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Weekly News Check-In 6/11/21

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Welcome back.

A public forum on the proposed peaking power plant in Peabody, MA is scheduled for June 22 at the Peter A. Torigian Senior Center at 6:30 p.m. This is an opportunity for clean energy advocates to show up and demand a healthy, emissions-free alternative to the project – one that’s compatible with public health and climate goals.

We welcome the news that Keystone XL pipeline is officially dead. Meanwhile, Enbridge is pushing hard on Line 3 construction across northern Minnesota in the face of surging resistance. This tug-of-war between citizens and fossil interests plays out as climate disruptors like carbon dioxide and methane reach new highs, and as wealthy nations continue to finance natural gas development in the developing world.

With a nod to the reality that climate imperatives don’t automatically prevail over Big Gas & Oil, regulators and legislators in Massachusetts are watching closely as we approach the implementation date for recently passed landmark climate legislation. Of particular concern is the Baker administration’s failure so far to embrace the net-zero language in the state’s future energy efficiency stretch code. Even so, an innovative new program to finance rooftop solar power on affordable housing units should help green up that often-underserved sector.

More broadly in New England, we have a report on proposed governance changes intended to help grid operator ISO-NE modernize to accommodate more rapid growth in renewable energy generation.

We’re heading back to the future, looking at clean transportation from a comfortable seat with amazing views. There’s not much a short-hop jet can do that a blimp can’t do better – bring it on! And for those of us traveling to the blimp port by electric vehicle, scientists have shown (in lab tests) how to extract lithium directly from seawater. If the technique is scalable, it could substantially reduce the environmental impact of obtaining this essential green economy component.

We have a few stories from the fossil fuel industry, including signs that ExxonMobil is exaggerating the performance of Permian Basin fracking operations to appear more favorable to investors. Liquefied natural gas developer Pieridae Energy is also presenting a brave face as it approaches the June 30th deadline to announce its final investment decision (FID) for the Goldboro LNG terminal in Nova Scotia. But we learned that their financial advisor recently stepped away from the project because it’s incompatible with the firm’s desired green image. A year ago, Pieridae lost its engineering firm, KBR, for similar reasons.

A recent International Energy Agency roadmap relies too heavily on biofuels, including forest biomass, according to analysis. Bottom line: we have to stop burning stuff. And in closing, we’re not going to solve the climate crisis without tackling the plastics problem.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

public forum scheduled
Proposed Peabody Power Plant Public Forum Set
The wholesale electric company behind the surge capacity plant project currently on pause will share information and solicit feedback.
By Scott Souza, Patch
June 10, 2021

PEABODY, MA —The wholesale electric company behind a proposed gas-powered surge capacity power plant in Peabody will hold a public meeting on June 22 to share information on the project and address resident concerns.

The project, which has been in the planning stages since 2015, was put on hold on May 11 amid growing opposition from climate advocacy groups and elected officials concerned about quality-of-life issues they say the plant will bring to an already overburdened environmental justice community.

But the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company has said the plant is necessary to satisfy mandatory surge capacity requirements in a way that renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydro cannot reliably accomplish.

The MMWEC said it will solicit feedback during the meeting set for the Peter A. Torigian Center at 6:30 p.m.

“As a capacity resource, Project 2015A — MMWEC’s proposed peaking plant in Peabody — is expected to run just 239 hours per year, producing fewer emissions than 94 percent of similar peaking resources in the region, and will help its participating municipal light plants maintain stable rates for their customers,” the MMWEC said in scheduling the forum.

But advocacy groups Breathe Clean North Shore, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network and Community Action Works plan to deliver a petition to the utility’s Ludlow offices Friday morning demanding that the project be abandoned or altered to only use “clean” energy sources.

They say in the petition that the plant — which would be built at the Waters Street substation near the Peabody/Danvers line — will add to pollution, hamper efforts to combat the climate crisis and potentially create a “stranded asset” whose cost will fall on ratepayers.

The groups had also called for more public input on the project, which until recently moved through the planning process in relative obscurity.
» Read article             

30-day minimum pause
Peabody Power Plant Battle Heats Up As ‘Pause’ Nears 30 Days
Climate advocacy groups will request plans for the oil and gas plant to be altered or abandoned ahead of a decision on the project’s future.
By Scott Souza, Patch
June 8, 2021

PEABODY, MA — As a pause in the plans to build a 60-megawatt gas and oil power plant in Peabody nears 30 days, climate advocacy groups are planning to deliver a petition to the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company behind the project demanding that the utility abandon it or replace it only using clean energy sources.

Breathe Clean North Shore, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network and Community Action Works plan to deliver the petition to the utility’s Ludlow offices Friday morning — one month after the project was delayed amid a sudden swell of community outcry about its potential safety, climate and quality of life impact on Peabody residents and those in surrounding communities.
» Read article             

» More about peaking power plants

PIPELINES

rest in pieces
The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Officially Dead
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
June 10, 2021

The Keystone XL pipeline is officially canceled.

TC Energy, the Canadian company behind the pipeline that would have moved oil from Alberta’s tar sands to Nebraska, confirmed Wednesday that it was giving up on the controversial project.

“The Company will continue to coordinate with regulators, stakeholders and Indigenous groups to meet its environmental and regulatory commitments and ensure a safe termination of and exit from the Project,” the company wrote.

The news was met with jubilation from environmental and Indigenous groups who had spent years battling the project over concerns it would worsen the climate crisis and harm the ecosystems and communities along its route.

“After more than 10 years — we have finally defeated an oil and gas giant! Keystone XL is DEAD!” the Indigenous Environmental Network tweeted in response to the news. “We are dancing in our hearts for this victory!”

The defeated pipeline would have extended 1,179 miles and transported 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, The New York Times explained. It would have ended in Nebraska, but connected to other pipelines that would help the oil complete its journey, as The AP reported.

However, environmental activists have long argued that now was the wrong time to lock in more fossil fuel infrastructure. For them, Wednesday’s victory was a long time coming. Protests against the pipeline first persuaded President Barack Obama to cancel a key permit for the project in 2015. Obama’s decision was then reversed two years later, when President Donald Trump restored the permit early into his term.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

hundreds arrested
Hundreds Arrested at Line 3 ‘Treaty People Gathering.’ Water Protectors Vow To Continue Until the Pipeline is Canceled

Indigenous activists in Northern Minnesota occupied sites of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, seeking to disrupt construction. The action puts national attention on an issue that President Biden has tried to ignore.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 8, 2021

Nearly 200 people were arrested on Monday while protesting the Line 3 pipeline, a long-distance tar sands pipeline that runs across Indigenous land and threatens food and water resources, including the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Indigenous and environmental groups, and even some elected officials, condemned the aggressive use of a helicopter to disperse protesters.

More than 2,000 people began gathering at an undisclosed location in Northern Minnesota over the weekend, answering a call from Indigenous Anishinaabe people and a coalition of environmental groups to disrupt the construction of the pipeline.

The “Treaty People Gathering” kicked off on June 7, when hundreds of water protectors arrived at construction sites where Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company, is ramping up construction of the Line 3 pipeline, which began in June after a several-month hiatus due to weather.

The direct action aims not just to delay and disrupt construction, but also to ratchet up the pressure on the Biden administration to intervene. Biden has avoided a public position on the issue, but growing national attention on the protests could make ignoring the water protectors increasingly difficult for the administration. The silence is all the more glaring as Biden has positioned himself as a champion of both climate action and Indigenous rights.

The Line 3 pipeline has been described as a replacement for an aging line, but much of it traverses new land, and the “replacement” will nearly double the current volume of oil traveling through the system, increasing it to 760,000 barrels per day. The emissions associated with the project would be equivalent to 50 coal-fired power plants.

The threat of oil spills is also not theoretical. In 2010, Enbridge’s Line 6B spilled nearly a million gallons of heavy oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

Those opposing the pipeline’s construction are seeking to deliberately highlight how the project violates Indigenous people’s treaty rights.

“We called this mobilization the Treaty People Gathering because we are all treaty people. Our non-native allies have a responsibility to stand with us against projects like the Line 3 pipeline that put our Anishinaabe lifeways at risk. Today, we’re taking a stand for our right to hunt, fish, and gather, and for the future of the climate,” said Nancy Beaulieau, Northern Minnesota Organizer with MN350 and co-founder of the Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging (RISE) coalition.

The gathering aims to rekindle the spirit and energy of the 2016 Dakota Access pipeline protests, led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a broad swathe of Native and non-Native allies, where thousands of people gathered in North Dakota for several months in the latter half of 2016.
» Read article             

opening day
‘Which Side Are You On?’: #StopLine3 Protesters Appeal to Biden on Historic Day of Action
“We still have time to save our sacred waters and land—our life sources,” said Indigenous organizer Dawn Goodwin.
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
June 7, 2021

In what organizers are calling the largest-ever demonstration of its kind in Minnesota history, more than 2,000 Indigenous-led water protectors on Monday continued nonviolent, direct action protests against the planned replacement and expansion of Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

Stop Line 3 campaigners said over 1,000 water protectors marched with Indigenous leaders to the headwaters of the Mississippi River on the third day of the Treaty People Gathering—which organizers billed as “the beginning of a summer of resistance”—to participate in a treaty ceremony at a proposed Line 3 crossing site.

The $9 billion pipeline project—which if completed will carry up to 750,000 barrels of crude tar sands oil, the world’s dirtiest fuel, from Alberta to the port of Superior, Wisconsin—is slated to traverse Anishinaabe treaty land without tribal consent. The proposed pipeline route crosses more than 200 bodies of water and 800 wetlands, raising serious concerns not only about the project’s impact on the climate emergency, but also about leaks and other accidents opponents say are all but inevitable.

South of the Mississippi headwaters gathering, over 500 activists in coordination and solidarity with the Indigenous women and two-spirit-led Giniw Collective shut down a Line 3 pumping station at Two Inlets, northwest of Park Rapids, with some demonstrators locking themselves to construction equipment.

A low-flying helicopter protesters said belongs to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security kicked up a large dust cloud in an apparent effort to intimidate and disperse activists from the pump station protest site. Water protectors continued their resistance even as police clad in riot gear arrived at the station and reportedly began arresting demonstrators later in the afternoon.
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

seawater mining
Scientists Find Cheap And Easy Way To Extract Lithium From Seawater
By MINING.com, in Oil Price
June 7, 2021

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology developed what they believe is an economically viable system to extract high-purity lithium from seawater.

Previous efforts to tease lithium from the mixture the metal makes together with sodium, magnesium and potassium in seawater yielded very little. Although the liquid contains 5,000 times more lithium than what can be found on land, it is present at extremely low concentrations of about 0.2 parts per million (ppm).

To address this issue, the team led by Zhiping Lai tried a method that had never been used before to extract lithium ions. They employed an electrochemical cell containing a ceramic membrane made from lithium lanthanum titanium oxide (LLTO).

In a paper published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, the researchers explain that the membrane’s crystal structure contains holes just wide enough to let lithium ions pass through while blocking larger metal ions.

The cell itself, on the other hand, contains three compartments. Seawater flows into a central feed chamber, where positive lithium ions pass through the LLTO membrane into a side compartment that contains a buffer solution and a copper cathode coated with platinum and ruthenium. At the same time, negative ions exit the feed chamber through a standard anion exchange membrane, passing into a third compartment containing a sodium chloride solution and a platinum-ruthenium anode.

Lai and his group tested the system using seawater from the Red Sea. At a voltage of 3.25V, the cell generates hydrogen gas at the cathode and chlorine gas at the anode. This drives the transport of lithium through the LLTO membrane, where it accumulates in the side-chamber. This lithium-enriched water then becomes the feedstock for four more cycles of processing, eventually reaching a concentration of more than 9,000 ppm.

According to the researchers, the cell will probably need $5 of electricity to extract 1 kilogram of lithium from seawater. This means that the value of hydrogen and chlorine produced by the cell would end up offsetting the cost of power, and residual seawater could also be used in desalination plants to provide fresh water.
» Read article            
» Read the research paper

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

plumeGlobal carbon dioxide levels continued to rise despite pandemic
Emissions rose to 419 parts per million in May, the highest such measurement in the 63 years that the data has been recorded
By Katharine Gammon, The Guardian
June 8, 2021

The data is in: carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere hit 419 parts per million in May. The levels have now reached the dangerous milestone of being 50% higher than when the industrial age began – and the average rate of increase is faster than ever.

The figure is the highest measurement of the crucial greenhouse gas in the 63 years that data has been recorded at the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii – despite slowdowns in air travel and industry during a global pandemic in the past year.

The 10-year average rate of increase also set a record, now up to 2.4 parts per million per year.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the reason is complex. Global emissions fell by 6.4% in 2020, but given the seasonal and natural variability, modest decreases wouldn’t make a big impact on the global tally of carbon emissions. And even as emissions dropped, wildfires burning through trees released carbon dioxide – maybe even at a similar rate as the modest lowering of emissions from the pandemic’s slowing impact on the global economy.

“The ultimate control knob on atmospheric CO2 is fossil-fuel emissions,” geochemist Ralph Keeling, whose father started gathering data at the Mauna Loa site, told Noaa. “But we still have a long way to go to halt the rise, as each year more CO2 piles up in the atmosphere. We ultimately need cuts that are much larger and sustained longer than the Covid-related shutdowns of 2020.”

In order to meet the goals of the Paris climate accords – to keep temperature rise to 1.5C – the United Nations Environment Programme report finds countries need to cut their global emissions by 7.6% every year for the next decade.

“Reaching 50% higher carbon dioxide than pre-industrial is really setting a new benchmark and not in a good way,” said the Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald, who wasn’t part of the research.

“If we want to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we need to work much harder to cut carbon dioxide emissions and right away.”
» Read article             

Akaraolu flare
Wealthy Nations Continue to Finance Natural Gas for Developing Countries, Putting Climate Goals at Risk
Advocates are calling for an end to natural gas development, but some poor nations say doing so would unfairly penalize them and stifle economic growth.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
June 7, 2021

As the world’s governments try to raise their collective climate ambitions, one of the biggest questions is whether developing countries can expand their access to energy and reduce poverty without driving a sharp rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

A new report warns that wealthy nations are still pushing in the wrong direction, by continuing to finance new natural gas infrastructure across the global south. While natural gas once held the promise of serving as a “bridge fuel” to a cleaner future, a growing body of scientific research suggests the fossil fuel will need to be phased out rapidly in coming decades in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The analysis, published Monday by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a climate think tank, looked at spending by multilateral finance groups like the World Bank and government lenders like the United States Export-Import Bank. It found that the groups provided an average of $15.9 billion annually to gas projects in low- and middle-income countries from 2017 through 2019, more than to any other energy source and four times as much as to wind or solar energy.

“What we’re seeing is increasing pressure on developing countries from the global gas industry and from international institutions to expand their production and consumption of natural gas,” said Greg Muttitt, senior policy adviser at the sustainable development institute and the report’s lead author. “We’re concerned about this because it’s quite clear that with how late we are in the climate crisis, we really need to be winding down fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

Muttitt said preliminary data from last year, which covers multilateral lenders only, shows an encouraging trend: For the first time, clean energy received more financing than fossil fuels—four times as much. Still, gas continued to draw billions of dollars in support, even as funding for oil and coal fell.

The report comes as leaders of the wealthy G7 nations prepare to meet this week in the United Kingdom. Last month, the climate and environment ministers from G7 countries issued a joint message committing to “take concrete steps towards an absolute end” this year to international financing of coal-fired power plants that aren’t fitted with technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions. They also said they would phase out support for fossil fuel energy more broadly, but did not set a timeline and allowed exceptions “in limited circumstances.”
» Read article             

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

STAR program MA
Massachusetts group tests new model for solar on affordable housing projects

The Solar Technical Assistance Retrofits will offer financial and technical assistance to community development agencies interested in rooftop solar, with private investors providing the upfront capital
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 11, 2021

A Massachusetts program announced Thursday that it has secured $10 million to invest in up to 3 megawatts of solar projects on affordable housing buildings.

The Solar Technical Assistance Retrofits program, or STAR, will offer financial and technical assistance to community development agencies interested in installing rooftop solar as a way to lower energy costs.

“We believe that affordable housing should have full access to clean energy just like everyone else — it’s an equity issue,” said Emily Jones, senior program officer at the Local Initiatives Support Corp. in Boston, one of the agencies developing the program.

Solar panels offer environmental and financial benefits to housing agencies, including freeing up money to invest elsewhere or pass savings on to residents. Community development groups also generally serve neighborhoods that stand to feel a disproportionate impact from climate change.

However, over the past decade or so, the tight budgets of these nonprofits have meant few new affordable developments have included solar panels. Many, perhaps most, have instead opted for solar-ready construction, with roofs and electrical systems designed to support a hypothetical future solar system.

But once a development is built, new challenges to going solar appear. The buildings are generally operated with very small margins, leaving the agencies with little money to invest in solar installations.

Furthermore, affordable housing agencies generally own multiple buildings, each with its own advantages and obstacles for solar panels. Researching the often complex and technical options and seeking out financing partners can be too much for agency staff that is already stretched thin. Even the seemingly minor detail of freeing up staff to gather the information and complete the paperwork a solar developer needs can become a major stumbling block.

The STAR program, which launched in January, is designed to address this complex set of obstacles in a way other programs have not. Participating organizations receive grants to help them launch the process, in-depth analyses of their solar options from a local solar developer, and access to financing to help them install solar panels, often with no upfront cost.
» Read article             

proceed with cautionThe Department of Energy is trying to make clean hydrogen this generation’s ‘moonshot’
New “Energy Earthshots” initiative aims to make clean hydrogen cheap.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
June 8, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy announced a new “Energy Earthshots” initiative on Monday, evoking the spirit of ambition that put astronauts on the moon in the 1960s. This time, the goal is to accelerate the development of clean energy solutions that will help tackle climate change.

The initiative will focus on bringing down the cost of technologies that will enable the U.S. to achieve a net-zero emissions energy system by 2050, a crucial benchmark for preventing runaway global warming. First up is the “Hydrogen Shot” —  a goal to get the cost of clean hydrogen from $5 per kilogram down to $1 by 2030, or an 80 percent drop.

“Clean hydrogen is a game changer,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “It will help decarbonize high-polluting heavy-duty and industrial sectors, while delivering good-paying clean energy jobs and realizing a net-zero economy by 2050.”

Hydrogen is a flexible fuel that can be used in a range of applications and doesn’t release any greenhouse gases when it’s burned. Today the United States produces about a seventh of the world’s hydrogen, which is primarily used in oil refineries and to produce ammonia for fertilizer. But hydrogen could be key to cutting emissions from some of the hardest-to-decarbonize activities, such as industrial processes, steelmaking, storing clean energy for the power grid, and powering heavy-duty vehicles.

The problem is that today, about 95 percent of all hydrogen is made by reacting steam with natural gas in a process that releases carbon dioxide emissions. The Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Shot initiative aims to scale up methods of producing the fuel cleanly, using renewable electricity, nuclear power, or natural gas or biomass with  carbon capture technology to prevent emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Clean hydrogen production does exist today at a small scale, and is mainly inhibited by cost. But larger projects are underway. A utility in Florida is building a pilot plant to produce hydrogen from excess solar power, and New York-based company Plug Power has announced plans for three new hydrogen production facilities in New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas that will produce the fuel using hydropower and wind energy.
» Blog editor’s note: Green hydrogen does have a place in our energy future, but producing it from natural gas or biomass (even with carbon capture) would be environmentally problematic. So would overuse of this resource – for instance, using it for any applications that could be handled by wind/solar/storage assets. We’ll be watching this topic closely.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

watch time
Watchdogs on alert ahead of climate law implementation
By Colin A. Young, WWLP, Chanel 22 News
June 9, 2021

BOSTON (SHNS) – Seventy-five days ago Wednesday, senators, representatives and administration officials gathered in the State Library to watch Gov. Charlie Baker sign a wide-reaching climate policy law. That means there are just 15 days left before it takes effect, and the lead Senate architect of the law made clear Wednesday he will be watching its implementation closely.

Sen. Michael Barrett spoke as part of the Northeast Clean Energy Council and Alliance for Business Leadership’s annual Massachusetts Clean Energy Day, an event that also featured his House counterpart Rep. Jeff Roy and Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock […].

“I want to emphasize the Senate’s interest in following through with implementation of the 2021 climate act. The Senate as a body has a lot invested here,” Barrett said, adding that even though the law was a result of legislative and executive branch collaboration, “small gaps” remain between how the Senate would like to see the law implemented and the Baker administration’s perspective.

The law Baker signed in March after months of stops and starts commits Massachusetts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, establishes interim emissions goals between now and the middle of the century, adopts energy efficiency standards for appliances, authorizes another 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power and addresses needs in environmental justice communities.

Barrett has taken a watchdog role in the law’s implementation since the governor’s signature was still wet. Minutes after the bill signing, he told the News Service he was concerned that the Baker administration had tried to “evade legislative intent” of the new law. On Wednesday, he pointed specifically to the law’s provision calling for a municipal opt-in net-zero stretch energy code — which was a major point of contention between the Legislature and governor during debate on the bill — as an area of concern.

“The framing, verbally, of the administration’s responsibility here by others in the administration has tended to drop the words ‘net-zero’ out of the conversation, which is really strange because we not only require in statute that there be a definition of net zero building, we also require that there be, and I’m quoting from the statute, ‘net-zero building performance standards’ promulgated by the end of 2022,” he said. The senator added, “So there’s still a difference between legislative intention, which is pretty clear, and what the administration says it intends to do with drafting the net-zero stretch energy code.”

Barrett said the Senate would be “dead serious” about making sure “that the politics within the executive branch, which may include builders and developers, don’t somehow throw us off path.”

“I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I haven’t seen a significant indication really that there’s unambivalent buy-in by the executive at the current time, current company exempted,” he said.

Barrett excluded Woodcock from his criticisms throughout his remarks Wednesday. During his own remarks, Woodcock mentioned that DOER is “moving forward with building code updates, not only with our stretch code but looking at a municipal opt-in that includes a definition of net-zero.”
» Read article             

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

MOPR reform
New England states push for governance changes in ISO-NE, ahead of anticipated MOPR reform
To quell state frustrations, regulators say conversations will have to move beyond reforming the controversial minimum price rule.
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
June 7, 2021

State regulators in the Northeast are cautiously optimistic that the new administration and improved relations with their grid operator will finally place their states — and their region — on a path toward dramatically reducing emissions in the next decade. But much of that progress depends on whether structures within the New England ISO change beyond the reversal of controversial orders in the region, they say.

Almost every state in the ISO New England footprint has an ambitious mandate or goal for clean electricity in the coming decades, requiring large amounts of renewable energy to come onto the power system. But efforts by the grid operator to prevent price suppression in the region, as a result of increasing levels of subsidized resources, led to tensions between the regional operator and state officials in recent years — specifically, rules set under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2018 to reform its capacity auction by splitting it in two. Under the first auction, the minimum offer price rule (MOPR) would apply, effectively raising the bidding price of all state-subsidized resources. The second auction is an attempt to somewhat rectify this by allowing cleared resources to substitute themselves out for newer, state sponsored resources, and get paid for doing so.

Ultimately, this rule, approved in 2018 and known as Competitive Auctions with Sponsored Policy Resources (CASPR), heightened the conflict between states and their regulators, and for a time cemented the MOPR as an appropriate response to concerns over state-subsidized resources. States felt the rules would interfere with the laws binding them to bring on more clean energy, and regulators became increasingly frustrated when faced with regional policies they believed would not allow them to fulfill their statutory duties to implement those laws.

But now, under a new FERC and faced with a wave of political backlash — including some states in the also MOPRed PJM Interconnection threatening to exit the markets altogether, and a letter sent to the ISO in October from five Northeast states demanding changes to the market’s design, planning process and governance — FERC and the grid operators are working to rectify those policies, and give states a more central voice in the discussion.

“The MOPR regimes and Eastern capacity markets have pretty much forced us to get to a situation where we’re at battle, in many cases, with the states — and needlessly so, in my opinion,” said FERC Chair Richard Glick, who consistently opposed the orders when he was a commissioner, during FERC’s second technical conference in May on re-evaluating resource adequacy in the markets.
» Read article             

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Airlander 10
Inside of world’s largest airship revealed in stunning images
By Edd Gent, Live Science
June 8, 2021

New details about one of the world’s largest aircraft, Airlander 10, reveal a spacious cabin with floor-to-ceiling windows (and plenty of legroom) inside the blimp-like exterior. And the futuristic aircraft will be loads better for the environment.

British company Hybrid Air Vehicles recently released concept images of its forthcoming airship, which is 299 feet (91 meters) long and 112 feet (34 m) wide, with the capacity to hold about 100 people. But rather than being crammed in like sardines, passengers will be treated to floor-to-ceiling windows and the kind of space and legroom commercial airlines currently reserve for business-class customers.

The firm thinks the vehicle, which is expected to enter service by 2025, will soon challenge conventional jets on a number of popular short-haul routes, thanks to its improved comfort and 90% lower emissions.

“The number-one benefit is reducing your carbon footprint on a journey by a factor of 10,” Mike Durham, Hybrid Air Vehicles’ chief technical officer, told Live Science. “But also, while you’re going to be in the air a little bit longer than you would if you were on an airplane, the quality of the journey will be so much better.”

The Airlander is so much greener than a passenger plane, Durham said, primarily because it relies on a giant balloon of helium to get it into the air. In contrast, airplanes need to generate considerable forward thrust with their engines before their wings can provide the lift to get them airborne.

Once it’s in the air, the airship relies on four propellers on each corner of the aircraft to push it along. In the first generation, two of these propellers will be powered by kerosene-burning engines, but the other two will be driven by electric motors, further reducing the vehicle’s carbon emissions. By 2030, the company expects to provide a fully electric version of the Airlander.
» Read article             

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

just another frackerExxon is Telling Investors its Permian Fracking Projects are ‘World Class’. The Data Says Otherwise.
A new report finds that the productivity of ExxonMobil’s wells in the Permian basin declined in 2019, raising “troubling questions about the quality” of its assets.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 10, 2021

ExxonMobil’s production numbers in the Permian basin in West Texas and New Mexico appear to have deteriorated in 2019, according to new analysis, calling into question the company’s claims that it is an industry leader and that its operations are steadily becoming more efficient over time.

Chastened by years of poor returns and rising angst among its own shareholders, ExxonMobil narrowed its priorities in 2020 to just a few overarching areas of interest, focusing on its massive offshore oil discoveries in Guyana and its Permian basin assets, two areas positioned as the very core of the company’s growth strategy.

Exxon has long described its Permian holdings as “world class,” and the company prides itself on being an industry leader in both size and profitability.

“For our largest resource, which is in the Delaware Basin, we’re only just about to unleash the hounds,” Neil Chapman, the head of Exxon’s oil and gas division, said at its March 2020 Investor Day conference. The Delaware basin is a subset of the Permian basin, stretching across West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

But while the pandemic and the oil market downturn forced cuts in spending, the company’s belief in the Permian and its assurances about its quality remain unshaken.

This is despite ExxonMobil’s wells in the Permian producing less oil on average in 2019 than they did in 2018, according to a new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). The decline raises “troubling questions about the quality” of those assets, the report states, and the company’s “ability to sustain the industry-leading production that the company has been touting to investors.”

IEEFA used data from IHS Markit, an industry analysis firm, the same data that Exxon itself uses in its presentation to investors. The data show that Exxon’s average first-year production per well in the Delaware portion of the Permian basin fell from 635 barrels per day in 2018 to 521 barrels per day in 2019. The slip in performance came as the company drilled twice as many wells over that timeframe.

“[A]s ExxonMobil drilled more Delaware Basin wells, the performance of its wells deteriorated year-over-year, both absolutely and in comparison with peers,” IEEFA analysts Clark Williams-Derry and Tom Sanzillo wrote in their report. Data for 2020 is not complete, but so far, the numbers suggest a further deterioration.
» Read article            
» Read the IEEFA report

Permian Basin flare
Cleaning Up Methane Pollution From Permian Super Emitters is ‘Low Hanging Fruit’ for the Climate, Study Finds
Experts shine a spotlight on the worst offenders in the Permian basin. The technological fixes are obvious, they say, but state regulators are so far unwilling to act.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 4, 2021

Only a handful of super emitters are responsible for an enormous amount of the methane pollution in the Permian basin, according to a new study. And ratcheting down these emissions can lead to quick and significant wins for the climate.

According to the study published on June 2 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, a relatively small number of sites — 11 percent — account for nearly a third of methane emissions in the region. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas — more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time-frame.

Between September and November 2019, a team of scientists from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University, conducted aerial flights over the Permian basin, using sensors to detect methane plumes, tracing them back to specific emitters. The researchers found that roughly half of all the methane was escaping from drilling sites, and the other half from pipelines and processing facilities, indicating a slightly larger pollution footprint for pipelines compared to other regions.

The findings come at the same time as a separate study from Ceres and Clean Air Task Force, published on June 1, which found that some smaller oil drillers in the Permian basin have worse methane pollution rates than the largest oil and gas companies’ operations there, including ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Slashing methane emissions represents prime targets for climate action. But while the solutions are well-known, researchers and legal experts told DeSmog that state regulators have done very little to compel the industry to clean up.
» Read article            
» Read the study

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Societe GeneraleCanada’s Pieridae Energy hires MUFG as SocGen exits over emissions worries
By Sabrina Valle and Simon Jessop, Reuters
May 28, 2021

RIO DE JANEIRO/LONDON (Reuters) – Canada’s Pieridae Energy Ltd has hired Japanese lender MUFG Bank to help raise $10 billion for its proposed Goldboro liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plant in Nova Scotia, it told Reuters on Thursday.

The decision to hire a new banker came after Societe Generale SA, its previous financial advisor, committed to phasing out of new shale financing on environmental grounds.

Societe Generale confirmed it had stopped providing support to both Goldboro and a separate project, Quebec LNG, to limit exposure to shale oil and gas production in North America by 2023.

Historically a backer of LNG projects, SocGen’s departure further reduces investment options for a dozen North American LNG projects still requiring financing. Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC also have tightened restrictions on lending for high-carbon energy projects.
» Blog editor’s note: Pieridae plans to develop the Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia – a potential destination for fracked gas traveling through the controversial Weymouth compressor station. A year ago, their engineering contractor KBR quit the project to clean up its environmental portfolio. Their financial advisor just did the same thing.
» Read article        

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

biomass facts for VicBiomass is false solution to climate change
Recent state decisions are a step in right direction
By Philip Duffy and Alexander Rabin, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
May 14, 2021
Dr. Philip Duffy is president and executive director of Woodwell Climate Research Center in Woods Hole and Dr. Alexander Rabin is assistant professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine specializing in pulmonary and critical care medicine.

FOR TOO LONG, burning wood has been wrongly considered “clean” energy, when in fact it is bad for both the climate and human health. With two recent decisions, Massachusetts seems poised to reverse direction on this false solution and prioritize healthier communities and a safer climate. While these are steps in the right direction, they are only the first of what is needed, and the Commonwealth has an opportunity to lead.

Springfield is the nation’s “asthma capital,” where residents face some of the highest rates of respiratory illness in the country as a result of decades of environmental hazards and heightened levels of air pollution. Springfield is also an environmental justice community, whose residents have spent 12 years fighting construction of a biomass plant proposed in their backyard. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection recently revoked the developer’s Air Plan Approval, citing “the heightened focus on environmental and health impacts on environmental justice populations from sources of pollution” in the nine years since the permit was first approved.

This decision and a new proposal from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to strengthen the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard are welcome recognition that the health and well-being of the community and the environment are inextricably linked.

While these are huge steps in the right direction for Springfield, as well as for other environmental justice communities, in Massachusetts and many other states burning wood to generate electricity is currently considered “renewable” and eligible for incentives under the states’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, a policy that is intended to drive adoption of “clean” energy. But biomass is a false solution that serves neither our climate nor our communities.

For humanity to have a viable future, climate and public health policies must be based on science, not industry messaging. And the science is clear: to have a chance of an acceptable future, we need to immediately and drastically reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere, and also remove a massive amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. Burning our forests is incompatible with both of those goals and harmful to our health.
» Read article            

IEA roadmap on bioenergy
The IEA’s New Net Zero ‘Roadmap’ is Dangerously Reliant on Destructive Bioenergy
The influential agency is also wildly overestimating the amount of bioenergy currently in production, argues Biofuelwatch’s Almuth Ernsting.
By Almuth Ernsting, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
June 1, 2021
Almuth Ernsting is Co-director of Biofuelwatch and Regional Focal Point for the Global Forest Coalition in Europe and North America.

The International Energy Agency’s new “Net Zero by 2050” report has won plaudits for its bold recommendations on how the world can limit warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement:  no investment in new fossil fuel projects, and an end to petrol and diesel cars by 2035.

But the vision it presents governments is fantastic in another sense of the word, too.

From 2030 onwards, the IEA sees technologies that don’t yet work at scale doing much of the heavy lifting. In reality, annual carbon dioxide emissions reliably mirror the state of countries’ economies, dipping only during recessions.

As for the not-yet-proven technologies, I can think of no better reply than Greta Thunberg’s tweet slamming US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry for his recent remark that half of emissions cuts would need to come from technologies we don’t currently possess: “Great news! I spoke to Harry Potter and he said he will team up with Gandalf, Sherlock Holmes & The Avengers and get started right away!”

The IEA is made up of thirty member states and eight associated countries, comprising most of the world’s economic power. Its reports both reflect and shape the prevailing paradigm for how governments respond to the climate crisis.

In this light, one of the most pernicious elements of the IEA’s net-zero scenario is the future role it foresees for bioenergy.

This bioenergy “vision” has been rightly criticised as a “false solution” by environmental NGOs. Converting land to biofuel production can have a disastrous impact on both the climate and biodiversity. Palm oil biofuels are linked to three times the carbon emissions of the fossil fuels they replace, and soy biofuels have twice the emissions footprint. Meanwhile, industrial crop and tree plantations are associated with widespread land-grabbing, human rights abuses, and loss of access to food.

So there are numerous drawbacks to the IEA’s supposedly modest bioenergy scenario, which by our estimates would involve a more than four-fold increase in land used for crop and tree plantations, as well as a growing reliance on forest wood. This would worsen climate change and biodiversity loss and lead to a new wave of land-grabbing likely accompanied by human rights abuses and loss of food sovereignty in the Global South.
» Read article             

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND ENVIRONMENT

ocean bound plastic
Ocean Plastic: What You Need to Know
By Audrey Nakagawa, EcoWatch
June 8, 2021

Ocean bound plastic is plastic waste that is headed toward our oceans. The term “ocean bound plastic” was popularized by Jenna Jambeck, Ph.D., a professor from the University of Georgia. In 2015, she and a team of researchers estimated the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean from land.

Addressing ocean bound plastic is a key element to ocean conservation. Around 80% of plastic in the ocean can be sourced back to ocean bound plastic. Plastics that end up near bodies of water such as rivers are at risk of ending up in the ocean. Other plastic can reach the sea through sewage systems or storms. For example, in 2011, after the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami and earthquake hit Japan, around 5 million tons of debris ended up in the ocean. Some of the debris sank while some ended up on the U.S. west coast. Additionally, trash and plastic can come from ships or offshore platforms. However, decades ago, countries dumped their waste directly into the sea. In the U.S. this was outlawed in 1988 in the Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988.

Plastic waste is a huge threat to our Earth, and diverting ocean bound plastic is one way we can do better to help the environment.

Each year, despite conservation efforts, 8 million tons of plastic reaches our oceans to meet the 150 million metric tons of plastic that already exists in marine environments. According to the Smithsonian, as of 2016, we produce around 335 million metric tons of plastic each year. Half of this plastic is single-use. Of the plastic we use globally, only around 9% of it gets properly recycled.

To create a mental picture of just how much plastic ends up in our oceans, imagine a garbage truck the size of New York City depositing its garbage into the ocean every minute of every day for a whole year. If this doesn’t frighten you enough, the amount of plastic that will be produced and consumed is supposed to double over the course of the next ten years. If nothing is done to address plastic consumption, and the aftermath, there could be over 250 million metric tons of plastic in our oceans in ten years.

Even if you don’t live on a coast, the plastic you throw away can still end up in the ocean. According to the World Wildlife Fund, plastic ends up in the ocean when it’s thrown away instead of recycled, when it’s littered on land, and when products we use are flushed down the drain or toilet. Additionally, cosmetic or cleaning products that contain parabens or microplastic beads can be washed into the ocean.
» Read article             

plastic debris
Who’s Making — and Funding — the World’s Plastic Trash?
ExxonMobil, Dow, Barclays, and more top lists in a new report ranking the companies behind the single-use plastic crisis.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
May 18, 2021

ExxonMobil is the world’s single largest producer of single-use plastics, according to a new report published today by the Australia-based Minderoo Foundation, one of Asia’s biggest philanthropies.

The Dow Chemical Company ranks second, the report finds, with the Chinese state-owned company Sinopec coming in third. Indorama Ventures — a Thai company that entered the plastics market in 1995 — and Saudi Aramco, owned by the Saudi Arabian government, round out the top five.

Funding for single-use plastic production comes from major banks and from institutional asset managers. The UK-based Barclays and HSBC, and Bank of America are the top three lenders to single-use plastic projects, the new report finds. All three of the most heavily invested asset managers named by the report — Vanguard Group, BlackRock, and Capital Group — are U.S.-based.

“This is the first-time the financial and material flows of single-use plastic production have been mapped globally and traced back to their source,” said Toby Gardner, a Stockholm Environment Institute senior research fellow, who contributed to the report, titled The Plastic Waste Makers Index.

The report is also the first to rank companies by their contributions to the single-use plastic crisis, listing the corporations and other financiers it says are most responsible for plastic pollution — with major implications for climate change.

“The trajectories of the climate crisis and the plastic waste crisis are strikingly similar and increasingly intertwined,” Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president, wrote in the report’s foreword. “Tracing the root causes of the plastic waste crisis empowers us to help solve it.”

The world of plastic production is concentrated in fewer hands than the world of plastic packaging, the report’s authors found. The top twenty brands in the plastic packaging world — think Coca Cola or Pepsi, for example — handle about 10 percent of global plastic waste, report author Dominic Charles told DeSmog. In contrast, the top 20 producers of plastic polymers — the building blocks of plastics — handle over half of the waste generated.

“Which I think was really quite staggering,” Charles, director of Finance & Transparency at Minderoo Foundation’s Sea The Future program, told DeSmog. “It means that just a handful of companies really do have the fate of the world’s single-use plastic waste in their hands.”
» Read article             

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 6/4/21

banner 09

Welcome back.

Plans for a new peaking power plant in Peabody are on hold while the developer and stakeholders explore the feasibility of greener alternatives. Pressure is building to make this exploration more public.

We have recently noticed a development in gas industry messaging – applied both to the Peabody peaker and Weymouth compressor station – that these facilities actually reduce overall fossil fuel consumption because they backstop intermittent energy sources like solar and wind. According to this narrative, readily availability gas-generated power allows the rapid and extensive integration of clean energy onto the grid. That’s true, but we now have reliable, non-emitting alternatives that accomplish the same result, often at lower cost.

So we consider this nothing more than pro-gas propaganda, and suspect that the consistency of the messaging results from gas industry coordination. Expect to see more of it. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) just released its flagship report stating that the climate can’t handle any new fossil fuel infrastructure. It is unequivocal – stop now. Not “soon”, and not once we’ve crossed some fantastical, conceptual “bridge”.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) just published a report describing this clean energy transition in great detail. The report places much higher importance on the development of demand side flexibility in conjunction with battery storage, in preference to the current model that underpins capacity with fossil fuel generation.

That overview sets the stage for a lot of recent news. In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities failed to get approval to build its Granite Bridge pipeline, and is now seeking other ways to increase sales of natural gas. Protests and actions continue worldwide, pushing back against continued efforts to add fossil fuel infrastructure. This includes risky activism in Uganda in opposition to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, and a big win as a Dutch court told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned. In related developments, a new financial disclosure rule in Switzerland requires large Swiss banks and insurance companies to disclose risks associated with climate change.

This all follows a very bad couple of weeks for the fossil fuel industry, when a combination of court rulings and climate-centered investors generated multiple “End of Oil” headlines. One exception is the Biden administration’s unfortunate approval of a major new Alaska oil drilling project. Contending for a new benchmark in the “absurd” category, ConocoPhillips will install chillers in the soggy permafrost which otherwise is too melty to support drilling rigs. That permafrost, of course, is melting because we have already burned too much fossil fuel and warmed the planet to dangerous levels. The chillers will re-freeze enough of that ground to allow the extraction, transport, and combustion of lots of oil for thirty more years.

Our Greening the Economy, Energy Storage, and Clean Transportation sections are all related this week. They grapple with environmental issues surrounding lithium – the primary component in electric vehicle and most grid-scale storage batteries. Articles explore greener sources and alternative technologies that could reduce the impact. We also launched a new section, Modernizing the Grid, to cover what promises to be a critical and complex project.

Wrapping up, we offer an opinion on how to eliminate recently approved rail transportation of liquefied natural gas, along with a view from North Carolina of the biomass pellet industry’s toll on health and the environment.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

exploring batteries
Could batteries replace a proposed peaker plant in Massachusetts?   

As a municipal power supplier pauses plans to build a natural gas peaker plant, advocates are urging its backers to consider battery storage instead, but questions remain about whether it’s practical for the site.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 2, 2021

Environmental activists and local residents in Massachusetts are urging the group behind a planned natural gas power plant to consider whether battery storage could do the job with fewer climate concerns. 

“It’s six years since this project was proposed,” said Susan Smoller, a resident of Peabody, where the plant would be sited. “We have different alternatives available to us now and we should at least talk about it before we commit.”

The organization developing the plant announced last month that it will pause its plans for at least 30 days to address community concerns and reevaluate possible alternatives, but some involved are still skeptical that storage could be a viable solution. 

The proposed plant is a project of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), a nonprofit that helps municipal utilities procure power supply and advocates for their interests. The 55-megawatt facility would be a so-called “peaker plant,” intended to run only at times of peak demand, estimated at no more than 250 hours per year.

Opponents of the plant are concerned about the additional greenhouse gas emissions as well as the potential for ground-level pollution in an area that is already exposed to high levels of ozone. They also worry that laws and regulations will make the burning of fossil fuels obsolete, leaving consumers on the hook for an $85 million plant that isn’t even used. 

“I don’t want to be paying for an outmoded dirty peaker plant 25 years from now when it’s not even legal to run them,” Smoller said. 

Resistance to the proposed plant has picked up in recent months, as stakeholders have learned more about the plan and started speaking up. In May, a group of 87 health care professionals sent MMWEC a letter opposing the plan. 

In the face of this growing opposition, MMWEC decided to take what it called the “unusual step” of putting a hold on its plans to take “another look at whether advancements in technology make a different approach possible today.” 

Experts say that, in general, battery storage is a viable alternative for plants that only run when demand is highest. Batteries could charge up during times of lower demand, when the power supply is generally from cleaner sources, and then discharge at times of high demand, displacing the energy from peaker plants, which is generally dirtier and more expensive. A study by nonprofit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy found that two-thirds of Massachusetts peaker plants burn primarily oil, a high-emissions fuel. 

As more renewable energy is added to the grid, the power charging the batteries will get yet cleaner, amplifying the impact.

“It’s not a matter of, ‘Can it do it?’ It’s doing it,” said Jason Burwen, interim chief executive of the Energy Storage Association. “The question is the specifics.”
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants               

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no compressor stationThe Weymouth Compressor Station
By Joseph Winters, The Harvard Political Review
May 24, 2021

On Oct. 1, 2020, residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, gathered on the Fore River Bridge for a socially-distanced rally. Wearing masks and waving hand-drawn posters, they were protesting a natural gas compressor station that had been built in their community by the Canadian oil company Enbridge.

“Shut it down!” their signs read. “Stop Enbridge. Enough is enough.”

It was supposed to be day one of the compressor station’s operation. Despite six years of fierce opposition from community groups, elected officials, and environmental organizations, Enbridge had finally secured the suite of permits necessary to build and operate a natural gas compressor station — a facility needed to keep gas flowing north through the company’s pipelines — in the town of Weymouth, just a few miles south of Boston.

But things had not gone according to plan. Earlier that month, on Sept. 11, a system failure had forced workers to vent 169,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas and 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds from the compressor station, releasing it into the surrounding community. Some of those compounds included toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, damage to the liver and central nervous system, and more. 

Then, on the morning of Sept. 30, just one day before the compressor station was scheduled to begin operating, a roaring sound emanated from the facility, signaling another “unplanned release” of natural gas — a mechanical failure that automatically triggered the compressor station’s emergency shutdown system and vented more gas into the neighborhood.

Rep. Stephen Lynch alerted residents of the September 30 shutdown later that day. “These accidents endangered the lives of local residents,” he said in a tweet, “and are indicative of a much larger threat that the Weymouth Compressor Station poses to Weymouth, Quincy, Abington, and Braintree residents.”

Within hours, a federal agency issued a stay on the compressor’s operation until a safety investigation could be completed. 

So on Oct. 1, as the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) gathered on the Fore River Bridge, the compressor station had already been shut down — albeit temporarily. They continued with the demonstration anyway, folding the station’s system failures into their suite of objections to the project, alongside issues of safety, pollution, and environmental justice.

“2 system failures in one month!” one demonstrator’s sign read. “What the FRRACS is going on?”

Besides the long-term health consequences of industrial pollution, FRRACS and its allies have argued that the compressor station imposes an unacceptable risk of disaster onto the community. “They’re trying to plant a bomb in our neighborhood,” one resident said at a public hearing before the station was built.

The possibility of a catastrophic accident is neither negligible nor unprecedented. Most significantly, compressor malfunctions can cause highly flammable natural gas — including significant amounts of methane — to accumulate inside the facilities, raising the risk of a massive fire or explosion. That exact scenario unfolded in December 2020 when a Morris Township, Pennsylvania, compressor station caught fire, burning for more than two hours and causing a temporary evacuation.

Over the past few years, similar explosions have rocked Armada Township, Michigan; West Union, West Virginia; and Ward County, Texas, where a particularly bad explosion in 2018 claimed a man’s life. One report compiled for New York reported 11 more recent accidents at compressor stations across the country, from Utah to New Jersey.

The natural gas pipelines feeding into the compressor station may pose an even scarier safety threat. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), pipelines have caused more than 11,000 accidents since 1996, leading to more than $6 billion in damages and killing nearly 400 people.
» Read article            

force majeureWeymouth Compressor Shuts Down Again — For Fourth Time In Less Than A Year
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
May 21, 2021


The Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station is shut down for the fourth time since it began operating last year.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the company that owns and operates the compressor, said in a statement that the company is “performing maintenance work” and anticipates “safely returning the compressor station to service shortly.” He said the maintenance work was “on a piece of equipment which helps reduce compressor unit emissions”, but he did not say whether it was planned in advance.

On Thursday night, Enbridge posted a notice that the compressor station had “experienced an outage” and in a separate notice declared a “force majeure.” Loosely translated as an “act of God,” a force majeure usually means the shutdown occurred for reasons out of the company’s control.

“It is standard practice to declare a Force Majeure when a compressor station becomes unavailable for service,” the spokesperson said in an email. “In this case, we identified maintenance work to be performed and notified our customers that the Weymouth Compressor Station would be unavailable while the work was performed.”

However, Katy Eiseman, a lawyer and president of the advocacy group The Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast says “routine maintenance is not what I think of as a justifiable reason to claim force majeure,” though she says she’d have to review Enbridge’s customer contracts to be sure.

James Coleman, an energy law professor at Southern Methodist University agrees, noting that “a force majeure usually has to be something [that is not] within the control of the provider.”

State law requires Enbridge to report any gas releases that exceed 10,000 standard cubic feet. According to Enbridge, “there was minimal venting … well below reporting requirements” associated with this latest shutdown.

But for Sen. Ed Markey, a long-time opponent of the compressor station, this most recent shutdown is a cause for concern.

“Whether an act of God or a failure of man, the Weymouth Compressor Station’s fourth shutdown in a matter of months is a sign that it should not be operating now or ever,” the senator said in a statement. “It’s dangerous, unnecessary, and a clear and present threat to public safety.”

Markey said he’s asked the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to look into this most recent outage at the compressor.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station         

 

GRANITE BRIDGE PIPELINE

new Liberty
Liberty Utilities angles for 20-year natural gas contract
By Amanda Gokee, SentinalSource
May 17, 2021

Last year, Liberty Utilities withdrew what had turned into a very contentious proposal to construct a large, expensive pipeline called the Granite Bridge Project. Critics said it was too big, too expensive, and that it would harm the environment. It led to protests and drew fierce opposition from climate-change activists who oppose building new fossil fuel infrastructure.

In the wake of that failed proposal, Liberty has put forward another project that is now being considered by the Public Utilities Commission — a 20-year agreement to increase its natural gas capacity in the state by about 20 to 25 percent through a purchase agreement with Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The company says it needs to increase its capacity in order to meet customer demand. The new proposal was put forward in January, and it has been proceeding quietly ever since, with none of the dramatic opposition that Granite Bridge garnered. But some environmental advocates still oppose the 20-year contract as an unacceptable option in the face of climate change.

“This is a major step in the wrong direction,” said Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. The foundation is one of the parties involved in the docket at the utilities commission.
» Read article               

» More about the Granite Bridge pipeline project       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Stop EACOP
Despite Risks, Climate Activists Lead Fight Against Oil Giant’s Drilling Projects in Uganda
“We cannot drink oil. This is why we cannot accept the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
May 28, 2021

Climate campaigners in Africa and around the world on Friday continued demonstrations against Total, with activists accusing the French oil giant of ecocide, human rights violations, and greenwashing in connection with fossil fuel projects in Uganda. 

On the 145th week of Fridays for Future climate strike protests, members of the movement in Uganda global allies drew attention to the harmful effects of fossil fuel development on the environment, ecosystems, communities, and livelihoods. 

Friday’s actions followed protests at Total petrol stations in Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, and Uganda on Tuesday—celebrated each year as Africa Day—against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), now under construction, and the Mozambique Liquefied Natural Gas project.

“Total’s fossil fuel developments pose grave risks to protected environments, water sources, and wetlands in the Great Lakes and East Africa regions,” said Andre Moliro, an activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during Tuesday’s pan-African protests.

“Communities have been raising concerns on the impact of oil extraction on Lake Albert fisheries and the disastrous consequences of an oil spill in Lake Victoria, that would affect millions of people that rely on the two lakes for their livelihoods, watersheds for drinking water, and food production,” he added.
» Read article               

celebration at The Hague
‘Historic victory’: court tells Shell to slash emissions on Big Oil’s day of climate pain
Group to appeal verdict in Dutch court that activists claim has major implications as trio of supermajors face emissions scrutiny
By Andrew Lee, Recharge News
May 26, 2021

A court in the Netherlands on Wednesday told Shell to cut its carbon emissions far more aggressively than currently planned, in what climate activists claimed as a landmark ruling with implications for fossil fuel groups globally.

The Shell ruling came on a turbulent day for the world’s oil giants, with fellow supermajors ExxonMobil and Chevron also under pressure over their decarbonisation plans.

A Dutch judge ordered Shell to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 against 2019 levels, after hearing a case brought by Friends of the Earth and other groups, plus 17,000 Netherlands citizens.

The Anglo-Dutch group has so far committed to a carbon intensity reduction of its products of 20% by 2030 and 45% by 2035, compared to 2016 levels, as part of a 2050 net zero push.

But the court said those goals were “insufficiently concrete and full of conditions” as it ordered the far tougher action it said would bring the ambitions into line with the Paris climate agreement.

Although the judgment is open to appeal – which Shell indicated it would – Friends of the Earth labelled it a “historic victory” for climate action that has “enormous consequences for Shell and other big polluters globally” and should embolden other campaigners elsewhere.

Rachel Kennerley, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland said: “This ruling confirms what we already knew, that global polluters cannot continue their devastating operations because the costs are too high, and they have been that way for too long.

“Today an historic line has been drawn, no more spin, no more greenwashing, big oil is over. The future is in clean renewables.”

The International Energy Agency earlier in May recommended that no more new fossil project investments should be made in order to keep the world on a path to net zero.

Analysts were divided over the implications of the Shell judgment for the global fossil sector.

Liz Hypes, senior environment and climate change analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk and strategic consulting firm, believes the judgement could pave the way for legal action against energy companies.

“This case could mean open-season on heavy-emitters in the oil and gas industry, and it is not a stretch to envisage activists – or even unhappy investors – bringing similar cases against others in the industry and, potentially, their financial backers.

“While cases like this have to date been largely limited to the US and Europe, we’ve seen a rising trend outside of these countries of climate lawsuits ruling in the claimants’ favour.”

Hypes added: “What this signifies to investors and climate activists is that taking companies to court is an increasingly successful means of triggering climate action and, because of this, the number of climate cases faces carbon-heavy corporates will grow. It shows that the risks of inaction – or of what consumers, investors and the public see as ‘not enough’ action – is mounting.”

“It’s no longer a brand image issue for companies – they are facing genuine legal risks from which the repercussions may be significant and it’s triggering a real discussion about what is their fiduciary duty during the climate crisis.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions                

 

DIVESTMENT

finma
Swiss watchdog FINMA requires banks, insurers to disclose climate risks
By Reuters
May 31, 2021

ZURICH (Reuters) -Large Swiss banks and insurance companies will have to provide qualitative and quantitative information about risks they face from climate change, Swiss financial watchdog FINMA said on Monday as it released an amended publication here on disclosure.

FINMA’s updated circular on the new obligations, to take effect on July 1, follows similar moves by the European Central Bank, which last year announced plans to ask lenders in the 19-country currency union to disclose their climate-related risks.

The Swiss watchdog said it is fulfilling its strategic goal of contributing to sustainable development of the Swiss financial centre, by laying out how it will supervise banks and insurers on climate-related financial risk.

FINMA said it crafted the disclosure requirement after talking with industry representatives, academics, NGOs and the federal government last year. The watchdog has previously said the risks such as natural catastrophes are substantial for the sector and merited new disclosure standards.

“Banks and insurance companies are required to inform the public adequately about their risks,” FINMA said in a statement. “These also include the consequences of climate change, which could pose significant financial risks for financial institutions in the longer term.”

Credit Suisse has been in the crosshairs of climate activists, including protesters who blocked access to its Zurich headquarters over complaints of its financing of fossil fuel-related projects. Reinsurer Swiss Re said in April the global economy could lose nearly a fifth of economic output by 2050 should the world fail to check climate change.
» Read article               

» More about divestment                

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

cleaning up
The plan to turn coal country into a rare earth powerhouse
With plans for a Made-in-America renewable energy transformation, Biden administration ramps up efforts to extract rare earth minerals from coal waste.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
May 26, 2021

At an abandoned coal mine just outside the city of Gillette, Wyoming, construction crews are getting ready to break ground on a 10,000-square-foot building that will house state-of-the-art laboratories and manufacturing plants. Among the projects at the facility, known as the Wyoming Innovation Center, will be a pilot plant that aims to takes coal ash — the sooty, toxic waste left behind after coal is burned for energy — and use it to extract rare earths, elements that play an essential role in everything from cell phones and LED screens to wind turbines and electric cars. 

The pilot plant in Wyoming is a critical pillar of an emerging effort led by the Department of Energy, or DOE, to convert the toxic legacy of coal mining in the United States into something of value. Similar pilot plants and research projects are also underway in states including West Virginia, North Dakota, Utah, and Kentucky. If these projects are successful, the Biden administration hopes that places like Gillette will go from being the powerhouses of the fossil fuel era to the foundation of a new domestic supply chain that will build tomorrow’s energy systems.

In an April report on revitalizing fossil fuel communities, administration officials wrote that coal country is “well-positioned” to become a leader in harvesting critical materials from the waste left behind by coal mining and coal power generation. Several days later, the DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 different research groups that plan to assess exactly how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, as well as explore ways to extract it. 

“We have these resources that are otherwise a problem,” said Sarma Pisupati, the director of the Center for Critical Minerals at Penn State University and one of the grant recipients. “We can use those resources to extract valuable minerals for our independence.”

Those minerals would come at a critical moment. The rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium, in particular, are essential to the powerful magnets used in offshore wind turbines and electric vehicle motors. A recent report by the International Energy Agency projected that by 2040, the clean energy sector’s demand for these minerals could be three to seven times greater than it is today.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

IEA gets on board
IT’S THE END OF OIL: Blockbuster IEA Report Urges No New Fossil Development
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
May 19, 2021

No new investment in oil, gas, or coal development, a massive increase in renewable energy adoption, speedy global phaseouts for new natural gas boilers and internal combustion vehicles, and a sharp focus on short-term action are key elements of a blockbuster Net Zero by 2050 report released Tuesday morning by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The more than 400 sectoral and technological targets in the report would be big news from any source. They’re particularly significant from the IEA, an agency that has received scathing criticism in the past for overstating the future importance of fossil fuels, consistently underestimating the uptake of renewable energy, and failing to align its “gold standard” energy projections with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. For years, the agency’s projections have been used to justify hundreds of billions of dollars in high-carbon investments, allowing multinational fossil companies to sustain the fantasy that demand for their product will increase through 2040 or beyond.

“Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required,” the IEA writes. “The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net-zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output—and emissions reductions—from the operation of existing assets.”

“It’s not a model result,” analyst Dave Jones of the clean energy think tank Ember told Bloomberg Green. “It’s a call to action.”

“Big Oil and Gas has just lost a very powerful shield!” wrote Oil Change International Senior Campaigner David Tong.

By 2040, the IEA sees all coal- and oil-fired power plants phased out unless their emissions are abated by some form of carbon capture. Between 2020 and 2050, oil demand falls 75%, to 24 million barrels per day, gas demand falls 55%, and remaining oil production becomes “increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers.” OPEC nations provide 52% of a “much-reduced global oil supply” in 2050 and see their per capita income from fossil production decline 75% by the 2030s.

“This is a huge shift from the IEA and highly consequential, given its scenarios are seen as a guide to the future, steering trillions of dollars in energy investment,” Kelly Trout, interim director of Oil Change’s energy transitions and futures program, wrote in an email. “Oil and gas companies, investors, and IEA member states that have been using IEA scenarios to justify their choices and also say they’re committed to 1.5°C are in a tight spot. Will they follow the IEA’s guidance and stop licencing or financing new fossil fuel extraction, or be exposed as hypocrites?”
» Read article            
» Read the IEA report                 

» More about climate              

 

CLEAN ENERGY

electrification futures study
Inside Clean Energy: Yes, We Can Electrify Almost Everything. Here’s What That Looks Like.
National lab wraps up groundbreaking project on electrifying the economy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
June 3, 2021

Many scenarios for averting the worst effects of climate change involve electrifying just about everything that now runs on fossil fuels, and shifting to an electricity system that runs mostly on wind and solar.

Can this be done reliably and with existing technologies?

Yes.

That’s one of the main findings of the Electrification Futures Study, an ambitious project of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that started four years ago and has now issued its final report.

The transformation to a highly electrified economy is an opportunity for consumers and businesses because of the potential for cost-savings and for developing and selling new generations of products, said Ella Zhou, a senior modeling engineer at NREL and a co-author of the report.

“This offers useful information literally for everyone, because electricity touches all of our lives,” she said.

In a sign of changing times and shifting control in Washington, the report’s introduction mentions “decarbonization” and “climate change mitigation” in its first sentence, something that would have been almost unthinkable from a national laboratory during the Trump administration. 

Zhou didn’t comment about the partisan shift, but she did note how much the conversation about the transition to clean energy had changed since the project started in 2017. The idea of electrifying the economy is much closer to the mainstream now than it was then, she said, as is the broad understanding that a shift to renewable energy can save money, compared to using fossil fuels.
» Read article            
» Read NREL’s final report, Electrification Futures Study                  

where it goes
Where Wind and Solar Power Need to Grow for America to Meet Its Goals
By Veronica Penney, New York Times
May 28, 2021

President Biden has promised to sharply reduce America’s planet-warming carbon emissions, which means changes to the country’s energy system may reshape landscapes and coastlines around the country. 

The United States is now aiming to bring emissions down to net-zero by 2050, meaning the country would eliminate as much greenhouse gas as it emits. To reach that goal, Americans will need to get a lot more of their energy from renewable sources like wind and solar farms.

One of the most recent studies on the subject, Princeton University’s Net-Zero America Report, charted five pathways to net-zero, and all of them required the United States to exceed the current pace of building for solar panels and wind turbines.

But what will all that energy infrastructure look like, and where could it go? Here’s a look at the factors and forces that will determine where renewable energy projects could be built.
» Read article           
» Read the Princeton University report         

» More about clean energy           

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

TOU rates for Maine
Advocates say Maine needs to expand time-of-use rates to hit climate goals

As more drivers switch to electric cars and buildings convert to heat pumps, changing customer behavior with new rate designs could be key to preventing expensive and polluting new investments in the state’s power grid.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
May 27, 2021

Maine clean energy advocates say it’s time to revisit and ramp up time-of-use rates, and the state’s major utilities and several other stakeholders agree. 

Meeting the state’s climate goals could add significant load to the state’s grid as drivers switch to electric cars and buildings abandon fossil fuels for heating. 

Unless some customers can be persuaded to put off drying clothes, running dishwashers or charging vehicles until nighttime, that new demand could force expensive upgrades to the system and make it harder to eliminate fossil fuels. 

That’s where time-of-use rates come into play. Unlike traditional flat rates, time-of-use rates charge customers different prices at different times of the day. Often this means customers pay a relatively expensive rate during the busiest hours of the day and less expensive rates during off-peak hours.

State legislation introduced this year, as well as a recent report on the future of Maine’s electric grid, called on state regulators to investigate how to roll out time-of-use rates on a broader scale than what’s currently offered.

A time-of-use rate needs to be structured so it actually encourages customers to shift their electricity use off-peak, said David Littell, a former Maine utilities commissioner who was part of the stakeholder group.

That requires establishing a sufficient difference between what customers are charged off-peak and on-peak, he said. The peak window also has to be reasonably timed: He found in previous research that, based on hundreds of rate pilots and operational rates, customers were more likely to sign up for time-varying rates when the peak windows were only three hours, as opposed to eight to 14 hours.

Littell and others in the stakeholder report also said time-of-use rates should include all aspects of customers’ bills, including supply and capacity.

“Most of what I’m seeing across the country right now is that if a utility is talking about doing a time-of-use rate, they prefer to start with the supply cost,” he said. That’s something utilities can easily do themselves, structuring the rate based on what it costs to deliver energy to customers.

Capacity would be harder, since utilities don’t have jurisdiction over the line items on customers’ bills for the energy itself. In deregulated utility markets like Maine, the energy is provided by suppliers separate from utilities, at a rate called the standard offer. Suppliers would have to implement their own time-of-use rates. But without making it mandatory for them to do that — something the commission could do — they’re not likely to take that path, Littell said, since it’s far easier to stick with the status quo.

In a small market like Maine, suppliers have less incentive to pursue the education and effort necessary to change their rate design without the guarantee that they’ll make money on it. “If it’s not mandated, it’s not going to happen at the standard offer level, full stop,” said Tom Welch, a former Maine utilities commission chair who also contributed to the recent grid modernization report.

Protections will also be necessary for low-income customers who end up paying more under the new rate than they currently pay, but Welch said that’s easily addressed, for example, with refunds for groups of customers that are unable to respond to the price signals.
» Read report            

» More about modernizing the electric grid          

 

ENERGY STORAGE

CO2 battery system
‘CO2 battery’ technology getting megawatt-scale demonstrator in Italy
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
May 27, 2021

A 2.5MW / 4MWh demonstration system using novel energy storage technology based on a “carbon dioxide battery” has begun construction in Sardinia, Italy.

The CO2 battery technology has been developed by Energy Dome, a Milan-headquartered company founded by technologist and entrepreneur Claudio Spadacini and incorporated two years ago. The battery can offer long durations of storage between three to 16+ hours, can be built using off-the-shelf components used in other industries and uses a closed loop thermodynamic process which can enable a high round-trip efficiency, the company claims. It also suffers “little or no degradation” over an anticipated lifetime of more than 25 years.

The battery charges by drawing CO2 from a dome where it is kept, condensing it into a liquid at ambient temperature, while heat created by the compression process is stored in thermal energy storage systems. It then discharges by evaporating and expanding the CO2 back into a gas by heating it using the thermal storage systems. The gas is driven through a turbine to inject power into the grid and then pushed back into the dome, ready to be used for the next charging cycle.

On its website, the company compares the technology as being potentially lower cost than compressed air energy storage (CAES) or liquid air energy storage (LAES), which might be considered competing energy storage technologies. This is because unlike CAES which requires very large underground sealed vessels such as salt caverns to store a large volume of air, or LAES which requires equipment to cool air until it liquifies, the liquid phase CO2 can be stored at ambient temperature, the company said.

Energy Dome also said in a press release this week that its solution could also overcome the limitations of lithium-ion, posing no fire risk, manufacturable without rare earth materials and also even has better performance and lower capital cost. The demonstrator in Sardinia is expected to be launched early next year.
» Read article           

Power Podcast 89
The Benefits of Flow Batteries Over Lithium Ion
By Aaron Larson, Power Magazine
May 27, 2021

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) is the most commonly talked about battery storage technology on the market these days, and for good reason. Li-ion batteries have a high energy density, and they are the preferred option when mobility is a concern, such as for cell phones, laptop computers, and electric vehicles. But there are different energy storage technologies that make more sense in other use cases. For example, iron flow batteries may be a better option for utility-scale power grid storage.

An iron flow battery is built with three pretty simple ingredients: iron, salt, and water. “A flow battery has a tank with an electrolyte—think of it as salt water to be simple—and it puts it through a process that allows it to store energy in the iron, and then discharge that energy over an extended period of time,” Eric Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS Inc., a manufacturer of iron flow batteries for commercial and utility-scale energy storage applications, explained as a guest on The POWER Podcast.

Iron flow batteries have an advantage over utility-scale Li-ion storage systems in the following areas:

  • Longer duration. Up to 12 hours versus a typical duration of no more than 4 hours for large-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Increased safety. Iron flow batteries are non-flammable, non-toxic, and have no explosion risk. The same is not true for Li-ion.
  • Longer asset life. Iron flow batteries offer unlimited cycle life and no capacity degradation over a 25-year operating life. Li-ion batteries typically provide about 7,000 cycles and a 7- to 10-year lifespan.
  • Less concern with ambient temperatures. Iron flow batteries can operate in ambient conditions from –10C to 60C (14F to 140F) without the need for heating or air conditioning. Ventilation systems are almost always required for utility-scale Li-ion systems.
  • Lower levelized cost of storage. Because iron flow batteries offer a 25-year life, have a capital expense cost similar to Li-ion, and operating expenses that are much lower than Li-on, the cost of ownership can be up to 40% less.

“People have been really interested in flow batteries for a lot of reasons, but the most common one that you’ll hear about is the long duration,” said Dresselhuys.
» Listen to podcast            

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

briny water
The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles
A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.
By Ivan Penn and Eric Lipton, New York Times
May 6, 2021

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste.

“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it,” said Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed mine site while two lawsuits seeking to block the project wend their way through federal courts.

The fight over the Nevada mine is emblematic of a fundamental tension surfacing around the world: Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.

That environmental toll has often been overlooked in part because there is a race underway among the United States, China, Europe and other major powers. Echoing past contests and wars over gold and oil, governments are fighting for supremacy over minerals that could help countries achieve economic and technological dominance for decades to come.
» Read article               

bunker fuel
Tasked to Fight Climate Change, a Secretive U.N. Agency Does the Opposite
Behind closed doors, shipbuilders and miners can speak on behalf of governments while regulating an industry that pollutes as much as all of America’s coal plants.
By Matt Apuzzo and Sarah Hurtes, New York Times
June 3, 2021

LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.

It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.

Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.

One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.

An agency lawyer underscored that point last fall in addressing the Saudi complaint. “This is a private meeting,” warned the lawyer, Frederick J. Kenney.

Next week, the organization is scheduled to enact its first greenhouse gas rules since Paris — regulations that do not cut emissions, have no enforcement mechanism and leave key details shrouded in secrecy. No additional proposals are far along in the rule-making process, meaning additional regulations are likely five years or more away.
» Read article               

» More about clean transportation             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

methane emissions analysis
Here Are America’s Top Methane Emitters. Some Will Surprise You.
Oil and gas giants are selling off their most-polluting operations to small private companies. Most manage to escape public scrutiny.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
June 2, 2021

As the world’s oil and gas giants face increasing pressure to reduce their fossil fuel emissions, small, privately held drilling companies are becoming the country’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, often by buying up the industry’s high-polluting assets.

According to a startling new analysis of the latest emissions data disclosed to the Environmental Protection Agency, five of the industry’s top ten emitters of methane, a particularly potent planet-warming gas, are little-known oil and gas producers, some backed by obscure investment firms, whose environmental footprints are wildly large relative to their production.

In some cases, the companies are buying up high-polluting assets directly from the largest oil and gas corporations, like ConocoPhillips and BP; in other cases, private equity firms acquire risky oil and gas properties, develop them, and sell them quickly for maximum profits.

The largest emitter, Hilcorp Energy, reported almost 50 percent more methane emissions from its operations than the nation’s largest fossil fuel producer, Exxon Mobil, despite pumping far less oil and gas. Four other relatively unknown companies — Terra Energy Partners, Flywheel Energy, Blackbeard Operating and Scout Energy — each reported emitting more of the gas than many industry heavyweights.

These companies have largely escaped public scrutiny, even as they have become major polluters.

“It’s amazing how the small operators manage to constitute a very large part of the problem,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit investor network that commissioned the study together with the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group. “There’s just no pressure on them to do things better. And being a clean operator, unfortunately, isn’t a priority in this business model.”
» Read article              
» Read the Benchmarking Methane analysis           

ExxonMobil Chicago
Engine No. 1’s Big Win Over Exxon Shows Activist Hedge Funds Joining Fight Against Climate Change
“We can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value.”
By Mark DesJardine, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
May 27, 2021

One of the most expensive Wall Street shareholder battles on record could signal a big shift in how hedge funds and other investors view sustainability.

Exxon Mobil Corp. has been fending off a so-called proxy fight from a hedge fund known as Engine No. 1, which blames the energy giant’s poor performance in recent years on its failure to transition to a “decarbonizing world.” In a May 26, 2021 vote, Exxon shareholders approved at least two of the four board members Engine No. 1 nominated, dealing a major blow to the oil company. The vote is ongoing, and more of the hedge fund’s nominees may also soon be appointed.

While its focus has been on shareholder value, Engine No. 1 says it was also doing this to save the planet from the ravages of climate change. It has been pushing for a commitment from Exxon to carbon neutrality by 2050.

As business sustainability scholars, we can’t recall another time that an energy company’s shareholder – particularly a hedge fund – has been so effective and forceful in showing how a company’s failure to take on climate change has eroded shareholder value. That’s why we believe this vote marks a turning point for investors, who are well placed to nudge companies toward more sustainable business practices.
» Read article               

Conoco misstep
Biden officials condemned for backing Trump-era Alaska drilling project
DoJ says decision to approve project in northern Alaska was ‘reasonable and consistent’ and should be allowed to go ahead
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 27, 2021

Joe Biden’s administration is facing an onslaught of criticism from environmentalists after opting to defend the approval of a massive oil and gas drilling project in the frigid northern reaches of Alaska.

In a briefing filed in federal court on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice said the Trump-era decision to allow the project in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska’s north slope was “reasonable and consistent” with the law and should be allowed to go ahead.

This stance means the Biden administration is contesting a lawsuit brought by environmental groups aimed at halting the drilling due to concerns over the impact upon wildlife and planet-heating emissions. The US president has paused all new drilling leases on public land but is allowing this Alaska lease, approved under Trump, to go ahead.

The project, known as Willow, is being overseen by the oil company ConocoPhillips and is designed to extract more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Environmentalists say allowing the project is at odds with Biden’s vow to combat the climate crisis and drastically reduce US emissions.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Biden administration defending this environmentally disastrous project,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that have sued to stop the drilling. “President Biden promised climate action and our climate can’t afford more huge new oil-drilling projects.”

The Arctic is heating up at three times the rate of the rest of the planet and ConocoPhillips will have to resort to Kafkaesque interventions to be able to drill for oil in an environment being destroyed by the burning of that fuel. The company plans to install “chillers’ into the Alaskan permafrost, which is rapidly melting due to global heating, to ensure it is stable enough to host drilling equipment.

Monsell said the attempts to refreeze the thawing permafrost in order to extract more fossil fuel “highlights the ridiculousness of drilling in the Arctic”. Kirsten Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said Willow “is the poster child for the type of massive fossil fuel development that must be avoided today if we’re to avoid the worst climate impacts down the road”.
» Read article               

Nat and Gus
How natural gas propaganda made it into elementary classrooms in deep blue America
The incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms.
By Ysabelle Kempe, Grist
May 19, 2021


Gleb Bahmutov found something strange in his nine-year-old son’s backpack earlier this month. The longer he ruminated on what he discovered, the angrier he got. 

The afternoon started off like most, with the 41-year-old software engineer picking his son up from John M. Tobin Montessori School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But when his son opened his backpack, Bahmutov caught a glimpse of two children’s activity books emblazoned with the logo of Eversource, an energy utility that serves more than 4.3 million customers across New England. The booklets, one of which was titled “Natural Gas: Your Invisible Friend,” include natural gas safety tips and portray the fuel as an ideal, clean way to cook food, power vehicles, and heat and cool buildings. Bhamutov immediately noticed one gaping hole in the information provided in the booklets: They didn’t once mention that burning natural gas emits greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change.

“To come home and find books aimed at children touting how great gas is and how clean it is, that it’s the cleanest fuel possible, that’s just wrong,” Bahmutov told Grist. “It’s unacceptable.”

The activity books caused concern among parents in the climate-conscious city of Cambridge and prompted apologies from both Eversource and the school district. While the utility claimed it was attempting to promote natural gas safety — a particularly salient issue in Massachusetts, which experienced a series of pipeline explosions north of Boston in 2018 — the incident is the latest example of fossil fuel interests attempting to influence science education in public classrooms. 

Cambridge Public Schools’ Chief Strategy Officer Lyndsay Pinkus told Grist that the booklets were mistakenly distributed to students. Any materials provided by outside organizations are typically reviewed by the deputy superintendent’s office, Pinkus explained, but a new staff member did not follow this procedure with the Eversource materials. “It really was an innocent mistake by a new staff member,” she said. In an email to parents, Tobin Principal Jaime Frost stressed that the booklets are not part of the curriculum and the school does not support the messaging. She wrote that the same booklets were sent to all Cambridge Public Schools two years ago, but were caught before being distributed. 

Eversource’s media relations manager, William Hinkle, wrote in an email that the booklets were created to raise awareness about natural gas safety at home, but acknowledged that the material could be improved. “Moving forward, we will work to include climate change information in future educational materials, as well as continue to provide important natural gas safety tips,” Hinkle told Grist. He said that there are various versions of the book for different grade levels that date back to 2011, and the material undergoes periodic updates.

While Hinkle said the books are provided to schools in Massachusetts or Connecticut upon request, Pinkus from Cambridge Public Schools was adamant that nobody in the district requested them. “There’s no way anybody currently or in any recent history would have requested anything even remotely close to this,” she said. Eversource did not respond for comment on this point.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

derailedRailroaded by the Gas Industry
How the Biden administration could use insurance requirements to halt LNG by rail.
By Eric de Place, Sightline Institute
March 22, 2021

It’s been less than three months since the Northwest dodged a bullet. On December 22, 2020, another oil train derailed and exploded into flames, this one just outside Bellingham, Washington. The crash spilled 29,000 gallons of crude oil that burned for eight hours while emergency crews hustled to evacuate neighbors and clean up the site before the oil contaminated groundwater. Yet as alarming as oil train derailments are, they may be only an appetizer for a much more destructive main course: trains loaded with highly explosive liquefied natural gas (LNG).

During the Obama years, federal regulators granted railroads in Alaska and Florida limited permission to haul small quantities of LNG on specific routes. Although the move garnered little public attention, it was seen by industry observers as the start of a slippery slope toward broader approval of a cargo that was, until 2015, considered too dangerous for railroads to handle. (DeSmog provides an excellent account of the serious risks of LNG rail transport.) As predicted, in 2020, the Trump administration enacted a new rule allowing rail shipments of LNG, despite criticisms that it lacks safeguards.

The Trump administration’s decision was a win for the gas industry that has found itself increasingly stymied by opposition to building new pipelines. It was also a victory for the rail companies that have for years lobbied for permission to carry LNG, including Union Pacific and BNSF, the dominant railways in Oregon and Washington that have been responsible for several hazardous derailments in the past decade. One of the worst was Union Pacific’s eleven-car derailment in Mosier, Oregon that resulted in a fiery explosion and an oil spill along the Columbia River in 2016. BNSF is responsible for its own oil train conflagrations too, including two North Dakota explosions in 2013 and 2015 that prompted towns to evacuate, a derailment in Illinois in 2015, and the recent explosion in Whatcom County, Washington.

LNG is far more dangerous than crude oil. In fact, experts calculate that it would take only twenty-two tank cars loaded with LNG to hold the energy equivalent of an atomic bomb. That’s not hyperbole. Even a single LNG rail car igniting could level buildings to deadly effect. It’s no wonder, then, that fifteen state attorneys general, including those in Oregon and Washington, have challenged the Trump administration’s approval of LNG trains, stating that it puts people’s lives at risk.

The risk is real, and federal accident statistics bear it out. Trains derailed no fewer than sixty-two times in Oregon and Washington in 2020, including at least fourteen derailments that were carrying hazardous materials. (These statistics almost certainly undercount derailments, a flaw that becomes clear when one realizes that they do not include the fiery oil train derailment in Custer, Washington in late December.)

What’s less understood than the risk to lives and property is the staggering risk to taxpayers. It’s a risk that could prove to be the endeavor’s Achilles’ heel, and it could give the Biden administration a commonsense way to halt LNG rail transport. As it happens, railroads are severely underinsured for many hazardous substance shipments, especially in urban areas, so simply requiring them to carry insurance proportional to the risk would almost certainly render the entire venture uneconomical.
» Read article               

» More about LNG                       

 

BIOMASS

Enviva promo
Communities of Color in Eastern North Carolina Want Wood Pellet Byproducts Out of Their Neighborhoods—And Their Lungs
By Caryl Espinoza Jaen and Ellie Heffernan, INDY week
May 27, 2021

Belinda Joyner describes her home of Northampton County as a dumping ground for undesirable uses—hog farms, landfills. Northampton was also slated to host the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s compressor station before the project was canceled. 

When Joyner stood at a podium in the North Carolina legislative building on Wednesday, she was most concerned about wood pellet facilities. 

“We have other states that have taken into consideration the cumulative impact, the health impact, on these communities and they’re saying no to these companies that are coming,” Joyner said. “You know what? North Carolina has become a cesspool, because everything that everyone else doesn’t want, we don’t have the laws to protect us.” 

Joyner was one of many speakers at a press conference and rally to draw attention to what they say is Governor Roy Cooper’s inattention to deforestation and pollution by the wood pellet industry. North Carolina residents, community leaders, and activists gathered to discuss how the state’s poorest communities are impacted by wood pellet companies such as Enviva Biomass. Speakers addressed their criticisms of environmental policies issued by Gov. Cooper and state government agencies.

The wood pellet industry, which is the third major contributor to rising carbon emissions in the state, is responsible for 60,000 acres of wood loss annually, according to rally organizers. In just seven years, Enviva Biomass logged enough acres to release 28 million tons of carbon dioxide. 

North Carolina is the biggest producer of wood pellets in the United States, and the industry receives $7.1 million in subsidies annually, said Emily Zucchino, the director of community engagement at the environmental advocacy nonprofit Dogwood Alliance. The United States sold 7.2 billion kilograms of  wood pellets with a value of $981 million last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau trade data. A bulk of these exports are burned for fuel in European power stations. 

“Yet the counties with these industries remain the poorest,” said Zucchino. “This use of taxpayer dollars does not advance the state or support long-term jobs at rural communities.”
» Read article               

» More about biomass            

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Weekly News Check-In 5/14/21

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Welcome back.

Several narratives converged this week, making this collection of articles feel tightly related. The main topic is climate change. A new UN report stresses the urgency of immediately curbing methane emissions, especially from the extraction, transport, and use of natural gas. It amounts to a clear argument against the “bridge fuel” concept, and recommends a halt to all new gas infrastructure projects.

That is exactly what appears to be playing out in Peabody, MA, where strong local objections to the municipal utility’s plans for a new gas-powered peaking power plant prompted a pause in the project’s development so that carbon-free alternatives can be considered.

Elsewhere, efforts continue to scuttle ongoing pipeline projects, including calls to defund Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline in northern Minnesota.

This urgency to “kick gas” and other fuels doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Local economies and lots of jobs depend on pipelines, and shutting them down often affects interstate and international agreements. While we remain dependent on the fossil fuels that pipelines carry, their vulnerabilities to cyber attack pose ongoing risks of major economic disruption. The abrupt shutdown of Colonial Pipeline’s east coast fuel distribution network drove that point home this week.

Meanwhile, the future of clean energy came a step closer this week with Federal approval for the Vineyard Wind project. This marks the start of a massive buildup of U.S. offshore wind power. And because the green economy is just as competitive as the dirty one, Massachusetts already finds its lead position challenged as other states vie to provide materials, services, and labor for that emerging market.

Another week, and another report on a technology breakthrough in the race for solid state EV batteries. Researchers at Harvard report that their innovative, multi-layered lithium-metal battery cell solves a key stability problem that will allow the batteries to cycle many thousands of times without degradation.

Wrapping up, we offer a straightforward description of fracking, the fossil fuel extraction technique responsible for a surge in natural gas production over the past decade, along with unprecedented gas infrastructure build-out and disastrous releases of methane from every step in the process.

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

— The NFGiM Team (Note: taking two weeks off – back with you on June 4th)

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

electric meters
Peabody Power Plant Opponents Cheer Pause In Project
The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company says it will delay the project for 30 days to reassess and explore alternatives.
By Scott Souza, Patch
May 11, 2021

PEABODY, MA — Elected officials and climate advocacy groups cheered the “pause” announced Tuesday in the proposed gas power plant project in Peabody near the Danvers line.

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company, which had pushed the plant to satisfy surge capacity requirements for Peabody Municipal Light and the region, said Tuesday morning its board of directors authorized the 30-day “pause” during a special meeting held on Monday.

It said the delay was to address concerns brought before the board, while also “considering available options to fulfill its participants’ required capacity obligations under ISO New England rules.”

The halt comes amid recent outcry from North Shore residents and public officials about safety, quality of life and environmental concerns surrounding the project that was first proposed five years ago.

State Rep. Sally Kerans (D-Danvers), who represents Danvers and West Peabody, wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities asking for a review of the proposed plant based on the “environmental burden” the region already bears, including Route 128, a propane company, and a pipeline.

The power company had said the new plant was needed to provide emergency surge capacity in the case of a catastrophic event — such as what happened this winter in Texas when renewal forms of energy such as wind and solar were not considered reliable enough to meet demand follow a large snowstorm and ensuing freeze.

But on Tuesday MMWEC CEO Ron DeCurzio said the board of directors determined it is worth reexamining whether the needs can be met without an additional fossil fuel plant.
» Read article       

stealthy
Doctors cite health risks from new plant
87 physicians against natural power project in Peabody
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
May 11, 2021

PEABODY — Regina LaRoque, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the past year has taught her an incredible amount about the overlap between respiratory diseases and air pollution.

“Being exposed to air pollution actually puts you at increased risk for COVID, and we need to be speaking out about these associations so people understand that polluting our air is dangerous for people’s health,” LaRoque, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said.

This is one of the many reasons she was one of 87 Massachusetts physicians to sign a letter opposing the construction of a natural gas-powered peaking power plant in Peabody. The doctors cite both health and environmental concerns.

The letter states the proposed plant is “a project that expands natural gas and oil infrastructure, threatens the health of the surrounding community, and is in direct conflict with Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas reduction mandate.” In addition, the letter states the plant “is not needed as the demand for natural gas is declining and cleaner energy sources are becoming available.”

The letter, written primarily by LaRoque, is addressed to Charles Orphanos, the general manager of the Peabody Municipal Light Plant and a director at Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company. The proposed facility would be built on city property at PMLP’s Waters River substation, behind the Pulaski Street industrial park, and operated by MMWEC.

PMLP and MMWEC say the plant, which would help provide energy capacity for customers at peak demand times, is needed and has to be a reliable source of energy that’s not dependent upon weather patterns.
» Read article       

» More about peaker plants

PIPELINES

pipeline dilemmaBiden’s Pipeline Dilemma: How to Build a Clean Energy Future While Shoring Up the Present’s Carbon-Intensive Infrastructure
After Colonial’s cyber-attack and shutdown, he can’t ignore pipelines’ problems, but environmental groups want more aggressive action.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
May 14, 2021

Even as President Joe Biden worked this week to shore up support for his push to invest $2 trillion in a new energy future for the United States, his administration found itself bombarded with the harsh realities of the nation’s oil-dependent present.

More than a half-dozen federal agencies scrambled to contain fallout from a cyber-attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline, the nation’s largest petroleum products conduit, just as the start of the nation’s peak driving season approaches. Panic buying triggered gasoline shortages and price spikes all along the East Coast before Colonial restarted the line Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a legal and international conflict escalated in Michigan over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ordered shutdown of Enbridge’s Line 5, a 68-year-old oil pipeline on the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac that transports oil from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands. Another Enbridge tar sands pipeline project in Minnesota, Line 3, has become a flash point for environmental and Indigenous groups that want the Biden administration to intervene to stop construction. And a court ruling could come any day opening a new chapter in the six-year battle over the Dakota Access pipeline. Even though President Donald Trump pushed that project to completion, a court-ordered expanded environmental review is now in the hands of the Biden administration.

Throughout his campaign, Biden embraced the most ambitious climate platform ever advanced by a U.S. presidential nominee, without taking a stand on oil and gas pipeline investment. The events of the past week make clear that he won’t be able to avoid the issue, even though it threatens to divide his political coalition. Labor stayed with Biden even though he pledged to block the Keystone XL pipeline, a project they supported, but which had become emblematic of climate activists’ drive against fossil fuel expansion. But after fulfilling his Keystone pledge on his first day in office, Biden stayed away from pipelines, focusing instead on a message with appeal to both unions and environmentalists: that a transition to clean energy would be an engine of blue-collar job creation.

“They’re not focused on the supply side, as much as they are on the demand side,” said Daniel Raimi, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Resources for the Future. “So the policies that they have been outlining have to do with, for example, deploying more electric vehicles, which would reduce demand for oil. And so by reducing demand for oil, you’re reducing the need to build additional pipelines and operate existing ones.”

However, U.S. oil consumption is nearly back to its pre-pandemic level of 20 million barrels per day, most of it flowing at some point through the nation’s more than 190,000 miles of petroleum pipeline. More than half of that network was built before 1970. Even as Biden seeks to build an entirely new energy infrastructure, some of those pipelines are going to wear out or, as in Colonial’s case, face unexpected disruption.

“Regardless of your position on climate change,” said Raimi, “shutting down certain pipelines and doing it without planning can cause a lot of problems.”
» Read article       

showing its ageEnbridge continues Straits pipeline operation, defying Gov. Whitmer’s deadline
By Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press
May 12, 2021

In defiance of an order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to cease operations by Wednesday, Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge continued to flow 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids through Line 5, its controversial, 68-year-old twin pipelines on the Straits of Mackinac lake bottom.

Whitmer on Tuesday, in a letter to Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president for liquids pipelines, said continued operation of the line after Wednesday “constitutes an intentional trespass” and that the company would do so “at its own risk.”

“If the state prevails in the underlying litigation, Enbridge will face the prospect of having to disgorge to the state all profits it derives from its wrongful use of the easement lands following that date,” she said.

Whitmer in November moved to revoke Enbridge’s 1953 easement to situate the pipelines on state-controlled bottomlands near where Great Lakes Michigan and Huron connect, citing repeated violations of the easement’s terms on pipeline safety measures and an unreasonable risk to the Great Lakes from the aging pipes’ continued operation. The governor gave Enbridge 180 days to arrange for shutdown of the pipes, a deadline that ends Wednesday.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines

CYBERSECURITY

fuel jugular
‘Jugular’ of the U.S. fuel pipeline system shuts down after cyberattack
The infiltration of a major fuel pipeline is “the most significant, successful attack on energy infrastructure we know of.”
By GLORIA GONZALEZ, BEN LEFEBVRE and ERIC GELLER, Politico
May 8, 2021

The main fuel supply line to the U.S. East Coast has shut down indefinitely after the pipeline’s operator suffered what is believed to be the largest successful cyberattack on oil infrastructure in the country’s history — presenting a danger of spiking gasoline prices and a fresh challenge to President Joe Biden’s pledges to secure the nation against threats.

The attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which runs 5,500 miles and provides nearly half the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel used on the East Coast, most immediately affected some of the company’s business-side computer systems — not the systems that directly run the pipelines themselves. The Georgia-based company said it shut down the pipelines as a precaution and has engaged a third-party cybersecurity firm to investigate the incident, which it confirmed was a ransomware attack. It first disclosed the shutdown late Friday and said it has also contacted law enforcement and other federal agencies.

Biden received a briefing on the incident Saturday morning, a White House spokesperson said, adding that the government “is working actively to assess the implications of this incident, avoid disruption to supply, and help the company restore pipeline operations as quickly as possible.”

A shutdown that lasts more than a few days could send gasoline prices in the Southeastern U.S. spiking above $3 a gallon, market analysts said. That could deepen the political risks the incident poses for Biden, stealing momentum from his efforts to center the nation’s energy agenda on promoting cleaner sources and confronting climate change.

That means much depends on how quickly Colonial can restart the pipelines — which depends in large part on whether the company’s cyber consultants can determine that it’s safe to do so.

“They’ll learn that in the first 24 to 72 hours,” said Rob Lee, CEO of the cybersecurity firm Dragos and an expert in the risks to industrial computer systems. He added that if the attack was limited to Colonial’s business computer systems, “I think it’s going to be relatively short-lived.”
» Read article       

» More about cybersecurity

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

DefundLine3
Climate and Indigenous Protesters Across 4 Continents Pressure Banks to #DefundLine3
“Those who financially back Enbridge are directly implicated in its crimes,” says a Red Lake Anishinaabe citizen and organizer. “To put it bluntly, blood is on their hands.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
May 7, 2021

From fake oil spills in Washington, D.C. and New York City to a “people mural” in Seattle spelling out “Defund Line 3,” climate and Indigenous protesters in 50 U.S. cities and across seven other countries spanning four continents took to the streets on Friday for a day of action pushing 20 banks to ditch the controversial tar sands pipeline.

“Against the backdrop of rising climate chaos, the continued bankrolling of Line 3 and similar oil and gas infrastructure worldwide is fueling gross and systemic violations of human rights and Indigenous peoples’ rights at a global scale,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.

“It’s time for the big banks to recognize that they can and will be held accountable for their complicity in those violations,” Muffett added. His organization is part of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition, over 150 groups that urge asset managers, banks, and insurers to stop funding climate destruction.

The global protests on Friday follow on-the-ground actions that have, at times, successfully halted construction of Canada-based Enbridge’s Line 3 project, which is intended to replace an old pipeline that runs from Alberta, through North Dakota and Minnesota, to Wisconsin. The new pipeline’s route crosses Anishinaabe treaty lands.

Simone Senogles, a Red Lake Anishinaabe citizen and organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network, declared that “no amount of greenwashing and PR can absolve these banks from violating Indigenous rights and the desolation of Mother Earth.”
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

first position
Massachusetts sees more competition to bulk up offshore wind infrastructure

The state got an early jump on offshore wind development, but recent onshore infrastructure investments in New York, New Jersey and Virginia threaten to cut into the state’s claim as the leading hub for the industry.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
May 6, 2021

Massachusetts faces growing competition from other states trying to take advantage of the anticipated surge in offshore wind development by building onshore infrastructure to support the burgeoning industry.

Vineyard Wind, which would be the country’s first commercial-scale offshore wind development, is expected to receive a major federal approval within weeks, kicking off the growth of a long-simmering industry in the region. Anticipating this project in the waters off of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the state has made major investments in developing facilities to support the industry.

Recently, however, other states across the Northeast have announced their own ambitious plans for port infrastructure and economic development, and some in Massachusetts are feeling the pressure to confirm the state’s position as a leader.

“The opinion is relatively widely held that we could’ve been doing more in the last few years to maintain and increase our lead,” said Eric Hines, director of the Tufts University offshore wind engineering graduate program. “There’s a collective sense of urgency right now to really get serious about investing for the future on the land side.”

Massachusetts has been at the forefront of the offshore wind conversation since 2001, when businessman Jim Gordon proposed Cape Wind, a 468-megawatt wind farm that would have been located in the waters south of Cape Cod. Facing harsh opposition from powerful opponents, that plan was eventually defeated.

The state’s current push for offshore wind began in 2016 with the passage of a law calling for the procurement of up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy. In 2018, Vineyard Wind was awarded the contract for the first 800 megawatts; the following year Mayflower Wind was selected to provide the next 800 megawatts. Since then, Massachusetts has upped its total planned procurements to a total of 5,600 megawatts.

Along the way, public and private parties in the state have been developing support facilities on land. In the city of New Bedford, on the south coast, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center developed a $113 million marine commerce terminal designed specifically for use by the offshore wind industry. In Charlestown, a waterfront neighborhood of Boston, the clean energy center built a $40 million facility for testing turbine blades, the largest such facility in North America.

At the same time, other states joined in the pursuit of offshore wind. Along the East Coast, states have committed to procuring some 29,000 megawatts of offshore wind, according to the American Clean Power Association.

These states have also started planning port facilities and other onshore infrastructure to support the industry. New Jersey, which has aiming for 7,500 megawatts by 2035, is planning an offshore wind port for 200 acres along the Delaware River in the southern part of the state with an expected cost of $300 million to $500 million. The state has also pledged another $250 million to build a manufacturing facility for turbine components.
» Read article       

mega-warehouse smog
E-Commerce Mega-Warehouses, a Smog Source, Face New Pollution Rule
A plan aimed at the nation’s largest cluster of warehouses is designed to spur electrification of pollution-spewing diesel trucks and could set a template for restrictions elsewhere.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 8, 2021

Southern California is home to the nation’s largest concentration of warehouses — a hub of thousands of mammoth structures, served by belching diesel trucks, that help feed America’s booming appetite for online shopping and also contribute to the worst air pollution in the country.

On Friday, hundreds of residents flocked to an online hearing to support a landmark rule that would force the warehouses to clean up their emissions. The new rule, affecting about 3,000 of the largest warehouses in the area used by Amazon and other retailers, requires operators to slash emissions from the trucks that serve the site or take other measures to improve air quality.

“I’m just tired of living with warehouses, trucks — driving down the Sierra, having trucks pull up, having to put down your windows,” said Daniel Reyes, a resident and member of a group that has long sought changes like these. “I’m tired of seeing warehouses next to schools. I’m over it, man.”

The rule, which was adopted late Friday by the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s 13-member board in a 9-4 vote, sets a precedent for regulating the exploding e-commerce industry, which has grown even more during the pandemic and has led to a spectacular increase in warehouse construction.

Vast warehouse hubs have sprung up across the country, including in the Lehigh Valley in eastern Pennsylvania, as have sprawling installations in New Jersey, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago.

The changes could also help spur a more rapid electrification of freight tucks, a significant step toward reducing emissions from transportation, the country’s biggest source of planet-warming greenhouse gases. The emissions are a major contributor to smog-causing nitrogen oxides and diesel particulate matter pollution, which are linked to health problems including respiratory conditions.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

shut down the plantScrap new gas infrastructure, says UN report
Methane is a huge culprit in the climate crisis
By Justine Calma, The Verge
May 6, 2021

A major new United Nations report makes it extremely clear that relying on natural gas won’t help the world avoid climate catastrophe. Once seen as a “bridge fuel” that could provide a less-polluting alternative to coal and other fossil fuels, growing evidence shows that gas is a bigger culprit in the climate crisis than previously thought.

Though it’s been attractively branded as “natural” gas, the fuel is primarily plain old methane. When burned, the fuel does produce less carbon dioxide than coal and oil. The problem is that extracting so-called natural gas and bringing it to homes and buildings leads to a lot of methane leaks. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times more power to warm the planet than carbon dioxide especially in the first couple decades after it’s unleashed on the atmosphere. In fact, methane has been responsible for nearly a third of global warming that’s already taken place.

Human-caused methane emissions will need to drop by 45 percent this decade in order to avoid worst-case climate scenarios and meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the United Nations report warns. Expanding natural gas consumption and infrastructure would jeopardize those targets.

“One thing the report calls for very strongly is not building any more of this fossil fuel infrastructure,” Drew Shindell, lead author of the report and a professor at Duke University, said in a press conference. “When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.”

Fortunately, achieving those methane cuts is affordable and possible with existing technology, according to the report. For starters, fossil fuel industries need to do a better job of preventing leaks. But that alone won’t be enough. In the long run, keeping the current fossil fuel infrastructure would derail efforts to mitigate the climate crisis. And while emerging technologies that capture carbon dioxide from polluting power plants might do some good, “there are multiple risks that this technology will not work, will be too expensive, and/or will have so many side effects that society will not want to use it,” according to the report. Bottom line: the report calls for a sweeping transition to renewable energy, which it says would “remove the bulk of methane emissions” in the long term.
» Read article       
» Read the UN report

new normal
There’s a New Definition of ‘Normal’ for Weather
By Henry Fountain and Jason Kao, New York Times
May 12, 2021

The United States is getting redder.

No, not that kind of red. (We’ll leave that to the political pundits.) We’re talking about the thermometer kind.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week issued its latest “climate normals”: baseline data of temperature, rain, snow and other weather variables collected over three decades at thousands of locations across the country.

The normals — which are available on annual, seasonal, monthly, daily and even hourly timescales — are invaluable to farmers, energy companies and other businesses, water managers, transportation schedulers and any one who plans their activities in coming weeks or months based on what is likely, weather-wise. They come in handy, too, if you want to know how to pack for Oshkosh, say, in October, or if you’re past the last frost date and wondering if it’s safe to put out some tomato seedlings.

“What we’re trying to do with climate normals is put today’s weather in the proper context,” said Michael Palecki, who manages the project at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

Because the normals have been produced since 1930, they also say a lot about the weather over a much longer term. That is, they show how the climate has changed in the United States, as it has across the world, as a result of emissions of heat-trapping gases over more than a century.

“We’re really seeing the fingerprints of climate change in the new normals,” Dr. Palecki said. “We’re not trying to hide that.”

Not that they could. The maps showing the new temperature normals every 10 years, compared with the 20th century average, get increasingly redder.

“There’s a huge difference in temperature over time, as we go from cooler climates in the early part of the 20th century to ubiquitously warmer climates,” he said.

The change is especially drastic between the new normals and the previous ones, from 2010. “Almost every place in the U.S. has warmed,” Dr. Palecki said.

The temperature results are in keeping with what we’ve long known: that the world has warmed by more than 1 degree Celsius (about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1900, and that the pace of warming has accelerated in recent decades.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Vineyard Wind approved
Biden administration approves Vineyard Wind project, first major offshore wind farm in U.S.
By Alex Kuffner, The Providence Journal
May 11, 2021

The Biden administration has given the green light to Vineyard Wind I, a project of 62 turbines to be built in waters off Rhode Island and Massachusetts that would be the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in America.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was on the call with reporters Tuesday to announce final approval of the long-awaited $2.8-billion project that would be built between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, produce enough power for about 400,000 homes and go into operation in 2023. As Rhode Island governor, Raimondo oversaw construction of a five-turbine demonstration project off Block Island that in 2016 became the first offshore wind farm in the nation.

“In the process of doing that, I experienced first-hand how to make these projects a reality,” she said. “As governor, I saw that this is complicated to do it right.”

The 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, by proving the viability of an energy resource that had to that point been tapped only in Europe, was expected to usher in a wave of development on this side of the Atlantic. But in the nearly five years since it started sending power to electric consumers in Rhode Island, the offshore wind industry has stuttered forward in fits and starts.

While a fiercely contested auction in 2018 that raised an astounding $405 million merely for leasing rights off southern New England signaled a newfound confidence in the future of offshore wind, the delays experienced by Vineyard Wind in the face of opposition by commercial fishermen and under a less-than-friendly Trump administration were a sobering reminder that political support would be critical for anything to move forward.

The winds shifted with the election of Joe Biden last November and his adoption of a sweeping climate agenda that has prioritized the development of alternatives to fossil fuel-fired sources of power generation.

In March, the Biden administration announced an aggressive plan to boost offshore wind, setting a goal of installing enough turbines to generate 30,000 megawatts of energy by 2030. Approval of the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project, a joint venture of Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, is the strongest sign yet of the renewed federal commitment.
» Read article       

H2 fueling station
‘Universal’ faith in hydrogen could lock world into fossil fuel reliance: German study
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research concludes electrification should lead with H2 reserved for decarbonising air travel and heavy-emitting industries
By Darius Snieckus , Recharge News
May 6, 2021

Hydrogen should be reserved for focused use in decarbonising air travel and the world’s heavy-emitting industries or it could lock the world into longer-term fossil fuel reliance and drive up greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to a new German study.

Researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) concluded that hydrogen should only be used in sectors that “cannot be electrified” as production of the carrier is still “too inefficient, costly and [its] availability too uncertain, to broadly replace fossil fuels” in running cars or heating homes.

“For most sectors, directly using electricity for instance in battery electric cars or heat pumps makes more economic sense. Universally relying on hydrogen-based fuels instead and keeping combustion technologies threatens to lock in a further fossil fuel dependency and GHGs,” said PIK’s Falko Euckerdt, who led the study.

“Hydrogen-based fuels can be a great clean energy carrier – yet great are also their costs and associated risks. Fuels based on hydrogen as a universal climate solution might be a bit of false promise. While they’re wonderfully versatile, it should not be expected that they broadly replace fossil fuels.”

Hydrogen-based fuels will “likely be scarce and not competitive for at least another decade”, said Euckerdt.

“Betting on their wide-ranging use would likely increase fossil fuel dependency: if we cling to combustion technologies and hope to feed them with hydrogen-based fuels…then we [might] end up further burning oil and gas and emit GHGs. This could endanger short- and long-term climate targets.”
» Read article       

public DER
How New York Could Build Publicly Owned Electricity Without Taking Over Dirty Plants
A candidate for New York City comptroller has a novel idea for a municipally owned solar utility in a city with little space for giant panel farms.
By Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffpost
May 5, 2021

As rising utility rates squeeze working-class New Yorkers and power plant owners seek to swap oil for other fossil fuels, calls have mounted in the nation’s largest city to remove the profit motive altogether and seize the means of electricity production.

But a government takeover of the city’s utility infrastructure would be no simple feat ― steep costs, lengthy legal battles, and that’s before you get to the challenge of replacing fossil fuels with cleaner alternatives. Blackouts, electrical accidents and pollution would become a political liability for anyone in power.

But Brad Lander, the progressive Brooklyn city councilman now running for comptroller, thinks he’s found a way to skip past that and start generating clean, publicly owned electricity almost immediately.

Lander envisions spending $500 million over the next eight years to install 25,000 solar panels on rooftops citywide. The city would own and operate the panels through a municipally run utility that, given how much electricity it would generate, could negotiate better rates with Consolidated Edison, the private utility giant that controls the city’s transmission lines.

The new city-owned entity would pay rent to landlords and homeowners in exchange for rooftop space and take on all the installation costs, making it an easy sell.

“It seems so obvious, yet no one in the U.S. that I can find at any scale is doing this,” Lander said. “It seems so straightforward, given, on the one hand, an appetite for public power and, on the other, the clarity that we need to do a giant expansion of rooftop solar.”
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

lithium-metal brakethrough
Battery breakthrough for electric cars
Harvard researchers design long-lasting, stable, solid-state lithium battery to fix 40-year problem
By Leah Burrows, SEAS Communications, in The Harvard Gazette
May 12, 2021

Long-lasting, quick-charging batteries are essential to the expansion of the electric vehicle market, but today’s lithium-ion batteries fall short of what’s needed — they’re too heavy, too expensive and take too long to charge.

For decades, researchers have tried to harness the potential of solid-state, lithium-metal batteries, which hold substantially more energy in the same volume and charge in a fraction of the time compared to traditional lithium-ion batteries.

“A lithium-metal battery is considered the holy grail for battery chemistry because of its high capacity and energy density,” said Xin Li, associate professor of materials science at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). “But the stability of these batteries has always been poor.”

Now, Li and his team have designed a stable, lithium-metal, solid-state battery that can be charged and discharged at least 10,000 times — far more cycles than have been previously demonstrated — at a high current density. The researchers paired the new design with a commercial high energy density cathode material.

The research is published in Nature.

The big challenge with lithium-metal batteries has always been chemistry. Lithium batteries move lithium ions from the cathode to the anode during charging. When the anode is made of lithium metal, needle-like structures called dendrites form on the surface. These structures grow like roots into the electrolyte and pierce the barrier separating the anode and cathode, causing the battery to short or even catch fire.

To overcome this challenge, Li and his team designed a multilayer battery that sandwiches different materials of varying stabilities between the anode and cathode. This multilayer, multimaterial battery prevents the penetration of lithium dendrites not by stopping them altogether but rather by controlling and containing them.
» Read article       
» Obtain the research paper

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

fracking 101Fracking 101: What You Should Know
By EcoWatch
May. 11, 2021

What is fracking?

Fracking is a process of blasting water, chemicals and frac sand deep into the earth to break up sedimentary rock and access natural gas and crude oil deposits. The fracking industry, which has sought to promote the practice as safe and controlled, has preferred the term “hydraulic fracturing.”

Fracking emerged as an unconventional, “relatively new” and extremely popular technique only about 20 years ago in the U.S., after advances in technology gave it an unprecedented ability to identify and extract massive amounts of resources efficiently.

Fracking is one of the most important environmental issues today, and it’s a prime example of how a new technology that offers immediate economic and political benefits can outpace (often less obvious) environmental and health concerns.

Why is fracking so controversial?

Modern fracking emerged so quickly, faster than its impacts were understood. Just as importantly, once scientists, health experts and the public started to object with evidence of harm it was causing, business and government succeeded in perpetuating a message of uncertainty, that more research was necessary, further enabling the “full speed ahead” fracking juggernaut.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 5/7/21

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Welcome back.

Out here in the Berkshires, we’re working to raise awareness of health and emissions problems associated with fossil fueled peaking power plants. We’re focused on replacing our existing peakers with a combination of battery storage, renewable energy, and energy efficiency measures. Meanwhile, our friends on Boston’s north shore are mounting a similar effort to avoid construction of a new gas plant in Peabody. Plans for that progressed quietly for six years, and largely flew under the radar until very recently.

The struggle to retire/replace/avoid natural gas peakers provides an excellent segue into the murky world of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Every transaction requires a massive amount of computation, and huge banks of computers are humming away right now to handle that traffic. Annual energy consumption to support cryptocurrencies surpasses that of the entire country of Sweden – and that will only rise as the value and utilization of these currencies increases. Devoting massive amounts of electric energy (no matter how it’s generated) to supporting electronic currencies runs counter to climate mitigation efforts. New York state, host to a growing number of cryptocurrency computing centers, is considering placing a 3-year moratorium on “crypto mining” while it studies whether it can support these currencies while still meeting its emissions targets.

We have an update on state-level efforts to criminalize protests, and also a good article explaining the history, current status, and potential future of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Recall that courageous and sustained resistance at Standing Rock in 2016-17, largely by indigenous people, raised awareness and rallied popular opposition to this and other pipelines. Republican-dominated state legislatures (backed by the fossil fuel industry) responded with a growing arsenal of draconian laws aimed at raising the stakes for people and organizations who engage in civil action – in the form of steep fines and long prison sentences.

Like it or not, greening the economy is going to require a lot of mining. Projected demand for minerals like lithium, silicon, copper, and aluminum outpace our rate of acquisition. Meanwhile, we’re learning that some of our schemes to benefit the climate are under-performing. Forest carbon offsets involve tricky accounting, and a new California study exposes some of the pitfalls. Lesson: there’s no substitute for actually not burning stuff.

EV enthusiasts are impatiently awaiting the arrival of solid state batteries, and expect them to seriously juice the potential for clean transportation. This article explains the technology, why it’s causing so much buzz, and why you can’t have it for a while.

Notes from the fossil fuel industry include Joe Nolan’s promotion to CEO of Eversource, New England’s largest utility. Congratulations, Mr. Nolan. We’re encouraged that you spent 25 years expanding Eversource’s renewable energy portfolio – which sounds better if we ignore the fact that the utility scored public relations points off that program while it worked even harder to expand sales of natural gas. And we open this section with an article exposing Eversource’s leadership in an industry effort fight electrification and lock in natural gas consumption for years to come.

We close with a strange, developing biomass story from the western Massachusetts town of Ashfield. Seems like California-based Clean Energy Technologies (CETY) plans to build a high temperature ablative fast pyrolysis reactor in town as a first step to other, similar-but-larger facilities elsewhere in the region. A press release indicated town support, which surprised town officials who knew nothing about the plans….

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

Pittsfield-Generating-Power-Plant
Letter: Keep clean air a priority as Pittsfield ‘peaker plant’ is up for permit
By Susan Purser, Becket, in The Berkshire Eagle
May 4, 2021


To the editor: Currently, we have a chance to improve the air quality in Pittsfield especially on very hot or cold days.

Pittsfield Generating, a “peaker plant” on Merrill Road, provides electricity during periods of very high power demand. Unfortunately, this plant is an old facility and is quite polluting to the surrounding neighborhoods of Morningside and Allendale when it runs a few times a year.

The Pittsfield Generating is up for renewal of its air quality permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection in the next few months. This is an excellent opportunity to bring this plant into the 21st century with a combination of solar, battery storage and conservation, or, if needed, to be shut down. An upgrade to the plant not only provides for cleaner air but continues the flow of revenue from the plant to the city of Pittsfield.

There will be a DEP public hearing regarding the permit soon. Residents of Pittsfield are strongly encouraged to attend or submit comments.

Further information will be available at tinyurl.com/PeakerPermit. In addition, please sign the peaker petition at tinyurl.com/PeakerPetition.

We all deserve cleaner air to breathe. Let’s make that happen.
» Read letter        

electric meters
North Shore Officials, Peabody Light Spar Over Proposed Gas Plant
Officials cite resident safety and environmental concerns, while Peabody Light said the plant is needed to meet surge capacity requirements.
By Scott Souza, Patch
May 6, 2021

PEABODY, MA —Growing environmental and quality-of-life concerns surrounding a proposed gas power plant in Peabody are in conflict with the Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s insistence that the plant is necessary to meet surge capacity requirements.

The long-proposed plant moved forward in relative obscurity until recent months when advocacy groups began to publicize the project and both residents and elected officials started questioning whether the congested city is right for the plant they say is in conflict with the state’s new climate law.

In a recent letter to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, State Rep. Sally Kerans (D-Danvers) said the Waters River substation location near the Peabody and Danvers line already encompasses several “environmental burdens,” including Route 128, a propane company, a pipeline.

“The plan before you is for a gas turbine that can rev up to full capacity in 10 minutes, a new 200,000(-gallon) oil tank, a smokestack, an ammonia storage (container), among several components,” she wrote. “All of these bring to mind legitimate concerns about the impact on our environment and our health.”

She also questioned whether renewal energies have been [exhaustively considered] as an alternative to the new plant and why there has been so little public input allowed in the five years of the proposal’s development.
» Read letter        

stealthy
Peabody power plant plans caught city off-guard
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
May 4, 2021

PEABODY — About three weeks ago, Councilor-at-Large Jon Turco received a notice about a public hearing related to the building of a new gas-powered plant in the city. He thought it was a new project.

“I read through it, and truthfully I thought, ‘this must be in the beginning phases of a project, so let me learn about this,’” he said about the three-page document informing him of an upcoming Department of Public Utilities meeting. “Then through that meeting, I learned this was taking place since 2017 and had been voted on by our Light Plant. Yet there had been no correspondence from the Light Plant to the council, no correspondence from the state to the council, even though I believe this a project which will have an impact on Ward 3 in Peabody.”

Turco isn’t alone. Other local and state elected officials said they weren’t aware of the years-old plans to build a 60-megawatt power plant at Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River substation, behind the Pulaski Street industrial park. But both the Light Plant and the organization which would operate the plant said there were no attempts to keep the project secret from public officials or Peabody residents.

The plans to build the plant, which would be owned and operated by Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company, were unanimously approved by the light commission in 2017.

“There are 11 members of the City Council and all or all but a few were completely caught off guard,” Turco said. “That is a problem, because we were elected to represent these people.”
» Read article               

» More about peaker plants

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Greenidge Generation Holdings
As bitcoin mining hooks into Upstate NY power plants, some wonder if it’s just more hot air
By Glenn Coin, Syracuse.com
May 5, 2021

Syracuse, N.Y. – By next year, owners of a gas-fired power plant on Seneca Lake hope to be producing enough electricity to power 85,000 homes.

But much of that electricity won’t turn on lights in living rooms. It will instead stay on site at the plant in Dresden, powering up to 27,000 computers that will run 24 hours a day to snag increasingly rare virtual currency called bitcoin.

The plant worries climate change activists, who say the extraordinary amount of energy consumed in what’s known as bitcoin mining will make it hard for New York to meet its aggressive climate change goals.

“We’re talking about burning more fossil fuels to make fake money in the middle of climate change, which we view as insane,” said Yvonne Taylor, vice president of the environmental group Seneca Lake Guardian.

The Greenidge Generation Holdings plant is part of a growing trend. Lucrative cryptocurrency centers gobble up huge amounts of energy, so much so that they take over power plants or old factories to use for themselves. Several have already set up shop in Upstate New York, where energy is cheap and cold weather reduces the cost of cooling thousands of computer processors, each of which emits as much heat as a 1,400-watt hair dryer.

New York will have to grapple with the surging demand of bitcoin mining if the state expects to slash greenhouse gas emissions, said Tristan Brown, a professor of sustainable resources management at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“Bitcoin does raise some interesting questions,” Brown said. “Is this something we necessarily want to have contributing to our (electrical) demand? What type of value does it bring the state economically? That’s ultimately what state policy will have to determine.”

While those questions are being debated, state legislators in both houses have introduced bills to impose a three-year moratorium on cryptocurrency mining operations.

“This is literally the biggest environmental issue we’re facing,” said Assemblywoman Anna Kelles, D-Ithaca, who wrote and is sponsoring the moratorium bill in the Assembly. “If this does take over a lot of power plants, the greenhouse impact alone will counter all the work we’ve been doing. We need to understand it better.”
» Read article               

BitcoinCrypto mining ban considered in New York following environmental concerns
Cryptocurrency mining could be suspended in the state of New York
By Joel Khalili, TechRadar
May 6, 2021

The practice of cryptocurrency mining could be banned on environmental grounds in the state of New York after a new bill was placed under review.

Tabled by Democrat senator Kevin Parker, the bill seeks to establish a three-year moratorium on crypto mining, with the goal of preventing irreparable damage to the state’s sustainability ambitions.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Environmental Conservation on May 3 and, if passed, will require crypto miners to undergo an environmental impact review if they are to continue to operate.

“The continued and expanded operation of cryptocurrency mining centers will greatly increase the amount of energy usage in the State of New York and it is reasonable to believe the associated greenhouse gas emissions will irreparably harm compliance with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.”

The recent surge in the price of cryptocurrencies has placed mining practices under the spotlight. One of the most common grievances with Bitcoin mining in particular has to do with the toll it takes on the environment.

Under the proof-of-work (PoW) system applied by Bitcoin and others like it, mining operations compete to solve complex mathematical problems. The first to do so earns the right to process a block of transactions, in exchange for transaction fees and newly minted cryptocurrency.

Although this system is crucial to maintaining and securing the Bitcoin network, the amount of energy used up by competing miners is astronomical. A recent report from the University of Cambridge claims that Bitcoin uses up more energy on an annual basis than the country of Sweden, at 141.91 TWh/year.
» Read article               

» More about cryptocurrency

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

bill mill
Montana, Kansas, and Arkansas enter the arms race to criminalize protest

The Republican push to criminalize pipeline protests is expanding beyond fossil fuel-producing states.
By Naveena Sadasivam, Grist
May 3, 2021

Montana will become the fourth state this year to pass legislation that increases penalties for trespass on properties with so-called “critical infrastructure” — a long list of facilities including pipelines, refineries, and other oil and gas equipment. The bill punishes those who “materially impede or inhibit operations” of an oil and gas facility with up to 18 months in prison and a fine of $4,500. Those who cause damage to critical infrastructure that costs more than $1,500 could face a jail term of up to 30 years. Kansas and Arkansas passed similar laws earlier this month, and in January Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed a bill that makes trespassing on oil and gas properties a misdemeanor punishable with up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

In total, 15 states have enacted such laws since 2017, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, a nonprofit civil liberties group that has been tracking anti-protest legislation. (Montana will be the sixteenth if the bill gets the governor’s signature.) The most common provisions in these bills include lengthening jail terms so they stretch anywhere between six months and several decades, raising fines to the tune of thousands of dollars, and financially penalizing groups that help organize protests resulting in trespass or damage of critical infrastructure. For instance, trespassing on property with a pipeline in Arkansas is now a Class D felony punishable with up to six years in prison; in contrast, a traditional criminal trespass charge has a maximum of one year of jail time.

“That’s an incredibly harsh and chilling penalty, particularly in the context of environmental protests which occur in or around construction sites for pipelines, where it’s unclear where property lines begin and end,” said Nicholas Robinson, a senior legal advisor with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. In cases where pipeline companies used eminent domain to seize land, the protesters arrested may be the very property owners who’ve been forced to sell access to their land.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

blacksnake
Explainer: The Dakota Access Pipeline faces possible closure
By Stephanie Kelly and Devika Kumar, Reuters
May 4, 2021

A U.S. court could order the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) shut in coming weeks, disrupting deliveries of crude oil, and making nearby rail traffic more congested.

WHAT IS DAPL?

The 570,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Dakota Access pipeline, or DAPL, is the largest oil pipeline out of the Bakken shale basin and has been locked in a legal battle with Native American tribes over whether the line can stay open after a judge scrapped a key environmental permit last year.

A federal judge ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to update the court on its environmental review of the pipeline by May 3 and decide if it believes the line should shut during the process. read more

WHAT IS THE DISPUTE?

Native American tribes long opposed to DAPL say the line endangers Lake Oahe, a critical water source. Pipeline construction under the lake was finished in early 2017 and the line is currently operating. But a judge last year vacated a key permit allowing that service, raising the possibility that the line could close while a thorough environmental review was completed.

Dakota Access oil pipeline’s operators plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, according to a court filing last week. read more
» Read article               

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

mineral hungry
New climate goals are going to need a lot more minerals
Demand for critical minerals is expected to skyrocket
By Justine Calma, The Verge
May 5, 2021

The world isn’t mining enough minerals to reach a future that runs on clean energy, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Minerals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel are the building blocks for clean energy economies. Countries can’t meet their new climate goals without them. If supply chains can’t meet skyrocketing demand, mineral shortages could mean clean energy shortages.

Many of the world’s biggest economies have set goals to nearly eliminate climate pollution from fossil fuels in the next few decades. Leading climate scientists have found that greenhouse gas emissions need to reach net zero globally by around 2050 to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

Hitting that 2050 target would require six times more critical minerals than are produced today, the IEA found. For some minerals, the gap between supply and predicted future demand is way bigger. Demand for lithium, for example, is expected to grow 70 times over the next couple decades. But the supply from existing lithium mines and projects under construction can only meet about half the projected demand this decade.

“This mismatch is something that worries us,” Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA, said at a press conference today. “Our numbers show that the critical minerals are not a sideshow in our journey to reach climate goals. It’s a part of the main event.”

Batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy storage are the biggest factor driving the potential mineral shortage. An EV requires six times more mineral resources than a car that runs on fossil fuels. Cobalt, nickel, graphite, and manganese are essential for batteries, too.

Wind and solar power generation are also mineral-hungry industries. Wind turbines need rare earth minerals for magnets, while solar panels are made with copper, silicon, and silver. An increase in renewable energy is also spurring the need to modernize electrical grids, which can’t be done without more copper and aluminum.
» Read article              
» Read the IEA report

solar equity
DOE turns its focus toward equity with commitment to lowering solar deployment barriers
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
May 5, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Tuesday announced plans to encourage deployment of more solar and storage in low- and moderate-income communities, including a more than $15 million commitment for technical assistance and to help underserved areas attract investment.

The new initiatives and funding will help advance DOE’s justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) goals, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement, including by expanding access to clean energy and fostering a more diverse solar workforce.

Equity in the clean energy transition was also on the agenda Tuesday at the EE Global Forum. Jigar Shah, head of DOE’s Loan Programs Office, said it is “obvious” that equity issues were not a priority for the office under previous administrations.

Decarbonizing the electricity sector by 2035 will mean delivering clean energy to all communities. Shah, who founded solar company SunEdison, said it can be more difficult or expensive to get renewables projects built in some areas, but DOE is committed to changing that.

The Biden administration is “very committed to equity,” Shah said. But “it is obvious the loan program office has not participated in this issue. We do billion-dollar solar farms and billion-dollar wind farms, or geothermal facilities, or [work with] Ford Motor Co., or a Tesla manufacturing facility.”

To address the disconnect, Shah said DOE “started a listening tour” and has had talks with more than 40 groups including residential solar installers and municipalities “around where they thought we might have the most impact.”
» Read article              

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

offsets
The Climate Solution Actually Adding Millions of Tons of CO2 Into the Atmosphere

New research shows that California’s climate policy created up to 39 million carbon credits that aren’t achieving real carbon savings. But companies can buy these forest offsets to justify polluting more anyway.
By Lisa Song, ProPublica, and James Temple, MIT Technology Review
April 29, 2021

Along the coast of Northern California near the Oregon border, the cool, moist air off the Pacific sustains a strip of temperate rainforests. Soaring redwoods and Douglas firs dominate these thick, wet woodlands, creating a canopy hundreds of feet high.

But if you travel inland the mix of trees gradually shifts.

Beyond the crest of the Klamath Mountains, you descend into an evergreen medley of sugar pines, incense cedars and still more Douglas firs. As you continue into the Cascade Range, you pass through sparser forests dominated by Ponderosa pines. These tall, slender trees with prickly cones thrive in the hotter, drier conditions on the eastern side of the state.

All trees consume carbon dioxide, releasing the oxygen and storing the carbon in their trunks, branches and roots. Every ton of carbon sequestered in a living tree is a ton that isn’t contributing to climate change. And that thick coastal forest can easily store twice as much carbon per acre as the trees deeper inland.

This math is crucial to determining the success of California’s forest offset program, which seeks to reduce carbon emissions by preserving trees. The state established the program a decade ago as part of its efforts to combat climate change.

But ecology is messy. The boundaries between forest types are nebulous, and the actual amount of carbon on any given acre depends on local climate conditions, conservation efforts, logging history and more.

California’s top climate regulator, the Air Resources Board, glossed over much of this complexity in implementing the state’s program. The agency established fixed boundaries around giant regions, boiling down the carbon stored in a wide mix of tree species into simplified, regional averages.

That decision has generated tens of millions of carbon credits with dubious climate value, according to a new analysis by CarbonPlan, a San Francisco nonprofit that analyzes the scientific integrity of carbon removal efforts.
» Read article              
» Read the Carbon Plan analysis

melt water
Dissecting ‘Unsettled,’ a Skeptical Physicist’s Book About Climate Science
Five statements author Steven Koonin makes that do not comport with the evidence.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
May 4, 2021

Physicist Steven Koonin, a former BP chief scientist and Obama administration energy official,  seeks to downplay climate change risk in his new book, “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t and Why it Matters.”

His critics say he often draws general conclusions from specific slices of data or uncertainties (sometimes signaled by key words or phrases.) As a result, they say, his statements are frequently misleading, and often leave the reader with the incorrect impression climate scientists are hiding the truth.

“Identifying, quantifying, and reducing uncertainties in models and observations is an integral part of climate science,” said atmospheric scientist Benjamin Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “The climate science community discusses uncertainties in an open and transparent way, and has done so for decades. It is simply untrue that Prof. Koonin is confronting climate scientists with unpleasant facts they have ignored or failed to understand.”

Scientists who have been engaged in recent climate research also believe Koonin’s critique seems out of step with what has been happening in the field. He relies on the latest statements of the consensus science, but the most recent reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out in 2013 and 2014. The IPCC’s updated assessment reports due out later this year and next year will almost certainly include recent studies that undercut Koonin’s conclusions.

Here are five statements Koonin makes in “Unsettled” that mainstream climate scientists say are misleading, incorrect or undercut by current research:
» Read article               

» More about climate

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

solid power
What You Need to Know About Solid-State Batteries
This next jump in battery-tech could solve a lot of EV problems.
By Chris Teague, Autoweek
April 30, 2021

The world of the internal combustion engine will sadly, but very necessarily, come to a close at some point in many of our lifetimes. Hybrids and electric vehicles are becoming more affordable and more advanced at a rapid pace, which means batteries are taking the place of fossil fuels. This has led to an equally rapid progression in battery technology, with the main goals of improving capacity, charging times, and safety. One major advancement in this field is the advent of solid-state batteries, which promise to push the boundaries of the limitations that current lithium-ion batteries carry.

Solid-state batteries, as the name suggests, do away with the heavy liquid electrolyte that lives inside lithium-ion batteries. The replacement is a solid electrolyte, which can come in the form of a glass, ceramics, or other materials. The overall structure of a solid-state battery is quite similar to that of traditional lithium-ion batteries otherwise, but without the need for a liquid, the batteries can be much denser and compact. Without diving too deeply into their inner workings, solid-state batteries expend energy and recharge much in the same way as traditional lithium-ion units do.

Beyond the rare potential for causing a fire, the liquid electrolytes inside lithium-ion batteries aren’t particularly great at longevity. Over time, compounds in the liquid can corrode internal battery components and can experience degradation or solid material build up inside, both of which lead to a degradation of battery capacity and overall performance.

Solid-state batteries are, for now, still in development. Toyota aims to sell its first EV powered by a solid-state battery before 2030, while several other automakers are working in partnership with battery produces on their own projects. Notably, Volkswagen is working in partnership with QuantumScape, a California-based company that hopes to push its batteries into commercial use by 2024.
» Read article               

e-fuel mirage
Study: Synthetic fuels cost more money and cause more CO2 emissions vs. batteries
By Stephen Edelstein, Green Car Reports
May 4, 2021

As buzz around synthetic fuels builds, the Europe-focused environmental group Transport & Environment (T&E) cautions that vehicles burning these supposedly greener fuels may cause more carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions than battery-powered vehicles, and cost more as well.

That’s the conclusion T&E voiced in a position paper asking regulators not to include synthetic fuels (sometimes referred to as “e-fuels”) in the upcoming Euro 7 framework for emissions rules in the European Union.

As some automakers begin to experiment with the technology, T&E said synthetic fuels shouldn’t qualify for emissions-reduction credits under future regulations, calling the environmental benefits of these fuels “a mirage.”

By 2030, an electric car charged from the electricity grid will produce 40% lower CO2 emissions than a gasoline car burning synthetic fuel, according to the paper. Furthermore, the amount of electricity used to power an EV is lower than the amount needed to produce synthetic fuel, so electric cars do better on emissions even with a dirtier grid mix than synthetic-fueled cars, the paper said.

Synthetic fuel will also be more expensive for both automakers and drivers, T&E said.
» Read article              

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

leaked docs
Leaked docs: Gas industry secretly fights electrification
By Benjamin Storrow, E&E News
May 3, 2021

In public, Eversource Energy likes to tout its carbon neutrality goals and its investments in offshore wind.

But officials from New England’s largest utility struck a different tone during an industry presentation in mid-March. Instead of advocating for lower emissions, company officials outlined a defensive strategy for preserving the use of natural gas for years to come.

Natural gas is “in for [the] fight of it’s life,” said one slide presented at the meeting and obtained by E&E News. It also called for a lobbying campaign, saying that “everyone needs to contact legislators in favor of NG.” Another slide asked how the industry could “take advantage of power outage fear” to bolster gas’s fortunes.

Eversource is identified in the presentation materials as the co-leader of a national “Consortium to Combat Electrification,” run out of the Energy Solutions Center, a trade group based in Washington. The slides identified 14 other utilities involved in the effort and said the group’s mission was to “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.”

The presentation comes amid a rising tide of policies aimed at banning natural gas in buildings.

Eversource executives sought to distance themselves from the messages conveyed in the presentation, saying they don’t reflect the views of the utility’s leadership. Yet the company’s private assessment, delivered to industry insiders, underscores the challenge facing gas providers as state and federal policymakers set their sights on net-zero emissions targets.
» Read article               

Joe Nolan
Eversource’s New CEO Talks Future of Natural Gas
By Emily Hayes, RTO Insider
April 30, 2021

As Joe Nolan prepares to take on the role of Eversource Energy’s chief executive on May 5, he is facing the challenge of transitioning New England’s largest utility to be carbon neutral in operations –— and potentially, carbon neutral for its customers.

He has worked for the utility for 35 years, and 25 of those years were spent growing Eversource’s renewable energy portfolio. He is leading the utility’s joint venture with Danish offshore wind company Ørsted to start building three wind farms in the Northeast. Nolan will take over the CEO position from Jim Judge.

Nolan, 58, told NetZero Insider he wants to double down on achieving carbon neutrality for Eversource’s buildings and vehicle fleets as CEO.

But Massachusetts, one of the states Eversource operates in, recently passed comprehensive climate legislation that includes a legally binding commitment to reduce the state’s carbon emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by 2030. President Biden’s proposal to cut emissions in half by 2030 only strengthens state mandates like Massachusetts’s new climate laws.

Yet the utility plans to spend billions of dollars upgrading pipes that distribute natural gas, and ratepayers will be responsible for covering the cost. The utility is also in the process of renewing three contracts with natural gas supply companies.

The plans clash with the goals of the state’s new climate law, as well as the new climate-driven mission statement for the state’s Department of Public Utilities. But new orders that specify how to wean utilities off fossil fuels are needed before agencies enforcement can happen.

Energy experts like Amy Boyd, director of policy at the Acadia Center, say that the money utilities put into natural gas systems is “buried money and stranded costs” that will fall on low-income and environmental justice communities without the same access to renewable energy options. As a result, those communities will experience higher utility rates.

From a physics perspective, it is “always more thermodynamically effective to just use electricity directly,” Boyd added.

Hydrogen molecules are also smaller than methane. If methane is leaking in the existing natural gas pipe system, then hydrogen will surely leak as well.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

image looks green
Construction deal reached for $15m Massachusetts biomass project
By Power Engineering International
May 3, 2021

US-based energy company Clean Energy Technologies has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ashfield Agricultural Commission (Ashfield Ag Resources) for the development of a biomass renewable energy processing facility in Massachusetts.

The MoU enables the two parties to co-develop the $15 million project. Clean Energy Technologies (CETY) will provide its high temperature ablative fast pyrolysis reactor (HTAP Biomass Reactor). Ashfield Ag Resources has provided the energy company with the rights to feedstock and site control.

The HTAP Biomass Reactor is a ‘unique’ and proprietary process that transforms organic forest waste by using ultra-high temperatures and produces renewable electrical power, BioChar fertilizer and high heating value fuel gas in addition to other commercially valuable chemicals.

The parties agreed in principle to the critical components which are expected to annually deliver up to 14,600MWh of renewable electricity and 1,500 tons of BioChar by Q1 2022.

Clean Energy Technologies also plans to secure additional biomass resources to deliver additional projects ten times larger in the future. (emphasis added)

Kam Mahdi, CEO of CETY, said “This project is the first of four anticipated renewable biomass projects, and is expected to serve as a model for developing new projects to capture market share in this highly profitable and growing industry. By vertically integrating the biomass projects into our business, we are also able to grow our heat recovery business horizontally. We hope that our future projects will be large by orders of magnitude and have a profound impact on the environment while bringing us new sources of income.”
» Read article
» Read press release
» Read some of the backstory: Plant to power Ashfield lumber biz draws ire, By Richie Davis, Daily Hampshire Gazette, June 24, 2018

» More about biomass              

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Weekly News Check-In 4/30/21

Welcome back.

First, a quick note that the Weymouth compressor station is attempting another startup, following three emergency shut-downs with large natural gas releases – all within the first eight months of operation. Efforts continue to shutter the facility permanently. A story with similar plot lines is gathering momentum a little farther north, where six-year-old plans to build a nat-gas peaking power plant at Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River electrical substation is finally getting a public hearing – and an earful from folks who complain that plans have progressed without appropriate public disclosure and comment. If constructed, the plant would be instantly obsolete relative to battery storage, a liability against Massachusetts’ aggressive emissions reduction goals, and a potentially expensive stranded asset on Peabody MLP’s books.

Other New England nat-gas infrastructure projects are attracting protests, with considerable activity focused on the proposed Killingly, CT generating plant.

Democratic leaders in 16 states and the District of Columbia have moved to support Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s fight to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline where it crosses the environmentally-sensitive Straits of Mackinac. They submitted an amicus brief in U.S. district court, arguing that jurisdiction in this case belongs at the state – not federal – level. 

In support of the fossil fuel divestment movement, we posted a story aimed at college students, describing how to get your institution to commit. And a related article reporting that student divestment organizers from all eight Ivy League colleges have joined forces to define timelines and acceptable levels of divestment.

Some fossil fuel workers are already finding good jobs in the green economy. Oil workers from the Gulf coast are applying their specialized skills to the booming offshore wind energy sector, set to employ thousands.

An upcoming UN climate report will stress the critical importance of quickly reigning in methane emissions. While methane enters the atmosphere from many sources – both natural and industrial – the oil and gas industry is a major emitter that can significantly reduce its methane emissions by implementing better practices. To that end, the fossil fuel industry may welcome the recent U.S. Senate vote to reinstate methane rules dropped by the Trump administration. Now legitimate operators can’t be undercut by those who reduce costs by allowing excessive emissions during extraction and transport.

It’s easy to sign up for a clean energy plan from electricity suppliers who simply buy enough renewable energy credits to cover their needs. But the electrons powering their customers’ appliances may still be produced in local fossil fuel plants. It’s much harder to commit to sourcing “24/7 clean electricity”, which requires the use of actual renewable energy electrons – and the Biden administration just put the federal government on course to do that.

We have updates on energy storage technologies, and we take the long view on clean transportation, looking at the future of carbon-free ships and electric aircraft, including an important article from last year describing the engineering breakthrough that opens the path to reliable, affordable, solid-state EV batteries.

This week’s wrap-up includes a helpful piece explaining how woody biomass sourced from American forests became the “zero-emissions” fuel of choice in European power plants. And early research indicates that bacteria might be useful in removing some microplastics from the aquatic environment.

  For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Compressor station coming back online after April 6 shutdown
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
April 27, 2021

WEYMOUTH — The energy company that owns the natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River plans to start the facility back up, several weeks after the third unplanned gas release at the site since September. 

Enbridge, the Canadian-based energy company that built the compressor station, notified the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection this week that it may vent gas from the facility between April 29 and May 5 while it brings it back into service.

Enbridge spokesman Max Bergeron said in an email that the process will take a few days and involve ” controlled venting of natural gas through a stack specifically designed” for venting.

“We are planning to use advanced specialized equipment to minimize the volume of natural gas vented into the atmosphere,” he said. “In order to ensure awareness, we have notified state and local officials of these activities. We are proceeding with public health and safety as our priority.”

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

On April 6, the compressor unit had an issue and shut off to prevent equipment damage, Bergeron said. The facility then vented natural gas, which Enbridge was required to report to MassDEP. Bergeron said Enbridge has [resolved] the issue.
» Read article                 

» More about the Weymouth compressor          

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


Residents, officials speak out against plant
By Erin Nolan, The Salem News
April 27, 2021

PEABODY — For Mireille Bejjani, the Department of Public Utilities hearing on Monday morning felt like the first time Peabody and other North Shore residents could voice their concerns about plans to build a 60-megawatt gas-powered plant in the city.

“A lot of folks said this morning this process has been marked by a lack of transparency and public engagement,” said Bejjani, a community organizer for Community Action Works, a nonprofit that works with communities to prevent and clean up pollution. The group has been holding community meetings to educate people about the proposal. 

“This hearing, while there were members of the public able to attend and speak, that does not correct all those years where the public wasn’t included,” Bejjani said, “and there is a lot more work to be done in order to make this a fully transparent process.”

At the hearing, more than 20 people — including several local and state officials — spoke against Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company’s years-old plan to build a gas peaking power plant at the Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s Waters River substation, behind the Pulaski Street industrial park.
» Read article                 

» More about peaking power plants          

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS


As New England Wind Power Grows, Local Activists Try To Halt Natural Gas Projects
By J.D. Allen & Patrick Skahill, NHPR
April 21, 2021

The fight against fossil fuel expansion in New England has a new front in Killingly, Connecticut. Climate activists want the state to reject a proposed natural gas plant there, which is tied to the company behind a controversial pipeline development currently underway in Minnesota and a recently completed natural gas line in New England.

Connecticut’s activists say construction of new climate-warming infrastructure like this is out of step with the clean energy goals of most New England’s governors and President Joe Biden.

This month, a group of climate activists went door-to-door to banks in New Haven, Connecticut, to tell management to divest from energy projects that contribute to greenhouse gas pollution.

Melinda Tuhus, a long-time climate activist, and the group made stops at TD Bank, Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo, all banks that have provided financial support to the energy company Enbridge, which is currently working to upgrade a 1,000-mile pipeline and have it carry tar sands oil from Canada across Indigenous land in Minnesota to a crude oil transportation hub on Lake Superior.

“People haven’t been sitting down — doing incredibly creative, courageous and non-violent civil disobedience and halting construction for various periods of time,” Tuhus said.

To activists, the danger — in addition to the destruction of tribal territory — is that the breakdown of sands oil into gasoline releases up to three times the carbon emissions of crude oil.
» Read article                 

» More about protests and actions           

 

PIPELINES


17 state leaders join Michigan’s plea for state sovereignty in Line 5 battle
By Beth LeBlanc, The Detroit News
April 23, 2021

Democratic leaders in 16 states and the District of Columbia have taken Michigan’s side in its fight to have a state court, not a federal judge, decide whether the state has the authority to shutter Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

The states submitted an amicus brief earlier this month, arguing that federal courts don’t have the jurisdiction to rule on disputes over state property rights even if the pipeline alleged to be in violation of those property rights is federally regulated.

Attorney General Dana Nessel asked Ingham County Circuit Court last year to uphold Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s revocation of Enbridge’s easement in the Straits of Mackinac as well as her order to shutter the pipeline by May 12. 

But Enbridge removed Nessel’s case to federal court, where the Canadian oil giant also sued to stop the closure on the premise that regulation of the pipeline is exclusive to federal authorities, namely the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Nessel has asked U.S. District Judge Janet Neff to send the case back to Ingham County Circuit Court. She was joined Friday by 15 attorneys general and two governors who also believe a state court should decide the issue. 

“Despite federal safety regulations for pipelines, states are free to exercise their public trust powers to determine whether and where pipelines may cross their sovereign lands,” the states said in their filing. 

In a Friday statement, Whitmer said Enbridge’s argument that Michigan has no further say in the pipeline’s regulation after signing the 1953 easement is “absurd and antidemocratic.”

“I’m thrilled to have the support of so many other governors and attorneys general who recognize the important rights states have over the location of pipelines within their boundaries,” Whitmer said.
» Read article                 

» More about pipelines           

 

DIVESTMENT


How to get your university to divest from fossil fuels
By Siobhan Neela-Stock, Mashable
April 28, 2021

University of Michigan students know a little something about how difficult it can be to get a resistant administration to stop investing in fossil fuels.

Even convincing the school to greenlight a committee to just explore the issue was a hair-pulling hassle. In 2015, a group of University of Michigan law students tried to do just that but “basically got the middle finger from the university,” says Jonathan Morris, a University of Michigan Ph.D. student who has long been involved in divestment efforts.

It took years of demonstrating, building coalitions, and hard work, but this year that middle finger turned into a hard-won handshake. The University of Michigan has committed to discontinue its investments in fossil fuel companies and approved $140 million in renewable energy investments. 

The University of Michigan isn’t the only one to cave to student demands. Universities are divesting billions from fossil fuels because of student action. The groups behind those campaigns, which stretch across the globe from the U.S. to the UK to Australia, give similar advice if you want to encourage your university to divest too: Keep applying pressure and don’t give up.

Over half of the UK’s more than 150 universities have made some sort of divestment commitment. In the U.S., which has roughly 4,000 colleges and universities, about 60 have done the same, according to data compiled by Fossil Free, a divestment tracking project by environmental advocacy group 350.org. 

Many schools argue they won’t divest because they have a responsibility to increase income from their donations, and they are working to find climate change solutions via university research versus withholding their pocketbooks, the Associated Press reported. Some also generally contend that as investors in fossil fuel companies they can develop stakeholder sway over energy company decisions.

But J. Clarke of People & Planet, a social and environmental justice group that works with students to get UK universities to divest, sees a different motivation. 

“I think the biggest reason why universities don’t want to divest is the biggest reason why students do,” says Clarke. “It’s a political statement…  [Universities] don’t want to be seen as taking a side.”
» Read article                


All eight Ivy League student governments sign resolution calling for fossil fuel divestment
By Elizabeth Meisenzahl and Delaney Parks, The Daily Pennsylvanian
April 28, 2021

All eight Ivy League student body presidents signed a joint resolution authored by Penn’s Student Sustainability Association calling for each school to fully divest from fossil fuels.

The resolution, which also contains contributions from Penn’s Undergraduate Assembly, considers full divestment to be an end to new investments by Fiscal Year 2021, and complete divestment by Fiscal Year 2025. The resolution defines divestment as no investments in any of the top 200 fossil fuel companies; in companies that extract, process, transmit, or refine coal, oil, or gas; or in any utilities whose primary business function it is to burn fossil fuels for electricity.         

University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy did not respond to a request for comment on whether Penn’s administration is aware of the resolution or if it plans to act on it. 

College junior and SSAP Co-Chair Vyshnavi Kosigishroff said Penn’s 2020 announcement not to invest in coal and tar sands, as well as its recent commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from endowment investments by 2050, are misleading and insufficient.                

“SSAP, generally speaking, considers this announcement [of divestment by 2050] to be a lot of greenwashing, not really a commitment to anything, and really unambitious. [It] continues the narrative of Penn being really far behind our peer institutions,” Kosigishroff said.

Climate activists from SSAP and Fossil Free Penn criticized Penn’s plan for continuing to invest in fossil fuels. Penn’s plan for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 puts it on the same timeline as that of the oil company BP.    
» Read article                

» More about divestment        

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY


Gulf Coast Oil Workers Are Building America’s Offshore Wind Industry
More than a decade after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Gulf Coast oil workers are transitioning into offshore wind.
By Sara Sneath, Drilled News
April 20, 2021

“The biggest misconception about transitioning from offshore drilling to offshore wind is the idea that oil platforms can be reused to hold wind turbines,” Louisiana state Representative Joseph Orgeron said in a recent phone interview. Offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico weren’t designed to handle that sort of load. The weight distribution of an offshore wind turbine is like trying to mount a “pumpkin on a pole,” Orgeron said. 

To function, the vertical base needs to be stout enough to handle the movement of the blades spinning and the face rotating directions with the wind. 

But while offshore drilling platforms don’t quite work as offshore wind platforms, what can be repurposed are the workers and building techniques that have supported offshore oil drilling. A single offshore wind farm could employ more than 4,000 people during construction and 150 people long-term, according to a 2020 analysis by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Rep. Orgeron didn’t start out considering the engineering difficulties of renewable energy. He grew up in the bayous of Louisiana, the homebase for his family’s business of offshore oilfield service vessels. When the oil work started to dry up, he realized that offshore wind could help his family’s company, Montco Offshore Inc, stay afloat. 

“I was fully enamored by offshore wind,” he said. “They’ll need offshore energy production expertise to do those buildouts. The people of South Louisiana would be prime to facilitate that.”

Montco was one of several Louisiana-based companies that helped build the first U.S. offshore wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island. But exporting Louisiana knowledge gleaned from offshore drilling was just the first step. Next, Orgeron wants to see wind farms built in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana’s governor supports the idea. Gov. John Bel Edwards asked the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to develop a plan for renewable energy production in the Gulf.

“This is not some ‘pie in the sky’ promise of economic opportunity,” Edwards said last November. “We already have an emerging offshore wind energy industry, and Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry has played a key role in the early development of U.S. offshore wind energy in the Atlantic Ocean.”
» Read article                 


The six ‘critical actions’ that every nation must take to reach net zero
Major report sets out practical pathways to hit carbon neutrality, including a ten-times-faster renewables build-out and ‘clear plans’ to phase out natural gas
By Leigh Collins, Recharge News
April 26, 2021

The global pace of the renewables build-out needs to increase by a factor of between five and seven by 2030 and by a factor of ten by the mid-2030s if the world is to reach net zero emissions by mid-century, says a new study by influential climate business think-tank Energy Transitions Commission* (ETC).

Power sectors in developed nations should reach near-total decarbonisation by the mid-2030s, with the use of coal eliminated “almost immediately” and clear plans to phase out unabated natural gas, according to the ETC report, Making Clean Electrification Possible: 30 Years to Electrify the Global Economy.

It adds that developing economies should commit to net-zero goals for 2060 and achieve full decarbonisation of their electricity sectors by the mid-2040s, phasing out existing coal plants in the 2030s and early 2040s.

Low-income countries, meanwhile, should aim to massively expand clean electricity provision without ever relying on fossil fuels for power generation.

The report also explains that there must be massive investment in transmission and distribution, the electrification of transport, heating and heavy industry, and the build-up of clean hydrogen — mainly green H2 produced from renewable energy with a small proportion of blue H2 derived from natural gas with CCS — to help decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors such as steel, shipping and aviation.

This entire energy transition will require trillions of dollars of investment, but will ultimately pay for itself, “if managed effectively”, the study says.

“These feasible objectives will only be met if countries take strong action in the 2020s, setting out both what needs to be achieved by 2030 and how they will achieve it,” it explains.
» Read article                
» Read the ETC report            

» More about greening the economy           

 

CLIMATE


Halting the Vast Release of Methane Is Critical for Climate, U.N. Says
A major United Nations report will declare that slashing emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, is far more vital than previously thought.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
April 24, 2021

A landmark United Nations report is expected to declare that reducing emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, will need to play a far more vital role in warding off the worst effects of climate change.

The global methane assessment, compiled by an international team of scientists, reflects a growing recognition that the world needs to start reining in planet-warming emissions more rapidly, and that abating methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, will be critical in the short term.

It follows new data that showed that both carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere reached record highs last year, even as the coronavirus pandemic brought much of the global economy to a halt. The report also comes as a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that releases of methane from oil and gas production, one of the biggest sources of methane linked to human activity, may be larger than earlier estimates.

The report, a detailed summary of which was reviewed by The New York Times, singles out the fossil fuel industry as holding the greatest potential to cut its methane emissions at little or no cost. It also says that — unless there is significant deployment of unproven technologies capable of pulling greenhouse gases out of the air — expanding the use of natural gas is incompatible with keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal of the international Paris Agreement.

The reason methane would be particularly valuable in the short-term fight against climate change: While methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, it is also relatively short-lived, lasting just a decade or so in the atmosphere before breaking down. That means cutting new methane emissions today, and starting to reduce methane concentrations in the atmosphere, could more quickly help the world meet its midcentury targets for fighting global warming.

By contrast, carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, lasts for hundreds of years in the atmosphere. So while it remains critical to keep reducing carbon emissions, which make up the bulk of our greenhouse gas emissions, it would take until the second half of the century to see the climate effects.
» Read article                    

» More about climate             

 

CLEAN ENERGY


Why the federal government is buying into the promise of 24/7 clean power
How “24/7 clean electricity” could drive a whole new era of energy use.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
April 21, 2021

Over the past decade, hundreds of cities, companies, and states have started buying renewable energy to power their Wi-Fi routers, run their refrigerators, and otherwise keep the lights on. The Empire State Building, for instance, is powered entirely by wind energy; the small city of Burlington, Vermont is run entirely on biomass, wind, solar, and hydropower; and the tech giant Google has been powering its data centers and office buildings with renewables since 2017. 

Or have they? Plenty of cities and companies are aiming to run on 100 percent clean energy, but it’s not exactly what it sounds like. The truth is that for the past several years, they’ve been trying to cut carbon emissions on what could be termed “Easy” mode. Yes, they buy enough renewable energy to run on clean power all the time, but that energy isn’t necessarily what’s providing the power for their air conditioners and microwaves at any given point in time. 

Now, however, some are pushing governments and companies to switch from “Easy” to “Hard.” They want to deploy something called “24/7 clean energy” — a goal that could drive a whole new phase of clean energy use. And they’ve just convinced the Biden administration to bring it to every single federal building in the United States.

[Michael Terrell, the director of energy at Google] says the benefit of 24/7 goals is that they guarantee clean power be available on the grid where the company or building operates (as opposed to thousands of miles away in Iowa) and they can boost demand for clean energy that isn’t wind or solar. In the long run, because solar and wind aren’t available all the time, electricity grids are going to need to be outfitted with “firm” power sources that can kick in at any time. That will push developers to build big batteries, nuclear reactors, geothermal plants pulling heat from under the Earth’s surface, or even natural gas plants with carbon capture capabilities. 

“When you’re thinking about sourcing energy in every location on a 24/7 basis, it really motivates you to think even more about how to get the electricity grids to carbon-free faster,” Terrell said.
» Read article                   


A battle to get more clean energy into New England’s electric grid is underway. Here’s what you need to know.
By Jan Ellen Spiegel, The CT Mirror
April 26, 2021

In January 2020, Katie Dykes, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — speaking to environmental advocates attending the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters annual environmental summit — leveled this broadside at the independent system operator that runs the six-state New England electricity grid and the federal authorities that govern it:

“Because of the lack of leadership on carbon at the ISO-New England, we are at the mercy of a regional capacity market that’s driving investment in more natural gas and fossil fuel power plants that we don’t want and that we don’t need,” she said. “This is forcing us to take a serious look at the costs and benefits of participating in the ISO-New England markets.”

It was widely misunderstood.

“People interpreted that as physically leaving the grid,” Dykes said a year later. “Ratepayers have gotten a lot of benefits of more reliable and affordable power by participating in a regional grid.”

What she had been talking about was a market paradigm the ISO uses to purchase power for the grid. Not much more than a year later, she is still talking about it. And with nothing short of evangelical zeal and little deference to a potentially paralyzing pandemic, Dykes has commandeered the other five New England states, the ISO, system stakeholders and more than a little national interest into a bona fide effort to figure out how to increase renewable power, decrease the use of fossil fuels and lower costs — or at least not let them go through the roof — and keep everyone on civil terms with each other.

In Connecticut, the ISO’s rules could make it difficult for the state to meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals and Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order to have a 100% clean electric grid by 2040. And it makes the clean energy the state has already approved for development even more expensive.

The proposed Killingly natural gas plant has become the poster child for the failures of the existing system. The ISO has approved it through the [Forward Capacity Market], while those concerned about climate change — including Gov. Lamont — say it’s the wrong choice and unnecessary
» Read article                 

» More about clean energy              

 

ENERGY STORAGE


ESS Inc’s all-iron flow battery will add long-duration storage to microgrid in Patagonia, Chile
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 28, 2021

ESS Inc, currently the only maker in the world of a commercially available flow battery using iron electrolytes, will deploy an energy storage system with more than six hours duration to a microgrid in Chile.

The company’s flow battery will be integrated with renewable energy in the microgrid, to help a local utility reduce its reliance on diesel generators in the unspoiled Patagonia plateau which extends across southern Argentina into Chile. ESS Inc will install a 300kW / 2MWh version of its recently-launched Energy Warehouse battery energy storage system (BESS) for the utility, Edelaysen.

Edalaysen’s grid is served by run-of-the-river hydroelectric turbines, but these vary seasonally in output and are not sufficient to meet customer demand all year round, so diesel is called into action several times a year. ESS Inc claimed that its battery’s installation as part of the renewable microgrid will enable Edelaysen, a subsidiary of Chilean utility group GRUPO SAESA, to cut three-quarters of the diesel generator use it currently runs. Work is already underway on the project and is expected to be completed later this year, with the battery storage system expected to last 25 years in operation.

“Our analysis showed that if they used lithium-ion batteries, Edelaysen could only shut down their diesel gensets for about three months per year. Instead, our long-duration iron flow storage system will reduce the need to run them by three times as much – the equivalent of nine months a year. That’s a huge reduction in emissions, noise and cost,” ESS Inc CEO Eric Dresselhuys — who joined the northwest US-headquartered company earlier this month — said.

ESS Inc has long argued that its systems pose far less fire risk than lithium-ion batteries but that the iron solution used for electrolyte is cheaper than the vanadium used by rival flow battery companies. Even if the electrolyte were to leak, the company has said that third-party safety research showed the contents of the battery to be basically fertiliser.
» Read article                   


GE, others see hybrid storage as ‘the future’ of grid reliability but face technology, optimization challenges
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
April 26, 2021

As utilities rapidly expand their renewable energy offerings, hybrid solar and storage solutions are a key technology for maintaining grid reliability, speakers said at an annual Energy Storage Association Conference last week. “Hybrids are the future,” said Mike Bowman, chief technology officer for GE’s renewable hybrids arm, adding that they’re a “natural progression” for the grid. 

The hybrid systems, which co-locate generators and batteries on the same site, have the advantage of reducing transmission and sharing on installation costs and permitting. They can also offer greater dispatch flexibility for grid operators.

However, hybrid systems are hampered by the constantly-evolving technology, the high up-front cost of the systems and uncertainty about integration into the larger grid. “Interconnection rules and tying interconnection to optimize hybrid … is something the industry is struggling with right now,” said Evan Bierman, director of energy storage product management and renewable integration for EDF Renewables.
» Read article                    

» More about energy storage           

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION


Shipping Looks to Hydrogen as It Seeks to Ditch Bunker Fuel
Discord within oil-reliant industry over how to power the workhorses of global trade in the net zero era.
By Harry Dempsey, Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
April 28, 2021

The Compagnie Belge Maritime du Congo launched its first steam-powered ship, the SS Leopold, on its maiden trip from Antwerp to Congo in 1895. Today CMB, the colonial-era group’s successor, carries commuters between the Belgian city and nearby Kruibeke on a ferry fueled by hydrogen.

“This is the fourth energy revolution in shipping—from rowing our boats to sails to steam engine to diesel engine and we have to change it once more,” said Alex Saverys, CMB chief executive and scion of one of Belgium’s oldest shipping families.

Shipping produces about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and without action its contribution is likely to rise for decades as global trade grows. The International Maritime Organization, the UN agency that regulates the global industry, wants to at least halve its impact by 2050.

Many industry figures are pinning their hopes on blue or green hydrogen—produced using natural gas with carbon capture or renewable electricity and whose only byproduct when combusted is water—to help steer away from polluting bunker fuel.

“There is no question whether hydrogen will be the energy carrier of shipping in 2050,” said Lasse Kristoffersen, chief executive of Norway’s Torvald Klaveness. “The question is, how do you produce it and which form do you use it as a carrier?”

Hydrogen has low energy density compared with heavy fuel oil. Storing it in its liquid form below minus 253 degrees Celsius requires heavy cryogenic tanks that take up precious space, rendering it unfeasible for large cargo ships.

“With the current state of technology, we cannot use hydrogen to fuel our vessels,” said Morten Bo Christiansen, head of decarbonization at AP Moller-Maersk, MSC’s larger rival.

However, the industry has grown increasingly optimistic about using ammonia, a compound of hydrogen and nitrogen, to fuel the workhorses of global trade without belching out greenhouse gases.

Though foul-smelling and toxic, ammonia is easy to liquify, is already transported worldwide at scale and has nearly twice the energy density of liquid hydrogen.
» Read article                   


Battery Breakthrough Gives Boost to Electric Flight and Long-Range Electric Cars
New battery technology developed at Berkeley Lab could give flight to electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and supercharge safe, long-range electric cars
By Theresa Duque, Berkeley Lab News Center
July 20, 2020

In the pursuit of a rechargeable battery that can power electric vehicles (EVs) for hundreds of miles on a single charge, scientists have endeavored to replace the graphite anodes currently used in EV batteries with lithium metal anodes.

But while lithium metal extends an EV’s driving range by 30–50%, it also shortens the battery’s useful life due to lithium dendrites, tiny treelike defects that form on the lithium anode over the course of many charge and discharge cycles. What’s worse, dendrites short-circuit the cells in the battery if they make contact with the cathode.

For decades, researchers assumed that hard, solid electrolytes, such as those made from ceramics, would work best to prevent dendrites from working their way through the cell. But the problem with that approach, many found, is that it didn’t stop dendrites from forming or “nucleating” in the first place, like tiny cracks in a car windshield that eventually spread.

Now, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, have reported in the journal Nature Materials a new class of soft, solid electrolytes – made from both polymers and ceramics – that suppress dendrites in that early nucleation stage, before they can propagate and cause the battery to fail.
» Blog editor’s note: this is an article, but I’m including it because it describes a key engineering breakthrough that opened a pathway to much better (and more sustainable) EV batteries in the near future.
» Read article                 


Bye Aerospace announces eFlyer 800 eight-seater electric aircraft
By Ben Coxworth, New Atlas
April 22, 2021

Colorado-based electric aviation startup Bye Aerospace is currently best known for its two-seater eFlyer 2 aircraft. That may soon change, though, as the company has now unveiled a planned battery-powered eight-seater.

Named the eFlyer 800, the turboprop class airplane will be able to seat a maximum of seven passengers, along with one or two pilots in front.

Thrust will be provided by two wing-mounted ENGINeUS electric motors, manufactured by project partner Safran Electrical & Power. These will be powered by quad-redundant lithium battery packs, for an estimated range of 500 nautical miles per charge (575 miles/926 km). The plane will have a rate of climb of 3,400 feet (1,036 m) per minute, and a ceiling of 35,000 feet (10,668 m).
» Read article                 

» More about clean transportation               

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY


US Senate votes to reinstate methane rules loosened by Trump
Congressional Democrats move to reinstate regulations designed to limit potent greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas fields
By Associated Press, in The Guardian
April 29, 2021

Congressional Democrats are moving to reinstate regulations designed to limit potent greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas fields, as part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to tackle climate change.

The Senate approved a resolution Wednesday that would undo an environmental rollback by Donald Trump that relaxed requirements of a 2016 Obama administration rule targeting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.

The resolution was approved, 52-42. Three Republican senators – Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio – joined Democrats to approve the measure, which only needed a simple majority under Senate rules.

The legislation now goes to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is expected to win approval.

The EPA approved the looser methane rule last year. The agency’s former administrator, Andrew Wheeler, declared the change would “strengthen and promote American energy” while saving companies tens of millions of dollars a year in compliance requirements.

Democrats and environmentalists called it one of the Trump administration’s most egregious actions to deregulate US businesses. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, packing a stronger punch in the short term than even carbon dioxide.
» Read article                 


California takes steps to ban fracking by 2024 and will halt oil extraction by 2045
Executive order is a reversal for Governor Gavin Newsom, who faced pressure from environmental groups for previously resisting a ban
By Maanvi Singh, The Guardian
April 23, 2021

California’s governor has moved to ban new fracking permits by 2024 and halt all oil extraction by 2045.

California, the most populous US state, produces the third largest amount of oil in the country. It would be the first state to end all extraction.

Gavin Newsom’s executive order, issued on Friday, paves the way for the state to stop issuing new fracking permits within the next few years, giving California’s Department of Conservation, which regulates the oil and gas industry, until 2024 to draft a mandate. The order also directs the California Air Resources Board to evaluate how to enact a ban on all extraction over the next 25 years.

The agency will study the environmental and health benefits of ending oil extraction, and determine how to mitigate the effect on local economies.

“The climate crisis is real, and we continue to see the signs every day,” Newsom said in a statement. “I’ve made it clear I don’t see a role for fracking in that future and, similarly, believe that California needs to move beyond oil.”

The order is a bold reversal for Newsom, who had initially resisted calls to enact a narrower ban on new fracking permits, arguing he lacked the authority. Fracking only accounts for about 1.5% of the state’s oil production. The controversial extraction method gets fuel out of the ground by using water and chemicals to crack open geological formations and stimulate them to release gas or oil, with the risk of causing earthquakes, water contamination and disastrous spills.

Research has found that fracking and other types of extraction are dangerous for the people who live near drilling sites – causing higher rates of asthma and cancer, as well as preterm births.

“We’re very excited about this order,” Dan Ress, a staff attorney at The Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment told the Guardian. “This is a big, bold step.”

Newsom’s announcement comes as he faces a likely recall election, and pressure from environmental groups who in recent months questioned his lukewarm support for broader legislation that would have banned fracking.

A bill that would have imposed tough restrictions on oil and gas failed to attract the five votes it needed to pass through the California senate’s natural resources committee last week. The legislation would have not only banned new fracking permits but also required a 2,500-foot buffer zone between drilling sites and schools, playgrounds and residences.
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BIOMASS


Paris climate agreement overlooks wood pellet loophole
“This rule that was designed to prevent you from counting carbon twice has effectively become a rule in which no carbon is counted at all.”
By Cameron Oglesby, Environmental Health News
April 26, 2021

With the U.S. back in the Paris Agreement, and with governments across the country evaluating how they can cut carbon emissions, a question remains about one contentious “carbon neutral” energy source: wood pellets.

Wood pellets are burned as a form of biomass energy, or bioenergy, and are touted as a “carbon neutral” energy source in the global transition away from fossil fuels. It became an energy staple for European countries in 2009 when the European Union set goals to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels by the year 2020. In 2019, the EU accounted for approximately 75 percent of global wood pellet consumption.

A 2012 study projected that by 2020 about 60 percent of the EU’s renewable energy would come from burning wood pellets as a carbon neutral alternative to coal. And data released by the EU at the end of 2020 indicates that they were set to meet this 20 percent goal while on track to reduce emissions by 37 percent by 2030.

But this latest report did not directly mention the use of wood pellets in the EU, primarily for residential heating, in its energy budget. This exclusion is emblematic of a flawed carbon accounting system for wood pellets that is leaving a chunk of emissions uncounted, and experts say the Paris Agreement will only create more missed emissions from the biomass sector.

Producers harvest about 4.9 million metric tons of wood annually from the biodiverse forests of the Southeast U.S. These felled trees release carbon when cut and their end-use is as a fuel, which makes for tricky climate accounting.

“The way that emissions in general are reported at the national level as well as to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is by energy use and land use. Unfortunately, bioenergy falls into both categories,” Rita Frost, campaigns director for the Southeastern forest protection nonprofit the Dogwood Alliance, told EHN. “We created accounting rules that said for bioenergy purposes, we’re going to count the carbon emissions when you cut down the tree, so you don’t have to count it when it goes out of the smokestack.”

When a forest is cut down in North Carolina to make wood pellets, the carbon is supposed to be counted by the U.S. in their annual climate reports as a carbon sink loss. Forests, especially old growth forests like those found in the Southeast U.S., are an important source of carbon removal from the atmosphere, so when a forest is cut down, the emissions are, in theory, counted as a land use emission.

The emissions from wood pellets are not counted in the energy sector, “to do so would erroneously double count the climate impact of wood pellets in both the land sector and the energy sector,” wrote a representative from the largest biomass supplier in the world, Enviva Biomass, in an email to EHN.

However, because of the way forests are classified in the U.S., these emissions aren’t counted in either the land or energy sectors, Frost said.

“If you clear-cut a forest, as long as you don’t turn the land into a parking lot or a tobacco farm, that land is still accounted for as forest,” she said. “So this rule that was designed to prevent you from counting carbon twice has effectively become a rule in which no carbon is counted at all, and biomass looks like it’s carbon neutral.”
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PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT


Scientists find way to remove polluting microplastics with bacteria
Sticky property of bacteria used to create microbe nets that can capture microplastics in water to form a recyclable blob
By Sofia Quaglia, The Guardian
April 28, 2021

Microbiologists have devised a sustainable way to remove polluting microplastics from the environment – and they want to use bacteria to do the job.

Bacteria naturally tend to group together and stick to surfaces, and this creates an adhesive substance called “biofilm” – we see it every morning when brushing our teeth and getting rid of dental plaque, for example. Researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) want to use this sticky bacteria property and create tape-like microbe nets that can capture microplastics in polluted water to form an easily disposable and recyclable blob.

Although these findings, presented on Wednesday at the Microbiology Society’s annual conference, are still preliminary, this invention could pave the way for sustainably lowering plastic pollution levels in the long run by simply using something found in nature.

“It is imperative to develop effective solutions that trap, collect, and even recycle these microplastics to stop the ‘plastification’ of our natural environments,” said Sylvia Lang Liu, microbiology researcher at PolyU and lead researcher on this project.

Microplastics are the plastic fragments, usually smaller than 5mm, which are accidentally released into the environment during production and breakdown of, for example, grocery bags or water bottles – or during everyday activities such as washing synthetic clothes such as nylon or using personal care products with scrubbing microbeads in them.

Although they are tiny, the risk they post to the environment is huge. Microplastics are not easily biodegradable, so they stick around for long periods of time and they also absorb and accumulate toxic chemicals. They disperse into wastewater and into the oceans, endangering marine animals who end up eating them and eventually trickling into the food chain and harming human health too. Microplastics had been found in more than 114 aquatic species in 2018, according to the International Maritime Organization, and they have been found in salt, lettuce, apples, and more.
» Read article                   

» More about plastics in the environment              

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