As part of our Put Peakers in the Past campaign, we’re keeping an eye on a new gas peaking power plant proposed for Peabody on Boston’s north shore. Plans drawn up six years ago are now moving through the permitting process. But much has changed in that brief time, and today it’s very hard to justify building any new gas peakers. The combination of affordable battery storage, energy efficiency measures, and demand response tends to outperform even the most advanced gas plants on all counts: cost, maintenance, grid services, emissions, and environmental justice. Stakeholders are complaining about a lack of transparency by the developer, and pressing for a fresh review of that project.
French and Chinese oil majors received approval to build the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, to transport heavy, sludgy crude from at least 130 proposed wells inside Uganda’s largest national park, 900 miles to Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast. Every part of this project is an ecological disaster, and is widely opposed. Still, it’s moving ahead.
Our divestment section offers a surprising report that shows U.S. gas producers bucking the broader industry trend of tighter, more expensive financing options. In spite of mounting risks associate with litigation and stranded assets, investors appear to remain bullish on gas. Meanwhile, Congress is holding hearings as it fleshes out President Biden’s proposed infrastructure legislation, and getting calls to immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies.
Yesterday was Earth Day, when many of us do a little extra thinking about the sustainability of our lifestyles – and make plans to do better. And while committing to taking public transportation or switching to electric vehicles, or insulating and electrifying our homes are all important, these efforts will only become part of a green economy when government and business make real and lasting moves toward sustainability. We may be at a moment when at least some of those players finally see climate change as an urgent priority. We will be watching the upcoming COP26 climate summit closely – but what happens afterward is the only thing that matters.
Strategies now exist for reliable ways to integrate many sources of clean energy into the modern grid. Now we’re faced with hard decisions about exactly where to locate acres and acres of solar arrays. Our need for solar energy requires a total area that far exceeds available rooftops, parking lots, retired landfills, and other “disturbed” real estate – and resistance to the coming solar buildout is already mounting.
Of course, maximizing energy efficiency reduces pressure to convert agricultural land to solar fields. Look no farther than new commercial and residential buildings to see that Massachusetts’ optional net-zero energy stretch code is a big part of the solution. Experience already shows that multi-unit affordable housing can be built to net-zero with virtually no increase in up-front cost, along with greatly-reduced maintenance and utility costs over the property’s lifetime. In this section, we acknowledge the accomplishment of developer Betsy Harper, who has completed the first-in-the-world net-zero energy Victorian-style home to Passive House standards. Ms. Harper’s project proves that ultra-high performance can be achieved in a wide variety of building styles.
News about energy storage tends to center on grid-scale lithium-ion battery installations, but it’s much more varied than that. We found two articles that demonstrate some of that diversity – including deploying smaller battery installations in specific high-congestion locations, and using advanced compressed air energy systems (no batteries at all!) to generate electricity during periods of peak demand.
The fossil fuel industry has a major problem with radioactive waste, especially associated with fracking operations. We found some excellent investigative reporting on where that stuff actually goes. And ahead of President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate this week, a group of 101 Nobel laureates published a letter urging world leaders and governments to “keep fossil fuels in the ground”. The group includes winners in the peace, chemistry, physics, and medicine categories, who consider this a critical first step toward addressing the climate emergency.
In a similar action, more than 200 environmental groups from 27 states urged President Joe Biden to halt the export of liquefied natural gas from six U.S. ports and stop the development of almost two dozen more, in an effort to curtail the expansion of natural gas infrastructure worldwide.
Closer to home, the Baker administration seems to be backing away from some of its earlier support for biomass. Now that the Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield has been stopped by the Department of Environmental Protection, it looks like the rush to include biomass in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard is being reconsidered. Climate and environmental activists argue that it should be removed from the RPS altogether.
We close with an update on plastics recycling, and conclude that it’s till broken. This story relates to our Earth Day article calling for government and corporations to step up and solve some of the problems that just can’t be addressed by individuals.
— The NFGiM Team
PEAKING POWER PLANTS
The Promising Future Of Battery Storage On The U.S. Grid
Battery storage is becoming a more viable tool for meeting peaks in energy demand — and it could do it in a greener, healthier way than fossil plants.
By Evan Thomas and Cliff Judy, Denver Channel 7 (abc)
April 19, 2021
Today, when demand for energy surges, many utilities will turn to so-called “peaker plants” powered by fossil fuels. But high-capacity batteries are starting to meet more of that demand — and that could help clean up some of the dirtiest parts of the U.S. grid.
“They charge overnight or in the late morning,” says Paul Denholm, principal energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “They are fully charged by that 3, 4 p.m. period, and they can start to discharge to replace the energy that would have otherwise been generated from a peaking power plant.”
Grid-scale batteries can now more often compete on cost with fossil power plants and with pumped water storage. They’re more often being installed with renewable power sources, which makes solar and wind energy more flexible.
And renewable-charged batteries are far cleaner than peaker plants — which can be heavy polluters even by fossil power standards.
Elena Krieger, director of research at Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, says: “One of the particular issues that we see with peaker power plants … is that a lot of them have higher emission rates for every megawatt hour of electricity generated than for some of your more baseload plants.”
Research into peaker plants across the U.S. has shown that a disproportionate number of these dirty plants are in disadvantaged communities. Large or even smaller distributed batteries could help meet community power needs in a much healthier, more environmentally just way.
» Read article
Column: Peak electricity demand — stoke it or shave it
By Carolyn Britt, Ipswich Local News | Opinion
April 16, 2021
On April 2, Governor Baker signed a ground-breaking energy bill that establishes a roadmap for Massachusetts to achieve “net zero” fossil fuel emissions by 2050. Alongside his earlier executive order setting goals for 2050 and the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, enacted in 2008, the new law details Massachusetts’ firm commitment to reducing carbon emissions.
Why, then, is the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Corporation (MMWEC), the entity that provides wholesale electricity to the Ipswich Electric Light Department and nineteen other municipally owned electric light plants (MLPs), proposing a new gas- and oil-burning peaking power plant in Peabody?
The Peabody peaking plant will burn fossil fuels — natural gas and oil — to produce 60 megawatts of electricity during periods of peak electricity demand, estimated at about 200 and no more than 500 hours a year.
The new law specifies that an environmental impact report is required for a facility seeking an air quality permit that is located within five miles of an environmental justice neighborhood. The Peabody peaking plant, however, would be located within a mile from two environmental justice neighborhoods that are already burdened by high rates of air pollution and noisy industrial facilities. But because the project’s permit piggybacks on an existing Peabody power plant, the state’s requirement is inconsistent with the new law.
The project also seems to encompass a serious lack of local transparency. With its non-descriptive name — Project 2015a — and the authority to enter into contracts with municipal light department managers without community review, some participating communities knew nothing about it.
MMWEC is seeking to bond about $85 million for construction with authorization from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. Debt service on the bond would not conclude until after 2050 — beyond the year Massachusetts has committed to achieving net-zero emissions.
Instead of investing in a new fossil-fuel powered plant, MMWEC could be joining forward-looking utilities, investing in renewable energy linked to battery installations to address peak demand.
When MMWEC began to plan the Peabody peaking plant six years ago, it may have seemed like a suitable way to provide peak demand power for their members. Since then, however, the energy landscape has changed dramatically. Utilities today have options. Investing in a new fossil-fueled power plant that won’t be paid off until after 2050 seems not only bad for climate trends but fiscally questionable.
» Read article
» Read about climate-friendly alternatives and sign the MA Climate Action Network petition
Total’s East African oil pipeline to go ahead despite stiff opposition
April 19, 2021
The Ugandan and Tanzanian governments have signed agreements with French oil major Total and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to build a 1,400-kilometer (900-mile) pipeline from Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park to the Tanzanian port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean. The pipeline’s critics say 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) of protected areas will be impacted and 12,000 families displaced from their land.
If completed, the $3.5 billion pipeline will transport heavy crude from more than 130 wells inside Uganda’s largest national park, which is home to threatened African elephants and lions, a formidable population of Nile crocodiles, and more than 400 bird species. Conservationists say it won’t just threaten wildlife but that it flies in the face of efforts to curb global warming by locking in investment in a dirty fuel.
“We have been working in the oil-rich subregion of Uganda. It’s not a desert, like many oil mining spaces, but rather a high biodiversity area,” Atuheire Brian at the African Initiative on Food Security & Environment (AIFE) told Mongabay in an email. “We can’t afford to have agreements signed in secrecy, and that’s the case for Uganda.”
Total has a majority stake in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project, with the Uganda National Oil Company, CNOOC, and Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation being minority stakeholders.
» Read article
As climate concerns grow, how is it getting cheaper to finance gas in the US?
By Justin Guay, Utility Dive | Opinion
April 20, 2021
It appears global financial institutions are beginning to price in the energy transition and associated climate risks — except when it comes to oil and gas.
That’s a key finding of an important new study released by a team of researchers led by Ben Caldecott at the University of Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. Poring over financial transaction data that spans two decades, the team sought to answer a basic question — are financial markets pricing in climate risk? The answer it turns out is not that simple and frankly, a bit disturbing.
First the good news — clean energy finance is getting cheaper and coal finance is getting awfully expensive. The most eye popping results the study had to offer were in global loan spreads for thermal coal power generation, which saw an increase of 38% over the past decade plus. When compared to the spreads for offshore wind, which declined 24% over the same time period, it’s clear that lenders have turned on thermal coal generation, making it increasingly more expensive to build and operate. But while coal is receiving the brunt of investor scrutiny, the oil and gas industry has not suffered the same fate.
The big counterintuitive finding from the Oxford team is that while financing costs for coal have gone up, they haven’t budged for oil and gas. In fact, for certain segments of the oil and gas industry in certain parts of the world, they’ve actually fallen. Yes, just as the world is beginning to grapple with the unfolding climate crisis, financing new oil and gas infrastructure has been largely untouched by financier concerns — or even steadily getting cheaper.
» Read article
Fossil fuel subsidies are a ‘disgrace’, Greta Thunberg tells US House panel
Climate activist asked to speak at hearing as part of push by Democrats to include fossil fuel subsidy elimination in bill
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 22, 2021
Subsidies given to fossil fuel companies are a “disgrace” and must be immediately ended, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist, has told a US congressional committee.
A sweeping $2tn infrastructure plan put forward by Joe Biden has proposed the rolling back of support and tax breaks for oil, gas and coal producers to help lower planet-heating emissions and pay for new investments. Eliminating such subsidies would bring in $35bn to the US government over a decade, according to the Biden administration.
Thunberg, testifying to the House oversight committee on Earth Day on Thursday, said it was incredible that fossil fuels were subsidized given the climate crisis.
“It is the year 2021. The fact we are still having this discussion and even more that we are still subsidizing fossil fuels using taxpayer money is a disgrace,” said the 18-year-old. “It’s clear proof that we have not understood the climate emergency at all.”
Thunberg, who sparked the global climate school strike protest movement, was asked to speak to the committee as part of a push by Democrats to including fossil fuel subsidy elimination in an infrastructure bill.
Ro Khanna, a House Democrat from California, said he was committed to ending the subsidies. “They are out of date and they must end,” he said.
The fossil fuel industry currently gets a range of assistance, including tax breaks for drilling costs and tax deductions for if their reserve of resources falls in value over time. Last year, the industry got further tax code breaks due to the Covid-19 pandemic – a financial boost that did not stop many of them shedding tens of thousands of jobs.
This direct and indirect help can be added up in different ways but, globally, the International Monetary Fund has said that such subsidies total more than $5tn a year if the cost of the pollution freely emitted is also considered.
Thunberg said there was a “huge gap” between what countries are doing to cut emissions and what is required to avoid the world heating up by more than 1.5C, a key goal of the Paris climate accords. “The uncomfortable fact is if we are to live up to our Paris agreement promises we have to end fossil fuel subsidies, end new exploration, completely divest from fossil fuels and keep the carbon in the ground,” said Thunberg.
» Read article
GREENING THE ECONOMY
Spare Yourself the Guilt Trip This Earth Day – It’s Companies That Need to Clean Up Their Acts
By Courtney Lindwall, Natural Resources Defense Council, in EcoWatch | Opinion
April 18, 2021
Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth’s resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We’ve carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.
Clearly, something isn’t working, but as a consumer, I’m sick of the weight of those millions of tons of trash falling squarely on consumers’ shoulders. While I’ll continue to do my part, it’s high time that the companies profiting from all this waste also step up and help us deal with their ever-growing footprint on our planet.
There are currently no laws that require manufacturers to help pay for expensive recycling programs or make the process easier, but a promising trend is emerging. Earlier this year, New York legislators Todd Kaminsky and Steven Englebright proposed a bill—the “Extended Producer Responsibility Act”—that would make manufacturers in the state responsible for the disposal of their products.
Other laws exist in some states for hazardous wastes, such as electronics, car batteries, paint, and pesticide containers. Paint manufacturers in nearly a dozen states, for example, must manage easy-access recycling drop-off sites for leftover paint. Those laws have so far kept more than 16 million gallons of paint from contaminating the environment. But for the first time, manufacturers could soon be on the hook for much broader categories of trash—including everyday paper, metal, glass, and plastic packaging—by paying fees to the municipalities that run waste management systems. In addition to New York, the states of California, Washington, and Colorado also currently have such bills in the works.
» Read article
Biden Is Pushing a Climate Agenda. Gina McCarthy Has to Make It Stick.
Gina McCarthy, Barack Obama’s E.P.A. chief, could only watch as the Trump administration dismantled her climate work. Now, she’s back with another chance to build a lasting legacy.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 20, 2021
Gina McCarthy worked six or seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, to produce America’s first real effort to combat climate change, a suite of Obama-era regulations that would cut pollution from the nation’s tailpipes and smokestacks and wean the world’s largest economy from fossil fuels.
Then the administration of Donald J. Trump shredded the work of President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency chief before any of it could take effect.
Ms. McCarthy is back, as President Biden’s senior climate change adviser, and this time, she is determined to make it stick.
She is the most powerful climate change official in the country other than Mr. Biden himself, and her charge is not simply to reconstruct her Obama-era policies but to lead an entire government to tackle global warming, from the nation’s military to its diplomatic corps to its Treasury and Transportation Department. She will also lead negotiations with Congress for permanent new climate change laws that could withstand the next change of administration.
“I’ve got a small stronghold office, but I am an orchestra leader for a very large band,” Ms. McCarthy, 66, said in a speech in February.
Mr. Biden’s two-day global climate summit meeting, which begins Thursday, is his chance to proclaim America’s return to the international effort to stave off the most devastating impacts of a warming planet, but it is Ms. McCarthy’s re-emergence as well. Mr. Biden is expected to pledge that the United States will cut its planet-warming emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels in the next decade.
The world has seen such promises before, with the Kyoto accords in the 1990s, then the Paris Agreement in the Obama era, only to see them discarded by subsequent Republican administrations. It will fall to Ms. McCarthy to prove the skeptics wrong.
Washington “has offered nothing on how it plans to make up for the lost four years,” said the spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, on Friday.
The administration plans concurrent efforts to enact regulations to curb auto and power plant emissions, restrict fossil fuel development and conserve public lands while pressing Congress to pass the climate provisions in Mr. Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure bill, such as renewable power and electric vehicle programs. Ms. McCarthy hopes to push the infrastructure bill further, possibly by mandating that power companies produce a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar. That will be a tough sell to many Republicans — but if it passes Congress, it could stand as the Biden administration’s permanent climate legacy, even if other rules are swept away by future presidents.
» Read article
The Science of Climate Change Explained: Facts, Evidence and Proof
Definitive answers to the big questions.
By Julia Rosen, New York Times
April 19, 2021
Ms. Rosen is a journalist with a Ph.D. in geology. Her research involved studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica to understand past climate changes.
The science of climate change is more solid and widely agreed upon than you might think. But the scope of the topic, as well as rampant disinformation, can make it hard to separate fact from fiction. Here, we’ve done our best to present you with not only the most accurate scientific information, but also an explanation of how we know it.
- How do we know climate change is really happening?
- How much agreement is there among scientists about climate change?
- Do we really only have 150 years of climate data? How is that enough to tell us about centuries of change?
- How do we know climate change is caused by humans?
- Since greenhouse gases occur naturally, how do we know they’re causing Earth’s temperature to rise?
- Why should we be worried that the planet has warmed 2°F since the 1800s?
- Is climate change a part of the planet’s natural warming and cooling cycles?
- How do we know global warming is not because of the sun or volcanoes?
- How can winters and certain places be getting colder if the planet is warming?
- Wildfires and bad weather have always happened. How do we know there’s a connection to climate change?
- How bad are the effects of climate change going to be?
- What will it cost to do something about climate change, versus doing nothing?
‘Relentless’ climate crisis intensified in 2020, says UN report
Pandemic had no effect on emissions but made impacts of global heating even worse for millions of people, report says
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
April 19, 2021
There was a “relentless” intensification of the climate crisis in 2020, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization.
The coronavirus pandemic made the accelerating impacts of global heating even worse for millions of people. But the temporary dip in carbon emissions due to lockdowns had no discernible impact on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, the WMO report said.
Last year was ranked as the hottest on record, in a tie with 2016 and 2019, despite the cooling effect of the cyclical natural climate phenomenon, La Niña. Without this, 2020 would most likely have been the hottest year yet. The decade 2011-20 was the hottest on record.
Extreme weather events broke records across the world, from hurricanes and cyclones in the US and India, heatwaves in Australia and the Arctic, floods in large parts of Africa and Asia, and wildfires in the US.
“All the key climate and impacts information in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies,” said Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary general.
The WMO’s State of the Climate report comes just before a global leaders’ summit, convened by the US president, Joe Biden, and as the UK prepares to host the crucial Cop26 UN climate summit in November, at which urgent action must be agreed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement, to keep the global temperature increase to well below 2C and 1.5C if possible. In 2020, the temperature was 1.2C above pre-industrial levels.
“This is the year for action,” said the UN head, António Guterres. “The climate is changing, and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet. Countries need to submit, well ahead of Cop26, ambitious plans to cut global emissions by 45% by 2030.”
» Read article
» Download WMO’s State of the Global Climate 2020
Ahead of the Climate Summit, Environmental Groups Urge Biden to Champion Methane Reductions as a Quick Warming Fix
Methane cuts remain essential to slow climate change over the coming decades and limit warming to 1.5C.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 20, 2021
The Environmental Defense Fund has a clear message for the Biden Administration on the eve of an international climate summit marking the U.S.’s further re-entry into the Paris climate agreement: “We need to cut methane now.“
So says the U.S.-based environmental advocacy organization in a 15-second ad released after a missive the nonprofit and other, leading environmental advocacy groups sent to the president earlier this month.
The letter calls for a 40 percent or more cut in methane emissions by 2030, including a 65 percent reduction from the oil and gas sector, as part of an ambitious U.S. recommitment to the Paris climate agreement. The commitment, or nationally determined contribution, is anticipated to be released by the administration any day as the U.S. prepares to host the online Leaders Summit on Climate on Thursday and Friday.
Methane is “the biggest and really the only lever we have to slow temperature rise during the next two decades, the critical decades for preventing irreversible tipping points and shaving the peak warming to protect vulnerable communities,” said Sarah Smith, super pollutants program director with the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental organization that co-authored the letter.
Methane, the largest component of natural gas, is sometimes called a “short-lived climate pollutant” because it remains in the atmosphere for far less time than carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. But methane is also a climate “super-pollutant,” 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 20-year period.
Sources of methane include wetlands, rice paddies, livestock, biomass burning, organic waste decomposition and fossil fuel drilling and transport.
Methane’s potency and short atmospheric life make it a key greenhouse gas for policy makers to focus on as a way to combat global warming in the near term because the impact of those cuts will be felt almost immediately.
» Read article
As Biden targets 100% clean electricity, strategies emerge to reliably integrate rising renewables
System controls, flexibility through DER, and new policies supporting market economics are coming
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
April 19, 2021
In the transitioning power system, barriers are falling between renewables and traditional fossil and nuclear generation and between types of variable generation like wind and solar.
The energy infrastructure proposals from the Biden administration, if approved by Congress, are likely to accelerate the growth of utility-scale wind, solar and storage detailed by a December 2020 data compilation from Department of Energy (DOE) researchers. As variable renewables reach even higher penetrations and reliance on less cost-competitive natural gas fades, new solutions already in the works will assure reliability, power system analysts said.
Combined, utility-scale wind and utility-scale solar were “58% of all new U.S. generation capacity over the past six years,” said Research Scientist Mark Bolinger of DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). LBNL’s presentation of where the two resources have reached or can reach higher penetrations shows regulators and utilities how to plan “more-realistic portfolios” for their regions to meet Biden administration goals, Bolinger said.
The LBNL data reflects a transition “to an era where we need to assemble portfolios of resources into tradable energy products” that can be dispatched as predictably as traditional generation, Energy Innovation Senior Fellow Eric Gimon said. “There may not be one perfect way to bring this portfolio concept into markets, but we need to learn how to do it” to make clean energy viable and reliable in the energy marketplace.
Regulators, system operators, utilities and the private sector are starting to develop ways to reliably integrate the rising penetrations of variable renewables with flexible distributed energy resources (DER) to increase reliability, Bolinger and Gimon agreed. But the smart 21st century transmission and distribution (T&D) system and policy strategies the new power system will need to optimize this resource transformation are still in the works, stakeholders said.
» Read article
A farmer’s fight for solar reveals a U.S. land problem
By Benjamin Storrow, E&E News
April 19, 2021
NORTHFIELD, Mass. — When the L’Etoile family decided to build a 10-megawatt solar plant, they saw it as a chance to confront climate change and keep the family farm.
Many of their neighbors feel differently.
In a community where views of sweeping cropland are framed against a horizon of rolling hills, some worried about the prospect of staring at a chain-link fence around the panels.
Others worried about declining home values, or disturbing an area rich with Native American history. And still others fretted about a potential future in which the region’s scarce farmland is covered with solar arrays.
The so-called Pine Meadow solar project would generate enough electricity to power 2,000 homes. The L’Etoiles are banking on the lease payments from a Boston-based developer to provide a financial foundation for the farm’s future.
Regulators in Massachusetts estimate that meeting the commonwealth’s net-zero ambitions will require 60,000 acres for solar development, or more than 1% of the state’s land area. It comes as tensions are already high over disappearing crop fields. The state lost 6% of its farmland between 2012 and 2017.
Much of that space could be found on rooftops instead of in fields. But even if nearly every building in the state had solar panels, roughly 30,000 acres of land would still be needed to meet the state’s solar energy goals, regulators say.
Demand for open space has ignited conflict among regional groups that have historically been united. Conservation organizations and renewable interest groups clashed last year as Massachusetts regulators updated state incentives for solar projects.
Conservationists worried the incentives were prompting developers to fell forest and cover farmland with panels. Developers, meanwhile, objected to an initial state proposal that they said was too restrictive on new solar developments.
Regulators settled on a compromise: providing incentives for dual-use projects like the L’Etoiles’ and discouraging developments that reduce open space.
The conflict has scrambled traditional political alliances and alarmed conservation and climate advocates.
» Read article
A Net-Zero-Energy Victorian Home Makes History
The brand-new—but historic—house at 60 Stearns Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts
By Kristina DeMichele, Harvard Magazine
April 21, 2021
Earth Day encourages all of us to reflect on how we can contribute to building a greener, cleaner environment. Cambridge is known worldwide as a center for innovation of all kinds, including net-zero-energy construction—the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s “HouseZero” being a prime example. Now a new residential house in Cambridge, nearing completion, is showing the way toward low-energy use within the constraints of traditional architecture.
Sustainable construction, more accurately referred to as “high-performance” home development, is gaining traction around the world. In most instances, these newly constructed homes are aesthetically contemporary, modern boxes. In an effort to reach net-zero energy demand (offsetting a home’s already ultra-low energy use with renewable generation), builders sometimes sacrifice design and character for energy efficiency.
Financier turned developer Betsy Harper, M.B.A. ’84, has proven that a new home can be both: net zero with respect to energy use, and rich in architectural details. She has created the first Victorian “passive house” in the world; according to the Passive House Institute (PHIUS), such a home is designed to maintain “comfortable and consistent indoor temperatures throughout the heating and cooling seasons.”
Harper was motivated by her own experience as a homeowner. “I live in a leaky Victorian,” she explained. “It’s architecturally stunning, but I spend $20,000 a year on upkeep. Moisture from rain and snow seeps under the clapboards, making it prone to rot, and I have to stuff pieces of wool under the window sills to stop drafts. Over the years I’ve undertaken air-sealing and insulation renovations four times, and the house still has hot and cold spots that make it uncomfortable in the winter.”
By contrast, the 4,191-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath, state-of-the-art house she built in Cambridge will use 70 percent less energy than a conventional Massachusetts-code-compliant home of similar size.
The dwelling already runs entirely on electricity. With solar panels on the south-facing roof, energy modeling predicts a net negative electric bill within the first year of operation. This means the house will actually be net-energy positive: it will produce more energy than it uses, and the homeowners can donate or sell their surplus electricity to others.
» Read article
» Passive House principles
ConEd and GI Energy advance new model for storage deployment with Bronx project
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
April 19, 2021
Con Edison and infrastructure company GI Energy are partnering on a unique demonstration project, installing a 1 MW battery storage project on a customer property on City Island in the Bronx. The project will deliver power to businesses along the commercial strip in the summer, relieving grid strain when temperatures rise.
The project involved a lease agreement with the business, accommodating an agreement on the terms of location and battery operation guidelines.
“This project simplifies the value proposition for customers,” said Alex Trautner, section manager in Con Edison’s Demonstration Projects group. “Rather than installing batteries for their end use behind the meter, these customers are simply providing land in these higher-value areas for front-of-meter battery installations, in exchange for a lease payment.”
ConEd and GI Energy are planning four installations as part of the demonstration; this is the second battery system in the project, joining one deployed on the North Shore of Staten Island early last year.
As ConEd expands its renewable energy portfolio, increasing battery storage will be essential to ensure grid reliability. The utility is exploring more system platforms and hybrid models, like an integrated microgrid at the Hudson Yards development, as it contends with the energy transition.
But, Trautner explained, there is limited space for large storage projects and relatively few customers have conditions that can justify the up-front cost of a battery while also offering the location that a utility needs. This model, where the utility selects the location and guidelines for the battery in exchange for a lease payment (with no impact to the site’s utility bills), “could help expand the universe of viable high-value locations for siting such front-of-the-meter projects.”
» Read article
Canada’s biggest-ever clean-energy storage plant plans charged up with launch funding
Up-to-500MW advanced compressed air energy storage facility to be built in Ontario by start-up Hydrostor with $3.2m government seed finance
By Darius Snieckus, Recharge News
April 19, 2021
Canada’s largest clean-energy storage facility, a giant up-to-500MW system based on compressed-air technology, has taken a major stride forward following the award of C$4m ($3.2m) in backing from the country’s government.
Funding for Toronto-headquartered Hydrostor’s Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage (A-CAES) facility, which came via Natural Resources Canada’s Energy Innovation Programme and Sustainable Development Technology Canada, clears the way for the start-up to complete engineering and planning on the flagship and take “critical steps” toward construction.
The 300-500MW project will be modeled on Hydrostor’s operating 1.75MW/10MWh Goderich, Ontario storage facility, which currently provides the province’s independent electricity system operator with 12 hours of long -duration back-up.
The full-scale A-CAES project, said Hydrostor Curtis VanWalleghem, Hydrostor’s CEO, would “support Canada’s green economic transition [as an example of] designing, building, and operating emissions-free energy storage facilities, [and] employing the people, suppliers, and technologies from the oil & gas sector”.
» Read article
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Where Does All The Radioactive Fracking Waste Go?
A year-long investigation finds a major West Texas disposal site with a patchy record is also importing radioactive oilfield waste from abroad.
By Justin Nobel, DeSmog Blog
April 22, 2021
The oil and gas industry produces an extraordinary amount of waste. Much of it is toxic, and it can be highly radioactive too. And since 1997 about one million barrels worth of oilfield waste has been brought to Lotus’s disposal site, situated off a dusty desert road located 19 miles west of Andrews, Texas (and just several miles from a massive solar array financed by Facebook and which provides energy to Shell’s fracking operations).
But according to correspondence with federal and state regulators, documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and interviews with an industry whistleblower, DeSmog has found that the Lotus disposal site has at times struggled to safely manage the radioactive waste it receives from across the United States.
Despite this challenge, it is importing oil and gas waste from other countries too, and is expanding its reach internationally.
The company has relied heavily on a decades-old industry exemption passed in 1980 — known as the Bentsen and Bevill Amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — that classifies oil and gas waste as non-hazardous, thereby affording it little regulatory scrutiny. Meanwhile, Railroad Commission documents obtained via a FOIA request suggest that practices at Lotus’s remote disposal site have put the company’s workers and the environment at risk.
“The oil and gas industry has been really good at painting the picture that they are not a radioactive industry,” said Melissa Troutman, an Earthworks analyst and author of a 2019 report on oil and gas waste, “when in reality it produces a massive amount of radioactive material.”
A growing group of environmentalists, politicians, communities, and even the industry’s own workers have become increasingly critical of the fossil fuel industry, and see room for action under the Biden administration, though most attention has been placed on hot-button topics like climate change and methane emissions. But a small yet ardent band of advocacy groups have been focused on radioactive oilfield waste, long an industry problem but one that has metastasized in the fracking boom and potentially poses an even greater risk to the industry’s bottom line.
» Read article
» Read the Earthworks report on oil and gas waste
101 Nobel Laureates Urge World Leaders to ‘Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground’
“Fossil fuels are the greatest contributor to climate change. Allowing the continued expansion of this industry is unconscionable.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
April 21, 2021
On the eve of Earth Day and the start of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate, a group of 101 Nobel laureates published a letter urging world leaders and governments to “keep fossil fuels in the ground” as a critical first step toward addressing the climate emergency.
The letter—which was signed by Nobel peace, literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, and economic sciences laureates—notes that the climate emergency “is threatening hundreds of millions of lives, livelihoods across every continent, and is putting thousands of species at risk.” It adds that “the burning of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—is by far the major contributor” to the crisis.
Signers of the letter—who include Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, the Dalai Lama, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Jody Williams, and Muhammad Yunus—said that “urgent action is needed to end the expansions of fossil fuel production, phase out current production, and invest in renewable energy.”
The signatories urge world leaders to do the following “in a spirit of international cooperation”:
- End new expansion of oil, gas, and coal production in line with the best available science as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and United Nations Environment Program;
- Phase out existing production of oil, gas, and coal in a manner that is fair and equitable, taking into account the responsibilities of countries for climate change and their respective dependency on fossil fuels, and capacity to transition; and
- Invest in a transformational plan to ensure 100% access to renewable energy globally, support dependent economies to diversify away from fossil fuels, and enable people and communities across the globe to flourish through a global just transition.
“Fossil fuels are the greatest contributor to climate change,” the letter concludes. “Allowing the continued expansion of this industry is unconscionable. The fossil fuel system is global and requires a global solution—a solution the Leaders Climate Summit must work towards. And the first step is to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
» Read article
» Read the letter
LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS
Looking to halt LNG expansion, opponents urge Biden to block exports
New campaign adds to pressure on Gov. Murphy to block planned natural gas port in South Jersey
By Jon Hurdle, NJ Spotlight News
April 16, 2021
More than 200 environmental groups from 27 states urged President Joe Biden to halt the export of liquefied natural gas from six U.S. ports and stop the development of almost two dozen more, including one in New Jersey.
Activists including the New Jersey State Industrial Council and the New Jersey Student Sustainability Coalition argued in a letter to Biden on Wednesday that exporting the super-cooled form of natural gas results in emissions that are at least as potent as coal in forming greenhouse gases, and so are at odds with the climate policies of the new administration.
Exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) stimulates the production of fracked natural gas whose main component, methane, is many times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, the letter said. It said that producing, liquefying and transporting natural gas would produce 213 metric tons of CO2 in the U.S. by 2030, or the equivalent of putting 45 million cars on the road, according to research by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“The expansion of LNG export capacity requires the proliferation of gas drilling and fracking to feed the demand created by the export market,” the letter said. “This induces new and expanded fracking and its infrastructure, such as pipelines and, with that, environmental destruction, public health harm, and climate damage.”
In New Jersey, opponents of LNG export are already pressing the Murphy administration to block a plan by New Fortress Energy to build a new dock at Gibbstown on the Delaware River where LNG from Pennsylvania would be loaded onto ocean-going tankers for shipment overseas.
If built, the Gibbstown dock would be the first LNG export terminal in New Jersey and the second on the East Coast.
The U.S. started exporting LNG in 2016 after the fracking boom beginning in the mid-2000s accessed abundant domestic reserves of natural gas in Pennsylvania and other states, and led the industry to seek overseas markets. LNG prices rose sharply in late 2020 in response to weather-related demand in Asian markets and unplanned outages at some overseas LNG terminals, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency predicts that the volume of U.S. LNG exports will rise 30% in 2021 compared with 2020.
The Biden administration could be hard-pressed to ban a business that has seen LNG prices rise to around $6 per thousand cubic feet from about $4 a year ago. But activists who fought successfully to ban fracking for natural gas in New York state in 2014 are hopeful they can do the same with LNG exports.
» Read article
» Read the letter to President Biden
Mass. Backtracks On Renewable Energy Subsidies For Wood-Burning Biomass Plants
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 16, 2021
The Baker administration says it no longer stands behind a plan it proposed last December to change state regulations to allow some wood-burning biomass power plants to qualify for renewable energy subsidies. The move follows a loud outcry from environmental groups, public health experts and several prominent politicians who opposed the planned changes.
The state’s initial recommendations drew widespread criticism because they would have allowed a proposed biomass facility in the heart of an environmental justice community in Springfield to qualify for lucrative rate-payer subsidies. In walking back that proposal, the administration dealt a blow to that project while also effectively preventing any similar facilities from being built in the state in the future.
In a statement, Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman celebrated the news and said it was “the direct result of grassroots action by residents, activists, and local elected officials both here in Springfield and across the state.”
Attorney General Maura Healey also applauded the change from DOER, writing in a statement that “this is great news for our state and the type of consideration that should inform all energy policy for our communities.” She added that “science demonstrates that biomass energy is bad for our residents and runs counter to the [state’s] aggressive climate goals.”
The changes announced Friday have to do with the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), a list of rules detailing which power sources qualify as “renewable” and under what circumstances power plants can receive renewable energy subsidies.
The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) says its new proposal will do two important things. First, it will mandate that any new biomass facility in the state meet a high efficiency standard in order to qualify for subsidies. Under the previous proposal, DOER would waive these efficiency standards for facilities that used “non-forest derived material” such as sawdust, utility trimmings and other waste wood.
Second, the proposal will prohibit any biomass plant located within five miles of environmental justice community from being eligible for RPS subsidies.
At a press conference Friday morning, state Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary Kathleen Theoharides said that the changes are designed to build upon the environmental justice provisions recently signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker.
» Read article
The Recycling Industry in America Is Broken
By Tiffany Duong, EcoWatch
April 20, 2021
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. According to The National Museum of American History, this popular slogan, with its iconic three arrows forming a triangle, embodied a national call to action to save the environment in the 1970s. In that same decade, the first Earth Day happened, the EPA was formed and Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, encouraging recycling and conservation of resources, Enviro Inc. reported.
According to Forbes, the Three R’s sustainability catch-phrase, and the recycling cause it bolstered, remain synonymous with the U.S. environmental movement itself. There’s only one problem: despite being touted as one of the most important personal actions that individuals can take to help the planet, “recycling” – as currently carried out in the U.S. – doesn’t work and doesn’t help.
Turns out, there is a vast divide between the misleading, popular notion of recycling as a “solution” to the American overconsumption problem and the darker reality of recycling as a failing business model.
When it was first introduced, recycling likely had altruistic motivations, Forbes reported. However, the system that emerged was never equipped to handle high volumes. Unfortunately, as consumption increased, so too did promotion of recycling as a solution. The system “[gave] manufacturers of disposable items a way to essentially market overconsumption as environmentalism,” Forbes reported. Then and now, “American consumers assuage any guilt they might feel about consuming mass quantities of unnecessary, disposable goods by dutifully tossing those items into their recycling bins and hauling them out to the curb each week.”
Little has changed since that Forbes article, titled “Can Recycling Be Bad For The Environment?,” was published almost a decade ago; increases in recycling have been eclipsed by much higher consumption rates. In fact, consumerism was at an all-time high in January 2020 before the pandemic hit, Trading Economics reported.
But, if the system doesn’t work, why does it continue? Turns out, consumers were misled – by the oil and gas industry. News reports from September 2020 revealed how the plastic industry-funded ads in the 1980s that heralded recycling as a panacea to our growing waste problem. These makers of virgin plastics were the biggest proponents and financial sponsors of plastic recycling programs because they created the illusion of a sustainable, closed-cycle while actually promoting the continued use of raw materials for new single-use plastics.
» Read article
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