Tag Archives: China

Weekly News Check-In 12/18/20

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Welcome back.

The Boston Globe published an excellent post mortem this week on the six year fight to stop the Weymouth compressor station. This is an important record of a profound and unfair imbalance of power that resulted in a Enbridge’s dangerous and toxic facility being inappropriately sited in a congested and environmentally burdened neighborhood. It describes a failure of government and its regulators to stand up to industry, even when doing so would protect a vulnerable community and help meet legally binding climate commitments.

Protests and actions are ramping up against Enbridge’s next environmental and cultural assault – the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline through sensitive northern Minnesota lake country. This threatens critical freshwater resources of indigenous groups, who are now being arrested for putting their bodies in the path of bulldozers.

Meanwhile, Princeton University is in the news for an exhaustive climate plan that offers five very detailed pathways to achieve net zero by 2050. No matter the chosen route, start time is immediate, effort is intense, and significant milestones must be met by 2030.

In a counter-intuitive move, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is allowing its highly successful solar loan program to sunset as planned on December 31, seeing no need to renew it now that banks have shown a willingness to finance solar PV installations. However, of 5,700 loans made through the program since its inception, 3,000 of them were to borrowers taking advantage of provisions for low-income customers. That’s more than half of the program’s success stories, and banks do not tend to serve these people.

[Also in this clean energy section is a great technical article on the emissions hazards posed by hydrogen – even “green” hydrogen. It’s the first discussion we’ve seen about high NOx emissions resulting from hydrogen combustion – and the lack of current available technology to deal with this powerful greenhouse gas and health hazard. Keep this in mind as industry floods us with happy images of a green hydrogen future.]

The expiring solar loan program is just one example of Massachusetts resting on its green energy laurels and letting programs slip while other states – particularly California – quicken their pace. Governor Baker, you don’t get to crow about your state’s top national energy efficiency status this year. After a nine year run, bragging rights belong to California’s Governor Newsom.

Toyota is teasing us with the prospect of solid state EV batteries in prototypes within the next year, and in our driveways by around 2025. While the prospect of long range and 10 minute charge time is wildly appealing, we couldn’t help wondering why the company’s president was recently talking down electric vehicle market penetration in a Wall Street Journal interview. Could be he’s hedging a bet on hydrogen fuel cells.

The Environmental Protection Agency, among others, has some serious post-Trump rehabilitation ahead of it, and President-elect Biden has selected environmental lawyer Brenda Mallory to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She will be tasked with revamping Trump-era regulations and ensuring that federal agencies stay out of legal trouble by properly studying the full impacts of their decisions. Climate impacts of pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure are expected to receive high priority.

In a weird twist, our fossil fuel industry news this week is all about coal. This is a good time to remember that even when a sector is written off as dying, it can still cause massive environmental damage and throw a lot of political weight around. And in the unintended consequences department, the US liquefied natural gas export market could get a boost from stricter methane emissions rules expected from the incoming Biden administration.

We close with the 2020 award for top plastic polluters, with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé sharing the victory dumpster for the third year in a row.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

no more toxinsIn Weymouth, a brute lesson in power politics
A Globe investigation finds residents who fought a six-year battle with an energy giant over a controversial gas compressor never had much of a chance, with both the federal and state governments consistently ruling against them
By Mike Stanton, Boston Globe
December 12, 2020

Dr. Regina LaRocque has studied health risks in the Fore River Basin for Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. She hoped the state’s review would conclude the area was already too unhealthy and polluted to approve a compressor there. Since most compressor stations are in rural areas, state officials said in their final report, they could not find data on compressors “in similarly urban locations.”

So LaRocque, a doctor at Massachusetts General and Harvard Medical School, was “gobsmacked” when the report was released in January 2019 and concluded that emissions from the compressor “are not likely to cause health effects.”

She said the conclusion overlooked data showing the compressor would emit particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and toxics like benzene and formaldehyde linked to cancer and respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases. And it ignored the fact that area residents suffer higher rates than normal in Massachusetts of cancer and childhood asthma and were hospitalized more for heart attacks and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

”It was a whitewash,” says LaRocque. “It presented data that was highly concerning then did somersaults to say there would be no health impact.”

Seven days later, Governor Baker approved the air permit.

“It’s probably the most comprehensive analysis within that framework that anybody’s done anywhere around one of these permits, and it passed,” Baker told reporters.

However, earlier drafts of the report, obtained by the Globe through a public records request, urged the state to look more closely at “public health implications.” That was deleted, along with a passage mentioning the potential risk to two poor and minority neighborhoods in Quincy, Germantown and Quincy Point.
» Blog editor’s note: this is a long, comprehensive article, and well worth the time to read the whole thing.
» Read article            
» Read the Physicians for Social Responsibility Report             
» Read the MAPC Health Impact Assessment          

» More about the Weymouth compressor station             

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

22 arrested on Line 3
22 protesters arrested at Enbridge pipeline construction site
Construction began two weeks ago on the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.
By Brooks Johnson, Star Tribune
December 15, 2020

Nearly two dozen protesters were arrested at an Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction site in Aitkin County near the Mississippi River on Monday after they blocked equipment and refused orders to disperse, Sheriff Dan Guida said.

Indigenous and environmental activists, who have been holding daily protests north of Palisade, Minn., prevented the extraction of a protester who had been camped in a tree for 10 days. Guida said a rope had been tied from the tree across the recently cleared pipeline route and created “an extremely dangerous situation.”

“We got a bucket truck and moved in, and people blocked it,” he said. “We don’t really have a choice. We have to enforce those laws.”

There were 22 arrests made, Guida said, most for misdemeanor trespassing on a posted construction site.

Activists vowed to continue to stand in the way of pipeline construction, which started two weeks ago.

“That Minnesotans are willing to risk arrest shows they’re fighting to protect what they love,” said Brett Benson, spokesman for environmental justice group MN350. “They’re standing up to say it’s time the state actually listen to Indigenous voices and start protecting our climate instead of caving to the interests of a Canadian oil giant.”
» Read article            


line 3 meets water protectors
Opponents of Enbridge’s Line 3 construction make last-ditch effort at river’s edge
While legal challenges continue, protesters aim to stand in the way.
By Brooks Johnson, Star Tribune
December 10, 2020

PALISADE, MINN. – Drumming and singing rose from the snowy banks of the Mississippi River on Wednesday morning while heavy machinery beeped and revved in the distance. A dozen protesters prayed by the river as the state’s largest construction project, the $2.6 billion Enbridge oil pipeline, continued its early stages in rural Aitkin County.

Not far from the road where self-described water protectors have been gathering daily, two protesters remained camped atop trees. They have been there since Friday trying to stay in the way of construction that started last week after Enbridge received the last permit it needed following six years of regulatory review.

Trees have been cleared all around the pair as preparations to lay the 340-mile pipeline continue across northern Minnesota.

“As a company, we recognize the rights of individuals and groups to express their views legally and peacefully. We expect our workers on Line 3 to do the same,” Enbridge said in a statement. “As part of their onboarding, each Line 3 worker goes through extensive training, including cultural awareness.”

Already, about 2,000 workers are expected at job sites along the route this week. More than 4,000 are expected to be working by the end of the month, unions say.

While the specter of the massive Standing Rock protests hangs over the Line 3 project, the crowd along the river north of McGregor has remained small so far. Pipeline opponents are still hoping to stop construction through lawsuits.

A request to have the Minnesota Court of Appeals halt construction while permit challenges are ongoing is expected to be filed in the next week after state regulators declined to grant a stay.

In the meantime, protesters will continue putting their bodies in the way and raising their voices.

“People are doing what they can to prevent what’s going on,” Aubid said. “I do what I need to do in order to protect the waters.”
» Read article             

needs a comb
New Youth Climate Lawsuit Launched Against UK Government on Five Year Anniversary of Paris Agreement
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
December 12, 2020

Three young British citizens and the climate litigation charity Plan B today announced they are taking legal action against the UK government for failing to sufficiently address the climate crisis.

The announcement comes on the five year anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement — the international accord intended to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius — and the lawsuit is the latest in a cascade of litigation around the world aimed at holding governments and polluters accountable for fuelling climate change.

Today’s action involves serving a formal letter upon British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak as the first step in the litigation process, with a court filing to come likely in early 2021.

The legal action asserts that the UK — the historic birthplace of the fossil-fueled Industrial Revolution — is continuing to finance the climate crisis and has failed to develop an emergency plan to comprehensively and aggressively tackle the crisis. The case alleges violations of human rights protected under British and international law, specifically rights to life and to private and family life. And the case alleges the government has not met its legal obligations to tackle climate change under the UK Climate Change Act of 2008 and the Paris Agreement.

Plan B says that given the UK government’s self-proclaimed position as a “climate leader” and position as host of the international United Nations climate summit (COP26) next year in Glasgow, the failure to develop an emergency plan on climate is an abdication of its duties to its people and the international community. The goal of the lawsuit is a court order forcing the government to develop an emergency plan in accordance with its legal obligations.

“The Government claims to be showing leadership on the basis of an inadequate net zero [emissions] target it is failing to meet,” Plan B said in a press release. “Yet, it has failed to prepare even for the minimum level of climate impact and plans to cut financial support for the most vulnerable communities around the world. It knows the City of London is financing levels of warming that would devastate our society.”
» Read article            
» Read the Plan B press release      

» More about protests and actions       

 

CLIMATE

electric trolley SF
New Report Details How U.S. Can Achieve Net-Zero Emissions by 2050

By Climate Nexus, in EcoWatch
December 16, 2020

A new report from Princeton University released yesterday details five pathways for achieving net zero emissions in the U.S. by 2050, with “priority actions” the U.S. should take before 2030.

A highlight across all pathways is total or near total electrification of energy use across the U.S. economy.

Additional recommendations include building a significant amount of new energy infrastructure, increasing wind and solar generating capacity, expanding the nation’s electric grid, and transitioning homes off natural gas.

The research puts the price tag of this near-term action at $2.5 trillion, but calculates it will create at least half a million jobs and save tens of thousands of lives.

The report also identifies several pitfalls the transition could face, including local opposition to land-use for renewable infrastructure and a lack of public support for electric cars and homes.

“The costs are affordable, the tool kit is there, but the scale of transformation across the country is significant,” said Jesse Jenkins, a Princeton professor and lead author of the report.
» Read article            
» Related articles: New York Times, Washington Post, Axios, Bloomberg
» Read the Princeton University study, Net Zero America             
» Read the October U.N. report, America’s Zero Carbon Action Plan           

worldward
What if net-zero isn’t enough? Inside the push to ‘restore’ the climate.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
December 11, 2020

Disagreements about how to tackle the climate crisis abound, but in 2020, it seemed much of the world finally reached consensus about at least one thing: getting to net-zero by 2050, or sooner. Net-zero is a state where greenhouse gases are no longer accumulating in the atmosphere — any emissions must be counterbalanced by sucking some carbon out of the air — and this year, a tidal wave of governments, businesses, and financial institutions pledged to reach it.

But for a new movement of young activists, the net-zero rhetoric is worrisome. “Hitting net-zero is not enough,” they wrote in a letter published in the Guardian last month. Instead, the group behind the letter, a youth-led organization called Worldward, urges the world to rally around a different goal, one they call “climate restoration.” The letter was co-signed by prominent climate scientists James Hansen and Michael Mann, in addition to writers, artists, and other activists.

“The climate today is not safe,” said Gideon Futerman, the 17-year-old founder and president of Worldward, who lives in a suburb north of London. “Millions of people are suffering and millions more will.” By the time net-zero is achieved, he said, the climate will be considerably more dangerous.
» Read article            

» More about climate               

 

CLEAN ENERGY

solar loan sunset
Massachusetts solar loans program leaves banks with confidence to lend
As the program ends, private solar lending will continue but low-income homeowners may be left behind.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Staff Sgt. Aaron Breeden / U.S. Air Force
December 17, 2020

Massachusetts’ lauded solar loan program is drawing to a close this month, leaving behind a more robust solar financing market but also taking away a tool that lenders and installers say has been invaluable in bringing the benefits of solar power to underserved households. 

“It has allowed us to bring solar to people who might not have access to it otherwise,” said Richard Bonney, project developer for solar installer RevoluSun, which completed 141 projects through the program. “That is the biggest area of concern on our end.”

The Mass Solar Loan program was launched in 2015 with two goals: jumpstarting the market for residential solar financing and expanding access to solar for lower-income households.

The clean energy center plans to sunset the program on Dec. 31, as originally authorized.

Without the income-based support of the state program, however, market-based lending programs are unlikely to reach lower-income households on anything like the scale of the Mass Solar Loan. Of 5,700 loans made through the program, 3,000 of them were to borrowers taking advantage of provisions for low-income customers. 

Even as banks and credit unions seem to be stepping up their solar lending, they will not be able to fill all the gaps left by the state program. Nearly 30% of the program’s loans went to applicants with credit scores lower than 720, a level lenders generally consider quite risky. 

And while many homeowners are expected to use home equity loans to finance a solar installation, borrowers who put down smaller down payments or haven’t owned their homes for long might not have enough equity to support a loan. 

Massachusetts’ solar incentive program has provisions targeting low-income households, but does [not] have any tools for helping homeowners get over the initial hurdle of the upfront cost to install a system. 

There is nothing on the horizon to fill that gap, and the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker does not seem to see the value in funding more solar incentives for low-income residents, [Ben Mayer, vice president of marketing and residential sales for SunBug Solar] said.

“It would be funny if it weren’t so aggravating,” he said. “If anything, you should be figuring out how to increase the investment.”
» Read article                     

Intermountain Power project
Hydrogen Hype in the Air
By Lew Milford, Seth Mullendore, and Abbe Ramanan, Clean Energy Group
December 14, 2020

Here’s an energy quiz. Question: do you think this statement is true?

“Unlike fossil fuels, which emit planet-warming carbon dioxide when they’re burned, hydrogen mostly produces water.”

Answer: false.

That statement appeared in a Bloomberg Green article a week or so ago. It reported on future European plans to use hydrogen (H2) as a fuel “in modified gas turbines” to power airplanes. Similar reports have appeared in other reputable energy articles about how hydrogen is the optimal climate solution because its use will not create any air emissions.

What is true is that renewable power like solar or wind can split water into H2 to produce what the reporters claimed – “emissions free” energy. But that requires a complicated and expensive electrolysis process to make H2. That renewably generated “green hydrogen” would then be run through a fuel cell to make electricity. Fuel cells do not produce carbon dioxide (CO2) or other harmful emissions. There are many smart applications for fuel cell-derived power, in cars and heavy vehicles, and in various industrial applications – what an intelligent hydrogen economy might look like in the years to come.

Clean Energy Group (CEG) has been a fervent supporter of green hydrogen and its use in fuel cells. We worked on hydrogen and fuel cells 15 years ago, when they were one of the few cleaner energy options. Then, we did not have the cheaper and more practical alternatives to fossil fuel plants such as renewables and battery storage that we have today.

Back in 2006, CEG wrote that “[h]ydrogen is most efficiently used in fuel cells where it is converted to electricity “electro-chemically” (i.e., without combustion), with only water and oxygen depleted air as exhaust products.”

This is because combustion is where hydrogen goes from “emissions-free” to polluting, the critical distinction seemingly lost in this new debate about using H2 to address climate change.

What happens when H2 is combusted?

Burning H2 does not produce carbon dioxide (CO2)  emissions. That is good news for the climate.

However, hydrogen combustion produces other air emissions. And that scientific fact is the untold story in this aggressive industry plan, one that could turn green H2 into ghastly H2.

The bad news is that H2 combustion can produce dangerously high levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx). Two European studies have found that burning hydrogen-enriched natural gas in an industrial setting can lead to NOx emissions up to six times that of methane (the most common element in natural gas mixes). There are numerous other studies in the scientific literature about the difficulties of controlling NOx emissions from H2 combustion in various industrial applications.
Blog editor’s note: this is an important article, worth the time to read in its entirety. In addition to the documented serious health effects associated with NOx emissions, the pollutants are powerful greenhouse gases – packing approximately 300 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide.
» Read article            
» Read about the natural gas industry’s hydrogen PR campaign     

» More about clean energy               

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

number twoMass. no longer most energy-efficient state
California, with numerous policy initiatives, moves into top spot
By Colin A. Young, Statehouse News Service, in CommonWealth Magazine
December 18, 2020

After nine years at the top of a list that state officials regularly tout, Massachusetts is no longer considered to be the most energy-efficient state in the nation.

California now sits atop the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) rankings and bumped Massachusetts down to second place thanks to the passage of millions of dollars in incentives for high-efficiency heat pump water heaters and an executive order to phase out new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.

“In a year dramatically impacted by a global pandemic and associated recession, efforts to advance clean energy goals struggled to maintain momentum amid the loss of 400,000 energy efficiency jobs by the summer and disruptions to countless lives. Despite these challenges, some states continued to successfully prioritize energy efficiency as an important resource to help reduce household and business energy bills, create jobs, and reduce emissions,” the ACEEE wrote in its annual report and scorecard. “First place goes to California, which sets the pace in saving energy on multiple fronts with adoption of net-zero energy building codes, stringent vehicle emissions standards, and industry-leading appliance standards.”

Massachusetts has had at least a share of first place in the ACEEE rankings for the last nine years (California had tied with Massachusetts for number one as recently as 2016) and has been in the top 10 all 14 years that the ACEEE has published its annual state scorecard.

“Generally speaking, the highest-ranking states have all made broad, long-term commitments to energy efficiency, indicated by their staying power at the top of the State Scorecard over the past decade,” lead report author Weston Berg said. “However, it is important to note that retaining one’s spot in the lead pack is no easy task; all of these states must embrace new, cutting-edge strategies and programs to remain at the top.”

Every year since 2015, the Baker administration has celebrated the top billing with a press release, featuring quotes from the governor, lieutenant governor, Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary, Department of Energy Resources commissioners, House speaker, Senate president, House minority leader, Senate minority leader and a House committee chairman.

This year, there was no administration press release, and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Department of Energy Resources declined to make anyone available to discuss the rankings with the News Service on Wednesday.
» Blog editor’s note: you can earn top-dog status on the energy efficiency list, or you can coddle the natural gas industry – but you can’t do both.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency          

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

solid state Toyota
Toyota EV with solid-state batteries: 10-minute full charge, prototype reportedly due in 2021
By Stephen Edelstein, Green Car Reports
December 13, 2020

 

Toyota hopes to be the first automaker to launch an electric car with solid-state batteries, aiming to unveil a prototype next year, ahead of a production launch relatively soon after that, Nikkei Asia reported Thursday.

The automaker expects electric cars powered by solid-state batteries to have more than twice the range of vehicles using current lithium-ion battery chemistry, with the ability to fully recharge in just 10 minutes, according to the report, which also said Toyota has over 1,000 patents related to solid-state batteries.

While Toyota seems fairly far ahead of other Japanese automakers (Nissan doesn’t plan to start real-world testing of solid-state batteries until 2028, the report said), the country’s automotive suppliers appear to be gearing up for production.

Mitsui Mining and Smelting (also known as Mitsui Kinzoku) will build a pilot facility to make electrolyte for solid-state batteries, the report said. Located at an existing research and development center in Japan’s Saitama Prefecture, the facility will be able to produce “dozens of tons” of solid electrolyte starting next year, enough to fulfill demand for prototypes, according to the report.

The timetable discussed in the report is accelerated from what a top Toyota executive suggested just this summer. In an interview with Automotive News in July, Keiji Kaita, executive vice president of Toyota’s powertrain division, said limited production of solid-state batteries would start in 2025.

This report also suggests that solid-state battery cells could have much-improved energy density. That echoes a Samsung statement from earlier this year, suggesting its solid-state tech could double energy density.
» Blog editor’s note: Is Toyota all in? Read a December 17, 2020 report from Oil Price in which Toyota’s President Akio Toyoda talks down electric vehicles.
» Read article             

» More about clean transportation        

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Brenda Mallory
Biden Pick to Bolster Legal Odds with Added Climate Review
By Ellen M. Gilmer and Stephen Lee, Bloomberg Law
December 17, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s selection of environmental lawyer Brenda Mallory for a top spot in the new administration could help federal agencies improve their litigation record on climate change.

The presumptive nominee to lead the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality will be tasked with revamping Trump-era regulations and ensuring that federal agencies stay out of legal trouble by properly studying the full impacts of their decisions.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mallory will take the helm of CEQ at a time when judges have increasingly faulted federal officials under both the Obama and Trump administrations for failing to fully consider greenhouse gas emissions in their National Environmental Policy Act reviews. NEPA requires agencies to analyze and disclose the impacts of their actions, including approvals of highways, pipelines, and other projects.

CEQ, which oversees NEPA implementation, aimed to sidestep those losses in July by issuing a rule that eliminated a longstanding requirement that officials consider the cumulative impacts of their actions—a part of NEPA reviews that often touches on climate change. The Biden administration is expected to reconsider that move and quickly direct agencies to strengthen their climate analyses.

“Reversing the Trump-era NEPA rollbacks is going to be priority No. 1,” said Western Environmental Law Center lawyer Kyle Tisdel, a frequent foe of federal agencies in NEPA cases.

Next on the list, he said, will be issuing new guidance for how agencies should incorporate climate analysis into their reviews.

The result will be better outcomes in NEPA litigation during the Biden administration, legal experts say.

Agencies and project backers “should already realize that their environmental reviews are more likely to survive judicial scrutiny if they include cumulative impact review and lifecycle greenhouse gas analysis where appropriate,” said Columbia Law School professor Michael Gerrard, who directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
» Read article           

» More about the EPA           

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Hay Point Coal TerminalChina Battles the World’s Biggest Coal Exporter, and Coal Is Losing
China has officially blocked coal imports from Australia after months of vague restrictions. For Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, the decision is a gut punch.
By Damien Cave, New York Times
December 16, 2020

SYDNEY, Australia — China is forcing Australia to confront what many countries are concluding: The coal era is coming to an end.

China has now officially blocked coal imports from Australia after months of vague restrictions that dramatically slowed trade and stranded huge ships at sea.

For Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, the decision is a gut punch that eliminates its second-biggest market at a time when many countries are already rethinking their dependence on a filthy fossil fuel that accelerates the devastation of climate change.

While Beijing’s motives are difficult to divine, there are hints of mercantilist protection for local producers and the desire to punish Australia for perceived sins that include demanding an inquiry into the source of the coronavirus. China’s commitment to cut emissions may also allow it to be marginally more selective with its vast purchases.

Whatever the reasoning, the impact is shaping up to be profound for a country that has tied its fate to coal for more than 200 years. Mining policy can still decide elections in Australia and the current conservative government is determined to do the bare minimum on climate change, which has made China’s coal cutback a symbolic, cultural and economic shock.

“A transition has been forced upon us,” said Richie Merzian, the climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute, an independent think tank. “It’s hard to see how things will really pick up from here.”

The realization, if it holds, may take time to sink in.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ridden Australia’s traditional reliance on fossil fuels into power. He famously held up a hunk of coal in Parliament in 2017, declaring “don’t be scared,” and first became prime minister in an intraparty coup after his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, tried to pursue a more aggressive approach to combating climate change.

“Coal-Mo,” as some of his critics call him, dismissed concerns on Wednesday about China’s ban, arguing that there are many other countries still lining up for the product.
» Read article             

Alberta sinking
As oil prices languish, Alberta sees its future in a ‘coal rush’
At least six new or expanded mines could be built as a new conservative provincial government aims to increase coal production for export
By Jeff Gailus, The Guardian
December 15, 2020

With the price of Western Canadian oil languishing around $35 a barrel and Canadian oil sands companies hemorrhaging both workers and money, the province of Alberta sees its future in another fossil fuel: coal.

A “coal rush” in the province could see at least six new or expanded open-pit coal mines built up and down the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, mostly by Australian companies. Together, these projects could industrialize as much as 1,000 sq km of forests, waterways and grasslands.

Alberta has eight operating coal mines and more than 91bn tonnes of mineable coal, but until recently, Alberta had a restrictive coal-mining policy that’s been in place for 44 years to protect drinking water for millions of people. In 2015 the previous Alberta government announced a plan to eliminate coal-fired electricity by 2030, a goal Canada’s federal government embraced three years later to help fulfill Canada’s greenhouse-gas-reduction commitments to the Paris Agreement.

Canada, along with the United Kingdom, also launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance at the 2017 UN Climate Change Conference to accelerate the phase-out of coal-fired power plants worldwide.

Yet despite the commitment to eliminate coal-fired electricity, the new conservative provincial government has pulled out all the stops to increase coal production for export.

It rescinded the 1976 coal mining policy without public consultation, after spending months wooing Australian coal companies. It also reduced the corporate tax rate from 10 to 8%, axed provincial parks in coal-rich areas, offered 1% royalties (Australia’s is a minimum of seven), and passed legislation to fast-track project approvals.
» Read article             

» More about fossil fuels              

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Biden and gas exportsHow Biden may save U.S. gas exports to Europe
Cleaning up fuel producers’ climate pollution at home could help the industry avoid “a trans-Atlantic green gas war.”
By BEN LEFEBVRE, Politico
Photo: Flared natural gas is burned off Feb. 5, 2015 at the Deadwood natural gas plant in Garden City, Texas. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images
November 27, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to crack down on the energy industry’s greenhouse gas pollution could offer a boon for U.S. natural gas producers who want to keep exporting to an increasingly climate-minded Europe.

U.S. gas shipments to Europe have soared since 2016, driven by the American fracking boom and efforts to help the Continent lessen its reliance on Russia. But pressure on European countries to reduce their impact on the climate is threatening to close off opportunities for the U.S. because of the heavy amounts of planet-warming methane released when the gas is produced.

Now, Biden’s promise to reduce those methane emissions could make U.S. gas shipments more palatable to Europe.

Such an outcome would contradict one of President Donald Trump’s closing campaign themes: that electing the former vice president would spell doom for U.S. fossil fuel producers. But it could rankle progressive climate activists who are pushing for Biden to end fracking and stop all U.S. fossil fuel exports.
» Read article             

» More about LNG           

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

Coke eco claims prooved fishy
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé Are Worst Plastic Polluters of 2020, Have Made ‘Zero Progress,’ New Report Finds
By Tiffany Duong, EcoWatch
December 11, 2020

The top plastic polluters of 2020 have been announced, and Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé top the list for the third year in a row.

In a new report demanding corporate responsibility for plastic pollution, Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) named the repeat offenders and called them out for what appeared to be negligible progress in curbing the amount of plastic trash they produce despite corporate claims otherwise.

“The title of Top Global Polluters describes the parent companies whose brands were recorded polluting the most places around the world with the greatest amount of plastic waste,” the report’s executive summary noted. “Our 2020 Top Global Polluters remain remarkably consistent with our previous brand audit reports, demonstrating that the same corporations are continuing to pollute the most places with the most single-use plastic.”

The report employs brand audits and global cleanups to collect and count plastic debris from around the world. This year, nearly 15,000 volunteers collected 346,494 pieces of plastic in 55 countries to contribute to the report, a BFFP press release said.

Over 5,000 brands were cataloged this year, but Coca-Cola quickly emerged as the world’s number one plastic polluter. Its beverage bottles were found most frequently, discarded on beaches, rivers, parks and other litter sites in 51 of the 55 nations surveyed, The Guardian reported. The brand was worse than PepsiCo and Nestlé, the next two top offenders, combined.

Plastic pollution is one of the leading environmental problems of the modern-day. Plastics do not disintegrate or disappear, but instead break up into microplastics that get consumed by the tiniest organisms. These toxins bioaccumulate and move their way up the food chain and into our air, food and water.

“The world’s top polluting corporations claim to be working hard to solve plastic pollution, but instead they are continuing to pump out harmful single-use plastic packaging,” Emma Priestland, Break Free From Plastic’s global campaign coordinator, told The Guardian.
» Read article            
» Read related Guardian article 

» More about plastics in the environment            

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Weekly News Check-In 10/16/20

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Welcome back.

We took a break last week, but the news kept coming. Events are unfolding rapidly around the Weymouth compressor station, but fortunately WBUR’s Mariam Wasser published another of her excellent “explainer” articles. She pulls all the complicated pieces together and provides much-appreciated clarity.

Elsewhere on the pipeline beat, Eversource Energy has completed its purchase of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. And while they’re still committed to pumping volatile, explosive gas under our streets and into our homes, their message is “this time it will be different.” In the interest of fair and balance reporting, we offer a sobering report about problems with anti-corrosion coatings on natural gas pipes.

We’re catching up on the big-picture impact of recent climate-related lawsuits with an excellent summary article from Dana Drugmand in DeSmog Blog. Closer to home, we found useful information on the health effects of indoor gas use – particularly gas ranges used in non-ventilated kitchens.

Those of us looking forward to a green, sustainable economy apparently have like-minded friends in Helsinki. We found an uplifting article from Finland’s capital, describing a whole population that’s embracing and working toward sustainability.

Our climate section opens with another warning about what will happen if we don’t get our act together quickly, and then follows with potentially hopeful news that China has made its first significant climate policy announcement, committing the country to net-zero by 2060. While that’s too slow, it’s an important beginning.

New York City took a big step toward clean energy when its utility agreed to work with environmental organizations and communities to replace six highly-polluting “peaking” power plants with low- or non-emitting alternatives. That means battery storage, charged during off-peak hours by some combination of conventional and renewable sources. Elsewhere in this section, we look at the complicated issues around hydropower, the down-side of solar in the smoke-choked west – and close with a study showing that reliance on nuclear power actually slows the deployment of renewable power sources.

We found an article describing a financing model for energy efficiency improvements that allows property owners to pay for improvements over time through utility savings. Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaaS) has been around for decades, but now seems primed for broad application.

Utility Dive’s Kavya Balaraman wrote an extensive 4-part series covering all aspects of energy storage, and we give that whole section to her this week. Taken together, it’s an excellent tour of past, present, and future developments.

The electric vehicle community could see improvements in charging station accessibility and reliability soon, based on a new agreement between EV Connect, vehicle manufacturers, and other partners.

A lot of press lately has focused on cleaning up the fossil fuel industry mess that will inevitably be left behind as we move beyond carbon. It’s a good thing to talk about now, since the industry appears to be actively maneuvering to stick taxpayers with the huge bill. We include cautionary reports from Venezuela and Ecuador, where oil booms went bust without sufficient environmental regulations or remediation.

The South Korean government is defending its renewable energy subsidies for biomass in court. A potentially game-changing suit was brought by the country’s solar industry along with a Canadian citizen who’s trying to stop the clearcutting of British Columbia’s ancient forests to supply wood pellets. The suit charges that biomass burning has “worsened air pollution, accelerated climate change, and stunted the growth of the Korean solar energy sector.”

We close with an article describing a recent study that concludes there is currently 15.5 million tons of microplastics on the ocean floor.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth compressor explained
The Controversial Natural Gas Compressor In Weymouth, Explained
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
October 13, 2020

For the last five years, a coalition of South Shore towns, politicians and local activists have tried to block the construction of a natural gas compressor station in North Weymouth. They’ve waged public awareness campaigns, challenged the project’s environmental permits in court, and even resorted to civil disobedience. Meanwhile, the company building the compressor station cleared every legal and regulatory hurdle in its way, and construction has moved forward.

The Weymouth compressor itself is a complicated project that involves multiple state and federal agencies and private companies — and that’s before you factor in all the litigation and local controversy the facility has generated.

WBUR published an explainer about the compressor station in June 2019, but given how much has happened since then, we felt it was time for an update. So once again, whether you’ve been reading about the issue for years and have questions, or are just hearing about the project for the first time, here’s what you need to know:
» Read article               

 

evacuation planWeymouth compressor station evacuation plan in the works
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
October 7, 2020

A new compressor station in the Fore River Basin has a federal operation permit, but an evacuation plan for residents during a potential emergency at the site remains unknown, according to compressor foes.

“It is simply unacceptable that this compressor station has received its final operating permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but we still have no safety and evacuation plan available to the vulnerable residents,” said Alice Arena, leader of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station during a Town Council Meeting, Oct. 5.

Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund said an evacuation plan is “being finalized.”

“We anticipate it will be done before that station is fully operational,” he said.

The compressor station was scheduled to begin service, Oct. 1, but natural gas leaks on Sept. 11 and Sept. 30 have delayed the facility from being put into use.
» Read article               

 

FRRACS want clarity
Weymouth compressor foes want clarity on gas leaks
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local Weymouth
October 7, 2020

The Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station want Town Council to determine whether Enbridge Inc. properly notified the police and fire departments when natural gas leaks occurred at the compressor station, Sept. 11 and Sept. 30.

“We are asking the council…to request, review, and report on the police and fire 911 records for Friday, Sept. 11 and Wednesday, Sept. 30,” said FRRACS leader Alice Arena during an Oct. 5 council meeting.

According to Enbridge spokesman Maxwell Bergeron, the leaks forced an emergency shutdown of the compressor, and they are under investigation by the company.

Arena said FRRACS wants the council to obtain an investigative report about the gas leaks from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“We ask the Council to make this report available to the public,” she said.
» Read article               

 

FBI may investigateLynch: FBI To Investigate Possibility of Cyberattack At Weymouth Compressor
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
October 02, 2020

The FBI has been asked to investigate whether a “cyber intrusion” triggered this week’s emergency shutdown at a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth.

The cause of the emergency shutdown on Sept. 30 — the second that month — is still unknown, though it seems to have originated in the plant’s electrical system, said U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch.

“Because this is an international pipeline, and because of the national security implication, the FBI has been asked to take a look at any possible cyber intrusion that might have triggered the release,” Lynch said.

The FBI declined to comment on whether it was conducting an investigation involving the station.

The plant has been shut down since Sept. 30, and will remain so until an independent safety analysis is done and officials with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sign off on a re-start plan.

Lynch also submitted a request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Friday, asking the agency to revoke the station’s certificate of public convenience and necessity, which would effectively pull the plug on the project. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey made the same request earlier in the week.
» Read article               

» More about the Weymouth compressor station    

 

PIPELINES

William Akley
‘Safe and reliable’: Eversource says Agawam, Longmeadow pipeline projects necessary after acquiring Columbia Gas
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
October 13, 2020

Proposed natural gas pipeline work in Longmeadow and Agawam could help Eversource — now the owner of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts — end leaks from aging cast-iron pipes in Springfield and address other reliability and safety issues.

But the projects — which are opposed by environmentalists and some living in those towns — need a more thorough review now that Eversource is owner of the system, said Bill Akley, the company’s president of gas operations.

Akley spoke at a Tuesday afternoon news conference at what is now an Eversource Gas maintenance depot, formerly a Columbia Gas facility, in Springfield.

Eversource was celebrating the completion of its purchase of the former Columbia Gas of Massachusetts for $1.1 billion. State regulators approved the purchase last week. The federal government had already given an OK.

Also there, uninvited, were members of the Columbia Gas Resistance Campaign, a group opposing pipelines.

Susan Grossberg, a campaign member from Agawam, questioned how the pipeline projects fit with Eversource’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2030.
» Read article               

 

degraded coatings
Too Much Sun Degrades Coatings That Keep Pipes From Corroding, Risking Leaks, Spills and Explosions
Pipeline installation delays leave pipes stored longer than recommended aboveground, where UV light can deteriorate the coatings that prevent corrosion.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
October 11, 2020

For natural gas pipeline developers hunting for a good deal on a 100-mile section of steel pipe, a recent advertisement claimed to have just what they are looking for.

Following the cancelation of the proposed Constitution natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania and New York, a private equity firm recently offered a “massive inventory” of never-used, “top-quality” coated steel pipe.

What the company didn’t mention is that the pipe may have sat, exposed to the elements, for more than a year, a period of time that exceeds the pipe coating manufacturers’ recommendation for aboveground storage, which could make the pipe prone to failure.

Long term, aboveground pipe storage has become commonplace as pipeline developers routinely begin construction activity on pipeline projects before obtaining all necessary permits and as legal challenges add lengthy delays.

Whether canceled or stalled, overdue oil and gas pipelines across the country may face a little-known problem that raises new safety concerns and could add additional costs and delays.

Fusion bonded epoxy, the often turquoise-green protective coating covering sections of steel pipe in storage yards from North Dakota to North Carolina, may have degraded to the point that it is no longer effective. The coatings degrade when exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun while the pipes they cover sit above ground for years.

The compromised coatings leave the underlying pipes more prone to corrosion and failures that could result in leaks, catastrophic spills or explosions. Degraded coatings were implicated in an oil spill from a failed pipeline near Santa Barbara, California in 2015. Toxic compounds may also be released as the coating breaks down, raising concerns that the pipes could pose a health threat to those who live near the vast storage yards holding them.
» Read article               

» More about pipelines       

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

climate suit update
Fossil Fuel Companies Keep Getting Sued Over Climate Impacts. Here’s Where the Cases Stand
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 7, 2020

September saw a flurry of new lawsuits filed by cities and states against major fossil fuel companies over the climate crisis and the resulting impacts that are already being felt. After Hoboken, New Jersey sued Big Oil and its largest trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, on September 2, back-to-back lawsuits came the following week from Charleston, South Carolina and the state of Delaware. Connecticut then followed with a lawsuit singularly targeting ExxonMobil, which remains one of the largest oil companies in the world and appears determined to double down on its core fossil fuel business despite knowing decades ago about the climate consequences of using its products. 

These climate lawsuits seek to hold companies like Exxon accountable for spending decades misleading the public on climate risks. Those dangers, projected long ago, have literally hit home in recent months with scorching heat, “record breaking” storms battering the Gulf Coast, and unprecedented and devastating wildfires burning millions of acres in the western U.S.

“Long before Trump entered office, oil and gas CEOs predicted this would be the result of their unfettered industry,” Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director Janet Redman said in a late August press release responding to the landfall of Hurricane Laura. “Climate denial is not a victimless crime, and it’s time for the fossil fuel industry to be held accountable.”

The current wave of climate accountability lawsuits started three years ago with a handful of coastal California communities, and has since burgeoned to include nearly two dozen communities across the country so far that are taking the fossil fuel industry to court. Six attorneys general are currently suing Exxon for alleged climate deception, litigation that has started to garner comparisons to the state lawsuits targeting Big Tobacco firms for lying about the health risks of smoking.

The climate cases have not yet made it to trial, with the exception of a securities fraud lawsuit brought by the New York Attorney General against Exxon. A judge dismissed that case following a trial held last October, finding that Exxon did not deceive its investors over climate risks to its business. Since then, attorneys general have filed several new cases alleging that major oil companies such as Exxon misled consumers in violation of state consumer protection laws.

“These companies were not simply reckless in the pursuit of profits,” District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, who sued BP, Chevron, Exxon, and Shell in June, explained during a recent online briefing. “Their deceptive advertisements and misleading claims violated the D.C. Consumer Protection law.”

One legal expert who is following these climate cases told DeSmog that these consumer protection cases may have an easier path towards trial in state courts. “These are straight-up state consumer rights laws,” Pat Parenteau, an environmental law professor at Vermont Law School (and this writer’s former law professor) said. “So those [cases] are going to go straight to trial I think.”
» Read article               

» More about protests and actions       

 

HEALTH EFFECTS OF INDOOR GAS USE

kill your gas stove
Kill Your Gas Stove
It’s bad for you, and the environment. If you can afford to avoid it, you probably should.
By Sabrina Imbler, The Atlantic
October 15, 2020

Most Americans these days use electric stoves, but approximately a third cook primarily with natural gas, according to a 2015 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Many of these cooks swear by the blue flame, which can supercharge a cast-iron pan in a way that would put an electric coil to shame. Cooking over a fire may seem natural enough, but these stoves should be a hotter topic: Given advances in induction technology, concerns about the climate, health anxieties, or some combination of the three, should anyone be using one?

If you can afford to avoid it, probably not.

On the air-quality front, at least, the evidence against gas stoves is damning. Although cooking food on any stove produces particulate pollutants, burning gas produces nitrogen dioxide, or NO2,, and sometimes also carbon monoxide, according to Brett Singer, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who studies indoor air quality. Brief exposures to air with high concentrations of NO2 can lead to coughing and wheezing for people with asthma or other respiratory issues, and prolonged exposure to the gas can contribute to the development of those conditions, according to the EPA.
» Read article             

» More about health effects of indoor gas use        

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

sustainable Helsinki
Helsinki Makes Sustainability a Guiding Principle for Development
By Dorn Townsend, New York Times
October 14, 2020

HELSINKI, Finland — When his tour as the American ambassador to Finland ended in 2015, Bruce Oreck decided to linger. Part of the draw was a business opportunity. In a neighborhood just north of the city center, Mr. Oreck paid about 11 million euros for a vast, abandoned, century-old train factory.

He has been transforming the site into a market and community center that he intends to be a model of green building and consumerism. But Mr. Oreck, who was a New Orleans tax lawyer and professional bodybuilder before he became an Obama political appointee, said he had stayed because he was enchanted by something besides the potential for real estate success.

“You don’t hear about it unless you spend time here, but something is happening in Helsinki that isn’t happening almost anywhere else,” Mr. Oreck said. “Helsinki is a city full of people waiting for the revolution. They really want to make the world a better place, and they’re trying to lead by example. Which is a paradox, because Finns are decidedly not showy people.”

The qualities Mr. Oreck is referring to are sometimes summed up by the term sustainability. In the world’s second-most northern capital, sustainability has moved from concept to guiding principle. It’s rare for a day to pass without hearing a form of the word deployed multiple times as an environmentally friendly noun, adjective or adverb.

But Helsinki has a parallel goal: The city has endorsed measures it hopes will earn it recognition as the world’s most functional city.

In Helsinki this aspiration will be judged against a measurable and widely shared benefit: New master-planned communities must integrate features allowing inhabitants to enjoy an extra hour of free time each day.
» Read article                             

 

diversity and inclusion initiative
Solar firms unite to launch diversity and inclusion initiative
By Jules Scully, PV Tech
October 13, 2020

A group of trade organisations and solar companies have launched a new initiative that aims to improve diversity and inclusion in the industry.

The ‘Renewables Forward’ partnership will see stakeholders share corporate practices and policies as well as invest in under-resourced and minority communities in the US. The goal is to identify tangible ways to collaborate and drive a larger industrywide partnership between CEOs and solar organisations.

Founding members include Capital Dynamics, Cypress Creek Renewables, EDF Renewables, Generate Capital, Mosaic, Nautilus Solar Energy, New Columbia Solar, Nextracker, Sol Systems and Volt Energy, as well as the Solar Energy Industries Association and The Solar Foundation.

“From a mission perspective, the lack of diversity in solar means that whole segments of the American population are simply not participating in climate solutions and are being left out of the economic opportunities that these jobs create,” said Dan Shugar, CEO of Nextracker. “Words are good, but we are overdue in our industry to do better in terms of minority and gender representation.”

Renewables Forward’s initial efforts include coordinating an educational and fundraising programme to support US civil rights organisations the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Urban League.

Gilbert Campbell, CEO of solar project developer Volt Energy, said: “Our diversity issue is not simply a hiring problem, but an issue of education, access, political voice, environmental impact, community protection and sustainability.

“We cannot commit to building a better, more sustainable future without committing both to address the inequities of the past and to build a solution that elevates opportunity for all Americans.”
» Read article                            

 

casting doubt
Fishing industry group casts doubt on offshore wind’s job creation promises
Wind advocates counter that a recent report obscures the potential for long-term employment as the industry continues to grow.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
October 12, 2020

While offshore wind developers are promising tens of thousands of U.S. jobs from wind farm development along the East Coast over the next decade, the commercial fishing industry is sowing doubt about the projections. 

An economic analysis commissioned by the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a fishing industry coalition, concludes that “a surprisingly low” number of new positions will be permanent, and that the bulk of jobs will be created overseas. 

“The claim that the huge investments on offshore wind would provide significant job and economic benefits in the U.S. has been grossly inflated,” wrote the report’s author, Janet Liang, an economist with Georgetown Economic Services, a consulting firm. 

Wind industry representatives are not convinced by the findings, however. So long as Eastern Seaboard states can provide sufficient training to help businesses and workers capitalize on wind industry opportunities, the economic benefit is bound to be substantial, said Liz Burdock, chief executive and president of the Business Network for Offshore Wind. 

“The number that I point to, which is based on annual aggregate data, is what’s happened in Europe, where offshore wind sustains 40,000 jobs,” Burdock said. “I feel fairly confident that we’re going to hit or exceed that number with what we have in the pipeline now.” 

The Georgetown report comes as federal regulators near a long-awaited decision on Vineyard Wind, which is poised to become the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm. Fishing industry interests are imploring regulators to fully consider the impacts on fisheries. While state economic development officials tout offshore wind as an economic boon, some in the fishing industry feel the projections don’t take into account the potential damage to their sector.
» Read article                     

» More about greening the economy        

 

CLIMATE

human cost of disasters
‘Uninhabitable Hell:’ UN Report Warns of Planet’s Future for Millions Without Climate Action
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
October 13, 2020

A new report from the United Nations found that political leaders and industry leaders are failing to do the necessary work to stop the world from becoming an “uninhabitable hell” for millions of people as the climate crisis continues and natural disasters become more frequent, as Al-Jazeera reported.

The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019 was released Monday to mark the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, which falls on Oct. 13, according to a statement from the office behind the report.

The bulk of the disasters were climate-related, as there were sharp increases in the number of floods, storms, heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires in the last two decades, according to CNN.

The report found that the world is on a worrying trend line as natural disasters become more frequent and more expensive. In the last 20 years, there were more than 7,300 natural disasters worldwide, accounting for nearly $3 trillion in damages. That’s almost double the prior two decades when there were just over 4,200 natural disasters that totaled $1.6 trillion in economic losses, according to the statement.

“It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction,” said UNDRR chief Mami Mizutori and Debarati Guha-Sapir of Belgium’s Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, in a joint foreword to the report, as CNN reported.

“It really is all about governance if we want to deliver this planet from the scourge of poverty, further loss of species and biodiversity, the explosion of urban risk and the worst consequences of global warming.”
» Read article                   
» Read the report             

 

China sets a marker
China Has Surprised the World With Climate Action Announcement
By Hao Tan, Elizabeth Thurbon, John Mathews, Sung-Young Kim, The Conversation, in EcoWatch
October 8, 2020

China’s President Xi Jinping surprised the global community recently by committing his country to net-zero emissions by 2060. Prior to this announcement, the prospect of becoming “carbon neutral” barely rated a mention in China’s national policies.

China currently accounts for about 28% of global carbon emissions – double the U.S. contribution and three times the European Union’s. Meeting the pledge will demand a deep transition of not just China’s energy system, but its entire economy.

Importantly, China’s use of coal, oil and gas must be slashed, and its industrial production stripped of emissions. This will affect demand for Australia’s exports in coming decades.

It remains to be seen whether China’s climate promise is genuine, or simply a ploy to win international favor. But it puts pressure on many other nations – not least Australia – to follow.
» Read article               

» More about climate           

 

CLEAN ENERGY

goodbye NY peakers
New York says goodbye to 6 dirty power plants and hello to working with communities
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
October 15, 2020

New York’s latest move toward its aggressive decarbonization goals makes good on the promise of a more equitable transition. On Tuesday, the New York Power Authority (NYPA), a publicly owned power utility, announced an agreement to work with environmental justice groups on a plan to transition six natural gas–fired power plants in New York City to cleaner technologies.

These are not just any power plants. The six facilities in question are “peaker plants,” designed to fire up only during times of peak demand, like hot summer days when New Yorkers are cranking up their air conditioners — and air quality is already compromised.

Peaker plants typically operate less than 10 percent of the time, but they have an outsized effect on communities and the environment. Of the city’s 16 peaker plants, most of them are at least 50 years old, and some run on especially dirty fuels like oil or kerosene. These old plants are disproportionately located in communities of color in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens that are simultaneously burdened with other health risks like heat vulnerability. In addition to emitting carbon dioxide that is heating up the planet, they release harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and tiny, easily inhalable particles that contribute to respiratory issues.

Residents in these communities also feel the burden year-round on their energy bills. A recent report estimated that New Yorkers pay $450 million per year to run the city’s peaker plants no more than a few hundreds hours. The report was authored by the newly formed PEAK Coalition, an alliance of five leading environmental justice groups working to replace fossil fuel peaker plants with renewable energy and battery storage.

Now NYPA has agreed to bring PEAK into the fold as it studies ways to transition its six plants to cleaner technologies. In a memorandum of understanding, the two parties agreed to “evaluate the potential to replace existing peaker units” and “augment or otherwise install renewable and battery storage systems” on these sites and in surrounding communities.
» Read article              
» Read the PEAK Coalition report on peaker plants       
» Read the memorandum of understanding          
» Read the press release              

 

Hoover DamEnvironmentalists and Dam Operators, at War for Years, Start Making Peace
Facing a climate crisis, environmental groups and industry agree to work together to bolster hydropower while reducing harm from dams.
By Brad Plumer, New York Times
October 13, 2020

The industry that operates America’s hydroelectric dams and several environmental groups announced an unusual agreement Tuesday to work together to get more clean energy from hydropower while reducing the environmental harm from dams, in a sign that the threat of climate change is spurring both sides to rethink their decades-long battle over a large but contentious source of renewable power.

The United States generated about 7 percent of its electricity last year from hydropower, mainly from large dams built decades ago, such as the Hoover Dam, which uses flowing water from the Colorado River to power turbines. But while these facilities don’t emit planet-warming carbon dioxide, the dams themselves have often proved ecologically devastating, choking off America’s once-wild rivers and killing fish populations.

So, over the past 50 years, conservation groups have rallied to block any large new dams from being built, while proposals to upgrade older hydropower facilities or construct new water-powered energy-storage projects have often been bogged down in lengthy regulatory disputes over environmental safeguards.

The new agreement signals a desire to de-escalate this long-running war.

In a joint statement, industry groups and environmentalists said they would collaborate on a set of specific policy measures that could help generate more renewable electricity from dams already in place, while retrofitting many of the nation’s 90,000 existing dams to be safer and less ecologically damaging.
» Read article              
» Read the joint statement            

 

CANADA-ECONOMY-ENERGY-FOREST-WATER

Aerial view of Hydro-Quebec’s Romaine 1 hydroelectric dam in Havre St. Pierre, Quebec, October 3, 2018. – On a frigid night, the roar of heavy machinery chipping away at rock echoes through Canada’s boreal forest: in the far north of Quebec province, four massive hydroelectric dams that will produce power for US markets are nearing completion. (Photo by Lars Hagberg / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Clement SABOURIN (Photo by LARS HAGBERG/AFP via Getty Images)

New York and New England Need More Clean Energy. Is Hydropower From Canada the Best Way to Get it?
Two massive projects, requiring hundreds of miles of transmissions lines, have left Indigenous communities in Canada, and some U.S. activists, up in arms.
By Ilana Cohen, InsideClimate News
Photo: Hydro-Quebec’s Romaine 1 hydroelectric dam in Havre St. Pierre, Quebec. Credit: Lars Hagberg/AFP via Getty Images
October 4, 2020

 

With only months until developers start making both projects on-the-ground realities, they have seized public attention within, and beyond, their regions.

Officials and transmission line proponents say importing Canadian hydropower offers an immediate and feasible way to help decarbonize electricity portfolios in New York and New England, supporting their broader efforts to combat climate change. 

But some environmental activists say hydropower has a significant carbon footprint of its own. They fear the projects will make states look “greener” at the expense of the local environment, Indigenous communities, and ultimately, the climate. 

“We’re talking about the most environmentally and economically just pathway” to decarbonization, said Annel Hernandez, associate director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance. “Canadian hydro is not going to provide that.” 

To that end, environmental groups opposing Canadian hydropower say New York and New England should seize the moment to expedite local development of wind and solar power.
» Read article               

 

filtered sunlightCalifornia’s solar energy gains go up in wildfire smoke
Pollution from wildfires blocked sunlight and coated solar panels
By Justine Calma, The Verge
October 1, 2020

Smoke from California’s unprecedented wildfires was so bad that it cut a significant chunk of solar power production in the state. Solar power generation dropped off by nearly a third in early September as wildfires darkened the skies with smoke, according to the US Energy Information Administration. 

Those fires create thick smoke, laden with particles that block sunlight both when they’re in the air and when they settle onto solar panels. In the first two weeks of September, soot and smoke caused solar-powered electricity generation to fall 30 percent compared to the July average, according to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which oversees nearly all utility-scale solar energy in California. It was a 13.4 percent decrease from the same period last year, even though solar capacity in the state has grown about 5 percent since September 2019.
» Read article              

 

no nukes here
Nuclear power hinders fight against climate change
Countries investing in renewables are achieving carbon reductions far faster than those which opt to back nuclear power.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
October 6, 2020

Countries wishing to reduce carbon emissions should invest in renewables, abandoning any plans for nuclear power stations because they can no longer be considered a low-carbon option.

That is the conclusion of a study by the University of Sussex Business School, published in the journal Nature Energy, which analysed World Bank and International Energy Agency data from 125 countries over a 25-year period.

The study provides evidence that it is difficult to integrate renewables and nuclear together in a low-carbon strategy, because they require two different types of grid. Because of this, the authors say, it is better to avoid building nuclear power stations altogether.

A country which favours large-scale nuclear stations inevitably freezes out the most effective carbon-reducing technologies − small-scale renewables such as solar, wind and hydro power, they conclude.

Perhaps their most surprising finding is that countries around the world with large-scale nuclear programmes do not tend to show significantly lower carbon emissions over time. In poorer countries nuclear investment is associated with relatively higher emissions.
» Read article              
» Obtain the study            

» More about clean energy                           

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

EEaaS
Cities push ahead on Energy Efficiency as a Service as private sector plays catch up
Forms of EEaaS have existed for decades as alternative funding mechanisms in cities. Now, as technologies accelerate and COVID-19 continues, the private sector wants in.
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 5, 2020

The proliferation of new technologies has transformed areas of mobility and software into comprehensive service offerings to bolster operations. Now, public sector entities are leading the charge on a tech-driven service offering that’s been bubbling under the surface for decades: Energy Efficiency as a Service (EEaaS).

Under EEaaS, businesses and governments can underwrite the up-front costs of energy efficiency upgrades, then pay for them with the savings they get from those upgrades over the course of a long-term financial contract. Those upgrades are typically in the areas of lighting, air conditioning (HVAC) and energy management.

As an alternative funding mechanism, forms of EEaaS have existed for decades. But in contrast to typical innovation trends, the public sector is pushing ahead on EEaaS as private companies try to catch up.
» Read article              

» More about energy efficiency                  

 

ENERGY STORAGE

lithium and moreTo batteries and beyond: Lithium-ion dominates utility storage; could competing chemistries change that?
The industry is growing increasingly comfortable with lithium-ion, but its limitations open up a space for other technologies to compete in the storage mix.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 15, 2020

Lots of utilities are coming out with carbon goals, and renewables are going to play a big part in that, said Zachary Kuznar, managing director of energy storage, microgrid and CHP development at Duke Energy.

“As you put more and more solar and wind on the grid, the batteries are going to be, in my opinion, kind of an essential resource to help smooth out that intermittency,” Kuznar said. 

“But also, as we get more into some of these more long-duration technologies, like flow batteries and others, I think it’s going to be a critical piece to potentially offset the need to build some kind of future peaking plants.”
» Read article              

 

long-duration energy storage
To batteries and beyond: Compressed air, liquid air and the holy grail of long-duration storage
Proponents of the technologies are looking to carve out a niche for themselves in the market. In both cases, a key draw is duration.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 14, 2020

In 1991, generation and transmission cooperative PowerSouth — then known as the Alabama Electric Cooperative — started operating a 110 MW compressed air energy storage (CAES) plant in McIntosh, Alabama.

The project was the first of its kind in the U.S., and had a 26-hour duration. It essentially served as a peaker plant, to smooth demand between the low weekday loads and high weekend peaks that came from having a predominantly residential load, according to Bobby Bailie, business development director for energy storage at Siemens Energy. Bailie used to work for Dresser-Rand, the company that built the equipment at the McIntosh plant, which was acquired by Siemens in 2015.

Nearly three decades later, the McIntosh plant is still the only operational utility-scale CAES plant in the U.S. But more recently, utilities and developers have taken a renewed interest in the technology for a completely different reason: the ability to store large amounts of renewable energy for long periods of time.
» Read article              

 

pumped hydro storageTo batteries and beyond: In a high-renewables world, pumped hydro storage could be ‘the heavy artillery’
Experts say pumped hydro is notoriously difficult to site. But as more renewables come online, the industry is eyeing new locations and fresh technologies.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 13, 2020

 

“You just can’t keep bringing on more and more solar and wind, and just have it then stop when the sun goes down,” [Jim Day, CEO of Daybreak Power] said. “With pumped storage, they were all built some decades ago and they haven’t been built since then, because there was no demand for it…. But there is now, and there will be more and more and more in the coming years.”

Pumped storage hydropower accounted for around 95% of commercial energy storage capacity in the U.S. as of 2018, with around 21.6 GW of installed capacity around the country. Facilities traditionally include two reservoirs, at different elevations; they draw power by pumping water to the upper reservoir, and generate it by passing that water through a turbine. But experts say it’s notoriously difficult to find suitable locations for the pumped hydro plants, which are large, rely on specific geographies like mountains, and have prolonged permitting and development timelines that can stretch to a decade. 

“Pumped storage is very difficult to site. It has a lot of environmental issues with it,” said Glenn McGrath, leader of the electricity statistics, uranium statistics and product innovation team at the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In 2017, the National Hydropower Association issued a white paper looking at the challenges and opportunities tied to developing new pumped storage, and noted that past projects have generally required constructing a minimum of one dam on main stem rivers, which could affect the local ecology. According to the report, developing “closed-loop” projects — built in areas not connected to river systems — could reduce those concerns.
» Read article             
» Read the NHA white paper       

 

 

hydrogen storageTo batteries and beyond: With seasonal storage potential, hydrogen offers ‘a different ballgame entirely’
The ability to provide weeks — or even months — of storage could give power-to-gas technologies an edge as renewables grow on the grid, some experts think.
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
October 12, 2020

Jack Brouwer started thinking about the potential of using hydrogen to store massive amounts of energy around 12 years ago.

The idea was this: take inexpensive or excess renewable energy, run it through an electrolyzer to create hydrogen, store that hydrogen for as long as needed, and then use fuel cells to convert it back into electricity. Brouwer, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Irvine, took the idea to the U.S. Department of Energy, and tried to convince the agency that the technology was essential to achieving carbon policy goals and supporting a renewables-heavy grid.

But the agency didn’t move forward with the idea so Brouwer and a group of his students began researching the issue. In 2013, they published a paper that looked at the potential of using large-scale compressed gas to store energy and smooth out intermittent wind resources. That paper caught the attention of some people at Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) — the nation’s largest gas utility — who reached out, saying they too had been thinking about the potential of hydrogen and wanted to talk, Brouwer said in an interview.

The discussion led to a demonstration project that was set up at UC Irvine’s campus in 2016, Brouwer said, that made renewable hydrogen from solar power using an electrolyzer — “and then taking that renewable hydrogen, injecting it into our natural gas grid and then delivering it, through our natural gas grid, to a natural gas combined cycle plant to make partially decarbonized electricity from it.”

It ran for four years. By the end, Brouwer’s vision for the technology had crystallized: transforming the natural gas delivery system into a renewable hydrogen delivery system, and using it as a cost-effective way to introduce massive amounts of storage.

“If you need to store terawatt hours of energy — which is what the grid will need if it’s 100% renewable — it’s going to be way cheaper to store it in the form of hydrogen,” Brouwer said.
» Read article             
» Read the 2013 paper        

» More about energy storage               

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV charge partnership
Electric vehicle firms partner to ramp up charging station access, reliability
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 14, 2020

Electric vehicle (EV) charging management company EV Connect announced its Partner Program on Wednesday to expand access to EV charging stations and improve their maintenance. BTCPower, EVBox and EVoCharge were named the initial program partners.

Through the new EV Connect Manufacturer Portal, the partners can provide manufacturers with insight into charging stations’ performance, meaning maintenance can be managed more quickly and proactively, in a bid to ensure that charging station availability is not affected by downtime. The companies will be able to keep track of stations’ performance data, EV Connect CEO Jordan Ramer said, meaning they can “proactively fix stations before they break.”

For EV users, Ramer said the partnership can help expand charging station access by improving reliability at those stations and reducing downtime for maintenance issues. Meanwhile, cities and site owners looking to manage EV charging infrastructure will benefit from reduced maintenance and operating costs as issues can be more easily tracked and fixed, Ramer said.
» Read article              

» More about clean transportation                   

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

planned abandonmentWith Bankruptcies Mounting, Faltering Oil and Gas Firms Are Leaving a Multi-billion Dollar Cleanup Bill to the Public
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 15, 2020

Amid a record wave of bankruptcies, the U.S. oil and gas industry is on the verge of defaulting on billions of dollars in environmental cleanup obligations.

Even the largest companies in the industry appear to have few plans to properly clean up and plug oil and gas wells after the wells stop producing — despite being legally required to do so. While the bankruptcy process could be an opportunity to hold accountable either these firms, or the firms acquiring the assets via bankruptcy, it instead has offered more opportunities for companies to walk away from cleanup responsibilities — while often rewarding the same executives who bankrupted them. 

The results may be publicly funded cleanups of the millions of oil and gas wells that these companies have left behind. In a new report, Carbon Tracker, an independent climate-focused financial think tank, has estimated the costs to plug the 2.6 million documented onshore wells in the U.S. at $280 billion. This estimate does not include the costs to address an estimated 1.2 million undocumented wells.

Greg Rogers, a former Big Oil advisor, and co-author of a previous Carbon Tracker report on the likely costs of properly shutting down shale wells, suggested to DeSmog that oil and gas companies have factored walking away from their cleanup responsibilities into their business planning.
» Read article        
» Read background article from 10/4              
» Read the Carbon Tracker report       

 

airborne radioactivity
Airborne radioactivity increases downwind of fracking, study finds
Particles released by drilling could damage the health of nearby residents, say scientists
By Damian Carrington, the Guardian
October 13, 2020

The radioactivity of airborne particles increases significantly downwind of fracking sites in the US, a study has found.

The Harvard scientists said this could damage the health of people living in nearby communities and that further research was needed to understand how to stop the release of the radioactive elements from under the ground.

The radioactivity rose by 40% compared with the background level in the most affected sites. The increase will be higher for people living closer than 20km to the fracking sites, which was the closest distance that could be assessed with the available data.

The scientists used data collected from 157 radiation-monitoring stations across the US between 2001 and 2017. The stations were built during the cold war when nuclear war was a threat. They compared data with the position and production records of 120,000 fracking wells.

“Our results suggest that an increase in particle radioactivity due to the extensive [fracking development] may cause adverse health outcomes in nearby communities,” the team concluded.
» Read article        

 

end of an eraVenezuela, Once an Oil Giant, Reaches the End of an Era
Venezuela’s oil reserves, the world’s largest, transformed the country and the global energy market. Now its oil sector is grinding to a halt. Will it ever recover?
By Sheyla Urdaneta, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Isayen Herrera, New York Times
Photographs by Adriana Loureiro Fernandez
October 7, 2020

CABIMAS, Venezuela — For the first time in a century, there are no rigs searching for oil in Venezuela.

Wells that once tapped the world’s largest crude reserves are abandoned or left to flare toxic gases that cast an orange glow over depressed oil towns.

Refineries that once processed oil for export are rusting hulks, leaking crude that blackens shorelines and coats the water in an oily sheen.

Fuel shortages have brought the country to a standstill. At gas stations, lines go on for miles.

Venezuela’s colossal oil sector, which shaped the country and the international energy market for a century, has come to a near halt, with production reduced to a trickle by years of gross mismanagement and American sanctions. The collapse is leaving behind a destroyed economy and a devastated environment, and, many analysts say, bringing to an end the era of Venezuela as an energy powerhouse.

In Cabimas, a town on the shores of Lake Maracaibo that was once a center of production for the region’s prolific oil fields, crude seeping from abandoned underwater wells and pipelines coats the crabs that former oil workers haul from the lake with blackened hands.

When it rains, oil that has oozed into the sewage system comes up through manholes and drains, coursing with rainwater through the streets, smearing houses and filling the town with its gaseous stench.

Cabimas’s desolation marks a swift downfall for a town that just a decade ago was one of the richest in Venezuela.
» Read article              

 

sangre del diablo
Blood of the Devil

A brief history of oil colonialism in Ecuador, and what happened in the decades leading up to a landmark lawsuit against Texaco in the 1990s.
By Karen Savage and Amy Westervelt, Drilled News
October 2, 2020

Tens of thousands of Ecuadorians have been locked in legal battle with the oil major Chevron for decades. In recent years media attention has been focused on the lawyers in this case, but to understand what’s at stake we need to go back and look at what actually happened in Ecuador as the original defendant in this case, Texaco, began to explore for oil there.

Texaco began its search for Ecuadorian oil in March 1964, when the junta, the military government that had seized power the previous year, granted the firm a concession agreement. The initial agreement gave TexPet, Texaco’s Latin American subsidiary, the right to explore for oil in the Oriente region (in the eastern side of the country, covered primarily by rainforest).

Three years later, in the northern region of the concession that was home to the Indigenous A’i, or Cofán people, Texaco found what it was looking for deep under the rainforest: a vast, untapped reservoir of crude. Texaco and the government expanded their concession agreement, making a subsidiary named TexPet the “consortium operator” in charge of exploration and development of new oil fields.

TexPet’s operations in the A’i ancestral lands eventually expanded to include 15 fields, 18 production facilities, and 316 wells, as well as hundreds of miles of pipelines connecting them.

Texaco’s discovery made bold national headlines and mesmerized government officials, who anticipated that the black gold would line Ecuador’s coffers…and possibly their own pockets.

But the inhabitants of the region knew better, because by the late 1960s, Texaco and its frenzied search for oil, or sangre del diablo, “blood of the devil,” as locals came to call it, had already taken a devastating toll on Indigenous tribes including the Cofán, Secoya, Siona, Huarani, Sansahuari, Kichwa, Rumipamba, and Tetete.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels                

 

BIOMASS

Korea biomass suit
Korean solar industry makes unprecedented legal challenge to “green” credentials of biomass energy

Canadian citizen joins suit against Korean government alleging irreparable harm to forests and climate from use of British Columbia wood pellets
By Adam Eagle and Joojin Kim, Partnership for Policy Integrity
September 27, 2020

Solar developers in South Korea are filing a potentially game-changing lawsuit against their national government today (midday Korea Standard Time, 28 September), citing unconstitutional renewable energy subsidies to wood burning that have worsened air pollution, accelerated climate change, and stunted the growth of the Korean solar energy sector. The case represents the first national-level lawsuit challenging the status of wood-burning as renewable energy.

Joining as a plaintiff in the case is a Canadian citizen who represents ancient forests of British Columbia that are being harvested to make wood pellets burned in South Korea, the UK, and Europe.  The suit represents the first time a non-Korean plaintiff has challenged the Korean government for failing in their climate duties and breaching human rights. Other plaintiffs in the case include residents of Korea who live near plants burning biomass and who are affected by the resulting air pollution.

Korea already has some of the most polluted air in the world. Last year, South Korea passed emergency powers to combat the ‘social disaster’ of air pollution leading to the temporary closure of a quarter of its coal-fired power plants.  Joojin Kim, managing director of Seoul-based Solutions For Our Climate, the organization coordinating the case, said: “Data from the plant operators themselves show that biomass plants can emit even more air pollution per megawatt-hour than coal plants, yet the Korean government is increasingly dependent on bioenergy to meet our renewable energy goals, stunting the growth of vital zero-emissions technologies like solar power.”

In addition to conventional air pollutants, burning biomass for electricity generation emits more carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour than burning coal, and multiple scientific studies have found that slow forest regrowth cannot come close to compensating for the excess greenhouse gases in time to meet emissions reduction targets. Bioenergy generation received nearly 40% of total renewable energy subsidies issued between 2014 and 2018 in Korea, the highest among renewable energy sources according to research by Solutions for Our Climate.
» Read article               

» More about biomass             

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

ocean floor plasticsNew Study: 15.5 Million Tons of Microplastics Litter Ocean Floor
By Jordan Davidson, EcoWatch
October 6, 2020

Microplastics can be found everywhere from Antarctica to the Pyrenees. A significant amount of plastic waste ends up in the ocean, but very little has been known about how much ends up on the ocean floor — until now.

A new study has found that the ocean floor contains nearly 15.5 tons of microplastics, CNN reported.

Researchers from Australia’s government science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), examined microplastics on the ocean floor near the Great Australian Bight, a large expanse that comprises the bulk of the country’s southwest coastline.

The researchers used a robotic submarine to gather and analyze samples taken from six locations up to 236 miles off the coast, and up to almost 10,000 feet deep, reported CNN.

The results, which were published Monday in Frontiers in Marine Science, revealed about 35 times more plastic at the bottom of the ocean than floating at the surface. In 51 samples taken between March and April 2017, researchers found an average of 1.26 microplastic pieces per gram of sediment, a concentration that’s up to 25 times greater than any previous deep-sea study, CNN reported.
» Read article              
» Read the research article          

» More about plastics in the environment  

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