Tag Archives: biomass

Weekly News Check-In 9/16/22

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

GAS BANS

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about gas bans

LEGISLATION

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

» Read article       

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about legislation

DIVESTMENT

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

» Read article     
» Read the report and scorecard

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage

BUILDING MATERIALS

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

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

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

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

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

» More about building materials

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about plastics, health, and the environment     

PLASTICS RECYCLING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about plastics recycling     

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Weekly News Check-In 9/9/22

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

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

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

The attention is not good news for the MVP.

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

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

Firstly, the MVP is not just another pipeline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions

NATURAL GAS BANS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what you need to know:

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about electric utilities

CRYPTOCURRENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about crypto

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environmental organizations have come to similar conclusions.

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

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

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 6/3/22

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Welcome back.

We’re starting off this week by circling back on a story we ran last time – about a group of determined citizens protesting the new peaking power plant currently under construction in Peabody, MA. Thanks again to all our friends who demonstrated and spoke out for state officials to do their jobs – we provide a link to photos. A little closer to home, folks were out on the steps of Springfield City Hall making it clear that Eversource’s proposed Longmeadow-Spfld gas pipeline expansion project is unnecessary and unwanted.

Of course, Eversource is simply following the standard playbook: building pipelines is how utilities traditionally make profits. That model will dominate until regulators put a stop to it, which is exactly what the Ontario Energy Board did recently, when to everyone’s surprise it refused to approve the final phases of a $123.7-million pipeline replacement project in Ottawa proposed by Enbridge Gas. More of that, please! Helpfully, the Biden administration has proposed undoing a Trump-era rule that limited the power of states and Indigenous Tribes to block natural gas pipelines based on their potential to pollute rivers and streams.

For those of us who fondly remember the promise of stepped-up climate action at the Federal level, and were holding out hope that a pared-down Build Back Better bill would somehow rise from the Senate swamp and make it to Biden’s desk… it’s just about time to admit it isn’t going to happen. Memorial Day is gone, and maneuvering for the upcoming midterm elections is going to make passing anything meaningful just about impossible.

That lost opportunity follows a string of others, perhaps the worst of which was the entirety of the Trump presidency in which this country essentially checked out of the climate fight altogether. While some states and cities tried to fill the policy void, the lack of Federal leadership and funding put this country well behind in a race we were already hard-pressed to win. Meanwhile, the United Nations secretary-general is doing all he can to prod world leaders into action, in what must feel like the single most thankless job on the planet.

The Biden administration is pressing ahead with the tools it has, and on Tuesday said it would substantially reduce the cost of building wind and solar energy projects on federal lands. But while those clean resources are getting a boost, California is losing almost half of its hydropower due to extreme drought – forcing its grid to rely more heavily on fossil fuel generating plants through a hot summer.

Wind power is big, and so, increasingly, are the turbines. As these beasts require ever-growing volumes of building materials like steel and concrete, some companies are working to make turbine towers more efficient and more cost-effective by building them with wood.

Proponents of a modernized electric grid often point to the resiliency that distributed sources of generation can offer. The Russian assault on Ukraine has made a good case for that. Recently, a Russian bomb struck a photovoltaic solar power plant in eastern Ukraine, leaving a large crater and lots of destroyed solar panels. But the facility was patched up in a couple of days with only a loss of about 6% of capacity. Imagine the disruption if the same bomb had struck a gas, coal, or nuclear power plant.

Facing a necessary and rapid transition to electric vehicles, the U.S. is pushing hard to develop domestic supply chains for metals critical to building EV batteries. Foremost among those is lithium, and we’re keeping an eye on the social and environmental impacts of all this planned extraction.

There’s a rush to develop carbon capture and storage, too. And the flood of money coming to that sector has been noticed by a public policy firm that represents electric utilities and oil companies. Bracewell LLP recently launched the Capture Action Project to tout technologies that capture carbon from smokestacks as a climate solution, but to us it looks like a way to keep burning fossil fuels through another taxpayer-funded subsidy. And while top environmental ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial countries agreed last Friday to end government financing for international coal-fired power generation and to accelerate the phasing out of unabated coal plants by the year 2035, it’s pretty clear the fossil fuel industry would like to keep the party going for as long as it can.

The rush to send liquefied natural gas to Europe is an example of how the industry leverages short-term crises for rationale to build long-term infrastructure. Even though studies show the U.S. can meet Europe’s needs with the export terminals it has (including two nearing completion), the promoters of other terminals are pitching hard. That has environmental groups urging the Biden administration to reverse a Trump-era rule that allows rail shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG), a super-risky mode of transport that the developers of the proposed Gibbstown, New Jersey LNG export terminal had intended to use in lieu of a pipeline.

Wrapping up, we’re watching a new program in Maine, which encourages proposals for specialized combined heat and power (CHP) biomass generating plants, and claims they will result in meaningful emissions reductions.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

Water Street Bridge
“Do your job;” Protesters call on lawmakers to stop new Peabody peaker power plant
By Caroline Enos, Salem News
May 26, 2022

About 60 demonstrators gathered at the Waters River Bridge in Danvers Thursday afternoon to protest a new “peaker” power plant in Peabody. Their demand: for lawmakers to “do their job.”

“They’re ignoring the law. They’re ignoring our health needs, our climate needs,” said Jerry Halbertstadt, an environmental activist who has lived in Peabody for 15 years. “Everybody here, in one way or another, is aware of how important it is to make a change now.”

Halbertstadt, who is also a member of Breathe Clean North Shore, joined demonstrators in holding signs and flying kites that bore sayings like “No gas” and “Clean Energy Now, No Dirty Peaker” while standing along the bridge.

Some protesters also rode bikes and paddled kayaks with similar messages on their backs or boats.

The 55-megawatt “peaker” plant would be powered by oil and natural gas, and run during peak times of energy use. Construction on the new plant has already started, with developers expecting the $85 million project to be completed by summer 2023.

Protesters said the project’s developers, particularly the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), have not been transparent about the project nor provided adequate health and environmental impact reports.

State Rep. Sally Kerans spoke at Thursday’s rally. She said neither herself nor elected officials in her district, including Peabody’s mayor and city council, were aware of the new plant until activists spoke up.

The state’s Department of Public Utilities also did not allow citizen input on the project before it was greenlighted, she said.
» Read article  
» Slide show from event        

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Naia at city hall
Demonstrators take to City Hall steps to protest planned Eversource natural gas pipeline through Springfield and Longmeadow
By Patrick Johnson, MassLive
May 31, 2022

SPRINGFIELD — Some 35 opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline through Springfield and Longmeadow took to the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to call for the project to be scrapped.

With demonstrators holding signs reading “stop the toxic pipeline,” speaker after speaker called the $35 million to $45 million Eversource pipeline unnecessary, potentially dangerous to the environment, and ultimately a cost that Eversource customers will bear.
» Read article   

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Cliff Street Power Plant
Ontario Regulator Refuses New Pipeline, Tells Enbridge to Plan for Lower Gas Demand
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
May 29, 2022

The Ontario Energy Board sent minor shock waves through the province’s energy regulatory and municipal energy communities earlier this month with its refusal to approve the final phases of a $123.7-million pipeline replacement project in Ottawa proposed by Enbridge Gas.

Several observers said this was the first time the OEB had refused a “leave to construct” application from a gas utility, laying bare an operating model in which the companies’ revenue is based primarily on the kilometres of pipe they can install, rather than the volume of gas their customers actually need.

The OEB’s written order cites plans to reduce fossil gas demand across the City of Ottawa as one of the factors in the decision, along with Enbridge’s failure to show that a pipeline replacement was necessary or the most affordable option available. Major drivers of that reduction include Ottawa’s community energy plan, Energy Evolution, as well as the federal government’s effort to convert its Cliff Street heating and cooling plant from steam to hot water—changes that Enbridge did not factor into its gas demand forecasts.

“Nobody expected them to lose. Zero expectation,” veteran energy regulatory lawyer Jay Shepherd of Shepherd Rubinstein told The Energy Mix.

But “having the city give evidence that everybody is cutting back on their carbon in Ottawa, the OEB was hard pressed,” he added. “If Enbridge had had any other proof that the existing pipeline was failing, they might have won. But when the city goes in and says it won’t be using as much gas anymore, you can’t just ignore it.”

The implications of the decision could reverberate far beyond Ottawa, said Richard Carlson, director of energy policy at the Pollution Probe Foundation, and Gabriela Kapelos, executive director of the Clean Air Partnership.
» Read article   

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

missed chance
Democrats and the endless pursuit of climate legislation
Amid overlapping crises, has Congress missed its moment to act?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
June 1, 2022

Twelve years ago, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, the country teetered on the edge of passing its first-ever comprehensive climate bill. A triumvirate of senators were negotiating bipartisan legislation that would invest in clean energy, set a price on carbon pollution, and — as a carrot for Republicans — temporarily expand offshore drilling.

Then an oil rig — the Deepwater Horizon — exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The loose bipartisan coalition collapsed. As President Barack Obama later wrote in his memoir, A Promised Land, “My already slim chances of passing climate legislation before the midterm elections had just gone up in smoke.”

Today, the sense of déjà vu is strong. The first half of 2022 has been stacked with events that have pushed climate change far down the list of priorities. The Biden administration has been caught between the war in Ukraine, surging inflation, the fight over Roe v. Wade, and, horrifically, continued gun violence. A month ago, many Democrats cited the Memorial Day recess as a loose deadline for having a climate reconciliation bill — one that could pass the Senate with only 50 votes — drafted or agreed upon. Any later, and the summer recesses and run-up to midterms could swallow any legislative opportunity. That date has now come and gone. “If you’re paying attention, you should be worried,” Jared Huffman, a Democratic representative from California, told E&E News last week.

It’s both a sluggish and anticlimactic result for a party that, in 2020 and 2021, threw its weight behind climate action. The Build Back Better Act, President Biden’s massive $2 trillion spending framework, passed the House of Representatives last November, with $555 billion in spending for climate and clean energy. The bill would have invested in wind, solar, and geothermal power, offered Americans cash to buy EVs or e-bikes, retrofitted homes to be more energy efficient, and much, much more — but it died in the Senate, when Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia refused to support it.
» Read article  

» More about legislation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

water quality effects
Biden’s EPA aims to erase Trump-era rule keeping states from blocking energy projects
Trump restricted states’ power in favor of fossil fuel development but proposed rule would empower local officials to protect water
By Associated Press, in The Guardian
June 2, 2022
» Read article  

» More about EPA

CLIMATE

US falling behind
Trump Policies Sent U.S. Tumbling in a Climate Ranking
The Environmental Performance Index, published every two years by researchers at Yale and Columbia, found only Denmark and Britain on sustainable paths to net-zero emissions by 2050.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
May 31, 2022

For four years under President Donald J. Trump, the United States all but stopped trying to combat climate change at the federal level. Mr. Trump is no longer in office, but his presidency left the country far behind in a race that was already difficult to win.

A new report from researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities shows that the United States’ environmental performance has tumbled in relation to other countries — a reflection of the fact that, while the United States squandered nearly half a decade, many of its peers moved deliberately.

But, underscoring the profound obstacles to cutting greenhouse gas emissions rapidly enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change, even that movement was insufficient. The report’s sobering bottom line is that, while almost every country has pledged by 2050 to reach net-zero emissions (the point where their activities no longer add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere), almost none are on track to do it.

The report, called the Environmental Performance Index, or E.P.I., found that, based on their trajectories from 2010 through 2019, only Denmark and Britain were on a sustainable path to eliminate emissions by midcentury.

[…] “We think this report’s going to be a wake-up call to a wide range of countries, a number of whom might have imagined themselves to be doing what they needed to do and not many of whom really are,” said Daniel C. Esty, the director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, which produces the E.P.I. every two years.

A United Nations report this year found that there is still time, but not much, for countries to change course and meet their targets. The case of the United States shows how gravely a few years of inaction can fling a country off course, steepening the slope of emissions reductions required to get back on.
» Read article  

EFF Now
UN’s Guterres demands end to ‘suicidal war against nature’
Unless humanity acts now, ‘we will not have a livable planet,’ United Nations secretary-general warns, pleading for world leaders to ‘lead us out of this mess’.
By Al Jazeera
June 2, 2022

The world must cease its “senseless and suicidal war against nature”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, singling out developed nations and their gluttonous use of the planet’s resources.

Guterres said if global consumption were at the level of the world’s richest countries, “we would need more than three planet Earths”.

“We know what to do and increasingly we have the tools to do it, but we still lack leadership and cooperation. So today I appeal to leaders in all sectors – lead us out of this mess,” Guterres said on Thursday.

Developed nations must at least double financial support to developing countries so they can adapt and build resilience to climate disruptions that are already happening, the UN chief said.

“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement show the way, but we must act on these commitments. Otherwise, they are nothing but hot air – and hot air is killing us.”

Guterres was speaking in Stockholm where he met Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in advance of a two-day climate and environment conference.

Humanity has less than three years to halt the rise of planet-warming carbon emissions and less than a decade to slash them almost in half, a recent UN report said.

Global emissions are now on track to blow past the 1.5°C warming limit envisioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement and reach 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.76 degrees Fahrenheit) by the century’s end.

“There is one thing that threatens all our progress – the climate crisis. Unless we act now, we will not have a livable planet,” said Guterres.

“We must never let one crisis overshade another. We just have to work harder. And the war in Ukraine has also made it very clear fossil fuel dependency is not only a climate risk, it is also a security risk. And it has to end,” said Andersson.

In recent months, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published the first two installments in a trilogy of mammoth scientific assessments covering how emissions are heating the planet – and what that means for life on Earth.

Carbon emissions need to drop 43 percent by 2030 and 84 percent by mid-century to meet the Paris goal of 1.5C (2.7F).

Nations must stop burning coal completely and slash oil and gas use by 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively, to keep within the Paris goals, the IPCC said.
» Read article  

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Victorville CA
U.S. says it will cut costs for clean energy projects on public lands
By Reuters
May 31, 2022

The Biden administration on Tuesday said it would substantially reduce the cost of building wind and solar energy projects on federal lands to help spur renewable energy development and address climate change.

The new policy comes after years of lobbying from clean power developers who argued that lease rates and fees for facilities on federal lands were too high to draw investment.

In a statement, the Department of Interior said rents and fees for solar and wind projects would fall by about 50%.

The administration also said it would boost the number of people processing renewable energy environmental reviews and permit applications through the creation of five coordinating offices in Washington, Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah.

The offices are expected to improve coordination with other federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of agriculture, energy and defense.
» Read article  

Hyatt Powerplant
Extreme drought could cost California half its hydroelectric power this summer
Nearly 60 percent of the state is experiencing ‘extreme’ drought or worse
By Justine Calma, The Verge
June 1, 2022

Drought is forecast to slash California’s supply of hydroelectricity in half this summer. That’s bad news for residents’ air quality and utility bills, the US Energy and Information Administration (EIA) said in its forecast. The state will likely lean on more expensive, polluting natural gas to make up for the shortfall in hydropower.

Nearly 60 percent of California is currently coping with “extreme” drought or worse, according to the national drought monitor map. California’s current water woes stem from low levels of snowpack, which quenches the state’s reservoirs when it melts. In early April, when snowpack usually peaks, the water content of the state’s snowpack was 40 percent lower than the normal levels over the past 30 years.

Two of California’s most important water reservoirs, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, were already “critically low” by early May. We haven’t even reached the summer, when the weather could become even more punishingly dry and hot and demand for air conditioning places extra stress on the power grid.

Hydroelectricity is a significant source of energy in the US. It typically makes up about 15 percent of California’s electricity generation during “normal water conditions,” according to the EIA. But that’s expected to drop to just 8 percent this summer, the EIA says.

Sometimes California can buy hydropower from other states in the Pacific Northwest. But Washington State and Oregon are also dealing with drought, so gas may have to fill in the gaps. As a result, the EIA says electricity prices in the Western US will likely be 5 percent higher over the next few months. In California, the drought will result in 6 percent higher carbon dioxide emissions in the energy sector.
» Read article  

» More about clean energy

BUILDING MATERIALS

wood turbine tower
Wood Towers Can Cut Costs of Building Taller, More Efficient Wind Turbines
By Paige Bennett, EcoWatch
June 1, 2022

To be as efficient as possible, wind turbines need to be tall. But the taller the wind turbine, the more expensive it is to construct. The towers, typically made of steel or concrete, can be pricey, not to mention the embedded carbon emissions associated with these materials. Now, companies are working to make the towers of wind turbines taller, more efficient and more cost-effective by building them with wood.

Using wood for such a structure seems simple enough, yet many wind turbines are made with tubular steel or concrete, which can become increasingly expensive the taller the tower gets. But as explained by Energy.gov, “Because wind speed increases with height, taller towers enable turbines to capture more energy and generate more electricity. Winds at elevations of 30 meters (roughly 100 feet) or higher are also less turbulent.”

Most wind turbines in the U.S. are about 90 meters tall and are expected to reach an average height of 150 meters by 2035. To make this process more affordable, companies like Modvion and Stora Enso are working to use laminated timber, a material popular in sustainable building construction, for wind turbine construction.

According to Stora Enso, using wood can reduce a wind turbine’s emissions by up to 90%. Modvion has also noted that wood is lightweight, making it easier to transport and quick to assemble, and reduces manufacturing emissions by 25%, as reported by CleanTechnica.

Wood sourcing is also an issue, as deforestation continues to be a major problem for both its emissions and contribution to habitat loss. Modvion noted that it uses Scandinavian spruce for its wood wind turbines, saying this wood “is abundantly available and for which re-growth exceeds logging.” The wood is either Forest Stewardship Council- or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes-certified.

According to Modvion, its towers will last as long as other standard wood turbine parts, about 25 to 30 years. While the first commercially produced wood towers are slated for onshore use, the company does plan to make minor adjustments to also manufacture wood wind turbines for offshore use as well.
» Read article  

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

bombed solar farm
Russian missile strikes Ukraine solar farm, solar farm powers on
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
May 31, 2022

The safety of Ukraine’s many nuclear power plants has been a focus of major concern during the ongoing Russian invasion, but photos and video making the rounds on social media this week show that renewables, too, have come under attack.

The images, some of them shared above, show a solar farm in eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region that was struck by a missile over the weekend, leaving hundreds of smashed panels and a massive crater between two module rows.

According to Reuters via the New York Times, the 10MW solar plant is located in Merefa, southwest of Kharkiv.

Video footage of the attack as it happened has been shared on Twitter by Deutsche Welle, which says there were no casualties from that particular attack, although Ukranian officials say Russian bombs killed at least seven civilians in Karkhiv over the past week.

[…] The DW report also notes that power generation from the plant has since been restored. This has not been verified by the plant’s owner.

Whether the solar farm was the intended target of the Russian bomb is difficult to confirm, but Kirill Trokhin, who works in the power generation industry and is based in Kyiv, said on LinkedIn that the minimal “fallout” – so to speak – from the attack on the PV plant offers yet another very good reason to shift to renewables.

“A Russian bomb hits a photovoltaic solar power plant in eastern Ukraine. As we can see, it does not burn, it is not completely destroyed, and the cumulative destruction can be eliminated in a couple of days if spare materials are available,” Trokhin writes on LinkedIn alongside some of the images being shared.

“And if not – the damaged section can be localised in a day, so as not to affect the operation of the survived equipment.

“Judging by the photo, about four strings were destroyed and four more were damaged, approximately. This is about 200 modules. For a 10MW plant, this is approximately 0.6%. Yes, less than a percent.

“This is another reason to focus on distributed renewable generation if the climatic reason is not enough. To destroy it – you need to try very hard.

“Of course, Russians can hit into substations. But all the same, the resumption of work will happen much faster than when the technological equipment of thermal power plants, hydroelectric power plants, or nuclear power plants is destroyed. And single losses are much less.”
» Read article  

gridlock buster
DOE launches grid interconnection initiative to cut ‘gridlock’ hampering clean energy progress
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
June 2, 2022

In an effort to spur clean energy development, the U.S. Department of Energy is launching a program to improve the grid interconnection process through a partnership with utilities, grid operators, state and tribal governments, clean energy developers, energy justice organizations and other stakeholders.

The Interconnection Innovation e-Xchange (i2X) initiative will develop solutions for faster, simpler and fairer grid interconnection through better data, roadmap development and technical assistance, the DOE said Tuesday.

While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission prepares for possible long-term solutions to improve the interconnection process, the DOE initiative may provide near-term relief to the backlog of interconnection requests, according to Jeff Dennis, Advanced Energy Economy managing director and general counsel.
» Read article   

offshore wind at sunset
Feds approve plan to delay scrapping a New England energy rule that harms renewables
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
May 28, 2022


A controversial rule that makes it harder for renewable energy projects to participate in one of New England’s lucrative electricity markets will remain in place for another two years.

Late Friday night, Federal energy regulators approved a plan from the regional grid operator, ISO New England, to keep the so-called minimum offer price rule — or MOPR (pronounced MOPE-er) — until 2025.

The MOPR dictates a price floor below which new power sources cannot bid in the annual forward capacity market — a sort of futures market for power plants promising to be “on call” and ready to produce electricity when demand spikes.

The grid operator holds this annual on-call auction to lock in the power capacity it thinks the region will need three years in the future. Power generators that won a spot in the 2022 auction, for example, are on stand-by beginning in 2025.

By keeping the MOPR around longer, Melissa Birchard of the Acadia Center says it will be harder for the New England states to meet their decarbonization goals.

“The MOPR has held the region back for a long time and we need to see it go away forever,” she said. “This decision falls short of providing the certainty and speed that the region deserves.”

As WBUR detailed in a recent explainer about the MOPR, most everyone agrees the rule needs to go; the debate has been over when it should happen.
» Read article  
» MOPR debate explained

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

Thacker Pass photo
Powering Electric Cars: the Race to Mine Lithium in America’s Backyard
The experience of one mining company in rural North Carolina suggests the road ahead will be hard to navigate.
By Aime Williams, The Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
May 31, 2022

At his small red brick farmhouse home near the Catawba river in the rural Piedmont region of North Carolina, Brian Harper is caught up in the dilemma facing America’s big push towards a future powered by green energy.

Running in a band beneath the soil close to Harper’s land lies America’s biggest deposit of spodumene ore, a mineral that when processed into lithium is crucial to building rechargeable batteries of the kind used in electric vehicles.

Seeing the business opportunity in this fast-growing area, Piedmont Lithium, a mining company originally incorporated in Australia, began knocking on the doors of the old houses surrounding a roughly 3,000-acre site several years ago, offering to buy up land so that it could start drilling a large pit mine to extract the mineral.

With the International Energy Agency projecting a boom in demand that vastly exceeds planned supply in coming years, Piedmont found no difficulty pledging future sales of lithium to Tesla, America’s poster-child electric car company, even before they secured all of the necessary mining permits.

But while it has successfully bought up some parcels of land, Piedmont Lithium has run into staunch opposition from many of its potential new neighbors, including Harper, who runs a small business making cogs and gears for industrial machinery just a little down the road from the proposed new mine.

[…] As the U.S. attempts to surge ahead in the global race to build batteries that will power the green transition, Washington is encouraging companies such as Piedmont to break ground on more mining projects across the continental United States. But it also wants to ensure state regulators, environmental activists and local communities are not left behind in the rush.

The explosion in the electric vehicle market has set off a “battery arms race,” according to Simon Moores, chief executive of consultancy Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, which specializes in data on lithium ion batteries.

Battery manufacturers will be trying to source the raw minerals needed to make batteries, including cobalt, nickel, graphite and lithium. Yet while scientists are having early success developing batteries that do not need cobalt or nickel to function, there are so far no leads on eliminating lithium. According to Moores, “lithium is the one that terrifies the industry.”

[…] While there is only one operational lithium mine in the U.S. at present, a number of companies are pressing to get mining projects operational. Lithium Americas is planning a mine at Thacker Pass in Northern Nevada, while Australia-based Ioneer USA Corp. also wants to build a large mine in southern Nevada, about 330 miles north of Los Angeles. Several other companies are proposing projects that would extract lithium from geothermal brine, including one at California’s largest lake in Salton Sea.

In Washington, both Democrats and Republican lawmakers have said they would support updating the federal law dated from 1872 that governs mining on American public lands. Lawmakers variously want to boost U.S. mining capacity and insert more robust environmental protections.
» Read article  

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

corporate-backed boondoggle
Bracewell launches pro-CCS group ahead of funding explosion
By Carlos Anchondo and Corbin Hiar, E&E News
May 31, 2022

A public policy firm that represents electric utilities and oil companies recently launched a new group to tout technologies that capture carbon from smokestacks as a climate solution.

Bracewell LLP created the Capture Action Project in April as federal officials prepare to spend $8.2 billion on efforts to catch, transport and store carbon dioxide from industrial facilities. It joined a crowded field of groups that are advocating for expanded research, development and deployment of expensive technologies that can filter CO2 from smokestack emissions or suck CO2 from the air.

The unprecedented influx of government support for carbon capture and storage was provided by the bipartisan infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law last year.

[…] Bracewell’s Capture Action Project has sought to undermine some groups that have raised concerns about carbon capture pipelines.

“Recently, a group called Food & Water Watch has been treating those living near potential carbon capture projects to a barrage of adverse arguments, including the unsurprising conclusion that folks would rather not see eminent domain authority used solely for private gain,” CAP staff wrote on the website. The post went on to highlight a February tweet from the environmental organization that said “all pipelines” are disastrous.

“These hardly seem like objective views that people can use to call balls and strikes on projects so important to maintaining energy security and addressing greenhouse gas emissions,” the CAP post said.

A Food & Water Watch representative said Bracewell’s criticism demonstrated that the environmental group’s campaign to “protect Iowa and other states from these dangerous, unneeded carbon capture pipelines is gaining steam.”

“The Capture Action Project expresses an apparent concern for our climate future, but nowhere does it even mention the aggressive shift to clean, renewable energy that will be required to save this planet from deepening climate chaos moving forward,” Emily Wurth, managing director of organizing for Food & Water Watch, said in an email. “We have the solutions to fight climate change — and it doesn’t involve corporate-backed boondoggles like CCS.”

Bracewell’s CCS advocacy group has also targeted the Pipeline Safety Trust. Earlier this year, the safety advocacy group warned that the U.S. is “ill prepared for the increase of CO2 pipeline mileage being driven by federal CCS policy” (Energywire, March 31).
» Read article  

caution CO2
Federal regulators crack down after pipeline caught spewing CO2
The operators of a pipeline that burst in 2020 face nearly $4 million in penalties
By Justine Calma, The Verge
May 27, 2022

Federal regulators are beginning to crack down on a new generation of pipelines that will be crucial for the Biden administration’s plans to capture millions of tons of carbon dioxide to combat climate change.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) proposed penalties yesterday on the operator of one such pipeline that ruptured in Mississippi, sending at least 45 people to the hospital in 2020. The agency also pledged to craft new rules to prevent similar pipeline failures from happening as the US makes plans to build out a network of pipelines to transport captured CO2.

There are not many of these pipelines (compared to oil and gas pipelines) yet in the US, which are primarily used by the fossil fuel industry so it can shoot CO2 into oil fields to push out hard-to-reach reserves. One of those pipelines ruptured in February 2020, releasing about 30,000 barrels of liquid carbon dioxide that immediately started to vaporize and triggered the evacuation of 200 residents in and around the small town of Satartia, Mississippi. Some of those who weren’t able to leave in time were left convulsing, confused, or unconscious, according to an investigation published last year by HuffPost and the Climate Investigations Center.

Pipelines for CO2 transport the gas at high pressure and at a high enough concentration to make it an asphyxiant. The CO2 in the pipeline that ruptured was also mixed with hydrogen sulfide, but CO2 can still be harmful on its own. About 100 workers a year die from CO2 accidents globally. It’s heavier than air, allowing a plume of it to sink to the ground and blanket a large area. That can also starve vehicles of oxygen it needs to burn fuel, which can strand people trying to evacuate or authorities trying to respond to the crisis.
» Read article  

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

terminate funding
Key nations agree to halt funding for new fossil fuel projects
By Brady Dennis, The Washington Post, in The Boston Globe
May 27, 2022

Top environmental ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial countries agreed Friday to end government financing for international coal-fired power generation and to accelerate the phasing out of unabated coal plants by the year 2035.

The group said that it would aim to have “predominantly decarbonized electricity sectors by 2035.”

The commitments on the phaseout of coal plants will particularly affect Japan, which relies heavily on coal-fired power plants.

Unabated coal plants include those that have not yet adopted technology for capturing and using carbon dioxide.

The G-7 ministers also said that new road vehicles in their countries would be “predominantly” zero-emissions vehicles by 2030 and that they plan to accelerate cuts in the use of Russian natural gas, which would be replaced by clean power in the long term.

The private sector in the major industrial countries must crank up financing, the ministers said, moving “from billions to trillions.” The group acknowledged the need laid out by the International Energy Agency for the G-7 economies to invest at least $1.3 trillion in renewable energy, tripling investments in clean power and electricity networks between 2021 and 2030.
» Read article  

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

tanks and pipes
Worried by Ukraine war impacts, environmentalists petition feds to dump LNG by rail
By Susan Phillips, WSKG-NPR
May 24, 2022

STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – Environmental groups are urging the Biden administration to reverse a Trump-era rule that allows rail shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG). The groups say the war in Ukraine, and the subsequent plans by the White House to increase LNG exports, should not derail the Department of Transportation’s proposal to reinstate limits on LNG-by-rail.

“We cannot let an energy crisis that comes out of Ukraine turn into a blanket thrown over the climate crisis,” said Tracy Carluccio, of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, during a virtual press conference Wednesday. “The climate crisis is the fight of our lives, it’s the fight of our time.”

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, along with half a dozen other advocacy groups, petitioned the Department of Transportation on Wednesday to follow through on their plan to suspend a Trump-era rule that opened up the nation’s railways to LNG.

While industry advocates say rail transport is safe, a leak of LNG carries risk of explosion. The petition also urges the Biden administration to outright ban any LNG-by-rail due to both safety hazards, and the climate impacts of expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and development.

Carluccio says the groups are against all forms of LNG production and transport, including pipelines. “We leave it in the ground, that’s basically the answer,” Carluccio said. “We’re not going to be able to ever safely move it, process it, or export it.”

Prior to a new Trump administration rule enacted in 2020, LNG rail transport permits faced steep hurdles, and only a few were approved through a “special permit,” including a plan to send LNG via rail across the Delaware River to Gibbstown, New Jersey. But in an effort to encourage natural gas infrastructure and expand LNG transportation beyond pipelines, the Department of Transportation under Trump reversed long-standing practice to allow a regular permitting procedure. No permits have been issued for LNG-by-rail since that 2020 rule change.
» Read article  

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Maine biomass CHP
Maine plan for wood-fired power plants draws praise and skepticism

Critics characterize the program, which would capture waste heat for industrial use, as a handout to the timber industry and question whether it will result in meaningful emissions reductions.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 2, 2022

A new law encouraging the development of wood-fired combined heat and power plants in Maine is drawing praise for its potential to benefit the economy and the environment.

But some climate activists are skeptical, saying questions remain about whether the program will cut carbon emissions as intended.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Janet Mills in April, establishes a program to commission projects that will burn wood to create electricity and also capture the heat produced for use on-site — heat that would go to waste in a conventional power plant.

Proposals for these facilities are expected to come from forestry or forest products businesses that could use their own wood byproducts to fuel the plants, saving them money on heat and electricity costs and providing an extra revenue stream when excess power is sold back into the grid.

[…] “There is significant disagreement on whether it is truly carbon neutral and emission-free,” said Jeff Marks, Maine director and senior policy advocate for environmental nonprofit the Acadia Center.

[…] “It will not be highly efficient — it’s not feasible with a wood fuel,” [Greg Cunningham, director of the clean energy and climate change program at the Conservation Law Foundation] said. “It will not to any extent be a climate solution.”

The law caps the program at a total capacity of 20 megawatts statewide, a tiny fraction of the 3,344 megawatts of generating capacity the state already has. Still, the climate implications of the new law matter, Cunningham said.

“The money available in the state of Maine to fight climate change and invest in clean energy programs is finite,” he said. “When any amount of it is siphoned off for an anti-climate program, it’s problematic.”
» Read article  

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 5/27/22

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Welcome back.

We’re leading this week with an appreciative nod to individuals whose personal actions or protests either clarify an issue or make real change happen. However it’s done, it takes courage and for that we are grateful and inspired. We have articles about a senior safety consultant who quit working with Shell over what she calls the oil giant’s “extreme harms” to the environment. Also, take a look at the winners of this year’s prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

In that same spirit, lots of our friends were out on the Water Street Bridge between Peabody and Danvers yesterday, in a “mass action” demonstration to further their opposition to a new gas/oil peaker plant being built off Peabody’s Pulaski Street. Ironically, the permits allowing the plant’s construction could not have been granted under current law.

While we’re talking about effective activism, keep in mind that it’s not always employed for the planet’s benefit…. In the U.S., Republican lawmakers and their allies have launched a campaign to try to rein in and punish companies that dare to divest from fossil fuels. This information lands at about the same time as a new study showing just how invested many of us are through pension and other funds, and to what extent these assets are at risk in a crash-the-economy sort of way.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Agency is also feeling this “opposing forces” dynamic. Last year, the head of the FERC delivered a message to the energy industry saying FERC’s Office of Enforcement would ensure energy and power companies comply with the agency’s rules. The number of investigations and the size of fines has since picked up considerably. But gas pipeline developers are striking back, bringing legal action through conservative-leaning courts that seek to undermine FERC’s core ability to regulate industry.

Meanwhile, UN secretary general António Guterres addressed thousands of graduates at Seton Hall University in New York state, telling them not to take up careers with the “climate wreckers” – companies that drive the extraction of fossil fuels. It’s a serious message, since building a green economy is a project we largely left to these young people. That, and a mountain of student debt….

Recent climate research clarifies the scope and scale of our global decarbonization effort. We now have a better understanding of the urgency surrounding elimination of potent, short-term warming drivers like methane and other pollutants. Researchers describe it as having to “win the sprint to slow warming in the near term by tackling the short-lived climate pollutants, so that we can stay in the race to win the marathon against CO2.” Without effective action against those short-term gases, a reduction in CO2 emissions would actually make warming worse for a while. Some related good news: Geneva, Switzerland-based International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) recently voted unanimously to approve a proposed update to a household appliance safety standard which will allow air conditioners and heat pumps used around the world to use new hydrocarbon refrigerants that have a negligible climate impact.

In clean energy, researchers have shown that double-sided panels help offset the effects of snow on ground-mounted solar arrays, mostly due to the snow’s reflective nature. And in clean transportation, the race to bring solid state batteries to the next generation of electric vehicles is running hot among all the major auto manufacturers – but nobody’s quite cracked it yet.

We’ll wrap up this optimistic section with a note that New England’s grid operator, ISO-NE, recently published a study that lays out four possible frameworks for how the grid operator might integrate clean energy into the grid. It’s long-overdue, but a step in the right direction.

Let’s turn to a report that details the PR and lobbying blitz from fossil fuel companies in the early days of the Russian invasion that aimed to benefit oil and gas interests while offering little for the current crisis. According to Faye Holder, program manager for InfluenceMap. “The sector has quickly mobilized around the war in Ukraine and high gas prices to promote the need for more ‘American-made energy,’ often relying on potentially misleading or questionable claims.”

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Canada’s top energy official said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is open to accelerating a liquefied natural gas project that could start supplying Europe in as soon as three years. See “misleading or questionable claims”, above.

Last week, we ran a couple articles that described the worrisome growth of the biomass industry in Japan and South Korea. Europe has been the other big proponent, but now it seems like the EU is finally ready to stop subsidizing this polluting, destructive, false climate solution. Big decision coming in September – we’ll be watching.

And circling back to South Korea, it’s made some progress with plastics recycling programs. This article offers an interesting description of what an organized society can accomplish through highly focused education and enforcement mechanisms. But it’s also a reminder that really, folks, the answer is to use much less plastic to begin with!

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Goldman Price 2022
Meet the 2022 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
May 25, 2022

A teenage girl in California who shut down a toxic oil-drilling site; a Nigerian lawyer who got long-overdue justice for communities devastated by two Shell pipeline spills; two Indigenous Ecuadorians who protected their ancestral lands from gold mining. These are just some of the inspiring winners of this year’s so-called “Green Nobel Prize.”

The Goldman Environmental Foundation today announced the seven 2022 winners of its annual Goldman Environmental Prize, which is the highest honor one can receive for participating in grassroots environmental activism.

“While the many challenges before us can feel daunting, and at times make us lose faith, these seven leaders give us a reason for hope and remind us what can be accomplished in the face of adversity,” Goldman Environmental Foundation vice president Jennifer Goldman Wallis said in a press release. “The Prize winners show us that nature has the amazing capability to regenerate if given the opportunity. Let us all feel inspired to channel their victories into regenerating our own spirit and act to protect our planet for future generations.”
» Read article    

» More about protests and actions

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

peaker throws
‘We’re not giving up:’ Protestors, neighbors rally near Peabody peaker plant site
By Hadley Barndollar, USA TODAY NETWORK, in Milford Daily News
May 26, 2022

PEABODY — Jerry Halberstadt has asthma, and lives about a mile from a new fossil fuel-fired peaking power plant that’s being built.

He’s very conscious of air quality because of his diagnosis, he said. “This stuff can stop me in my tracks. There’s an impact from the burning of fossil fuels.”

But more than anything, Halberstadt worries for his three grandchildren, and “the nastiness that awaits them.”

In a “mass action” demonstration with speakers, bikers, kayakers and even kites, protestors converged on the Water Street bridge between Peabody and Danvers on Thursday to further their opposition to a new peaker plant being built off Peabody’s Pulaksi Street, where two power plants already exist on a riverfront site.

The new plant, which has received all necessary approvals from the state and been green-lighted for construction, would be located within an environmental justice neighborhood, a state designation given to areas where residents are historically vulnerable to environmental hazards.

State laws passed since the Peabody plant’s permitting process aim to vet projects as such and protect these very communities from fallout. Protestors on Thursday indicated they’re ramping up efforts to stop the plant.

[…] The situation in Peabody has taken center stage for climate activists in Massachusetts, which by law is now required to cut its emissions in half by 2030, and then reach net zero by 2050. Opponents feel building a natural gas and oil-fired power plant at this stage in the game is completely contradictory to those efforts.

Judith Black, a Marblehead resident and member of 350 Mass, said the peaker “flies in the face of environmental justice goals and our climate roadmap bill.”
» Read article     

» More about peaker plants

DIVESTMENT

woke in Glasgow
How an Organized Republican Effort Punishes Companies for Climate Action
Legislators and their allies are running an aggressive campaign that uses public money and the law to pressure businesses they say are pushing “woke” causes.
By David Gelles and Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 27, 2022

In West Virginia, the state treasurer has pulled money from BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, because the Wall Street firm has flagged climate change as an economic risk.

In Texas, a new law bars the state’s retirement and investment funds from doing business with companies that the state comptroller says are boycotting fossil fuels. Conservative lawmakers in 15 other states are promoting similar legislation.

And officials in Utah and Idaho have assailed a major ratings agency for considering environmental risks and other factors, in addition to the balance sheet, when assessing states’ creditworthiness.

Across the country, Republican lawmakers and their allies have launched a campaign to try to rein in what they see as activist companies trying to reduce the greenhouse gases that are dangerously heating the planet.

“We’re an energy state, and energy accounts for hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue for us,” said Riley Moore, the West Virginia state treasurer. “All of our jobs come from coal and gas. I mean, this is who we are. This is part of our way of life here in the state. And they’re telling us that these industries are bad.”

“We have an existential threat here,” Mr. Moore said. “We have to fight back.”

In doing so, Mr. Moore and others have pushed climate change from the scientific realm into the political battles already raging over topics like voting rights, abortion and L.G.B.T.Q. issues. In recent months, conservatives have moved beyond tough words and used legislative and financial leverage to pressure the private sector to drop climate action and any other causes they label as “woke.”

“There is a coordinated effort to chill corporate engagement on these issues,” said Daniella Ballou-Aares, chief executive of the Leadership Now Project, a nonprofit organization that wants corporations to address threats to democracy. “And it is an effective campaign. Companies are starting to go into hiding.”

The pushback has been spearheaded by a group of Republican state officials that has reached out to financial organizations, facilitated media appearances and threatened to punish companies that, among other things, divest from fossil fuels.
» Read article    

» More about divestment

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC under Glick
FERC enforcement ramp-up spurs pipeline wars
By Miranda Willson andMike Soraghan, E&E News
May 25, 2022

Last year, the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission delivered a message to the energy industry: “The cop is back on the street.”

Chair Richard Glick was referring to FERC’s Office of Enforcement, which seeks to ensure energy and power companies comply with the independent agency’s rules. Last fiscal year, the office opened 12 new investigations compared to six the previous year.

The uptick in cases includes a new focus on energy infrastructure, including the country’s pipelines — and how companies handle their construction and operation. The bottom line, Glick said, is that pipeline companies must abide by the conditions in the permits that FERC issues.

“The message is you’ve got to live up to your commitments,” Glick told reporters in December. “If you don’t do that, we’re going to come down on you, because that’s our role.”

But as the agency seeks to penalize pipelines for permit violations — including pursuing record-setting fines — developers are hitting back with legal challenges that, if successful, could chip away at the commission’s enforcement powers. That in turn could make it more difficult to penalize companies for spills, groundwater contamination and failure to restore the land they trench through to build the lines.

Since Congress boosted FERC’s enforcement authority in 2005, the Office of Enforcement has not typically gone after pipeline violations, focusing more on wrongdoing in energy and power markets. But that has recently begun to change, some legal experts said.

Glick’s leadership has undoubtedly spurred FERC to increase oversight on pipelines, said Carolyn Elefant, a former FERC attorney who now represents landowners affected by pipelines. Before the Democrat was tapped by President Joe Biden to serve as FERC chair last January, “pipeline stuff was completely below the radar,” she said.

Now, FERC is accusing two multibillion-dollar pipeline developers of failing to abide by the conditions and standards they agreed to when they were granted permits. In one case, the enforcement office is proposing its biggest-ever fines in a pipeline construction case.

Increased enforcement from FERC may send a message to the natural gas industry that the agency is prepared to hold developers accountable for the terms and conditions included in their permits, said Carrie Mobley, an associate at the law firm McGuireWoods LLP.
» Blog editor’s note: This good news is tempered by the fact that the gas industry and conservative judges are moving to dampen FERC’s regulatory powers. Stay tuned.
» Read article      

Glick at ACP
FERC’s Glick says he’s ‘bullish’ on energy storage, aims to prioritize regulations for hybrid projects
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
May 18, 2022

Amid other regulatory priorities, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Richard Glick would have the agency look into energy storage participation in wholesale markets via hybrid projects with wind and solar, he said on Tuesday during the CLEANPOWER 2022 conference in San Antonio, Texas.

He noted that while FERC requires grid operators to facilitate storage participation in wholesale markets, the effort does not address the role of co-located storage with other generation. Glick, and other speakers at the conference, credited FERC for having “knocked down some of the barriers” for storage and distributed resource participation.

“Storage provides really an enormous amount of potential benefits that we’re not fully utilizing,” he told attendees. “We need to address the variability [on the grid] and where we need more flexible generation resources.”

Already there are a number of dockets open at FERC that are tangential to the role of energy storage, including a requirement for plans from regional transmission organizations, or RTOs, to contend with increasing power variability as more intermittent resources are connected to the grid.

“A couple of weeks ago, we issued an order requiring the RTOs around the country to report to us what their plans are for addressing … additional variability on the system. I’m very bullish about storage’s ability to play a great role in that,” Glick said.

Currently, energy storage plays a larger role in California than in other wholesale markets, as the independent system operator deals with a lot of high variability on the grid due to the large amounts of solar power, experts on an energy storage panel said at CLEANPOWER on Tuesday.

In order for energy storage to increase its participation in other wholesale markets, there needs to be a greater recognition of the resource’s resiliency capacities, experts said at the conference.
» Read article      

» More about FERC

CLIMATE

Hebei smokestacks
New Study Says World Must Cut Short-Lived Climate Pollutants as Well as Carbon Dioxide to Meet Paris Agreement Goals
Cutting only CO2 emissions, but failing to rein in methane, HFCs and soot, will speed global warming in the coming decades and only slow it later this century.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
May 23, 2022

Climate policies that rely on decarbonization alone are not enough to hold atmospheric warming below 2 degrees Celsius and, rather than curbing climate change, would fuel additional warming in the near term, a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes. The study found that limiting warming in coming decades as well as longer term requires policies that focus not only on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, but also of “short-lived climate pollutants”—greenhouse gases including methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—along with black carbon, or soot.

“We’re simultaneously in two races to avert climate catastrophe,” said Gabrielle Dreyfus, chief scientist for the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development and lead author of the study.  “We have to win the sprint to slow warming in the near term by tackling the short-lived climate pollutants, so that we can stay in the race to win the marathon against CO2.”

The study used climate models to assess how the planet would respond if countries addressed climate change solely through decarbonization efforts—namely transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy—without reining in methane and other short-lived but potent climate pollutants.

The authors found that decarbonization-only efforts would actually result in increased warming over the near term. This is because burning fossil fuels emits both carbon dioxide and sulfates. Unlike carbon dioxide, which warms the planet and remains in the atmosphere for centuries, sulfate particles reflect sunlight back into space but only remain in the atmosphere for several days, so they have a powerful, but short-lived cooling effect.

The continual release of sulfates through the ongoing burning of fossil fuels currently offsets roughly half a degree of warming that the planet would otherwise experience from the carbon dioxide emissions of fossil fuel combustion, Dreyfus said. Transitioning to renewable energy will quickly remove the short-term curb on warming provided by sulfate emissions, and the planet will continue to heat up for a couple of decades before the longer-term cooling from cutting carbon dioxide emissions takes hold, she added.

If, however, emissions of methane, HFCs, soot and nitrous oxide occur at the same time as decarbonization, both near-term and long-term warming can be reduced, Dreyfus said.
» Read article    
» Read the study

Williston flare
Greenhouse Gases Trapped Nearly 50% More Heat Last Year Than in 1990: NOAA
“Getting hot in here,” said one climate campaigner. “Gotta get congressmen and senators to do more midday outdoor events in their dark suits.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
May 23, 2022

An annual assessment released Monday by a U.S. agency underscored the need to dramatically cut planet-warming pollution with a notable revelation about heat-trapping gases over the past three decades.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution from human activities trapped 49% more heat in the atmosphere in 2021 than in 1990, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA announced that finding in its update of the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), which converts the warming influence of carbon dioxide—or CO2, the most common GHG—as well as methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and 16 other chemicals into one number that can be compared to previous years, as the agency explained in a statement.

“The AGGI tells us the rate at which we are driving global warming,” said Ariel Stein, acting director of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory (GML).

“Our measurements show the primary gases responsible for climate change continue rising rapidly, even as the damage caused by climate change becomes more and more clear,” she added. “The scientific conclusion that humans are responsible for their increase is irrefutable.”

Echoing other experts and reports—including recent publications from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—NOAA scientists on Monday urged humanity to reduce GHGs.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

aerial view
Think Solar Panels Don’t Work in Snow? New Research Says Otherwise
Double-sided panels help offset the effects of snow on solar arrays.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 26, 2022

Skeptics of renewable energy often claim—usually with an eye roll—that solar power doesn’t work well in snowy climates.

When most solar panels were stationary and one-sided, this idea carried some weight. But now, most panels move on an axis to follow the sun throughout the day, and an increasing share of panels have silicon on the front and back, making solar more effective even in places with regular snowfall.

Here’s the latest: A recent paper led by researchers at Western University in London, Ontario shows that the use of “bifacial” photovoltaic panels—solar panels that take in sunlight from both sides—produces substantially more electricity during winter compared to using one-sided panels, based on data from a solar array that has both kinds of panels.

“I was surprised how striking the results were,” said Joshua Pearce, an electrical engineering professor at Western University and co-author of the paper. “There is no question now that bifacial modules are the way to go for ground-mounted PV systems in the north.”

The paper, published in the journal Renewable Energy, shows that double-sided panels can take in substantial amounts of energy from light reflected off of the snowy ground at times when the front of the panel is most likely to be partially covered by snow, as described in PV Magazine.

The researchers went to a solar array in Escanaba, a town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They mounted cameras to observe snow cover, pyranometers to measure levels of solar radiation and also gathered electricity generation data from the system’s operator.

During the cold-weather months of November 2020 to March 2021, the one-sided panels experienced a snow-related energy loss of 33 percent, while the two-sided panels had a loss of 16 percent. The study period included 30 days in which there was snowfall.

Most of the gains for the two-sided panels were because of the reason the researchers expected, which is that sunlight reflected off of the snowy ground and hit the back side of the panels.
» Read article     
» Obtain the study

wind test center
As blades get longer, Charlestown testing center seeks to expand
Wind turbine technology moving faster than expected
By Shira Schoenberg, CommonWealth Magazine
May 22, 2022

WHEN THE WIND Technology Testing Center in Charlestown was built in 2011, the longest wind turbine blades in the world were around 65 meters long, or 215 feet. So the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center constructed the blade testing building to be 90 meters long, around 300 feet – about the size of a football field.

“We built this assuming that blades were going to get larger, and so 85 to 90 meters seemed like a reasonable length to expect at the time,” said Robert FitzPatrick, director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. At that length, the testing center was the largest of its kind in North America.

Fast forward a decade, and General Electric wanted to test its newest blade – a 107-meter-long behemoth that will be used in its Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The testing center had to cut part of the blade off to fit it in the building. While blades can be tested without the tip, it is not ideal, and engineers need to account for the adjusted weight.

Massachusetts Clean Energy Center CEO Jennifer Daloisio said the facility was built with the knowledge that it would eventually have to be expanded, but the technology advanced faster than expected. “Essentially, the facility needs to be almost doubled in length and doubled in height to accommodate the wind blades of both the current and the future projects,” Daloisio said.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is working on plans to expand the center, lengthening it to be able to accommodate 140 or 150-meter blades. The center would grow from around 300 feet long to 500 feet long, while nearly doubling the height in the new section, from 85 feet to 155 feet tall. The expansion would not let the center test more blades – it would keep the same three testing stations – but it would adapt the center to the size of the more modern turbines.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy   

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Folkestone service
International Commission Votes to Allow Use of More Climate-Friendly Refrigerants in AC and Heat Pumps
The new guidelines could save the equivalent of billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, but the U.S. could prove slow to adopt them.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
May 22, 2022

A secretive vote in the arcane and Byzantine world of international safety standards late last month may lead to a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from home heating and cooling systems in the coming years.

In a closed-door process that concluded on April 29, two dozen technical experts from around the world voted unanimously to approve a proposed update to a household appliance safety standard set by the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

The IEC sets safety standards for thousands of household appliances. The international standard serves as a guideline for country-specific safety standards such as UL, formerly Underwriters Laboratories, safety standard in the U.S. Details about the subcommittees that shape the safety standards are typically kept confidential. IEC declined to provide additional information about the vote, including the names of individual country representatives who approved the update.

The update, a draft copy of which IEC shared with Inside Climate News and which IEC plans to publish next month, could help solve a significant climate problem that has long bedeviled manufacturers of air conditioners and high efficiency electric heating systems known as heat pumps, which wanted to use more climate-friendly refrigerants but were prevented from doing so.

The vast majority of air conditioners and heat pumps used around the world today rely on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), synthetic chemical refrigerants that, when leaked into the atmosphere, are highly potent greenhouse gases. The approved safety standard update will allow appliance manufacturers to instead use hydrocarbon refrigerants that have a negligible climate impact.

[…] Most air conditioners and heat pumps in the United States today rely on HFC-410a, a chemical refrigerant that is 4,260 times as potent as carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 20-year period.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency     

 

MODERNIZING THE GRID

overdue but welcome
Study lays out options for New England grid operator to help cut emissions
Critics say the regional grid operator has been slow to respond to states’ emission reduction goals, and that reforms are needed to help emerging clean energy resources compete in its electricity markets.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
May 23, 2022

The regional electric grid operator for New England is beginning to study how it could play a new role in cutting power sector emissions.

ISO New England oversees the electric grid for the six-state region, coordinating the real-time flow of electricity as well as operating longer-term markets to make sure an adequate supply of generation is being built.

Traditionally, as with other regional grid operators, its top concerns have been reliability and affordability: making sure it always has enough power to keep the lights on at the lowest possible price.

In recent years, though, many states have adopted a third priority: reducing emissions. Critics say grid operators have been slow to respond, and that their policies have become barriers to states’ climate goals by prioritizing conventional power plants over emerging clean energy resources.

ISO-NE’s recent Pathways study, released in February, lays out four possible frameworks for how the grid operator might integrate clean energy into the grid. They include continuing the status quo, creating a new clean energy market, implementing carbon pricing, and a hybrid scenario.

Advocates say the report is a pivotal — if long overdue — step toward decarbonizing the region’s power supply.

“To date, the ISO’s market designs have been holding back the region,” said Melissa Birchard, director of clean energy and grid reform at environmental advocacy group the Acadia Center. “This study is a first step to changing that.”
» Read article    
» Read the Pathways study

transmission is expensive
‘More, more, more’: Biden’s clean grid hinges on power lines
By Peter Behr, E&E News
May 23, 2022

With its signature climate legislation roadblocked in Congress, the Biden administration is seeking an unprecedented expansion of high-voltage electric lines to open new paths to wind and solar energy.

“We obviously need more, more, more transmission to run on 100 percent clean energy … and handle all the buildings and the cars and the trucks that we’re working to electrify,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in February.

For example, 80,000 megawatts of new wind farms could be built on open lands in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas, the Energy Systems Integration Group (ESIG) noted at a DOE webinar in March. But today, there’s only enough existing high-voltage transmission to export one-tenth of that amount, according to ESIG, a nonprofit organization of grid experts.

The gap highlights a major challenge for President Joe Biden’s goal to decarbonize the grid by 2035. In response, DOE has started to roll out a range of proposals under its $16 billion Building a Better Grid initiative announced in January, hoping to break through layers of obstacles to transmission.

In an interview with E&E News, Patricia Hoffman, principal deputy assistant secretary for DOE’s Office of Electricity, described a two-track strategy: Decisions beginning this year offer financial backing to help get “shovel ready” power line projects under construction quickly, and a multiyear planning operation seeks state officials’ support for new interregional power lines connecting large wind and solar regions with population centers.

DOE invited suggestions this month on how to structure the shorter-term initiative. It will contract to purchase up to half the electricity on new power lines up to a total commitment of $2.5 billion, aiming to get previously announced projects across the starting line to construction.

“We hope that we can expand the program in 2023 with some of the other authorities we have,” Hoffman said. DOE would resell the power to utilities, replenishing the funding pool, under the plan.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

scale issue
Inside the race for a car battery that charges fast — and won’t catch fire
Amid rising gas prices and climate change, car giants are in a fierce contest to perfect the solid-state battery, long viewed as a ‘holy grail’ for electric vehicles
By Pranshu Verma, Washington Post
May 18, 2022

In September, Toyota offered the world a glimpse into the company’s future. In an 11-second YouTube video, it displayed a modern four-door car cruising down a test track. The most important upgrade was the tagline emblazoned on the car’s right side: “Powered By All-Solid-State Battery.”

In recent years, car giants such as Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen have been trying to overcome the shortcomings of batteries that power electric vehicles by racing to produce a next-generation battery . Many companies are rallying around solid-state batteries, which do not contain liquid electrolytes and can charge quicker, last longer and be less prone to catching fire than the lithium-ion batteries currently in use, according to battery experts. Automakers have poured millions into perfecting the technology by the latter half of the decade.

The contest comes at a crucial time. Gas prices have skyrocketed, and climate change has accelerated efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, increasing demand for electric vehicles. This has led to shortages of many minerals used in current electric-vehicle batteries, amid ethical concerns as they’re often mined by adults and children in backbreaking conditions with little protection.

But experts and carmakers say getting the new batteries to market is an extremely challenging task.

“It’s the technology of the future,” said Eric D. Wachsman, director of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute. “The question is: How soon is that future going to be here?”
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

stand with Ukraine
Oil and Gas Industry Seized on War in Ukraine to Water Down Climate Policy, Report Shows
A new report details the PR and lobbying blitz from fossil fuel companies in the early days of the Russian invasion that aimed at benefiting oil and gas interests, while offering little for the current crisis.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
May 24, 2022

While Russia dropped missiles on Kyiv and laid siege to the port of Mariupol in late February, the oil and gas industry took advantage of the war in Ukraine to spread misinformation about the causes of the energy crisis in order to apply political pressure and pursue a longstanding wish list of policy changes, according to new research.

Energy prices soared in the aftermath of the Russian invasion. In response, the oil and gas industry waged a concerted influence campaign that blamed the Biden administration’s climate policies for undermining American energy independence and for causing a spike in prices, according to a report from InfluenceMap, a corporate watchdog group. Across an array of platforms, the industry and its allies framed more drilling and looser regulation as a solution to these problems, and advocated for policies that had tenuous connections to the global energy crisis but were nonetheless favorable to the fossil fuel industry.

“The U.S. oil and gas sector has consistently argued for policies that allow for new or increased fossil fuel exploration, and against policies that would reduce demand. But what’s changed in recent months is the intensity of that message,” said Faye Holder, program manager for InfluenceMap. “The sector has quickly mobilized around the war in Ukraine and high gas prices to promote the need for more ‘American-made energy,’ often relying on potentially misleading or questionable claims.”

DeSmog previously reported on oil executives’ and lobbyists’ PR blitz in the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a move which sought to take advantage of the crisis to secure largely unrelated policy victories. But InfluenceMap’s new study offers a deeper and more comprehensive examination of how the industry attempted to influence public opinion.
» Read article      

pumps at work
U.S. Can’t Drill Its Way to Energy Security, Jenkins Warns
By The Energy Mix
May 19, 2022

The war in Ukraine is increasing gasoline prices in America despite the country’s status as the world’s largest oil producer, demonstrating why the United States “cannot drill its way to energy security” and should instead invest in renewables, writes Princeton University energy specialist Jesse Jenkins.

“Oil, coal and, increasingly, natural gas are globally traded commodities, which leaves the U.S. economy dangerously exposed to the vagaries and volatility of energy prices. The decisions of a single autocrat on the other side of the world can send the cost of filling the tank in Des Moines or Denver soaring,” writes Jenkins, an assistant professor of energy systems engineering and policy at Princeton University and leader of the REPEAT Project.

Drilling for more oil could have strengthened the country’s energy security the last time Americans were paying this much for gas, back in 2008. At that time, the U.S. imported more than half of its oil, while renewable energy sources were much more costly and supplied less than 2% of the country’s electricity.

But the energy landscape has fundamentally changed since then, after national oil and gas production outpaced consumption and the cost of renewable energy and lithium-ion batteries plunged.

But while he agrees the U.S. should continue to export oil and gas to European allies to help “starve the Kremlin war effort,” Jenkins says the country’s energy security depends on developing a new approach that expands renewable energy infrastructure. The energy provisions in the now-stalled Build Back Better bill would reduce U.S. consumption of oil by nearly 500 million barrels and natural gas by two trillion cubic feet per year, for combined annual savings of about US$70 billion for American homes and businesses.

Those reductions would also make the U.S. economy far more energy secure and help the country meet its national emissions-reduction targets.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Jonathan Wilkinson
Energy Chief Says Canada Could Send Gas to Europe Within 3 Years
Trudeau minister eyes conversion of existing Repsol facility. But nation currently lacks export terminal on Atlantic coast.
By Brian Platt, Bloomberg
May 26, 2022

Canada’s top energy official said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is open to accelerating a liquefied natural gas project that could start supplying Europe in as soon as three years.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told Bloomberg News the fastest way to help “our European friends” would be for Spain’s Repsol SA to convert an existing LNG import facility in New Brunswick, on Canada’s Atlantic coast, into an export terminal.

“A lot of existing infrastructure is there,” Wilkinson said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Berlin, ahead of a Group of Seven energy ministers meeting. If Repsol decided to convert the terminal, “you likely could have a facility that would be producing within three to four years,” he said.

[…] Wilkinson said Canada would be looking for two things in any new LNG facility: that it use a low-emission process for gas and that it be capable of transitioning to exporting hydrogen later on.
» Read article     

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

whole trees
EU Parliament’s Environment Committee urges scale back of biomass burning
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
May 18, 2022

In a surprising and unprecedented vote this week, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee recommended the scaling back of the EU’s existing subsidies incentivizing the burning of wood pellets, replacing coal for heat and energy. The committee also urged the European Union to reduce how much it counts forest biomass toward the continent’s renewable energy goals.

Forest advocates are viewing the move with both hope and skepticism.

If approved and written into policy in September as part of the EU’s revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the recommendations would be the first steps of any kind toward slowing the accelerating use of biomass burning over the past 12 years, which scientists have long argued adds to carbon emissions, damages forests, and diminishes biodiversity.

“We are relieved to see a majority of the Environment Committee opt for a biomass limitation for energy and heat,” Fenna Swart of The Netherlands’ Clean Air Committee told Mongabay. “But there are still significant gaps in the law that the European Parliament must close during the plenary vote in September. Otherwise, compliance will backfire at the expense of forests, as is now happening on a large scale.”

The committee put forward four recommendations cautiously cheered by forest advocates like Swart — forest biomass opponents who have generated widespread public opposition to the practice across Europe, but who have yet to see any policy reform. The committee recommended that:

  • A definition for primary woody biomass, or biomass sourced directly from whole trees, be added to RED for the first time, with the intention of protecting intact forests. Exemptions would include forests affected by fire, pests and disease.
  • Primary woody biomass no longer qualify as counting toward member states’ renewable energy targets. Currently, biomass accounts for 60% of the EU’s renewable energy portfolio, far more than zero-carbon wind and solar.
  • Primary woody biomass no longer receive subsidies under RED, with certain exemptions.
  • Where whole trees are harvested, they should first be used for long-lasting wood products and only burned for energy as wood pellets if no other usage options exist.

Wood-pellet industry representatives, who are only accustomed to government support, were not happy with the recommendations.
» Read article     

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

waste management
In South Korea, an Emphasis on Recycling Yields Results
Ambitious goals, messaging and enforcement put the nation at the top of the sustainability pack, serving as a model as the World Economic Forum pushes to end plastic waste.
By David Belcher, New York Times
May 21, 2022

[…] South Korea, which is the size of Portugal, but with a population of nearly 52 million — while surrounded by water on three sides and a hostile neighbor to the north — is like much of the rest of the planet: under pressure to better utilize existing resources, and to do so before it is too late.

That sense of urgency, and a United Nations effort to reach an international agreement by 2024 to eliminate plastic waste, may well be on many minds at the Davos summit this year as the ecological fallout from the pandemic becomes clear.

“One of the things the pandemic revealed was a rise in the use of plastic for food deliveries and a sense of safety with extra packaging all over the world,” said Kristin Hughes, the director of resource circularity at the World Economic Forum. “Recycling was put on hold in many countries. It wasn’t deemed as essential.”

Now that the crisis phase of the pandemic has passed, she said, it’s time to switch direction. “We need to move away from the take-use-dispose approach,” she said.

The challenge of consumption and disposal is evident across South Korea. A train ride through this country reveals patches of crammed houses, businesses and farms. There’s little room for landfills. In fact, one of the largest in the country, which absorbs much of the waste from Seoul and its 10 million residents, is expected to be full by 2025.

South Korea is also a major manufacturer, exporting electronics, cars and appliances at breakneck speed, which keeps it hovering in or near the top 10 countries for G.D.P. This has created the need for factories and shipyards, in an already crowded nation that has scant room to accommodate them.

So recycling bins and food waste canisters are ubiquitous, and 32-gallon food-recycling containers line the curbs of Seoul much the way cars pack the roads in the capital’s notorious traffic.

At the Recycling Management factory on a recent afternoon, dozens of workers in protective gear stood alongside jolting conveyor belts, sorting and positioning thousands of plastic bottles and sending them on to their second or third life.
» Read article      

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 5/20/22

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Welcome back.

Just about every Friday, we publish this newsletter with links to a host of great articles that discuss current important climate and energy issues. There’s often a pattern – science jacking up the alarm level, industry spinning the message, and politics gridlocked between competing interests. While each issue can feel like another trip through the spin cycle, we’ve been at this a few years now and can definitely see positive progress – invariably driven by people who have chosen to engage, to work with others who haven’t given up, who are determined to take whatever action they can to meet the climate crisis. So we’re leading today’s issue with one person’s account of how getting involved, getting active, makes her feel hopeful.

Now that we’re fired up and ready to go… let’s jump right in with an observation that the Federal Reserve has yet to see a role for itself in addressing the financial risks associated with climate change. Even though these hazards are well documented and increasingly urgent, Fed Chair Jerome Powell recently said, “Today, climate change is not something that we directly consider in setting monetary policy.” Pension funds are an example of an investment that responds to monetary policies. Ones that still hold a lot of fossil fuel securities are directly exposed to climate risks. But some of these funds are resisting divestment efforts by circulating misinformation that exaggerates the expected costs associated with eliminating fossils from portfolios. This is a replay of tactics previously deployed when resisting calls to dump tobacco and firearms.

Financial risks mentioned above come in two main flavors: the risk to life, property, and business from extreme weather events and other climate-related disasters, and the risk of stranded assets, typically associated with fossil fuel infrastructure that has to be retired earlier than expected. A new scientific study draws a line under the stranded asset issue, concluding that approximately 40% of all existing fossil fuel production sites must be retired early for us to hang on to a 50-50 chance of achieving the Paris Climate Agreement goal of limiting heating to 1.5C.

Last among this week’s finance-related news is consideration of the effectiveness of purchasing carbon offsets as a way to green up air travel. Bottom line: not much. But with time and better regulation, the carbon offset market is expected to improve. For now, buy them if they make you feel better. Fly less if you can.

We’ll close out this section with a couple of excellent articles describing how the same technical loophole that allows European biomass plants to claim their energy is carbon neutral (and to devastate forests in the U.S. southeast), is being used to grow the biomass energy industry in Japan and South Korea – with similar pollution and deforestation consequences. Also, a heads up on the next industry-driven false solution for the single-use plastics problem: “advanced recycling“.

On the positive side, floating offshore wind turbines have come a long way in the past five years. Now, the first commercial deployment is happening off Scotland and strong industry growth is expected to follow. We also found a podcast about the new documentary “Empowered”, focused on the long and checkered history of energy production in Somerset on Mount Hope Bay, near Fall River, MA. Long-serving state representative Patricia Haddad is central to the story.

Across the pond, Norway is seeing the commercial launch of the Hydrovolt battery recycling plant. It’s Europe’s largest facility for recycling electric vehicle and stationary energy storage batteries. Between its initial capacity and plans for growth, it is expected to handle all of Norway’s end-of-life battery market.

On the topic of batteries, it’s certain that long-duration energy storage will involve (among other technologies) some form of flow batteries. We offer a great basic primer on what these are and how they’re being used. And right on queue, a new report by researchers at MIT finds that with today’s available methods, it’s technologically and financially feasible to use energy storage systems to almost completely eliminate the need for fossil fuels to operate regional power grids.

Let’s make it happen.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

involved
When You Can’t Read Anymore About Climate, Take Action
By Meredith Rose, Yes! | Opinion
May 18, 2022
Meredith Rose has taught composition and literature at San Francisco City College. Her short stories have been published in a handful of literary magazines. With her life partner, she is raising two teenaged kids in Pasadena, CA.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done? It might have been something reckless or impulsive, adventurous, or just plain stupid. Here’s mine: I joined a group that works on creating solutions to climate change. Nuts, right? Who does stuff like that when the headlines remind us daily of our impending doom? Well, I did, and I’m learning that it’s not so crazy after all. I admit that when I simply recycled toilet paper rolls and bought LED lights, life was easier. Joining an organization and showing up was definitely out of my comfort zone, let alone actually meeting with my congresswoman. But it seems that every summer where I live in Southern California, the thermometer tops 100 degrees for days on end, and I’m pretty uncomfortable then too.

Now, I’m doing something, along with thousands of others, and together, we’re making a difference. I see it in the laws proposed in Congress and in state legislatures as well. By getting involved, I’ve also met a range of people who haven’t given up, who are determined to take whatever action they can to meet this crisis.

For years, the mainstream media told me who really cared about The Environment: latte-drinking, Volvo-driving elites, or else wild-haired, amoral, eco-terrorists. When I attended my local chapter meeting of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I met folks who (possibly) drank lattes and (occasionally) had some hairs out of place, but who for the most part were passionate, clear-eyed, and determined. The more involved I got, the more inspired I became. I signed up to staff an info table at a local library event. With me was Rob, a scientist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and then the head of the local chapter. He knew all the facts backward and forward, but when he talked to people, he spoke from the heart. He encouraged me when, for the first time ever, I talked to total strangers about climate change, and he thanked me for my efforts when my shift was over. I had wanted this scientist to tell me that everything was going to be OK, that the powers that be would figure it out in time, but he never did. Instead, he showed me that every contact with another person—listening first and then responding—was the key to addressing our challenge.
» Read article   

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

suspense
As California Considers Dropping Fossil Fuels from Major Pension Funds, New Report Calls Out ‘Misinformation’ on Costs
CalPERS and CalSTRS, which oppose fossil fuel divestment legislation, have “wildly exaggerated” divestment costs, according to Fossil Free California’s latest report.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
May 13, 2022

A newly published report by Fossil Free California finds California’s pension fund managers are circulating divestment “misinformation” by exaggerating the costs involved in shedding their fossil fuel investments in documents prepared for state lawmakers.

California lawmakers are currently considering Senate Bill 1173 (SB-1173), California’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, which would require the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), to stop investing in fossil fuels before the decade is out. The move would impact billions of dollars currently invested in oil, gas, or coal on behalf of California’s teachers, firefighters, and other public employees.

The report titled “Hyperbole in the Hearings” found that the pension “funds have wildly exaggerated losses from past divestments” like those involving tobacco, firearms, and some forms of coal. It concludes that CalPERS and CalSTRS estimates for costs associated with fossil fuel divestment are also exaggerated.

Extraordinary sums of money, invested on behalf of California’s public employees and teachers, are on the line. The two pension funds have estimated holdings of $7.4 billion and $4.1 billion respectively in fossil fuel investments that would need to be divested if the law went into effect.

Before it’s enacted, SB-1173 has to survive what California lawmakers call “suspense,” where the fiscal impacts of the law are considered — and it’s become known in the state as the place where bills “are killed without public debate.” That’s because debate between lawmakers during the suspense process is done behind closed doors and there’s no public vote when a bill is killed “on the suspense file.”
» Read article   

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Northvolt operational
Northvolt’s battery recycling plant Hydrovolt commences operations in Norway
By Cameron Murray, Energy Storage News
May 17, 2022

Commercial operations have begun at the Hydrovolt battery recycling plant in Norway, a joint venture (JV) between Norwegian materials processing company Hydro and Sweden-headquartered lithium battery manufacturing startup Northvolt.

The facility in Fredrikstad, southern Norway, has been under construction since February last year and its JV partners have invested NOK120 million (US$13.94 million) into the project while another NOK43.5 million was put in by Norwegian government enterprise Enova.

It is Europe’s largest electric vehicle battery (EV) recycling plant with the capacity to process approximately 10,900 tonnes (12,000 tons) of battery packs per year, equating to around 25,000 EV batteries. The batteries will be supplied by Batteriretur, a Norwegian company that collects batteries for recycling.

That is sufficient to recycle the entire end-of-life battery market in Norway, Hydrovolt said. CEO Frederik Andresen told Energy-Storage.news when construction started that, although it was EV-focused, the facility is also capable of recycling batteries from stationary energy storage systems (ESS).

Hydrovolt has a long-term aim of increasing its recycling capacity in Europe to 63,500 tonnes of battery packs by 2025 and 272,000 tonnes by 2030.

The Fredrikstad facility can recover and isolate some 95% of the materials in batteries including plastics, copper, aluminium and black mass, a compound containing nickel, manganese, cobalt and lithium. The recovered aluminium will be delivered to Hydro for recirculation into commercial grade aluminium products.
» Read article   

high pressure
Gas is a dangerous distraction for Africa
Arguments for gas exploration and gas-fired power infrastructure in Africa are robbing us of vital time to switch to clean energy.
By Vanessa Nakate, Al Jazeera | Opinion
May 16, 2022
Vanessa Nakate, 25, is a climate activist from Uganda and founder of the Africa-based Rise Up Movement.

At the start of this century, when much of the developed world woke up to the dangers of smoking, Big Tobacco turned to Africa to seek out new profits.

To this day, in my country, Uganda, and many others, foreign tobacco companies work to undermine regulations designed to protect people against the industry – they even market cigarettes to schoolchildren in some African countries.

Now, the same is happening in the context of the global fight against climate change.

As the world finally begins to wake up to the climate emergency, major oil and gas companies from Europe and North America are increasingly losing their licence to operate there, so they are turning to Africa to try and secure at least a few more years of extraction and profit.

Despite United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently warning that investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is “moral and economic madness”, leaders in Africa are being persuaded that extracting more gas is a prerequisite for the continent’s development.

It is true, at least in the short term, that encouraging people to use gas rather than wood fuel to cook is crucial to prevent indoor air pollution. We need to invest in local storage and bottling plants for cooking gas. However, such measures do not require new gas-fired power infrastructure and exploration. These are two completely separate issues.

Arguments for gas exploration and gas-fired power infrastructure in Africa are robbing us of vital time to switch to clean energy.

Decades of fossil fuel development in Africa have failed to bring prosperity and reduce energy poverty. African countries whose economies rely on the production and export of fossil fuels suffer slower rates of economic growth – sometimes up to three times slower – than those with more diverse economies. In Mozambique, where foreign companies have built a $20bn offshore natural gas field and onshore liquefied natural gas facility, 70 percent of the country still lives without access to electricity. The gas is not for local people.
» Read article   

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

hands off
The Fed Is Neglecting Its Duty on Climate Change
Global warming is introducing unprecedented risk into the financial system. The Fed has the power to limit that risk. Instead, Jerome Powell is sitting on his hands.
By Aaron Regunber, The New Republic | Opinion
May 19, 2022
Aaron Regunberg is a longtime progressive organizer, former Rhode Island state representative, and law student.

In early May, the United States Federal Reserve ordered the largest interest rate hike in over 20 years. This week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell declared he “won’t hesitate” to go even further, calling action on inflation an “unconditional need.”

This urgency to maintain price stability highlights a disturbing contrast at the heart of U.S. monetary policy: As the Fed goes all out to curb inflation, it continues to ignore a far more profound threat to our economic and financial stability—climate change.

By the year 2100, according to one study, the high-end cost of unchecked climate change could be $551 trillion. That’s more money than currently exists on earth. Yet just last year, Powell told a panel of his global colleagues, “Today, climate change is not something that we directly consider in setting monetary policy.”

Such a head-in-the-sand approach to climate is simply not compatible with a livable future, given the critical role that fossil fuel finance plays in driving this crisis. A recent report found that the world’s 60 largest banks invested $4.6 trillion in fossil fuels in the six years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, with four U.S. banks—JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America—together accounting for one-quarter of all fossil fuel financing. The Fed has the power and the responsibility to rein in these disastrous investment patterns, both to insulate our financial system from the contagious collapse of a dead-end fossil fuel industry and to protect the U.S. economy from the ravages of climate change.

Thus far, however, the Fed has failed to take any meaningful action on climate. This contrasts sharply with its peer institutions around the world. The European Central Bank has announced policies that make green assets eligible for purchase or discount. The Bank of England is actively exploring climate-related capital requirements and has committed to reducing the carbon intensity of its corporate bond purchasing program. The People’s Bank of China and the Bank of Japan have launched dedicated lending facilities to offer discounted funding for clean energy—and the list goes on.

The Fed, alone, has refused to acknowledge that climate requires an active central bank response, with opponents arguing that such actions exceed the statutory limits placed upon the Fed by Congress. This argument both misreads the Fed’s legislative mandates and underestimates the profound havoc that climate devastation will wreak on our financial system. In truth, the Fed’s legislative directives not only allow it to take steps to prevent and mitigate climate change, they actually require the Fed to do so.
» Read article   

» More about climate change

CLEAN ENERGY

Hywind Scotland
Floating offshore wind prepares to go commercial
The recent ScotWind offshore wind leasing round heralds a step change for floating offshore wind as a vital renewable technology for energy transition and energy security. Costs are starting to come down but other hurdles remain.
By Jocelyn Timperley, Energy Monitor
May 16, 2022

Back in 2017, the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, a 30MW demonstration project, was installed off the east coast of Scotland.

Five years on, the UK is targeting 5GW of floating offshore wind by 2030, which is equal to half its current total offshore wind capacity. In the recent ScotWind offshore wind leasing round – the world’s first fully commercial leasing round to support large-scale floating wind – the technology was awarded 14.5GW out of a total 25GW. The Crown Estate is planning a further 4GW of leasing for floating wind in the Celtic Sea.

Five years ago floating offshore wind was seen as potentially interesting and able to play a role in the UK’s renewable energy mix, says Rhys Wyn Jones, director of RenewableUK Cymru, the Wales branch of trade association RenewableUK. “It is now seen as absolutely central to offshore renewables’ contribution to the energy transition between now and 2050. We are on the cusp, and I think ScotWind puts rocket boosters underneath floating wind.”

[…] Floating wind offers several advantages over conventional fixed-bottom offshore wind, the most obvious of which is that floating turbines can be located in seabed depths of several hundred metres, compared with a maximum of around 65m for fixed-bottom. This allows far more flexibility in where it is put. Offshore wind can already access higher wind speeds than onshore, but this allows floating wind to take advantage of the very best spots.

“The fact that you can operate floating wind in much deeper waters gives you access to a far larger resource,” says Wyn Jones. “Stronger winds out in deeper waters have a huge benefit.”
» Read article   

Empowered
Rep. Haddad is star of energy documentary
‘Empowered’ places Somerset’s struggles in historical context
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
May 16, 2022

REP. PATRICIA HADDAD of Somerset, long a powerful figure in the Massachusetts House, is now also the star of a new documentary written, directed, and produced by California-based filmmaker Kiki Goshay about America’s love affair with energy.

The documentary’s strength is the long look it takes at the country’s haphazard energy evolution from one president to the next, and from one crisis to the next. The story is told using Haddad and Somerset as the laboratory where those twists and turns play out – often with devastating personal and environmental consequences.

“It is a microcosm of all of America,” Goshay says of Somerset on The Codcast.

Somerset is a small community located on Mount Hope Bay across from Fall River. Electricity has long been its chief export, but the fuel used to produce the power has changed with the times. At Brayton Point, the power plant started with coal, shifted to oil when that fuel was cheap and plentiful, and then reverted to coal with the formation of OPEC and the run-up in oil prices in the 1970s.

Then came the environmental movement and the discovery that the Brayton Point plant was polluting the air and killing off the fish in the bay. That led to expensive scrubbers and cooling towers, which made the plant too costly to operate when cheap fracked natural gas came along. The plant was torn down and the cooling towers were imploded in April 2019, paving the way for a turn to offshore wind that has taken far longer than planned with the foot-dragging of the Trump administration finally giving way to the full-speed-ahead approach of the Biden administration.

[…] Goshay said she felt she needed to push ahead with the project for personal reasons as she watched the country fail to wake up to the dangers of climate change. She interviewed scientists, entrepreneurs, and policymakers like Haddad and came away far more optimistic about the nation’s future.

“I called [the documentary series] ‘Empowered’ because it’s exactly how I felt personally,” she said. “When I did this deep dive and met all of these people over the course of two years, I felt this excitement for the future for the first time. I really thought, wow, things are going to be better in five years and even better than that in 10 years because I met the people that are doing the work and I realized we have the tools.”
» Read article or listen to The Codcast

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

flow battery graphic
Inside Clean Energy: Flow Batteries Could Be a Big Part of Our Energy Storage Future. So What’s a Flow Battery?
A battery project uses a technology that could be vital for meeting the need for long-duration energy storage.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 19, 2022

A clean energy development this week in the San Diego area isn’t much to look at. Workers will deliver four white shipping containers that house battery storage systems. Soon after, workers will hook up the containers so they can store electricity from a nearby solar array.

The part that I care about is the “flow battery” technology inside those shipping containers, developed by ESS Tech Inc., an Oregon startup. Flow batteries have the potential to be an important part of the energy transition because they can provide electricity storage that runs for much longer than the typical four hours of the dominant technology, lithium-ion batteries.

So what is a flow battery? A key design element is the use of two external tanks that contain electrolyte fluids that get pumped through the battery as it charges and discharges.

The duration of the battery, which is how long it can run before recharging, increases based on the size of the tanks. Think of this as the battery equivalent of one of those novelty baseball helmets that hold two cans of soda. If you switch out cans of soda for two-liter bottles, you can drink a lot more.

“For the whole machine, what you need to do is add more liquid rather than adding many, many more batteries,” said Jun Liu, a University of Washington professor and a fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He also is director of the federal government’s Battery500 Consortium, which develops next-generation batteries for electric vehicles.

In contrast to flow batteries, lithium-ion batteries and most other batteries are self-contained, with less flexibility in their design, he said.

[…] And one of ESS’ selling points to investors and customers is that it doesn’t rely on rare metals like lithium or vanadium at all. The main ingredients of its fluid are iron, salt and water.
» Read article   

fuel storage tanks
More energy storage is needed to support wind and solar power, MIT study finds
By David Abel, Boston Globe
May 16, 2022

A new report released Monday by researchers at MIT finds that it’s technologically and financially feasible to use energy storage systems, such as massive batteries or hydroelectricity, to almost completely eliminate the need for fossil fuels to operate regional power grids.

Such systems are becoming in greater demand in New England, and beyond, as more renewable energy powers homes and businesses and they require ways to keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

“Our study finds that energy storage can help [renewable energy]-dominated electricity systems balance electricity supply and demand while maintaining reliability in a cost-effective manner,” said Robert Armstrong, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, which commissioned the three-year study.

The authors of the report estimated that the costs of transforming power grids in the Northeast, Southeast, and Texas will range between 21 percent and 36 percent higher than if nothing was done to promote storage-backed renewable energy. The costs will be higher in the Northeast, where there are greater energy demands in the winter.

But they described those costs as “relatively modest” and noted there would be many hours when the costs of electricity would be near zero. That means future power grids are more likely to enable the low-cost charging of increased numbers of electrical vehicles and homes with electrical heating systems. They will be able to be charged when prices dip.

“These cost increases are relatively modest compared to the costs of not doing anything, and especially compared to the costs of climate change, which is an existential threat,” said Dharik Mallapragada, one of the authors of the report.
» Read article   
» Read the MIT report

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

guilt money
Do Airline Climate Offsets Really Work? Here’s the Good News, and the Bad.
Carbon credits could eventually play an important role in fighting climate change, but right now a few dollars’ worth won’t change much.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
May 18, 2022

Carbon offset programs have become ubiquitous. You’ve probably seen them as check-box options when booking flights: Click here to upgrade to a premium seat. Click here to cancel your greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s an appealing proposition — the promise that, for a trivial amount of money, you can go about your business with no climate guilt. But if it sounds too good to be true, that’s because, at least for now, it is.

The New York Times asked readers this spring to submit their questions about climate change, and several asked about carbon offsets. How do they work? Do they work at all, or, as one reader put it, “is it just guilt money?”

The idea of carbon offsets, sometimes called carbon credits or climate credits, is simple. We know human activity releases tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases every year. We also know it is possible to remove or sequester carbon from the atmosphere by, for example, planting trees.

Offsets seek to compensate for emissions in one place — for example, from passenger airplanes — by funding emission reductions or carbon removal somewhere else, like forests.

Some experts see them as an essential tool to limit environmental damage, at least in the short to medium term, until the world can make a full transition to renewable energy. Governments including California, the European Union and Australia are relying on them to meet their national goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

At some point, carbon offset programs will have to become more transparent and effective, said Bruce M. Usher, a professor of professional practice at Columbia Business School and the former chief executive of EcoSecurities Group, which has designed emissions-reduction projects in developing countries.

Scientists are clear that the world needs to reach net-zero emissions — the point where we either stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or fully counteract the gases that we do produce — by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and “it’s virtually impossible to get to zero” without offsets, he said.

But that doesn’t mean offsets work today, and Professor Usher’s advice to people right now is hardly a ringing endorsement. “If you wish to because it aligns with your values, sure, you should buy carbon credits,” he said. “But don’t be under the illusion that, for every credit you buy, it’s absolutely 100 percent reducing emissions by an equal amount.”

Many offset projects do not even come close to 100 percent of the benefits they promise.
» Read article   

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

early retirement
Shut down fossil fuel production sites early to avoid climate chaos, says study
Nearly half existing facilities will need to close prematurely to limit heating to 1.5C, scientists say
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
May 17, 2022
» Read article   

fenceline benzene
US oil refineries spewing cancer-causing benzene into communities, report finds
Analysis shows alarming level of benzene at fence-line of facilities in Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Indiana and US Virgin Islands
By Aliya Uteuova, The Guardian
May 14, 2022
» Read article   
» Read the EIP analysis

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

ramping up
Missing the emissions for the trees: Biomass burning booms in East Asia [Part 1 of 2]
By Justin Catanoso, Mongabay
May 11, 2022

The European Union and the United Kingdom are ramping up controversial wood burning to generate energy and heat as they follow legal mandates to phase out coal. But this practice is leaving smokestack carbon emissions uncounted and the atmosphere in arguably worse shape.

Now, on the other side of the world, two industrial Asian giants are following Europe’s lead, though with less media scrutiny to date.

Japan and South Korea, the world’s third- and 10th-largest economies, have been increasingly relying on burning wood for energy since 2012, taking advantage of a United Nations-tolerated loophole that enables them, like the EU and the U.K., to allow emissions from biomass burning to be counted as carbon neutral, putting it in the same category as renewables such as solar and wind energy.

The result may be an undercounting of their actual greenhouse gas emissions, allowing them to meet their Paris Agreement goals — at least on paper. Both Japan and South Korea pledged in 2020 to reach net zero emissions by 2050; the EU and the U.K. have the same goal.

Western and Eastern biomass usage is creating a surging demand for wood pellets, putting even more pressure on native forests in the southeastern United States, western Canada, and Eastern Europe. Experts say this demand could lead to similar logging in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Environmental Paper Network, a global coalition of forest advocates that tracks biomass usage, estimates that demand for pellets in Japan will rise to 9 million metric tons annually by 2027, up from 0.5 million metric tons in 2017.

[…] In South Korea, government subsidies for further biomass development have been so heavy that they are reducing investment in renewables such as wind and solar, according to a report by Seoul-based NGO Solutions For Our Climate (SFOC).

Meanwhile, “proposed Japanese demand for wood pellets would require the use of all the forests in Virginia,” Tim Searchinger, an expert on biomass for the World Resources Institute, told environmentalists in Japan during a recent presentation to forest advocates. More ominously for forests, his research indicates that “to provide 2% of global primary energy from wood requires doubling global commercial wood harvest.” Searchinger based the 2% prediction on current rising demand forecasts.

This trend comes even as nations proclaim the value in keeping forests intact. In November of last year, more than 100 nations agreed at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow to reduce global deforestation as a primary climate-mitigation strategy. But the nonbinding pledge left plenty of room for commercial logging, which feeds wood-pellet manufacture, to continue unabated.
» Read article   

chipster
As biomass burning surges in Japan and South Korea, where will Asia get its wood? [Part 2 of 2]
By Annelise Giseburt, Mongabay
May 19, 2022

Under the guise of “carbon neutral” energy, Japan and South Korea’s appetite for woody biomass for electricity generation has increased exponentially over the past decade and continues to grow. The two nations’ biomass subsidies are spurring an increase in the production of wood for burning in Southeast Asia and North America, putting pressure on forests in those regions.

Burning woody biomass for electricity takes stored CO2 out of trees and puts it back into the atmosphere. However, United Nations carbon accounting rules define burning woody biomass as carbon neutral because newly planted trees absorb CO2. As a result, neither Japan nor South Korea counts that CO2 among its emissions, despite the fact that numerous studies have challenged industry claims of biomass burning’s carbon neutrality.

In 2021, Japan and South Korea imported a combined 6 million metric tons of wood pellets, according to data compiled by the nonprofits Biomass Industry Society Network (BIN) and Solutions for Our Climate (SFOC). They both also import palm kernel shells, a byproduct of palm oil production. A smaller percentage of both countries’ biomass fuel, including wood chips, is sourced domestically.

Encouraged by generous subsidies and the long-standing carbon accounting loophole, wood pellet demand in Japan and South Korea is expected to rival that of the United Kingdom and European Union by 2027. The EU currently supplies 60% of its supposedly renewable energy through biomass.

Although Asian woody biomass sourcing is just one production demand being made on the world’s forestry industry (wood for pulp, paper and construction are others), experts warn that a surge in biomass production could lead to increased deforestation — for a fuel that, no matter what the carbon accounting rules say, emits higher levels of CO2 at the smokestack than even coal and large amounts of particulate air pollution.
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PLASTICS RECYCLING

Berawa Beach
Exxon doubles down on ‘advanced recycling’ claims that yield few results
The petroleum company is under investigation for misleading the public while exacerbating the global plastic pollution crisis
By Amy Westervelt, The Guardian
May 11, 2022

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