Happy Friday, Folks!
This week finds us standing at a historic crossroads. The many years that all of us have put into pushing the needle toward a more climate friendly energy sector and economy are finally paying off in some big, meaningful ways.
AT THE STATE LEVEL
Yesterday, Governor Baker signed into law An Act Driving Clean Energy and Offshore Wind. This joins 2008’s Global Warming Solutions Act and 2021’s Next Generation Climate Roadmap Act as the third bold climate bill Massachusetts has passed. Each subsequent bill has set goal and then further codified the means to reach those goals.
This latest bill, signed into law yesterday, was hard won, with No Fracked Gas in Mass and BEAT joining our fellow environmental groups, largely under the organizing umbrella of the Mass Power Forward coalition, in guiding its crafting and pushing legislators and the Governor to reach the finish line right down to the last minute.
Highlights of this bill include:
- Developing MA-based offshore wind industry with investments in infrastructure, workforce development and economic inclusion;
- Preventing wood-burning biomass plants from qualifying for clean energy incentives in the Renewable Portfolio Standard;
- Reforming ratepayer-funded efficiency programs by reducing incentives for fossil fuel equipment starting in 2025 and increasing accountability in the efficacy of energy efficiency services to low-income ratepayers and households;
- Creating a pilot program for whole home building retrofits in low and moderate income buildings, effective July 2023;
- Allowing 10 municipalities to pilot fossil-free new construction and major renovations, excluding life science labs, health care facilities, and hospitals, provided each community meets a standard around inclusionary housing policy.
Both TUE Committee members Mike Barrett and Jeff Roy have great explainer threads on Twitter.
There is still much work to be done like extending fossil free construction pilots statewide, ensuring better air quality monitoring programs, instituting a Net Zero stretch code, reforming and expanding our public transportation – especially in rural areas and connecting major regional systems. But the passage of this bill will allow us to make many of the bold climate-positive steps we’ve been requesting for years.
AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL
With the Inflation Reduction Act, after much wrangling among Senate members, finally passing the Senate and likely the House later today, it looks like we’re standing on the same edge of a sea change in the way our country is addressing the climate / clean energy challenge.
But among the huge strides for clean energy and equity in transitioning to it, there are many painful giveaways to the fossil fuel industry that helped sweeten the pot to get it over the finish line with Joe Manchin. A particularly harsh provision of the bill is its pairing with the future passage of another bill that seeks to secure the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. This highly impactful and unnecessary pipeline is one that activists have been battling for years, and Ted Glick, one of the leaders in that fight, sums up the dynamics of these two bills’ perilous joining in his recent post.
Also, another bill recently passed at the federal level is seldom framed as climate positive, but it has some very good provisions. As outlined in The Altantic, the “CHIPS” Act, will “boost efforts to manufacture more zero-carbon technology in America, establish a new federal office to organize clean-energy innovation, and direct billions of dollars toward disaster-resilience research.”
This and the Inflation Reduction Act will finally push us onto the road of taking concrete steps toward climate solutions.
Indeed, there’s still much to be done. Watchful vigilance and pressure on our lawmakers and regulators will need to continue, but it’s definitely time to stop, look around, take stock and give yourselves a pat on the back … then get back to the work of making our world a cleaner, more balanced and more equitable place.
Onward, with much gratitude and new wind in our sails!
Rosemary Wessel, Program Director
No Fracked Gas in Mass, a program of Berkshire Environmental Action Team
This newsletter contains lots of related news stories. Navigate to various topics by clicking on the following: Massachusetts legislation, Federal legislation, protests and actions, pipelines, greening the economy, climate, clean energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, modernizing the grid, clean transportation, questionable solutions, deep-seabed mining, fossil fuel industry, biomass, and plastics in the environment.
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
Baker signs major climate bill into law
By Sabrina Shankman and Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
August 12, 2022
Governor Charlie Baker signed a major climate bill into law on Thursday that will accelerate the clean energy transition in the state by boosting offshore wind and solar, and — in a first for Massachusetts — allowing some cities and towns to ban the use of fossil fuels in new buildings and major renovations.
Baker’s approval comes after weeks of speculation that he might veto the bill, and just days after he said he particularly disapproved of the fossil fuel ban because of his concern it could make it harder to construct affordable housing.
Ultimately, though, he said the bill’s changes to the offshore wind procurement process and its advances in clean energy were important enough to secure his signature.
“I continue to want us to be a pretty big player in that space because it’s a sustainable way to create a lot of jobs, for a very long time,” Baker said in an interview with the Globe.
As the state recovers from two record-breaking heat waves, Senator Michael Barrett, a Democrat from Lexington and one of the bill’s architects, noted that the passage of the state legislation — along with the expected passage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act, with its $369 billion in energy and climate financing — should give people hope. “There’s plenty more to do, but nothing motivates like success,” he said.
[…] The new law will scrap the so-called price cap that currently requires each new offshore project to offer power at a lower price than the one brought online before it. Critics fear the cap has discouraged bids.
That provision is a win for Baker, who has long sought to eliminate the price cap, and whose administration plans to solicit bids for offshore wind development later this year.
Another provision would allow Massachusetts to join with other New England states in bidding for wind, solar, or other forms of renewable energy. This would, for example, allow the Commonwealth to team up with Maine in bids for onshore wind in a remote area in Aroostook County.
In another significant change, the bill will remove wood-burning power plants from the state’s renewable portfolio standard, meaning they will no longer count toward renewable energy goals in Massachusetts or be eligible for state clean energy subsidies. Wood-burning plants produce harmful pollutants like carbon monoxide, and research shows they can emit even more carbon at the smokestack than coal-fired plants.
» Read article
Massachusetts just passed a massive climate and clean energy bill
In a first for the state, the legislation contains a provision that would allow some cities and towns to ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new and major construction projects
By Allyson Chiu, The Washington Post
August 11, 2022
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) on Thursday signed a major climate and clean-energy bill that contains sweeping policies targeting renewables, transportation and fossil fuels — a move that lawmakers and advocates say is critical to supporting the state’s goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Baker’s decision to sign the bill, which was approved by the state legislature July 31, comes as Congress is poised to pass its most significant piece of climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act.
Described as a “landmark bill,” the Massachusetts climate legislation notably includes a provision — the first of its kind for the state — that would allow 10 municipalities to legally ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new and major construction projects. With this policy, certain cities and towns in Massachusetts could soon join others across the country that have taken similar steps to change local building codes to block the use of fossil fuels, such as natural gas — meaning many people who want gas stoves or furnaces are probably out of luck in these places.
The bill also has a slew of other climate-friendly policies, including: funding for offshore wind energy and electricity grid improvements, a ban prohibiting car dealerships from selling new gas- or diesel-powered vehicles after 2035, incentives for electric vehicles and appliances, and additional provisions focused on natural gas.
“Addressing climate change requires bold, urgent action,” Baker tweeted Thursday after signing the bill. “I am proud to have supported the Commonwealth’s leadership on these critical issues to preserve our climate and our communities for future generations.”
» Read article
» More about legislation
LEGISLATION (U.S. Federal)
After 25 Years of Futility, Democrats Finally Jettison Carbon Pricing in Favor of Incentives to Counter Climate Change
The $370 billion Inflation Reduction Act is the nation’s first comprehensive climate plan to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and boost renewable energy and green technology. It relies on tax credits and other “carrots,” not sticks.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
August 12, 2022
The nation’s first comprehensive climate law, expected to be sealed with a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, will not look anything like the program imagined by either climate economists or those in Washington and the environmental movement who had faith in bipartisan action.
From the time that the world first agreed to act on climate change 30 years ago at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, environmentalists talked about putting a “price” on carbon as a core element of any strategy for reducing the fossil fuel pollution that was heating the planet.
Whether imposed by tax, fee or cap-and-trade system—such a price would discourage carbon-based fuel pollution and encourage investment in and deployment of clean alternatives, said advocates of the idea. And because such a scheme would rely on the market, rather than government mandates, to decide the best approach to decarbonize, proponents argued it was an idea both Democrats and Republicans could get behind.
Instead, Democrats are advancing their climate bill with no Republican support, and their program is one of carrots, not sticks. The idea is that an unprecedented $370 billion federal investment in clean energy—largely in the form of tax credits to encourage its development, as opposed to taxes on carbon to discourage use of fossil fuels—will be the push that transforms not only the economy but the politics of climate change.
[…] The decision that the United States would spend rather than tax its way to a more sustainable future was in large part driven by political reality—Democrats had to win over the vote of a staunch fossil fuel industry supporter in their own party, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who opposed carbon taxes. But the plan also was influenced by a new generation of climate policy thinkers who argued that lawmakers had spent too much time listening to the economists, and as a result, had played into the hands of the powerful foes of climate action.
Previous climate proposals in Washington focused first on costs, not benefits. That made it easy for the fossil fuel industry and its allies to defeat the Clinton administration’s BTU tax proposal and the cap-and-trade plan that died in Congress under President Barack Obama, whereby carbon emissions would have been capped and polluting industries could have purchased credits from non-polluters.
In contrast, President Joe Biden is about to put his signature on a climate plan that is entirely focused on benefits—not just cleaner energy, but prevailing wage jobs, relief for disadvantaged neighborhoods overburdened with pollution, and revival of communities left behind by coal.
» Read article
Congress Just Passed a Big Climate Bill. No, Not That One.
A bipartisan act is quietly about to invest billions in boosting green technology.
By Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic
August 10, 2022
Yesterday, President Joe Biden signed into law one of the most significant investments in fighting climate change ever undertaken by the United States. The new act will boost efforts to manufacture more zero-carbon technology in America, establish a new federal office to organize clean-energy innovation, and direct billions of dollars toward disaster-resilience research.
Over the next five years, the CHIPS Act could direct an estimated $67 billion, or roughly a quarter of its total funding, toward accelerating the growth of zero-carbon industries and conducting climate-relevant research, according to an analysis from RMI, a nonpartisan energy think tank based in Colorado.
That would make the CHIPS Act one of the largest climate bills ever passed by Congress. It exceeds the total amount of money that the government spent on renewable-energy tax credits from 2005 to 2019, according to estimates from the Congressional Research Service. And it’s more than half the size of the climate spending in President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill. That’s all the more remarkable because the CHIPS Act was passed by large bipartisan majorities, with 41 Republicans and nearly all Democrats supporting it in the House and the Senate.
Yet CHIPS shouldn’t be viewed alone, Lachlan Carey, an author of the new analysis and an associate at RMI, told me. When viewed with the Inflation Reduction Act, which the House is poised to pass later this week, and last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, a major shift in congressional climate spending comes into focus. According to the RMI analysis, these three laws are set to more than triple the federal government’s average annual spending on climate and clean energy this decade, compared with the 2010s.
» Read article
» More about legislation
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
These Groups Want Disruptive Climate Protests. Oil Heirs Are Funding Them.
Beneficiaries of two American oil fortunes are supporting groups trying to block fossil fuel projects. One donor said he felt a “moral obligation.”
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
August 10, 2022
They’ve taken hammers to gas pumps and glued themselves to museum masterpieces and busy roadways. They’ve chained themselves to banks, rushed onto a Grand Prix racetrack and tethered themselves to goal posts as tens of thousands of British soccer fans jeered.
The activists who undertook these worldwide acts of disruption during the last year said that they were desperate to convey the urgency of the climate crisis and that the most effective way to do so was in public, blockading oil terminals and upsetting normal activities.
They also share a surprising financial lifeline: heirs to two American families that became fabulously rich from oil.
Two relatively new nonprofit organizations, which the oil scions helped found, are funding dozens of protest groups dedicated to interrupting business as usual through civil disobedience, mostly in the United States, Canada and Europe. While volunteers with established environmental groups like Greenpeace International have long used disruptive tactics to call attention to ecological threats, the new organizations are funding grass-roots activists.
The California-based Climate Emergency Fund was founded in 2019 on the ethos that civil resistance is integral to achieving the rapid widespread social and political changes needed to tackle the climate crisis.
Margaret Klein Salamon, the fund’s executive director, pointed to social movements of the past — suffragists, civil rights and gay rights activists — that achieved success after protesters took nonviolent demonstrations to the streets.
“Action moves public opinion and what the media covers, and moves the realm of what’s politically possible,” Ms. Salamon said. “The normal systems have failed. It’s time for every person to realize that we need to take this on.”
So far, the fund has given away just over $7 million, with the goal of pushing society into emergency mode, she said. Even though the United States is on the cusp of enacting historic climate legislation, the bill allows more oil and gas expansion, which scientists say needs to stop immediately to avert planetary catastrophe.
Sharing these goals with the Climate Emergency Fund is the Equation Campaign. Founded in 2020, it provides financial support and legal defense to people living near pipelines and refineries who are trying to stop fossil fuel expansion, through methods including civil disobedience.
» Read article
» More about protests and actions
No One Owes Joe Manchin Anything
Acting on climate doesn’t entitle him to the pipeline of his choice
By Bill McKibben, Substack.com | Opinion
August 11, 2022
Assuming that the Democratic majority in the House passes the massive climate bill this week, the next round for federal climate action will come when Congress returns after its August recess, and it will center on something euphemistically called ‘permitting reform.’
In return for Manchin’s vote for the IRA—the first significant action Congress has ever taken on the climate crisis—Chuck Schumer apparently promised that ‘permitting reform’ language would be attached to some piece of ‘must-pass’ legislation in the fall. It’s designed to make it easier to build energy projects of all kinds—but Manchin’s clearest intention is to guarantee construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), an unnecessary piece of infrastructure that would extend the fossil fuel era in the region a few more decades, endangering local communities along the way.
The opposition to that pipeline has been fierce enough to scare Manchin and his backers in the fracking industry. Indeed, second only to the young people from the Sunrise Movement, it’s clear that the world owes those opponents a huge debt of gratitude: without them Manchin might never have come to the table with a bill that cuts emissions and gives the U.S. a role again in the global climate fight.
But that does not mean that Democrats owe Manchin his permitting reform (especially since they’ve already given him plenty of other gifts in the IRA, including lots of cash for dubious carbon-capture projects).
For one thing, he’s demonstrated that promises aren’t binding: House progressives passed the fossil-friendly Bipartisan Infrastructure bill on his word that he would support what was then called Build Back Better. But Manchin reneged, gutting much of what was best in that bill, and only at the bitter end (when it became clear that his lifetime legacy would be blocking any action on the greatest crisis in history) allowing the IRA to pass the Senate.
For another, Manchin’s promise in this case was extracted by extortion. The IRA will save myriad lives: many thousands of people who will breathe fewer particulates and then die from the lung damage, and many millions who won’t die in whatever portion of the climate crisis its emission cuts avert. Manchin—who has taken more money from the fossil fuel industry than anyone else in DC–essentially held a gun to the head of negotiators: give me my pipeline or these people perish.
[…] Whatever Republicans do—and in the end they will do what Big Oil instructs them to do—progressives should not sign off on permitting reform that helps expand the fossil fuel empire. The question for every energy project should be: does it add carbon to the atmosphere? If the answer is yes, then the answer should be No. We’re in a life-and-death struggle for a working planet; the IRA advances our chances, and permitting reform would reduce them. The moral choice is therefore obvious.
» Read article
Manchin’s Donors Include Pipeline Giants That Win in His Climate Deal
The controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline is one of several projects the senator has negotiated major concessions for, benefiting his financial supporters.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
August 7, 2022
After years of spirited opposition from environmental activists, the Mountain Valley Pipeline — a 304-mile gas pipeline cutting through the Appalachian Mountains — was behind schedule, over budget and beset with lawsuits. As recently as February, one of its developers, NextEra Energy, warned that the many legal and regulatory obstacles meant there was “a very low probability of pipeline completion.”
Then came Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and his hold on the Democrats’ climate agenda.
Mr. Manchin’s recent surprise agreement to back the Biden administration’s historic climate legislation came about in part because the senator was promised something in return: not only support for the pipeline in his home state, but also expedited approval for pipelines and other infrastructure nationwide, as part of a wider set of concessions to fossil fuels.
It was a big win for a pipeline industry that, in recent years, has quietly become one of Mr. Manchin’s biggest financial supporters.
Natural gas pipeline companies have dramatically increased their contributions to Mr. Manchin, from just $20,000 in 2020 to more than $331,000 so far this election cycle, according to campaign finance disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission and tallied by the Center for Responsive Politics. Mr. Manchin has been by far Congress’s largest recipient of money from natural gas pipeline companies this cycle, raising three times as much from the industry than any other lawmaker.
NextEra Energy, a utility giant and stakeholder in the Mountain Valley Pipeline, is a top donor to both Mr. Manchin and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, who negotiated the pipeline side deal with Mr. Manchin. Mr. Schumer has received more than $281,000 from NextEra this election cycle, the data shows. Equitrans Midstream, which owns the largest stake in the pipeline, has given more than $10,000 to Mr. Manchin. The pipeline and its owners have also spent heavily to lobby Congress.
The disclosures point to the extraordinary behind-the-scenes spending and deal-making by the fossil fuel industry that have shaped a climate bill that nevertheless stands to be transformational.
[…] Despite concessions like the pipeline deal, major environmental groups as well as progressives in Congress have praised the legislation. Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for the country to enact meaningful climate legislation.
» Read article
» More about pipelines
GREENING THE ECONOMY
What could the climate bill do for environmental justice?
The Inflation Reduction Act would make historic investments in disadvantaged communities with provisions for renewable energy, electrified transportation, environmental review and cleaner air.
By Alison F. Takemura, Canary Media
August 10, 2022
The breakthrough bill that passed the Senate with $369 billion in climate funding includes up to $60 billion in environmental justice initiatives. (That figure depends on what you count, of course.) The money would go to help communities of color and low-income areas that have been overburdened with pollution and pushed to the frontlines of climate change by historically racist and classist practices.
The “once-in-a-generation investments” in the Inflation Reduction Act would “greatly benefit people adversely impacted by fossil-fuel operations and climate crises,” Dana Johnson, senior director of strategy and federal policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, told Canary Media.
Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), who worked on some of the environmental justice provisions in the bill, said in a statement that it “would be the most significant investment in environmental justice and climate action in American history.”
So what exactly are the bill’s environmental justice investments? Here are some of the heftiest:
» Read article
The UN Just Declared a Universal Human Right to a Healthy, Sustainable Environment – Here’s Where Resolutions Like This Can Lead
By Joel E. Correia, EcoWatch
August 8, 2022
Climate change is already affecting much of the world’s population, with startlingly high temperatures from the Arctic to Australia. Air pollution from wildfires, vehicles and industries threatens human health. Bees and pollinators are dying in unprecedented numbers that may force changes in crop production and food availability.
What do these have in common? They represent the new frontier in human rights.
The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on July 28, 2022, to declare the ability to live in “a clean, healthy and sustainable environment” a universal human right. It also called on countries, companies and international organizations to scale up efforts to turn that into reality.
The declaration is not legally binding – countries can vote to support a declaration of rights while not actually supporting those rights in practice. The language is also vague, leaving to interpretation just what a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is.
Still, it’s more than moral posturing. Resolutions like this have a history of laying the foundation for effective treaties and national laws.
I am a geographer who focuses on environmental justice, and much of my research investigates relationships between development-driven environmental change, natural resource use and human rights. Here are some examples of how similar resolutions have opened doors to stronger actions.
» Read article
» More about greening the economy
Nights are getting way too hot to handle
It’s a ‘neglected’ climate risk, researchers say
By Justine Calma, The Verge
August 10, 2022
Summer nights are getting increasingly dangerous thanks to climate change. By 2100, the risk of death from excessively hot nights is expected to grow six-fold compared to 2016 — even under the most optimistic predictions of future global warming, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health.
Hot nights are becoming both more frequent and way more intense, the study authors found. We don’t know just how much the planet will heat up in the future, but scientists have estimates for best- and worst-case scenarios. When looking at a more middle-of-the-road forecast for future climate change, hot nights become 75.6 percent more frequent by the end of the century. The average intensity of a sweltering night doubles — from 20.4 degrees Celsius (68.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to 39.7 degrees Celsius (103.5 degrees Fahrenheit).
An international collaboration of scientists used historical data from 1981 to 2010 and applied that to climate models to estimate future mortality risk, looking specifically at 28 cities in East Asia. They’re working on expanding their research to a global dataset.
While hot days are already brutal for people, the risk of mortality rises by up to 50 percent if temperatures stay high into the evening. Hot days stress out the body, straining the heart and lungs, and nighttime is usually when our bodies can bring our core temperature down while sleeping. That’s harder to do if it’s still uncomfortably hot and you’re tossing and turning during the night. Heat stress can lead to heatstroke, which can eventually lead to death. Lost sleep can also weaken our immune systems, affect mental health, and aggravate a wide range of health conditions.
» Read article
» More about climate
‘Solar Coaster’ Survivors Rejoice at Senate Bill
The legislation would lead to much more certainty on federal tax policy for the solar industry
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
August 11, 2022
People who work in the solar industry can barely contain their glee this week.
The Inflation Reduction Act, which passed the U.S. Senate on Sunday and appears to be heading to passage in the House, contains a wish list of the industry’s priorities.
And here’s a big one: a 10-year extension of the investment tax credit, the main tax policy that has supported growth of the solar industry.
“This is one of those moments where I feel like, as a human being, I will remember where I was, when the Senate passed this,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, in a conference call with reporters.
Without the new legislation, the investment tax credit, or ITC, was phasing down for large-scale projects and phasing out for residential projects.
At its full value the ITC covers 30 percent of the cost of buying and installing a solar system. But it dropped to 26 percent this year and was going to go to 22 percent next year. After that, the credit was going to end for residential projects, and go to 10 percent for large-scale projects.
With the new legislation, the credit would return to its full value of 30 percent through 2032, and include a retroactive credit so anyone who installed systems in 2022 would get 30 percent instead of 26 percent.
The extension would accelerate growth in the solar sector, which is an essential part of the country making a transition away from fossil fuels.
People who work in the solar industry refer to the uncertainty they face as a “solar coaster,” whose ups and downs often hinge on fluctuating state and federal policy.
This legislation would make for a much smoother ride, and that’s good news coming at a time when global shortages of parts have led to a spike in some costs and a slowdown in project timelines.
» Read article
» More about clean energy
Climate bill could spur ‘market transformation’ in home electrification
The Inflation Reduction Act has tax credits, rebates and loans to make homes more efficient and move them from fossil fuels to electricity.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
August 4, 2022
Donnel Baird, CEO of BlocPower, thinks the climate bill unveiled by Senate Democrats last week could transform the country’s home efficiency and electrification markets. It could certainly boost the bottom line for his company and help the primarily low-income and disadvantaged communities it serves.
Baird estimated that the Inflation Reduction Act’s tens of billions of dollars in federal rebates, tax incentives, grants and lending capacity for electric appliances, heat pumps, rooftop solar, home batteries, efficiency retrofits and other building improvements could cut 5 to 40 percent of the per-home cost of the efficiency and electrification projects BlocPower is doing around the country.
That “means there are millions and millions of buildings where you couldn’t make the economic argument, where now you can,” he told Canary Media, “particularly low-income buildings where the financial payback did not pencil out before.”
The result would be many more homes and apartments with lower energy bills, reduced health risks from burning fossil fuels indoors, higher property values for owners, and appliances that can interact with a grid increasingly powered by renewable energy, he said.
And, of course, it would be a vital part of combating the climate crisis. The direct use of fossil fuels in buildings accounts for about 13 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
The U.S. can’t meet its decarbonization goals “unless we electrify the 1 billion machines across our 121 million households across the country,” Ari Matusiak, CEO of pro-electrification nonprofit group Rewiring America, said at a Wednesday press conference. His organization designed one of the key electrification rebate provisions of the bill. “Transforming the market so that we rewire America’s households is a big task,” and one that “needs to be catalyzed” by federal legislation.
» Read article
» More about energy efficiency
Can thermal storage fire up the net-zero transition?
After almost a decade in incubation, thermal energy storage is finally coming of age to play its long-fated role in the net-zero transition.
By Oliver Gordon, Energy Monitor
August 8, 2022
[…] “[Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES)] is any technology that can be deployed to store energy for prolonged periods and that can be scaled up to sustain electricity or heat provision, for multiple hours, days or even weeks, and has the potential to significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of the economy,” explains Godart van Gendt, a senior expert in McKinsey’s Sustainability and Electric Power & Natural Gas practices. “Energy storage can be achieved through very different approaches, including mechanical, thermal, electrochemical or chemical storage.”
[…] The thermal energy storage technology used in the Berlin and Kankaanpää pilot projects works by turning electricity into heat using a heat pump, which is then stored in a hot material such as water or sand inside an insulated tank. When required, the heat is distributed for heating purposes or turned back into electricity using a heat engine. The latter conversions are done with thermodynamic cycles, the same physical principles used to run refrigerators, car engines or thermal power plants.
“The heating can be done using different energy sources such as electricity, hydrogen or waste heat,” adds van Gendt. “In the context of energy system decarbonisation, we most often consider using excess renewable electricity, but the spectrum of relevant solutions is much broader.”
[…] When compared with other LDES technologies, thermal storage has several things going for it. Firstly, the conversion process relies on conventional components, such as heat exchangers and compressors, that are already widely used in the power and processing industries, meaning the facilities are easier and quicker to build than many alternatives.
The storage tanks themselves can be filled by a variety of abundant and cheap materials such as gravel, molten salts, water or sand, which, unlike battery materials, pose no danger to the environment.
Thermal storage plants can also be deployed anywhere and can be scaled up to meet the grid’s storage requirements. Other LDES technologies are limited to specific geographies: pumped hydro requires mountains and valleys able to hold vast reservoirs, and compressed air energy storage is dependent on large subterranean caverns. Thermal storage also has a greater energy density (the amount of energy stored in a given volume) than pumped hydro: for example, 1kg of water stored at 100°C can provide ten times the electricity of 1kg of water stored at a height of 500m in a pumped hydro facility. This means less space is required for a thermal facility, reducing its environmental footprint.
» Read article
» More about energy storage
MODERNIZING THE GRID
Massachusetts is getting hotter. Our electricity system is not prepared.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
August 3, 2022
In July, as a heat wave bore down on the Boston area, warnings landed in the inboxes of National Grid and Eversource electricity customers: Demand was expected to be high, each company warned, and making a small change to conserve energy at home could help avoid outages.
But still, outages happened, from Acton to West Roxbury, Newton to Chelsea, silencing the reassuring whir of air conditioners. Another bout of intense heat is due this week that will test the power grid yet again, raising the question of how the energy system will respond as extreme temperatures become more frequent and intense due to climate change.
The networks of wires and substations that bring electricity to homes and businesses are already stressed as housing density increases, experts say, and many parts of them will likely need upgrading or expanding in a future when demand could double or even triple as the state relies ever more on clean electricity to replace fossil fuel power.
“These outages can occur during the worst possible time, in sizzling temperature conditions, because the substations are not necessarily expanded upon over time to keep pace with pockets of electric demand in various communities,” said Richard Levitan, president of Levitan and Associates, an energy management consulting firm. “A failure for a day or for hours when it’s 100 degrees is potentially devastating.”
On social media during the July heat wave, some of the unlucky and unhappy customers mused the outages were akin to problems in Texas, where the energy grid’s failure to keep up with demand had catastrophic consequences. But the energy grid here, operated by ISO-New England, has not had failures such as in Texas, and had plenty of surplus capacity each day of the heat wave, even as demand rose with increased use of air conditioners.
What happened, instead, were failures in the distribution system — the substations, transformers, and wires that bring electricity from power lines into neighborhoods and homes. These localized networks are affected by the demands of a specific street or area— eased in some places, perhaps, by the presence of solar panels on homes or intensified by the demands of big users such as apartment buildings with air conditioners and fast-chargers for electric vehicles.
The pressure on those local networks is a problem that will only become more urgent, experts said.
» Read article
» More about modernizing the grid
Climate bill could help electrify more USPS mail trucks
The Inflation Reduction Act includes $3 billion to convert the nation’s aging mail truck fleet to cleaner electric vehicles.
By Maria Gallucci, Canary Media
August 10, 2022
French postal service La Poste operates nearly 40,000 electric delivery vehicles. In Germany, Deutsche Post recently added the 20,000th EV to its delivery fleet. The U.K.’s Royal Mail plans to operate 5,500 electric vehicles by early next year, while Japan Post owns 1,200 small electric vans.
The U.S. Postal Service, meanwhile, has about two dozen electric mail trucks — and some 212,000 gas-guzzlers that it’s looking to replace.
Democratic policymakers and environmental groups are pushing for the independent federal agency to electrify its entire mail-truck fleet, a measure that would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb toxic tailpipe pollution in neighborhoods all around the country. Yet the Postal Service has been reluctant to fully embrace EVs mainly because, it says, battery-powered models are more expensive to buy than petroleum-powered vehicles.
The major climate and tax bill moving through Congress this week aims to alleviate some of that sticker shock.
Known as the Inflation Reduction Act, the legislation would provide $3 billion for the Postal Service to buy zero-emission delivery vehicles and install necessary charging infrastructure at post offices and central mail facilities. (That’s triple the amount of direct funding in the bill for heavy-duty vehicles like garbage trucks and school buses.)
The Postal Service has previously stated that, should Congress provide more support, the agency could increase the number of electric vehicles it plans to introduce.
“This bill is trying to put to bed their argument that they need more resources,” said Adrian Martinez, a senior attorney for Earthjustice. The environmental group is one of several organizations that are suing to scrap the Postal Service’s original mail-truck plan.
The humble, boxy delivery vehicle has become a political flashpoint over the last year because it represents an important crossroads: Either the agency helps accelerate the nation’s shift to cleaner cars — or it locks in fossil-fuel use and associated emissions. New mail trucks are expected to operate for 20 years, if not longer; many existing mail trucks have been carrying letters and packages for over three decades.
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California becomes first state to roll out submetering technology to spur EV adoption
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
August 8, 2022
California regulators last week approved first-of-their-kind protocols on submetering technology, which would essentially allow EV owners to measure their vehicles’ energy consumption separately from their main utility meter.
Thanks to the decision, owners of EVs, as well as electric buses and trucks, will be able to avoid installing an additional meter to measure the electricity that is consumed by their vehicle, removing a key barrier to EV adoption across the state.
The CPUC’s decision is the culmination of a decade of efforts to develop submetering capabilities and standardize communication protocols, President Alice Reynolds said at a meeting Thursday. “We really are hoping to build on efforts to accelerate and facilitate greater customer control over how and when they charge their vehicle, and enable customers to better manage their demand and to benefit from electric vehicle-specific rates,” she said.
The transportation sector represents nearly 40% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions and electrifying vehicles is a critical component of the state’s decarbonization efforts. In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, passed an executive order aiming to have all new passenger vehicle sales in the state be zero-emission by 2035. Currently, over 16% of passenger cars sold in California are electric, and the state represents nearly half of EV sales across the country.
Sub-metering basically allows EV customers to avoid having to install a separate meter to measure the electricity use of their car, CPUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said at an agency voting meeting Thursday. This is significant because in California, EVs are subject to special rate structures, which make it less costly to charge during off-peak hours.
“Right now, you can charge your car for one half to one third the cost of filling up the gas tank, and that’s actually even before the run up of gas prices over the last several months,” Rechtschaffen said. “But, the EV rates often don’t work for an entire home or business – so most EV drivers today aren’t choosing those EV specific rates.”
EV-specific rates can drastically reduce the cost of owning an electric car, but many customers are reluctant to purchase an additional utility-grade meter, presenting a barrier to EV adoption across the state, according to the CPUC.
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Global Push for Hydrogen Sidesteps Knowledge Gaps on Climate Impacts
By Gaye Taylor, The Energy Mix
August 11, 2022
As the global push for a hydrogen economy accelerates, researchers are urging policy-makers to address new knowledge and fill in some profound data gaps, with recent studies revealing the considerable global warming potential of a fuel that many fossils see as their industry’s best hope for a second life.
The global hydrogen juggernaut has been picking up steam for a few years now, with strong advocates around the world and at least two different colour schemes meant to distinguish between gradations of environmentally friendly or high-emitting, fossil-dependent product. “Between November 2019 and March 2020, market analysts increased the list of planned global investments from 3.2 GW to 8.2 GW of [green hydrogen-generating] electrolysers by 2030,” the European Commission writes in a 2020 strategy roadmap.
By July, 2022, reported Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, more than 30 countries had joined the EU in publishing formal hydrogen strategies.
[…] But many of the hydrogen strategies that different jurisdictions have produced are long on hype, but short on details. The problems begin with a lack of rigorous data on hydrogen supply and demand, the Center on Global Energy Policy reported in April. Both the dollars to be made and the emission reductions to be achieved will depend on getting those numbers right.
There’ve been persistent concerns that “blue” hydrogen—which involves deriving the end product from fossil gas, then capturing and storing the resulting emissions—produces more climate pollution than just burning the gas outright once the related methane emissions are factored in.
But even if the production process is clean and green, there is “very little data on hydrogen leakage along the existing value chain, and that which does exist comes from theoretical assessments, simulation, or extrapolation rather than measures from operations,” the Center warns in an early July analysis. The available numbers suggest that annual hydrogen leakage could increase from 2.4 million tonnes in 2020 to between 15.3 and 29.6 megatonnes in 2050, depending on technical improvements and the degree of government regulation.
The Center projects green hydrogen production, transportation, and storage, road transport vehicles, electricity generation, and synthetic fuel production contributing 77% of global hydrogen leakage, at a cost of up to US$59 billion per year in lost product.
But economic losses are by no means the only concern with hydrogen leakage. While hydrogen molecules themselves do not trap heat, they exert an indirect warming effect when they’re released into the atmosphere, primarily because they tend to react with atmospheric hydroxyl, a substance that also reacts with methane. As more hydrogen leaks into the atmosphere, less hydroxyl will be available to neutralize the devastating short-term effects of methane, a greenhouse gas that is about 85 times more powerful a warming agent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span.
Hydrogen is also part of the chemical chain reaction that leads to the formation of ground-level ozone, another potent climate pollutant.
And any leaked hydrogen that makes it into the stratosphere produces water vapour, itself a significant heat trapping agent.
All of which adds up to hydrogen having very considerable potential to warm the atmosphere. A UK government report in April found that over a 100-year time period, a tonne of hydrogen in the atmosphere will warm the Earth roughly 11 times more than a tonne of CO2 (with a fairly wide margin for error), making its impact about twice as bad as previously understood.
Over a 20-year span, Bloomberg writes, hydrogen has 33 times the global warming potential of an equivalent amount of CO2.
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» Read the report, Hydrogen Leakage: A Potential Risk for the Hydrogen Economy
» More about questionable solutions
Amid haggling over deep-sea mining rules, chorus of skepticism grows louder
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
August 5, 2022
It starts with tiny deep-sea fragments — shark’s teeth or slivers of shell. Then, in a process thought to span millions of years, they get coated in layers of liquidized metal, eventually becoming solid, lumpy rocks that resemble burnt potatoes. These formations, known as polymetallic nodules, have caught the attention of international mining companies because of what they harbor: rich deposits of commercially sought-after minerals like cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese — the very metals that go into the batteries for renewable technologies like electric cars, wind turbines, and solar panels.
But while some experts say we must mine the deep sea to combat climate change, others warn against it, saying we know too little about the damage that seabed mining would cause to the ocean’s life-sustaining properties.
Actual extraction has yet to begin, but in June 2021, the small Pacific island country of Nauru pushed the world closer to this possibility by notifying the International Seabed Authority — the intergovernmental body that oversees mining in international waters — that it had triggered a two-year rule in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This rule would theoretically allow it to start mining in June 2023 under whatever mining rules are in place by then. Nauru itself doesn’t have a mining company with this interest, but it sponsors a subsidiary of Canada-based and U.S.-listed The Metals Company.
Since then, the ISA has been working to negotiate a set of regulations that would allow it to follow the two-year rule. But at the latest set of meetings that took place between July 4 and Aug. 4 in Kingston, Jamaica, progress on the mining code appears to have stalled, observers reported.
[…] Mongabay previously reported on concerns about transparency at the recently concluded ISA meetings, including accusations that the ISA had restricted access to key information and hampered interactions between member states and civil society.
Despite the many setbacks, Matt Gianni, a political and policy adviser for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), told Mongabay that he was observing a change happening in the negotiations.
“There’s a broad recognition that unless something really surprising happens, these regulations are not only unlikely to be adopted by July 2023, but they’re probably not likely to be adopted for several years at least,” said Gianni, who attended the meetings as a representative of EarthWorks, an NGO that works to shield communities and the environment from the negative impacts of extractive activities.
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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
The Inflation Reduction Act promises thousands of new oil leases. Drillers might not want them.
The bigger question about Joe Manchin’s fossil fuel provisions is if they’ll succeed on the senator’s own terms.
By Jake Bittle, Grist
August 9, 2022
The U.S. Senate passed the largest climate action bill in American history on Sunday, clearing the path for hundreds of billions of dollars for clean energy and other climate-related measures (in addition to billions for other Democratic Party priorities). But because the so-called Inflation Reduction Act bears the imprint of swing-vote Senator Joe Manchin, it also includes numerous provisions that support oil and gas producers.
The fossil-fuel policy that has drawn the most attention in the weeks since Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer unveiled their deal is a provision that requires the federal government to auction oil and gas leases on federal land and in the Gulf of Mexico. Though presidential administrations of both political parties have historically leased this territory for drilling, the Biden administration has attempted to halt the federal leasing program; recent lease auctions have also been delayed by litigation from environmental groups.
The reconciliation bill reinstates old auctions that the Biden administration has tried to cancel and forces the administration to hold several new auctions over the coming years. The legislation also requires that the government auction millions of acres of oil and gas leases before it can auction acreage for wind and solar farms. The Center for Biological Diversity, one of many environmental organizations to oppose these provisions, said they turned the bill into a “climate suicide pact,” since they have the potential to prolong the lifespan of the domestic oil industry. However, energy and climate experts who spoke to Grist said that the provisions may not add significantly to U.S. emissions — in part because the fossil fuel industry may not be all that interested in what the government has to offer.
“I wouldn’t say the provision requiring offshore lease sales is entirely insubstantial, but I also wouldn’t classify it as some kind of major victory for the oil and gas industry,” said Gregory Brew, a historian of oil at Yale University.
That’s for one simple reason: Even if the government does keep auctioning off federal territory, it’s far from certain that oil and gas companies will want to build new drilling operations on that territory. The industry has shifted resources away from federal lands and the Gulf of Mexico in recent years, and there’s currently less capital available than ever for new production in these areas.
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Wood-burning power plants in Mass. won’t qualify for renewable energy credits. Local activists are celebrating
By Luis Fieldman, MassLive
August 12, 2022
The enactment of a new climate law in Massachusetts has given environmental groups cause to celebrate.
An Act Driving Clean Energy and Offshore Wind will expand clean energy development and end renewable energy subsidies for wood-burning power plants, according to a press release from Climate Action Now Western Massachusetts.
“We are grateful to the Massachusetts legislature for taking bold action to address the climate emergency, and relieved that Governor Baker has signed the bill into law,” said Susan Theberge, co-founder of Climate Action Now. “It is inspiring to see the power of grassroots organizing to create positive change and advance climate justice.”
The new law makes Massachusetts removes woody biomass from its Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS). There were only two biomass plants that qualified for the state’s RPS, according to Climate Action Now, but climate activists expected that number to increase dramatically due to changes by the Department of Energy Resources.
By removing woody biomass from the RPS program altogether, the new law will prevent DOER’s rule changes from going into effect, according to Climate Action Now.
“The science is clear: burning wood for energy is not a climate solution,” said Laura Haight, U.S. Policy Director for the Pelham-based Partnership for Policy Integrity. “Massachusetts is once again leading the way by removing woody biomass from its definition of renewable energy, and we hope other states and nations will follow.”
Climate activists said the effort to enact this law goes back to 2008, when western Massachusetts residents organized to oppose several large biomass plants that were proposed in Springfield, Greenfield and Russell.
“Burning trees is harmful to our lungs and the planet and should play no role in our state’s clean energy future,” said Janet Sinclair of Greenfield-based Concerned Citizens of Franklin County. “We’re grateful that the Legislature heard us and agreed that funding biomass projects is a bad idea. For Governor Baker, signing this bill was the right thing to do.”
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» More about biomass
PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
‘Incredibly promising’: the bubble barrier extracting plastic from a Dutch river
Technology applied to Oude Rijn river helps stop plastic pollution reaching sea
By Senay Boztas, The Guardian
August 5, 2022
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» More about plastics in the environment
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