Tag Archives: california

Weekly News Check-In 8/21/20

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Welcome back.

Natural gas positions its brand as both clean and safe. That’s pretty effective marketing, but (climate issues aside) those claims get wobbly under evidence of health and safety burdens borne by communities all along the line from extraction to the blue-flame point of use. Gas can hurt you, slowly or quickly. Activists continue to draw attention to the fact that pollution and safety risks disproportionately affect the poor and people of color, and that any real progress must be founded on climate justice. Even as some major pipeline projects continue to move toward completion in these changing times, opposition intensifies.

Transition to a more equitable, green economy requires changes within stakeholder groups. In Gloucester, MA, a state grant program is helping the fishing community explore ways to work with and benefit from the coming offshore wind industry.

This week’s climate news includes new evidence of unabated global temperature rise, a tipping point passed for Greenland’s ice sheets, and a description of the recent “derecho” wind storm that flattened crops and buildings from Nebraska to Indiana.

The clean energy press has buzzed lately about a carbon free, renewable energy source well-suited to certain industrial processes and heavy transport. We offer more insight into what the green hydrogen industry will look like, and when it might arrive. Meanwhile, five major automakers struck a blow for clean transportation by rejecting the Trump administration’s lax national emissions standards and committing to comply with California’s stricter requirements.

Interest in public ownership of electric utilities continues to gain momentum in Maine, with the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly providing arguments for the greater resiliency of customer-focused community ownership compared to the corporate model with management beholden to distant shareholders. A companion essay suggests an advocacy role for the Department of Public Utilities.

New Jersey may soon become the next state to sue the fossil fuel industry for climate-related damages. And we found what may be the perfect example of why this industry won’t quit till it’s forced to. ConocoPhillips could soon lay chiller pipes beneath its roads and drilling pads in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve to re-freeze permafrost melting from climate change. The company’s sagging infrastructure is slowing efforts to extract more climate-changing fuel.

The Trump administration recently finalized a rule allowing liquefied natural gas (LNG) to be transported by rail. Deeming public safety considerations woefully inadequate, environmental advocates sued. Also from the Department of Bad Ideas, we found reporting from Japan calling for the development of “energy forests” to support their growing biomass-to-electricity industry. The article is interesting (and suspect) for its total failure to acknowledge current climate science. Closer to home, the Springfield City Council voted against the state’s plan to subsidize the planned biomass power plant as part of its new climate legislation.

We close with alarming news that there appears to be much more plastic in the marine environment than previously thought – with micro fibers and particles even turning up in human organ tissue. Plastic will comprise a distinct and permanent worldwide geological layer marking the Anthropocene era.

— The NFGiM Team

NATURAL GAS HEALTH RISKS

gas flare preemies
The Risk of Preterm Birth Rises Near Gas Flaring, Reflecting Deep-rooted Environmental Injustices in Rural America
By Jill Johnston, University of Southern California and Lara Cushing, University of California, Los Angeles, in DeSmog Blog
August 20, 2020

Through the southern reaches of Texas, communities are scattered across a flat landscape of dry brush lands, ranches and agricultural fields. This large rural region near the U.S.-Mexico border is known for its persistent poverty. Over 25 percent of the families here live in poverty, and many lack access to basic services like water, sewer and primary health care.

This is also home to the Eagle Ford shale, where domestic oil and gas production has boomed. The Eagle Ford is widely considered the most profitable U.S. shale play, producing more than 1.2 million barrels of oil daily in 2019, up from fewer than 350,000 barrels per day just a decade earlier.

The rapid production growth here has not led to substantial shared economic benefits at the local level, however.

Low-income communities and communities of color here bear the brunt of the energy industry’s pollution, our research shows. And we now know those risks also extend to the unborn. Our latest study documents how women living near gas flaring sites have significantly higher risks of giving birth prematurely than others, and that this risk falls mainly on Latina women.
» Read article         
» Read the study

» More about nat-gas health risks

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Baltimore explosion captured
Baltimore gas explosion: Morgan State student found dead among rubble; BGE says no leaks found
By Wilborn P. Nobles III and Justin Fenton, Baltimore Sun
August 11, 2020

A second victim, a 20-year-old Morgan State University student, was found early Tuesday in the rubble of a gas explosion in Northwest Baltimore as BGE said the blast wasn’t caused by one of its gas mains.

Workers continued to investigate and clean up the scene of the explosion that also killed one woman and seriously injured at least seven other people. It ripped Monday through several row houses in the Reisterstown Station neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore, displacing 30 people.

As officials continued to assess the cause of the blast — a process that could take months — BGE said that it found no leaks in an inspection Monday of the homes’ gas mains, and that company data indicated “some type of issue beyond the BGE meter on customer-owned equipment.” Investigators were analyzing the new information, BGE said.
» Read article          

» More about what can go wrong            

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Citgo sign makeover
Climate activists hang banner on Boston’s iconic Citgo sign
By the Gloucester Daily Times
August 11, 2020

Members of an activist group hung a banner that read [“CLIMATE JUSTICE NOW”] on the iconic Citgo sign near Boston’s Fenway Park, leading to eight arrests, police said.

The group unfurled the banner Monday evening as the Red Sox began their game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway. A spokesman for the group, Extinction Rebellion Boston, told The Boston Globe that it was hoping to bring attention to environmental issues.

“We think the ultimate values of the city of Boston would say climate justice is more important than fossil fuel profits,” Matthew Kearney said. “We’re giving the Citgo sign a makeover — just temporary, of course — an update to the Boston skyline that matches the values of the city.”
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions           

PIPELINES

tiny house warriors
Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Inches Forward, But Opposition Intensifies
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
August 14, 2020

In 2018, a group of Secwepemc and Ktunaxa people built six small houses on wheels and positioned them along the pipeline route to block construction near the community of Blue River in British Columbia. The immediate aim was to prevent the pipeline from moving forward, but the broader goal of the “Tiny House Warriors” was to assert authority over unceded traditional land, where Indigenous title has not been given up or acquired by the Crown in Canada.

“That’s what Tiny House Warriors is. It’s where we face off with the colonial government and their assumption of jurisdiction and authority over our Secwepemc territorial authority and jurisdiction,” said Kanahus Manuel, an Indigenous activist who is Secwepemc and Ktunaxa and a leader of Tiny House Warriors.

In an interview with DeSmog, Manuel described a pattern of harassment and intimidation from industry, oil and gas workers, police, and the state. The determination of Manuel and other Indigenous groups to assert their rights over unceded land has been met with stiff, and sometimes violent, opposition.
» Read article          

» More about pipelines           

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Gloucester recruiting
In Massachusetts, offshore wind opens up job training, economic opportunities
Efforts are underway to train locals for the state’s burgeoning new industry.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Robert Laliberte  / Flickr / Creative Commons
August 17, 2020

In a northern Massachusetts fishing town, an advocacy group that has opposed an offshore wind farm is opening up to economic opportunities the project could provide.

As part of a $1.3 million state grant program, a partnership between fishing advocacy group the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association and the Northeast Maritime Institute will enroll commercial fishermen in a certification course that will qualify them to transport people and supplies to wind turbine sites for the Vineyard Wind project. Gloucester has traditionally been a major New England fishing port, but the industry has been hard hit by declining fish stocks and regulations designed to prevent overfishing.

Though the program has not started actively recruiting participants yet, word of mouth has raised some interest and there are already five names on the waiting list, said Angela Sanfilippo, president of the organization.

The Gloucester group has spoken out against Vineyard Wind from the start, but recognizes offshore wind is likely to be a reality. The group wants to help the fishermen it serves adapt to whatever comes next, Sanfilippo said.
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy         

CLIMATE

state of climate 2019Annual planetary temperature continues to rise
More than 500 scientists from 61 countries have again measured the annual planetary temperature. The diagnosis is not good.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
August 17, 2020

Despite global promises to act on climate change, the Earth continues to warm. The annual planetary temperature confirms that the last 10 years were on average 0.2°C warmer than the first 10 years of this century. And each decade since 1980 has been warmer than the decade that preceded it.

The year 2019 was also one of the three warmest years since formal temperature records began in the 19th century. The only warmer years – in some datasets but not all – were 2016 and 2015. And all the years since 2013 have been warmer than all other years in the last 170.

The link with fossil fuel combustion remains unequivocal: carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increased by 2.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2019 alone. These now stand at 409 ppm. The global average for most of human history has hovered around 285 ppm.

Two more greenhouse gases – nitrous oxide and methane, both of them more short-lived – also increased measurably.

The study, in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is a sobering chronicle of the impact of climate change in the decade 2010-2019 and the year 2019 itself. It is the 30th such report, it is signed by 528 experts from 61 countries, and it is a catalogue of unwelcome records achieved and uncomfortable extremes surpassed.
» Read article         
» Read State of the Climate in 2019 Report               

ice out Greenland
Going, Going … Gone: Greenland’s Melting Ice Sheet Passed a Point of No Return in the Early 2000s
A new study finds that the accelerating retreat and thinning of Greenland’s glaciers that began 20 year ago is speeding the ice sheet toward total meltdown.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
August 15, 2020

The Greenland Ice Sheet managed to withstand the warming brought by the first 150 years of the industrial age, with enough snow piling up each winter to balance the ice lost to spring and summer melting. But, according to a new study, that all changed 20 years ago.

Starting in 2000, Greenland’s glaciers suddenly began moving faster, their snouts rapidly retreating and thinning where they flow into the sea. Between 2000 and 2005, that acceleration led to an all-but irreversible “step-increase” of ice loss, scientists concluded in the new research, published this week in the journal Nature Communications Earth & Environment.

If the climate were to stop warming today, or even cool a little, Greenland’s ice will continue to melt, said Ohio State University Earth scientist Ian Howat, co-author of the research paper. “Glacier retreat has knocked the dynamics of the whole ice sheet into a constant state of loss,” he said. “Even if we were to stabilize at current temperatures, the ice will continue to disintegrate more quickly than if we hadn’t messed with the climate to begin with.”
» Read article        

derecho skylineExtreme weather just devastated 10m acres in the midwest. Expect more of this
Unless we contain carbon, our food supply will be under threat. By 2050, US corn yields could decline by 30%
By Art Cullen, The Guardian
August 17, 2020

I know a stiff wind. They call this place Storm Lake, after all. But until recently most Iowans had never heard of a “derecho”. They have now. Last Monday, a derecho tore 770 miles from Nebraska to Indiana and left a path of destruction up to 50 miles wide over 10m acres of prime cropland. It blew 113 miles per hour at the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River.

Grain bins were crumpled like aluminum foil. Three hundred thousand people remained without power in Iowa and Illinois on Friday. Cedar Rapids and Iowa City were devastated.

The corn lay flat.

Iowa’s maize yield may be cut in half. A little napkin ciphering tells me the Tall Corn State will lose $6bn from crop damage alone.

We should get used to it. Extreme weather is the new normal. Last year, the villages of Hamburg and Pacific Junction, Iowa, were washed down the Missouri River from epic floods that scoured tens of thousands of acres. This year, the Great Plains are burning up from drought. Western Iowa was steeped in severe drought when those straight-line winds barreled through the weak stalks.
» Read article             

» More about climate         

CLEAN ENERGY

wait for it
As Europe’s Green Hydrogen Excitement Grows, Profits Look a Long Way Off
Utilities and power generators are lining up to invest in green hydrogen projects, but executives say profits could be a decade away.
By John Parnell, GreenTech Media
August 18, 2020

Green hydrogen is the talk of the power sector these days, but it will be at least a decade before it becomes a major line item on the books of European utilities and generators, executives say.

Gigawatt-scale green hydrogen projects have sprung up on three continents recently, including the world’s largest plan so far, a 4-gigawatt plant in Saudi Arabia. Governments are rushing to publish coherent strategies as they compete to build hydrogen hubs.

The European Union is sending strong long-term signals for green hydrogen with a dual electrolyzer target: The EU wants 40 gigawatts of electrolyzers installed within its own borders by 2030 and another 40 gigawatts in nearby nations to export into the EU — with North Africa one potential candidate given its proximity to Southern Europe and vast solar resources.

A range of European utilities, oil majors and gas infrastructure firms are increasingly focused on the hydrogen opportunity ahead. But various power-sector executives have added a dose of reality to expectations that green hydrogen will drive serious revenue or profits anytime this decade.
» Read article          

propelling the transition
Propelling the transition: Green hydrogen could be the final piece in a zero-emissions future
For the many things renewables and batteries don’t do, green hydrogen can be the zero-GHG alternative.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
August 17, 2020

Renewables-generated electricity and battery energy storage can eliminate most power system greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially in the near term.

But fueling heavy-duty vehicles, serving the unique needs of steel, chemical and other industries, heating aging buildings, and storing large amounts of energy for long durations are major challenges electricity cannot readily meet. Hydrogen extracted from water with renewables-generated electricity by an electrolyzer could be the best GHG-free alternative, analysts told Utility Dive.

“The best way of doing long duration, massive volume storage is by transforming electrons into molecules with an electrolyzer,” ITM Power CEO Graham Cooley, who is building the world’s first GW-scale electrolyzer plant, told Utility Dive. “Green hydrogen molecules can replace the fossil-generated hydrogen used today.”

In Europe, renewables over-generation is “already driving economies of scale in electrolyzer manufacturing” that are “driving down electrolyzer capital costs,” said Renewable Hydrogen Alliance Executive Director Ken Dragoon. “The 10 million tons of hydrogen produced annually in the U.S., mostly with natural gas, can be replaced with green hydrogen because, like natural gas, it can be ramped, stored and delivered on demand.”

Economic sectors like chemical and industrial manufacturing, air travel, ocean shipping, and long distance, heavy duty transport will likely require some synthetic fuel, like green hydrogen, to eliminate GHGs, Dragoon said. And green hydrogen may be the most affordable and flexible long duration storage option for any of those applications, he added.
» Read article          

» More about clean energy        

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

auto tailpipe deal with CA
Defying Trump, 5 Automakers Lock In a Deal on Greenhouse Gas Pollution
The five — Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen and Volvo — sealed a binding agreement with California to follow the state’s stricter tailpipe emissions rules.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
August 17, 2020

California on Monday finalized a legal settlement with five of the world’s largest automakers that binds them to comply with its stringent state-level fuel efficiency standards that would cut down on climate-warming tailpipe emissions.

Monday’s agreement adds legal teeth to a deal that California and four of the companies outlined in principle last summer, and it comes as a rejection of President Trump’s new, looser federal rules on fuel economy, which would allow more pollution into the atmosphere.

Mr. Trump was blindsided last summer when the companies — Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen — announced that they had reached a secret deal with California to comply with that state’s standards, even as the Trump administration was working to roll back Obama-era rules on fuel economy. A fifth company, Volvo, said in March that it intended to join the agreement and is part of the legal settlement that was finalized on Monday.
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation            

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

push to munis
In Maine, pandemic hasn’t stopped push for a publicly owned electric grid

While lawmakers disagree on the likely costs and benefits, one proponent says COVID-19 has made the case for a state-owned utility even stronger.
By Tom Perkins, Energy News Network
Photo By Creative Commons   
August 20, 2020

A wave of campaigns seeking to set up publicly owned electric utilities seemed to be picking up steam heading into 2020, fueled by frustration over investor-owned utilities’ rates, service, and slow transition to renewables.

Then the pandemic hit. Its economic fallout cast uncertainty on the efforts, but proponents say the campaigns will move forward, and the pandemic only underscores the need for change.

“For cities setting out on their municipalization efforts now, the pandemic may well be the first setback, but I do not believe it is enough to derail a campaign altogether,” said Maria McCoy, an energy democracy research associate with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit think tank that favors community-controlled utilities.

Publicly owned utilities are better positioned to weather an economic storm because they don’t need to generate huge profits for investors, McCoy added, and she and others say the proposals are more urgent than ever because they’re job creators that would provide much-needed economic stimuli.
» Read article          

» More about electric utilities             

MA DEPT OF PUBLIC UTILITIES

electric blue background
Thoughts on the advocacy of regulators
They all advocate – the real question is for whom?
By Joel Wool, CommonWealth Magazine – opinion
August 15, 2020

Responsible utility regulators could take a cue or two from the “brazen” social justice advocacy of members of the [Cannabis Control Commission (CCC)], by standing up for ratepayers, defending workers, and promoting clean energy rather than penalizing it. Instead, the MA DPU has actively opposed efforts toward social and economic equity, rejecting energy efficiency incentives intended to bridge socioeconomic divides and throwing up roadblocks to solar access. It has approved ratepayer funding for interstate gas facilities and effectively denied its obligations to combat climate change. It has enabled a form of regulatory capture, as regulated utilities seek ratepayer dollars for membership to trade associations that lobby against clean energy and for fossil fuel interests.
» Read article         

» More about MA DPU               

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

NJ eyeing legal action
New Jersey Should Sue Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Costs, Panel Says
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
August 19, 2020

Advocates for holding fossil fuel companies accountable in court for the substantial costs of climate change are urging New Jersey to sue oil majors like ExxonMobil, as over a dozen municipal and state governments have done over the past three years.

A month after a New Jersey senate committee passed a resolution calling on the state to take this kind of legal action, New Jersey’s Monmouth University hosted a virtual panel discussion on Wednesday, August 19 titled “Accountability for Climate Change Harms in New Jersey: Scientific, Legal and Policy Perspectives.” The discussion was intended to outline the case for New Jersey to file a climate accountability lawsuit ahead of the full state senate voting on the resolution, which could come later this month.

New Jersey Democratic State Senator Joseph Cryan, one of the lead sponsors of Senate Resolution 57, said during his opening remarks Wednesday that he is hopeful the resolution will pass the full state senate this month. The resolution specifically calls on New Jersey’s governor and attorney general “to pursue legal action against fossil fuel companies for damages caused by climate change.”
» Read article         

CP irony
The irony: ConocoPhillips hopes to freeze thawing permafrost to drill more oil
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
August 19, 2020

Living on a heating planet always comes with some ironies. For one thing, the people who are most to blame for global warming (the rich and powerful) are also shielded from its worst effects. Meanwhile, airlines push fossil-fuel burning tourist flights to see Antarctica’s melting ice, and cruise companies hype energy-intensive trips to see polar bears in the Arctic before they’re gone.

The latest plan by ConocoPhillips may top them all. The Houston-based energy giant plans to produce 590 million barrels of oil from a massive drilling project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. But climate change is melting the ground in the reserve so fast that the company may be forced to use chilling devices to keep the ground beneath roads and drilling pads frozen.

Yes, you read that right: An oil company is prepared to freeze melting permafrost in order to keep extracting oil. And it just so happens that ConocoPhillips is ranked 21st among the 100 companies responsible for most of humanity’s carbon emissions over the past several decades.
» Read article         

EU big oil turning
Europe’s Big Oil Companies Are Turning Electric
Under pressure from governments and investors, industry leaders like BP and Shell are accelerating their production of cleaner energy.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
August 17, 2020

This may turn out to be the year that oil giants, especially in Europe, started looking more like electric companies.

Late last month, Royal Dutch Shell won a deal to build a vast wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands. Earlier in the year, France’s Total, which owns a battery maker, agreed to make several large investments in solar power in Spain and a wind farm off Scotland. Total also bought an electric and natural gas utility in Spain and is joining Shell and BP in expanding its electric vehicle charging business.

At the same time, the companies are ditching plans to drill more wells as they chop back capital budgets. Shell recently said it would delay new fields in the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Sea, while BP has promised not to hunt for oil in any new countries.

Prodded by governments and investors to address climate change concerns about their products, Europe’s oil companies are accelerating their production of cleaner energy — usually electricity, sometimes hydrogen — and promoting natural gas, which they argue can be a cleaner transition fuel from coal and oil to renewables.
» Read article          

» More about fossil fuels               

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG train bomb suit
Environmental Groups Sue Trump Admin to Stop LNG Trains
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
August 19, 2020

Nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups against the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), challenging a recently finalized Trump administration rule to allow the transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail.

“It would only take 22 tank cars to hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb,” Jordan Luebkemann, an Earthjustice attorney, said in a statement. “It’s unbelievably reckless to discard the critical, long-standing safety measures we have in place to protect the public from this dangerous cargo.

As DeSmog has reported, the Trump administration has fast-tracked rolling out the rule to allow LNG-by-rail without requiring any new safety regulations beyond a slightly thicker tank shell for the rail cars.

The potential consequences of an accident involving a train carrying LNG could be far greater than the already catastrophic and deadly accidents that have resulted from the rail industry moving large amounts of volatile crude oil and ethanol in recent years.
» Read article          

» More about LNG           

BIOMASS

bad advice in Japan
Japan eyes “energy forests” for woody biomass power generation
By KYODO NEWS
August 19, 2020

As part of efforts to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, the Japanese government is considering securing “energy forests” for the specific purpose of growing sources for woody biomass power generation, officials said Wednesday.

Greater dependence on woody biomass is believed to help mitigate climate change as the growing of forests absorbs carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and the use of renewable wood raw materials, as a replacement for fossil fuel products, reduces the volume of new CO2 that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

At present, Japan uses biomass fuel derived from the thinning of forests and from branches removed in preparing lumber for building materials. Exclusively using a forest to grow woody biomass fuel is expected to cut labor and silviculture costs by one-third as the work of thinning forests will become unnecessary, the officials said.
Blog editor’s note: This article, lacking a named author, appears to be an unscreened list of biomass-to-energy industry talking points. Even the biomass-dependent Europeans know its “sustainability” is a charade.
» Read article    

Spfld biomass not clean renewable
Springfield City Hall opposes biomass incinerator part of state climate bill
By Sy Becker, WWLP Channel 22
August 13, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Springfield City Council is set against the state subsidizing a Biomass incinerator as part of a state climate bill, the legislature’s considering.

Ten city councilors agree with fellow councilor Jesse Lederman the state should listen to the results of a hearing attended by hundreds at Springfield’s Duggan Middle School.

There, they shot down a proposal for the state to subsidize a Biomass plant in Springfield.
» Read article          

» More about biomass             

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

northern fulmar
Oceans’ plastic tide may be far larger than thought
Artificial fibres now go everywhere. The oceans’ plastic tide may reach their whole depth, entering marine life and people.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
August 20, 2020

The world’s seas could be home to a vast reservoir of hitherto unidentified pollution, the growing burden of the oceans’ plastic tide.

Up to 21 million tonnes of tiny and invisible plastic fibres could be floating in the first 200 metres of the Atlantic Ocean alone. And as British research exposed the scale of the problem, American chemists revealed that for the first time they had found microplastic fibres incorporated within human organ tissues.

A day or two later Dutch scientists demonstrated that plastic waste wasn’t simply a passive hazard to marine life: experiments showed that polluting plastic released chemicals into the stomachs of seabirds.

But first, the global problem. Oceanographers have known for decades that plastic waste had found its way into the sea: floating on the surface, it has reached the beaches of the remote Antarctic, been sampled in Arctic waters, been identified in the sediments on the sea floor and been ingested by marine creatures, from the smallest to the whale family.

Ominously, researchers warn that the sheer mass of plastic waste could multiply threefold in the decades to come. And, unlike all other forms of human pollution, plastic waste is here to stay, one day to form a permanent geological layer that will mark the Anthropocene era.
» Read article         
» Read the study

scraping the neuston
Could a Solution to Marine Plastic Waste Threaten One of the Ocean’s Most Mysterious Ecosystems?
By Deutsche Welle, EcoWatch
August 15, 2020

The neuston, from the Greek word for swimming, refers to a group of animals, plants and microorganisms that spend all or large parts of their life floating in the top few centimeters of the ocean.

It’s a mysterious world that even experts still know little about. But recently, it has been the source of tensions between a project trying to clean up the sea by skimming plastic trash off its surface, and marine biologists who say this could destroy the neuston.

“Plastic could outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050. To us, that future is unacceptable,” The Ocean Cleanup declares on its website.

But Rebecca Helm, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina, and one of the few scientists to study this ecosystem, fears that The Ocean Cleanup’s proposal to remove 90% of the plastic trash from the water could also virtually wipe out the neuston.

One focus of Helm’s studies is where these organisms congregate. “There are places that are very, very concentrated and areas of little concentration, and we’re trying to figure out why,” says Helm.

One factor is that the neuston floats with ocean currents, and Helm worries that it might collect in the exact same spots as marine plastic pollution. “Our initial data show that regions with high concentrations of plastic are also regions with high concentrations of life.”
» Read article         

» More about plastics in the environment           

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Weekly News Check-In 6/5/20

WNCI-2

Welcome back.

Our friends in Weymouth are celebrating a court victory in their fight against the compressor station. The First Circuit Court vacated MA-DEP’s controversial air quality permit pending further study. Since construction was predicated on having that permit, local mayors petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to halt activities. In related good news, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled last week to maintain a lower court’s block on federal fast-track permits, which continues to hold up further construction on Keystone XL and other pipelines.

But the Trump/Wheeler Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is counter-punching. A rule change on Monday to the Clean Water Act limits the rights of states and native American tribes to block pipelines.

The articles we selected for this week’s Greening The Economy section continue that good news / bad news dynamic. While the arc of history seems to be bending toward sustainability and social/environmental justice, progress is opposed by well-funded and entrenched supporters of the status quo. Kudos to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, for petitioning the Department of Public Utilities this week to begin planning an orderly transition away from natural gas.

The climate urgently needs more of that kind of leadership. Atmospheric CO2 levels hit another record high in May. It’s been 23 million years since Earth last hosted a concentration of 415ppm. Meanwhile, satellite images show rampant deforestation in the Amazon, and some of last summer’s unusual arctic wildfires are reigniting after a winter spent smoldering in the peat under snow cover.

On a brighter note, energy efficiency is looking like a good investment in Europe. Renovating existing homes and businesses for improved energy efficiency will be a huge market, and investors are taking notice. We found signs of progress in clean energy and energy storage, too.

We close with news from the fossil fuel industry. BP seems to want to rebrand itself as a green company while keeping much of its planet-killing business model intact. The oil majors are rethinking their big bet on petrochemicals. And the whole house of cards could come down to the tune of $25 trillion in lost equity on the cratering value of reserves.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

permit vacated till do-over
Weymouth Gas Compressor Station Opponents Gain Big Court Victory
The First Circuit Court vacates the air-quality permit issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
By Scott Souza, Patch
June 4, 2020

The First Circuit Court ruled Wednesday that “because we find that the (Department of Environmental Protection) did not follow its own established procedures for assessing whether an electric motor was the Best Available Control Technology, we vacate the air permit and remand the agency to redo that analysis.”

While the decision does not halt the Fore River project, obtaining the air-quality permit was a significant hurdle for Algonquin Gas Transmission in the approval process of the station, and a main source of attack from those who want to see the project modified or shut down.

Algonquin Gas Transmission had argued in front of the DEP that the electric motor was not viable because it was not cost effective and put too much strain on the surrounding electrical grid.
» Read article     

Braintree Mayor Charles C. Kokoros Shares Update on Weymouth Compressor Station Project Following Court Ruling
By Matthew Reid Client News, City/Town News
June 3, 2020

Since the Court has now vacated DEP’s air permit approval and is requiring further administrative review, the air permit is no longer in effect, and the FERC condition requiring DEP’s approval for the compressor station has not been met.

Therefore, Braintree intends to join with the other municipalities in demanding that FERC order the immediate cessation of construction work on the station.

“The Town has continued to raise concerns regarding the public health and safety impacts the construction of the compressor station will have on our residents and remain committed to stopping construction,” Mayor Kokoros said.”
» Read article     

tossed for now
Mayor Hedlund: Court ruling won’t stop compressor project
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
June 3, 202
0

WEYMOUTH — While it could delay the project from coming online and cost the gas company money, Mayor Robert Hedlund said a federal appeals court decision to throw out an air permit issued by state regulators will not stop ongoing construction of a natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on Wednesday overturned the air permit for the natural gas compressor station Enbridge is currently building in North Weymouth, ordering the state Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a new analysis of what would be the best available control technology to limit air pollution.

Judge William Kayatta in his decision said the state did not follow its own procedures when it approved a gas turbine, rather than an electric motor, to cut emissions at the station. The state will need to hold proceedings regarding the control-technology for the project.
» Read article     

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

still no fast-track
Fast-Track Permits Stay Blocked for Keystone XL, Other Pipes
By Ellen M. Gilmer, Bloomberg Law
May 28, 2020

The Ninth Circuit delivered a major blow to the energy industry Thursday, refusing to freeze a lower court’s decision to block a streamlined permit for Keystone XL and other pipelines.

The Trump administration and energy industry players lost their bid to sideline the ruling, which bars the Army Corps of Engineers from using a fast-track water permitting approach for new oil and gas lines.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the government and energy companies “have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success on the merits and probability of irreparable harm to warrant a stay pending appeal.”

Barring any Ninth Circuit reconsideration or a successful petition to the Supreme Court, the decision means the streamlined permitting process will remain off-limits for new pipelines while the parties file briefs and argue the broader appeal to the Ninth Circuit—a process that takes months.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

401 reg rollbackClean Water Act Rollback: Trump’s EPA Limits States’ and Tribes’ Rights to Block Pipelines
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
June 2, 2020

The Trump administration has finalized a rule making it harder for states and tribal communities to block pipelines and other infrastructure projects that threaten waterways.

The change concerns Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which essentially gives states and tribes veto power over projects that would hurt their water quality, The Hill explained. The changes, announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Monday, give states and tribes a one-year deadline for reviewing projects and narrow the scope of what they can consider to only water issues, The New York Times reported. They may no longer block projects because they would contribute to the climate crisis.
» Read article     
» Read the NY Times article        

new look same villain
E.P.A. Limits States’ Power to Oppose Pipelines and Other Energy Projects
The agency tweaked the rules on how to apply the Clean Water Act, which New York and other states have used to fight fossil-fuel ventures.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
June 1, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced that it had limited states’ ability to block the construction of energy infrastructure projects, part of the Trump administration’s goal of promoting gas pipelines, coal terminals and other fossil fuel development.

The completed rule curtails sections of the U.S. Clean Water Act that New York has used to block an interstate gas pipeline, and Washington employed to oppose a coal export terminal. The move is expected to set up a legal clash with Democratic governors who have sought to block fossil fuel projects.

Specifically, it limits to one year the amount of time states and tribes can take to review a project and restricts states to taking water quality only into consideration when judging permits. The Trump administration has accused some states of blocking projects for reasons that go beyond clean water considerations, such as climate change impacts.
» Read article     

EPA’s new rule limits states’ ability to regulate pipelines under the Clean Water Act
By Susan Phillips, NPR
June 1, 2020   

A new EPA rule reverses 50 years of practice under the Clean Water Act by diminishing a state’s ability to reject large energy infrastructure projects like interstate pipelines.

It requires states to make decisions within a year on water quality permits related to those projects. Yet states have limited resources to conduct the necessary reviews of such large and complicated projects in that time, and are dependent upon companies providing timely information. As seen with Sunoco’s Mariner East project, permit applications repeatedly fell short of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s requirements to review whether the project would preserve water quality.

A wave of new pipeline projects designed to transport shale gas, as well as shale oil and tar sands oil across state lines, has generated massive environmental opposition. One of the few avenues of influence states have over those projects are water pollution permits under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. Although the CWA is a federal environmental rule, states and some tribes have enforcement authority.

The new rule stems from an executive order issued by President Trump in April 2019 entitled “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth.”  When he issued that order, Trump called the federal guidance “outdated” and said it was “causing confusion and uncertainty” and hindering development of energy infrastructure.

But lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the move are sure to follow. Environmental lawyers say it undermines the power of the states to enforce the Clean Water Act that was outlined by Congress when the law was passed in 1972.

“The Trump Administration is trying to re-write the Clean Water Act,” said Maya van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “This is an absolutely unveiled effort to rob the states of their legal authority protected under the Clean Water Act when it comes to pipelines.”
» Read article     

» More about the EPA

GREENING THE ECONOMY

NEPA bypass EO‘Another Blow to the Black Community’: Trump Waives Environmental Law That Gives Public a Voice in Infrastructure Projects
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
June 5, 2020

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday mandating federal agencies bypass key environmental reviews of energy and infrastructure projects.

Trump said the rule was designed to stimulate the economy in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but critics say the move will disproportionately impact communities of color amidst ongoing national protests following the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black Americans. The order instructs agencies to work around the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which gives communities a chance to weigh in on projects that would impact them, as NPR explained. Fossil fuel projects and highways tend to have a greater effect on Black and Brown communities, as HuffPost pointed out.

“Today President Trump is dealing another blow to the Black community, during a worldwide pandemic and nearly a week into nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and structural racism,” House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement reported by HuffPost. “Gutting NEPA takes away one of the few tools communities of color have to protect themselves and make their voices heard on federal decisions impacting them.”
Blog editor’s note: We try to provide examples in this section of movements and policies that benefit future generations and provide hope for those frustrated and alarmed by the status quo. This and the following article is the opposite: a reminder that we are engaged right now in a struggle for that brighter future and the outcome is not yet determined. Your actions matter.
» Read article     
» Read the Executive Order        

one trick pony
Besieged by Protesters Demanding Racial Justice, Trump Signs Order Waiving Environmental Safeguards
Critics said the move to speed pipeline construction would harm minority communities. But one legal expert said the order would be “a sitting duck” in court.
By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
June 5, 2020

With the nation convulsed by multiple crises, President Donald Trump returned to a favorite stand-by of his presidency—asserting his authority to sweep aside environmental restraints and speed up construction of oil and gas pipelines.

But the executive order that he signed Thursday night—the third of his presidency aimed at expediting pipelines—is destined to spur more of the type of litigation that has rendered his previous directives ineffective so far.

The White House invoked the same legal authority the president has to expedite hurricane and flood response actions to declare an “economic emergency,” that requires the waiving of environmental reviews and other regulations.
» Read article     

AG Healey planning ahead
Healey calls for orderly transition away from natural gas
Petition raises host of questions that need to be answered
By Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine
June 4, 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY petitioned the Department of Public Utilities on Thursday to investigate how the state’s natural gas utilities should transition to a future where the fuel they are selling no longer fits in with the state’s carbon emission goals.

Massachusetts has set a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050, and Healey argues the state, natural gas utilities, and their customers need to start planning. The petition said California and New York have already launched similar investigations.

“As electrification and decarbonization of heating increases, the Commonwealth’s natural gas demand and usage from thermal heating requirements will decline substantially and could be near zero by 2050,” the petition says. “As the Commonwealth reduces its fossil fuel consumption, the Department should establish a consistent regulatory framework that protects customers and maintains reliability and safety during the transition.”

Healey recommended the investigation be conducted in two phases – one phase focusing on utility forecasts about their role in a decarbonized economy and the second on the policies needed to reach the state’s emission mandates. Her petition raises a host of questions that need to be answered, including whether renewable natural gas (gas made from cow manure) has potential.

The attorney general’s petition comes at a time when environmental advocates are pressing for a reduction in natural gas usage even as industry officials say the fuel is cheap, plentiful, and gaining market share.
» Read article     
» Read the AG’s press release        
» Read the petition   

racism and climate
As Protests Rage Over George Floyd’s Death, Climate Activists Embrace Racial Justice
Friends of the Earth tweeted #BlackLivesMatter, and the head of the NRDC promised “to be fully and visibly committed to the fight against systemic racism.”
By ILANA COHEN, EVELYN NIEVES, JUDY FAHYS, MARIANNE LAVELLE, JAMES BRUGGERS, InsideClimate News
June 3, 2020

When New York Communities for Change helped lead a demonstration of 500 on Monday in Brooklyn to protest George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, the grassroots group’s activism spoke to a long-standing link between police violence against African Americans and environmental justice.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization, said she considers showing up to fight police brutality and racial violence integral to her climate change activism.

Bronx Climate Justice North, another grassroots group, says on its website: “Without a focus on correcting injustice, work on climate change addresses only symptoms, and not root causes.”
» Read article     

push and pull
Covid-19 has given us the chance to build a low-carbon future
Lockdown won’t save the world from warming, but the pandemic is an opportunity to pursue a green economic recovery
By Christiana Figueres, The Guardian
June 1, 2020

The recovery packages designed and implemented by governments to rescue the ailing global economy could rise as high as $20tn over the next 18 months. The scale of this stimulus will shape the contours of the global economy over the next decade, if not longer. This is precisely the decade when climate scientists have warned global emissions will need to be cut by half in order to reach a sustainable trajectory. In the midst of the crisis wreaked by the pandemic is an opportunity: to ensure rescue packages don’t merely recover the high carbon economy of yesterday, but help us build a healthier economy that is low on carbon, high in resilience and centred on human wellbeing.

The case for rebuilding our economies in line with environmental targets has broad public support. A recent poll from Ipsos Mori shows that 71% of the global population understands that climate change is as at least as serious a crisis as Covid-19, and 65% think the former should be prioritised in the economic recovery. This is not only in industrialised countries that can more easily afford to green their economies; 81% of the citizens in India and 80% of people from Mexico were also strongly in favour of a green and healthy economic recovery.

A growing number of corporate leaders are also calling for government stimulus packages to have green strings attached. In the UK, the call from a group of major business leaders for the government to embrace a green recovery was answered by the prime minister’s statement that the UK’s commitment to delivering net zero emissions “remains undiminished”. In Europe, 180 business leaders, policymakers and researchers explicitly urged the EU to build the recovery package around the Green Deal. Meanwhile the Spanish government recently released a draft law banning all new coal, oil and gas projects, establishing the direction of the Covid-19 recovery effort. In Canada, more than 320 signatories representing more than 2,100 companies have signed on to support a resilient recovery.

But it’s not all good news. For every corporate actor that has shown a commitment to greening the economy, there are many that haven’t adhered to these values. Some have used the crisis as an opportunity to roll back environmental commitments or push through controversial projects and laws. Plastic companies in the US have lobbied to reverse single-use plastic laws, while three states have criminalised environmental protest. In Europe, car manufacturers are pushing to loosen emissions standards; globally, airlines are lobbying to stop using 2020 as a baseline emissions year, and China has announced it will loosen environmental legislation to boost the post-coronavirus recovery.

This is the moment to raise voices everywhere and remind leaders of their chief responsibility: protecting their citizens and putting human wellbeing at the centre of the decision-making process.
» Read article     

CA conundrum
How Should California Wind Down Its Fossil Fuel Industry?
California has long had it both ways: pursuing green ambitions while remaining a major oil-producing state. Pressure to change is building.
By Justin Gerdes, GreenTech Media
June 01, 2020

California’s energy past is on a collision course with its future.

Think of major oil-producing U.S. states, and Texas, Alaska, or North Dakota probably come to mind. Although its position relative to other states has been falling for 20 years, California remains the seventh largest oil-producing state, with 162 million barrels of crude coming up in 2018, translating to tax revenue and jobs.

At the same time, California leads the nation in solar rooftops and electric vehicles on the road by a wide margin, and ranks fifth in installed wind capacity. Clean energy is the state’s future. By law, California must have 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045, and an executive order signed by former Governor Jerry Brown calls for economywide carbon neutrality by the same year.

So how can the state reconcile its divergent energy path? How should green-minded lawmakers wind down California’s oil and gas sector in a way that aligns with the state’s long-term climate targets while providing a just transition for the industry’s workforce?

Any efforts to reduce fossil fuel supply must run parallel to aggressive demand-reduction measures such as California’s push to have 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, said Ethan Elkind, director of Berkeley Law’s climate program. After all, if oil demand in California remains strong, crude from outside the state will simply fill the void.
» Read article     

just transition chartCountries need to phase out fossil fuels. Here’s how to do it fairly.
Staying within climate limits requires restricting fossil fuel extraction as well as demand. But where and how should it be restricted? Our new paper proposes five principles for equitably managing a phase-out of extraction.
By Greg Muttitt and Sivan Kartha, Oil Change International, blog post
June 1, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up the global energy economy. Wealthy countries have scrambled to support their own fossil fuel industries: Another tar sands pipeline bought with public money in Canada. Bailout funds earmarked for oil and coal companies in the United States. New oil tax reliefs in Norway.

Meanwhile, poor countries are reeling. Nigeria, facing cuts of 25% to government spending, will now fall deeper into debt to pay for dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Iraq’s salaries and social benefits – which depend on oil revenues for 90% of their funding –  will inevitably be slashed this year. And Ecuador, hobbled by budget cuts, has struggled even to bury the dead.

This contrast of Northern governments propping up oil companies, while Southern societies face devastating disruption, shows the perversities of an energy transition that is unmanaged, unjust, and unsustainable.

So what would a sustainable and just energy transition look like? Our new study – published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Climate Policy – aims to answer that.
» Read article     
» Read the study        

no jobs on a dead planet
Economic Giants Are Restarting. Here’s What It Means for Climate Change.
Want to know whether the world can avert catastrophe? Watch the recovery plans coming out now in Europe, China and the United States.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
May 29, 2020

As countries begin rolling out plans to restart their economies after the brutal shock inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, the three biggest producers of planet-warming gases — the European Union, the United States and China — are writing scripts that push humanity in very different directions.

Europe this week laid out a vision of a green future, with a proposed recovery package worth more than $800 billion that would transition away from fossil fuels and put people to work making old buildings energy-efficient.

In the United States, the White House is steadily slashing environmental protections and Republicans are using the Green New Deal as a political cudgel against their opponents.

China has given a green light to build new coal plants but it also declined to set specific economic growth targets for this year, a move that came as a relief to environmentalists because it reduces the pressure to turn up the country’s industrial machine quickly.
» Read article     

» More about greening the economy       

CLIMATE

23 million year recordAtmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Are at Their Highest in 23 Million Years
By Madison Dapcevich, EcoWatch
June 4, 2020

Human activity has pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide to higher levels today than they have been at any other point in the last 23-million-years, potentially posing unprecedented disruptions in ecosystems across the planet, new research suggests.

Understanding atmospheric concentrations of CO2 is “vital for understanding Earth’s climate system” because it “imparts a controlling effect on global temperatures,” said scientists in a study published in Geology.

Previous measurements have turned to ice cores to determine CO2 levels present in the atmosphere throughout Earth’s history, but have only pieced together the last 800,000 years. To expand upon this record, researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette used fossilized remains of ancient plant tissue to produce a record of atmospheric CO2 dating back 31 million years of “uninterrupted Earth history.”
» Read article     
» Read research paper

deforestation Alto Paraiso 2001
deforestation Alto Paraiso 2019
‘Going in the Wrong Direction’: More Tropical Forest Loss in 2019
Brazil was responsible for more than a third of the total global loss in 2019.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
June 2, 2020

Destruction of tropical forests worldwide increased last year, led again by Brazil, which was responsible for more than a third of the total, and where deforestation of the Amazon through clear-cutting appears to be on the rise under the pro-development policies of the country’s president.

The worldwide total loss of old-growth, or primary, tropical forest — 9.3 million acres, an area nearly the size of Switzerland — was about 3 percent higher than 2018 and the third largest since 2002. Only 2016 and 2017 were worse, when heat and drought led to record fires and deforestation, especially in Brazil.
» Read article     

zombie firesZombie Fires Could Be Awakening in the Arctic
By Mark Kaufman, EcoWatch
June 1, 2020

Some fires won’t die. They survive underground during the winter and then reemerge the following spring, as documented in places like Alaska. They’re called “overwintering,” “holdover,” or “zombie” fires, and they may have now awoken in the Arctic Circle — a fast-warming region that experienced unprecedented fires in 2019. The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service is now watching these fires, via satellite.

Zombie fires smolder underground for months, notably in dense peatlands (wetlands composed of ancient, decomposed plants), and then flare-up when it grows warmer and drier. “Zombie” is fitting.

“It really does describe what these fires do,” said Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics. “They recover and they’re difficult to kill.”

In April, two snowmachine-riding fire technicians found a zombie fire still smoldering near Willow, Alaska. The fire started in August 2019.

This smoldering can quickly escalate to new blazes. “Zombie fires start burning as soon as the snow melts,” said Jessica McCarty, an Arctic fire researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Miami University.
» Read article     

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

old and leaky
Renovation firms’ stock rises on EU ‘green recovery’ boost
By Kate Abnett, Reuters
May 29, 2020

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A pledge from European policy-makers to pour funds into energy-saving refurbishments of old, draughty buildings has boosted the outlook for the green construction sector as it seeks to shake off the impact of the coronavirus, fund managers said.

Buildings absorb 40% of energy consumed in Europe – much of it produced by fossil fuels – threatening the European Commission’s push to cut net European Union emissions to zero by 2050.

The European executive’s stimulus package unveiled on Wednesday to battle the pandemic’s economic fall-out, resolved to fix this.

Investors said the prospect of EU support made firms specialising in renovations more attractive.

It signals “a significant change in terms of the potential growth rates of those companies,” Charlie Thomas, head of strategy and sustainability at London-based Jupiter Asset Management, told Reuters.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency      

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

building electrification series
So, What Exactly Is Building Electrification?
Only one of the most important pieces of the decarbonization puzzle. A new GTM series helps explain the weird and wonderful world of clean energy.
By Justin Gerdes, GreenTech Media
June 5, 2020

Buildings were first electrified nearly 150 years ago. So, why is it that “building electrification” is now among the energy industry’s most popular buzzwords?

Most buildings run on multiple fuels. They use electricity to power lights, refrigerators and electronic devices. And they consume fossil fuels such as natural gas or propane to power furnaces, boilers, and water heaters.

That persistent reliance on fossil fuels makes buildings one of the largest sources of planet-warming pollution. In the United States, buildings account for roughly 40 percent of the country’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly half of homes rely on natural gas as their primary heating fuel.

“Building electrification,” “beneficial electrification,” or “building decarbonization” all describe shifting to use electricity rather than fossil fuels for heating and cooking. The goal of such a transition: all-electric buildings powered by solar, wind, and other sources of zero-carbon electricity.
» Read article     

NERA taking flakUtilities stay silent on proposal to federalize net metering as states call it a ‘threat’ to solar policy
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
June 4, 2020

Opposition is growing against a proposal that would effectively allow any customer-sited generation to be subject to federal regulation, and it’s unclear who outside the petitioner will support the proposal.

States have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the NERA petition, joined by Democratic federal lawmakers, clean energy advocates and others. Power trade associations, including Edison Electric Institute, Electric Power Supply Association and American Public Power Association have stayed largely quite thus far on how they’ll weigh in.

“APPA is still developing its response to the petition and receiving input from members,” John McCaffrey, senior regulatory counsel for APPA said Wednesday during the webinar, though public power utilities across the country do have net metering programs that would be “jeopardized” by the NERA filing.

“At a very high level, when it comes to distributed energy resources, generally APPA has consistently supported policies that allow decisions to be made at the local level,” he said, adding that “granting the petition would be essentially the opposite of that position.”

EPSA said it’s also still developing its response to the petition and EEI did not respond to a request for comment.
» Read article    

Floaty McFloatface
A New Weapon Against Climate Change May Float
The wind power industry sees an opportunity in allowing windmills to be pushed into deeper water.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
June 4, 2020

Generating electricity from wind began on land, but developers, led by Orsted of Denmark, started venturing into the sea in the early 1990s as they sought wide-open spaces and to escape the objections of neighbors to having a twirling monster next door.

Three decades later, offshore is now the fastest-growing segment of the wind business, but marine wind farms have been limited to water shallow enough to allow turbines to sit on piles or other supports on the sea bottom. About 200 feet in depth is the outer limit for such devices, people in the industry say.

If platforms could be put almost anywhere at sea, “we can go to areas where we have never before harnessed the wind,” said José Pinheiro, the project director of WindFloat Atlantic.

How large a weapon in the battle against climate change could this industry become? Analysts at the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based group, estimated that if floating technology were widely adopted, the industry would have the technical potential to eventually supply the equivalent of 11 times the world’s demand for electric power. Electricity generation is both a source of emissions and a potential means of reducing them. Many analysts say that powering everything from cars to factories with clean electricity will need to play a big role in achieving climate goals.
» Read article     

NGrid slow jamNational Grid Releases Latest Results on Massachusetts Distributed Solar ‘Cluster’ Study
Most, but not all, of the studied solar projects can move forward without added cost.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
May 29, 2020

National Grid on Friday released results of the second phase of an extended solar interconnection study that has entangled nearly 1 gigawatt of projects in Massachusetts over the last year, and stymied development for some.

Over 300 megawatts of projects may move forward without additional costs, the utility said, while another 90 megawatts of distributed solar projects will require developers to shoulder some transmission-level investments in order to connect projects to the grid.

Those extra costs range from less than $1 million for a group of five projects up to a maximum of $75 million for another set of 12 projects that total 45.8 megawatts. National Grid estimated the latter group would need to wait five to seven years to interconnect while those updates happen.

The significant costs and extended timeline will almost certainly push developers to drop projects in that 45.8-megawatt group, said Austin Perea, a senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. Already, attrition has shrunk the second phase of the study from 565 megawatts last August to its current total of 391 megawatts.
» Read article     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

bring yer own
Green Mountain Power expands BYOD and Tesla battery programs as it targets fossil peakers
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
May 26, 2020

Vermont regulators approved on Wednesday a Green Mountain Power program that offers rates for customer-sited battery storage, including a bring your own device (BYOD) option.

Starting June 5, customers can enroll in GMP’s Tesla Powerwall program or subscribe to rates with their own storage system for the next 15 years, based on GMP’s previous pilots. The utility claims to be the first in the country to use customer-sited stored energy to lower peak energy use across its system, lowering costs for all customers.

GMP has 13 to 14 MW of distributed, small-scale residential batteries on its grid, and about 100 MW of peaking facilities, [Josh Castonguay, chief officer of innovation at GMP] said. The utility partnered with Tesla nearly five years ago, to unlock the potential of small-scale storage to address energy demand peaks, but discussions with local installers led to the creation of a BYOD pilot and program as well.

The BYOD tariff could add up to 5 MW of stored energy annually. On the Tesla Powerwall partnership, the utility would add up to 1,000 Powerwall batteries per year, totaling 5 MW and just over 13 MWh.
» Read article     

battery storage on landfills
Landfills emerge as promising battery storage sites to back up renewable energy
Like solar panels, batteries may present a new revenue stream for closed landfills. Projects are complete, or underway, in multiple states.
By Matthew Bandyk, Utility Dive
May 26, 2020

Solar panel installations have been one of the fastest-growing types of energy infrastructure in recent years and landfills have become fitting sites due to the sheer amount of land required. Now, for many of the same reasons, energy project developers are looking to landfills for a technology growing even faster than solar: battery storage.

States like California, New York and Massachusetts have embraced aggressive goals for reducing carbon emissions, requiring a quick transition to renewable energy as the primary source of electricity over the next several decades. That shift will require storage, such as large lithium-ion batteries, to compensate for the intermittency of wind and solar. Batteries can charge up from solar panels when the sun is shining, and then dispatch that energy at other times — at night or on cloudy days — when the panels are not producing energy.
» Read article     

» More about energy storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

what authentic means
Is BP Really Changing? Or Is Its New Climate Message Just “Beyond Petroleum” All Over Again?
By Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
June 6, 2020

Bernard Looney has had a pretty wild first six months as the new CEO of BP. Just two months after taking the helm of the world’s fifth largest oil major, an international price war spilled over into a global pandemic, sending the price per barrel of oil into negative numbers for the first time ever.

Before all that, Looney had been gearing up to take on the issue everyone presumed would dominate his first few years: climate change. Or to put a finer point on it: balancing the need to act on climate change, or at least appear to be acting on climate change, with continuing to pay shareholders the dividends they expect. BP is on the hook for about $8 billion in dividends a year. The pandemic makes it that much harder to balance the two, but Looney is still talking as though leading the world’s transition to cleaner energy is his primary goal. Let’s take a closer look.

Looney’s repositioning of BP started with a February announcement that BP would achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050. He also said that he planned to end the firm’s controversial “Keep Advancing” and “Possibilities Everywhere” ad campaigns, and swore off putting a fake green sheen on the company’s image forever more. These ads had been the focus of a suit filed in December 2019 against BP by the environmental law non-profit Client Earth, accusing the company of misleading consumers about not only its efforts to reduce emissions, but also the climate benefits of natural gas, and the need for it alongside renewables.
» Read article     

petrochem pausePandemic exposes cracks in oil majors’ bet on plastic
By Joe Brock, Reuters
June 4, 2020

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The energy industry’s bet that a petrochemicals boom would support decades of oil and gas sales growth is on shaky ground as an already saturated plastic market is hit by a coronavirus demand shock.

While soaring demand for personal protective equipment and takeaway food containers has boosted sales of some plastics, it is likely to be only a temporary spike, say analysts.

In the longer term, a virus-led hit to economic growth in Asian, African and Latin American markets threatens demand at a time when the industry is already facing bans on single-use plastic that are spreading across the world.

Plastic resin prices, which have been declining over the past two years, have plunged further since the coronavirus hit, an added challenge for investments of hundreds of billions of dollars in petrochemical capacity over the past decade.

“The petrochemicals world has been hit by a double whammy,” said Utpal Sheth, Executive Director, Chemical and Plastics Insights at data firm IHS Markit.

“Capital investment has been slashed by all companies. This will delay the projects under construction and new projects.”
» Read article     

crashable
Coronavirus crisis could cause $25tn fossil fuel industry collapse
Value of reserves could fall by two-thirds as Covid-19 hastens peak in demand, study shows
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
June 3, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak could trigger a $25tn (£20tn) collapse in the fossil fuel industry by accelerating a terminal decline for the world’s most polluting companies.

A study has found that the value of the world’s fossil fuel reserves could fall by two-thirds, sooner than the industry expects, because the Covid-19 crisis has hastened the peak for oil, gas and coal demand.

The looming fossil fuel collapse could pose “a significant threat to global financial stability” by wiping out the market value of fossil fuel companies, according to financial thinktank Carbon Tracker.

The report predicts a 2% decline in demand for fossil fuels every year could cause the future profits of oil, gas and coal companies to collapse from an estimated $39tn to just $14tn.

It warns that a blow to fossil fuel companies could send shockwaves through the global economy because their market value makes up a quarter of the world’s equity markets and they owe trillions of dollars to the world’s banks.
» Read article     

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 11/22/19

WNCI-9

Welcome back.

Massachusetts’ two US Senators are sticking with opponents of the Weymouth compressor station. This week they sent a letter to FERC chairman Chatterjee requesting a new assessment the certificate of public convenience and necessity. Their argument is simple – nearly all of the potential customers that the compressor would serve have dropped out. Remaining ones have stated publicly that the compressor is unnecessary.

On climate, a new UN report details the dangers of completing all the fossil fuel production projects currently underway. We include links to the article and the actual report. The alternative to  producing  all that fossil fuel is to drive hard on clean energy, clean transportation, and energy storage.

There’s been interesting news in what we call the regional energy chess game. In particular, ISO-New England is the subject of a couple articles critical of how they manage capacity, and pointing out that they could do a better job incentivizing the transition to renewable energy.

We found reports of protests against a huge natural gas power plant under construction in New York’s Hudson Valley. The article illuminates what a difference just a few years has made in our thinking about natural gas as a “bridge” fuel versus identifying it as a dangerous and toxic obstruction to our clean energy future. More broadly in the fossil fuel industry, we see the Bureau of Land Management having second thoughts about the legality of recent oil and gas leases on federal lands. And a play by the coal industry to promote its product as a source of rare earth elements.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

U.S. senators call for 11th-hour review of compressor station proposal
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
November 20, 2019

WEYMOUTH — Massachusetts’ two U.S. senators are pushing federal energy regulators to hold off on issuing their final approval for a 7,700-horsepower natural gas compressor station and reconsider whether the project is necessary.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey sent a letter to Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, on Wednesday asking that the commission reject a request from gas company Enbridge to start construction of the compressor station, and instead reopen its decision to issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the project.

In its [2017] decision, the commission said the project is justified because five local distribution companies, two manufacturing companies and a municipal utility have contracted for the gas that would come from the Atlantic Bridge project.

But two companies that had signed on to ship natural gas made available through the Atlantic Bridge project have withdrawn and assigned their rights to the gas to National Grid, which has stated it does not need the compressor station to deliver the gas. Several other project shippers have said the compressor station is not necessary for their use of the increased capacity.

“There is to be a high bar for public convenience and necessity when the proposed facility will also be posing a serious risk of inconvenience and harm to the surrounding public,” the letter from Warren and Markey reads. “Based on this new information illustrating the lack of need for the Weymouth compressor station, FERC should reject the request for a Notice to Proceed and reexamine its issuance of the certificate of public convenience and necessity.”
» Read article      

» More on Weymouth compressor station

CLIMATE

production gap
Here’s What Will Happen to Climate if Every Planned Fossil Fuel Project Goes Ahead
By Carly Cassella, ScienceAlert.com
November 21, 2019

As the world races to mitigate a climate crisis, too many nations are having their cake and eating it too. If nothing is done to curb the global extraction of fossil fuels, commitments to the Paris agreement and other national goals will mean very little.

In just ten years, the United Nations estimates the world will produce 50 percent more oil, gas and coal than is necessary to keep temperatures below 2°C, and there will be 120 percent more fossil fuel production than we can have if we want to limit warming to 1.5°C.

“Indeed, though many governments plan to decrease their emissions, they are signalling the opposite when it comes to fossil fuel production, with plans and projections for expansion,” reads a recent report from the UN Environmental Program (UNEP).
» Read article     
» Read UNEP Production Gap 2019 Report

» More on climate

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

Rock Port wind
Road to 100: How one man’s mission to power his hometown by wind created a Northwest Missouri boon
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
November 21, 2019

Chamberlain has helped bring a number of projects to wind-heavy northwestern Missouri, generating $6 million annually in tax benefits for Atchison County, adding dozens of jobs and giving landowners predictable annual lease payments at a time when heightened floods and storms can devastate an agricultural community.

Conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh made fun of the town in a July 2008 episode, after the city had made headlines. But Chamberlain said Limbaugh’s key punchline was something the city never claimed.

“Rock Port has the capacity to produce more energy in a year than they use. Does it happen on a daily basis? Absolutely not. Does it happen on a weekly or monthly basis? No,” he said.

When the wind doesn’t blow, the local co-op that manages Rock Port and other Missouri cities’ electricity demand and production pulls power from traditional sources. In Missouri, that could easily be coal, which makes up the majority of the state’s power.

“But it doesn’t negate the fact that a very, very significant majority of our power comes from renewable resources and any of that renewable that we don’t use, we’re providing to somewhere else,” said Chamberlain. “So that was the point that Mr. Limbaugh did not understand. And he didn’t ever call and ask me. He just thought that we were so stupid that when the wind wasn’t blowing, we couldn’t watch TV.”
» Read article      

Can America’s First Floating Wind Farm Help Open Deeper Water to Clean Energy?
The floating turbines off Maine’s coast could be operational by 2022. The technology could be a model for other states with deep waters, and deep local opposition.
By Kristoffer Tigue, Inside Climate News
November 20, 2019

The state with perhaps the greatest untapped potential for harnessing its ocean breezes for electricity could soon have turbines spinning off its coast after years of political resistance.

It’s a small project—up to two offshore wind turbines serving as many as 9,000 homes—but it would blaze a new trail: If all goes as planned, in 2022, Aqua Ventus will become the first floating offshore wind farm in the nation.
» Read article       

green bonds
New money: Green banks and green bonds are bringing billions to utilities for the energy transition
The financial mechanisms are bringing investors to renewables and distributed energy as utilities, co-ops and munis move away from uneconomic legacy assets.
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
November 19, 2019

Hundreds of billions of dollars in untapped new money can finance the U.S. power system’s transition away from legacy fossil assets to renewables and distributed generation.

Utilities like Duke Energy and Xcel Energy have issued billions in green bonds to fund renewables development. Green banks in New York, Connecticut and other states are backing investments in distributed resources and energy efficiency. It appears much more institutional money wants in on the green opportunity.
» Read article       

» More on clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

California to Stop Buying From Automakers That Backed Trump on Emissions
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
November 18, 2019

California’s government has hit back at automakers that sided with President Trump over the state on fuel efficiency standards, saying Sacramento will halt all purchases of new vehicles from General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and other automakers that backed stripping California of its authority to regulate tailpipe emissions.

The ban, which the California governor, Gavin Newsom, plans to implement in January 2020, is the latest shot in the intensifying battle over climate change between Mr. Trump and the state, which he appears to relish antagonizing.

“Carmakers that have chosen to be on the wrong side of history will be on the losing end of California’s buying power,” Governor Newsom said in a statement on Monday.
» Read article       

» More on clean transportation

ENERGY STORAGE

CSP image
Can concentrated solar power act as energy storage? DOE wants to know more
By Matthew Bandyk, Utility Dive
November 19, 2019

The DOE wants information from industry, academia, laboratories and other stakeholders on “accelerating the commercialization of [supercritical carbon dioxide] power cycles that are appropriate for near-term integration with [CSP]” with a focus on “near-term commercial deployment,” according to a notice published in the Nov. 19 Federal Register.

CSP, in which a field of mirrors concentrate the sun’s rays onto a central point like a “power tower” to generate tremendous amounts of heat, can be paired with insulated tanks that absorb the thermal energy. Like a battery, that energy can be deployed at a later time, including at night when there is no PV solar energy.
» Blog editor’s note: CSP kills birds – incinerating them if they fly into the concentrated energy near boiler towers. They are often in pursuit of insects that have been drawn toward the towers’ bright light. This is an example of complex environmental costs associated with any energy source.
» Read article       

In search for cheaper, longer energy storage, mountain gravity could eventually top lithium-ion
By Matthew Bandyk, Utility Dive
November 12, 2019

Mountain gravity energy storage could be a viable way to store electricity for longer durations and at larger scales than lithium-ion battery storage can, according to a study recently published in the academic journal Energy.

The researchers propose that a motorized system similar to a ski lift could pull containers full of sand to a crane at the top of a mountain. The sand can then be sent back down the mountain propelled only by the force of gravity, generating electricity in the process.

The basic concept is similar to a gravity storage technology proposed by the Swiss company Energy Vault, which recently received a greater than $100 million equity investment from SoftBank’s Vision Fund. That technology generates electricity through gravity by lowering concrete blocks in a tower.

Lithium-ion battery storage is the fastest-growing storage type and utilities across the U.S. have procured battery storage as a way to back up intermittent renewable energy. But the length of time that they can deploy energy — typically four hours or shorter for — may not be long enough for the greater and greater amounts of solar and wind resources needed to come online to meet emissions reductions goals.
» Read article      
» Read the study

» More on energy storage

REGIONAL ENERGY CHESS GAME

excess grid capacity
PJM, NYISO and ISO-NE pay $1.4B annually for excess capacity: Report
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
November 22, 2019

PJM Interconnection, New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) and ISO-New England (ISO-NE) retain more control over resource adequacy than the states in their service areas, leading to higher reserve margins and higher capacity market prices, which favor incumbent assets, according to a paper published by Grid Strategies on Thursday.

The report, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Sustainable FERC Project, estimated approximately $1.4 billion per year in total is wasted by the Northeast regional transmission operators and independent system operators by securing a combined 34.7 GW of excess capacity.
» Read article      
» Read Grid Strategies report

Sanders, Warren join fellow senators in urging New England to speed clean energy transition
Robert Walton, Utility Dive
November 20, 2019

The group of lawmakers pointed to recent market rule changes and specifically noted the ISO’s Competitive Auctions with Sponsored Policy Resources (CASPR), a program designed to prevent state subsidized resources from depressing capacity prices.

The officials, including Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., say the CASPR program forces state-sponsored renewable energy to “wait for incumbent fossil fuel generators to retire before these clean resources can enter the capacity market.”

They were also critical of the ISO’s Inventoried Energy Program, which they say will force consumers to pay millions of dollars to existing power plants with on-site fuel supplies, such as oil, coal or liquefied natural gas. Greentech Media reports the program could mean New England consumers spend $150 million more per year on energy.
» Read article    
» Read letter      

» More about regional energy

POWER PLANTS

Cricket Valley protesters
Citing Latest Climate Science, Nearly 30 Arrested Protesting New Natural Gas Plant in New York’s Hudson Valley
By Justin Nobel, DeSmog Blog
November 19, 2019

On Saturday, November 16, 29 people were arrested in a rally at a massive natural gas-fired power plant, the Cricket Valley Energy Center, that is being constructed in a picturesque rural valley of farms and forests near the New York-Connecticut border, about 80 miles north of New York City.

“This is my first arrestable action, I am definitely excited,” said 18-year-old Lucinda Carroll, who wore thick mittens and numerous layers to brace against the sub-freezing cold and was one of 10 people chained to a neon green and yellow tractor.

“With each new report that comes out, and each new article that comes out I get angrier and angrier,” said Carroll, a student at nearby Vassar College. “I’ve spent plenty of time going to marches and rallies, I think at some point you have to take a leap of faith.”
» Read article     

» More about power plants

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY NEWS

BLM suspends leases
U.S. Suspends More Oil and Gas Leases Over What Could Be a Widespread Problem
Fossil Fuel leases totaling hundreds of thousands of acres have been suspended as courts rule against the BLM for ignoring climate impact.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
November 17, 2019

The Trump administration’s relentless push to expand fossil fuel production on federal lands is hitting a new snag: its own refusal to consider the climate impacts of development.

The federal Bureau of Land Management’s Utah office in September voluntarily suspended 130 oil and gas leases after advocacy groups sued, arguing that BLM hadn’t adequately assessed the greenhouse gas emissions associated with drilling and extraction on those leases as required by law.

The move was unusual because BLM suspended the leases on its own, without waiting for a court to rule.

Some environmental advocates say it could indicate a larger problem for the bureau.
» Read article        

coal ash goes critical
Creating a New Market for Coal in the Push to Mine ‘Critical Minerals’ for National Security
By Laura Peterson, DeSmog Blog
November 15, 2019

With the backing of the mining industry and anti-regulatory groups, the Trump administration has been seeking to expand mining on public lands and further loosen environmental rules under the banner of weaning the United States off importing minerals deemed “critical” to national security.

This move may have particular implications for the struggling U.S. coal industry and its promoters, which have begun rallying behind efforts to extract some of these so-called “critical minerals” from coal and its by-products.

In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order demanding “recommendations to streamline permitting and review processes” for “critical minerals.” The current government list of critical minerals includes a group of rare earth elements often abundant in the waste materials from mining coal and hardrock minerals like phosphate, as well as in the coal ash produced from burning coal. But while the technology to pull these elements from such mining waste is not yet economically viable and can generate its own toxic pollutants, some see the push for it as a guise for justifying further mining.

“You’ll never make money at it,” said Kevin Ashley, a retired mining engineer and former energy policy advisor. “It’s an academic exercise that allows some people to say, ‘This is why we need to continue mining coal; so we can produce more coal ash.’”
» Read article       

» More on fossil fuels

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