heat belt stretches from the northern Texas and Louisiana borders to Illinois, Indiana, and even into Wisconsin. Of course, right in the center of the heat belt is all of Missouri.

“Increasing temperatures are broadly discussed as averages, but the focus should be on the extension of the extreme tail events expected in a given year,” said Matthew Eby, founder and CEO of First Street Foundation. “We need to be prepared for the inevitable, that a quarter of the country will soon fall inside the Extreme Heat Belt with temperatures exceeding 125 degrees Fahrenheit and the results will be dire.”
» Read article     

heat islands
As Heat Waves Worsen, THIS Policy Predicts Where People Will Die
PBS Weathered, YouTube
August 16, 2022

» Watch video     

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

golden eagle hazard
Wind energy boom and golden eagles collide in the US West
By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press
August 17, 2022

CODY, Wyo. (AP) — The rush to build wind farms to combat climate change is colliding with preservation of one of the U.S. West’s most spectacular predators — the golden eagle — as the species teeters on the edge of decline.

Ground zero in the conflict is Wyoming, a stronghold for golden eagles that soar on 7-foot (2-meter) wings and a favored location for wind farms. As wind turbines proliferate, scientists say deaths from collisions could drive down golden eagle numbers considered stable at best.

Yet climate change looms as a potentially greater threat: Rising temperatures are projected to reduce golden eagle breeding ranges by more than 40% later this century, according to a National Audubon Society analysis.

That leaves golden eagles doubly vulnerable — to the shifting climate and to the wind energy promoted as a solution to that warming world.

“We have some of the best golden eagle populations in Wyoming, but it doesn’t mean the population is not at risk,” said Bryan Bedrosian, conservation director at the Teton Raptor Center in Wilson, Wyoming. “As we increase wind development across the U.S., that risk is increasing.”

Turbine blades hundreds of feet long are among myriad threats to golden eagles, which are routinely shot, poisoned by lead, hit by vehicles and electrocuted on power lines.

[…] Despite the deaths, scientists like Bedrosian say more turbines are needed to fight climate change. He and colleague Charles Preston are finding ways wind companies can reduce or offset eagle deaths, such as building in areas less frequented by the birds, improving habitat elsewhere or retrofitting power poles to make them less perilous when eagles land.

“It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, but it’s a start and I think it’s the way to go,” Preston said. “It’s a societal question: Is there room for them and us? It’s not just golden eagles. They are kind of a window into the bigger picture.”
» Read article     

solar growth
Solar On Track for ‘Staggering’ 30% Growth This Year
By The Energy Mix
August 15, 2022

New solar installations around the world are poised to grow by a “staggering” 30% this year, and the industry can look ahead to double-digit growth each year through 2025, according to a Bloomberg.com analysis that predates the ambitious clean energy provisions in the US$369-billion Inflation Reduction Act adopted by the U.S. Congress last week.

“At the end of the day, the global solar picture is just staggering at this point,” Bloomberg senior clean energy analyst Rob Barnett told Yahoo Finance in late July. “We are on track to install something like 250 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity this year. I know most folks don’t think in gigawatts, but that is a very large amount. It’s more than the installed capacity of a number of European countries.”

(A gigawatt is one billion watts of electricity generating capacity, enough to power about 750,000 North American homes.)

Yahoo cites massive growth in many parts of the world. China, already the world leader in solar capacity, plans to double its new deployment this year. Germany broke its solar generation record in the midst of a searing heat wave July 17, and solar plus wind generation covered 28% of U.S. electricity demand in April, an all-time high.

Barnett maintained the boom is just beginning. “There really is this big, top-line growth scenario that we see unfolding for all of the companies that are participating in the solar supply chain,” he said. And while the cascade of extreme weather events around the world is increasing concern about climate change, the big push is coming from high oil and gas prices driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, coupled with plummeting solar costs.

“I do think there is increasing focus on all sorts of solutions to try to help manage emissions and tackle the concerns of climate change,” Barnett told Yahoo. “But I would actually argue that the bigger driver for clean energy demand, particularly here in Europe, is elevated energy costs.”

Though solar is still an intermittent power source without some form of storage, and fossil energy costs are beginning to come down, “the economics [of renewables] are already quite good,” he added. “And so you’d have to see such a sea change in terms of gas prices or coal prices, if you’re thinking about the power grid, to really reverse some of the trends. And I just don’t think there’s any appetite for it, either.”
» Read article     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

BFD inked
Energy storage industry hails ‘transformational’ Inflation Reduction Act
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 17, 2022

US President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act yesterday, bringing with it tax incentives and other measures widely expected to significantly boost prospects for energy storage deployment.

“The Inflation Reduction Act invests US$369 billion to take the most aggressive action ever — ever, ever, ever — in confronting the climate crisis and strengthening our economic — our energy security,” Biden said.

The legislation was readied for Biden’s signature at a speed which took many by surprise, from the announcement of compromises being reached by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the end of July, to its quick passing in the Senate and then the House of Representatives in just over a fortnight.

Its investment in energy security and climate change mitigation targets a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) levels by 2030, supporting electric vehicles (EVs), energy efficiency and building electrification, wind, solar PV, green hydrogen, battery storage and other technologies.

Most directly relevant to the downstream energy storage industry is the introduction of an investment tax credit (ITC) for standalone energy storage. That can lower the capital cost of equipment by about 30%, although under some prevailing conditions it will be more or less, depending on, for example, use of local unionised labour.

It also unties developers from pursuing a disproportionately high percentage of solar-plus-storage hybrid projects, since prior to the act, batteries were eligible for the ITC, but only if they charged directly from the solar for at least 70% of every year in operation. The industry has campaigned for the standalone ITC for many years.

For the upstream battery and energy storage system value chains, there are also tax incentives for siting production within the US, as there are for wind and solar PV equipment manufacturers that source components or make their products domestically.

There are also 10-year extensions to existing wind and solar ITCs along with new or extended clean energy production tax credits (PTCs) and the ITC for solar goes up from 26% to 30%, while the standalone storage ITC will also be in place for the next decade.
» Read article     

» More about energy storage

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

ESS revenue
ESS Inc ramps iron flow battery production capacity to 500MWh, signs 12GWh Australia deal
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 12, 2022

Iron flow battery company ESS Inc has recognised revenues for the first time since it publicly listed, while also closing in on its targeted annual production capacity of 750MWh.

Alongside its latest quarterly financial results release yesterday, the Oregon, US-headquartered technology provider also announced a major deal for up to 12GWh of its systems to be deployed in a new partnership.

ESS Inc listed on the New York Stock Exchange in late 2021 after a SPAC merger. Having said from the outset that it would likely be a couple of years before it would be able to reach profitability, it has also not been able to recognise revenues until this quarter.

It registered revenues of US$686,000 for Q2 2022, relating to the sale and installation of three of its Energy Warehouse systems, which are behind-the-meter commercial and industrial (C&I) devices of 400kWh capacity each.

ESS Inc is the only manufacturer and holder of patents on its flow batteries, which use an iron and saltwater electrolyte in rugged systems that can deliver long-duration energy storage (4-12 hours’ duration) over many years without the degradation that lithium-ion batteries experience with use, in particular from frequent and deep cycling.

The company also talks up the fact that its electrolyte is non-toxic and uses more abundant raw materials than other flow batteries in their manufacture, with other providers tending to opt for vanadium dissolved in sulfuric acid, or in some cases, zinc-bromine. Alongside Energy Warehouse it also offers a grid-scale unit, Energy Center, which is a 3MW system.
» Read article     

» More about long-duration energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

GMP VPP
This utility keeps customers cool during heat waves while saving them money
Vermont’s Green Mountain Power helped thousands of customers get home batteries. Now it taps them at peak times to prevent high costs and grid outages.
By Julian Spector, Canary Media
August 11, 2022

Again and again this summer, U.S. power grids have struggled to meet demand for electricity to run air conditioners amid heat waves. Utilities and grid operators have asked people to use less electricity in hopes of averting widespread outages in places like Indiana, New York and Texas.

Such pleas put the onus on regular people to keep the grid up and running, instead of the companies that make money from producing electricity. And though ​“demand flexibility” is something that power companies pay for, these emergency calls for customer cutbacks ask people to donate this service for free.

Voluntary customer conservation has helped grids stay functional in dicey situations. But the power sector can do better than hoping people choose not to use air conditioning in a heat wave — especially as extreme weather events and ensuing grid crises worsen due to climate change.

Against that backdrop, Vermont utility Green Mountain Power wants people to know there’s a readily available alternative: instead of asking customers to sacrifice, it uses clean, decentralized energy sources to reduce consumption and save millions of dollars.

[…] Many utilities worry about losing control (and, potentially, revenue) in a world of consumer-owned energy devices; indeed, many startups that sell such devices frame their products as an explicit challenge to the centrally managed, monopolistic utility system. GMP embodies a different vision: a creative utility managing the influx of new localized energy technologies to benefit everyone in its territory.

The fact that this model exists implicitly challenges other utilities to do more with readily available consumer energy technology. There are high-tech alternatives to the frantic pleas to turn down the AC.

[…] Back in 2015, GMP offered customers in its service territory a discount to buy or lease their own Tesla Powerwall home batteries, on one condition: In a pinch, the utility can control the battery for its own needs.

The customers get to use the batteries (offerings now include brands beyond Tesla) however they want almost all the time. Key benefits include storing rooftop solar power and keeping the lights on during a grid outage. But if GMP senses a major weather event — like a storm threatening power lines, or a heat wave driving a spike in air conditioning — it takes control, makes sure the battery is charged up ahead of time and discharges it during the event to deliver extra power when it’s needed most.

All these batteries are pretty small. But there are thousands of them, thanks to years of customer outreach. After starting as a pilot program, the battery offering was codified as a rate option customers can select for their utility services. Renters can participate, with permission from their landlords. And if a resident gets a battery on their own, they can sign it up to participate. GMP now also controls around 1,000 smart electric-car chargers, as well as large-scale batteries at solar power plants, which it can also dispatch to send power to the grid.

All those devices, working in unison, give GMP ample capacity to play with in the form of what’s called a ​“virtual power plant,” or VPP. If the utility control center predicts an hour when demand will peak, it can throw its VPP at it.
» Read article     

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

charge angels
A Frustrating Hassle Holding Electric Cars Back: Broken Chargers
Owners of battery-powered cars sometimes struggle to refuel on longer trips because public chargers don’t work or malfunction while cars are plugged in.
By Niraj Chokshi, New York Times
August 16, 2022

The federal government is doling out billions of dollars to encourage people to buy electric vehicles. Automakers are building new factories and scouring the world for raw materials. And so many people want them that the waiting lists for battery-powered cars are months long.

The electric vehicle revolution is nearly here, but its arrival is being slowed by a fundamental problem: The chargers where people refuel these cars are often broken. One recent study found that about a quarter of the public charging outlets in the San Francisco Bay Area, where electric cars are commonplace, were not working.

A major effort is underway to build hundreds of thousands of public chargers — the federal government alone is spending $7.5 billion. But drivers of electric cars and analysts said that the companies that install and maintain the stations need to do more to make sure those new chargers and the more than 120,000 that already exist are reliable.

Many sit in parking lots or in front of retail stores where there is often no one to turn to for help when something goes wrong. Problems include broken screens and buggy software. Some stop working midcharge, while others never start in the first place.

Some frustrated drivers say the problems have them second-guessing whether they can fully abandon gas vehicles, especially for longer trips.

“Often, those fast chargers have real maintenance issues,” said Ethan Zuckerman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has owned a Chevrolet Bolt for several years. “When they do, you very quickly find yourself in pretty dire straits.”

[…] The climate and energy bill that Congress approved last week includes tax credits for purchases of electric cars and chargers. And last year, lawmakers passed an infrastructure law that authorized $7.5 billion in federal spending to help build public chargers. Just having more chargers available means drivers will be much less likely to become stranded or frustrated if the first one or two they pull up to malfunction.

The money also comes with a requirement that chargers be functional 97 percent of the time and adhere to technical standards for communicating with vehicles.
» Read article     

leading through loans
Bank Australia to steer customers towards electric vehicles with halt to loans for fossil fuel cars in 2025
Announcement at national electric vehicle summit comes as climate change minister seeks input on national EV strategy
By Adam Morton, The Guardian
August 18, 2022

An Australian bank will stop offering loans for new fossil fuel cars from 2025 in a step it says will encourage more people to buy electric vehicles.

The customer-owned Bank Australia will announce the self-imposed ban at a national EV summit in Canberra on Friday, arguing it is a responsible step to ensure its lending practices did not “lock our customers into higher carbon emissions and increasingly expensive running costs”.

The bank’s chief impact officer, Sasha Courville, said the bank, which has 185,000 customers, would continue to fund loans for second-hand cars with internal combustion engines as it recognised not everyone would be able to afford an EV in three years.

But she said the announcement would send a message that “if you’re considering buying a new car you should think seriously about an electric vehicle, both for its impact on the climate and for its lifetime cost savings”.

“We’ve chosen 2025 because the change to electric vehicles needs to happen quickly and we believe it can with the right supporting policies in place to bring a greater range of more affordable electric vehicles to Australia,” she said.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

fracking site
Children born near fracking wells more at risk for leukemia – study
Report looked at over 400 cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia out of a sample of 2,500 Pennsylvania children ages two to seven
By Tom Perkins, The Guardian
August 17, 2022

Young children living near fracking wells at birth are up to three times more likely to later develop leukemia, a new peer-reviewed study conducted by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The alarming report, published on Wednesday in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, looked at over 400 cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia out of a sample of about 2,500 Pennsylvania children ages two to seven. The form of leukemia is the most common type of cancer in children, and though the survival rate is high, it frequently leads to other health problems later in life, like cognitive disabilities and heart disease.

Hydraulic fracking is the process by which oil and gas are extracted from deep beneath the Earth’s surface, and the number of wells proliferated in the 2000s in Pennsylvania and across the country as the industry boomed. More than 10,000 fracking wells were drilled in Pennsylvania between 2002 and 2017, and about one-third are located within 2km (a little over a mile) of a residential groundwater well, the study states.

The study found the risk is highest for those living within 2km of a fracking site, and who were exposed in utero. The data accounted for other factors that could influence cancer risk.

“[Fracking] can both use and release chemicals that have been linked to cancer, so the potential for children living near [fracking wells] to be exposed to these chemical carcinogens is a major public health concern,” said Nicole Deziel, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health.

Though mounting evidence suggests a connection between exposure to fracking pollution and health problems, few studies have examined the connection between exposure and childhood cancer. The Yale study is the largest to examine health impacts on children, and the first to use a novel metric that measures exposure to contaminated drinking water and distance to a well. It fills a significant data gap, the authors say.

The fracking process requires the injection of high amounts of chemical-laden water and sand into the ground, which forces oil and gas into a collection well. Hundreds of chemicals linked to cancer and other health issues may be used in the process, including heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, benzene and radioactive material.

Local ground and surface water is frequently contaminated through spills or releases of fracturing fluids or wastewaters that percolate into groundwater: Pennsylvania recorded about 1,000 spills and 5,000 state environmental violations between 2005 and 2014, the study states.
» Read article     
» Read the study

mug shot
Critics Call Dems’ Climate Bill a “Devil’s Bargain” on Climate. Here’s What the Devil Is Getting.
Evaluating the ugly parts of the historic legislation.
By Nitish Pahwa, Slate
August 13, 2022

Americans feeling the heat of climate change will find a lot to like in the Inflation Reduction Act—and a decent bit to criticize. Overall, the climate movement has cheered the bill’s $370 billion climate investment, albeit with reservations about some of its fossil-fuel tradeoffs. My colleague Jordan Weissmann recently addressed some of the more prominent complaints: that the bill requires federal lands and offshore waters utilized for renewable energy development to also be opened up for oil and gas drilling, and that the deal reached with Sen. Joe Manchin included future concessions that could greenlight a West Virginia gas pipeline and ease the process for permitting new energy projects. Add to all that nitpicks like the IRA’s subsidy of arguable climate solutions like “clean” hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, biofuels, and big electric automobiles to the exclusion of non-car EVs. It’s a lot of buts.

As always, two things can be true: The IRA is an unprecedented and necessary climate bill that will reduce emissions to a significant degree, and it has some flaws. It was never going to be any other way—Democrats’ narrow hold on the Senate, the influence of big business, a hostile judiciary, and Americans’ extreme sensitivity to gas prices meant there would have to be compromises on any climate package. Yet even with these snags, many analyses of the bill have determined it to be a net good. The think tank Energy Innovation calculates that for every ton of carbon emissions from new oil and gas, there will be 24 tons reduced due to measures governing buildings’ energy use, home electrification, and green lands set aside as carbon sinks. So with the IRA now making its way to President Joe Biden’s desk, it’s worth taking stock of just how much of a boon it will be to fossil fuels.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

methane downplay
LNG Exporter Downplays Emissions to Justify Expansion
Cheniere Energy has introduced “cargo emissions tags” to assuage climate concerns of potential buyers. But a new report says these tags are riddled with problems.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
August 12, 2022

A major exporter of U.S. liquefied natural gas is “seeking to greenwash” its operations in order to portray gas exports as a climate solution and clear the way for further expansion, according to a new report.

Global demand for gas has soared in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine, sparking a scramble by U.S. gas exporters to increase export volumes, with the backing of the Biden administration. But building out LNG infrastructure to address an energy crisis is at odds with governments simultaneously trying to slash emissions to address the climate emergency.

In recent months, Cheniere Energy, the largest LNG exporter in the United States, has begun providing emissions data, which it calls “carbon emissions tags,” or CE tags, for its gas.

The tags quantify the greenhouse gas emissions of a given LNG cargo, with the aim of easing buyers’ concerns. The CE tags include emissions from where the gas is drilled upstream, all the way down to the point of export on the coast. The logic is to offer transparency to buyers overseas by disclosing the emissions of each shipment, which would help to clean up the supply chain over time.

But a new report from Oil Change International and Greenpeace USA says the program is riddled with flaws and is broadly aimed at portraying LNG as a clean fuel, rather than actually cleaning up the supply chain, at a time when gas developers are hoping to take advantage of the war in Ukraine to expand operations.

“The industry realizes they have a problem with methane emissions,” Tim Donaghy, a senior research specialist for Greenpeace USA and a coauthor of the report, told DeSmog. He pointed to the 2020 decision by French energy company Engie to back out of a U.S. LNG deal over concerns about runaway methane emissions in American fracking fields. Donaghy said that event hammered home the message to the U.S. gas industry “that they do have to clean up their act, or at least be seen as making progress.”

Cheniere has responded to growing climate concerns by pointing to a study that it funded that shows that emissions from its Sabine Pass facility in Louisiana could displace electricity generated by coal in China, cutting emissions intensity by 47 to 57 percent. Cheniere then introduced CE tags to quantify the emissions of its LNG cargoes.

But Cheniere’s CE tags downplay the industry’s environmental impact, Donaghy said. They rely on EPA calculations that have been shown to underestimate methane releases by shale drillers. The general rule of thumb is that if gas drillers are leaking more than 3.2 to 3.4 percent of the gas they produce, then gas is worse for the climate than coal. The EPA assumes a national methane leakage rate of about 1.4 percent. But it uses models, rather than actual measurements.

Studies have shown that the EPA has consistently undercounted methane pollution from oil and gas operations. The Permian basin in West Texas and New Mexico is particularly dirty — a recent study pegged methane leaks at 9.4 percent, six times worse than EPA estimates, and offered evidence that Permian gas is vastly worse for the climate than coal.

“In the scientific literature, people have come around to the perspective that the EPA is sort of systematically underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure,” Donaghy said. And because Cheniere’s data is premised on the EPA approach, it too is undercounting methane, the report alleges.
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» Read the Permian Basin methane leak study

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