The news leading up to the COP26 climate talks has amped up tensions and highlighted what’s at stake. If you’re paying attention, you’re likely in for a rough couple of weeks. So start here, be hopeful, and know that you’re in good company.
We recently reported that Massachusetts is rethinking programs that incentivize conversion from oil-burning appliances to natural gas. Now Connecticut is looking at the same problem – and reconsidering whether the resulting expansion of gas distribution pipelines is good policy. And now a Massachusetts study shows that a massive effort to plug leaky pipes hasn’t actually resulted in a reduction of the Boston area’s high methane emissions.
Our friend Bill McKibben offers an encouraging assessment of the divestment movement, and employees at top consulting firm McKinsey are pushing back against the firm’s willingness to sell services to some of the world’s worst polluters. Another example of people staying alert and calling “foul” when necessary includes a group of progressive Senators and Representatives who warn that subsidies for fossil fuel-derived “blue” hydrogen have no place in the “Build Back Better” climate legislation.
We have four articles that pretty neatly summarize the state of climate mitigation as we head into COP26. China is leading a massive resurgence of coal extraction and consumption due to critical energy and electricity shortages related to the pandemic and economic recovery. Meanwhile, corporate pledges to achieve net zero emissions generally amount to empty promises about doing better later. And while some top Biden administration officials cling to the concept that natural gas is a bridge fuel, the United Nations warns that planet cooking emissions are still climbing and the world’s decarbonization efforts are far off track.
A group of climate scientists recommends establishing a carbon price of at least $100/tonne right away to achieve global net zero emissions by 2050. This is much more aggressive than the International Monetary Fund’s recommendation to float it up to $75/tonne by the end of the decade. Given the climate’s proven track record of reaching destructive extremes faster than models predict, maybe someone should remove the decaffeinated coffee from IMF offices….
Voters in Maine will decide a ballot initiative seeking to block a new electric transmission corridor connecting Quebec hydro power to energy thirsty markets in eastern Massachusetts. It’s a story that highlights how destructive and divisive the development and transmission of even “clean” energy can be. Siting impacts of renewables extend well beyond areas of human habitation. A new study shows how electromagnetic fields from underwater transmission cables serving offshore wind turbines can negatively affect marine animals.
A sensible way to minimize the need for massive transmission infrastructure is to maximize local, distributed clean energy generation. Once you do that, microgrids can serve a range of localities while enhancing overall grid resilience.
While a number of large retailers are pushing the ocean freight industry toward faster development of zero carbon shipping, electric vehicle batteries continue their remarkable development as engineers search for safe, non-toxic battery chemistries made from abundant and sustainable materials. Up next… sodium-ion?
We offer appreciation and respect this week to New York Governor Kathy Hochul, whose administration cancelled plans for two gas peaking power plants. Her decision in both cases rested on the fact that emissions reductions required by New York’s climate law can’t be met if gas generator plants continue to be built. Also, the plants aren’t actually needed. Governor Charlie Baker, if you’re up for a similar act of leadership, the folks in Peabody have a peaker for you.
We’ll close with a quick run through fossil fuel industry news, including Big Oil CEOs being grilled in Congressional testimony. It wasn’t quite a Big Tobacco moment, but they looked silly. And a spike in natural gas prices has North American liquefied natural gas exporters chasing profits.
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
A Crisis Is a Scary Time. You Are Not Alone.
The Energy Mix
We know there’s a path to bringing the climate emergency under control. But getting there will take time. It won’t be easy. And there will be many tough moments along the way.
It’s natural to feel scared or overwhelmed by day-to-day climate news, or by the enormity of what we have to get done over the next several years. It’s also true that the only way to guarantee that we lose this battle of our lifetimes is to assume it’s already lost.
Here are some great resources to help you sit with life in the midst of a climate emergency… and when you’re ready, to do something about it.
» Blog editor’s note: this newsletter puts difficult topics in front of readers every week. We appreciate your willingness to engage, but we understand that everyone has their limits. Check out this great list of supportive communities and resources from Canadian website The Energy Mix.
» Access web page here
Amid debate over natural gas, Connecticut ratepayers are subsidizing new connections
State regulators are exploring ways to modify a program that was designed to convert oil heating customers to natural gas. Consumer and clean energy groups say the program should be scrapped altogether.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
October 25, 2021
A program designed to expand Connecticut’s natural gas distribution network is coming under scrutiny due to soaring costs and declining demand.
The program, which is subsidized by ratepayers, offers incentives for homeowners to switch from oil to gas heat. It was established under legislation passed in 2013 when gas was cheaper and less was known about its climate impacts. Regulatory officials are now exploring ways to modify the program while environmental advocates call for it to be eliminated altogether.
The idea of natural gas as a cleaner alternative “has been thoroughly debunked as we’ve learned just how damaging methane is to the climate,” said Shannon Laun, a Connecticut staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “It’s now clear that we should not be converting people from oil to gas; we should be converting people to electric heat pumps, which are far more efficient.”
» Read article
» More about pipelines
Emissions Of Climate-Changing Methane Are 6 Times Higher In Boston Than State Estimates, Study Finds
By Craig LeMoult, WGBH
October 25, 2021
A new study says the amount of methane being released from the natural gas system into Boston’s atmosphere is six times higher than estimates used by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that warms the climate 80 times more than carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. And despite laws mandating utility companies repair leaky natural gas pipelines, the research indicates methane emissions did not decrease between 2012 and 2020.
The study, conducted by scientists at Harvard University and Boston University, was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The scientists used a different approach to measure methane than the traditional method — and one that they say is more accurate. Methane emissions from natural gas infrastructure are usually measured in what the researchers call a “bottom-up” approach.
“They add up what they think the loss is from each compressor station, each mile of pipe, each appliance, your heater in your house,” said research scientist Maryann Sargent of Harvard University.
But, she said, studies have shown that just 7% of serious leaks emit half of the overall gas emissions to the atmosphere.
“So if these accounting methods that the state uses don’t find enough of those big emitters, they can be significantly undercounting the emissions,” Sargent said.
For their study, the Harvard and B.U. researchers used a “top-down” approach by measuring methane in the atmosphere.
“This is a lot better in terms of methane because you can’t miss any sources,” Sargent said. “Everything is going to get mixed together in the atmosphere.”
The researchers installed sensors on the top of buildings at Boston University and in Copley Square. They then compared those recorded emissions to results from three spots outside the city: at Harvard Forest in Petersham, in Mashpee, and at a site in Canaan, New Hampshire. The sensors ran continuously from September 2012 to May 2020.
“We found that the emissions were about six times higher than the emissions number the state is currently using,” Sargent said.
The study also found no change in emissions over the eight years of the study, despite state laws passed in 2014 and 2018 requiring gas companies to repair pipeline leaks in a timely manner.
“The goal of those laws was to reduce emissions from these pipelines, and we haven’t seen any impact of that when you look at the atmosphere,” Sargent said.
As soon as a leak is repaired, another one seems to emerge, said Lucy Hutyra, a professor of earth and the environment at Boston University, and one of the study’s authors.
“It’s a bit of a game of whack-a-mole,” Hutrya said. “They’re certainly getting them, but they just keep coming.”
» Read article
» Read the study
» More about gas leaks
This Movement Is Taking Money Away From Fossil Fuels, and It’s Working
By Bill McKibben, New York Times | Opinion
October 26, 2021
I remember the night in the autumn of 2012 when the first institution in the U.S. publicly committed to divest from fossil fuel. I was with a group of other climate activists in a big theater in Portland, Maine, halfway through a month long road show with rallies in cities across the country, and the president of tiny Unity College in the state’s rural interior announced to the crowd that his trustees had just voted to rid their endowment of coal, gas and oil stocks. We cheered like crazy.
On Tuesday, a little less than a week before the start of the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, activists announced that the fossil fuel divestment campaign has reached new heights. Endowments, portfolios and pension funds worth just shy of $40 trillion have now committed to full or partial abstinence from coal, gas and oil stocks. For comparison’s sake, that’s larger than the gross domestic product of the United States and China combined.
And by this point, divestment has spread way beyond colleges and universities. Enormous pension funds serving New York City and state employees have announced that they will sell stocks; earlier this year, the Maine legislature ordered the state’s retirement fund to divest; and just last month, Quebec’s big pension fund joined the tide. We’ve seen entire religious groups — the Episcopalians, the Unitarian Universalists, the U.S. Lutherans — join in the call; the Pope has become an outspoken proponent (and many high-profile Catholic institutions have announced they will divest). Mayors of big cities have pledged their support, including Los Angeles, New York, Berlin and London. And an entire country, even: Ireland has announced it will divest its public funds.
And some of the most historically important investors in the world have joined in too: A Rockefeller charity, the heirs to the first great oil fortune, divested early. Just last week, the Ford Foundation got in on the action, adding a great automotive fortune to the tally. This month also saw the first big bank — France’s Banque Postale — announce that it would stop lending to fossil fuel companies before the decade was out.
Since most people don’t have oil wells or coal mines in their backyards, divestment is a way to let a lot of people in on the climate fight, because they have a link to a pension fund, mutual fund, endowment or other pot of money. When we began the divestment campaign, our immediate goal was, as we put it, to “take away the social license” of Big Oil: It was a vehicle to let people know the essential truth about the fossil fuel industry, which is that its oil, gas and coal reserves held five times as much carbon as scientists said we could safely burn. Later this week, the heads of the big oil companies will testify before Congress about whether their companies misled the public about global warming and sought to stymie action on the problem.
Early divestment adopters have been handsomely rewarded; over the last five years, the market has gone up at an annual rate of 16 percent, but the oil and gas sector has fallen at an annual rate of 3 percent. Now many investors are putting their money into clean energy, where returns have risen by an annual rate of 22 percent over the same period. And one other sweet result: It was largely alumni of college divestment fights who formed the Sunrise Movement, a group of young climate activists, and championed the proposed Green New Deal; this has been a training ground for activists around the world.
The battle to wind down the fossil fuel industry proceeds on two tracks: the political (where this week may or may not see action on big climate legislation from Congress) and the financial. Those tracks cross regularly — the influence of money in politics is clear on energy legislation — and when we can weaken the biggest opponents of climate action, everything gets easier. Divestment has helped rub much of the shine off what was once the planet’s dominant industry. If money talks, $40 trillion makes a lot of noise.
» Read article
At McKinsey, Widespread Furor Over Work With Planet’s Biggest Polluters
A letter signed by more than 1,100 employees has called for change at the consulting firm, which has advised at least 43 of the 100 most environmentally damaging companies.
By Michael Forsythe and Walt Bogdanich, New York Times
October 27, 2021
As world leaders prepare to meet in Glasgow next week to address the devastating impact of wildfires, floods and extreme weather caused by rising greenhouse gases, a revolt has been brewing inside the world’s most influential consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, over its support of the planet’s biggest polluters.
More than 1,100 employees and counting have signed an open letter to the firm’s top partners, urging them to disclose how much carbon their clients spew into the atmosphere. “The climate crisis is the defining issue of our generation,” wrote the letter’s authors, nearly a dozen McKinsey consultants. “Our positive impact in other realms will mean nothing if we do not act as our clients alter the earth irrevocably.”
Several of the authors have resigned since the letter, which has never before been reported, came out last spring — with one sending out a widely shared email that cited McKinsey’s continued work with fossil fuel companies as a primary reason for his departure.
McKinsey publicly says that it is “committed to protecting the planet” and that it has helped its clients on environmental issues for more than a decade. On Oct. 15 it held a Climate Action Day, updating employees on progress toward its goal of having a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030. Yet McKinsey’s own carbon footprint is minuscule compared with that of many of the companies it advises.
Until now, McKinsey has largely escaped scrutiny of its business with oil, gas and coal companies because it closely guards the identity of its clients. But internal documents reviewed by The New York Times, interviews with four former McKinsey employees and publicly available records such as lawsuits shed new light on the extraordinary scope of that work.
Among the 100 biggest corporate polluters over the past half-century, McKinsey has advised at least 43 in recent years, including BP, Exxon Mobil, Gazprom and Saudi Aramco, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in fees for the firm.
Across the world, from China to the United States, McKinsey’s work with these companies is often not focused on reducing their environmental impact, but rather on cutting costs, boosting productivity and increasing profits.
» Read article
» More about divestment
Merkley, Warren and Markey sound alarm over ‘dirty’ hydrogen provision in climate deal
By Alexander Bolton, The Hill
October 27, 2021
A trio of Democratic senators are sounding an alarm over what they say is an effort to add language to the budget reconciliation bill that would create new incentives for hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, which they fear would undercut the broader goals of climate legislation.
“As policymakers, we must be attentive to the reality that not all hydrogen is clean and reject efforts to further subsidize dirty hydrogen in the Build Back Better Act,” Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote in a letter to Democratic leaders released Wednesday afternoon.
They argued that while hydrogen has been touted as a “zero-emission” alternative energy source, “recent peer reviewed science has found that fossil fuel-based hydrogen might have greater greenhouse gas impacts than traditional fossil fuels.”
The lawmakers acknowledged that hydrogen might someday be an important source of clean energy but asserted the technology isn’t ready yet.
“There’s just one problem: Current hydrogen production is not at all ‘clean.’ In fact, 94 percent of hydrogen produced in the [United States] comes from fossil fuels,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
A group of House progressives also signed the letter, including Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).
They noted that so-called green hydrogen, which is made by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules and is therefore considered 100 percent renewable, accounts for less than 0.02 percent of global hydrogen production.
They warned that blue hydrogen, which is produced from splitting natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, pollutes the atmosphere as much as or more than traditional fossil fuels.
» Read article
» More about legislation
China Hurries to Burn More Coal, Putting Climate Goals at Risk
Faced with electricity shortages, the country is racing to expand mining despite risks to the environment, miner safety and the economy.
By Keith Bradsher, New York Times
October 28, 2021
Desperate to meet its electricity needs, China is opening up new coal production exceeding what all of Western Europe mines in a year, at a tremendous cost to the global effort to fight climate change.
The campaign has unleashed a flurry of activity in China’s coal country. Idled mines are restarting. Cottage-sized yellow backhoes are clearing and widening roads past terraced cornfields. Long columns of bright red freight trucks are converging on the region to haul the extra cargo.
China’s push will carry a high cost. Burning coal, already the world’s single biggest cause of human-driven climate change, will increase China’s emissions and toxic air pollution. It will endanger the lives of coal miners. And it could impose a long-term cost on the Chinese economy, even while helping short-term growth.
World leaders are gathering next week in Glasgow to discuss ways to halt climate change. But China’s extra coal by itself would increase humanity’s output of planet-warming carbon dioxide by a full percentage point, said Jan Ivar Korsbakken, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.
“The timing is horrible, coming right before the climate summit,” he said. “Let’s hope it’s just a temporary measure to mitigate the current energy crisis.”
Beijing’s leaders are determined to provide ample coal this winter to power China’s factories and heat its homes. Widespread electricity shortages, caused partly by coal shortages, nearly paralyzed many industrial cities three weeks ago.
China is expanding mines to produce 220 million metric tons a year of extra coal, a nearly 6 percent rise from last year. China already digs up and burns more coal than the rest of the world combined.
The effort is infused with patriotism. “Guarantee the supply” has become a national slogan, appearing frequently now in state media and official statements and even on red banners on the front of coal trucks.
» Read article
Report Examines ‘Net Zero’ Climate Strategies, Finds Corporate Plans Lacking in Lead up to COP26
A “Net Zero” carbon emissions approach, the keystone of many government and corporate strategies on climate change, is a pollute now, pay later strategy, a new report argues.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
October 26, 2021
On Sunday, COP26, the 26th United Nations climate change summit, will kick off in Glasgow, Scotland, in what John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy on climate, has called humanity’s “last best chance” to curb the climate catastrophe. Already, politicians and major corporations, including oil and gas producers, are hard at work promoting the idea that the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goals can be met if the financial world coalesces around “net-zero” climate initiatives.
But talk about “net zero” has been met with skepticism by many of those on the frontlines of climate change and those advocating on their behalf. A report issued today by advocacy groups Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory, Global Forest Coalition, and Friends of the Earth International takes a look at climate strategies marketed by a half-dozen major polluters and finds that the plans come up lacking because of their heavy reliance on “net zero” strategies that presume that the institutions can continue emitting greenhouse gases as long as they are someday actively removed from the atmosphere.
BP and Microsoft, for example, have said they aim to reach “net zero” by 2050 and 2030, respectively, the report notes. But BP still plans to spend $71 billion in the coming years on fossil fuel extraction and to promote hydrogen fuel made from natural gas, a fossil fuel, as part of an “energy transition,” the report finds, while Microsoft has continued to sell artificial intelligence products used in oil exploration and production to companies like ExxonMobil, and the tech giant’s plans to reduce its own emissions depend heavily on carbon “offsets.”
A recent Wall Street Journal investigation found that, while the market for carbon offsets is forecast to see rapid growth and reach over $1 billion this year, the “offsets” themselves can vary widely in their quality and effectiveness at actually reducing pollution. “The market needs clearer definitions and standards,” Microsoft’s 2021 carbon-removal report admits, according to the Journal.
The report also calls into question plans by a company called Drax, one of the largest sources of CO2 emissions in Europe, to eventually capture up to 16 million tons of CO2 annually using Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). “So far, Drax, in partnership with C-Capture, is struggling to capture 1/100th of the emissions it was expected to by the UK government,” the report says, “and is then releasing them directly into the atmosphere.”
It’s a pollute now, pay later strategy, the report’s authors say.
» Read article
» Read the report
Ahead of COP26, Top Biden Appointees Pushing Natural Gas Are Undermining His Climate Credibility
The Biden administration’s commitment to natural gas, also known as fossil gas, isn’t a commitment to reaching net-zero by 2050, says a researcher at Global Witness; it’s a promise to the oil and gas industry that they’re still in control. As a major climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, approaches, the Biden administration must urgently change course on fossil gas.
By Sal Christ, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
October 25, 2021
Biden’s administration was expected to be a marked departure from that of his predecessor when it came to climate change, energy, and environmental policy. Prior to her confirmation as Energy Secretary, Granholm was positioned as a fresh foil for her predecessors, who each used their position to push for the expansion of natural gas and other fossil fuels. Granholm’s track record as governor of Michigan led credence to the idea that she would push the U.S. instead toward green technologies and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
She further promoted herself as an ardent supporter of “clean energy,” a “low carbon economy,” and a “zero-carbon future” in an op-ed published by The Detroit News just two months before Biden nominated her for the top energy job in the country.
But Granholm’s actions have so far failed to align with a “zero-carbon future.”
During her confirmation hearings in the Senate, she made it clear that fossil gas — particularly liquefied natural gas (LNG) — should have a place in the energy transition, saying that “I believe U.S. LNG exports can have an important role to play in reducing international consumption of fuels that have greater contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.”
As if natural gas, which is primarily methane — the second most abundant greenhouse gas behind carbon dioxide and a major contributor to climate change — isn’t bad for the climate. Granholm’s line that gas is cleaner ignores the fact that depending on how much methane is leaked, fossil gas can be as bad for the climate as coal. That yarn also sets the stage for preserving and expanding the global market for U.S. LNG – thus creating more long-term gas lock-in, which is really carbon lock-in, which undermines the goals of a “zero-carbon future” and gives industry what it wants: posterity.
» Read article
Greenhouse Gas Concentrations in Atmosphere Reached Record Highs Last Year: UN Warns World Is ‘Way Off Track’
By Deutsche Welle, in EcoWatch
October 25, 2021
Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere reached record levels in the atmosphere in 2020 despite a temporary decline in new emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations said on Monday.
The news contained in the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) comes as world leaders prepare to attend the United Nations climate change conference, or COP26. The summit will aim to coordinate global efforts to combat global warming caused by human-made emissions.
“The ‘Greenhouse Gas Bulletin’ contains a stark, scientific message for climate change negotiators at COP26,” said WMO chief Petteri Taalas.
“At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius [2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit] above pre-industrial levels,” he said. “We are way off track.”
» Read article
» More about climate
Carbon needs to cost at least $100/tonne now to reach net zero by 2050: Reuters poll
By Prerana Bhat, Reuters
October 25, 2021
Setting the global average price of carbon per tonne significantly higher at $100 or more is necessary right away to incentivise net zero emissions by 2050, according to a Reuters poll of climate economists.
Carbon pricing has come to the forefront of policy measures seen as ways to reduce emissions to a level consistent with the Paris Agreement target of less than 1.5-2 degrees Celsius of warming.
The G20 group of large economies recognized carbon pricing for the first time as a possible tool at a meeting in Venice in Italy this year.
A higher price for carbon is seen as essential to fund the transition to net zero emissions by 2050, which is estimated to cost $44 trillion or 2%-3% of annual global GDP.
The International Monetary Fund has recommended a global average carbon price of $75 per tonne by the end of the decade.
But that figure should be at least $100, and right away, to reach net zero emissions by 2050, according to the median view of about 30 climate economists from around the world polled from Sept. 16 to Oct. 20 ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow.
That is significantly higher than where most countries who set the price currently have it, including among high carbon emitters.
» Read article
Why developing countries say net-zero is ‘against climate justice’
Without faster decarbonization and more funding, rich nations risk losing the developing world’s trust.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
October 25, 2021
In less than a week, world leaders will convene in Glasgow for the most important climate conference of the year, the United Nations’ COP26. One of the biggest questions of the conference is whether developed countries like the U.S. will finally cough up the rest of the money they promised to poorer nations a decade ago to help them cut emissions and adapt to climate change. But as the conference draws near, the paucity of funding isn’t the only thing drawing the ire of developing countries and breeding distrust.
Last week, a coalition of 24 developing nations that work together on international negotiations issued a statement criticizing rich countries for proselytizing a universal goal of net-zero by 2050. “This new ‘goal’ which is being advanced runs counter to the Paris Agreement and is anti-equity and against climate justice,” the statement from the ministers of the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) Ministerial said.
The LMDC argued that its member countries should not be forced onto the same timeline to cut emissions as the industrialized world when they have done little to contribute to historic emissions and may want to use fossil fuels in their own economic development, as wealthier nations have.
This argument is not new. The recognition that different countries have different responsibilities for and capabilities to address climate change is at the heart of the U.N. negotiation process. It was also embedded in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which says that emissions should peak sooner in developed countries than elsewhere. And yet rich countries have delayed taking action to cut their own emissions for more than a decade, and now are demanding that the whole world commit to net-zero.
» Read article
» More about clean energy
SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY
Avangrid, NextEra duke it out over a 145-mile transmission line in the Maine woods
Why have power companies spent nearly $100 million to sway voters on a ballot initiative in this sparsely populated state? Follow the money.
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
October 26, 2021
Five power companies — Avangrid, Hydro-Québec, NextEra Energy Resources, Calpine and Vistra — have spent $96.3 million trying to convince Mainers how to vote next week on a ballot initiative that seeks to kill the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project, a power line designed to provide Massachusetts utilities with carbon-free electricity from Canada.
The outcome of the Nov. 2 vote will create winners and losers among those companies, while also potentially affecting the options New England states will have for cutting their carbon emissions.
The success of the NECEC line has financial implications for the energy companies fighting over the ballot measure.
Avangrid, a utility company based in Orange, Connecticut, views the NECEC project as a key investment, according to a September investor presentation. The investment would equal nearly 10% of the $10.9 billion ratebase of its eight Northeast utilities.
Generators in New England, like NextEra, stand to lose income if the NECEC project comes online. In New England, NextEra owns 2,285 MW, Calpine has 2,028 MW and Vistra owns 3,361 MW. Combined, the companies own about a quarter of the generating capacity in ISO New England’s (ISO-NE) markets.
The NECEC project will generally reduce energy and capacity prices in ISO-NE, ESAI Power’s Kleinbub said.
“Reduced energy prices and capacity prices will mean a hit to any generator,” he said.
Like most New England states, Maine has aggressive carbon reduction goals. Under state law, Maine intends to get 80% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030 and to have only renewable energy by the middle of the century.
Maine needs to add about 850 MW of renewable energy by 2030 to meet its near-term goal, according to a report written for Maine Gov. Janet Mills’, D, energy office. The main challenge in meeting the renewable energy goal is the need for new transmission lines, especially to deliver power from Maine’s wind-rich western and northern regions, consulting firms Energy and Environmental Economics and The Applied Economics Clinic said in the report.
The need for new transmission lines could be even higher if Maine successfully electrifies and decarbonizes its transportation and building sectors, according to Competitive Energy Services (CES), a Portland, Maine-based company.
» Read article
» More about siting impacts
Whole towns to be taken off the grid and powered by stand-alone renewables
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
October 23, 2021
Western Australia is calling for proposals to help develop the state’s first “disconnected microgrids” – isolated, self-supported networks powering small towns that operate independently from the rest of the grid, and comprise at least 90% renewables.
The idea is to take whole towns off the grid – saving money from having to upgrade ageing poles and wires that are vulnerable to winds, storms and bushfires.
It is part of Western Power’s long mooted “modular grid” and is effectively the end of the old hub and spoke model built around large centralised generation that dominated Australia’s power system for decades.
It has already been estimated that tens of thousands of remote and regional customers – individuals and communities – could be served with cheaper, cleaner and more reliable power by having renewables-based micro-grids, rather than relying on power sent from centralised generators hundreds of kilometres away.
» Read article
» More about microgrids
Giant retailers pledge to leave fossil-fueled ships behind
Amazon and Ikea are among the biggest maritime polluters
By Justine Calma, The Verge
October 20, 2021
Major retailers, including Amazon and Ikea, are beginning to clean up their shipping pollution. A group of companies pledged yesterday that by 2040, they’ll only contract ships using zero-carbon fuels to move their goods. Both Ikea and Amazon were among the 15 companies responsible for the most maritime import pollution in 2019, according to one recent analysis.
Joining Amazon and Ikea in the commitment are Unilever, Michelin, and clothing retailer Inditex, which owns Zara and other brands. German retailer Tchibo, Patagonia, sports gear company Brooks Running, and FrogBikes are part of the deal, too.
The aim is to leave behind heavy fuel oil in favor of alternatives that don’t release planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions. But there will still be plenty of hurdles ahead to rein in shipping pollution.
“This will be a catalyzing force and a game-changer for the industry to really push for the decarbonization of the sector,” says Kendra Ulrich, shipping campaigns director at the environmental nonprofit Stand.earth, which was one of the authors of the 2019 import pollution report.
Before arriving at our doorsteps or on store shelves, nearly all the goods we buy are moved by ship around the world. As a result, the maritime shipping industry is responsible for about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The sector also produces between 10 to 15 percent of sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide emissions, pollutants linked to respiratory problems and other health risks.
Environmental activists, portside communities, and workers have demanded for years that Amazon and other big-box brands cut down their pollution. Now, they’re starting to see some progress from companies in the form of environmental pledges.
» Read article
Sodium-ion Batteries Bring EV Costs Down and Push Safety Up
By Auto Dealer Today
September 16, 2021
Battery technology is in a period of rapid advancement as the world moves toward cleaner energy and electric vehicles (EVs). EV battery startups are jockeying for position as companies invest billions in the industry.
Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., or CATL, of China is the world’s largest battery manufacturer. The company unveiled its latest innovation in July — a sodium-ion battery. In August, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology reported plans to drive the “development, standardization and commercialization of this type of power-pack, providing a cheaper, faster-charging and safe alternative to the current crop on offer, which continue to be plagued by a host of problems, not least, faulty units catching fire,” Bloomberg reported.
In contrast, the materials for sodium-based batteries are readily available as the earth’s reserves of sodium are dispersed at a content level of around 2.5% to 3%. That figure is 300 times more than lithium, report Jefferies Group LLC analysts.
With plentiful materials that are widely distributed, Bloomberg writes that “the power packs could cost almost 30% to 50% less than the cheapest electric car battery options currently available. In addition, the price of sodium is less sensitive to market gyrations compared with lithium, increasingly a sentiment gauge for the world’s green ambitions.”
Sodium-ion batteries have a lower energy density, but they operate better at cooler temperatures and have longer life spans. CATL’s sodium-ion offering will have an energy density of 160 Watt-hour per kilogram and will take 15 minutes to reach 80% of its charge. “That’s on par with batteries currently on the market, ranging from 140 Wh/kg to 180 and 240 in the highest end type (that has proven to be combustible at times),” reports the Bloomberg article.
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PEAKING POWER PLANTS
New York denies gas plant permits in first-ever decision citing climate law
By MARIE J. FRENCH, Politico
October 27, 2021
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration has made a landmark move to deny permits for two natural gas plants seeking to repower, citing the state’s climate law.
The Department of Environmental Conservation denied permits for NRG’s Astoria plant and the Danskammer plant in Orange County. Both plants were seeking to repower with more efficient natural gas units than their previous operations. The decisions were embraced by environmentalists who have been pushing for years to block the fossil fuel projects.
Developers of both projects argued they’d be more efficient than many older plants, reducing overall emissions from the power sector in the near term. They proposed potentially running on hydrogen in the future or renewable natural gas. But the DEC said those plans were speculative.
“Both [plants] would be inconsistent with New York’s nation-leading climate law, and are not justified or needed for grid reliability. We must shift to a renewable future,” wrote DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos on Twitter announcing the decision and tagging the ongoing global climate summit.
The decisions are the first regarding air permits to directly cite the state’s climate law. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration rejected a water quality permit for a gas pipeline serving Long Island in a decision that partly cited the climate law.
New York has mandated a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030 and 85 percent, with the remainder offset, by 2050. The law also requires all electricity to be from emissions-free sources by 2040, largely ruling out the combustion of fuels that emit carbon dioxide.
“This is a very positive and necessary step the state has taken,” said Liz Moran with Earthjustice. “We have to stop permitting new fossil fuel plants.”
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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
World Fossil Production Still Far Beyond 1.5°C Limit, UN Agency Warns
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
October 20, 2021
Canada shows up as the world’s fourth-biggest oil and gas producer, and global fossil fuel production in 2030 will still be more than double the amount that would match a 1.5°C climate pathway, according to the 2021 Production Gap Report due to be released this morning by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The study of more than 15 major fossil-producing countries, including Canada, found that key governments are planning to extract 240% more coal, 57% more oil, and 71% more natural gas at the end of this decade than would be consistent with the 1.5°C target in the Paris climate agreement, UNEP says, in an initial release distributed earlier this week.
Despite increasing urgency and insistent demands for faster, deeper carbon cuts, “the size of the production gap has remained largely unchanged compared to our prior assessments,” the release states.
The UN agency points to the decades between 2020 and 2040 as the prime time for expanded natural gas production. Gas is increasingly extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process that releases large volumes of methane—a climate super-pollutant that is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the 20-year span when humanity will be scrambling to get climate change under control.
The country profiles for Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States “show that most of these governments continue to provide significant policy support for fossil fuel production,” UNEP adds.
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LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS
U.S. natgas jumps near 12% on cooler forecasts, short covering
October 25, 2021
U.S. natural gas futures soared almost 12% to a near three-week high on Monday on expectations liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports will rise and forecasts calling for cooler weather and higher heating demand over the next two weeks than previously expected.
“Today’s upward move is likely the beginning of tremendous volatility into November final settlement on Wednesday,” said Eli Rubin, senior energy analyst at EBW Analytics Group, noting the combination of the colder forecasts and rising LNG exports triggered “short-covering that amplified the move higher.”
This month has already seen record volatility with futures soaring to their highest close since 2008 on Oct. 6 before collapsing 25% by the middle of last week.
But no matter how high U.S. futures have climbed, global gas was still trading about six times over U.S. prices, keeping demand for U.S. LNG exports strong as utilities around the world scramble to refill stockpiles ahead of the winter heating season and meet current energy shortfalls causing power blackouts in China.
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