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.
— The NFGiM Team
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
‘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
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
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
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
PEAKING POWER PLANTS
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
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
GREENING THE ECONOMY
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE
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
MODERNIZING THE GRID
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.
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SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES
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.
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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.
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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.
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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
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.
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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.
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