Tag Archives: CalSTRS

Weekly News Check-In 7/1/22

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Welcome back.

A new study revealed potential health risks of natural gas from multiple toxins that ride along with the methane into your home. This is a particular issue for unburned gas, and it comes on the heels of recent research that shows how leaky typical gas cooking stoves and other appliances are, even when not in operation. So the fact that the carcinogen benzene and other nasty constituents are commonly present at the appliance means they also escape into the air you breath indoors.  The study found considerable variation in the level of toxins present in gas at different times of year. Concentrations tended to increase in winter months – an unwelcome finding since that’s when living spaces are closed tight, allowing less fresh air ventilation.

The findings struck another blow against the brand identity of natural gas as a “clean fuel”, but utilities like Eversource are still working overtime to add additional miles to their pipeline networks. Last week’s utility-sponsored visit to the proposed Longmeadow pipeline expansion project was attended by a state senator and multiple activists who expressed skepticism about the merits of the project. Some responses by utility representatives to attendee questions were jaw-dropping….

We recently called attention to the obscure Energy Charter Treaty, and how it’s being used – mostly in the European Union – by fossil fuel companies to sue countries over climate mitigation plans that threaten the fossil business model. An update of the treaty was just negotiated, but experts still consider it a threat to climate progress. The U.S. is not a signatory to that treaty, but we’ve nevertheless been quite effective in torpedoing our own climate efforts. A small example is how a single Democratic assemblyman in California’s legislature killed a bill that would have caused two huge state pension funds to divest from fossil fuels. Were industry campaign contributions a factor? Meanwhile, suits against the fossil fuel industry are piling on.

The real bell-ringer was yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, which gutted the EPA’s role in regulating fleet-wide power plant emissions. The U.S. is now playing catch-up in the climate race with both feet in a potato sack. We’re back to hoping progressive states and cities can save the day. One example is New Hampshire, where regulators are finalizing rules for community power programs which would allow communities to begin buying electric power on their own. This provides relief from major utility price hikes driven by dependence on natural gas generating plants, and should allow more flexibility in greening the grid.

Also, Rhode Island lawmakers have approved a long-fought bill to ban plastic bags at retail checkout lines. The legislation requires retail establishments to offer recyclable bag options such as paper bags, or reusable bags that were brought in by the customer. Those who do not comply will be fined.

If you still detect a faint pulse at the federal level, it might be from bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives would authorize a national approach for residential water heaters to be utilized as demand response resources, in a bid to strengthen electric grid resilience and flexibility. Ah yes… the Senate.

Our politics are a mess, but energy jobs in the U.S. are growing faster than employment in the overall domestic economy, driven in particular by renewables and the development of clean transportation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

There’s a glimmer of good news from Down Under, now that pro-fossil conservatives were sent packing in the recent election. Australia’s new government is putting climate change at the top of its legislative agenda when Parliament returns next month. Bills will require a significant cut in greenhouse gas emissions and make electric cars cheaper.

We’ll close with an example of how carbon capture and storage projects are ripe for all sorts of sketchy dealings. One in New Mexico is being used to keep an aging coal generating plant and mine operating, even though the state government has long sought its closure and has a plan to protect workers. Also despite financial analysis concluding that the numbers just don’t add up. If you figure this one out, let us know!

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

HEALTH RISKS OF NATURAL GAS

gas-lit flameUnburned natural gas contains 21 toxic air pollutants, study finds
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
June 28, 2022

There’s been a lot of focus recently on the negative health impacts of burning natural gas indoors, but a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology sheds light on what’s in the unburned gas piped into millions of homes across the U.S.

[…] In the U.S., “43 million homes cook with gas, another 17 million or so heat with gas. That’s a lot of end users,” says Drew Michanowicz, lead author and visiting scientist at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “There’s a lot of really good reasons for us to start thinking about natural gas leaks because of climate change. We are really looking for other ways by which natural gas leaks are also directly impacting health.”

When most people think about natural gas, they likely think about methane. And for good reason — natural gas is mostly methane. Methane isn’t known to have any direct human health impacts — though given its contribution to climate change, it certainly has big indirect impacts. And with increasing evidence that gas leaks are a lot more common than anyone realized, Michanowicz says he and others wanted to know exactly what else is in the fossil fuel so many people use in their homes.

Over the course of 16 months, they tested natural gas in 69 homes across the Greater Boston region. They took samples from customers of all three major utilities, and did so several times throughout the course of the study. Those samples were then sent to a lab and analyzed for 300 trace chemicals.

Of the 21 air toxics found, the most concerning was benzene, which can cause cancer, blood disorders and other health problems. While the concentration of benzene measured was quite low, Michanowicz says the finding is important given the ubiquity of natural gas in homes.

“Because natural gas is so widely used in society and it is so widely used in our indoor spaces,” he says, “any small leaks of these hazardous air pollutants in our homes can potentially impact our health.”

The study also found considerable variation in the level of [toxins] present in gas at different times of year. The authors aren’t sure why, but gas delivered to peoples’ homes in the wintertime had more harmful pollutants than summertime gas. Wintertime gas also had lower levels of odorants — the sulfur compounds added to natural gas to give it a smell — though all samples met federal guidelines.

Taken together, these findings suggest that exposure to toxics may be most pronounced in the wintertime when people are already more likely to be indoors, have their windows shut and use more natural gas for heating.

A study published earlier this year from Stanford University scientists found that gas stoves are quite leaky, and that a lot of the gas bleeds out when the stove isn’t even on. Along those lines, about 1 in 20 homes tested during this study had gas leaks that merited further inspection.
» Read article    
» Read the study

Weymouth brownies
Scientists measured the pollutants coming from gas stoves in Boston. They found dangerous chemicals.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
June 28, 2022

The natural gas used in homes in the Greater Boston area contains varying levels of toxic chemicals, according to a new study, upending the long-held idea that natural gas is a “clean” fossil fuel.

In a first-ever look at the chemical makeup of gas coming into homes, scientists found benzene — a carcinogen for which there is no known safe level of exposure — in 95 percent of the samples, which were collected between December 2019 and May 2021, according to the study, published today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“We found that unburned natural gas delivered to homes contains numerous air toxics … that can cause cancer and other serious health effects,” said lead author Drew Michanowicz, a visiting scientist at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy.

The findings come at a time when a seemingly innocuous appliance — the kitchen stove — has come to represent a pressure point in the clean energy transition, as local initiatives from the Boston suburbs to Southern California aim to restrict the use of fossil fuels in new buildings. The gas industry has heavily promoted the idea that good cooking equates to cooking with gas, while fighting municipal bans on gas hookups.

Recent studies have shown that natural gas — which consists of up to 90 percent methane — is leaking at far higher rates than expected, even when stoves are turned off, and that it contains other health-damaging pollutants such as nitrogen oxides.

The new study identifies the full spectrum of chemicals that can leak into homes, finding 21 different chemicals designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous air pollutants.

“Historically, natural gas has been described as a clean, or cleaner, fossil fuel,” said Zeyneb Magavi, co-executive director of HEET, a nonprofit that promotes geothermal heat, and a co-author on the study. “Now that we know there are small quantities of VOCs present in the gas supply in the Greater Boston area, it is reasonable to conclude that our gas supply is not as clean as we thought it once was.”
» Read article    
» Read the study

» More about health risks of natural gas

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

walk away from ECT
Energy treaty update fails to address climate crisis, activists say
1994 agreement allows investors to sue governments for changes in energy policy that harm their profits
By Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian
June 24, 2022

Climate activists have said a deal to update a “dangerous” energy treaty has failed to make the agreement compatible with the urgency of the climate crisis.

After more than four years of talks, 52 countries and the EU on Friday struck a deal to “modernise” the energy charter treaty, a 1994 agreement that allows investors to sue governments for changes in energy policy that harm their profits.

The treaty has been described by a former whistleblower as “a real threat” to the landmark Paris climate agreement, which aims to cap global heating at 1.5C, because it is feared that governments would blow their green transition budgets on compensating the owners of coalmines, oil wells and other fossil fuel projects.

This week 76 climate scientists told EU leaders that even a modernised ECT would “jeopardise the EU climate neutrality target and the EU green deal”, referring to a swathe of policy proposals launched last year to tackle the climate crisis.

The compromise agreement, which was largely designed by the EU, reduces the protection afforded to companies that have invested in oil and gas projects. But a fossil fuel exemption would not kick in until 2033 at the earliest.

Under the deal, new fossil fuel investments will cease to be protected in the EU and UK from mid August 2023. Existing fossil fuel investments in the EU and UK would lose protection after 10 years. But the 10-year phase-out for oil and gas only comes into force once the treaty has been ratified by three-quarters of the ECT’s 53 signatories.

[…] “With a 10-year phase-out period for fossil fuel investments, EU countries could still be sued for putting in place progressive climate policies for at least another decade – the key window for action if humanity is to avoid climate catastrophe,” said Amandine Van Den Berghe, a lawyer at the NGO ClientEarth.

“The new treaty will also open the door to a wave of financial compensation claims protecting investments in energy sources and technologies raising significant sustainability concerns, such as biomass, hydrogen and carbon capture storage,” she said, referring to the decision to extend treaty protection to these areas.

“The bottom line is we are still left with a dangerous agreement that will obstruct urgent action to tackle the climate crisis for years to come. The EU must finally do what is necessary for climate and legally right: walk away.”
» Read article    

site inspection
Canada Steps Up Surveillance of Indigenous Peoples To Push Fossil Fuel Pipelines Forward
An international human rights body condemned Canada’s treatment of Indigenous communities opposing two major oil and gas pipelines.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 17, 2022

Canadian police and security forces have intensified their surveillance and harassment of Indigenous people in recent months in an effort to clear the way for the construction of two long-distance oil and gas pipelines in British Columbia, earning the condemnation of international human rights observers.

“The Governments of Canada and of the Province of British Columbia have escalated their use of force, surveillance, and criminalization of land defenders and peaceful protesters to intimidate, remove and forcibly evict Secwepemc and Wet’suwet’en Nations from their traditional lands,” the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) wrote in an April 29 letter.

It was the third time the international body reproached the Canadian federal and provincial governments for their treatment of Indigenous communities in relation to the construction of the two fossil fuel projects. The Tiny House Warriors, a group of Secwepemc people, are opposing the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline, a long-distance oil pipeline that is under construction and would run from Alberta’s tar sands to the Pacific Coast, ending near Vancouver. And Wet’suwet’en land defenders are opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a fossil gas pipeline that would feed an LNG export terminal in northern British Columbia.

A 1997 Supreme Court decision affirmed Aboriginal rights to land, and both Indigenous movements fighting the two fossil fuel projects state that their physical presence on their pre-colonial lands is a way of exercising their rights. The Tiny House Warriors have constructed small mobile homes on their ancestral lands, in the path of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en has also occupied their traditional territory, building permanent homes and spiritual buildings in a heavily forested area south of the small town of Houston.
» Read article    
» Read the UN letter

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Eversource v IPCC
Why Sen. Lesser and advocacy groups don’t want the Eversource backup pipeline
By Juliet Schulman-Hall, MassLive
June 24, 2022

Among approximately 100 attendees of an Eversource pipeline site visit in Longmeadow on Tuesday was Massachusetts state Sen. Eric Lesser and several activist organizations who have opposed the construction for years now.

“I really just wanted to show my support to the opponents [of the pipeline] and to the residents in the area and to the activists who have been working so hard on on trying to shed light on the project,” said Lesser. “I also wanted to substantively hear the [Eversource] presentation and learn more about the plans.”

The in-person meeting on Tuesday was hosted by the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act Office (MEPA) to view existing site conditions at the Longmeadow Country Club maintenance facility at 14 Hazardville Road, which is the site proposed for a meter station facility associated with the pipeline project. Attendees also included Springfield School Committee member Maria Perez and advocates from Climate Action Now and Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said Michele Marantz, leader of the Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group.

The MEPA office has not yet responded to a request for comment about the meeting.

Priscilla Ress, the western Massachusetts spokeswoman for Eversource, was optimistic about the outcome of the site visit.

“[The] MEPA meeting was well attended and provided a good opportunity for community and interested persons to participate in the siting process as we continue working to update and strengthen the backbone of the gas system,” Ress said.

However, Lesser, who is running for Lieutenant Governor, and others weren’t as happy with the site visit.

“There certainly was a disconnect [between Eversource and attendees],” said Lesser. “They could always do a better job at answering people’s questions.”

Naia Tenerowicz, member of Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, said she was similarly frustrated by how Eversource was unable to answer attendees’ questions.

“People asked questions about things that Eversource did not have adequate answers or in some cases, any answers at all,” said Tenerowicz.

Tenerowicz said she and others were “shocked” to learn that an Eversource representative said he was unfamiliar with an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was when an attendee referenced it — reports that in recent years have raised alarms about humanity’s short window to act to reduce climate change.

“So not only their lack of adequate answers, but seemingly their lack of awareness about the climate aspects of this was very concerning to all of us,” Tenerowicz said.
» Read article    
» Read the IPCC report referenced above

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

CALSTRS
California Assemblyman Kills Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill
The bill would have required the state’s two enormous public pension funds to divest from fossil fuels, but it was squashed by a Democrat who has taken money from oil and gas companies.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 28, 2022

The California legislature was close to passing a bill that would require the state’s two massive pension funds to divest from fossil fuels, but on June 21 the legislation was killed by one Democratic assemblyman who has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the energy industry.

Senate Bill 1173 would have required the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the two largest public pension funds in the country, to divest from fossil fuels. CalPERS and CalSTRS, which manage pensions for state employees and teachers, together hold more than $9 billion in fossil fuel investments.

The global divestment movement now claims that more than 1,500 institutions have divested from fossil fuels, representing more than $40 trillion in value. New York and Maine have also committed to phasing out fossil fuel investments from their public pensions.

But because of the size of the two California pension funds, their divestment from fossil fuels would be a significant achievement for the global movement. The call comes as the state continues to suffer from long-term drought and catastrophic wildfires that are worsening with climate change. Activists say that the state cannot claim to be a leader on climate action while maintaining billions of dollars’ worth of investments in the fossil fuel industry.

Senate Bill 1173 would have required the pension funds to divest by 2027, and the legislation had the support of the California Faculty Association, the California Federation of Teachers, associations representing higher education faculty, and roughly 150 environmental and activist organizations.

However, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-backed front group with ties to the oil industry, opposed the bill, warning that divesting from fossil fuels would put public sector pensions in financial jeopardy.
» Read article    

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

BlueScope Steel
Australia prioritizes reducing emissions and cheaper EVs
By ROD McGUIRK, The Associated Press, in The Boston Globe
June 29, 2022

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s new government is putting climate change at the top of its legislative agenda when Parliament sits next month for the first time since the May 21 election, with bills to enshrine a cut in greenhouse gas emissions and make electric cars cheaper, a minister said on Wednesday.

A bill will be introduced to commit Australia to reducing its emissions by 43% below 2005 levels by 2030 when Parliament sits on July 26, Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen told the National Press Club.

Another bill would abolish import tariffs and taxes for electric vehicles that are cheaper than the luxury car threshold of 77,565 Australian dollars ($53,580).

Only 1.5% of cars sold in Australia are electric or plug-in hybrid, and passenger cars account for almost 10% of the nation’s emissions, the government said.

The new center-left Labor Party government expects EVs will account for 89% of Australian new car sales by 2030.

The government’s fleet will be converted to 75% no-emission vehicles, bolstering a second-hand EV market as government vehicles are sold after three years.

The new government has already officially informed the United Nations of Australia’s more ambitious 2030 target than the previous conservative Liberal Party-led administration had pursued, a reduction of 26% to 28%.

But Bowen said legislating the 43% target would create greater confidence.

“It’s about certainty and stability, mainly for the business investment community,” Bowen said.
» Read article    

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

now hiring
Energy sector job growth outpaces overall US economy, with strength in transportation, renewables: DOE
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
June 28, 2022

Energy jobs in the U.S. are growing faster than employment in the overall domestic economy, driven in particular by renewables and the development of clean transportation, according to a new analysis released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Energy sector jobs grew 4% in 2021, while employment across all industries rose just 2.8% in the same time period, according to the 2022 U.S. Energy & Employment Report.

Not all energy sectors saw growth, however. Employment in the fuels technology sector, which includes gas, coal and petroleum, declined by more than 29,271 jobs, or about 3.1%. The coal industry saw the greatest percentage decline, shedding 7,125 jobs and reducing employment by 11.8%, while gas saw a small increase.

The annual energy jobs report captures a unique period in the U.S. economy, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and with the Covid-19 recovery ongoing. It sketches out a new “starting gate” in the country’s efforts to build a skilled clean energy workforce, federal officials said.

“Notably, jobs in renewables, like solar and wind, outpaced economy-wide growth. And electric and hybrid vehicles posted a whopping 25% increase in employment,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a Monday call with reporters.

The United States is working to transform to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, and Granholm said 41% of all energy jobs last year were oriented towards that goal. “The jobs are growing in industries we need to support a 100% clean power sector, like energy efficiency, transportation and storage,” she said.
» Read article    
» Read the report

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

self-inflicted
Supreme Court rejects EPA ability to set fleet-wide GHG emissions standards for power plants
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
June 30, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency cannot set fleet-wide greenhouse gas emissions limits for existing power plants under the Clean Air Act’s Section 111(d), the Supreme Court ruled Thursday, dismissing arguments raised by a group of electric utilities, the Biden administration and others.

Congress did not give the EPA in Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act the explicit authority to set emissions caps based on the “generation shifting” approach the agency took in the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the decision, said.

“Today’s ruling limits the tools available to the [EPA] to sensibly reduce power plant emissions using cost-effective strategies that reflect the realities of an electric power system that is increasingly dynamic and diverse,” Jeff Dennis, Advanced Energy Economy general counsel and managing director, said in a statement. “In light of this Supreme Court decision, it will fall to Congress, state policymakers, and the markets to drive the transition to a clean energy economy.”

[…] Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by associate justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The court’s decision “strips” the EPA’s ability to respond to climate change, according to Kagan.

“The majority’s decision rests on one claim alone: that generation shifting is just too new and too big a deal for Congress to have authorized it in Section 111’s general terms,” Kagan said. “But that is wrong. A key reason Congress makes broad delegations like Section 111 is so an agency can respond, appropriately and commensurately, to new and big problems. Congress knows what it doesn’t and can’t know when it drafts a statute; and Congress therefore gives an expert agency the power to address issues — even significant ones — as and when they arise.”
» Read article    

Xcel wind farm
As Federal Climate-Fighting Tools Are Taken Away, Cities and States Step Up
Across the country, local governments are accelerating their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, in some cases bridging partisan divides. Their role will become increasingly important.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
July 1, 2022

Legislators in Colorado, historically a major coal state, have passed more than 50 climate-related laws since 2019. The liquor store in the farming town of Morris, Minn., cools its beer with solar power. Voters in Athens, Ohio, imposed a carbon fee on themselves. Citizens in Fairfax County, Va., teamed up for a year and a half to produce a 214-page climate action plan.

Across the country, communities and states are accelerating their efforts to fight climate change as action stalls on the national level. This week, the Supreme Court curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, one of the biggest sources of planet-warming pollution — the latest example of how the Biden administration’s climate tools are getting chipped away.

During the Trump administration, which aggressively weakened environmental and climate protections, local efforts gained importance. Now, experts say, local action is even more critical for the United States — which is second only to China in emissions — to have a chance at helping the world avert the worst effects of global warming.

This patchwork approach is no substitute for a coordinated national strategy. Local governments have limited reach, authority and funding.

But as the legislative and regulatory options available in Washington, D.C., become increasingly constrained, “States are really critical to helping the country as a whole achieve our climate goals,” said Kyle Clark-Sutton, manager of the analysis team for the United States program at RMI, a clean energy think tank. “They have a real opportunity to lead. They have been leading.”
» Read article     

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

attic insulation
House bills would require demand response-enabled water heaters, strengthen weatherization program
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
June 23, 2022

Bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives would authorize a national approach for residential water heaters to be utilized as demand response resources, in a bid to strengthen electric grid resilience and flexibility. H.R. 7962 was introduced by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.

The bill would direct the U.S. Department of Energy to consider requiring residential water heaters be manufactured with hardware and software capabilities to moderate their energy use in response to incentive payments or changes in the price of electricity.

Water heater manufacturers support the bill, but at a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing on Wednesday some lawmakers and groups wary of government overreach voiced privacy concerns in mandating the new capabilities.

Multiple states, including California and New York, have already passed measures to ensure some water heaters are manufactured to be demand-response capable. Manufacturers say they prefer a national standard to the “quagmire” of varied compliance requirements.

“This provision represents an opportunity to establish a national standard for a narrow product class of innovative water heating technology,” Joshua Greene, corporate vice president of government and industry affairs at water heater manufacturer A.O. Smith, told lawmakers.
» Read article    
» Read the bill, H.R. 7962

» More about energy efficiency

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Shiprock obscured
Will carbon capture help clean New Mexico’s power, or delay its transition?

A virtually unknown company has a $1.4 billion plan to extend the life of New Mexico’s largest coal-fired power plant by installing carbon capture. Critics say it’s likely to be a costly distraction from the state’s just transition.
By Jonathan P. Thompson, Energy News Network
June 29, 2022

As New Mexico lawmakers were putting the finishing touches on landmark legislation to help workers and communities transition from the closure of the state’s largest coal plant, the city of Farmington had other plans.

“We have reached a milestone that few people thought remotely possible,” City Manager Rob Mayes told the local newspaper in February 2019. An agreement was announced between the city and a New York holding firm called Acme Equities to keep the aging San Juan Generating Station operating past its scheduled 2022 retirement date.

The state’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, had planned to retire the massive coal-fired power plant, eliminating hundreds of jobs and millions in local tax revenue that the 2019 Energy Transition Act intended to address.

After working behind the scenes for months, though, local officials instead threw their support behind an obscure real estate hedge fund promising to keep the plant and its associated mine open by installing the largest carbon capture system on a power plant to date — by far.

The $1.4 billion plan baffled energy-economics experts. After all, PNM was abandoning the plant into which it had just invested millions of dollars in pollution-control technology because it was no longer economically tenable. It simply did not pencil out, as Karl Cates and Dennis Wamsted, of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis IEEFA detailed in a July 2019 report.

“IEEFA does not see much likelihood of the project going forward,” Cates and Wamsted wrote, “and the resulting liabilities to the city, either way, are potentially significant.”

Acme’s bid has been more durable than critics expected, though. Three years later, with the plant’s closure impending, the effort is still alive under a new name, Enchant Energy. And despite setbacks, missed benchmarks and questions about the scheme’s viability, Enchant Energy continues to say it will take over the plant later this summer.
» Read article   
» Read the 2019 IEEFA report

» More about CCS

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Dover city hall
Community power advocates excited to see progress on New Hampshire rules
The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission is finalizing community power rules that would allow municipalities to replace distribution utilities as the default procurer of electricity for residents and businesses.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
June 23, 2022

New Hampshire regulators are expected to propose final rules for community power programs on July 5, a crucial milestone for the 18 communities and one county hoping to begin buying electric power on their own.

The announcement comes as at least one of the state’s major utilities, Liberty, is seeking to double the per-kilowatt-hour price it charges ratepayers, citing rising generation costs at natural gas-fired plants. Eversource is expected to follow suit.

“The rate spikes we are seeing are the perfect example of why community power is a good option for towns to lower energy costs for their customers,” said Henry Herndon, a consultant working with the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire. “The spikes are a direct result of the distribution companies’ regulated procurement process, which requires them to go to market now, which just so happens to be the exact peak of the market.”

New Hampshire’s community power law, signed into law in 2019, authorizes municipalities to procure power on their own, using the collective buying power of all of their residents and businesses to secure competitive prices.

They will be able to actively manage their power portfolios, making it easier for them to deliver lower rates to customers, Herndon said. And they can choose where their power comes from, which can help those municipalities that have set decarbonization goals.
» Read article    
» Read the NH Community Power Law

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

climate criminals
Fossil fuel industry faces surge in climate lawsuits
Number of climate-related lawsuits globally has doubled since 2015, with quarter filed in past two years
By Isabella Kaminski, The Guardian
June 30, 2022

The world’s most polluting companies are increasingly being targeted by lawsuits challenging their inaction on climate change and attempts to spread misinformation, according to a new report.

Research by the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment found a surge in legal cases against the fossil fuel industry over the past year – especially outside the US – and growing action in other corporate sectors.

People have been filing legal challenges on climate change grounds since the mid-1980s, but it is a strategy that has recently come into its own. The number of climate change-related litigation lawsuits around the world has more than doubled since 2015 and roughly one quarter of the 2,002 recorded cases to date were filed in the past two years alone.

Most of those lawsuits are challenging state inaction, many inspired by the landmark 2019 ruling that ordered the Dutch government to cut its emissions.

But the fossil fuel industry is increasingly within the sights of campaigners. At least 13 cases have been filed against the largest Europe-based polluters and at least two in Australia against gas company Santos. Exxon, Eni and Sasol are all also involved in challenges to government decisions about oil and gas exploration and licensing in Guyana and South Africa.

The food and agriculture, transport, plastics and finance sectors are increasingly targets as well, the report finds.
» Read article   

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS BANS

RI bag ban
R.I. bans plastic bags at retailers statewide
“We have seen first-hand the damage that plastic bags do to our oceans and environment for many years now,” said Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, who sponsored the bill in the House
By Alexa Gagosz, Boston Globe
June 22, 2022

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island lawmakers have approved a long-fought bill to ban plastic bags at retail checkout lines.

The legislation, which passed on Tuesday night, was introduced by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, and Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, a Democrat from South Kingstown.

The legislation, which will now head to Governor Daniel J. McKee’s desk for his signature, requires retail establishments to offer recyclable bag options such as paper bags, or reusable bags that were brought in by the customer. Those who do not comply will be fined.

“We all know how dangerous plastic pollution is to the health of our oceans and marine life, and how it contributes to climate change,” said Ruggerio.

Approximately 17 municipalities have already enacted similar policies to reduce plastic use, including Newport, Providence, and Cranston. Barrington was the first town to adopt the ban a decade ago.

“I think it’s appropriate to be consistent throughout the state,” Ruggerio said.

Businesses that do not comply with the proposed ban will be fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $500 for a third and any subsequent offenses. The legislation said those penalties will reset each year.

The ban will take effect Jan. 1, 2024, or within one year of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management establishing the regulation — whichever comes first.
» Read article    

» More about plastics bans

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Weekly News Check-In 5/20/22

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s make it happen.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate change

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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.
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