Tag Archives: biomass

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

Nearly half of existing fossil fuel production sites need to be shut down early if global heating is to be limited to 1.5C, the internationally agreed goal for avoiding climate catastrophe, according to a new scientific study.

The assessment goes beyond the call by the International Energy Agency in 2021 to stop all new fossil fuel development to avoid the worst impacts of global heating, a statement seen as radical at the time.

The new research reaches its starker conclusion by not assuming that new technologies will be able to suck huge amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere to compensate for the burning of coal, oil and gas. Experts said relying on such technologies was a risky gamble.

The Guardian revealed last week that 195 oil and gas “carbon bombs” are planned by the industry. This means projects that would each produce at least 1bn tonnes of CO2. Together, these carbon bombs alone would drive global heating beyond the 1.5C limit. But the dozen biggest oil companies are on track to spend $103m (£81m) a day until 2030 on climate-busting schemes.

Greg Muttitt, at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, was one of the leaders of the new research and said: “Halting new extraction projects is a necessary step, but still not enough to stay within our rapidly dwindling carbon budget. Some existing fossil fuel licences and production will need to be revoked and phased out early. Governments need to start tackling head-on how to do this in a fair and equitable way, which will require overcoming opposition from fossil fuel interests.”

Kelly Trout, at Oil Change International, the other lead author of the work, said: “Our study reinforces that building new fossil fuel infrastructure is not a viable response to Russia’s war on Ukraine. The world has already tapped too much oil and gas.” The researchers said governments should accelerate the introduction of renewable energy and efficiency measures instead.
» 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

A dozen US oil refineries last year exceeded the federal limit on average benzene emissions.

Among the 12 refineries that emitted above the maximum level for benzene, five were in Texas, four in Louisiana, and one each in Pennsylvania, Indiana and the US Virgin Islands, a new analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project revealed on Thursday.

Benzene is a known carcinogen that is highly toxic and volatile when exposed to air. Much of the excess emissions come through leaks from valves, tanks, pumps and other means that are hard to detect.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 6.1 million people in the US live within three miles of a refinery, with low-income people and people of color represented at rates nearly twice that of the general population.

Out of 129 operable oil refineries in 2021, 118 reported benzene concentration registered at or near the site, otherwise known as the fence-line.

Nearly half of these refineries released benzene levels above 3 micrograms per cubic meter, which the Environmental Integrity Project defines as a long-term potential health threat.
» 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.
» Read article   

» More about biomass

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

Accused of misleading the public for decades on the promise of plastic recycling, oil and chemical companies are pushing a new idea: “advanced recycling”. Environmental advocates, however, say it’s more of the same old greenwash and litigators hope holding companies accountable for past lies might prevent the spread of a new one.

In late April, California attorney general Rob Bonta launched an investigation into ExxonMobil for its role in exacerbating the global plastic pollution crisis. Bonta says he was partly inspired by a 2020 investigation from NPR and Frontline that showed how companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Dow and Dupont were aware of the inefficacy of plastic recycling, yet they still strategized marketing campaigns that told a different story to the public.

For oil companies, those campaigns often included removing themselves from the story altogether. Even some climate advocates forget that plastic, which is made from either petroleum or ethane (a byproduct of fracking), is very much part of the climate crisis. Bonta says his investigation started with ExxonMobil because they’ve been a leader, in the plastics industry and in the messaging around recycling. A report out last year from the Mindaroo Foundation found that just 100 companies produce 90% of the world’s plastic pollution. It pinpointed ExxonMobil as the top producer in the world of single-use plastic.
» Read article   

» More about plastics recycling   

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Weekly News Check-In 4/22/22

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Welcome back.

We’ll jump right in with climate reports, because it turns out that after several years of increasingly urgent, hair-on-fire warnings from the United Nations, scientists, and governments, we in Massachusetts appear to be less concerned than we were before. The pandemic, inflation, and the war in Ukraine to have distracted our attention, and those things have given us too many excuses to delay real action.

So what we have is a mixed bag. The fossil fuel industry has long bankrolled a sophisticated disinformation and denial campaign, and the richest countries in the world continue to finance new development projects. We even have a brand new gas peaker plant under construction in Peabody, MA! But there’s also pushback, like the Massachusetts legislature’s good work on a new, nuts & bolts bill designed to execute the broad goals expressed in the 2021 climate “roadmap” law.

The Biden administration finds itself on both sides of this fence. We reported last week on the discouraging (and transparently political) move to sell more oil and gas leases. On the flip side, Biden is increasing the build-out of renewable energy on public lands, and has restored part of an environmental law that was gutted by the Trump administration, “requiring that climate impacts be considered and local communities have input before federal agencies approve highways, pipelines, and other major projects”. Hopefully this constitutes clear guidance for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which recently made a quavering attempt to consider climate impacts of pipelines, but freaked out when the gas industry expressed displeasure.

Before we move on from the topic of natural gas, let’s consider two articles describing how gas utilities are doubling down on their campaign to preserve their pipeline distribution model at all costs – touting far-fetched, false solutions as a way to continue pushing volatile fuel into homes and businesses. Natural gas is primarily methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – and it leaks from every point along the line from production to end use – sometimes spectacularly.

A primary reason the gas distribution model has no future is that modern heat pumps can replace fossil fuel furnaces and boilers, even in frosty New England. As we electrify building heat, we expect some stubborn gas utility obstruction – and we’re getting plenty of that. Less obvious is resistance coming from HVAC installers, especially considering how much they have to gain as communities convert en masse to new equipment. But change is inevitable.

Even the mundane process of charging electric vehicles is evolving. Soon, the idea of plugging in your EV to do nothing but charge overnight will seem as antiquated as heating with gas. With bi-directional charging, the vehicle’s large battery and stored energy can be available for all sorts of uses, from utility demand management to emergency backup power – all while leaving plenty of juice for driving. This can generate income for the individual or fleet EV owner while adding resiliency and flexibility to the grid.

We’ll close with a look at liquefied natural gas, and how the industry is using the Russian invasion of Ukraine to continue its long fight against controlling toxic emissions at export terminals. Also, read about the biomass industry’s lobbying campaign to keep the fires burning under Europe’s dirtiest “renewable” energy.

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

stop Peabody peaker
What to know about a planned natural gas ‘peaker’ plant in Mass
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 08, 2022

This week’s new climate report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is very clear that the world needs to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure immediately. In fact, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, countries need to actively decommission a lot of the oil, gas and coal infrastructure that already exists.

Massachusetts also has strong climate laws and has committed to hitting “net zero” emissions by 2050. So why, in 2022, is the state allowing the construction of a new natural gas and diesel-fired power plant in Peabody?

Project opponents say plans for the so-called “peaker” plant are antithetical to the state’s goals, and that the utility group behind the project has not been transparent in their proceedings.

But work on the plant has continued despite the protests, and project managers say the facility will be up and running by 2023.

Whether you’re familiar with this proposed power plant and have questions, or you’re hearing about it for the first time, here’s what you need to know:
» Read article or listen to broadcast    

» More about peakers

DIVESTMENT

advantage oil
Database Shows Rich Governments Funding Fossil Fuels Over Clean Energy
“G20 international public finance is currently blocking a just energy transition, bankrolling 2.5 times more fossil fuels than clean energy.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
April 20, 2022

A new online tool launched Wednesday by a U.S.-based advocacy group details how international public finance is continuing to fuel the climate emergency rather than sufficiently funding a just transition to clean energy.

Oil Change International (OCI) unveiled its Public Finance for Energy Database—accessible at energyfinance.org—along with a briefing that lays out key findings, why the group is monitoring public finance for energy, and how these institutions “are uniquely positioned to catalyze a just, transformative, and rapid transition.”

The open-access tool targets development finance institutions (DFIs), export finance agencies (ECAs), and multilateral development banks (MDBs), focusing on Group of 20 (G20) countries, the world’s biggest economies. The website features a data dashboard as well as a policy tracker.

“Public finance shapes our future energy systems,” the briefing states, explaining that these “institutions’ investments total $2.2 trillion a year: an estimated 10% of global financial flows. Worldwide, 693 government-owned or operated banks own assets worth about $38 trillion and if central banks, sovereign wealth funds, pensions, and multilateral banks are also included, this doubles to $73 trillion.”

“The impact of this finance reaches beyond its own scale because public finance has an outsized influence on the decisions private financiers make,” the document adds. “This is because public finance has government-backed credit ratings, is often provided at below-market rates, often has larger research and technical capacity, and signals broader government priorities. All of this helps make a project a less risky and more attractive investment.”

The briefing points out that “G20 international public finance is currently blocking a just energy transition, bankrolling 2.5 times more fossil fuels than clean energy.”
» Read article   
» Access the database

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

MA Statehouse
Senate passes big climate bill focused on getting to net-zero
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
April 15, 2022

Senators took a major step Thursday toward achieving the net-zero emissions target they already set for Massachusetts by approving a policy-heavy bill aimed at expanding the clean energy industry and reining in emissions from the transportation and building sectors.

Nearly 12 hours after they kicked off debate, senators voted 37-3 on legislation (S 2819) that faces an unclear future as negotiators prepare to reconcile it with a smaller-scope bill that cleared the House (H 4515). All three of the chamber’s Republicans, who unsuccessfully pushed an alternative proposal, voted against the final measure.

Along the way, the Senate adopted 45 amendments — including one that calls for attempting to nearly double the amount of offshore wind energy generated for Massachusetts over the next decade-plus — leading to what Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee Chair Sen. Michael Barrett called “a product here that is much better than when we started.”

The legislation, which comes on the heels of a 2021 law committing to reaching net-zero emissions statewide by 2050, would pump $250 million into clean energy expansion, electric vehicle incentives, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It would also overhaul the offshore wind procurement process, require greater scrutiny on the future of natural gas, and allow some cities and towns to restrict the use of fossil fuels in new construction.

“Last year’s climate bill was about laying out a plan for tackling this formidable challenge of climate change. This year, in this legislation, we propose to begin to execute on the plan. If you like metaphors, last year was about laying out a roadmap, today we start traveling down the road. That’s why this is all about implementation,” Barrett, a Lexington Democrat, said on the Senate floor. “I am happy beyond measure, I am so happy, that this Senate has the courage to move beyond roadmapping and beyond laying out a template and is in favor of getting to the question of implementation and execution.”
» Read article    

» More about legislation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

providing certainty
FERC must stand strong against industry pressure to weaken climate and environmental justice policies
By Moneen Nasmith, Utility Dive | Opinion
April 20, 2022

[…] Federal law requires FERC to consider a broad range of factors when assessing how gas infrastructure projects, like pipelines and export terminals, impact the public. Gas projects often cause significant harm to the climate and communities. They release methane pollution — a potent greenhouse gas that is a major contributor to the climate crisis — and facilitate the burning of fossil fuels for decades to come. And they degrade air quality and threaten public health, often in low-income communities and communities of color already overburdened with pollution.

But FERC has long overlooked the environmental costs of gas projects while accepting unsubstantiated claims by industry about their alleged benefits. The agency has historically rubberstamped nearly all the gas projects that came before it, without seriously considering whether they are even needed. As a result, these projects have been vulnerable to litigation — and FERC and the pipeline industry keep losing in court.

Most recently, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled in March that FERC failed to adequately assess the greenhouse gas emissions from a compressor station and gas pipeline in Massachusetts. Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action team, a community group, filed a lawsuit challenging FERC’s approval of the project without considering climate impacts. The court agreed and ordered FERC to redo its environmental analysis.

To improve its broken review process, FERC recently proposed two common-sense policies to consider adverse effects like greenhouse gas emissions and environmental injustice when it reviews gas projects. The first outlines four factors the agency will consider before approving pipeline projects, including environmental impacts and the interests of environmental justice communities. The second lays out how the agency will quantify and evaluate the impacts from greenhouse gas emissions from a gas project, including pipelines and export terminals. These policies better balance the pros and cons of building new gas projects — something the courts have effectively been directing FERC to do.

Predictably, the fossil fuel industry and their political allies came out in full force to attack the new policies and pressure FERC to weaken and delay implementation of its policies. Gas companies claimed the new policies create uncertainty and will reduce investment in new pipelines and export terminals. But the reality is that the policies will reduce uncertainty for all stakeholders by ensuring that new projects are legally sound.
» Read article   

» More about FERC   

GREENING THE ECONOMY

narrow lakeBiden restores parts of environmental protection law, reverses Trump policy
By Lisa Friedman New York Times, in Boston Globe
April 19, 2022

The Biden administration will announce Tuesday that it is restoring parts of a bedrock environmental law, once again requiring that climate impacts be considered and local communities have input before federal agencies approve highways, pipelines, and other major projects.

The administration plans to resurrect requirements of the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act that had been removed by President Donald Trump, who complained that they slowed down the development of mines, road expansions, and similar projects.

The final rule announced Tuesday would require federal agencies to conduct an analysis of the greenhouse gases that could be emitted over the lifetime of a proposed project, as well as how climate change might affect new highways, bridges, and other infrastructure, according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The rule would also ensure agencies give communities directly affected by projects a greater role in the approval process.

Brenda Mallory, chairwoman of the council, described the regulation as restoring “basic community safeguards” that the Trump administration had eliminated.

[…] Administration officials said the new rule would not have major immediate impacts since the Biden administration had already been weighing the climate change impacts of proposed projects. But it would force future administrations to abide by the process or undertake a lengthy regulatory process and possibly legal challenges to again undo it.

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970, after several environmental disasters including a crude oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and a series of fires on the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio that shocked the nation.

It mandates federal agencies to assess the potential environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions before allowing them to proceed. Agencies are not required to reject projects that might worsen climate change — only to examine and report the impacts.
» Read article    

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

unfocused
As Earth’s temperature rises, Massachusetts residents’ sense of urgency on climate change declines
By Sabrina Shankman and Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
April 19, 2022

Despite increasingly urgent international warnings and an onslaught of catastrophic wildfires and weather linked to global warming, fewer Massachusetts residents see the climate crisis as a very serious concern than they did three years ago, according to a new poll.

It’s not that respondents weren’t aware of the climate threat; a large majority acknowledged that symptoms of the crisis such as increased flooding, extreme heat waves, and more powerful storms are either already happening or very likely within five years, according to the poll, a collaboration of The Boston Globe and The MassINC Polling Group. And more than three quarters called climate change a “very serious” or “serious” concern.”

But with a pandemic and war in Ukraine as a backdrop, fewer than half, 48 percent, ranked climate in the highest category of concern, down from 53 percent in 2019, the last time the poll was taken. Less than half said they would vote along climate lines or take steps such as switching their home heat off fossil fuel.

“Climate change is the kind of issue where people still think they can put it off on the back burner of their minds, especially when they’re dealing with COVID, when they’re dealing with inflation, when they’re dealing with all kinds of other terrible things in the world,” said Richard Parr, research director with The MassINC Polling Group.
» Read article    

gap
G20 Falling Behind, Canada Dead Last in Widening Gap Between Climate Pledges, Climate Action
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
April 22, 2022

G20 countries are falling behind on the all-important “say-do gap” between their 2030 emission reduction pledges and the climate action they’re actually taking, and Canada shows up dead last among the 10 wealthiest nations in the group, according to the first annual Earth Index released this week by Corporate Knights.

The analysis [pdf] points to some signs of progress, particularly in electricity generation in high-income countries. But it shows slower action in other sectors and warns that middle-income G20 countries are producing three times the emissions of the wealthiest—a trend that will continue without much wider, faster efforts to transfer proven technologies and techniques to the parts of the world that need them.

Corporate Knights CEO Toby Heaps said G20 countries’ climate commitments to date would hold average global warming to 1.8°C, citing an assessment released by the International Energy Agency during last year’s COP 26 climate summit. That outcome would “still be destructive, but it’s a scenario where we can still thrive, species can thrive, and our civilization can thrive,” Heaps told a webinar audience Wednesday.

The problem is the gap, he added, with the latest working group report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing warming on a trajectory for 3.2°C.
» Read article   
» Read the Earth Index

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Zion solar
Biden Admin Wants to Nearly Double Renewable Energy Capacity on Public Lands by 2023

By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
April 21, 2022

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced the steps it was taking to increase the amount of renewable energy projects on public lands.

The plans include increasing renewable energy capacity by almost 10,000 megawatts by 2023, which would nearly double existing capacity, The Hill reported.

“The Department of the Interior continues to make significant progress in our efforts to spur a clean energy revolution, strengthen and decarbonize the nation’s economy, and help communities transition to a clean energy future,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “The demand for renewable energy has never been greater. The technological advances, increased interest, cost effectiveness, and tremendous economic potential make these projects a promising path for diversifying our national energy portfolio, while at the same time combating climate change and investing in communities.”

The new steps announced by Biden’s Department of the Interior (DOI) Wednesday all advance towards the goal of permitting 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2025 and creating a carbon-free power grid by 2035.
» Read article    

CT green H2 path
CT plans a green hydrogen path, but it has potholes

By Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT Mirror
April 13, 2022

“Green hydrogen” seems to be the climate change solution of the moment — a not-widely-understood substance now talked up by the Biden administration, northeastern governors and Connecticut lawmakers, as well as the few people here who actually know what green hydrogen is.

Among other initiatives, the Biden administration has launched a competition for four hydrogen “hubs” that will share $8 billion in federal funds to develop, well, something. Connecticut is partnering with New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts to come up with a proposal for what one such something might be. Separately, the Connecticut legislature is considering a bill to establish a task force to study green hydrogen’s potential in the state and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is planning for a hydrogen component in its new Comprehensive Energy Strategy. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) includes hydrogen among the mitigation strategies in its final and alarming 6th assessment report released last week.

But the environmental community is, at best, wary of green hydrogen. Some are downright opposed to aspects of making and using it and even more worried about non-green hydrogen. Even green hydrogen’s biggest supporters admit it has limitations and is not a silver bullet for addressing climate change.

“A lot of really important questions come with this policy area,” said Katie Dykes, DEEP’s commissioner. “What is the hydrogen being produced with? What are the emissions associated with the production of the hydrogen? How is it being transported and stored? What are you using it for?

“Those are more questions than answers.”

So what is green hydrogen exactly and is its potential in mitigating climate change worth getting excited about? The answer is complicated.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

heat pump rebates
Unlikely gatekeepers in the fight against climate change: HVAC contractors
Rebates encourage homeowners to embrace climate-friendly heating systems. Will contractors block or bolster the switch to heat pumps?
By Eve Zuckoff, CAI Public Radio
February 23, 2022

Homeowners looking to replace their heating systems can now receive up to $10,000 to switch from boilers and furnaces to air source heat pumps. The rebates are part of the state’s ambitious plan to lower carbon emissions and address climate change.

But for the state’s plan to work, it needs more than the support of homeowners and environmental activists. It needs your local heating and cooling contractor.

[…] Today, 27 percent of Massachusetts’ total carbon emissions come from heating and water heating in homes and other buildings, according to data from the state. To drastically cut those emissions, state officials want 1 million homes to rely on electric heat pumps, rather than boilers and furnaces, by 2030.

While powerful financial incentives from Mass Save, the state’s energy-efficiency program, are expected to attract homeowners, it’s up to contractors to heed the call. Some say they’re ready.

“I would say nine out of 10 – if not more– of our jobs are heat pump jobs and we’re doing several hundred jobs a year,” said Jared Grier, owner of an HVAC company in Marstons Mills that’s betting hard on the future. It’s called Cape Cod Heat Pumps.

Home heating systems are expensive for most homeowners, but rebates can create a competitive advantage for heat pumps.

Like many contractors, Grier said it’s nearly impossible to estimate the average cost of installing a heat pump system because it involves so many variables, including the size of the home, how insulated it is, and how many units are needed. But the overall cost to install – and operate – a heat pump can be a selling point when compared to other heating systems.

[…] Beyond cost comparisons, some installers say they are pivoting to heat pumps because they’re afraid of what could happen if they don’t.

“You have to embrace it or you get left behind. We can’t afford as a business to be left behind,” said Gary Thompson, sales and installation manager at Murphy’s Services of Yarmouth, which does air conditioning, heating and plumbing. “The boilers and the furnaces – the fossil fuel heating systems – are the dinosaurs. They’re going away.”

Advancing heat pump technology has transformed his sales over the last five years, he said, but many veteran installers remain resistant.

“The contractors – be it time, economics, training – they haven’t embraced it,” he said. “You know, kind of the old adage in this industry: ‘I’ll try anything new as long as my father and grandfather used it first.’”
» Read article    
» See Mass Save heat pump rebates

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

V2X MOU
Department of Energy looks to integrate Vehicle-to-Everything bi-directional charging into US infrastructure
The US DOE released a Memorandum of Understanding that aims to bring together parties to advance bi-directional charging with cybersecurity as a core component.
By Anne Fischer, PV Magazine
April 21, 2022

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and partners announced the Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that aims to bring together resources from the DOE, national labs, state and local governments, utilities, and private entities to evaluate the technical and economic aspects of integrating bidirectional charging into the nation’s energy infrastructure.

As the number of electric vehicles (EVs) grows (including larger trucks and buses), their batteries can be used to add support [to] the grid.

A bidirectional EV fleet could serve as both a clean transportation as well as an energy storage asset that sends power back to everything from critical loads and homes to the grid. A bidirectional fleet could also create new revenue opportunities for EV owners or fleets.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) conservatively estimates that 130 million electric vehicles (EVs) will be on the road globally by 2030.  Bidirectional plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) offer an opportunity to support the grid, enhancing security, resilience, and economic vitality.

“The MOU signed today represents a collaborative approach to researching and developing novel technologies that will help unify the clean energy and transportation sectors while getting more American consumers into electric vehicles,” said Deputy Secretary of Energy Dave Turk. “Integrating charging technology that powers vehicles and simultaneously pushes energy back into the electrical grid is a win-win for the future of clean transportation and our energy resilience overall.”
» Read article    

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

interchangeable
As N.H. lawmakers and utilities embrace renewable natural gas, environmental groups raise concerns

Environmentalists say renewable natural gas is costly and limited, and that it can be used to justify building and maintaining fossil fuel infrastructure.
By Amanda Gokee, New Hampshire Bulletin, in Energy News Network
April 20, 2022

Buried under a pile of trash in a landfill in northern New Hampshire, apple cores, eggshells, and other bits of discarded food are decomposing. That process generates a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide — a gas the state’s utilities want to capture and use as fuel.

This so-called renewable natural gas comes from other sources, too: livestock operations generating agricultural waste and wastewater treatment plants that handle human waste. Once purified, the gas is “fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. As of last September, that had resulted in 548 landfill gas projects across the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gas utilities in New Hampshire are looking to use renewable natural gas as a fuel of the future. Lawmakers have broadly supported the efforts, in spite of environmental and cost concerns. Renewable natural gas could cost three times as much as conventional natural gas.

Senate Bill 424 was voted out of two Senate committees with unanimous support and passed the Senate floor on a voice vote in March. The bill left the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee with five House lawmakers voting against it and 15 in its favor, and it is now up for a vote before the full House with the committee’s recommendation that it pass into law.

[…] Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the guardrails in the bill are too weak to guarantee the promised environmental benefits.

“It gives utilities an opportunity to claim they’re doing something green and environmentally beneficial. But when you pull back the layer, it’s not going to be environmentally beneficial,” Krakoff said.

One specific problem, Krakoff said, is a lack of accounting when it comes to methane leakages, which can occur during processing or transportation and can quickly cancel out the climate benefits associated with renewable natural gas. And the greenhouse gas emissions from transporting the gas must be calculated as well, he said. The bill is currently silent on both. “When you weigh the greenhouse gas impacts, you need to look at the whole picture,” he said.

Krakoff’s larger critique of renewable natural gas is that it’s diverting attention and money from cleaner alternatives, like heat pumps.

The Conservation Law Foundation has written that the gas is both costly and limited; the organization argues that, for those reasons, it will do little to lower emissions but could be used to justify building and maintaining fossil fuel infrastructure.

“It’s just a way of avoiding what really needs to be done to transition to clean energy,” Krakoff said.
» Read article   
» Read CLF’s position on renewable natural gas

first rule of holes
A fossil-free National Grid? Critics call it a pipe dream.
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
April 19, 2022


National Grid today released a plan to go fossil-free in order to meet Massachusetts’ 2050 net-zero climate emission targets.

The company’s “clean energy vision” is designed to transform the way the gas utility provides heat throughout its New England territory, while continuing to rely on its vast gas infrastructure.

Currently, most homes and businesses in the region burn natural gas for heat, which National Grid distributes to customers through a network of pipelines. By mid-century, if the company fails to change its business model, the net-zero requirements of the state climate law will essentially put it out of business.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, has a shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide, but is far more effective at trapping heat. Thousands of miles of pipes in Massachusetts leak methane, and are being repaired and replaced at an estimated cost of $20 billion.

The key to National Grid’s plan is using their same pipeline distribution system, but providing a different mix of gas, said Stephen Woerner, regional president of the utility: “We eliminate fossil fuels and we replace them with renewable natural gas and green hydrogen.”

Renewable natural gas — or RNG — is methane produced by decomposing organic matter. The utility plans to capture methane produced on farms, landfills and waste treatment plants and pipe it through its network.  “Green” hydrogen would be produced by offshore wind farms that split water into oxygen and hydrogen, with no carbon emissions. The company envisions a new gas mix including 30% RNG and 20% green hydrogen by 2040, and 80% RNG and 20% green hydrogen by 2050.

One of the environmental groups calling for electrification of the region’s heating system is the Massachusetts-based Conservation Law Foundation. The group also advocates for the use of electric heat pumps and neighborhood geothermal heating, which uses the Earth as a battery to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer.

Caitlin Peale Sloan, vice president of CLF for Massachusetts, called National Grid’s plan “a false solution, just a way for the company to stay in business using their existing network of pipelines to distribute climate-disrupting gas.”

“Any plan that still counts on burning methane is not a decarbonization plan,” Sloan said. She notes that methane, regardless of the source, is still a climate threat.
» Read article    

» More about gas utilities

GAS LEAKS

big cowboy line break
Unregulated gas pipeline causes a huge methane leak in Texas
By Aaron Clark and Naureen Malik, Bloomberg, in The Boston Globe
April 18, 2022

A natural gas pipeline in Texas leaked so much of the super-potent greenhouse gas methane in little more than an hour that by one estimate its climate impact was equivalent to the annual emissions from about 16,000 US cars.

The leak came from a 16-inch (41-centimeter) pipe that’s a tiny part of a vast web of unregulated lines across the US, linking production fields and other sites to bigger transmission lines. Although new federal reporting requirements start next month for so-called gathering lines, the incident highlights the massive climate damage even minor parts of the network can inflict.

Energy Transfer, which operates the line where the leak occurred through its ETC Texas Pipeline unit, said an investigation into the cause of the event last month is ongoing and all appropriate regulatory notifications were made. It called the pipe an “unregulated gathering line.”

The timing of the release and its location appeared to match a plume of methane observed by a European Space Agency satellite that geoanalytics firm Kayrros called the most severe in the US in a year. Bloomberg investigations into methane observed by satellite near energy facilities show the invisible plumes often coincide with routine work and deliberate releases.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Severely curbing or eliminating releases of the gas from fossil fuel operations is crucial to avoiding the worst of climate change. The International Energy Agency has said oil and gas operators should move beyond emissions intensity goals and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to methane releases.
» Read article    

» More about gas leaks

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Frontline series
‘Frontline’ Review: Why the Climate Changed but We Didn’t
“The Power of Big Oil” examines a dispiriting, well-financed history of denialism and inaction.
By Mike Hale, New York Times
April 18, 2022

PBS’s investigative public-affairs program “Frontline” specializes in reminding us of things we would rather forget. On Tuesday, it begins a three-part dive into climate change, that potential species-killer that has taken a back seat recently to more traditional scourges like disease and war.

Titled “The Power of Big Oil,” the weekly mini-series is focused on climate change denialism as it was practiced and paid for by the fossil fuel industry — particularly Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries — along with its allies in business and, increasingly, politics. By extension, it’s a history, more depressing than revelatory, of why nothing much has been done about an existential crisis we’ve been aware of for at least four decades.

The signposts of our dawning comprehension and alarm are well known, among them the climatologist James Hansen’s 1988 testimony to Congress, the Kyoto and Paris agreements, the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and increasingly dire United Nations reports. The response that “Frontline” meticulously charts — a disciplined, coordinated campaign of disinformation and obfuscation that began in industry and was embraced by conservative political groups — is less familiar but was always in plain sight.

Part of the campaign is public, a barrage of talking heads on television and op-eds and advertorials in prominent publications (including The New York Times) that do not absolutely deny global warming but portray it as the night terrors of attention-mongering eggheads. Behind the scenes, the thinly disguised lobbying groups paid for by Big Oil apply pressure on key politicians at key moments — whenever it looks as if the United States might pass legislation affecting their profits.

One lesson the show offers, almost in passing, is the way in which the refusal to accept the reality of climate change prefigured the wider attacks on science — and on knowledge in general — that were to characterize the Trump years and the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The successful but lonely battle fought by the oil and gas industries is joined wholeheartedly by Republican politicians when they see how climate denialism, and the specter of unemployed miners and drillers, dovetails with their efforts to demonize President Barack Obama and radicalize conservative voters. At that point, the fig leaf of scientific debate is dropped and pure emotion takes over.
» Read article    

KY mountain top
The Decline of Kentucky’s Coal Industry Has Produced Hundreds of Safety and Environmental Violations at Strip Mines
Internal records and emails show that state regulators struggle to keep up with the violations as coal bankruptcies and “zombie” mines proliferate.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
April 18, 2022

As the coal industry has collapsed in Kentucky, companies have racked up a rising number of violations at surface mines, and state regulators have failed to bring a record number of them into compliance, internal documents show.

Enforcement data from 2013 through February, along with recent internal emails, both provided to Inside Climate News by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in response to a state open records law request, paint a picture of an industry and its regulators in a state of crisis.

The documents reveal an agency struggling to enforce regulations designed to protect the public and the environment from some of the industry’s most destructive practices amid mining company bankruptcies and an overall industry decline that has also seen the shedding of thousands of coal mining jobs in the state.

Environmental advocates fear lax enforcement could also be happening in other coal mining states, such as West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, due to similar pressures on the industry and regulators, despite a recent uptick in coal mining. And they are calling on federal regulators to make sure slowed, idled or bankrupt mines are not left to deteriorate.

“This data shows there are a lot of zombie mines out there,” said Mary Varson Cromer, an attorney and deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center Inc., in Whitesburg, Kentucky, using a term that refers to mines that have been idled, sometimes for years, without the required reclamation work on their sites.

[…] “This is completely out of control,” warned Courtney Skaggs, a senior environmental scientist in the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources, in a separate Dec. 15 email to the department’s commissioner, Gordon Slone. “This is going to blow up in someone’s face,” wrote Skaggs, a former acting director of the agency’s Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement.
» Read article    

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cheniere
Should EPA Back-Off Pollution Controls to Help LNG Exports Replace Russian Gas in Germany?
Cheniere Energy says the agency’s decision to start enforcing pollution controls on gas turbines is “counterproductive” in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Environmentalists strongly disagree.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
April 20, 2022

The nation’s top exporter of liquified natural gas, Cheniere Energy, is using Russia’s war on Ukraine to pressure the Biden administration for a break on regulations aimed at reducing toxic air emissions at its LNG export terminals in Louisiana and Texas.

Environmental advocates are hoping the Biden administration stands firm on its March decision to finally, after nearly two decades, enforce limits on toxic air emissions from certain kinds of gas-powered turbines used in a variety of industrial operations, including the chilling and liquefaction of natural gas at Cheniere’s export terminals on the Gulf Coast for shipment overseas in large tanker vessels.

But Russia’s war in Ukraine has placed enormous counterpressure on the president from the oil and gas industry and its supporters in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, who want U.S. LNG exports to replace Russian gas.Before the war, Russia was supplying about 40 percent of the EU’s gas.

Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, said now is precisely the moment in which Biden should show resolve in the face of Cheniere’s request to relax pollution controls.

“If EPA says, ‘No, you don’t have to comply now, we will give you a waiver for two more years,’ then as soon as they do, every other operator of a stationary turbine will ask for the same thing,” said Williams, who is closely following the issue. In addition to the chillers making LNG, gas powered turbines are commonly used in electricity generation. “We have been trying to get (EPA) to reduce emissions from turbines for 30 years.”

Attorneys at Bracewell, the Houston-based law firm that asked EPA in March for the break on Cheniere’s behalf, say the federal agency has not responded. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency was considering Cheniere’s request.

The next move is Biden’s, and It’s not at all clear how the administration is going to react with the war in Ukraine raging, natural gas prices soaring, gasoline prices at the pump near record highs and the 2022 midterm elections approaching.
» Read article    

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Drax lobby
Biomass Industry Pushes Back Against Europe’s Plans To Protect Woodlands
Leaked documents show UK power plant Drax is at the heart of lobbying efforts to dilute EU biodiversity rules that could limit its supply of wood.
By Phoebe Cooke, DeSmog Blog
April 12, 2022

A powerful US biomass lobby group is pushing for a raft of changes that would weaken European renewable energy rules geared to better protect biodiversity and tackle climate change, DeSmog can reveal.

Leaked documents shared with DeSmog show that Yorkshire wood-burning power plant Drax is at the heart of the effort to water down EU sustainability criteria.

Campaigners say that the proposed amendments pose an “existential threat” to the company, which in 2021 produced nearly 13 percent of the UK’s renewable electricity through burning wood pellets.

The lobbying by US Industrial Pellet Association (USIPA) comes at a time of intense debate over the future of energy. The European Commission pledged to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds after President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The International Energy Agency has also recommended “maximising” bioenergy – which derives from burning organic material for fuel.

USIPA, whose members include Drax and top pellet producers Granuul and Enviva, sent the document to select MEPs in early March.

In it, the industry group appears to push back strongly against rules that might limit its supply of wood – including opposing the European Commission’s proposal for a no-go area for sourcing biomass from virgin and highly biodiverse  forests.

USIPA also attempts to establish in law that old, or misshapen trees should be used to make pellets, and suggests that companies should still be allowed to harvest wood from countries with national plans for timber and forest management deemed inadequate by the EU.
» Read article    

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 4/1/22

banner 17

Welcome back.

Another youth-led climate organization is making waves, alongside the better-known Extinction Rebellion that has mounted bold non-violent actions against the buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure for the past few years. The group Just Stop Oil demands that the British government agree to halt all new licenses for fossil fuel projects. This is reasonable, and right in line with United Nations and International Energy Agency roadmaps for limiting global warming to levels just below catastrophic. The kids are alright.

Science and common sense aside, industry’s zombie-like, shuffling trudge toward new fossil projects includes persistent pressure for new gas peaking power plants. We’re fighting one in Peabody, MA; this week’s report highlights one on Long Island. Meanwhile, it seems our good-news story from last week about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new requirement to consider downstream emissions and environmental justice communities before permitting new natural gas pipelines may have been a tad premature. In a disappointing reversal, FERC chair Richard Glick is walking that back.

With inflation biting into budgets at a time when about one third of American households already have trouble paying their energy bills, it’s fair to ask whether states with ambitious climate goals will make things better or worse from the kitchen-table perspective. We found a new report that concludes “prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars.” It’s a strong economic argument for improving people’s lives while moving quickly to decarbonize. This involves up-front investment, but it makes a whole lot more sense to shovel loads of cash at something expected to pay handsome social and economic dividends – rather than stuffing all those greenbacks into the furnaces and smokestacks tended by the business-as-usual lobby.

Our climate stories draw a line under that. One talks about the dangers of buying into the popular idea that it’s OK to overshoot our global warming target – that we can pull the planet back into the safe zone later. Nope. Now read the second article, featuring young people who refuse to give up in the face of daunting odds. They argue that embracing climate doom can be a cop out that excuses inaction.

Thousands of Canadians are staying engaged – calling for an end to the carbon capture tax credit, a giveaway to industry that relies on unproven and expensive technology, without meaningful return in the form of emissions remediation. Germany appears ready to act, now that the invasion of Ukraine exposed the country’s untenable dependence on Russia’s natural gas. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is doubling down on a clean energy transition. This, along with decisions made in other European capitals will decide the course of the current industry-led race to simply replace all that Russian gas with shipments of liquefied natural gas from North America. It’s worth stepping back from LNG’s breathless promotion of this “solution” to consider that it would lock in lots of new fossil infrastructure and take years to implement – none of which addresses Europe’s urgent energy needs nor the climate’s requirement that we stop doing things like that.

And consider this: every new study of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector seems to conclude that releases of this extra-powerful greenhouse gas are much larger than previously known. Connecticut is on the right track, with its regulators calling for a halt to subsidies for new gas hookups. The argument that gas is cleaner than any other fuel, including coal, is increasingly difficult to defend.

Good news this week includes the fact that we’re getting closer to integrating the batteries in electric vehicles as energy storage units capable of providing grid services. In the not-too-distant electric-mobile future, a utility could peel off a little charge from tens of thousands of parked EVs, greatly reducing the need for larger battery storage units to handle peak demand. And electrified transportation is a broad category, including e-bikes. Massachusetts is finally expected to move forward with regulations allowing them more widespread use and even subsidies for affordability. Forty-six other states have already taken similar measures.

Of course, expanding electric mobility requires mining a host of metals, and the U.S. has concluded its supply chains are far too reliant on foreign (sometimes unstable and/or unfriendly) sources. Lithium, cobalt, and nickel are key metals in EV batteries, and selecting the least environmentally- and culturally-damaging extraction sites is of urgent importance. We offer a report on locations currently under consideration.

Here in Massachusetts, the Baker administration continues its attempt to rewrite the state’s science-based biomass regulations, to allow certain biomass-fueled electricity generators to qualify for lucrative clean energy credits. Scientists, public health professionals, and activists are strenuously opposing that effort.

We’ll wrap up with two stories on the energy demands of cryptocurrency. Bitcoin miners are moving to the oil patch, increasingly running their power-thirsty banks of processors off “waste” gas from drilling operations and using fuzzy math to claim it’s a win for the climate. Meanwhile, others suggest a practical change that could eliminate up to 99% of that energy demand.

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

just stop oil and XR
Environmental protesters block oil terminals across UK
Activists climb on tankers and glue themselves to roads around London, Birmingham and Southampton
By Damien Gayle, The Guardian
April 1, 2022

Hundreds of environmental protesters have blocked seven oil terminals across the country as part of a campaign to paralyse the UK’s fossil fuel infrastructure.

Early on Friday, supporters of Just Stop Oil began blockades at oil refineries around London, Birmingham and Southampton by climbing on top of tankers and gluing themselves to road surfaces.

Shortly after 4am, activists blocked terminals in Purfleet and Grays, Essex, which they said were the biggest in the country. In Tamworth, near Birmingham, a group of more than two dozen protesters had been hoping to disrupt the nearby Kingsbury oil terminal. However, due to police intervention they were able only to block a road leading to the site.

Just Stop Oil has demanded that the government agree to halt all new licences for fossil fuel projects in the UK. They have vowed to continue disrupting the UK’s oil infrastructure until the government agrees.

Louis McKecknie, 21 from Weymouth, who last month zip-tied his neck to a goalpost at Goodison Park, Everton’s football ground, as part of the campaign, said: “I don’t want to be doing this but our genocidal government gives me no choice. They know that oil is funding Putin’s war and pushing millions of people into fuel poverty while energy companies reap billions in profits. They know that to allow more oil and gas extraction in the UK is suicidal and will accelerate global heating.

“It means millions dying of heat stress, losing their homes or having to fight for food. This is the future for my generation, I stop when oil stops.”
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions     

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

no NRG peaker
NRG’s Proposed Astoria Power Plant Slammed as Company Attempts to Revive Plans
By Allie Griffin, Sunnyside Post
March 17, 2022

A large energy company that had its plans to build a power plant in Astoria rejected by the state in October has challenged the decision and in doing so has drawn the ire of local officials and activists.

NRG Energy is seeking the state’s approval to replace its 50-year-old peaker plant on 20th Avenue with a natural gas-fired generator that it says would significantly reduce its carbon footprint at the site.

The company’s application was denied by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in October and NRG requested an adjudicatory hearing in November.

Elected officials and climate activists, however, remain firmly opposed to the plan. They slammed the plan at a public hearing Tuesday.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has been an outspoken critic of the plan since its inception, called on the Department of Environmental Conservation to uphold its initial denial of the project. The DEC concluded in October that the plan failed to comply with the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a 2019 law that established a mandate to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“The DEC was right to deny a permit for a destructive, fossil fuel plant in Astoria and should reject their appeal as well,” Gianaris, who championed the law, said. “Our community drew a line in the sand against new fossil fuel infrastructure and won. Let the DEC issue a strong statement that ‘no new fossil fuel plants’ is the policy of New York as we fight the ravages of the climate crisis.”
» Read article      

» More about peakers

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Glick retreats
FERC retreats on gas policies as chair pursues clarity
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
March 25, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rolled back sweeping new policies for large natural gas projects, including a framework for assessing how pipelines and other facilities contribute to climate change, weeks after prominent lawmakers panned the changes.

In a decision issued unanimously at the commission’s monthly meeting yesterday, FERC will revert back to its long-standing method for reviewing natural gas pipeline applications — while opening changes announced in February to feedback rather than applying them immediately.

[…] While the policy changes issued in February were intended to update and improve the agency’s approach for siting new gas projects, the commission has concluded that the new guidelines “could benefit from further clarification,” said FERC Chair Richard Glick.

“I’m all for providing further clarity, not only for industry but all stakeholders in our proceedings, including landowners and affected communities,” said Glick, a Democrat who supported the initial changes.

In a pair of orders condemned by the commission’s Republican members, FERC’s Democratic majority voted last month to advance new policies altering the commission’s process for reviewing new natural gas projects.

One of the policies expanded the range of topics included in FERC’s reviews of interstate pipelines, adding new consideration for environmental and social issues.

It explained that the commission would consider four major factors before approving a project: the interests of the developer’s existing customers; the interests of existing pipelines and their customers; environmental interests; and the interests of landowners, environmental justice populations and surrounding communities.

The other policy was an “interim” plan for quantifying natural gas projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. It laid out, for the first time, how the agency would determine whether new projects’ contributions to climate change would be “significant,” and encouraged developers to try to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article      

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

pathways to affordable energy
Aligning climate and affordability goals can save states billions

By Arjun Makhijani and Boris Lukanov, Utility Dive | Opinion
March 30, 2022

One in three U.S. households — about 40 million in all — are faced with the persistent, difficult and fundamental challenge of paying their energy bills and paying for other essentials like food, medicine and rent. Utility bills have been rising as have gasoline prices. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and associated sanctions have added sharp volatility to oil prices. Significant increases, even if temporary, can have adverse long-term impacts on low-income households as evidenced by the fact that over one-third of adults cannot readily meet an unexpected expense of $400.

An urgent question posed by climate imperatives is: will the transition away from fossil fuels worsen energy cost burdens or can it be managed in ways that increase energy affordability. Nearly half of all U.S. states have set legal targets to increase the share of clean energy resources and lower greenhouse gas emissions, yet few of these policies address longstanding concerns around energy affordability and energy equity directly. Our recent study, prepared for the Colorado Energy Office by researchers at PSE Healthy Energy and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of energy cost burdens — a key metric for measuring energy affordability — and outlines strategies to meet state emissions targets while lowering the cost of residential energy for low-and moderate-income households.

Our conclusion: prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars. These savings result from a significant expansion of energy efficiency, electrification, community solar and demand response programs for low- and moderate-income households, lowering the total amount of direct assistance needed to make utility bills affordable for these households over time. The study also shows that an affordability and equity-informed approach more directly addresses long-standing social inequities stemming from the use of fossil fuels, can lower health-damaging air pollution faster, and can accelerate the clean energy transition, thereby benefiting all of society including non-low-income households.
» Read article
» Read the Pathways To Energy Affordability study            

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

overshoot
Can the world overshoot its climate targets — and then fix it later?
Policymakers seem to be banking on it. But irreversible climate impacts could get in the way.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 30, 2022

In February, on the eve of the release of a major new report on the effects of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, several of its authors met with reporters virtually to present their findings. Ecologist Camille Parmesan, a professor at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, was the first to speak.

Scientists are documenting changes that are “much more widespread” and “much more negative,” she said, than anticipated for the 1.09 degrees Celsius of global warming that has occurred to date. “This has opened up a whole new realm of understanding of what the impacts of overshoot might entail.”

It was a critical message that was easy to miss. “Overshoot” is jargon that has not yet made the jump from scientific journals into the public vernacular. It didn’t make it into many headlines.

[…] The topic of overshoot has actually been lingering beneath the surface of public discussion about climate change for years, often implied but rarely mentioned directly. In the broadest sense, overshoot is a future where the world does not cut carbon quickly enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels — a limit often described as a threshold of dangerous climate change — but then is able to bring the temperature back down later on. A sort of climate boomerang.

Here’s how: After blowing past 1.5 degrees, nations eventually achieve net-zero emissions. This requires not only reducing emissions, but also canceling out any remaining emissions with actions to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, commonly called carbon removal. At that point, the temperature may have only risen to 1.6 degrees C, or it could have shot past 2 degrees, or 3, or 4 — depending on how long it takes to get to net-zero.

[…] When I reached out to Parmesan to ask about her statement in the press conference, she was eager to talk about overshoot. “It’s so important, and really being downplayed by policymakers,” she wrote.

“I think there’s very much an increased awareness of the need for action,” she told me when we got on the phone. “But then they fool themselves into thinking oh, but if we go over for a few decades, it’ll be okay.
» Read article      

OK Doomer
‘OK Doomer’ and the Climate Advocates Who Say It’s Not Too Late
A growing chorus of young people is focusing on climate solutions. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me.’”
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
March 22, 2022

Alaina Wood is well aware that, planetarily speaking, things aren’t looking so great. She’s read the dire climate reports, tracked cataclysmic weather events and gone through more than a few dark nights of the soul.

She is also part of a growing cadre of people, many of them young, who are fighting climate doomism, the notion that it’s too late to turn things around. They believe that focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With the war in Ukraine prompting a push for ramped up production of fossil fuels, they say it’s ever more pressing to concentrate on all the good climate work, especially locally, that is being done. “People are almost tired of hearing how bad it is; the narrative needs to move on to solutions,” said Ms. Wood, 25, a sustainability scientist who communicates much of her climate messaging on TikTok, the most popular social media platform among young Americans. “The science says things are bad. But it’s only going to get worse the longer it takes to act.”

Some climate advocates refer to the stance taken by Ms. Wood and her allies as “OK Doomer,” a riff on “OK Boomer,” the Gen Z rebuttal to condescension from older folks.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Olav Scholz
Germany’s New Government Had Big Plans on Climate, Then Russia Invaded Ukraine. What Happens Now?
A new chancellor and his coalition want to enact major clean energy legislation at the same time that the war has scrambled the geopolitics of energy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
March 25, 2022

Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has made Germany’s reliance on Russian oil and gas untenable, and led the center-left government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz to accelerate the transition to clean energy.

This is more than just talk. German leaders are in the early stages of showing the world what an aggressive climate policy looks like in a crisis. Scholz and his cabinet will introduce legislation to require nearly 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035, which would help to meet the existing goal of getting to net-zero emissions by 2045.

“Our goal of achieving climate neutrality in Germany by 2045 is more important than ever,” Scholz said this week in an address to parliament.

Germany’s strategy is in contrast to the United States, where the Biden administration, also elected with ambitious climate plans, has seen that part of its agenda almost completely stalled.

The difference is that Germany—and much of the rest of Europe—have a head start on the United States in making a transition to clean energy, said Nikos Tsafos of the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

“There is more social and political consensus in favor of decarbonization [in Europe], and the plans and strategies are far more developed,” Tsafos said in an email. “By contrast, climate legislation remains highly politicized in the United States, and the instinct among many is to merely increase oil and gas production.”
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

V2G Leaf
EVs: The next grid battery for renewables?
By Peter Behr, E&E News
March 30, 2022

Around noon on Fridays, as a yoga class heats up at a recreation center in Boulder, Colo., electricity flows in from a Nissan Leaf plugged in behind the facility, cutting the city’s utility bill by about $270 a month, or roughly what it costs to lease the car, Boulder official Matthew Lehrman says.

The results of this experiment are making a potent point about the nation’s clean energy future, demonstrating vehicle-to-building power supply for controlling electricity costs and extending the reach of wind and solar power, according to David Slutzky, founder and chief executive of Fermata Energy, developer of the software that manages the power transfer.

EVs — battery-driven and plug-in hybrids — are projected to grow from about 5 percent of the U.S. car market this year to 30 percent or even one-third by 2030, according to a number of estimates, assuming EV costs shrink and charging station numbers grow.

And by 2025, not just the Leaf but nearly all new EVs are expected to come with bidirectional charging capability, Slutzky predicts, equipping them to be backup power sources when not on the road or being recharged overnight.

The potential of the technology has some high-level supporters, including Jigar Shah, head of the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office, and John Isberg, a vice president of National Grid, which has electricity customers in New York and New England and has drawn on EV battery capacity last summer to cut peak demand in a partnership with Fermata Energy.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., California’s largest electric utility, and General Motors this month announced plans to test GM vehicles equipped with bidirectional charging to reduce homeowners’ power demands.

And a division of Siemens AG is working with Ford on a custom bidirectional electric vehicle charger for the Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck, allowing the truck to provide power to homes and, in the future, the grid itself, the companies said.

“Electric Vehicles like most vehicles are parked 96 percent of the time,” Shah said recently on social media. “If they are plugged in at scale they can be a valuable grid resource.”

[…] A report by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in January listed EVs among the primary customer-owned energy resources that could become “shock absorbers” helping grid operators manage large volumes of renewable power and get through grid emergencies.

“Auto manufacturers see this is really appealing. Even though we’re not there yet, the industry is moving toward bidirectional,” said Kyri Baker, an assistant professor on the engineering staff at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
» Read article      
» Read the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report    

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

legal purgatory
Top lawmaker vows movement on e-bike bill long sought by advocates
By Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
March 30, 2022

Hours after a protest in front of the State House pushing for legislation that would bring electric bicycles, known as e-bikes, out of their legal purgatory, a top lawmaker said the bill is likely to move out of committee by Friday.

Representative William Straus, co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he’s confident the committee will act on the bill that would regulate the increasingly popular e-bikes as bikes as opposed to motor vehicles, which require a license, and allow them to be ridden on bike paths, by its Friday deadline. This legislation has been considered by state lawmakers before, but never made it all the way to the governor’s desk.

“I’m optimistic that this is [the] time for e-bike classification,” the Mattapoisett Democrat said.

At the rally in front of the State House Wednesday, city officials and advocates from Boston and nearby municipalities pressed for the legislation that would bring Massachusetts in line with 46 other states and Washington, D.C. Advocates say the much needed clarity will encourage more people to replace car trips with e-bike trips, reducing congestion and climate change-causing emissions.

Advocates also want to see a separate bill pass that would allow the Department of Energy Resources to provide rebates on purchases of e-bikes of up to $500 for general consumers and $750 for low- and moderate-income consumers, currently pending before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

“E-bikes . . . provide climate justice, economic justice, and transportation justice,” said Boston Cyclists Union executive director Becca Wolfson. “We need these bills to pass now.”

E-bikes allow people to travel further distances with more ease than a regular bike. The e-bike regulation bill would create a three-class system to categorize them. The system allows municipalities to regulate e-bikes further, based on the classes.
» Read article      

nickel sheets
Russia’s War in Ukraine Reveals a Risk for the EV Future: Price Shocks in Precious Metals
After the nickel market goes haywire, the United States and its allies launch a critical minerals energy security plan, with stockpiling an option.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
March 28, 2022

[…] Russia’s war on Ukraine has roiled global commodities markets—including those for nickel and other metals used in EV batteries—and laid bare how vulnerable the world is to price shocks in the metals essential to the EV future. That volatility comes on top of the pandemic-triggered supply chain woes that have dogged the auto industry for months. President Joe Biden’s pledge to catalyze the electric vehicle transition has been only partly fulfilled, with consumer EV tax credits, much of the money for charging stations and other assistance stalled with the rest of his Build Back Better package in Congress.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the linchpin for any effort to revive the legislation, this month said he is particularly reluctant to invest in an EV future because of U.S. dependence on imported metals for electric transportation. “I don’t want to have to be standing in line waiting for a battery for my vehicle, because we’re now dependent on a foreign supply chain,” Manchin said at the annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.

But last week, automakers, the Biden administration and U.S. trading partners and allies were doubling down on their commitment to vehicle electrification—not only to address climate change but because of concerns about energy insecurity in a world reliant on oil for transportation. Skyrocketing prices at gasoline pumps have made clear that U.S. drivers are not insulated from spikes in the global oil market, even though the United States is producing more oil domestically than ever.

Automakers are embarking on an array of strategies to secure supply of the critical minerals they will need for electric vehicles, including alternative battery chemistries, investment in new processing plants and deals with suppliers. Meanwhile, the United States and the 30 other member nations of the International Energy Agency last week launched a critical minerals security program. That could eventually include steps such as the stockpiling of metals needed for EVs and other renewable energy applications, just as IEA nations have committed since the 1970s to hold strategic stockpiles of oil. The IEA meeting participants also discussed a greater focus on systematic recycling of metals.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, January 10, 2013. Picture taken January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

U.S. seeks new lithium sources as demand for clean energy grows
By Patrick Whittle, Associated Press, on PBS Newshour
March 28, 2022

The race is on to produce more lithium in the United States.

The U.S. will need far more lithium to achieve its clean energy goals — and the industry that mines, extracts and processes the chemical element is poised to grow. But it also faces a host of challenges from environmentalists, Indigenous groups and government regulators.

Although lithium reserves are distributed widely across the globe, the U.S. is home to just one active lithium mine, in Nevada. The element is critical to development of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are seen as key to reducing climate-changing carbon emissions created by cars and other forms of transportation.

Worldwide demand for lithium was about 350,000 tons (317,517 metric tons) in 2020, but industry estimates project demand will be up to six times greater by 2030. New and potential lithium mining and extracting projects are in various stages of development in states including Maine, North Carolina, California and Nevada.

[…] Expanding domestic lithium production would involve open pit mining or brine extraction, which involves pumping a mineral-rich brine to the surface and processing it. Opponents including the Sierra Club have raised concerns that the projects could harm sacred Indigenous lands and jeopardize fragile ecosystems and wildlife.

But the projects could also benefit the environment in the long run by getting fossil fuel-burning cars off the road, said Glenn Miller, emeritus professor of environmental sciences at the University of Nevada.

[…] The new lithium mining project closest to development is the one proposed for Thacker Pass by Lithium Americas. That northern Nevada mine would make millions of tons of lithium available, but Native American tribes have argued that it’s located on sacred lands and should be stopped.

Construction could start late this year, said Lithium Americas CEO Jonathan Evans, noting that it would be the first lithium project on federal land permitted in six decades.

[…] California’s largest lake, the salty and shrinking Salton Sea, is also primed to host lithium operations. Lithium can be extracted from geothermal brine, and the Salton Sea has been the site of geothermal plants that have pumped brine for decades. Proponents of extracting lithium from the lake said it would require less land and water than other brining operations.

One project, led by EnergySource Minerals, is expected to be operational next year, a spokesperson for the company said. General Motors Corp. is also an investor in another project on the Salton Sea that could start producing lithium by 2024.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, envisions that California’s lithium can position the state to become a leader in the production of batteries. He called the state the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” during a January address.
» Blog editor’s note: Lithium extraction projects mentioned in this article include locations in Maine, North Carolina, Nevada, and California.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Chrystia Freeland
Thousands of Canadians Call on Government to Scrap Carbon Capture Tax Credit
The scheme, said one campaigner, “is being used as a Trojan horse by oil and gas executives to continue, and even expand, fossil fuel production.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 28, 2022

“Magical thinking isn’t going to solve the climate crisis.”

That’s what Dylan Penner, a climate and social justice campaigner with the Council of Canadians, said in a statement Monday as advocacy organizations revealed that 31,512 people across Canada are calling on the federal government to scrap a proposed carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) tax credit expected in the upcoming budget.

Referencing The Lord of the Rings, Penner warned that “doubling down on CCUS instead of cutting downstream emissions from fossil fuels extracted in Canada is like trying to wield the One Ring instead of destroying it in Mount Doom. Spoiler warning: that approach doesn’t end well.”

The signatures were collected by the Council of Canadians as well as Environmental Defense, Leadnow, and Stand.earth. Their demands are directed at Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is also minister of finance.

A December 2021 briefing from Environmental Defense points out that “to date, CCUS has a track record of over-promising and under-delivering. The vast majority of projects never get off the ground. The technology remains riddled with problems, unproven at scale, and prohibitively expensive.”
» Read article      
» Read the Environmental Defense briefing on CCUS

» More about CCS

CRYPTOCURRENCY

ND flare
As Oil Giants Turn to Bitcoin Mining, Some Spin Burning Fossil Fuels for Cryptocurrency as a Climate Solution
In a pilot project last year, ExxonMobil used up to 18 million cubic feet of gas per month to mine bitcoin in North Dakota.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 31, 2022

Flaring — or the burning of stranded natural gas directly at an oil well — is one of the drilling industry’s most notorious problems, often condemned as a pointlessly polluting waste of billions of dollars and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

In early March, oil giant ExxonMobil signed up to meet the World Bank’s “zero routine flaring by 2030” goal (a plan that — when you look just a bit closer — doesn’t entirely eliminate flaring but instead reduces “absolute flaring and methane emissions” by 60 to 70 percent.)

How does ExxonMobil plan to reach that goal? In part, it turns out, by burning stranded natural gas directly at its oil wells — not in towering flares, but down in mobile cryptocurrency mines.

Roughly speaking, crypto miners compete with each other to solve complex puzzles. Those puzzles, designed to require enormous computing power, can be used to help make a given coin more secure. Successful miners are rewarded for their efforts with newly generated coins.

Using the energy-intensive process of crypto mining to fight pollution is the latest in a wave of claimed climate “solutions” whose environmental benefits seem to only appear if you squint at them from very specific angles — like “low carbon” oil, measured not by the oil’s actual carbon content but by how much more carbon was spent to obtain it.

Critics point out that replacing flaring with mining crypto could become a way for fossil fuel producers to spin money directly from energy, polluting the climate without heating people’s homes or transporting people from place to place in the process. “In terms of productive value, I would say there is none,” Jacob Silverman, a staff writer at the New Republic, said in a recent interview. “The main value of cryptocurrency is as a tool for speculation. People are trying to get rich.”

That, of course, includes oil drillers. “This is the best gift the oil and gas industry could’ve gotten,” Adam Ortolf, a crypto mining executive, told CNBC. “They were leaving a lot of hydrocarbons on the table, but now, they’re no longer limited by geography to sell energy.”
» Read article      

proof of stake
Climate groups say a change in coding can reduce bitcoin energy consumption by 99%
A simple switch in the way transactions are verified could reduce bitcoin’s energy-guzzling mining habits
By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
March 29, 2022

Bitcoin mining already uses as much energy as Sweden, according to some reports, and its booming popularity is revitalizing failing fossil fuel enterprises in the US. But all that could change with a simple switch in the way it is coded, according to a campaign launched on Tuesday.

The campaign, called Change the Code Not the Climate and coordinated by Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace USA and several groups battling bitcoin mining facilities in their communities, is calling on bitcoin to change the way bitcoins are mined in order to tackle its outsized carbon footprint.

The software code that bitcoin uses – known as “proof of work” – requires the use of massive computer arrays to validate and secure transactions. Proof of work is a way of checking that a miner has solved the extremely complex cryptographic puzzles needed to add to the bitcoin ledger.

Rival cryptocurrency etherium is shifting to another system – “proof of stake” – that it believes will reduce its energy use by 99%. In the proof of stake model, miners pledge their coins to verify transactions; adding inaccurate information leads to penalties.

With the value and use of cryptocurrencies rising, the campaign’s organizers argue bitcoin must follow suit or find another, less energy intensive, method. “This is a big problem. In part because of where the industry stands now but also because of our concerns about its growth,” said Michael Brune, campaign director and former executive director of Sierra Club.

The US now leads the world in cryptocurrency mining after China launched a crackdown on mining and trading last May.

“Coal plants which were dormant or slated to be closed are now being revived and solely dedicated to bitcoin mining. Gas plants, which in many cases were increasingly economically uncompetitive, are also now being dedicated to bitcoin mining. We are seeing this all across the country,” said Brune.
» Read article      

» More about crypto

GAS UTILITIES

CT ending expansion
Connecticut regulators move to end subsidies for new natural gas hookups
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said a program meant to help Connecticut residents and businesses switch from oil to natural gas has not met targets and no longer aligns with the state’s climate goals.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
March 25, 2022

Connecticut regulators want to halt a program that incentivizes homeowners and businesses to convert to natural gas as soon as the end of April.

The program, which began in 2014, is authorized through the end of 2023. But in a draft decision issued Wednesday, the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority, known as PURA, called for “an immediate winding down” of the program and said it is “no longer in the best interest of ratepayers.”

PURA has been reviewing the utility-run gas expansion program, which is subsidized by ratepayers, for more than a year. Established under former Gov. Dannel Malloy at a time when natural gas was considerably cheaper than oil, it called for the state’s three natural gas distribution companies to convert 280,000 customers over 10 years.

After eight years of using marketing and incentives to persuade new customers to sign on, the companies have only reached about 32% of their goal. At the same time, average costs per new service and new customer have tripled for Eversource, and doubled for Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Natural Gas, according to PURA.

In their draft decision, regulators cited the companies’ failure to meet their conversion goals and the rising costs as key reasons for ending the program. In addition, they noted, the price differential between oil and gas has lessened considerably since the program’s start.

And finally, regulators concluded that the program no longer furthers the state’s climate goals. They cited Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent executive order on climate, which recognizes that the greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s building sector have increased in recent years, and calls for a cleaner energy strategy that reconsiders the continued expansion of the natural gas network.

While the gas expansion program “was intended to provide benefits to both ratepayers and the environment,” regulators concluded, “the proffered benefits have simply failed to materialize.”

That conclusion echoes a finding by the state Office of Consumer Counsel, which has also called for an end to the program. Ratepayers “are now funding investments that are likely to become stranded assets in light of the state’s climate and clean energy goals,” the consumer advocate said in testimony submitted earlier this year to PURA.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Loco Hills NM
Methane Leaks in New Mexico Far Exceed Current Estimates, Study Suggests
An analysis found leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas drilling in the Permian Basin were many times higher than government estimates.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
March 24, 2022

Startlingly large amounts of methane are leaking from wells and pipelines in New Mexico, according to a new analysis of aerial data, suggesting that the oil and gas industry may be contributing more to climate change than was previously known.

The study, by researchers at Stanford University, estimates that oil and gas operations in New Mexico’s Permian Basin are releasing 194 metric tons per hour of methane, a planet-warming gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. That is more than six times as much as the latest estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The number came as a surprise to Yuanlei Chen and Evan Sherwin, the lead authors of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“We spent really the past more than two years going backwards and forwards thinking of ways that we might be wrong and talking with other experts in the methane community,” said Dr. Sherwin, a postdoctoral research fellow in energy resources engineering at Stanford. “And at the end of that process, we realized that this was our best estimate of methane emissions in this region and this time, and we had to publish it.”

He and Ms. Chen, a Ph.D. student in energy resources engineering, said they believed their results showed the necessity of surveying a large number of sites in order to accurately measure the environmental impact of oil and gas production.
» Read article       https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/climate/methane-leaks-new-mexico.html
» Read the study

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

blind alley
Europe Scrambles To Accommodate LNG Import Surge
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
March 28, 2022

While Europe is set to import an increasing amount of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as part of its efforts to reduce reliance on Russian pipeline gas, the European market is struggling to secure enough floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs) and advance LNG import facilities construction.

“Europe is screaming for FSRUs to get energy in, whatever it costs,” Yngvil Asheim, managing director of Norway-based FSRU owner BW LNG, told the Financial Times.

Last week, the European Union and the United States announced a deal for more U.S. liquefied natural gas exports to the EU as the latter seeks to replace Russian supplies, on which it is dependent. According to the terms of the deal, the United States will deliver at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to the EU this year more than previously planned, the White House said in a fact sheet.

Europe–unlike the United States–cannot afford to go without Russian gas currently, so the European partners have been reluctant to slap sanctions or impose an embargo of imports of oil and gas from Russia.

The Russian war in Ukraine made Europe rethink its energy strategy, and the European Union has now drafted plans to cut EU demand for Russian gas by two-thirds before the end of 2022 and completely by 2030, to replenish gas stocks for winter and ensure the provision of affordable, secure, and sustainable energy.

However, FSRUs and LNG import terminals currently operating in Europe are not enough, according to analysts who spoke to FT. It will take years for terminals to be built.
» Read article      

toxic export
US plan to provide 15bn cubic meters of natural gas to EU alarms climate groups
The deal is intended to decrease reliance on Russia but will entrench reliance on fossil fuels, environmentalists say
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
March 25, 2022

A major deal that will see the US ramp up its supply of gas to Europe in an attempt to shift away from Russian fossil fuel imports risks “disaster” for the climate crisis, environmental groups have warned.

Under the agreement, unveiled on Friday, the US will provide an extra 15bn cubic meters of liquified natural gas (LNG) to the European Union this year. This represents about a tenth of the gas the EU now gets from Russia, which provides 40% of the bloc’s total gas supply.

The increased gas exports from the US will escalate further, with the EU aiming to get 50bn cubic meters of gas a year from America and other countries in order to reduce its reliance upon Russia after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Joe Biden, who announced the deal during a trip to Brussels, said the increased supply will ensure “families in Europe can get through this winter” while also hampering Vladimir Putin, who has used gas income to “drive his war machine”.

But environmental groups have reacted to the agreement with alarm, arguing that it will help embed years of future gas use at a time when scientists say the world must rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“We should be rapidly transitioning to affordable clean energy, not doubling down on fossil fuels,” said Kelly Sheehan, senior director of energy campaigns at the Sierra Club. “Reducing reliance on fossil fuels is the only way to stop being vulnerable to the whims of greedy industries and geopolitics.”
» Read article      

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

we breathe what you burn
Opponents torch proposed rules for burning wood to create electricity in Mass.
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 29, 2022

Massachusetts is once again revisiting wood-burning biomass power regulations, and the public, it seems, is not pleased with the plan.

The state’s Department of Energy Resources held a virtual hearing on Tuesday to get feedback on a proposal to change which biomass plants qualify for lucrative renewable energy subsidies, and how the state tracks and verifies the type of wood these plants burn. And for about two hours, the vast majority of speakers implored the department to leave the regulations alone.

“Whether it’s gas, oil or wood, burning stuff for energy emits carbon dioxide and pollutants into the atmosphere, and that has harmful consequences,” said Mireille Bejjani of the nonprofit Community Action Works.

“Biomass is not a climate solution. It’s a climate problem,” said Johannes Epke, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation.

“It is frankly beyond my comprehension how Massachusetts can justify allowing biomass electric-generation plants to be incentivized,” said Susan Pike of Montague. “These are incentives that ratepayers contribute to in order to support clean renewable energy development.”

[…] It’s been a while since biomass was in the news, and to really understand what the state is proposing now, you have to understand how these rules came into effect. If you want to dive deep into biomass, check out our explainer from 2020.

[…] In 2019, the Department of Energy Resources under Gov. Charlie Baker proposed “updating” Massachusetts’ strict biomass rules to make it easier for some older and less efficient plants to get clean energy subsidies. While the administration said it would be good for the state’s climate goals, environmental groups like the Conservation Law Foundation and Partnership for Policy Integrity, as well as Attorney General Maura Healey and prominent climate scientists came out against the changes.

[…] As part of last year’s landmark Climate Law, the office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is legally required to conduct a study about the emissions and public health impacts associated with biomass. That study is not expected to be finished until next summer.

The Department of Energy Resources will likely submit its regulatory changes to the Secretary of State before that deadline.

[…] At a hearing last year, Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said that the proposed changes were intended to do two things: “streamline” language between two clean energy programs and help Massachusetts achieve its climate goals. He argued that it will be a while until renewable energies like offshore wind are able to be a sizable part of our energy portfolio, and in the meantime, we have emissions goals that we need to meet. He added that his department’s calculations show that the state will see net greenhouse gas reductions over the next few decades by burning wood instead of natural gas.

Caitlin Peele Sloan, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts, disagrees with these assumptions.

The “[Department of Energy Resources] has been trying to weaken these biomass regulations for more than three years now, while evidence grows that burning wood for electricity is massively inefficient and produces untenable amounts of local air pollution and climate-damaging emissions,” she says.

Many environmental groups in Mass., including the Conservation Law Foundation and the Sierra Club, signed a letter earlier this year in support of legislation that would remove woody biomass from the renewable energy subsidy program, effectively rendering the regulations moot. Several speakers during Tuesday’s hearing pushed for lawmakers to pass this legislation.
» Read article      
» Read the CLF and Sierra Club letter

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 1/28/22

banner 05

Welcome back.

News broke just after the lackluster COP26 climate summit concluded, that the Biden administration would offer up the largest offshore oil and gas drilling lease in history. It was a huge carbon bomb lobbed at the climate, and it made the environmental community furious. Lawsuits came swiftly, and now we’re thrilled to report that the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia has revoked those leases. The ruling states that the Interior Department must consider the climate effects of fossil fuel extraction. Pipeline projects are bogging down in similar legal thickets, partly because of climate impacts, but also for direct environmental harms and safety hazards posed by their construction and operation.

Stanford scientist Robert Jackson took some of the shine off our beloved gas stove with a peer-reviewed study showing considerably higher rates of methane leakage than were previously understood. It’s challenging to send gas through pipes, valves, fittings, and appliances without at least a little bit leaking, and a little bit from a lot of places adds up to a serious problem. This new data bolsters the gas ban movement.

Food for thought: natural gas – methane (CH4) is a huge molecule compared to hydrogen (H2). We obviously don’t have a system that adequately contains methane, but the gas industry is pushing hard to send various mixtures of methane and hydrogen, and eventually all hydrogen, into our homes to perform the same functions currently served by natural gas. You good with that?

Sometime during the recent period of sustained environmental assault by the federal government, America was nudged toward greatness again (in some minds) by delaying the planned phase-out of inefficient, incandescent light bulbs. The effect on greening the economy wasn’t much, but it perversely served to raise the cost of living for people already struggling to get by. This is a good example of choices we make as we address the climate and environmental crises. There are obvious good or bad moves, and then there are unintended consequences – plus entrenched interests eager to game the system to their advantage. We’re seeing these dynamics play out in efforts to modernize the grid, source and site renewable resources, implement a meaningful system of carbon offsets and reforestation, and figure out an appropriate role for carbon capture and storage.

We’re keeping an eye on pushback within the European Union regarding attempts to classify natural gas and nuclear as sustainable energy. Meanwhile, the most blatant EU boondoggle of swapping coal for “carbon neutral” biomass took a hit, as its biggest offender, Drax Group, was booted off the S&P Global Clean Energy Index. And while we’re thumping the EU, what is going on with minimum flight benchmarks that are causing airlines to fly nearly-empty planes just to maintain airport slots?!!

Closer to home, Massachusetts lawmakers are pressing the Baker administration to finalize new energy efficiency standards in the building code. And we found some just plain good news in the latest press on Energy Vault’s gravity-based, long-duration energy storage system. We’ve featured this California company’s technology before, because it’s a standout in terms of simplicity, durability, and minimal environmental impact.

We’ll wrap up with a couple things to keep watching closely. First, the scope of cleaning up the fossil fuel industry’s abandoned and orphaned wells is rising now that the government has offered substantial funds for the task. We predict that cleanup costs will only grow – the mess is worse than industry and regulators have admitted. We’re also tracking growing concern about the prospect of someone implementing solar geoengineering in some form, in a desperate attempt to cool the planet.

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

Port Aransas platform
Court Revokes Oil and Gas Leases, Citing Climate Change
A judge ruled that the Interior Department must consider the climate effects of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico before awarding leases.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 27, 2022

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday canceled oil and gas leases of more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, ruling that the Biden administration did not sufficiently take climate change into account when it auctioned the leases late last year.

The decision by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia is a major victory for environmental groups that criticized the Biden administration for holding the sale after promising to move the country away from fossil fuels. It had been the largest lease sale in United States history.

Now the Interior Department must conduct a new environmental analysis that accounts for the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the eventual development and production of the leases. After that, the agency will have to decide whether it will hold a new auction.

“This is huge,” said Brettny Hardy, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, one of several environmental groups that brought the lawsuit.

“This requires the bureau to go back to the drawing board and actually consider the climate costs before it offers these leases for sale, and that’s really significant,” Ms. Hardy said, adding, “Once these leases are issued, there’s development that’s potentially locked in for decades to come that is going to hurt our global climate.”

Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said the agency was reviewing the decision.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden promised to stop issuing new leases for drilling on public lands and in federal waters. “And by the way, no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period,” Mr. Biden told voters in New Hampshire in February 2020. Shortly after taking office, he signed an executive order to pause the issuing of new leases.

But after Republican attorneys general from 13 states sued, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked that order, and also ruled that the administration must hold lease sales in the Gulf that had already been scheduled.

Biden administration officials have said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland risked being held in contempt of court if the auction was not held. Environmental groups, however, argued that the administration had other options, including doing a new analysis to examine the ways that the burning of oil extracted from the Gulf would contribute to climate change.
» Read article        
» Listen to coverage on NPR        

» Read the U.S. District Court decision

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Peters MountainMountain Valley Pipeline loses permit to cross through Jefferson National Forest
By Laurence Hammack, Roanoke Times
January 25, 2022

For the second time, a federal appeals court has thrown out government approvals for a natural gas pipeline to pass through the Jefferson National Forest.

A written decision Tuesday from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marked the latest of many setbacks for the Mountain Valley Pipeline since construction began in 2018.

A three-judge panel of the court found that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management failed to properly predict — and to prevent — erosion and sedimentation problems caused by building the massive infrastructure project.

Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote in the panel’s unanimous decision that the agencies “erroneously failed to account for real-world data suggesting increased sedimentation along the pipeline route.”

The ruling sends the permit back to the Forest Service and BLM for reconsideration. The first time the court did that, in July 2018, it took two years for the agencies to approve a second permit — which now has also been found lacking by the Fourth Circuit.
» Read article         

Line 5 at Mackinaw Station
Pipeline expert warns of Line 5 tunnel explosion risk, Enbridge balks
By Sheri McWhirter, MLive
January 7, 2022

An oil and gas expert warned Michigan utility regulators not only would a tunnel for the Line 5 pipeline not be a failsafe replacement for the underwater section of the line, but possible accidents could cause a catastrophic underground explosion.

But Enbridge doesn’t even want the possibility considered by decision-makers.

The Canadian oil and gas pipeline company wants much of that expert testimony tossed from the record in the state’s ongoing tunnel permit case review before the Michigan Public Service Commission. An administrative law judge will decide next week.

Enbridge argued the oil and gas expert’s testimony on behalf of Bay Mills Indian Community shouldn’t be considered because of a legal technicality – that nobody has suggested a tunnel explosion before now so it can’t be considered rebuttal testimony.

The company also objected to official statements from a slew of others, including experts who testified on behalf of tribal governments and nonprofit environmental groups opposed to the tunnel proposal and continued use of the existing pipeline.

A Chicago-based lawyer for the Bay Mills tribe said the expert’s testimony is, in fact, intended to rebut prior testimony from MPSC employees who contend the proposed tunnel is a basically foolproof solution to the risk of oil spills from the dual pipelines that currently run across the Great Lakes bottomlands in the Straits of Mackinac.

“We saw what was being submitted in the case with respect to how the tunnel was being characterized – and specifically the pipeline running through the tunnel – and there was a repeated theme from witnesses offered by the MPSC staff, that the tunnel was going to eliminate a risk of a spill or catastrophic event in the Straits,” said Christopher Clark, of nonprofit Earthjustice which is working pro bono on behalf of the state’s Indigenous tribes with co-counsel Native American Rights Fund.
» Read article         

» More about pipelines

GAS BANS

leaky gas stovesYour gas stove is always polluting, even when it’s turned off
Scientists may have just found a source of missing methane in cities.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
January 27, 2022

When we fire up a gas stove, we’re releasing a powerful climate pollutant into kitchens and beyond. But a new study found that this isn’t just happening when the stove is on. Even when turned off, a typical gas stove will send methane up to the atmosphere.

The new peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, helps answer a particular question that’s been nagging scientists for years. The puzzle has been accounting for all the sources of methane as concentrations in the atmosphere have risen to record levels. They know the natural gas industry, and specifically leaks from its pipelines, is the biggest contributor (natural gas is mostly methane). Other well-documented sources are livestock and landfills.

But there was a mystery when it came to urban environments: In one study in Boston, researchers noted that pipeline leaks couldn’t explain the high levels of methane emissions they detected. There had to be other leaks, most likely from gas-burning appliances inside homes.

So Stanford scientist Robert Jackson, one of the study’s coauthors, set out to track down this missing methane inside homes and buildings. And he was surprised at what his team found.

Basically all stoves “leak a bit when they’re burning,” Jackson said. “And they all leak a bit when you turn them on and off, because there’s a period of time before the flame kicks in. The most surprising was almost three-quarters of the methane that we found emitting from the stoves came from when they weren’t running.”

In other words, the gas stove, a feature of 40 million American homes, is likely always releasing a greenhouse gas. Gas stoves are still a relatively small source of methane compared to pipelines and refineries, and they aren’t even the biggest gas-guzzling appliance in buildings — gas furnaces and water heaters use much more of the fuel through the day and night. But the methane emissions from stoves are roughly equivalent to the carbon dioxide released by half a million gas-powered cars in a year, the researchers found.
» Read article        
» Read the study              

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

incandescent
Old-Fashioned, Inefficient Light Bulbs Live On at the Nation’s Dollar Stores
A Trump administration weakening of climate rules has kept incandescent bulbs on store shelves, and research shows they’re concentrated in shops serving poorer areas.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York TImes
January 23, 2022

For years, Deborah Turner bought her light bulbs at one of the many dollar stores that serve her neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio.

But the bulbs for sale were highly inefficient, shorter lasting, incandescent ones — the pear-shaped orbs with glowing wire centers — meaning that over time Mrs. Turner, who lives in a neighborhood where a quarter of the residents are below the poverty line, would spend hundreds of dollars more on electrical bills, because of the extra power they use, than if she’d purchased energy-saving LED lights.

It’s a pattern repeated nationwide. Research has shown that lower-end retailers like dollar stores or convenience shops still extensively stock their shelves with traditional or halogen incandescent bulbs, even as stores serving more affluent communities have shifted to selling far more efficient LEDs. One Michigan study, for instance, found that not only were LED bulbs less available in poorer areas, they also tended to cost on average $2.50 more per bulb than in wealthier communities.

“You just don’t see them in places like Dollar General,” said Mrs. Turner, a semi-retired addiction-treatment counselor.

The continued prevalence of incandescent bulbs in the United States is one result of a successful effort during the Trump presidency, by an industry group representing the world’s biggest light-bulb makers, to stall energy efficiency standards in the United States. By contrast, in the European Union, those same companies have adhered to a phaseout of incandescent bulbs.

The delay has enabled manufacturers to prolong profits from an inefficient technology, often at the expense of lower-income households, which end up having to replace the short-lived bulbs more frequently, while also paying more to power them.
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLEAN ENERGY

Paris nuke plant
EU Scientists and Politicians Clash Over Gas and Nuclear as ‘Sustainable’ Investments
Lobbyists and an alliance of some EU governments push gas and nuclear in a sustainable investing guide. Scientific experts are “deeply concerned.”
By Stella Levantesi, DeSmog Blog
January 25, 2022

The European Union’s scientific and political communities are locked in a battle over whether gas and nuclear can be considered green investments. The latest development in this years-long fight came on Monday, when the European Commission’s scientific expert group, the Platform on Sustainable Finance (PSF), pushed back against including gas and nuclear in the EU taxonomy, an official guide on sustainable investments. The expert group stated that it is “deeply concerned about the environmental impacts that may result.”

In December 2021, after months of lobbying, strong pushback from pro-gas and pro-nuclear supporters, and informal alliances between governments, the Commission asked the Platform on Sustainable Finance to provide feedback on a draft amendment that included gas and nuclear in the taxonomy, thereby recognizing them as sustainable.

In July 2020, the European Union established the EU Taxonomy Regulation, “a classification system establishing a list of environmentally sustainable economic activities.” It’s a “green investment guidebook,” said Henry Eviston, spokesperson on sustainable finance at WWF European Policy Office. In other words, to call an investment “green,” it needs to be taxonomy compliant.

Economic activities comply with the taxonomy if they pass a number of technical screening criteria and meet at least one of six environmental objectives, without harming any of the others: mitigating climate change; adapting to climate change; protecting and sustainably using water and marine resources; transitioning to a circular economy; preventing and controlling pollution; and restoring and protecting biodiversity.
» Read article         

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

gas-lit flame
Lawmakers want Baker to move faster on new code for green buildings
By WBUR News & Wire Services
January 19, 2022

Frustrated with what they see as foot-dragging from the Baker administration, lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday on bills that would give cities and towns the power to ban natural gas, heating oil or propane infrastructure in new buildings.

State law currently prohibits local governments from banning gas and oil hookups in new construction projects. But the state’s ambitious climate law passed last spring is supposed to change that, allowing communities to “opt in” to a stricter building code.

The law requires the Baker administration produce a draft of this “stretch” energy code by the end of 2022, but legislators said they were expecting one sooner.

“[The Baker administration] told the public to expect a draft of the code by last fall. But something’s happened. It’s not seen the light of day, and we hear some developers want it weakened,” said Sen. Michael Barrett and Rep. Jeffrey Roy, chairmen of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, in a statement. “On the off chance the stretch energy code either does not emerge soon, or emerges but departs from legislative intent, we’re looking at contingency steps the Legislature may want to take.”

At a virtual hearing Wednesday, Barrett said the lack of a draft is a “discouraging early sign of whether or not we’re on track” to live up to the 2021 climate law.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Energy Vault Resiliency Center
We Can Store Our Excess Renewable Energy In An Energy Vault
The company, Energy Vault, has commercialized the ultimate energy storage technology that will build the foundation of a clean energy future – brick by brick.
By James Conca, Forbes
January 27, 2022

The Energy Vault stores excess electrical energy by efficiently transforming it into gravitational potential energy using 35-ton bricks that can be raised and lowered at will, and that can sit still storing the energy for any amount of time, before transforming the energy back to electrical energy when needed.

It is not a battery that can degrade over time. It does not need water or rare elements like Li or Co. It does not depend on the weather and is not affected by extreme weather. It can withstand Cat 4 hurricane winds and magnitude 8 earthquakes (tested at the California Institute of Technology).

It uses common materials like dirt to make the bricks, even solid waste, that can be obtained locally and does not use cement to bind them together. It does not use ten times the steel and concrete that renewables use relative to nuclear or gas. And it has one of, if not the, lowest carbon footprints of any energy generation or storage system.

And this technology comes just in time. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge Market Report 2020, the World Energy Council, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg NEF and Lazard, the projected grid-related storage deployments between now and 2030 needs to be about 830 GWh. The cumulative investment in this grid-related storage required over this time period is about $270 billion.

I know that game-changer is an overused term, but this technology really is a game-changer. With it, we can achieve a low-carbon future by mid-century. And we don’t need to waste lithium.
» Read article         

» More about energy storage        

MODERNIZING THE GRID

No Eastie Substation
Opponents appeal East Boston substation’s waterfront license
By Walter Wuthmann, WBUR
January 27, 2022

Environmental advocacy groups and East Boston residents are making a renewed attempt to stop construction of an Eversource electrical substation in the neighborhood.

On Monday the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) filed an appeal with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, saying the state should not have granted a waterfront license for the project.

“This waterways license is yet another example of our state agency making the wrong decision and Eversource Energy not making a good decision,” said Staci Rubin, CLF Vice President of Environmental Justice. “There is a pattern of our governmental decisions granting permits to pollute in communities of color, low-income neighborhoods, and places with limited English-proficient residents.”

Neighbors have long opposed the substation site, which sits on a flood-prone area near Chelsea Creek, across the street from a popular playground, and near tanks of jet fuel for Logan Airport.

Eversource says it needs a new substation in East Boston to meet the neighborhood’s increasing electrical demands. Substations are key components of the grid, converting high-voltage electricity from power plants to a lower voltage for residential use.
» Read article        
» Read background reporting
» Read assessment and alternatives from Union of Concerned Scientists

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Ko-Solar panels
MassDOT finds an unusual place to hang solar panels: highway sound barriers
New panels along Route 128 will generate enough power for up to 120 homes
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
January 25, 2022

Solar developers are finding interesting places to put their panels: landfills, parking garages, warehouses, shopping malls.

Now, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is adding a particularly unusual spot to the list: highway sound barriers.

On Monday, MassDOT announced it had signed a letter of intent to create the first such solar “photovoltaic noise barrier,” or PVNB, by mounting solar panels on an existing sound barrier along Route 128 in Lexington in the coming months. The 638-kilowatt project could provide enough power for up to 120 homes. Solect Energy will finance, install, and maintain the 3,000-foot-long project, while Ko-Solar, a Natick startup owned by Koray Kotan, is developing it. Kotan said Ko-Solar is in talks with transportation agencies in several states but the MassDOT project will be the first of its kind in the United States.

A MassDOT spokeswoman said the agency expects to receive a financial benefit of about $23,000 a year over the course of a 25-year lease period, from a combination of lease payments and electric utility savings from the credits the agency will receive for providing the power for the area’s electric grid. The state Department of Energy Resources awarded a $345,000 grant to help subsidize this pilot project.
» Read article         

Tiehm’s wild buckwheat
In a battle between this endangered flower and a lithium mine, who should win?
The decision about whether to allow a mine supplying the materials to build batteries on the habitat of a rare flower exposes questions about how we manage the tradeoffs between preserving nature now versus protecting the climate in the future.
By Adele Peters, Fast Company
January 25, 2022

In a remote corner of Nevada a four hour drive north of Las Vegas, there’s a small yellow flower that exists nowhere else in the world: Its entire global habitat takes up a chunk of federally-owned land a little smaller than two football fields. That land also happens to be the site of a proposed lithium mine, which could produce enough lithium each year for the batteries in 400,000 electric cars.

Later this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make a final decision on whether to list the wildflower, called Tiehm’s wild buckwheat, on the Endangered Species List. And the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for granting mining leases on federal land, will decide whether the mine can move forward, potentially destroying 90% of the rare plant’s habitat. It’s one example of a recurring challenge: How far should we go to speed up the energy transition if that also threatens the environment in other ways?

The site is unique, as one of only two places in the world known to contain large amounts of both lithium and boron. In fact, the mining company plans to produce much more boron than lithium. (While lithium is a key ingredient used in batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, boron plays less of a starring role in the energy transition, though Ioneer has pointed out that boric acid is used in things like magnets in electric cars and wind turbines.) Because the company can mine both boron and lithium simultaneously, it helps substantially lower the cost of production.

Some people living in the area support the mine because it would bring new jobs and tax revenue. And the mine could help with the supply of lithium, which currently can’t keep up with demand, forcing battery costs higher at a time when the car industry needs to switch to electric vehicles to reduce climate risks. Other proposed lithium projects in the U.S. are also facing opposition because of environmental impacts.

“I think we need lithium,” [Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that has been fighting in court to protect the flower for more than three years] says. “It’s not a foregone conclusion we need open pit lithium mines. And we definitely don’t need open pit lithium mines that drive species extinct. That’s not a green technology. That’s just the same old way of doing business that got us to the place we are today. We’re on the brink of the climate crisis and ecological collapse because we drive species extinct, right? You need a new way of doing business.”
» Read article         

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

spooky
Airlines flying near-empty ‘ghost flights’ to retain EU airport slots
Analysis from Greenpeace finds deserted flights are generating millions of tons of harmful emissions
By Arthur Neslen, The Guardian
January 26, 2022

At least 100,000 “ghost flights” could be flown across Europe this winter because of EU airport slot usage rules, according to analysis by Greenpeace.

The deserted, unnecessary or unprofitable flights are intended to allow airlines to keep their takeoff and landing runway rights in major airports, but they could also generate up to 2.1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions – or as much as 1.4 million average petrol or diesel cars emit in a year – Greenpeace says.

“The EU Commission requiring airlines to fly empty planes to meet an arbitrary quota is not only polluting, but extremely hypocritical given their climate rhetoric,” said Herwig Schuster, a spokesperson for Greenpeace’s European Mobility for All campaign.

“Transport emissions are skyrocketing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible of the EU to not take the low-hanging fruit of ending ghost flights and banning short-haul flights where there’s a reasonable train connection.”

When the Covid pandemic began, the European commission suspended a benchmark requiring airlines to maintain 80% of their flight operations to keep their slots open.

In October, Brussels upped the benchmark to 50%, and it will rise again to 64% in March.

Lufthansa CEO, Carsten Spohr, said that his airline may have to fly 18,000 “extra, unnecessary flights” to fulfil the adjusted rules, and called for the sort of “climate-friendly exemptions” used in other parts of the world.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CARBON OFFSETS AND REFORESTATION

incinerated assets
Carbon offsetting is not warding off environmental collapse – it’s accelerating it
Wealthy companies are using the facade of ‘nature-based solutions’ to enact a great carbon land grab
By George Monbiot, The Guardian | Opinion
January 26, 2022

There is nothing that cannot be corrupted, nothing good that cannot be transformed into something bad. And there is no clearer example than the great climate land grab.

We now know that it’s not enough to leave fossil fuels in the ground and decarbonise our economies. We’ve left it too late. To prevent no more than 1.5C of heating, we also need to draw down some of the carbon already in the atmosphere.

By far the most effective means are “nature-based solutions”: using the restoration of living systems such as forests, salt marshes, peat bogs and the seafloor to extract carbon dioxide from the air and lock it up, mostly in trees or waterlogged soil and mud. Three years ago, a small group of us launched the Natural Climate Solutions campaign to draw attention to the vast potential for stalling climate breakdown and a sixth mass extinction through the mass revival of ecosystems.

While it is hard to see either climate or ecological catastrophe being prevented without such large-scale rewilding, we warned that it should not be used as a substitute for decarbonising economic life, or to allow corporations to offset greenhouse gases that shouldn’t be produced in the first place. We found ourselves having to shed a large number of partner organisations because of their deals with offset companies.

But our warnings, and those of many others, went unheeded. Something that should be a great force for good has turned into a corporate gold rush, trading in carbon credits. A carbon credit represents one tonne of greenhouse gases, deemed to have been avoided or removed from the atmosphere. Over the past few months, the market for these credits has boomed.

There are two legitimate uses of nature-based solutions: removing historic carbon from the air, and counteracting a small residue of unavoidable emissions once we have decarbonised the rest of the economy. Instead, they are being widely used as an alternative for effective action. Rather than committing to leave fossil fuels in the ground, oil and gas firms continue to prospect for new reserves while claiming that the credits they buy have turned them “carbon neutral”.
» Read article         

» More about carbon offsets         

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

milestone missed
Shell’s ‘Milestone’ CCS Plant Emits More Carbon Than It Captures, Independent Analysis Finds
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
January 24, 2022

The federal government is looking into independent analysis claiming that carbon capture at a highly-touted Shell Canada demonstration project in Alberta is producing more greenhouse gas emissions than it prevents, The Energy Mix has learned.

The report issued late last week by London, UK-based human rights organization Global Witness acknowledges that Shell’s Quest carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility near Edmonton captured five million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2015 and 2019, in what the company celebrated as a major milestone in July 2020.

But Global Witness came up with rather different numbers. “Our new research reveals that Quest is in fact emitting more than it is capturing,” the organization states. Despite the five megatonnes captured, the facility “has emitted a further 7.5 million tonnes of climate-polluting gases during the same time,” the equivalent of 1.2 million internal combustion cars per year.

Shell says it captured emissions equivalent to 1.25 million cars over a five-year span.

Global Witness’s analysis concludes that Quest captured just 48% of the emissions from hydrogen production at its Scotford bitumen upgrader and refinery—far less than the 90% standard promised by fossil executives and lobbyists. That’s because, while the CCS system captured 80% of the emissions from the steam methane reforming (SMR) production process to which it’s attached, it didn’t touch the 40% of total emissions that go into the atmosphere as flue gas, Global Witness says.

“When the plant’s overall greenhouse gas emissions are factored in, such as methane pollution from the fossil gas supply chain, only 39% of its emissions are captured,” the report adds.

For that result, Global Witness says Shell invested US$1 billion in the facility, including US$654 million in government subsidies, despite sustained opposition from many Indigenous communities focused on the industry’s “severe environmental damage”.

Shell maintains the plant has exceeded expectations, capturing more than its target of a million tonnes per year at lower cost than expected. But “Global Witness believes these claims about the CCS facility are misleading,” the report states. “They create the impression the hydrogen plant is less damaging for the climate than is actually the case, while Shell’s promotional materials give no sense of the proportion of carbon dioxide emitted” by Quest.
» Read article         

bubble column
Decarbonisation tech instantly converts CO2 to solid carbon
Researchers have developed a smart and super-efficient new way of capturing carbon dioxide and converting it to solid carbon, to help advance the decarbonisation of heavy industries.
By RMIT University, Melbourne
January 18, 2022

The carbon dioxide utilisation technology from RMIT researchers is designed to be smoothly integrated into existing industrial processes.

Decarbonisation is an immense technical challenge for heavy industries like cement and steel, which are not only energy-intensive but also directly emit CO2 as part of the production process.

The new technology offers a pathway for instantly converting carbon dioxide as it is produced and locking it permanently in a solid state, keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The research is published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Co-lead researcher Associate Professor Torben Daeneke said the work built on an earlier experimental approach that used liquid metals as a catalyst.

“Our new method still harnesses the power of liquid metals but the design has been modified for smoother integration into standard industrial processes,” Daeneke said.

The RMIT team, with lead author and PhD researcher Karma Zuraiqi, employed thermal chemistry methods widely used by industry in their development of the new CCS tech.

The “bubble column” method starts with liquid metal being heated to about 100-120°C.

Carbon dioxide is injected into the liquid metal, with the gas bubbles rising up just like bubbles in a champagne glass.

As the bubbles move through the liquid metal, the gas molecule splits up to form flakes of solid carbon, with the reaction taking just a split second.

“It’s the extraordinary speed of the chemical reaction we have achieved that makes our technology commercially viable, where so many alternative approaches have struggled,” Chiang said.
» Blog editor’s note: the “liquid metal” isn’t specified. But mercury comes to mind as an obvious low-temperature liquid metal. Whatever is used, toxicity and environmental impact could be a real issue if this process is scaled up.
» Read article         

» More about CCS

SOLAR GEOENGINEERING

measuring aerosolsEfforts to dim Sun and cool Earth must be blocked, say scientists
By Shanna Hanbury, Mongabay
January 24, 2022

Blocking the sun’s rays with an artificial particle shield launched high into Earth’s atmosphere to curb global temperatures is a technological fix gaining traction as a last resort for containing the climate crisis — but it needs to be stopped, wrote a coalition of over 60 academics in an open letter and article released in the WIREs (Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews) Climate Change online publication on January 17.

“Some things we should just restrict at the outset,” lead author Aarti Gupta, a professor of Global Environmental Governance at Wageningen University, told Mongabay. Gupta placed solar geoengineering in the category of high-risk technologies, like human cloning and chemical weapons, that need to be off-limits. “It might be possible to do, but it’s too risky.”

The color of the sky could change. The chemical composition of the ozone layer and oceans may be permanently altered. Photosynthesis, which depends on sunlight, may slow down, possibly harming biodiversity and agriculture. And global weather patterns could change unpredictably.

Despite the potential dangers, no mechanism exists today to stop an individual, company or country from launching a solo mission, said Gupta. To prevent this, the open letter suggests five urgent protective measures: no outdoor experiments, no implementation, no patents, no public funding, and no support from international institutions such as the United Nations.
» Read article        
» Read the open letter

» More about solar geoengineering

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

orphan well
Abandoned oil well counts are exploding — now that there’s money on the table
$4.7 billion released by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has states rethinking their abandoned oil well tallies.
By Naveena Sadasivam, Grist
January 21, 2022

From 2020 to 2021, the number of wells that the state of Oklahoma listed as abandoned — and therefore the government’s responsibility to clean up — jumped from 2,799 to a whopping 17,865. In Colorado, the orphan well tally hovered around 275 from 2018 to 2020 but increased by almost 80 percent last year. In California, the tally almost doubled in the last two years. (It started even lower in 2019, when the state identified just 25 abandoned wells.)

What changed? In 2020, Congress began seriously considering sending states money to plug orphan wells. The proposal had support from both political parties and was ultimately included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enacted in November, which set aside $4.7 billion for this purpose. States have long known that their orphan well tallies are outdated and incomplete, but without a source of funding to clean up the wells, many didn’t invest the resources required to identify abandoned wells. That changed as the funding slowly became a reality over the past couple of years.

Orphan oil and gas wells are a climate and public health menace. Abandoned by companies who abscond after fraudulent activity or fall into bankruptcy, these wells quietly belch the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere and pose a threat to public safety. Last year, a Grist and Texas Observer investigation found that the abandoned well count in Texas and New Mexico is poised to balloon by nearly 200 percent in the coming years. It’s widely accepted that cleanup costs run in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars nationwide — but both the true cost and the true count are unknown. The EPA estimates the unplugged orphan well count could be as high as 2.1 million across the U.S.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Pinnacle wood pellet plant
Tree-burning Drax power plants dropped from green energy index
The world’s largest biomass-burning power generator faces doubts over the sustainability of burning of wood pellets as a replacement for coal
By Adria Vasil, Corporate Knights
January 11, 2022

Here’s a green riddle for you: if a tree falls in the forest and it’s chipped, then shipped to be burned for electricity, is it carbon neutral?

It’s a question that’s been tripping up national carbon calculators around the globe since the days of the Kyoto Protocol. From the late 1990s, industry and governments have largely considered burning wood pellets in power stations to be renewable, zero-emitting energy, since planting new trees should, theoretically, absorb enough carbon dioxide to cancel out the emissions that come out of smokestacks as they burn.

But doubts regarding the science behind those claims and the sustainability of the practice have been mounting as more countries ramp up the burning of woody biomass as a replacement for coal.

In October, the world’s largest biomass-burning power generator, Drax Group, was one of 15 companies booted off the S&P Global Clean Energy Index. S&P also ditched the French bioenergy firm Albioma. The reason given: their “carbon-to-revenue footprint” was too large.

That same month, a study led by Princeton University, published in the journal Science, called out a “serious” error in the climate accounting rules widely applied to biomass energy since the Kyoto Protocol. “This accounting erroneously treats all bioenergy as carbon neutral regardless of the source of the biomass…. For example, the clearing of long-established forests to burn wood or to grow energy crops is counted as a 100% reduction in energy emissions despite causing large releases of carbon.

The carbon-neutral assumption might be true if you’re using perennial grasses or twigs, but scientists say that tree plantations don’t store as much carbon as natural forests, and regrowth takes time. It could take 40 to 100 years for planted trees to absorb the carbon debt released by biomass power plants (in boreal forests those estimates jump to 100 years).

Back in 2018, MIT scientist John Sterman concluded that “burning wood to produce energy can actually worsen climate change, at least through the year 2100 – even if wood displaces coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel.” In early 2021, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council affirmed that using woody biomass for power “is not effective in mitigating climate change and may even increase the risk of dangerous climate change.”

Meanwhile, the carbon accounting loophole has fuelled a boom in the biomass industry in Europe, the U.S., Canada and the U.K., where it’s highly subsidized. In the EU, biomass accounts for about 59% of all renewable energy consumption.
» Read article         

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 1/7/22

banner 02

Welcome back.

Let’s kick it off with a conversation with Holly Jean Buck, author of “Ending Fossil Fuels / Why Net Zero Is Not Enough”. Ms. Buck cuts through industry fog to illuminate false solutions like “low carbon” fuels and carbon capture, and guides us across the slippery terrain of “net zero” world toward a future with very low total emissions.

Also cutting through the fog – and now with a supportive court decision – are journalists investigating Energy Transfer’s use of private security firm TigerSwan in 2016 to counter the Indigenous-led movement against construction of the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock.

Changes are coming as we green the economy, and the California port of Humboldt is working hard to transform itself into a 21st century hub for offshore wind power. Also changing: the ubiquitous American gas station.

As snow falls in the Berkshires and with a sub-zero chill on the way, let’s recalibrate with a study published in the journal Climate that shows New England warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. The region has already surpassed the Paris Climate Agreement threshold of 1.5°C, and we should expect significant ecological and economic challenges as a result.

Massachusetts recently experienced a couple big setbacks to its clean energy plans, and the Baker administration just finalized new solar and electric truck initiatives intended to help get the state back on track. Meanwhile, Vermont is attempting to increase its rate of home weatherization projects over the next decade, and is coordinating with existing training programs to ensure a supply of skilled workers.

In the near future, your electric vehicle may double as your home’s battery storage for emergency backup power and demand management, so a new generation of chargers is arriving to manage all those electrons flowing between solar panels, your vehicle, your home, and the grid. Meanwhile, smart meters are helping to modernize that grid, allowing for increased efficiencies and time-of-use billing.

Everyone who’s paying attention understands that the transition to green energy presents substantial environmental risks along with the obvious benefits. Mining probably represents the greatest negative impact, so it’s good to start seeing articles that indicate a growing awareness of the need for better planning and stronger regulations. Meanwhile, the world continues to stumble toward a truly frightening precipice that marks the onset of deep-seabed mining.

We’ll wrap up with two stories: news that Nova Scotia appears to have pulled away the welcome mat from a number of large fossil fuel projects, followed by a detailed report on how Europe’s continued reliance on biomass is devastating forests in the U.S. Southeast.

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

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Holly Jean Buck
‘Net-zero is not enough’: A new book explains how to end fossil fuels
Sociologist Holly Buck wants you to know that fossil fuel phaseout isn’t a “fringe” idea.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
December 22, 2021

In just a couple of years, “net-zero” pledges have become the gold standard of climate action. According to one online tracker, more than 4,000 governments and companies around the world have pledged to go net-zero. But as the concept has caught on, it has invited fierce backlash from climate advocates who worry that it is malleable to the point of meaninglessness.

In her new book, Ending Fossil Fuels: Why Net Zero is Not Enough, sociologist Holly Jean Buck explains how striving for net-zero emissions opens up a wide range of possible futures, some of which could include lots of oil and gas. Buck argues that in addition to focusing on emissions, climate policy should be directed at phasing out fossil fuels.

A net-zero pledge is a promise to achieve a state of equilibrium. It implies that any planet-warming emissions you dump into the atmosphere will be offset by actions to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. In theory, if the whole world achieved this balance, the planet would stop heating up. But Buck writes that the phrase creates ambiguity that can be exploited by policymakers and corporate interests.

Focusing on net-zero could lead us toward a “near-zero emissions” world powered by renewable energy, or it could also lead us toward a “cleaner fossil world” where we continue burning oil and gas and build a vast network of infrastructure to capture the resulting carbon and bury or reuse it. Indeed, companies and policymakers are already promising to produce “lower carbon” fossil fuels. The U.S. Department of Energy has a new Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management focused entirely on meeting climate goals while minimizing the environmental impacts of fossil fuels.

Buck concedes that this cleaner fossil fuel future is technically possible but argues that ending fossil fuels is more desirable, with benefits for human health and the potential to rebalance power, restore democracy, and end corruption. The book is a guide for anyone who agrees and wants to fight for this version of the future.
» Read article               

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

veterans confront policeJudge Rules Against Pipeline Company Trying to Keep “Counterinsurgency” Records Secret
In a legal fight over public records, press advocates say that Dakota Access pipeline company Energy Transfer engaged in “abusive litigation tactics.”
By Alleen Brown, The Intercept
January 6, 2022

Last week, a North Dakota court ruled against a bid by the oil company Energy Transfer to keep documents about its security contractor’s operations against anti-pipeline activism secret. The court thwarted the pipeline giant’s attempt to narrow the definition of a public record and withhold thousands of documents from the press. Judge Cynthia Feland ruled that Energy Transfer’s contract with the security firm TigerSwan cannot prevent the state’s private security licensing board from sharing these records with The Intercept, refusing to accept the company’s attempt to exempt the records from open government laws.

“This is the first opinion that I’ve been aware of that’s made it clear that when you give records to a public entity like this private investigation board, they become public records,” said Jack McDonald, attorney for the North Dakota Newspaper Association. “What relationship there was between Energy Transfer and TigerSwan — that doesn’t affect the records.”

The North Dakota case revolves around 16,000 documents that an administrative law judge forced TigerSwan to hand over to the state’s Private Investigation and Security Board in the summer of 2020 as part of discovery in a lawsuit accusing the company of operating without a security license. TigerSwan was hired by Energy Transfer in September 2016 to lead its security response to the Indigenous-led movement to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, or DAPL, at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Humboldt vision
As the Biden Administration Eyes Wind Leases Off California’s Coast, the Port of Humboldt Sees Opportunity
The administration wants to sell its first lease in 2022, and a new bill in California requires a plan. Some in Humboldt have been waiting years for this moment to arrive.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, Inside Climate News
January 5, 2022

In the early 20th century, the U.S. Census Bureau declared Humboldt County, California—now famous for its redwoods—the “principal center” of the state’s lumber industry. In 1900, the product accounted for nearly 60 percent of the region’s exports.

But now, though lumber yards and wood suppliers still line Humboldt Bay, the industry is a shadow of its former self.

“You look at old photographs of Humboldt Bay from back then and there’s mills everywhere, pulp mills and ships and docks,” said Matthew Marshall, executive director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority. “As that retracted there’s a lot of available land and waterfront …. So, there’s a big opportunity.”

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA)—a power organization formed by the County of Humboldt and Northern Californian cities such as Trinidad and Eureka—has been working for years to prepare for that opportunity. In 2018, RCEA submitted an unsolicited application to the U.S. Department of the Interior in hopes of building wind energy in waters just west of Humboldt Bay.

That bid helped gain the attention of offshore wind players across the world. Many drew up plans to build off California’s coast. The U.S. government floated several places where wind projects could work. So far, progress in the state has been halting. Meanwhile, the East Coast built pilot projects, crafted designs for offshore wind hubs, and started to build out its ports.
» Read article               

out of service
What Does the Future Hold for the American Gas Station?
The end of the gas car will eventually leave 100,000 stations behind.
By Dan Farber, Legal Planet | Blog
January 3, 2022

Gas stations have been fixtures in our world for a century or more. There are even books of photos of picturesque gas stations, some futuristic, others quaint. We’re transitioning into a world dominated by electric vehicles. What does the future hold for these icons of the fossil fuel era?

There are now about a hundred thousand  gas stations in the U.S. A majority are owned by operators with only one station, making them quintessential small businesses. They don’t actually make a lot of money selling gas. The margin over wholesale prices is about twenty cents a gallon, but the actual profit is only a fraction of that. The real money is in the convenience store inside the gas station. In other words, selling gas is in large part just a way of getting people into the store.

It’s going to take time to phase out gas powered cars even after EVs take over the new car market, which means the business of selling gas isn’t going to disappear overnight. Replacing diesel for heavy trucks may take even longer, especially on long-haul routes. That means that the gas business won’t disappear overnight, but obviously there’s going to be sharply declining demand.

All that means that the future of current gas stations is likely to be as convenience stores.  Older stations are often on small lots that will need to be expanded for  profitable stores. However, stations often sit on corner lots at major intersections, making them prime retail spots.

Still, reuse is going to be a major issue. In Canada, for instance, there are said to be thousands of former gas stations that haven’t been redeveloped because of clean-up costs. We may be able to learn from efforts there and in Norway, which is banning new fossil-fuel cars only a few years from now.

There are lessons to be drawn from the gas station example. One is about the need to deal with the leftover damage of the fossil fuel era — not just contaminated soil at gas stations, but emissions from old wells, refineries, and storage sites. We’re likely to be dealing with those problems for years after gasoline motors are gone.
» Read article               

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

MA coastline - ISS view
New England is warming faster than the rest of the planet, new study finds
By David Abel, Boston Globe
December 30, 2021

New England is warming significantly faster than global average temperatures, and that rate is expected to accelerate as more greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere and dangerous cycles of warming exacerbate climate change, according to a new study.

The authors of the scientific paper, which was published in the most recent edition of the journal Climate, analyzed temperature data over more than a century across the six New England states and documented how winters are becoming shorter and summers longer, jeopardizing much of the region’s unique ecology, economy, and cultural heritage.

The warming in the region already has exceeded a threshold set by the Paris Climate Accord, in which nearly 200 nations agreed to cut their emissions in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If global temperatures exceed that amount, the damage from intensifying storms, rising sea levels, droughts, forest fires, and other natural disasters is likely to be catastrophic, scientists say.

With New England’s annual temperatures expected to rise sharply in the coming decades, the authors of the study said the region should expect major disruptions to its economy, including coastal waters that will become increasingly inhospitable to iconic species such as cod and lobster; fewer days when skiing and other winter recreation will be possible; less maple syrup and other agricultural products produced; and a range of other consequences.
» Read article               
» Read the study

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

blue array
Baker approves solar, truck emission initiatives
Moves follow setbacks on transportation, hydroelectricity
By Matt Murphy and Colin A. Young, Statehouse News Service, in CommonWealth Magazine
January 3, 2022

With two of its key climate change policies dead or near-dead, the Baker administration approved two initiatives last week to incentivize the development of solar power and expand the use of zero emission vehicles.

The Department of Public Utilities finalized on Thursday a long-delayed regulatory process for a solar incentive program expected to yield 3,200 megawatts of power, double the size of the existing program. And on the same day the Department of Environmental Protection adopted California regulations requiring a faster adoption rate for zero emission light and heavy-duty trucks.

Both initiatives come after the administration’s Transportation Climate Initiative was declared dead after it failed to gain traction with states in the northeast and a Massachusetts-financed power line bringing hydroelectricity from Quebec was shot down by voters in Maine.

The DEP estimates the total cost of the solar expansion to be $3.6 billion over the next 25 years, which is considerably less per megawatt hour than previous solar incentive programs.

Under the order issued by the Department of Public Utilities, the state’s three private utilities — Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil — have until January 14 to submit proposals for how the newly approved funding for the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, program will be recovered from ratepayers.

Solar advocates hailed the decision, but said the long delay in moving ahead set the industry back. The SMART program launched in 2018 and was expanded to 3,200 megawatts in 2020, but final approval bogged down amid negotiations with the utilities over tariff rates.

Also on Thursday, the Department of Environmental Protection filed emergency regulations and amendments to immediately adopt California’s Advanced Clean Trucks policy, which requires an increasing percentage of trucks sold between model year 2025 and model year 2035 to be zero-emissions vehicles.
» Read article               

mislabeled
Fury as EU moves ahead with plans to label gas and nuclear as ‘green’
Brussels faces backlash and charges of greenwashing after publishing draft proposals on New Year’s Eve
By Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian
January 3, 2022

The European Commission is facing a furious backlash over plans to allow gas and nuclear to be labelled as “green” investments, as Germany’s economy minister led the charge against “greenwashing”.

The EU executive was accused of trying to bury the proposals by releasing long-delayed technical rules on its green investment guidebook to diplomats on New Year’s Eve, hours before a deadline expired.

The draft proposals seen by the Guardian would allow gas and nuclear to be included in the EU “taxonomy of environmentally sustainable economic activities”, subject to certain conditions.

The taxonomy is a classification system intended to direct billions to clean-energy projects to meet the EU goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Robert Habeck, who became the economy and climate action minister last month as part of a traffic-light coalition of Social Democrats, business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens, said the plans “water down the good label for sustainability”. Habeck, a co-leader of the Greens, also told the German press agency dpa it was “questionable whether this greenwashing will even find acceptance on the financial market”.

Austria’s government repeated its threat to sue the commission if the plans go ahead. Leonore Gewessler, the country’s climate action minister, said neither gas nor nuclear belonged in the taxonomy “because they are harmful to the climate and the environment and destroy the future of our children”.
» Read article               

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

worker drills holes
Vermont aims to weatherize 90,000 homes this decade. Can it find enough workers to finish the job?
A new initiative aims to boost and coordinate existing workforce training programs in hopes of preparing thousands of workers in the coming years to meet the state’s mandatory climate targets.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
January 6, 2022

A group of lawmakers, advocates and nonprofit leaders hopes to hash out a plan in the coming months to help Vermont build the workforce it needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.

The initiative, one of the winning pitches at a recent competition hosted by the nonprofit Energy Action Network, aims to reduce barriers to creating Vermont’s “climate workforce,” covering the clean energy and conservation sectors. This could include coordinating training programs and aligning them more directly with employment opportunities, as well as launching a marketing campaign to build interest in working in the clean energy sector.

Vermont’s climate targets, which are legally binding under the 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act, include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% from 2005 levels by 2025 and by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030.

Like other states, progress in Vermont will largely depend on electrifying the transportation and building sectors and weatherizing homes so they use less energy for heating. The state’s recently released Climate Plan — commissioned as part of the 2020 law — calls for another 90,000 homes to be weatherized in Vermont by 2030, in addition to the roughly 30,000 that have been weatherized in recent decades.

“That takes people,” said Gabrielle Stebbins, a state representative and senior consultant at Energy Futures Group, and one of two co-chairs on the new initiative. “And that takes people being trained in the near term so that we can get those folks out and working in the near term” to meet emissions targets.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

wallbox
American households might use EVs as backup power with this bidirectional charger

By Stephen Edelstein, Clean Car Reports
January 5, 2022

At the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Wallbox Industries will unveil its second-generation bidirectional home charging station for the North American market.

Like its predecessor, the Wallbox Quasar 2 can draw power from an EV’s battery pack, allowing the car to serve as an emergency backup power source for homes. Bidirectional charging effectively turns electric cars into energy-storage units, giving homeowners more flexibility in energy use, Wallbox said in a press release.

Homeowners can also schedule charging sessions when electricity rates are low, store that power in their EV, and discharge it to power their homes when electricity rates are higher. Those with home solar installations can also store excess energy in an EV and use it during peak-rate periods, the company claims.

The Quasar 2 provides up to 11.5 kilowatts of power, and is compatible with the Combined Charging Standard (CCS) used by most new EVs. It connects to a dedicated app via WiFi, Bluetooth, a 4G data connection, or Ethernet.

Several automakers have announced bidirectional charging as a built-in feature for new EVs.
» Read article               

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

foundational AMI
US smart meter penetration hits 65%, expanding utility demand response resources: analysts
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
December 21, 2021

As of 2020, about 65% of electricity meters across the United States had “smart” capabilities including integrated data processing and two-way communications, according to Guidehouse Senior Research Analyst Michael Kelly. The penetration of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has been steadily growing by about 4-5% annually since 2016, he said.

Utilities are headed towards about 90% AMI uptake by the end of the decade, though penetration varies by type, according to Guidehouse data. Cooperative utilities have about 78% smart meters on their systems, while investor-owned utilities sit around 65% and public power companies at 55%.

Smart meters are a foundational part of the energy transition and can help transform electric vehicle (EV) and building electrification efforts into flexible grid resources. Tens of millions of older meters remain on the grid, and the full transition will take more than a decade, but Kelly said progress on replacing them has been steady for years.

“The only kind of barrier would be on the regulatory side,” said Kelly. And increasingly, regulators are seeing the value of AMI, he added.
» Read article               

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Hells Kitchen Lithium2021 was the year clean energy finally faced its mining problem
A clean energy revolution will hinge on getting mining right
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 29, 2021

This year, the clean energy sector finally started grappling in earnest with one of its biggest challenges: how to get enough minerals to build solar panels, wind turbines, and big batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. Figuring that out will be critical for escaping fossil-fueled ecological disaster. It’ll also be crucial for policymakers and industry to move forward without throwing certain communities under the bus in the transition to clean energy.

Instead of cutting through landscapes with oil and gas wells and pipelines, clean energy industries and their suppliers will open up the Earth to hunt for critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, and copper. Compared to a gas-fired power plant, an onshore wind turbine requires nine times more mineral resources, according to the International Energy Agency. Building an EV requires six times more minerals than a gas-powered car.

It’s about time to scrutinize what that hunger for minerals might cause, given the recent boom in pledges from countries and companies alike to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Digging up the necessary minerals is already proving to be a minefield. Protests are popping up at proposed mines that no one really wants in their backyard. The conflicts that cropped up in 2021 are just the beginning of a challenging road ahead.
» Read article               

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CCS vapor
Plans to capture CO2 from coal plants wasted federal dollars, watchdog says
The DOE funded projects that never came to fruition
By Justine Calma, The Verge
December 30, 2021

The Biden administration wants to shove more money into projects that are supposed to capture CO2 emissions from power plants and industrial facilities before they can escape and heat up the planet. But carbon capture technologies that the Department of Energy has already supported in the name of tackling climate change have mostly fallen flat, according to a recent report by the watchdog Government Accountability Office.

About $1.1 billion has flowed from the Department of Energy to carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects since 2009. Had they panned out, nine coal plants and industrial facilities would have been outfitted with devices that scrub most of the CO2 out of their emissions. Once captured, the CO2 can be sent via pipelines to underground storage in geologic formations.

That’s not what happened. The DOE doled out $684 million to coal six coal plants, but only one of them actually got built and started operating before shuttering in 2020. Of the three separate industrial facilities that received $438 million, just two got off the ground. Without more accountability, “DOE may risk expending significant taxpayer funds on CCS demonstrations that have little likelihood of success,” the GAO says.
» Read article               
» Read the GAO report

» More about carbon capture and storage

DEEP-SEABED MINING

driving blind
Mining the Bottom of the Sea
The future of the largest, still mostly untouched ecosystem in the world is at risk.
By Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker
December 26, 2021

It’s rare that a tiny country like Nauru gets to determine the course of world events. But, for tangled reasons, this rare event is playing out right now. If Nauru has its way, enormous bulldozers could descend on the largest, still mostly untouched ecosystem in the world—the seafloor—sometime within the next few years. Hundreds of marine scientists have signed a statement warning that this would be an ecological disaster resulting in damage “irreversible on multi-­generational timescales.”

Nauru, which is home to ten thousand people and occupies an eight-square-mile island northeast of Papua New Guinea, acquired its outsized influence owing to an obscure clause of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. Under ­UNCLOS, most of the seabed—an area of roughly a hundred million square miles—is considered the “common heritage of mankind.” This vast area is administered by a group called the International Seabed Authority, which is based in Kingston, Jamaica.

Large swaths of the seabed are covered with potentially mineable—and potentially extremely valuable—metals, in the form of blackened lumps called polymetallic nodules. For decades, companies have been trying to figure out how to mine these nodules; so far, though, they’ve been able to do only exploratory work. Permits for actual mining can’t be granted until the I.S.A. comes up with a set of regulations governing the process, a task it’s been working on for more than twenty years.

Marine scientists argue that the potential costs of deep-ocean mining outweigh the benefits. They point out that the ocean floor is so difficult to access that most of its inhabitants are probably still unknown, and their significance to the functioning of the oceans is ill-understood. In the meantime, seabed mining, which would take place in complete darkness, thousands of feet under water, will, they say, be almost impossible to monitor. In September, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which compiles the “red list” of endangered species, called for a global moratorium on deep-sea mining. The group issued a statement raising concerns that “bio­diversity loss will be inevitable if deep-sea mining is permitted to occur,” and “that the consequences for ocean ecosystem function are unknown.”
» Read article               

» More about deep-seabed mining

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

going bust
Why Nova Scotia’s fossil fuel energy megaprojects are going bust
Changing attitudes, financial hurdles posed challenges for troubled projects
By Frances Willick, CBC News
January 2, 2022

Several of Nova Scotia’s energy megaprojects have fizzled in recent months and years, and some say the societal shift toward renewables is the reason.

AltaGas, the company with a plan to store up to 10 billion cubic feet of natural gas in underground caverns, announced in October it was pulling the plug on the project due to the “repositioning of the business and the challenging nature of the storage project economics.”

In July, Pieridae Energy announced it would not proceed with its proposal to build a processing plant and export facility for liquefied natural gas in Goldboro, Guysborough County, citing cost pressures and time constraints.

The future of the Bear Head LNG project, a proposal to bring in natural gas to Port Hawkesbury from Western Canada or the U.S., and then export it to Europe, is uncertain after the company behind the project tried to sell it last year.

The province’s offshore oil and gas future looks less than rosy after a call for exploration bids this year yielded no interest.

Last year, the Donkin coal mine — which produced both thermal coal for electricity generation and metallurgical coal for steelmaking — closed permanently, with the company blaming geological conditions in the underground mine.

Jennifer Tuck, the CEO of the Maritimes Energy Association, said the industry’s transition away from fossil fuels is affecting the energy landscape in Nova Scotia.

“Focus on climate change, achieving global emissions reductions targets, all of those things, I think, make it challenging in the fossil fuel sector,” she said.

Tuck said investment funds have been pulling out of funding oil and gas projects, and federal policy changes are focusing more on clean energies and technologies.

Community and global resistance to fossil fuels also likely played a role in the demise of some of Nova Scotia’s energy megaprojects, said Noreen Mabiza, an energy co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

“It is definitely a factor, not a factor to be ignored,” said Mabiza. “People have been on the ground for years saying they don’t want these sorts of projects.”
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

SouthEast wood pellet plants
How Burning Wood Pellets in Europe Is Harming the U.S. South
A globe-trotting tale of questionable renewable standards, market-driven forest management, and shaky carbon accounting.
By Jake Dean, Slate
January 3, 2022

In November, world leaders arrived to the city of Glasgow, Scotland, in a fleet of carbon-emitting private jets for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as COP26. And while COP26 president Alok Sharma called the agreements reached there “historic” in an interview with NPR, many feel the achievements were woefully underwhelming.

Indigenous groups around the world lamented the bureaucracy and structural barriers minimizing their participation, with groups like the Hoopa tribe in California and the Mexican collective Futuros Indígenas decrying the COP26 deal as a failure on climate action. Climate and earth science experts noted that even with provisions and national commitments in the updated deal, the world will almost certainly miss the 1.5 degree Celsius warming target. Even Sharma himself apologized for having to change the language on coal from “phasing out” to “phasing down.”

Among other things, COP26 failed to address biomass energy, which many European nations have relied on as a “renewable energy” source. At best, that terminology is a semantic stretch. At worst, it’s greenwashing a dirty fuel at the worst possible moment. One thing is for certain: Biomass has fueled quite the controversy.

Biomass energy comes from organic material like waste crops and animal manure—but it’s mostly wood burned in the form of compressed particle pellets. It’s not super common in the U.S.: According to U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics, biomass energy (again, mostly made from wood) represented roughly 5 percent of total domestic primary energy use during 2020. But the Build Back Better Act passed by the House of Representatives would support increasing its use. It’s already more common across the Atlantic: Biomass energy is the second-largest source of renewable electricity in the U.K., having provided 12 percent of its electricity in 2020. Woody biomass accounts for more than half of the European Union’s renewable energy sources. And a lot of that wood is coming from the Southeastern U.S.
» Blog editor’s note: If Build Back Better ever passes with provisions to increase the use of biomass energy, we guarantee that legions of environmental groups will quickly act to remove it.
» Read article               

» More about biomass

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