Tag Archives: clean energy

Weekly News Check-In 9/9/22

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Welcome back.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s notorious side deal that allowed the Inflation Reduction Act to proceed included a hefty push to resurrect the fortunes of the troubled Mountain Valley Pipeline. The sudden national publicity around this bad idea has drawn a lot of unwanted attention. Yesterday, thousands of protesters gathered in Washington, DC to demand a stop to this particular pipeline madness.

Aside from that notably crummy deal, the law is pretty good. Billions of dollars in new federal funds are expected to reshape the struggle over gas bans and electrification in residential and commercial buildings. How this plays out will influence emissions and fossil fuel development for decades. It has also accelerated the pace of clean energy projects all over the country. And the right technologies are working toward commercial scale – the exciting news about batteries this week involves Massachusetts-based Ambri, currently deploying their antimony-based liquid metal battery in Aurora, Colorado to field test under harsh conditions. Antimony isn’t supply-constrained like lithium, and the batteries should last much longer.

Those are big batteries, but small ones matter too. It won’t be long till thousands – even millions – of electric vehicles will be in direct communication with the grid, offering a couple kWh here and there for a fee collected by each vehicle’s owner.

All that electrification (both supply and demand) requires modernization of the grid, but a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds that if the US economy decarbonizes its grid in just 13 years it would save up to $1.2 trillion in avoided health and climate costs. Right now, Team Electrification is feeling pretty good.

And for those folks looking at their soaring electric bills and wondering why, exactly, are we proposing to plug in even more stuff, we offer an excellent article explaining what’s been happening to utilities recently – particularly in New England where we sleep-walked into an over-dependence on natural gas power plants. Read that and then take a look at what’s happening in Asia – getting in really deep with its own build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure. Then swing back around to Europe, waking up to the environmental consequences of their move toward biomass – but seemingly unable to kick the habit. The problem is our species’s obsession with burning stuff.

Taking a wider look at greening the economy, the U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday published an industrial decarbonization road map, laying out a comprehensive strategy to reduce emissions associated with five sectors: chemical manufacturing, petroleum refining, iron and steel, cement production, and the food and beverage industry. All this economy-altering investment is opening a path to good jobs – many of them strategically targeted to areas, like Appalachian coal country, that have been losing fossil industry employment for years.

We’ll wind down with a report on the cryptocurrency Ethereum, which has just kicked off “The Merge” – intended to shift to an energy-efficient blockchain transaction verification protocol that should reduce its electricity consumption by an estimated 99.95 percent. We hope it works, because last week the cryptocurrency network was estimated to use as much electricity annually as the country of Bangladesh.

And we’ll close with how the plastics industry. Facing global pressure to curb massive volumes of waste, it’s floating all sorts of chemical recycling proposals. But close examinations by environmental advocates and media organizations over the last few years have found few commercial successes, and concerns about environmental risks.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PIPELINES

welcome to the south
Dangerous Mountain Valley Pipeline Has No Place in Manchin’s Deal With Democrats
By Jacob Hileman, Truthout | Opinion
September 5, 2022

Thanks to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) conditioning his vote for the Inflation Reduction Act on a backroom permitting reform deal that would complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), this highly contentious fracked gas pipeline has become a household name.

The attention is not good news for the MVP.

While the MVP has long been a scourge to rural Appalachian communities in Virginia and West Virginia, with Manchin’s help, the MVP has morphed into a full-blown national scandal.

Before Congress considers any legislation addressing the MVP, it is vital to understand why this pipeline is a terrible idea.

Firstly, the MVP is not just another pipeline.

At 42 inches in diameter and 303 miles long, the MVP is among the largest methane gas pipelines in the U.S. However, what sets the MVP apart is the unprecedented level of risk associated with the pipeline’s route. Over 200 miles of the MVP crosses areas that have experienced landslides in the past and are highly susceptible to future landslides, including over 75 miles of steep mountain slopes.

No other gas transmission pipeline in the U.S. has ever attempted to cross so many miles of such unforgiving terrain.

According to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, from 2001-2020, landslides were one of the most frequent causes of “significant incidents” involving gas transmission pipelines in Appalachia. The MVP has already been impacted by multiple landslide events during construction, including one where “the installed pipe shifted … in at least three locations.”

When a high-volume, high-pressure gas pipeline like the MVP ruptures, the common industry assumption is that there is at least an 80 percent chance of an explosion. Landslides have caused no fewer than five major gas pipeline explosions in Appalachia in just the past four years. Thankfully, gas has never flowed through the MVP — the blast zone is nearly a half-mile wide.

Secondly, the MVP cannot rightly be considered a critical infrastructure project.

If it were, then it stands to reason the developers would have selected the route that would give the MVP the greatest chance of success. Not the shortest, and presumably cheapest, route between its beginning and endpoint. Appalachia is crisscrossed by many major gas pipelines — including pipelines considerably longer than the MVP — yet none come close to crossing as many steep, landslide-prone slopes.

There is no guarantee that the MVP, if completed, will be able to provide the safe and reliable supply of gas touted by its developers. Furthermore, given the increase in heat waves and wildfires in the West, catastrophic flooding in Appalachia and worldwide droughts being driven by climate-busting fossil fuels, bringing any additional methane gas out of the ground is inherently unsafe.
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

exec order
Appalachian, Indigenous pipeline foes protest climate deal
By Ellie Silverman, Washington Post
September 8, 2022

[…] To secure the support of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Democratic leadership reached a side deal with Manchin that would overhaul the process for approving new energy initiatives and expedite the 300-mile-long Mountain Valley Pipeline project — a natural gas pipeline across West Virginia and Virginia that those rallying in D.C. on Thursday have opposed for years.

[Roishetta] Ozane, an organizer for Healthy Gulf, an environmental justice organization, was one of the hundreds protesting Thursday at the Robert A. Taft Memorial Carillon, joining people from Appalachia and as far away as Alaska to demand that lawmakers reject this side deal, said Grace Tuttle, a lead organizer of the rally who has been advocating against the Mountain Valley Pipeline for three years. Tuttle said the demonstration will be a show of solidarity among communities affected “first and worst” by fossil fuel developments.

The landmark Inflation Reduction Act will significantly advance the fight against climate change, spending about $370 billion to bring the country closer to achieving the emissions cuts scientists say are required to avoid the devastating consequences of the Earth’s warming.

Rally organizers argue that the side deal, if passed, would “gut bedrock environmental protections, threaten tribal authority, endanger public health, fast-track fossil fuel projects, cut public input and push approval for Manchin’s pet project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline.”

[…] Those rallying are especially concerned with the easing of permitting restrictions, warning it could weaken an important environmental protection law that Indigenous people have frequently used to challenge projects they believed would harm their communities.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

NATURAL GAS BANS

under construction
‘Huge amount of money’ in climate law could spawn gas bans
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
September 7, 2022

The climate and energy law signed by President Joe Biden last month may reshape a national tug of war over gas bans and electrification, with the outcome influencing emissions and fossil fuel development for decades.

Billions of dollars in new federal funds from the Inflation Reduction Act are set to flow to building owners and residents who swap out gas boilers, stoves and water heaters for electric-powered technologies. The dollars come on top of city-level policies in at least seven states banning fossil fuels in new buildings, including dozens of municipalities in California that followed the city of Berkeley in enacting the nation’s first gas ban in 2019. New York City, Seattle and much of the state of Washington followed with similar measures.

Additional bans could emerge in new jurisdictions partly because of the new federal law, some electrification advocates said.

The climate law signed by Biden in August “totally transforms all of those conversations [over banning fossil fuels] and makes all of this so, so much easier,” said Ben Furnas, a former sustainability chief for New York City, where lawmakers passed a law last year prohibiting new buildings from using fossil fuel heat, starting in 2023.

Yet gas advocates are vowing to fight electrification mandates, and they may get help from state officials, existing statutes and a lawsuit in California. Twenty states also have passed laws that preempt cities from restricting buildings’ access to fossil fuels, meaning the Inflation Reduction Act’s voluntary electrification programs won’t lead to New York City-style bans.

“Over the past three years, we have seen the energy policy debate veer away from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to an anti-fossil fuel and anti-infrastructure push,” said George Lowe, vice president of governmental affairs and public policy for the American Gas Association, in a written statement.

Limiting fossil fuel access is a “mistake” that would “negatively impact customers and keep us from achieving our shared goals” for decarbonization, Lowe added. “Over the next several years, we will continue to see these debates play out in state capitols across the country,” he predicted.

The climate law provides tax credits for installing heat pumps, rebates for whole-home retrofits, and extra financing for local and state programs that promote electrification of buildings. Under the plan, U.S. manufacturers of heat pumps could also see the Department of Energy step up as a buyer, drawing from $500 million in new Defense Production Act funds.

In some cases, funds from the law could pay for higher-performing gas products, but billions are allocated explicitly for abandoning fossil fuels.

One such program, known as the High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program (HEEH), sets aside $4.5 billion in rebates for homeowners who switch out fossil fuel appliances for electric heat pumps, water heaters and induction stoves. Up to $8,000 can be provided per household for electric heat pumps, which can cost in the vicinity of $20,000.

“Every ambitious city councilperson or mayor of small or medium cities could see it as a real feather in their cap to push for this stuff, and they’ll know the feds have got their back,” added Furnas, who is now executive director of the 2030 Project, a climate initiative at Cornell University.

However, a factor working against the law is that states led by Republican critics may have significant influence over funds funneled through the Department of Energy.
» Read article      

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

energy dense
To decarbonize industry, DOE road map focuses on efficiency, electrification and low-carbon fuels
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
September 8, 2022

The U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday published an industrial decarbonization road map, laying out a comprehensive strategy to reduce emissions associated with five sectors: chemical manufacturing, petroleum refining, iron and steel, cement production, and the food and beverage industry.

Heavy industry is the source of about 30% of primary energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, the department says. Its approach will focus on energy efficiency improvements, electrification, the use of low-carbon fuels, and carbon capture utilization and storage, or CCUS.

Alongside the new road map, DOE announced a $104 million funding opportunity for industrial decarbonization technologies. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy called the road map a “landmark plan” to help companies address emissions at scale.

The United States has been investing in clean industry technologies for years, but the plan released yesterday “embodies a bolder approach,” according to ACEEE Industrial Program Director Edward Rightor, who is also co-chair of the team that developed the DOE report.

DOE’s new plan is “a more ambitious strategy, grounded in a cohesive approach incorporating partnership opportunities for industry to accelerate decarbonization,” Rightor said.

The road map will focus on five of the most CO2-intensive industries, which DOE says represent slightly more than half of energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. industrial sector and 15% of economywide total CO2 emissions.

The industrial sector is “critical to our economy and daily lives, yet it currently accounts for an enormous portion of greenhouse gas emissions, and is particularly difficult to decarbonize,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

The strategy and funding opportunity “couldn’t come at a better time,” White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said in a statement. The announcements build on funding in the Inflation Reduction Act and bipartisan infrastructure law, she said, and the initiatives will make investments “in our workforce while reducing pollution burdens on fenceline communities.”

The strategy leans on energy efficiency, the electrification of industrial processes, use of low-carbon fuels — including green hydrogen and biofuels — and CCUS, which DOE said will focus on “permanent geologic storage as well as developing processes to use captured CO2 to manufacture new materials.”
» Read article    
» Read DOE’s Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap

lecture
‘This is the future’: rural Virginia pivots from coal to green jobs
Region’s long awaited energy and economic transition will be substantially boosted by US’s first climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
Photographs by Mike Belleme
September 8, 2022

[…] Wise county is a picturesque Appalachian community bordering eastern Kentucky where for decades coal dominated the economy – and almost every aspect of life. It’s home to the self-proclaimed cleanest coal plant in America, a sprawling polluting and economically unviable mountain ridge plant currently scheduled to keep operating until 2045.

The population has declined by 12% since 2010 to just over 35,000. Fancy houses built with coal wealth are scattered across the mountain ridges, but the poverty rate stands at about 21%, more than 50% higher than the national average, and the county’s schools qualify for universal free school meals.

Over the past five years or so Appalachian Voices has been among a consortium of non-profits working with communities, unions, businesses and local governments to help the region transition to a more environmentally and economically sustainable renewable energy economy.

It’s taken time to help change local and state laws, but even longer to shift attitudes and the deep connection people feel to coal. “The politics around clean energy are not as simplistic as Democrat or Republican,” said Chelsea Barnes, the group’s legal director. “It’s been difficult even proving that solar jobs can be good union jobs, like coal.”

But the work has paid off, and central Appalachia is in a good place to take advantage of the IRA provisions and historic investments.

The youth apprenticeship scheme is the brainchild of entrepreneurs at Secure Futures and Got Electric – Virginia-based companies installing distributed solar systems for government agencies, hospitals, schools and commercial properties.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

unaccounted
The most influential calculation in US climate policy is way off, study finds

Carbon emissions cost society at least three times more than the government’s official estimate.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
September 1, 2022

The United States doesn’t have any federal laws that say electric utilities have to switch to carbon-free power. We don’t yet have any national rules mandating the sale of electric vehicles or plans to phase out oil and gas drilling. Despite years of talk about a tax on carbon, we don’t have that either. What we do have, when it comes to regulations that address climate change, is a decidedly duller but still effective tool called the social cost of carbon, or SCC.

The social cost of carbon is a dollar amount that approximates the cost to society of adding — or the benefits of not adding — 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. It is underpinned by scientific models that look deep into the future to estimate what that CO2 will mean in terms of lost lives, reduced crop yields, and damage caused by rising seas. The government uses this number as one of several key metrics to evaluate the costs and benefits of policies that affect greenhouse gas emissions, like fuel economy standards for vehicles or oil and gas leasing plans. It makes decisions that increase carbon output look a lot more expensive than those that do the opposite.

But perhaps not expensive enough. A new study published in the journal Nature on Thursday found that the social cost of carbon should be more than three times higher than the $51 dollar figure the Biden administration currently uses.

“We are vastly underestimating the harm of each additional ton of carbon dioxide that we release into the atmosphere,” said Richard Newell, president of the nonprofit think tank Resources for the Future and one of the authors of the study, in a press release. “The implication is that the benefits of government policies and other actions that reduce global warming pollution are greater than has been assumed.”

The study arrives as the administration’s plans to re-evaluate this crucial metric have stalled. One of Biden’s first executive actions called for publishing a new social cost of carbon by January 2022 along with recommendations for improving the way it is calculated. Progress was delayed by lawsuits, and the administration has not announced a new timeline for the update. In the interim, the government is using a social cost of carbon of about $51, relying on the methodology used by the Obama administration.

“This Administration remains committed to accounting for the costs of greenhouse gas emissions as accurately as possible,” a spokesperson for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget told Grist. “We continue to assess how best to account for these costs in regulatory and budgetary contexts in the future.”

The new study finds that each ton of carbon dioxide emitted costs society about $185 in today’s dollars.
» Read article     
» Obtain the study

pet rescue
US flood maps outdated thanks to climate change, Fema director says
Deanne Criswell makes admission as ‘extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation’ hits Georgia
By Edward Helmore, The Guardian
September 4, 2022

Flood maps used by the federal government are outdated, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or Fema, said on Sunday, considering a series of devastating floods caused by excessive rainfall induced by climate change.

Deanne Criswell told CNN’s State of the Union: “The part that’s really difficult right now is the fact that our flood maps don’t take into account excessive rain that comes in. And we are seeing these record rainfalls that are happening.”

Criswell was questioned about the situation in Jackson, Mississippi, where city water facilities failed in the aftermath of heavy flooding on the Pearl River, leaving residents without drinkable or usable water.

On Sunday, thunderstorms and heavy rain pounded parts of north-west Georgia, sparking flash floods. Local news reports showed roads under water and homeowners struggling.

The Georgia governor, Brian Kemp, declared a state of emergency in Chattooga and Floyd counties, directing all state resources to help with “preparation, response and recovery activities”.

The National Weather Service (NWS) reported rainfall of up to an inch an hour. Up to 12in was estimated to have fallen, according to Kemp’s executive order.

“This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation,” the NWS said. “Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order.”

Such excessive rainfall and flooding will bring back into focus difficulties in predicting and responding to the climate crisis.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Commerce battery plant
Clean Energy Projects Surge After Climate Bill Passage
Investments in battery factories, solar panel manufacturing and mining will help the Biden administration meet targets for reducing greenhouse gases.
By Jack Ewing and Ivan Penn, New York Times
September 7, 2022

In the weeks since President Biden signed a comprehensive climate bill devised to spur investment in electric cars and clean energy, corporations have announced a series of big-ticket projects to produce the kind of technology the legislation aims to promote.

Toyota said it would invest an additional $2.5 billion in a factory in North Carolina to produce batteries for electric cars and hybrids. Honda and LG Energy Solution announced a joint venture to build a $4.4 billion battery factory at a location to be named.

Piedmont Lithium, a mining company, said it would build a plant in Tennessee to process lithium for batteries, helping to ease America’s dependence on Chinese refineries — a key aim of the Biden administration. First Solar, a big solar panel manufacturer, said it would invest up to $1.2 billion to build its fourth factory in the United States, probably somewhere in the Southeast, largely because of renewable energy incentives in the climate bill.

But those projects, announced last week, also illustrate how much work remains to be done. Factories take time to build, and until then electric vehicles are likely to remain scarce and expensive. Toyota’s factory in North Carolina and Honda’s venture with LG will not produce batteries until 2025.

Some of the projects were in the works before the federal legislation passed, and before California added an extra push by banning sales of new gasoline cars by 2035. The big climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, is the latest in a series of policy moves and geopolitical developments that have pushed automakers and suppliers to invest in the United States. The trade war with China, disruption of supply chains by the pandemic, changes in free-trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, and the bipartisan infrastructure law last year have all had a powerful impact on where companies decide to build factories.

The timing of Toyota’s announcement, two weeks after Mr. Biden signed the climate law, was a coincidence, said Norm Bafunno, a senior vice president at Toyota Motor North America whose responsibilities include the North Carolina plant.

But he added that the legislation could be a “catalyst for our domestic battery production.” And he said Toyota was working hard to fulfill provisions of the bill that encourage companies to get raw materials and components for batteries from the United States and its trade allies.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

Ambri demo
Liquid battery startup Ambri ready to embark on first utility demonstration project with Xcel Energy
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
September 6, 2022

Massachusetts-based startup Ambri plans to begin heating up the battery market — quite literally — over the next few years.

Xcel Energy and Ambri announced on August 25 that the two companies would install a liquid battery system in Aurora, Colorado, to evaluate the technology’s performance in real-world, grid-connected scenarios at the Solar Technology Acceleration Center.

“We are pleased to work with Ambri as we continue bringing our customers the clean, affordable energy they depend on,” Alice Jackson, senior vice president, system strategy, and chief planning officer at Xcel, said in a statement. “We look forward to learning what their technology can accomplish in a range of extreme environmental conditions as we look to build out the long-duration energy storage that will help us reach our carbon reduction goals.”

Although Ambri is also trialing its batteries at a data center, Briggs said the company aims to continue demonstrations with utilities and other large-scale applications through the year to come because the company believes its technology is particularly well suited to grid-scale applications.

Unlike lithium-ion batteries, which must be cooled while operating to avoid overheating, Ambri’s liquid batteries operate in a high-temperature environment, Briggs explained. The batteries are housed within insulated containers so that after the start-up phase, the heat from their own operation keeps the batteries online. This removes the cost and energy loss associated with cooling systems, Briggs said.

The antimony-based technology also has the added benefit of having a longer lifespan relative to lithium-ion technology, with Ambri’s batteries experiencing minimal capacity loss over a 20-year lifespan, Briggs said. One study cited by NREL put the average lifespan of lithium ion battery packs used in EVs at around 10.5 years, although multiple factors influence battery longevity.
» Read article      

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

GeminiBuilding a zero emissions grid in US in just 13 years would save $US1.2 trillion
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
September 4, 2022

A landmark new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US finds that if the world’s biggest economy decarbonises its grid in just 13 years it would save up to $US1.2 trillion in avoided health and climate costs.

The new study, done in conjunction with the US Department of Energy, plots a range of scenarios on how to reach net zero emissions on the world’s biggest grid in just 13 years.

Three of the four scenarios require additional power systems costs of between $US330 billion and $US400 billion, while a fourth – limited by transmission constraints and amount of wind that can be deployed – requires more storage, and more nuclear, that doubles the cost to around $US740 billion.

But each of the scenarios delivers considerable more benefits in avoided health impacts and climate change because it shuts down the combustion of fossil fuels for electricity.

According to NREL, those savings from a net zero grid include avoiding 130,000 premature deaths, saving up to $US400 billion, with a further saving of more than $US1.2 trillion when factoring in the avoided cost of damage from the impacts of climate change.

“Decarbonizing the power system is a necessary step if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided,” said Patrick Brown, an NREL analyst and co-author of the study.

“The benefits of a zero-carbon grid outweigh the costs in each of the more than 100 scenarios modeled in this study, and accelerated cost declines for renewable and clean energy technologies could lead to even larger benefits.”

The biggest challenge, according to the study, is finding a solution to the last 10 per cent to net zero.

The NREL says there is a growing body of research that shows that switching to high renewable energy power systems are possible and cost effective. But the “last 10 per cent challenge” is the part that adds significant costs because of the seasonal mismatch between variable renewables (wind and solar) and consumption.

NREL says it has been studying how to solve the last 10% challenge, including outlining key unresolved technical and economic considerations and modeling possible pathways and system costs to achieve 100% clean electricity.

Among the potential solutions cited by NREL are green hydrogen, advanced nuclear, price-responsive demand response, carbon capture and storage, direct air capture, and advanced grid controls. But they all require further R&D.

“There is no one single solution to transitioning the power sector to renewable and clean energy technologies,” said Paul Denholm, the principal investigator and lead author of the study.

“There are several key challenges that we still need to understand and will need to be addressed over the next decade to enable the speed and scale of deployment necessary to achieve the 2035 goal.”
» Read article     

Leaf V2G
This New England utility will soon pay EV owners to help to back up the grid
The New Hampshire Electric Co-op is testing a “transactive” energy rate that pays owners of electric vehicles and battery storage systems for discharging power back onto the grid during periods of high demand
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
September 7, 2022

The largest electric distribution co-op in New England is experimenting with real-time energy rates meant to help members wring more value out of their electric vehicles and battery storage devices.

The New Hampshire Electric Co-op plans to offer members what is called a transactive energy rate as soon as the end of this year. It will essentially enable members to become partners with the co-op, supplying energy from their batteries when it is most needed, and charging up when demand — and prices — are low.

“We recognize that members can provide the resources that we need through their distributed energy resources,” said Brian Callnan, vice president of power resources and access. “We need to create a system that allows them to participate.”

A central goal of the co-op’s strategic plan, the transition to a transactive energy model is key to integrating distributed energy resources into the grid, while also making adoption of the technologies more affordable for members, and increasing system reliability, he said.

Here’s how it will work: The co-op has developed a pricing signal that can be routinely sent out over the internet showing the price of power during every hour of the following day. That’s the transactive energy rate.

Customers may choose to use that pricing signal to pre-determine their charging — or discharging — behavior. They may simply limit their energy usage during peak hours, thereby saving money on their bill. Or they might use bi-directional charging technology to discharge power to the grid during those peak hours and receive a bill credit for that discharge at the transactive rate, Callnan said.

While participating members will benefit from lower energy bills, the rate’s impact on moving load around should increase overall system reliability — a benefit for all 85,000 customers, Callnan said.

The co-op, which is based in Plymouth, New Hampshire, has partnered with the state university there to test the rate’s application. The results so far are promising.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

telematics
A better way to do smart EV charging: Talk to the car
Telematics can give utilities and companies like WeaveGrid and ev.energy more ways to tap EVs to help the power grid — and make sure EV owners stay in the driver’s seat.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
September 6, 2022

Some electric-vehicle owners may be happy to earn money by letting utilities control when they charge, a way to lessen strain on the power grid. But they also want to be confident they’ll have a full battery when they need it. What’s a good way to ensure that happens? Enable utilities to communicate directly with EVs.

That’s why Apoorv Bhargava, CEO of WeaveGrid, sees telematics — the onboard computers and communications tech inside EVs — as a focal point of smart EV-charging programs. While most utilities have relied on EV chargers to serve that role, WeaveGrid partners with utilities to enable them to tap into telematics for the information they need to manage smart-charging programs. The company’s utility customers include Baltimore Gas & Electric, Xcel Energy in Colorado, Oregon’s Portland General Electric and, most recently, California’s Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).

That connection to the EV itself can ​“build a cleaner picture of what’s happening in mobility to inform what’s happening in electricity,” he said. ​“How does a customer behave? What value can that behavior create for the electric grid? Having an incomplete picture on the data side makes that very difficult.”

Getting accurate data about customer needs is particularly important if EV owners are facing an impending grid blackout, such as those occasionally triggered in California to reduce the risk of sparking a raging wildfire.

Last week, WeaveGrid and PG&E teamed up to launch evPulse, a smart-charging pilot program available exclusively to customers who live in areas at risk of having their power shut off as part of PG&E’s regime of wildfire-prevention grid outages on hot and windy days. These ​“public-safety power shutoffs,” or PSPS events, have left hundreds of thousands of customers without power, some for days at a time, over the past three years — and for EV drivers, that loss of power could leave them stranded.

The evPulse program, designed to support between 8,000 and 16,000 customers when fully rolled out, will alert EV owners before these outages occur, Bhargava said. That can help ​“ensure that their cars are charged whenever they need them to go, whether it’s to drive to Grandma’s during a PSPS event,” or, as vehicle-to-home charging technology becomes more widely available, ​“to have them on hand whenever they need their [home electricity] to be backed up.”
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

uneven burden
Why electricity prices are rising unevenly across New England
By Miriam Wasser – WBUR, and Mara Hoplamazian, on New Hampshire Public Radio
September 8, 2022

You may have noticed that your most recent electric bill is higher than usual — and if that change hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably coming this fall. These price spikes are occurring across New England, but bills are rising more in some places than others.

Some ratepayers in New Hampshire saw the price of electricity double this summer, resulting in bills up to $70 higher, while many in Massachusetts are only paying an extra $11 per month.

If it seems unfair, blame the energy markets. And if it’s confusing because everyone in New England shares an electricity grid, well, read on.

What’s happening is complicated and poses a disproportionate burden on those who can least afford higher monthly bills. But it also opens up some interesting conversations about what a future powered primarily by renewable energy sources like wind and solar could mean for your electric bill.

Here’s what you need to know:

[…] The primary reason for the spike is our reliance on fossil fuels. Specifically, natural gas.

Natural gas accounts for about 38% of the country’s electricity, though here in New England, it’s more like 53%. And the price of our main source of energy is anything but stable.

[…] Historically, New England burned oil and coal for power, but we switched many of our plants over to natural gas after the “fracking boom” in the early 2000s. Supply was high and prices were cheap, which was good for consumers, but not sustainable, said Dennis Wamsted, an analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Indeed, prices started to rise after the U.S. began turning its glut of natural gas into liquefied natural gas (LNG) and exporting it.

The COVID pandemic in 2020 temporarily disrupted this trend; the global economy came to a halt and many oil and gas operations curtailed production. But as demand for fossil fuels began to rebound in 2021, supplies haven’t recovered as quickly. This has meant steadily rising prices. Add in some record-setting cold temperatures in many parts of the country this past winter, and prices have gone up even more.

“And then Russia invaded Ukraine and the world changed,” said Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association. “We are now facing the largest international energy crisis of my lifetime. [We’re] seeing enormous volatility across all the energy commodities, and in particular, natural gas and oil.”
» Read article     

» More about electric utilities

CRYPTOCURRENCY

merging
How The Merge will slash Ethereum’s climate pollution
If The Merge is successful, it will drastically shrink the cryptocurrency’s energy use
By Justine Calma, The Verge
September 6, 2022

Ethereum just set The Merge in motion — and the stakes are huge for the planet. The Merge is arguably one of the most anticipated events yet in cryptocurrency history, when the Ethereum blockchain will switch from a disturbingly energy-hungry method of validating transactions to a new strategy that uses a fraction of the electricity as the network gobbled up before.

The transition is supposed to slash Ethereum’s energy consumption by a whopping 99.95 percent. That’s a seriously big deal since, just last week, the cryptocurrency network was estimated to use as much electricity annually as the country of Bangladesh. All that energy, of course, comes with a lot of carbon dioxide pollution that’s exacerbating climate change. Ethereum’s native token, Ether, is the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization after Bitcoin.

How is nearly all the pollution Ethereum was previously pumping out supposed to virtually disappear? It’s complicated, so let’s break it down as simply as we can.

It boils down to a dramatic change in how transactions are recorded on the Ethereum blockchain. A blockchain is a record of transactions that’s maintained communally rather than by a single institution like a bank. “Blocks” of transaction records are added to the chain by many different players, which is why blockchains are often described as “distributed ledgers.”

With so many players — also known as nodes — involved, blockchains need a security system to make sure no one screws with or takes over the ledger. Ethereum’s old version of a security system happens to be intentionally energy-intensive, so the network is switching to a new one through The Merge.
» Read article     
» Read The Verge’s handy blockchain explainer

» More about crypto

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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Exclusive: The $500bn Asia gas trap
Asian countries are investing at least $490bn in new gas infrastructure, in plans that are laden with climate and financial risk.
By Nick Ferris, Energy Monitor
September 6, 2022

Countries across Asia are investing in $500bn of new gas infrastructure, reveals an investigation by Energy Monitor. The figure is based on a new analysis of exclusive datasets provided by GlobalData, Energy Monitor’s parent company.

The investment will lock countries into polluting power generation, heating and industrial activities for decades to come. This future is incompatible with net zero by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

It also risks forcing consumers to pay inflated prices for energy – as current soaring energy prices in Europe demonstrate – as opposed to cheaper energy from low-cost renewables like solar and wind.

In all, the data shows that $186bn is being spent on new gas-fired power plants, $112bn on developing new gas fields, $81bn on new gas pipelines, $77bn on new regasification plants, $13bn on new liquefaction plants, $8bn on new storage facilities, and $4bn on new gas-processing facilities. These figures include facilities under construction, as well as those that are in the process of permitting, or have simply been announced.

“Gas used to be a regional fuel that was delivered nearby by pipelines, but it is clear that gas is going global,” says Deborah Gordon, senior principal at the think tank RMI. “Gas is becoming akin to oil: with arbitrage, geopolitical pressures, weaponisation and increasing price volatility.”

“The findings here demonstrate just how big the bubble for natural gas and LNG in Asia is getting,” adds Sam Reynolds, from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).
» Read article      

security guardRadioactive Waste ‘Everywhere’ at Ohio Oilfield Facility, Says Former Worker
Community groups present health and environmental justice concerns to the EPA, alleging workers at Austin Master Services are coated in dangerous levels of radioactive waste.
By Justin Nobel, DeSmog Blog
August 31, 2022

As Bill Torbett and his colleagues went about their work, handling the sloppy radioactive detritus of oilfields in a cavernous building in eastern Ohio, their skin and clothing often became smothered in sludge. Waste was splattered on the floor and walls, even around the electrical panels. At the end of their shifts, they typically left their uniforms in the company washing machine, which didn’t always work, and left their sludge-caked boots and hard hats in the company locker room. But when the men arrived home after a long day, the job came with them too.

“We were literally ankle-deep in sludge and a lot of times knee-deep in different spots. All that shit is dripping down on you,” says Torbett, a 51-year-old former employee of Austin Master Services, a radioactive oilfield waste facility in Martins Ferry, Ohio. “You’re saturated in it, your hands are covered in it, the denim of your uniform would hold it, and the moisture would soak right through your under-clothes and into your skin.”

“How wet?” Torbett says. “Like if you got caught outside in the rain without an umbrella. Soaking wet.”

In fact, so alarming are the conditions at Austin Master and so lax is the oversight that workers have taken things into their own hands. In one case, a second former worker has covertly passed along their dirty boots, hard hat, and headlamp for independent radiological analysis. The levels of the radioactive element radium found in the sludge on this worker’s boots was about 15 times federal cleanup limits for the nation’s worst toxic waste sites.

And yet, Austin Master appeared to keep workers in the dark about what they were handling. “They really didn’t tell me the gist of the material, I just knew it came from frack sites,” according to Torbett, who worked at the facility from November 2021 to February 2022. “There was no discussion of the material and its radioactivity.”

In April, DeSmog revealed that Concerned Ohio River Residents, a local advocacy group, had documented elevated levels of radium outside the main entrance to the Austin Master facility, that state inspection reports showed a lengthy history of concerning operating practices, and that rail cars leaving the facility for a radioactive waste disposal site in the Utah desert had arrived leaking on five occasions.

The situation at the Ohio facility appears so severe that top officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5, which covers much of the Midwest, joined local organizers in a conference call in July and made an in-person visit to the area earlier this month.

The state of Ohio has authorized Austin Master Services to receive 120 million pounds of radioactive oilfield waste at its Martins Ferry location each year.
» Read article      

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

not renewable
Europe Is Sacrificing Its Ancient Forests for Energy
Governments bet billions on burning timber for green power. The Times went deep into one of the continent’s oldest woodlands to track the hidden cost.
By Sarah Hurtes and Weiyi Cai, New York Times
Photographs by Andreea Campeanu
September 7, 2022

Burning wood was never supposed to be the cornerstone of the European Union’s green energy strategy.

When the bloc began subsidizing wood burning over a decade ago, it was seen as a quick boost for renewable fuel and an incentive to move homes and power plants away from coal and gas. Chips and pellets were marketed as a way to turn sawdust waste into green power.

Those subsidies gave rise to a booming market, to the point that wood is now Europe’s largest renewable energy source, far ahead of wind and solar.

But today, as demand surges amid a Russian energy crunch, whole trees are being harvested for power. And evidence is mounting that Europe’s bet on wood to address climate change has not paid off.

Forests in Finland and Estonia, for example, once seen as key assets for reducing carbon from the air, are now the source of so much logging that government scientists consider them carbon emitters. In Hungary, the government waived conservation rules last month to allow increased logging in old-growth forests.

And while European nations can count wood power toward their clean-energy targets, the E.U. scientific research agency said last year that burning wood released more carbon dioxide than would have been emitted had that energy come from fossil fuels.

“People buy wood pellets thinking they’re the sustainable choice, but in reality, they’re driving the destruction of Europe’s last wild forests,” said David Gehl of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington-based advocacy group that has studied wood use in Central Europe.

The industry has become so big that researchers cannot keep track of it. E.U. official research could not identify the source of 120 million metric tons of wood used across the continent last year — a gap bigger than the size of Finland’s entire timber industry. Researchers say most of that probably was burned for heating and electricity.

Next week, the European Parliament is scheduled to vote on a bill that would eliminate most industry subsidies and prohibit countries from burning whole trees to meet their clean energy targets. Only energy from wood waste like sawdust would qualify as renewable, and thus be eligible for subsidies.

But several European governments say that now is no time to meddle with an important energy industry, with supplies of Russian gas and oil in jeopardy. In the Czech Republic, protesters have mobbed the streets, furious with rising energy costs, and the French authorities have warned of rolling blackouts this winter.

Internal documents show that Central European and Nordic countries, in particular, are pushing hard to keep the wood subsidies alive.

The debate is an acute example of one of the key challenges that governments face in fighting climate change: how to balance the urgency of a warming planet against the immediate need for jobs, energy and economic stability. The European Union has been a leader in setting green policies, but it is also racing to find energy sources as Russia throttles back its supply of natural gas.
» Read article      

» More about biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

color codes
A Houston Firm Says It’s Opening a Billion-Dollar Chemical Recycling Plant in a Small Pennsylvania Town. How Does It Work?
Gov. Wolf touted jobs and less plastic pollution when the plans were announced in April, but a professor from Carnegie Mellon who’s studied the technology says it can lead to “sustainability fraud.”
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
September 6, 2022

POINT TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania—Randall Yoxheimer, chairman of the locally elected board of supervisors here, has seen economic development proposals come and go, but the latest one—a $1.1 billion chemical recycling plant for plastic waste—has left him, and even some scientists, perplexed.

Announced in April, the plant would use first-of-its-kind technology and employ hundreds of workers to turn waste plastic into new plastic. With the promise of taking a bite out of a serious global plastics problem, the new facility sounds like a terrific idea, Yoxheimer said as he sat under the bright fluorescent lights of the township’s office.

[…] With the plastics industry facing global pressure to do something to curb its waste that has touched all corners of the planet—microplastics have also been detected in human blood, feces and even human placentas—chemical recycling proposals like Encina’s have sprung up across the United States.

The concept of breaking down plastics into their core chemical elements and then using those chemicals to make new plastics in a sort of “closed loop” or “circular” economy, is advanced by many industry representatives as a desirable goal because it would, in theory, reduce the need to drill for more fossil fuels, the primary source of plastic products.

That’s how Encina officials see their efforts, said Sheida R. Sahandy, the chief sustainability officer and general counsel for the company.

“When we say that it’s circular, the idea is that you get it back to virgin quality, you can just keep reusing it and reusing it or reformulating it into another product and reformulating it into another product,” she said.

[…] But close examinations by environmental advocates and media organizations over the last few years have found few commercial successes with the chemical recycling of plastics, and concerns about environmental risks. They’ve found plants that do little more than make new fossil fuels, and produce a lot of waste, falling short of the promise of a circular economy.

“This whole chemical recycling is a charade,” said Jan Dell, a chemical engineer who has worked as a consultant to the oil and gas industry and now runs The Last Beach Cleanup, a nonprofit that fights plastics pollution and waste. “It’s a hoax. And it’s been perpetrated for 30 years. Every time the public has some interest in, ‘Oh, there’s too much plastic waste,’ they trot it back out again.”

[…] The global news agency Reuters last year published a report that found most of some 30 advanced recycling operations it examined internationally were operating on a modest scale or had shut down. The industry faces “enormous obstacles,” the news agency found, including the cost of collecting and managing plastic waste and creating products that can compete economically with fossil fuels or virgin plastic.

Environmental organizations have come to similar conclusions.

Greenpeace in 2020 found that most advanced plastics recycling plants that were being promoted by the industry were not recycling plastic waste into new plastics, but rather they were making fuel for combustion and barely putting a dent in the glut of waste plastics.

Greenpeace sees the industry efforts more as a form of public relations known as greenwashing, rather than a viable solution, similar to other unproven or uneconomical industry-backed solutions to intractable environmental problems, such as capturing and storing greenhouse gases to curb climate change.
» Read article      

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 8/12/22

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Welcome back.

Happy Friday, Folks!

This week finds us standing at a historic crossroads. The many years that all of us have put into pushing the needle toward a more climate friendly energy sector and economy are finally paying off in some big, meaningful ways.

AT THE STATE LEVEL

Yesterday, Governor Baker signed into law An Act Driving Clean Energy and Offshore Wind. This joins 2008’s Global Warming Solutions Act and 2021’s Next Generation Climate Roadmap Act as the third bold climate bill Massachusetts has passed. Each subsequent bill has set goal and then further codified the means to reach those goals.

This latest bill, signed into law yesterday, was hard won, with No Fracked Gas in Mass and BEAT joining our fellow environmental groups, largely under the organizing umbrella of the Mass Power Forward coalition, in guiding its crafting and pushing legislators and the Governor to reach the finish line right down to the last minute.

Highlights of this bill include:

  • Developing MA-based offshore wind industry with investments in infrastructure, workforce development and economic inclusion;
  • Preventing wood-burning biomass plants from qualifying for clean energy incentives in the Renewable Portfolio Standard;
  • Reforming ratepayer-funded efficiency programs by reducing incentives for fossil fuel equipment starting in 2025 and increasing accountability in the efficacy of energy efficiency services to low-income ratepayers and households;
  • Creating a pilot program for whole home building retrofits in low and moderate income buildings, effective July 2023;
  • Allowing 10 municipalities to pilot fossil-free new construction and major renovations, excluding life science labs, health care facilities, and hospitals, provided each community meets a standard around inclusionary housing policy.

Both TUE Committee members Mike Barrett and Jeff Roy have great explainer threads on Twitter.

There is still much work to be done like extending fossil free construction pilots statewide, ensuring better air quality monitoring programs, instituting a Net Zero stretch code, reforming and expanding our public transportation – especially in rural areas and connecting major regional systems. But the passage of this bill will allow us to make many of the bold climate-positive steps we’ve been requesting for years.

AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL

With the Inflation Reduction Act, after much wrangling among Senate members, finally passing the Senate and likely the House later today, it looks like we’re standing on the same edge of a sea change in the way our country is addressing the climate / clean energy challenge.

But among the huge strides for clean energy and equity in transitioning to it, there are many painful giveaways to the fossil fuel industry that helped sweeten the pot to get it over the finish line with Joe Manchin. A particularly harsh provision of the bill is its pairing with the future passage of another bill that seeks to secure the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. This highly impactful and unnecessary pipeline is one that activists have been battling for years, and Ted Glick, one of the leaders in that fight, sums up the dynamics of these two bills’ perilous joining in his recent post.

Also, another bill recently passed at the federal level is seldom framed as climate positive, but it has some very good provisions. As outlined in The Altantic, the “CHIPS” Act,  will “boost efforts to manufacture more zero-carbon technology in America, establish a new federal office to organize clean-energy innovation, and direct billions of dollars toward disaster-resilience research.”

This and the Inflation Reduction Act will finally push us onto the road of taking concrete steps toward climate solutions.

Indeed, there’s still much to be done. Watchful vigilance and pressure on our lawmakers and regulators will need to continue, but it’s definitely time to stop, look around, take stock and give yourselves a pat on the back … then get back to the work of making our world a cleaner, more balanced and more equitable place.

Onward, with much gratitude and new wind in our sails!

Rosemary Wessel, Program Director
No Fracked Gas in Mass, a program of Berkshire Environmental Action Team


This newsletter contains lots of related news stories. Navigate to various topics by clicking on the following:  Massachusetts legislation, Federal legislation, protests and actions, pipelines, greening the economy, climate, clean energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, modernizing the grid, clean transportation, questionable solutions, deep-seabed mining, fossil fuel industry, biomass, and plastics in the environment.

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

— The NFGiM Team

LEGISLATION (Massachusetts)

counting
Baker signs major climate bill into law
By Sabrina Shankman and Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
August 12, 2022

Governor Charlie Baker signed a major climate bill into law on Thursday that will accelerate the clean energy transition in the state by boosting offshore wind and solar, and — in a first for Massachusetts — allowing some cities and towns to ban the use of fossil fuels in new buildings and major renovations.

Baker’s approval comes after weeks of speculation that he might veto the bill, and just days after he said he particularly disapproved of the fossil fuel ban because of his concern it could make it harder to construct affordable housing.

Ultimately, though, he said the bill’s changes to the offshore wind procurement process and its advances in clean energy were important enough to secure his signature.

“I continue to want us to be a pretty big player in that space because it’s a sustainable way to create a lot of jobs, for a very long time,” Baker said in an interview with the Globe.

As the state recovers from two record-breaking heat waves, Senator Michael Barrett, a Democrat from Lexington and one of the bill’s architects, noted that the passage of the state legislation — along with the expected passage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act, with its $369 billion in energy and climate financing — should give people hope. “There’s plenty more to do, but nothing motivates like success,” he said.

[…] The new law will scrap the so-called price cap that currently requires each new offshore project to offer power at a lower price than the one brought online before it. Critics fear the cap has discouraged bids.

That provision is a win for Baker, who has long sought to eliminate the price cap, and whose administration plans to solicit bids for offshore wind development later this year.

Another provision would allow Massachusetts to join with other New England states in bidding for wind, solar, or other forms of renewable energy. This would, for example, allow the Commonwealth to team up with Maine in bids for onshore wind in a remote area in Aroostook County.

In another significant change, the bill will remove wood-burning power plants from the state’s renewable portfolio standard, meaning they will no longer count toward renewable energy goals in Massachusetts or be eligible for state clean energy subsidies. Wood-burning plants produce harmful pollutants like carbon monoxide, and research shows they can emit even more carbon at the smokestack than coal-fired plants.
» Read article      

landmark
Massachusetts just passed a massive climate and clean energy bill
In a first for the state, the legislation contains a provision that would allow some cities and towns to ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new and major construction projects
By Allyson Chiu, The Washington Post
August 11, 2022

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) on Thursday signed a major climate and clean-energy bill that contains sweeping policies targeting renewables, transportation and fossil fuels — a move that lawmakers and advocates say is critical to supporting the state’s goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Baker’s decision to sign the bill, which was approved by the state legislature July 31, comes as Congress is poised to pass its most significant piece of climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act.

Described as a “landmark bill,” the Massachusetts climate legislation notably includes a provision — the first of its kind for the state — that would allow 10 municipalities to legally ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new and major construction projects. With this policy, certain cities and towns in Massachusetts could soon join others across the country that have taken similar steps to change local building codes to block the use of fossil fuels, such as natural gas — meaning many people who want gas stoves or furnaces are probably out of luck in these places.

The bill also has a slew of other climate-friendly policies, including: funding for offshore wind energy and electricity grid improvements, a ban prohibiting car dealerships from selling new gas- or diesel-powered vehicles after 2035, incentives for electric vehicles and appliances, and additional provisions focused on natural gas.

“Addressing climate change requires bold, urgent action,” Baker tweeted Thursday after signing the bill. “I am proud to have supported the Commonwealth’s leadership on these critical issues to preserve our climate and our communities for future generations.”
» Read article      

» More about legislation

LEGISLATION (U.S. Federal)

carrots only
After 25 Years of Futility, Democrats Finally Jettison Carbon Pricing in Favor of Incentives to Counter Climate Change
The $370 billion Inflation Reduction Act is the nation’s first comprehensive climate plan to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and boost renewable energy and green technology. It relies on tax credits and other “carrots,” not sticks.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
August 12, 2022

The nation’s first comprehensive climate law, expected to be sealed with a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, will not look anything like the program imagined by either climate economists or those in Washington and the environmental movement who had faith in bipartisan action.

From the time that the world first agreed to act on climate change 30 years ago at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, environmentalists talked about putting a “price” on carbon as a core element of any strategy for reducing the fossil fuel pollution that was heating the planet.

Whether imposed by tax, fee or cap-and-trade system—such a price would discourage carbon-based fuel pollution and encourage investment in and deployment of clean alternatives, said advocates of the idea. And because such a scheme would rely on the market, rather than government mandates, to decide the best approach to decarbonize, proponents argued it was an idea both Democrats and Republicans could get behind.

Instead, Democrats are advancing their climate bill with no Republican support, and their program is one of carrots, not sticks. The idea is that an unprecedented $370 billion federal investment in clean energy—largely in the form of tax credits to encourage its development, as opposed to taxes on carbon to discourage use of fossil fuels—will be the push that transforms not only the economy but the politics of climate change.

[…] The decision that the United States would spend rather than tax its way to a more sustainable future was in large part driven by political reality—Democrats had to win over the vote of a staunch fossil fuel industry supporter in their own party, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who opposed carbon taxes. But the plan also was influenced by a new generation of climate policy thinkers who argued that lawmakers had spent too much time listening to the economists, and as a result, had played into the hands of the powerful foes of climate action.

Previous climate proposals in Washington focused first on costs, not benefits. That made it easy for the fossil fuel industry and its allies to defeat the Clinton administration’s BTU tax proposal and the cap-and-trade plan that died in Congress under President Barack Obama, whereby carbon emissions would have been capped and polluting industries could have purchased credits from non-polluters.

In contrast, President Joe Biden is about to put his signature on a climate plan that is entirely focused on benefits—not just cleaner energy, but prevailing wage jobs, relief for disadvantaged neighborhoods overburdened with pollution, and revival of communities left behind by coal.
» Read article    

CHIPS
Congress Just Passed a Big Climate Bill. No, Not That One.
A bipartisan act is quietly about to invest billions in boosting green technology.
By Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic
August 10, 2022

Yesterday, President Joe Biden signed into law one of the most significant investments in fighting climate change ever undertaken by the United States. The new act will boost efforts to manufacture more zero-carbon technology in America, establish a new federal office to organize clean-energy innovation, and direct billions of dollars toward disaster-resilience research.

Over the next five years, the CHIPS Act could direct an estimated $67 billion, or roughly a quarter of its total funding, toward accelerating the growth of zero-carbon industries and conducting climate-relevant research, according to an analysis from RMI, a nonpartisan energy think tank based in Colorado.

That would make the CHIPS Act one of the largest climate bills ever passed by Congress. It exceeds the total amount of money that the government spent on renewable-energy tax credits from 2005 to 2019, according to estimates from the Congressional Research Service. And it’s more than half the size of the climate spending in President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill. That’s all the more remarkable because the CHIPS Act was passed by large bipartisan majorities, with 41 Republicans and nearly all Democrats supporting it in the House and the Senate.

Yet CHIPS shouldn’t be viewed alone, Lachlan Carey, an author of the new analysis and an associate at RMI, told me. When viewed with the Inflation Reduction Act, which the House is poised to pass later this week, and last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, a major shift in congressional climate spending comes into focus. According to the RMI analysis, these three laws are set to more than triple the federal government’s average annual spending on climate and clean energy this decade, compared with the 2010s.
» Read article      

» More about legislation

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

change is now
These Groups Want Disruptive Climate Protests. Oil Heirs Are Funding Them.
Beneficiaries of two American oil fortunes are supporting groups trying to block fossil fuel projects. One donor said he felt a “moral obligation.”
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
August 10, 2022

They’ve taken hammers to gas pumps and glued themselves to museum masterpieces and busy roadways. They’ve chained themselves to banks, rushed onto a Grand Prix racetrack and tethered themselves to goal posts as tens of thousands of British soccer fans jeered.

The activists who undertook these worldwide acts of disruption during the last year said that they were desperate to convey the urgency of the climate crisis and that the most effective way to do so was in public, blockading oil terminals and upsetting normal activities.

They also share a surprising financial lifeline: heirs to two American families that became fabulously rich from oil.

Two relatively new nonprofit organizations, which the oil scions helped found, are funding dozens of protest groups dedicated to interrupting business as usual through civil disobedience, mostly in the United States, Canada and Europe. While volunteers with established environmental groups like Greenpeace International have long used disruptive tactics to call attention to ecological threats, the new organizations are funding grass-roots activists.

The California-based Climate Emergency Fund was founded in 2019 on the ethos that civil resistance is integral to achieving the rapid widespread social and political changes needed to tackle the climate crisis.

Margaret Klein Salamon, the fund’s executive director, pointed to social movements of the past — suffragists, civil rights and gay rights activists — that achieved success after protesters took nonviolent demonstrations to the streets.

“Action moves public opinion and what the media covers, and moves the realm of what’s politically possible,” Ms. Salamon said. “The normal systems have failed. It’s time for every person to realize that we need to take this on.”

So far, the fund has given away just over $7 million, with the goal of pushing society into emergency mode, she said. Even though the United States is on the cusp of enacting historic climate legislation, the bill allows more oil and gas expansion, which scientists say needs to stop immediately to avert planetary catastrophe.

Sharing these goals with the Climate Emergency Fund is the Equation Campaign. Founded in 2020, it provides financial support and legal defense to people living near pipelines and refineries who are trying to stop fossil fuel expansion, through methods including civil disobedience.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

paid for
No One Owes Joe Manchin Anything
Acting on climate doesn’t entitle him to the pipeline of his choice
By Bill McKibben, Substack.com | Opinion
August 11, 2022

Assuming that the Democratic majority in the House passes the massive climate bill this week, the next round for federal climate action will come when Congress returns after its August recess, and it will center on something euphemistically called ‘permitting reform.’

In return for Manchin’s vote for the IRA—the first significant action Congress has ever taken on the climate crisis—Chuck Schumer apparently promised that ‘permitting reform’ language would be attached to some piece of ‘must-pass’ legislation in the fall. It’s designed to make it easier to build energy projects of all kinds—but Manchin’s clearest intention is to guarantee construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), an unnecessary piece of infrastructure that would extend the fossil fuel era in the region a few more decades, endangering local communities along the way.

The opposition to that pipeline has been fierce enough to scare Manchin and his backers in the fracking industry. Indeed, second only to the young people from the Sunrise Movement, it’s clear that the world owes those opponents a huge debt of gratitude: without them Manchin might never have come to the table with a bill that cuts emissions and gives the U.S. a role again in the global climate fight.

But that does not mean that Democrats owe Manchin his permitting reform (especially since they’ve already given him plenty of other gifts in the IRA, including lots of cash for dubious carbon-capture projects).

For one thing, he’s demonstrated that promises aren’t binding: House progressives passed the fossil-friendly Bipartisan Infrastructure bill on his word that he would support what was then called Build Back Better. But Manchin reneged, gutting much of what was best in that bill, and only at the bitter end (when it became clear that his lifetime legacy would be blocking any action on the greatest crisis in history) allowing the IRA to pass the Senate.

For another, Manchin’s promise in this case was extracted by extortion. The IRA will save myriad lives: many thousands of people who will breathe fewer particulates and then die from the lung damage, and many millions who won’t die in whatever portion of the climate crisis its emission cuts avert. Manchin—who has taken more money from the fossil fuel industry than anyone else in DC–essentially held a gun to the head of negotiators: give me my pipeline or these people perish.

[…] Whatever Republicans do—and in the end they will do what Big Oil instructs them to do—progressives should not sign off on permitting reform that helps expand the fossil fuel empire. The question for every energy project should be: does it add carbon to the atmosphere? If the answer is yes, then the answer should be No. We’re in a life-and-death struggle for a working planet; the IRA advances our chances, and permitting reform would reduce them. The moral choice is therefore obvious.
» Read article      

sold out
Manchin’s Donors Include Pipeline Giants That Win in His Climate Deal
The controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline is one of several projects the senator has negotiated major concessions for, benefiting his financial supporters.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
August 7, 2022

After years of spirited opposition from environmental activists, the Mountain Valley Pipeline — a 304-mile gas pipeline cutting through the Appalachian Mountains — was behind schedule, over budget and beset with lawsuits. As recently as February, one of its developers, NextEra Energy, warned that the many legal and regulatory obstacles meant there was “a very low probability of pipeline completion.”

Then came Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and his hold on the Democrats’ climate agenda.

Mr. Manchin’s recent surprise agreement to back the Biden administration’s historic climate legislation came about in part because the senator was promised something in return: not only support for the pipeline in his home state, but also expedited approval for pipelines and other infrastructure nationwide, as part of a wider set of concessions to fossil fuels.

It was a big win for a pipeline industry that, in recent years, has quietly become one of Mr. Manchin’s biggest financial supporters.

Natural gas pipeline companies have dramatically increased their contributions to Mr. Manchin, from just $20,000 in 2020 to more than $331,000 so far this election cycle, according to campaign finance disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission and tallied by the Center for Responsive Politics. Mr. Manchin has been by far Congress’s largest recipient of money from natural gas pipeline companies this cycle, raising three times as much from the industry than any other lawmaker.

NextEra Energy, a utility giant and stakeholder in the Mountain Valley Pipeline, is a top donor to both Mr. Manchin and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, who negotiated the pipeline side deal with Mr. Manchin. Mr. Schumer has received more than $281,000 from NextEra this election cycle, the data shows. Equitrans Midstream, which owns the largest stake in the pipeline, has given more than $10,000 to Mr. Manchin. The pipeline and its owners have also spent heavily to lobby Congress.

The disclosures point to the extraordinary behind-the-scenes spending and deal-making by the fossil fuel industry that have shaped a climate bill that nevertheless stands to be transformational.

[…] Despite concessions like the pipeline deal, major environmental groups as well as progressives in Congress have praised the legislation. Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for the country to enact meaningful climate legislation.
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

climate care
What could the climate bill do for environmental justice?
The Inflation Reduction Act would make historic investments in disadvantaged communities with provisions for renewable energy, electrified transportation, environmental review and cleaner air.
By Alison F. Takemura, Canary Media
August 10, 2022

The breakthrough bill that passed the Senate with $369 billion in climate funding includes up to $60 billion in environmental justice initiatives. (That figure depends on what you count, of course.) The money would go to help communities of color and low-income areas that have been overburdened with pollution and pushed to the frontlines of climate change by historically racist and classist practices.

The ​“once-in-a-generation investments” in the Inflation Reduction Act would ​“greatly benefit people adversely impacted by fossil-fuel operations and climate crises,” Dana Johnson, senior director of strategy and federal policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, told Canary Media.

Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), who worked on some of the environmental justice provisions in the bill, said in a statement that it ​“would be the most significant investment in environmental justice and climate action in American history.”

So what exactly are the bill’s environmental justice investments? Here are some of the heftiest:
» Read article      

right to breathe
The UN Just Declared a Universal Human Right to a Healthy, Sustainable Environment – Here’s Where Resolutions Like This Can Lead
By Joel E. Correia, EcoWatch
August 8, 2022

Climate change is already affecting much of the world’s population, with startlingly high temperatures from the Arctic to Australia. Air pollution from wildfires, vehicles and industries threatens human health. Bees and pollinators are dying in unprecedented numbers that may force changes in crop production and food availability.

What do these have in common? They represent the new frontier in human rights.

The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on July 28, 2022, to declare the ability to live in “a clean, healthy and sustainable environment” a universal human right. It also called on countries, companies and international organizations to scale up efforts to turn that into reality.

The declaration is not legally binding – countries can vote to support a declaration of rights while not actually supporting those rights in practice. The language is also vague, leaving to interpretation just what a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is.

Still, it’s more than moral posturing. Resolutions like this have a history of laying the foundation for effective treaties and national laws.

I am a geographer who focuses on environmental justice, and much of my research investigates relationships between development-driven environmental change, natural resource use and human rights. Here are some examples of how similar resolutions have opened doors to stronger actions.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

no relief
Nights are getting way too hot to handle
It’s a ‘neglected’ climate risk, researchers say
By Justine Calma, The Verge
August 10, 2022

Summer nights are getting increasingly dangerous thanks to climate change. By 2100, the risk of death from excessively hot nights is expected to grow six-fold compared to 2016 — even under the most optimistic predictions of future global warming, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health.

Hot nights are becoming both more frequent and way more intense, the study authors found. We don’t know just how much the planet will heat up in the future, but scientists have estimates for best- and worst-case scenarios. When looking at a more middle-of-the-road forecast for future climate change, hot nights become 75.6 percent more frequent by the end of the century. The average intensity of a sweltering night doubles — from 20.4 degrees Celsius (68.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to 39.7 degrees Celsius (103.5 degrees Fahrenheit).

An international collaboration of scientists used historical data from 1981 to 2010 and applied that to climate models to estimate future mortality risk, looking specifically at 28 cities in East Asia. They’re working on expanding their research to a global dataset.

While hot days are already brutal for people, the risk of mortality rises by up to 50 percent if temperatures stay high into the evening. Hot days stress out the body, straining the heart and lungs, and nighttime is usually when our bodies can bring our core temperature down while sleeping. That’s harder to do if it’s still uncomfortably hot and you’re tossing and turning during the night. Heat stress can lead to heatstroke, which can eventually lead to death. Lost sleep can also weaken our immune systems, affect mental health, and aggravate a wide range of health conditions.
» Read article     

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

no hands
‘Solar Coaster’ Survivors Rejoice at Senate Bill
The legislation would lead to much more certainty on federal tax policy for the solar industry
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
August 11, 2022

People who work in the solar industry can barely contain their glee this week.

The Inflation Reduction Act, which passed the U.S. Senate on Sunday and appears to be heading to passage in the House, contains a wish list of the industry’s priorities.

And here’s a big one: a 10-year extension of the investment tax credit, the main tax policy that has supported growth of the solar industry.

“This is one of those moments where I feel like, as a human being, I will remember where I was, when the Senate passed this,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, in a conference call with reporters.

Without the new legislation, the investment tax credit, or ITC, was phasing down for large-scale projects and phasing out for residential projects.

At its full value the ITC covers 30 percent of the cost of buying and installing a solar system. But it dropped to 26 percent this year and was going to go to 22 percent next year. After that, the credit was going to end for residential projects, and go to 10 percent for large-scale projects.

With the new legislation, the credit would return to its full value of 30 percent through 2032, and include a retroactive credit so anyone who installed systems in 2022 would get 30 percent instead of 26 percent.

The extension would accelerate growth in the solar sector, which is an essential part of the country making a transition away from fossil fuels.

People who work in the solar industry refer to the uncertainty they face as a “solar coaster,”  whose ups and downs often hinge on fluctuating state and federal policy.

This legislation would make for a much smoother ride, and that’s good news coming at a time when global shortages of parts have led to a spike in some costs and a slowdown in project timelines.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

transformational
Climate bill could spur ​‘market transformation’ in home electrification
The Inflation Reduction Act has tax credits, rebates and loans to make homes more efficient and move them from fossil fuels to electricity.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
August 4, 2022

Donnel Baird, CEO of BlocPower, thinks the climate bill unveiled by Senate Democrats last week could transform the country’s home efficiency and electrification markets. It could certainly boost the bottom line for his company and help the primarily low-income and disadvantaged communities it serves.

Baird estimated that the Inflation Reduction Act’s tens of billions of dollars in federal rebates, tax incentives, grants and lending capacity for electric appliances, heat pumps, rooftop solar, home batteries, efficiency retrofits and other building improvements could cut 5 to 40 percent of the per-home cost of the efficiency and electrification projects BlocPower is doing around the country.

That ​“means there are millions and millions of buildings where you couldn’t make the economic argument, where now you can,” he told Canary Media, ​“particularly low-income buildings where the financial payback did not pencil out before.”

The result would be many more homes and apartments with lower energy bills, reduced health risks from burning fossil fuels indoors, higher property values for owners, and appliances that can interact with a grid increasingly powered by renewable energy, he said.

And, of course, it would be a vital part of combating the climate crisis. The direct use of fossil fuels in buildings accounts for about 13 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. can’t meet its decarbonization goals ​“unless we electrify the 1 billion machines across our 121 million households across the country,” Ari Matusiak, CEO of pro-electrification nonprofit group Rewiring America, said at a Wednesday press conference. His organization designed one of the key electrification rebate provisions of the bill. ​“Transforming the market so that we rewire America’s households is a big task,” and one that ​“needs to be catalyzed” by federal legislation.
» Read article      

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

hot mass
Can thermal storage fire up the net-zero transition?
After almost a decade in incubation, thermal energy storage is finally coming of age to play its long-fated role in the net-zero transition.
By Oliver Gordon, Energy Monitor
August 8, 2022

[…] “[Long Duration Energy Storage (​​​​LDES)] is any technology that can be deployed to store energy for prolonged periods and that can be scaled up to sustain electricity or heat provision, for multiple hours, days or even weeks, and has the potential to significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of the economy,” explains Godart van Gendt, a senior expert in McKinsey’s Sustainability and Electric Power & Natural Gas practices. “Energy storage can be achieved through very different approaches, including mechanical, thermal, electrochemical or chemical storage.”

[…] The thermal energy storage technology used in the Berlin and Kankaanpää pilot projects works by turning electricity into heat using a heat pump, which is then stored in a hot material such as water or sand inside an insulated tank. When required, the heat is distributed for heating purposes or turned back into electricity using a heat engine. The latter conversions are done with thermodynamic cycles, the same physical principles used to run refrigerators, car engines or thermal power plants.

“The heating can be done using different energy sources such as electricity, hydrogen or waste heat,” adds van Gendt. “In the context of energy system decarbonisation, we most often consider using excess renewable electricity, but the spectrum of relevant solutions is much broader.”

[…] When compared with other LDES technologies, thermal storage has several things going for it. Firstly, the conversion process relies on conventional components, such as heat exchangers and compressors, that are already widely used in the power and processing industries, meaning the facilities are easier and quicker to build than many alternatives.

The storage tanks themselves can be filled by a variety of abundant and cheap materials such as gravel, molten salts, water or sand, which, unlike battery materials, pose no danger to the environment.

Thermal storage plants can also be deployed anywhere and can be scaled up to meet the grid’s storage requirements. Other LDES technologies are limited to specific geographies: pumped hydro requires mountains and valleys able to hold vast reservoirs, and compressed air energy storage is dependent on large subterranean caverns. Thermal storage also has a greater energy density (the amount of energy stored in a given volume) than pumped hydro: for example, 1kg of water stored at 100°C can provide ten times the electricity of 1kg of water stored at a height of 500m in a pumped hydro facility. This means less space is required for a thermal facility, reducing its environmental footprint.
» Read article      

» More about energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

distribution
Massachusetts is getting hotter. Our electricity system is not prepared.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
August 3, 2022

In July, as a heat wave bore down on the Boston area, warnings landed in the inboxes of National Grid and Eversource electricity customers: Demand was expected to be high, each company warned, and making a small change to conserve energy at home could help avoid outages.

But still, outages happened, from Acton to West Roxbury, Newton to Chelsea, silencing the reassuring whir of air conditioners. Another bout of intense heat is due this week that will test the power grid yet again, raising the question of how the energy system will respond as extreme temperatures become more frequent and intense due to climate change.

The networks of wires and substations that bring electricity to homes and businesses are already stressed as housing density increases, experts say, and many parts of them will likely need upgrading or expanding in a future when demand could double or even triple as the state relies ever more on clean electricity to replace fossil fuel power.

“These outages can occur during the worst possible time, in sizzling temperature conditions, because the substations are not necessarily expanded upon over time to keep pace with pockets of electric demand in various communities,” said Richard Levitan, president of Levitan and Associates, an energy management consulting firm. “A failure for a day or for hours when it’s 100 degrees is potentially devastating.”

On social media during the July heat wave, some of the unlucky and unhappy customers mused the outages were akin to problems in Texas, where the energy grid’s failure to keep up with demand had catastrophic consequences. But the energy grid here, operated by ISO-New England, has not had failures such as in Texas, and had plenty of surplus capacity each day of the heat wave, even as demand rose with increased use of air conditioners.

What happened, instead, were failures in the distribution system — the substations, transformers, and wires that bring electricity from power lines into neighborhoods and homes. These localized networks are affected by the demands of a specific street or area— eased in some places, perhaps, by the presence of solar panels on homes or intensified by the demands of big users such as apartment buildings with air conditioners and fast-chargers for electric vehicles.

The pressure on those local networks is a problem that will only become more urgent, experts said.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

delivering
Climate bill could help electrify more USPS mail trucks
The Inflation Reduction Act includes $3 billion to convert the nation’s aging mail truck fleet to cleaner electric vehicles.
By Maria Gallucci, Canary Media
August 10, 2022

French postal service La Poste operates nearly 40,000 electric delivery vehicles. In Germany, Deutsche Post recently added the 20,000th EV to its delivery fleet. The U.K.’s Royal Mail plans to operate 5,500 electric vehicles by early next year, while Japan Post owns 1,200 small electric vans.

The U.S. Postal Service, meanwhile, has about two dozen electric mail trucks — and some 212,000 gas-guzzlers that it’s looking to replace.

Democratic policymakers and environmental groups are pushing for the independent federal agency to electrify its entire mail-truck fleet, a measure that would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb toxic tailpipe pollution in neighborhoods all around the country. Yet the Postal Service has been reluctant to fully embrace EVs mainly because, it says, battery-powered models are more expensive to buy than petroleum-powered vehicles.

The major climate and tax bill moving through Congress this week aims to alleviate some of that sticker shock.

Known as the Inflation Reduction Act, the legislation would provide $3 billion for the Postal Service to buy zero-emission delivery vehicles and install necessary charging infrastructure at post offices and central mail facilities. (That’s triple the amount of direct funding in the bill for heavy-duty vehicles like garbage trucks and school buses.)

The Postal Service has previously stated that, should Congress provide more support, the agency could increase the number of electric vehicles it plans to introduce.

“This bill is trying to put to bed their argument that they need more resources,” said Adrian Martinez, a senior attorney for Earthjustice. The environmental group is one of several organizations that are suing to scrap the Postal Service’s original mail-truck plan.

The humble, boxy delivery vehicle has become a political flashpoint over the last year because it represents an important crossroads: Either the agency helps accelerate the nation’s shift to cleaner cars — or it locks in fossil-fuel use and associated emissions. New mail trucks are expected to operate for 20 years, if not longer; many existing mail trucks have been carrying letters and packages for over three decades.
» Read article      

EV submeter
California becomes first state to roll out submetering technology to spur EV adoption
By Kavya Balaraman, Utility Dive
August 8, 2022

California regulators last week approved first-of-their-kind protocols on submetering technology, which would essentially allow EV owners to measure their vehicles’ energy consumption separately from their main utility meter.

Thanks to the decision, owners of EVs, as well as electric buses and trucks, will be able to avoid installing an additional meter to measure the electricity that is consumed by their vehicle, removing a key barrier to EV adoption across the state.

The CPUC’s decision is the culmination of a decade of efforts to develop submetering capabilities and standardize communication protocols, President Alice Reynolds said at a meeting Thursday. “We really are hoping to build on efforts to accelerate and facilitate greater customer control over how and when they charge their vehicle, and enable customers to better manage their demand and to benefit from electric vehicle-specific rates,” she said.

The transportation sector represents nearly 40% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions and electrifying vehicles is a critical component of the state’s decarbonization efforts. In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, passed an executive order aiming to have all new passenger vehicle sales in the state be zero-emission by 2035. Currently, over 16% of passenger cars sold in California are electric, and the state represents nearly half of EV sales across the country.

Sub-metering basically allows EV customers to avoid having to install a separate meter to measure the electricity use of their car, CPUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said at an agency voting meeting Thursday. This is significant because in California, EVs are subject to special rate structures, which make it less costly to charge during off-peak hours.

“Right now, you can charge your car for one half to one third the cost of filling up the gas tank, and that’s actually even before the run up of gas prices over the last several months,” Rechtschaffen said. “But, the EV rates often don’t work for an entire home or business – so most EV drivers today aren’t choosing those EV specific rates.”

EV-specific rates can drastically reduce the cost of owning an electric car, but many customers are reluctant to purchase an additional utility-grade meter, presenting a barrier to EV adoption across the state, according to the CPUC.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

QUESTIONABLE SOLUTIONS

sidestep
Global Push for Hydrogen Sidesteps Knowledge Gaps on Climate Impacts
By Gaye Taylor, The Energy Mix
August 11, 2022

As the global push for a hydrogen economy accelerates, researchers are urging policy-makers to address new knowledge and fill in some profound data gaps, with recent studies revealing the considerable global warming potential of a fuel that many fossils see as their industry’s best hope for a second life.

The global hydrogen juggernaut has been picking up steam for a few years now, with strong advocates around the world and at least two different colour schemes meant to distinguish between gradations of environmentally friendly or high-emitting, fossil-dependent product. “Between November 2019 and March 2020, market analysts increased the list of planned global investments from 3.2 GW to 8.2 GW of [green hydrogen-generating] electrolysers by 2030,” the European Commission writes in a 2020 strategy roadmap.

By July, 2022, reported Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, more than 30 countries had joined the EU in publishing formal hydrogen strategies.

[…] But many of the hydrogen strategies that different jurisdictions have produced are long on hype, but short on details. The problems begin with a lack of rigorous data on hydrogen supply and demand, the Center on Global Energy Policy reported in April. Both the dollars to be made and the emission reductions to be achieved will depend on getting those numbers right.

There’ve been persistent concerns that “blue” hydrogen—which involves deriving the end product from fossil gas, then capturing and storing the resulting emissions—produces more climate pollution than just burning the gas outright once the related methane emissions are factored in.

But even if the production process is clean and green, there is “very little data on hydrogen leakage along the existing value chain, and that which does exist comes from theoretical assessments, simulation, or extrapolation rather than measures from operations,” the Center warns in an early July analysis. The available numbers suggest that annual hydrogen leakage could increase from 2.4 million tonnes in 2020 to between 15.3 and 29.6 megatonnes in 2050, depending on technical improvements and the degree of government regulation.

The Center projects green hydrogen production, transportation, and storage, road transport vehicles, electricity generation, and synthetic fuel production contributing 77% of global hydrogen leakage, at a cost of up to US$59 billion per year in lost product.

But economic losses are by no means the only concern with hydrogen leakage. While hydrogen molecules themselves do not trap heat, they exert an indirect warming effect when they’re released into the atmosphere, primarily because they tend to react with atmospheric hydroxyl, a substance that also reacts with methane. As more hydrogen leaks into the atmosphere, less hydroxyl will be available to neutralize the devastating short-term effects of methane, a greenhouse gas that is about 85 times more powerful a warming agent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span.

Hydrogen is also part of the chemical chain reaction that leads to the formation of ground-level ozone, another potent climate pollutant.

And any leaked hydrogen that makes it into the stratosphere produces water vapour, itself a significant heat trapping agent.

All of which adds up to hydrogen having very considerable potential to warm the atmosphere. A UK government report in April found that over a 100-year time period, a tonne of hydrogen in the atmosphere will warm the Earth roughly 11 times more than a tonne of CO2 (with a fairly wide margin for error), making its impact about twice as bad as previously understood.

Over a 20-year span, Bloomberg writes, hydrogen has 33 times the global warming potential of an equivalent amount of CO2.
» Read article     
» Read the report, Hydrogen Leakage: A Potential Risk for the Hydrogen Economy

» More about questionable solutions

DEEP-SEABED MINING

changing currents
Amid haggling over deep-sea mining rules, chorus of skepticism grows louder
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts, Mongabay
August 5, 2022

It starts with tiny deep-sea fragments — shark’s teeth or slivers of shell. Then, in a process thought to span millions of years, they get coated in layers of liquidized metal, eventually becoming solid, lumpy rocks that resemble burnt potatoes. These formations, known as polymetallic nodules, have caught the attention of international mining companies because of what they harbor: rich deposits of commercially sought-after minerals like cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese — the very metals that go into the batteries for renewable technologies like electric cars, wind turbines, and solar panels.

But while some experts say we must mine the deep sea to combat climate change, others warn against it, saying we know too little about the damage that seabed mining would cause to the ocean’s life-sustaining properties.

Actual extraction has yet to begin, but in June 2021, the small Pacific island country of Nauru pushed the world closer to this possibility by notifying the International Seabed Authority — the intergovernmental body that oversees mining in international waters — that it had triggered a two-year rule in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This rule would theoretically allow it to start mining in June 2023 under whatever mining rules are in place by then. Nauru itself doesn’t have a mining company with this interest, but it sponsors a subsidiary of Canada-based and U.S.-listed The Metals Company.

Since then, the ISA has been working to negotiate a set of regulations that would allow it to follow the two-year rule. But at the latest set of meetings that took place between July 4 and Aug. 4 in Kingston, Jamaica, progress on the mining code appears to have stalled, observers reported.

[…] Mongabay previously reported on concerns about transparency at the recently concluded ISA meetings, including accusations that the ISA had restricted access to key information and hampered interactions between member states and civil society.

Despite the many setbacks, Matt Gianni, a political and policy adviser for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), told Mongabay that he was observing a change happening in the negotiations.

“There’s a broad recognition that unless something really surprising happens, these regulations are not only unlikely to be adopted by July 2023, but they’re probably not likely to be adopted for several years at least,” said Gianni, who attended the meetings as a representative of EarthWorks, an NGO that works to shield communities and the environment from the negative impacts of extractive activities.
» Read article      

» More about deep-seabed mining

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

sunset rig
The Inflation Reduction Act promises thousands of new oil leases. Drillers might not want them.
The bigger question about Joe Manchin’s fossil fuel provisions is if they’ll succeed on the senator’s own terms.
By Jake Bittle, Grist
August 9, 2022

The U.S. Senate passed the largest climate action bill in American history on Sunday, clearing the path for hundreds of billions of dollars for clean energy and other climate-related measures (in addition to billions for other Democratic Party priorities). But because the so-called Inflation Reduction Act bears the imprint of swing-vote Senator Joe Manchin, it also includes numerous provisions that support oil and gas producers.

The fossil-fuel policy that has drawn the most attention in the weeks since Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer unveiled their deal is a provision that requires the federal government to auction oil and gas leases on federal land and in the Gulf of Mexico. Though presidential administrations of both political parties have historically leased this territory for drilling, the Biden administration has attempted to halt the federal leasing program; recent lease auctions have also been delayed by litigation from environmental groups.

The reconciliation bill reinstates old auctions that the Biden administration has tried to cancel and forces the administration to hold several new auctions over the coming years. The legislation also requires that the government auction millions of acres of oil and gas leases before it can auction acreage for wind and solar farms. The Center for Biological Diversity, one of many environmental organizations to oppose these provisions, said they turned the bill into a “climate suicide pact,” since they have the potential to prolong the lifespan of the domestic oil industry. However, energy and climate experts who spoke to Grist said that the provisions may not add significantly to U.S. emissions — in part because the fossil fuel industry may not be all that interested in what the government has to offer.

“I wouldn’t say the provision requiring offshore lease sales is entirely insubstantial, but I also wouldn’t classify it as some kind of major victory for the oil and gas industry,” said Gregory Brew, a historian of oil at Yale University.

That’s for one simple reason: Even if the government does keep auctioning off federal territory, it’s far from certain that oil and gas companies will want to build new drilling operations on that territory. The industry has shifted resources away from federal lands and the Gulf of Mexico in recent years, and there’s currently less capital available than ever for new production in these areas.
» Read article      

» More about fossil fuel

BIOMASS

dried wood chips
Wood-burning power plants in Mass. won’t qualify for renewable energy credits. Local activists are celebrating

By Luis Fieldman, MassLive
August 12, 2022

The enactment of a new climate law in Massachusetts has given environmental groups cause to celebrate.

An Act Driving Clean Energy and Offshore Wind will expand clean energy development and end renewable energy subsidies for wood-burning power plants, according to a press release from Climate Action Now Western Massachusetts.

“We are grateful to the Massachusetts legislature for taking bold action to address the climate emergency, and relieved that Governor Baker has signed the bill into law,” said Susan Theberge, co-founder of Climate Action Now. “It is inspiring to see the power of grassroots organizing to create positive change and advance climate justice.”

The new law makes Massachusetts removes woody biomass from its Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS). There were only two biomass plants that qualified for the state’s RPS, according to Climate Action Now, but climate activists expected that number to increase dramatically due to changes by the Department of Energy Resources.

By removing woody biomass from the RPS program altogether, the new law will prevent DOER’s rule changes from going into effect, according to Climate Action Now.

“The science is clear: burning wood for energy is not a climate solution,” said Laura Haight, U.S. Policy Director for the Pelham-based Partnership for Policy Integrity. “Massachusetts is once again leading the way by removing woody biomass from its definition of renewable energy, and we hope other states and nations will follow.”

Climate activists said the effort to enact this law goes back to 2008, when western Massachusetts residents organized to oppose several large biomass plants that were proposed in Springfield, Greenfield and Russell.

“Burning trees is harmful to our lungs and the planet and should play no role in our state’s clean energy future,” said Janet Sinclair of Greenfield-based Concerned Citizens of Franklin County. “We’re grateful that the Legislature heard us and agreed that funding biomass projects is a bad idea. For Governor Baker, signing this bill was the right thing to do.”
» Read article     

» More about biomass

PLASTICS, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

bubble barrier
‘Incredibly promising’: the bubble barrier extracting plastic from a Dutch river
Technology applied to Oude Rijn river helps stop plastic pollution reaching sea
By Senay Boztas, The Guardian
August 5, 2022

Five years ago, Claar-els van Delft began to suspect that plastic waste on the beach at Katwijk in the Netherlands did not come from visitors, or the sea, but from the mouth of a nearby river.

“We started picking up litter and we noticed, near the river entrance, pieces that came from fresh water – all kinds of plastic,” she says. “Tampon sheaths, brush bristles, but also crisp packages, drink packages, everything.”

Sure enough, when volunteers sifted through an oil drum full of Oude Rijn river water, in between the duckweed they saw tiny plastic particles. “We saw so much pollution, we were shocked,” says van Delft, the co-founder of the local charity Coast Busters.

Fast forward to July 2022, and Katwijk is the site for the world’s first river “bubble barrier” – an experimental concept where a 120-metre stream of rising bubbles, plus the water current, pushes plastic waste to one side in order to be collected.

“We place a perforated tube on the bottom of the waterway, at an angle, and then pump through compressed air: the rising air bubbles create an upward current that will lift plastic from the water column to the surface, and then at the surface – together with the flow of the river – it is all pushed to one side,” explains Philip Ehrhorn, the chief technology officer at the Dutch startup The Great Bubble Barrier. “Here, we get the flow from the pumping station, or the wind can also push trash into the catchment system.”

The company, run by a team of keen sailors, surfers and water enthusiasts, won an international Postcode Lottery Green Challenge in 2018 and started its first permanent pilot in a canal in Amsterdam the following year. Such is the promise of this trial that it has convinced the Rijnland water board, 12 municipalities and the Holland Rijnland and Zuid-Holland regions – along with Coast Busters and local fundraisers – to invest €470,000 to build their river bubble barrier.
» Read article      

» More about plastics in the environment

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Weekly News Check-In 6/3/22

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Welcome back.

We’re starting off this week by circling back on a story we ran last time – about a group of determined citizens protesting the new peaking power plant currently under construction in Peabody, MA. Thanks again to all our friends who demonstrated and spoke out for state officials to do their jobs – we provide a link to photos. A little closer to home, folks were out on the steps of Springfield City Hall making it clear that Eversource’s proposed Longmeadow-Spfld gas pipeline expansion project is unnecessary and unwanted.

Of course, Eversource is simply following the standard playbook: building pipelines is how utilities traditionally make profits. That model will dominate until regulators put a stop to it, which is exactly what the Ontario Energy Board did recently, when to everyone’s surprise it refused to approve the final phases of a $123.7-million pipeline replacement project in Ottawa proposed by Enbridge Gas. More of that, please! Helpfully, the Biden administration has proposed undoing a Trump-era rule that limited the power of states and Indigenous Tribes to block natural gas pipelines based on their potential to pollute rivers and streams.

For those of us who fondly remember the promise of stepped-up climate action at the Federal level, and were holding out hope that a pared-down Build Back Better bill would somehow rise from the Senate swamp and make it to Biden’s desk… it’s just about time to admit it isn’t going to happen. Memorial Day is gone, and maneuvering for the upcoming midterm elections is going to make passing anything meaningful just about impossible.

That lost opportunity follows a string of others, perhaps the worst of which was the entirety of the Trump presidency in which this country essentially checked out of the climate fight altogether. While some states and cities tried to fill the policy void, the lack of Federal leadership and funding put this country well behind in a race we were already hard-pressed to win. Meanwhile, the United Nations secretary-general is doing all he can to prod world leaders into action, in what must feel like the single most thankless job on the planet.

The Biden administration is pressing ahead with the tools it has, and on Tuesday said it would substantially reduce the cost of building wind and solar energy projects on federal lands. But while those clean resources are getting a boost, California is losing almost half of its hydropower due to extreme drought – forcing its grid to rely more heavily on fossil fuel generating plants through a hot summer.

Wind power is big, and so, increasingly, are the turbines. As these beasts require ever-growing volumes of building materials like steel and concrete, some companies are working to make turbine towers more efficient and more cost-effective by building them with wood.

Proponents of a modernized electric grid often point to the resiliency that distributed sources of generation can offer. The Russian assault on Ukraine has made a good case for that. Recently, a Russian bomb struck a photovoltaic solar power plant in eastern Ukraine, leaving a large crater and lots of destroyed solar panels. But the facility was patched up in a couple of days with only a loss of about 6% of capacity. Imagine the disruption if the same bomb had struck a gas, coal, or nuclear power plant.

Facing a necessary and rapid transition to electric vehicles, the U.S. is pushing hard to develop domestic supply chains for metals critical to building EV batteries. Foremost among those is lithium, and we’re keeping an eye on the social and environmental impacts of all this planned extraction.

There’s a rush to develop carbon capture and storage, too. And the flood of money coming to that sector has been noticed by a public policy firm that represents electric utilities and oil companies. Bracewell LLP recently launched the Capture Action Project to tout technologies that capture carbon from smokestacks as a climate solution, but to us it looks like a way to keep burning fossil fuels through another taxpayer-funded subsidy. And while top environmental ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial countries agreed last Friday to end government financing for international coal-fired power generation and to accelerate the phasing out of unabated coal plants by the year 2035, it’s pretty clear the fossil fuel industry would like to keep the party going for as long as it can.

The rush to send liquefied natural gas to Europe is an example of how the industry leverages short-term crises for rationale to build long-term infrastructure. Even though studies show the U.S. can meet Europe’s needs with the export terminals it has (including two nearing completion), the promoters of other terminals are pitching hard. That has environmental groups urging the Biden administration to reverse a Trump-era rule that allows rail shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG), a super-risky mode of transport that the developers of the proposed Gibbstown, New Jersey LNG export terminal had intended to use in lieu of a pipeline.

Wrapping up, we’re watching a new program in Maine, which encourages proposals for specialized combined heat and power (CHP) biomass generating plants, and claims they will result in meaningful emissions reductions.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

Water Street Bridge
“Do your job;” Protesters call on lawmakers to stop new Peabody peaker power plant
By Caroline Enos, Salem News
May 26, 2022

About 60 demonstrators gathered at the Waters River Bridge in Danvers Thursday afternoon to protest a new “peaker” power plant in Peabody. Their demand: for lawmakers to “do their job.”

“They’re ignoring the law. They’re ignoring our health needs, our climate needs,” said Jerry Halbertstadt, an environmental activist who has lived in Peabody for 15 years. “Everybody here, in one way or another, is aware of how important it is to make a change now.”

Halbertstadt, who is also a member of Breathe Clean North Shore, joined demonstrators in holding signs and flying kites that bore sayings like “No gas” and “Clean Energy Now, No Dirty Peaker” while standing along the bridge.

Some protesters also rode bikes and paddled kayaks with similar messages on their backs or boats.

The 55-megawatt “peaker” plant would be powered by oil and natural gas, and run during peak times of energy use. Construction on the new plant has already started, with developers expecting the $85 million project to be completed by summer 2023.

Protesters said the project’s developers, particularly the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), have not been transparent about the project nor provided adequate health and environmental impact reports.

State Rep. Sally Kerans spoke at Thursday’s rally. She said neither herself nor elected officials in her district, including Peabody’s mayor and city council, were aware of the new plant until activists spoke up.

The state’s Department of Public Utilities also did not allow citizen input on the project before it was greenlighted, she said.
» Read article  
» Slide show from event        

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Naia at city hall
Demonstrators take to City Hall steps to protest planned Eversource natural gas pipeline through Springfield and Longmeadow
By Patrick Johnson, MassLive
May 31, 2022

SPRINGFIELD — Some 35 opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline through Springfield and Longmeadow took to the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to call for the project to be scrapped.

With demonstrators holding signs reading “stop the toxic pipeline,” speaker after speaker called the $35 million to $45 million Eversource pipeline unnecessary, potentially dangerous to the environment, and ultimately a cost that Eversource customers will bear.
» Read article   

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Cliff Street Power Plant
Ontario Regulator Refuses New Pipeline, Tells Enbridge to Plan for Lower Gas Demand
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
May 29, 2022

The Ontario Energy Board sent minor shock waves through the province’s energy regulatory and municipal energy communities earlier this month with its refusal to approve the final phases of a $123.7-million pipeline replacement project in Ottawa proposed by Enbridge Gas.

Several observers said this was the first time the OEB had refused a “leave to construct” application from a gas utility, laying bare an operating model in which the companies’ revenue is based primarily on the kilometres of pipe they can install, rather than the volume of gas their customers actually need.

The OEB’s written order cites plans to reduce fossil gas demand across the City of Ottawa as one of the factors in the decision, along with Enbridge’s failure to show that a pipeline replacement was necessary or the most affordable option available. Major drivers of that reduction include Ottawa’s community energy plan, Energy Evolution, as well as the federal government’s effort to convert its Cliff Street heating and cooling plant from steam to hot water—changes that Enbridge did not factor into its gas demand forecasts.

“Nobody expected them to lose. Zero expectation,” veteran energy regulatory lawyer Jay Shepherd of Shepherd Rubinstein told The Energy Mix.

But “having the city give evidence that everybody is cutting back on their carbon in Ottawa, the OEB was hard pressed,” he added. “If Enbridge had had any other proof that the existing pipeline was failing, they might have won. But when the city goes in and says it won’t be using as much gas anymore, you can’t just ignore it.”

The implications of the decision could reverberate far beyond Ottawa, said Richard Carlson, director of energy policy at the Pollution Probe Foundation, and Gabriela Kapelos, executive director of the Clean Air Partnership.
» Read article   

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

missed chance
Democrats and the endless pursuit of climate legislation
Amid overlapping crises, has Congress missed its moment to act?
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
June 1, 2022

Twelve years ago, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, the country teetered on the edge of passing its first-ever comprehensive climate bill. A triumvirate of senators were negotiating bipartisan legislation that would invest in clean energy, set a price on carbon pollution, and — as a carrot for Republicans — temporarily expand offshore drilling.

Then an oil rig — the Deepwater Horizon — exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The loose bipartisan coalition collapsed. As President Barack Obama later wrote in his memoir, A Promised Land, “My already slim chances of passing climate legislation before the midterm elections had just gone up in smoke.”

Today, the sense of déjà vu is strong. The first half of 2022 has been stacked with events that have pushed climate change far down the list of priorities. The Biden administration has been caught between the war in Ukraine, surging inflation, the fight over Roe v. Wade, and, horrifically, continued gun violence. A month ago, many Democrats cited the Memorial Day recess as a loose deadline for having a climate reconciliation bill — one that could pass the Senate with only 50 votes — drafted or agreed upon. Any later, and the summer recesses and run-up to midterms could swallow any legislative opportunity. That date has now come and gone. “If you’re paying attention, you should be worried,” Jared Huffman, a Democratic representative from California, told E&E News last week.

It’s both a sluggish and anticlimactic result for a party that, in 2020 and 2021, threw its weight behind climate action. The Build Back Better Act, President Biden’s massive $2 trillion spending framework, passed the House of Representatives last November, with $555 billion in spending for climate and clean energy. The bill would have invested in wind, solar, and geothermal power, offered Americans cash to buy EVs or e-bikes, retrofitted homes to be more energy efficient, and much, much more — but it died in the Senate, when Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia refused to support it.
» Read article  

» More about legislation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

water quality effects
Biden’s EPA aims to erase Trump-era rule keeping states from blocking energy projects
Trump restricted states’ power in favor of fossil fuel development but proposed rule would empower local officials to protect water
By Associated Press, in The Guardian
June 2, 2022

The Biden administration on Thursday proposed undoing a Trump-era rule that limited the power of states and Indigenous American tribes to block energy projects like natural gas pipelines based on their potential to pollute rivers and streams.

The Clean Water Act allows states and tribes to review what effect pipelines, dams and other federally regulated projects might have on water quality within their borders.

The Trump administration sought to streamline fossil fuel development and made it harder for local officials to block projects.

The Biden administration’s proposed rule would shift power back to states, tribes and territories.

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Michael Regan, said the draft regulation would empower local entities to protect water bodies “while supporting much-needed infrastructure projects that create jobs”.

The Trump-era rule required local regulators to focus reviews on pollution projects might discharge into rivers, streams and wetlands. It also rigidly enforced a one-year deadline for regulators to make permitting decisions. Some states lost authority to block projects based on allegations they missed the deadline.

Now, the EPA says states should have the authority to look beyond pollution discharged into waterways and “holistically evaluate” impacts on local water quality. The proposal would also give local regulators more power to ensure they have the information they need before facing deadline pressure over a permit.

The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the EPA proposal. The final rule isn’t expected to take effect until spring 2023. The Trump-era rule remains in effect.
» Read article  

» More about EPA

CLIMATE

US falling behind
Trump Policies Sent U.S. Tumbling in a Climate Ranking
The Environmental Performance Index, published every two years by researchers at Yale and Columbia, found only Denmark and Britain on sustainable paths to net-zero emissions by 2050.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
May 31, 2022

For four years under President Donald J. Trump, the United States all but stopped trying to combat climate change at the federal level. Mr. Trump is no longer in office, but his presidency left the country far behind in a race that was already difficult to win.

A new report from researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities shows that the United States’ environmental performance has tumbled in relation to other countries — a reflection of the fact that, while the United States squandered nearly half a decade, many of its peers moved deliberately.

But, underscoring the profound obstacles to cutting greenhouse gas emissions rapidly enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change, even that movement was insufficient. The report’s sobering bottom line is that, while almost every country has pledged by 2050 to reach net-zero emissions (the point where their activities no longer add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere), almost none are on track to do it.

The report, called the Environmental Performance Index, or E.P.I., found that, based on their trajectories from 2010 through 2019, only Denmark and Britain were on a sustainable path to eliminate emissions by midcentury.

[…] “We think this report’s going to be a wake-up call to a wide range of countries, a number of whom might have imagined themselves to be doing what they needed to do and not many of whom really are,” said Daniel C. Esty, the director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, which produces the E.P.I. every two years.

A United Nations report this year found that there is still time, but not much, for countries to change course and meet their targets. The case of the United States shows how gravely a few years of inaction can fling a country off course, steepening the slope of emissions reductions required to get back on.
» Read article  

EFF Now
UN’s Guterres demands end to ‘suicidal war against nature’
Unless humanity acts now, ‘we will not have a livable planet,’ United Nations secretary-general warns, pleading for world leaders to ‘lead us out of this mess’.
By Al Jazeera
June 2, 2022

The world must cease its “senseless and suicidal war against nature”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, singling out developed nations and their gluttonous use of the planet’s resources.

Guterres said if global consumption were at the level of the world’s richest countries, “we would need more than three planet Earths”.

“We know what to do and increasingly we have the tools to do it, but we still lack leadership and cooperation. So today I appeal to leaders in all sectors – lead us out of this mess,” Guterres said on Thursday.

Developed nations must at least double financial support to developing countries so they can adapt and build resilience to climate disruptions that are already happening, the UN chief said.

“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement show the way, but we must act on these commitments. Otherwise, they are nothing but hot air – and hot air is killing us.”

Guterres was speaking in Stockholm where he met Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in advance of a two-day climate and environment conference.

Humanity has less than three years to halt the rise of planet-warming carbon emissions and less than a decade to slash them almost in half, a recent UN report said.

Global emissions are now on track to blow past the 1.5°C warming limit envisioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement and reach 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.76 degrees Fahrenheit) by the century’s end.

“There is one thing that threatens all our progress – the climate crisis. Unless we act now, we will not have a livable planet,” said Guterres.

“We must never let one crisis overshade another. We just have to work harder. And the war in Ukraine has also made it very clear fossil fuel dependency is not only a climate risk, it is also a security risk. And it has to end,” said Andersson.

In recent months, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published the first two installments in a trilogy of mammoth scientific assessments covering how emissions are heating the planet – and what that means for life on Earth.

Carbon emissions need to drop 43 percent by 2030 and 84 percent by mid-century to meet the Paris goal of 1.5C (2.7F).

Nations must stop burning coal completely and slash oil and gas use by 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively, to keep within the Paris goals, the IPCC said.
» Read article  

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Victorville CA
U.S. says it will cut costs for clean energy projects on public lands
By Reuters
May 31, 2022

The Biden administration on Tuesday said it would substantially reduce the cost of building wind and solar energy projects on federal lands to help spur renewable energy development and address climate change.

The new policy comes after years of lobbying from clean power developers who argued that lease rates and fees for facilities on federal lands were too high to draw investment.

In a statement, the Department of Interior said rents and fees for solar and wind projects would fall by about 50%.

The administration also said it would boost the number of people processing renewable energy environmental reviews and permit applications through the creation of five coordinating offices in Washington, Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah.

The offices are expected to improve coordination with other federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of agriculture, energy and defense.
» Read article  

Hyatt Powerplant
Extreme drought could cost California half its hydroelectric power this summer
Nearly 60 percent of the state is experiencing ‘extreme’ drought or worse
By Justine Calma, The Verge
June 1, 2022

Drought is forecast to slash California’s supply of hydroelectricity in half this summer. That’s bad news for residents’ air quality and utility bills, the US Energy and Information Administration (EIA) said in its forecast. The state will likely lean on more expensive, polluting natural gas to make up for the shortfall in hydropower.

Nearly 60 percent of California is currently coping with “extreme” drought or worse, according to the national drought monitor map. California’s current water woes stem from low levels of snowpack, which quenches the state’s reservoirs when it melts. In early April, when snowpack usually peaks, the water content of the state’s snowpack was 40 percent lower than the normal levels over the past 30 years.

Two of California’s most important water reservoirs, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, were already “critically low” by early May. We haven’t even reached the summer, when the weather could become even more punishingly dry and hot and demand for air conditioning places extra stress on the power grid.

Hydroelectricity is a significant source of energy in the US. It typically makes up about 15 percent of California’s electricity generation during “normal water conditions,” according to the EIA. But that’s expected to drop to just 8 percent this summer, the EIA says.

Sometimes California can buy hydropower from other states in the Pacific Northwest. But Washington State and Oregon are also dealing with drought, so gas may have to fill in the gaps. As a result, the EIA says electricity prices in the Western US will likely be 5 percent higher over the next few months. In California, the drought will result in 6 percent higher carbon dioxide emissions in the energy sector.
» Read article  

» More about clean energy

BUILDING MATERIALS

wood turbine tower
Wood Towers Can Cut Costs of Building Taller, More Efficient Wind Turbines
By Paige Bennett, EcoWatch
June 1, 2022

To be as efficient as possible, wind turbines need to be tall. But the taller the wind turbine, the more expensive it is to construct. The towers, typically made of steel or concrete, can be pricey, not to mention the embedded carbon emissions associated with these materials. Now, companies are working to make the towers of wind turbines taller, more efficient and more cost-effective by building them with wood.

Using wood for such a structure seems simple enough, yet many wind turbines are made with tubular steel or concrete, which can become increasingly expensive the taller the tower gets. But as explained by Energy.gov, “Because wind speed increases with height, taller towers enable turbines to capture more energy and generate more electricity. Winds at elevations of 30 meters (roughly 100 feet) or higher are also less turbulent.”

Most wind turbines in the U.S. are about 90 meters tall and are expected to reach an average height of 150 meters by 2035. To make this process more affordable, companies like Modvion and Stora Enso are working to use laminated timber, a material popular in sustainable building construction, for wind turbine construction.

According to Stora Enso, using wood can reduce a wind turbine’s emissions by up to 90%. Modvion has also noted that wood is lightweight, making it easier to transport and quick to assemble, and reduces manufacturing emissions by 25%, as reported by CleanTechnica.

Wood sourcing is also an issue, as deforestation continues to be a major problem for both its emissions and contribution to habitat loss. Modvion noted that it uses Scandinavian spruce for its wood wind turbines, saying this wood “is abundantly available and for which re-growth exceeds logging.” The wood is either Forest Stewardship Council- or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes-certified.

According to Modvion, its towers will last as long as other standard wood turbine parts, about 25 to 30 years. While the first commercially produced wood towers are slated for onshore use, the company does plan to make minor adjustments to also manufacture wood wind turbines for offshore use as well.
» Read article  

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

bombed solar farm
Russian missile strikes Ukraine solar farm, solar farm powers on
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
May 31, 2022

The safety of Ukraine’s many nuclear power plants has been a focus of major concern during the ongoing Russian invasion, but photos and video making the rounds on social media this week show that renewables, too, have come under attack.

The images, some of them shared above, show a solar farm in eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region that was struck by a missile over the weekend, leaving hundreds of smashed panels and a massive crater between two module rows.

According to Reuters via the New York Times, the 10MW solar plant is located in Merefa, southwest of Kharkiv.

Video footage of the attack as it happened has been shared on Twitter by Deutsche Welle, which says there were no casualties from that particular attack, although Ukranian officials say Russian bombs killed at least seven civilians in Karkhiv over the past week.

[…] The DW report also notes that power generation from the plant has since been restored. This has not been verified by the plant’s owner.

Whether the solar farm was the intended target of the Russian bomb is difficult to confirm, but Kirill Trokhin, who works in the power generation industry and is based in Kyiv, said on LinkedIn that the minimal “fallout” – so to speak – from the attack on the PV plant offers yet another very good reason to shift to renewables.

“A Russian bomb hits a photovoltaic solar power plant in eastern Ukraine. As we can see, it does not burn, it is not completely destroyed, and the cumulative destruction can be eliminated in a couple of days if spare materials are available,” Trokhin writes on LinkedIn alongside some of the images being shared.

“And if not – the damaged section can be localised in a day, so as not to affect the operation of the survived equipment.

“Judging by the photo, about four strings were destroyed and four more were damaged, approximately. This is about 200 modules. For a 10MW plant, this is approximately 0.6%. Yes, less than a percent.

“This is another reason to focus on distributed renewable generation if the climatic reason is not enough. To destroy it – you need to try very hard.

“Of course, Russians can hit into substations. But all the same, the resumption of work will happen much faster than when the technological equipment of thermal power plants, hydroelectric power plants, or nuclear power plants is destroyed. And single losses are much less.”
» Read article  

gridlock buster
DOE launches grid interconnection initiative to cut ‘gridlock’ hampering clean energy progress
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
June 2, 2022

In an effort to spur clean energy development, the U.S. Department of Energy is launching a program to improve the grid interconnection process through a partnership with utilities, grid operators, state and tribal governments, clean energy developers, energy justice organizations and other stakeholders.

The Interconnection Innovation e-Xchange (i2X) initiative will develop solutions for faster, simpler and fairer grid interconnection through better data, roadmap development and technical assistance, the DOE said Tuesday.

While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission prepares for possible long-term solutions to improve the interconnection process, the DOE initiative may provide near-term relief to the backlog of interconnection requests, according to Jeff Dennis, Advanced Energy Economy managing director and general counsel.
» Read article   

offshore wind at sunset
Feds approve plan to delay scrapping a New England energy rule that harms renewables
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
May 28, 2022


A controversial rule that makes it harder for renewable energy projects to participate in one of New England’s lucrative electricity markets will remain in place for another two years.

Late Friday night, Federal energy regulators approved a plan from the regional grid operator, ISO New England, to keep the so-called minimum offer price rule — or MOPR (pronounced MOPE-er) — until 2025.

The MOPR dictates a price floor below which new power sources cannot bid in the annual forward capacity market — a sort of futures market for power plants promising to be “on call” and ready to produce electricity when demand spikes.

The grid operator holds this annual on-call auction to lock in the power capacity it thinks the region will need three years in the future. Power generators that won a spot in the 2022 auction, for example, are on stand-by beginning in 2025.

By keeping the MOPR around longer, Melissa Birchard of the Acadia Center says it will be harder for the New England states to meet their decarbonization goals.

“The MOPR has held the region back for a long time and we need to see it go away forever,” she said. “This decision falls short of providing the certainty and speed that the region deserves.”

As WBUR detailed in a recent explainer about the MOPR, most everyone agrees the rule needs to go; the debate has been over when it should happen.
» Read article  
» MOPR debate explained

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

Thacker Pass photo
Powering Electric Cars: the Race to Mine Lithium in America’s Backyard
The experience of one mining company in rural North Carolina suggests the road ahead will be hard to navigate.
By Aime Williams, The Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
May 31, 2022

At his small red brick farmhouse home near the Catawba river in the rural Piedmont region of North Carolina, Brian Harper is caught up in the dilemma facing America’s big push towards a future powered by green energy.

Running in a band beneath the soil close to Harper’s land lies America’s biggest deposit of spodumene ore, a mineral that when processed into lithium is crucial to building rechargeable batteries of the kind used in electric vehicles.

Seeing the business opportunity in this fast-growing area, Piedmont Lithium, a mining company originally incorporated in Australia, began knocking on the doors of the old houses surrounding a roughly 3,000-acre site several years ago, offering to buy up land so that it could start drilling a large pit mine to extract the mineral.

With the International Energy Agency projecting a boom in demand that vastly exceeds planned supply in coming years, Piedmont found no difficulty pledging future sales of lithium to Tesla, America’s poster-child electric car company, even before they secured all of the necessary mining permits.

But while it has successfully bought up some parcels of land, Piedmont Lithium has run into staunch opposition from many of its potential new neighbors, including Harper, who runs a small business making cogs and gears for industrial machinery just a little down the road from the proposed new mine.

[…] As the U.S. attempts to surge ahead in the global race to build batteries that will power the green transition, Washington is encouraging companies such as Piedmont to break ground on more mining projects across the continental United States. But it also wants to ensure state regulators, environmental activists and local communities are not left behind in the rush.

The explosion in the electric vehicle market has set off a “battery arms race,” according to Simon Moores, chief executive of consultancy Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, which specializes in data on lithium ion batteries.

Battery manufacturers will be trying to source the raw minerals needed to make batteries, including cobalt, nickel, graphite and lithium. Yet while scientists are having early success developing batteries that do not need cobalt or nickel to function, there are so far no leads on eliminating lithium. According to Moores, “lithium is the one that terrifies the industry.”

[…] While there is only one operational lithium mine in the U.S. at present, a number of companies are pressing to get mining projects operational. Lithium Americas is planning a mine at Thacker Pass in Northern Nevada, while Australia-based Ioneer USA Corp. also wants to build a large mine in southern Nevada, about 330 miles north of Los Angeles. Several other companies are proposing projects that would extract lithium from geothermal brine, including one at California’s largest lake in Salton Sea.

In Washington, both Democrats and Republican lawmakers have said they would support updating the federal law dated from 1872 that governs mining on American public lands. Lawmakers variously want to boost U.S. mining capacity and insert more robust environmental protections.
» Read article  

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

corporate-backed boondoggle
Bracewell launches pro-CCS group ahead of funding explosion
By Carlos Anchondo and Corbin Hiar, E&E News
May 31, 2022

A public policy firm that represents electric utilities and oil companies recently launched a new group to tout technologies that capture carbon from smokestacks as a climate solution.

Bracewell LLP created the Capture Action Project in April as federal officials prepare to spend $8.2 billion on efforts to catch, transport and store carbon dioxide from industrial facilities. It joined a crowded field of groups that are advocating for expanded research, development and deployment of expensive technologies that can filter CO2 from smokestack emissions or suck CO2 from the air.

The unprecedented influx of government support for carbon capture and storage was provided by the bipartisan infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law last year.

[…] Bracewell’s Capture Action Project has sought to undermine some groups that have raised concerns about carbon capture pipelines.

“Recently, a group called Food & Water Watch has been treating those living near potential carbon capture projects to a barrage of adverse arguments, including the unsurprising conclusion that folks would rather not see eminent domain authority used solely for private gain,” CAP staff wrote on the website. The post went on to highlight a February tweet from the environmental organization that said “all pipelines” are disastrous.

“These hardly seem like objective views that people can use to call balls and strikes on projects so important to maintaining energy security and addressing greenhouse gas emissions,” the CAP post said.

A Food & Water Watch representative said Bracewell’s criticism demonstrated that the environmental group’s campaign to “protect Iowa and other states from these dangerous, unneeded carbon capture pipelines is gaining steam.”

“The Capture Action Project expresses an apparent concern for our climate future, but nowhere does it even mention the aggressive shift to clean, renewable energy that will be required to save this planet from deepening climate chaos moving forward,” Emily Wurth, managing director of organizing for Food & Water Watch, said in an email. “We have the solutions to fight climate change — and it doesn’t involve corporate-backed boondoggles like CCS.”

Bracewell’s CCS advocacy group has also targeted the Pipeline Safety Trust. Earlier this year, the safety advocacy group warned that the U.S. is “ill prepared for the increase of CO2 pipeline mileage being driven by federal CCS policy” (Energywire, March 31).
» Read article  

caution CO2
Federal regulators crack down after pipeline caught spewing CO2
The operators of a pipeline that burst in 2020 face nearly $4 million in penalties
By Justine Calma, The Verge
May 27, 2022

Federal regulators are beginning to crack down on a new generation of pipelines that will be crucial for the Biden administration’s plans to capture millions of tons of carbon dioxide to combat climate change.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) proposed penalties yesterday on the operator of one such pipeline that ruptured in Mississippi, sending at least 45 people to the hospital in 2020. The agency also pledged to craft new rules to prevent similar pipeline failures from happening as the US makes plans to build out a network of pipelines to transport captured CO2.

There are not many of these pipelines (compared to oil and gas pipelines) yet in the US, which are primarily used by the fossil fuel industry so it can shoot CO2 into oil fields to push out hard-to-reach reserves. One of those pipelines ruptured in February 2020, releasing about 30,000 barrels of liquid carbon dioxide that immediately started to vaporize and triggered the evacuation of 200 residents in and around the small town of Satartia, Mississippi. Some of those who weren’t able to leave in time were left convulsing, confused, or unconscious, according to an investigation published last year by HuffPost and the Climate Investigations Center.

Pipelines for CO2 transport the gas at high pressure and at a high enough concentration to make it an asphyxiant. The CO2 in the pipeline that ruptured was also mixed with hydrogen sulfide, but CO2 can still be harmful on its own. About 100 workers a year die from CO2 accidents globally. It’s heavier than air, allowing a plume of it to sink to the ground and blanket a large area. That can also starve vehicles of oxygen it needs to burn fuel, which can strand people trying to evacuate or authorities trying to respond to the crisis.
» Read article  

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

terminate funding
Key nations agree to halt funding for new fossil fuel projects
By Brady Dennis, The Washington Post, in The Boston Globe
May 27, 2022

Top environmental ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial countries agreed Friday to end government financing for international coal-fired power generation and to accelerate the phasing out of unabated coal plants by the year 2035.

The group said that it would aim to have “predominantly decarbonized electricity sectors by 2035.”

The commitments on the phaseout of coal plants will particularly affect Japan, which relies heavily on coal-fired power plants.

Unabated coal plants include those that have not yet adopted technology for capturing and using carbon dioxide.

The G-7 ministers also said that new road vehicles in their countries would be “predominantly” zero-emissions vehicles by 2030 and that they plan to accelerate cuts in the use of Russian natural gas, which would be replaced by clean power in the long term.

The private sector in the major industrial countries must crank up financing, the ministers said, moving “from billions to trillions.” The group acknowledged the need laid out by the International Energy Agency for the G-7 economies to invest at least $1.3 trillion in renewable energy, tripling investments in clean power and electricity networks between 2021 and 2030.
» Read article  

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

tanks and pipes
Worried by Ukraine war impacts, environmentalists petition feds to dump LNG by rail
By Susan Phillips, WSKG-NPR
May 24, 2022

STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – Environmental groups are urging the Biden administration to reverse a Trump-era rule that allows rail shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG). The groups say the war in Ukraine, and the subsequent plans by the White House to increase LNG exports, should not derail the Department of Transportation’s proposal to reinstate limits on LNG-by-rail.

“We cannot let an energy crisis that comes out of Ukraine turn into a blanket thrown over the climate crisis,” said Tracy Carluccio, of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, during a virtual press conference Wednesday. “The climate crisis is the fight of our lives, it’s the fight of our time.”

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, along with half a dozen other advocacy groups, petitioned the Department of Transportation on Wednesday to follow through on their plan to suspend a Trump-era rule that opened up the nation’s railways to LNG.

While industry advocates say rail transport is safe, a leak of LNG carries risk of explosion. The petition also urges the Biden administration to outright ban any LNG-by-rail due to both safety hazards, and the climate impacts of expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and development.

Carluccio says the groups are against all forms of LNG production and transport, including pipelines. “We leave it in the ground, that’s basically the answer,” Carluccio said. “We’re not going to be able to ever safely move it, process it, or export it.”

Prior to a new Trump administration rule enacted in 2020, LNG rail transport permits faced steep hurdles, and only a few were approved through a “special permit,” including a plan to send LNG via rail across the Delaware River to Gibbstown, New Jersey. But in an effort to encourage natural gas infrastructure and expand LNG transportation beyond pipelines, the Department of Transportation under Trump reversed long-standing practice to allow a regular permitting procedure. No permits have been issued for LNG-by-rail since that 2020 rule change.
» Read article  

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Maine biomass CHP
Maine plan for wood-fired power plants draws praise and skepticism

Critics characterize the program, which would capture waste heat for industrial use, as a handout to the timber industry and question whether it will result in meaningful emissions reductions.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
June 2, 2022

A new law encouraging the development of wood-fired combined heat and power plants in Maine is drawing praise for its potential to benefit the economy and the environment.

But some climate activists are skeptical, saying questions remain about whether the program will cut carbon emissions as intended.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Janet Mills in April, establishes a program to commission projects that will burn wood to create electricity and also capture the heat produced for use on-site — heat that would go to waste in a conventional power plant.

Proposals for these facilities are expected to come from forestry or forest products businesses that could use their own wood byproducts to fuel the plants, saving them money on heat and electricity costs and providing an extra revenue stream when excess power is sold back into the grid.

[…] “There is significant disagreement on whether it is truly carbon neutral and emission-free,” said Jeff Marks, Maine director and senior policy advocate for environmental nonprofit the Acadia Center.

[…] “It will not be highly efficient — it’s not feasible with a wood fuel,” [Greg Cunningham, director of the clean energy and climate change program at the Conservation Law Foundation] said. “It will not to any extent be a climate solution.”

The law caps the program at a total capacity of 20 megawatts statewide, a tiny fraction of the 3,344 megawatts of generating capacity the state already has. Still, the climate implications of the new law matter, Cunningham said.

“The money available in the state of Maine to fight climate change and invest in clean energy programs is finite,” he said. “When any amount of it is siphoned off for an anti-climate program, it’s problematic.”
» Read article  

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 4/22/22

banner 02

Welcome back.

We’ll jump right in with climate reports, because it turns out that after several years of increasingly urgent, hair-on-fire warnings from the United Nations, scientists, and governments, we in Massachusetts appear to be less concerned than we were before. The pandemic, inflation, and the war in Ukraine to have distracted our attention, and those things have given us too many excuses to delay real action.

So what we have is a mixed bag. The fossil fuel industry has long bankrolled a sophisticated disinformation and denial campaign, and the richest countries in the world continue to finance new development projects. We even have a brand new gas peaker plant under construction in Peabody, MA! But there’s also pushback, like the Massachusetts legislature’s good work on a new, nuts & bolts bill designed to execute the broad goals expressed in the 2021 climate “roadmap” law.

The Biden administration finds itself on both sides of this fence. We reported last week on the discouraging (and transparently political) move to sell more oil and gas leases. On the flip side, Biden is increasing the build-out of renewable energy on public lands, and has restored part of an environmental law that was gutted by the Trump administration, “requiring that climate impacts be considered and local communities have input before federal agencies approve highways, pipelines, and other major projects”. Hopefully this constitutes clear guidance for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which recently made a quavering attempt to consider climate impacts of pipelines, but freaked out when the gas industry expressed displeasure.

Before we move on from the topic of natural gas, let’s consider two articles describing how gas utilities are doubling down on their campaign to preserve their pipeline distribution model at all costs – touting far-fetched, false solutions as a way to continue pushing volatile fuel into homes and businesses. Natural gas is primarily methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – and it leaks from every point along the line from production to end use – sometimes spectacularly.

A primary reason the gas distribution model has no future is that modern heat pumps can replace fossil fuel furnaces and boilers, even in frosty New England. As we electrify building heat, we expect some stubborn gas utility obstruction – and we’re getting plenty of that. Less obvious is resistance coming from HVAC installers, especially considering how much they have to gain as communities convert en masse to new equipment. But change is inevitable.

Even the mundane process of charging electric vehicles is evolving. Soon, the idea of plugging in your EV to do nothing but charge overnight will seem as antiquated as heating with gas. With bi-directional charging, the vehicle’s large battery and stored energy can be available for all sorts of uses, from utility demand management to emergency backup power – all while leaving plenty of juice for driving. This can generate income for the individual or fleet EV owner while adding resiliency and flexibility to the grid.

We’ll close with a look at liquefied natural gas, and how the industry is using the Russian invasion of Ukraine to continue its long fight against controlling toxic emissions at export terminals. Also, read about the biomass industry’s lobbying campaign to keep the fires burning under Europe’s dirtiest “renewable” energy.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

stop Peabody peaker
What to know about a planned natural gas ‘peaker’ plant in Mass
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 08, 2022

This week’s new climate report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is very clear that the world needs to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure immediately. In fact, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, countries need to actively decommission a lot of the oil, gas and coal infrastructure that already exists.

Massachusetts also has strong climate laws and has committed to hitting “net zero” emissions by 2050. So why, in 2022, is the state allowing the construction of a new natural gas and diesel-fired power plant in Peabody?

Project opponents say plans for the so-called “peaker” plant are antithetical to the state’s goals, and that the utility group behind the project has not been transparent in their proceedings.

But work on the plant has continued despite the protests, and project managers say the facility will be up and running by 2023.

Whether you’re familiar with this proposed power plant and have questions, or you’re hearing about it for the first time, here’s what you need to know:
» Read article or listen to broadcast    

» More about peakers

DIVESTMENT

advantage oil
Database Shows Rich Governments Funding Fossil Fuels Over Clean Energy
“G20 international public finance is currently blocking a just energy transition, bankrolling 2.5 times more fossil fuels than clean energy.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
April 20, 2022

A new online tool launched Wednesday by a U.S.-based advocacy group details how international public finance is continuing to fuel the climate emergency rather than sufficiently funding a just transition to clean energy.

Oil Change International (OCI) unveiled its Public Finance for Energy Database—accessible at energyfinance.org—along with a briefing that lays out key findings, why the group is monitoring public finance for energy, and how these institutions “are uniquely positioned to catalyze a just, transformative, and rapid transition.”

The open-access tool targets development finance institutions (DFIs), export finance agencies (ECAs), and multilateral development banks (MDBs), focusing on Group of 20 (G20) countries, the world’s biggest economies. The website features a data dashboard as well as a policy tracker.

“Public finance shapes our future energy systems,” the briefing states, explaining that these “institutions’ investments total $2.2 trillion a year: an estimated 10% of global financial flows. Worldwide, 693 government-owned or operated banks own assets worth about $38 trillion and if central banks, sovereign wealth funds, pensions, and multilateral banks are also included, this doubles to $73 trillion.”

“The impact of this finance reaches beyond its own scale because public finance has an outsized influence on the decisions private financiers make,” the document adds. “This is because public finance has government-backed credit ratings, is often provided at below-market rates, often has larger research and technical capacity, and signals broader government priorities. All of this helps make a project a less risky and more attractive investment.”

The briefing points out that “G20 international public finance is currently blocking a just energy transition, bankrolling 2.5 times more fossil fuels than clean energy.”
» Read article   
» Access the database

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

MA Statehouse
Senate passes big climate bill focused on getting to net-zero
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
April 15, 2022

Senators took a major step Thursday toward achieving the net-zero emissions target they already set for Massachusetts by approving a policy-heavy bill aimed at expanding the clean energy industry and reining in emissions from the transportation and building sectors.

Nearly 12 hours after they kicked off debate, senators voted 37-3 on legislation (S 2819) that faces an unclear future as negotiators prepare to reconcile it with a smaller-scope bill that cleared the House (H 4515). All three of the chamber’s Republicans, who unsuccessfully pushed an alternative proposal, voted against the final measure.

Along the way, the Senate adopted 45 amendments — including one that calls for attempting to nearly double the amount of offshore wind energy generated for Massachusetts over the next decade-plus — leading to what Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee Chair Sen. Michael Barrett called “a product here that is much better than when we started.”

The legislation, which comes on the heels of a 2021 law committing to reaching net-zero emissions statewide by 2050, would pump $250 million into clean energy expansion, electric vehicle incentives, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It would also overhaul the offshore wind procurement process, require greater scrutiny on the future of natural gas, and allow some cities and towns to restrict the use of fossil fuels in new construction.

“Last year’s climate bill was about laying out a plan for tackling this formidable challenge of climate change. This year, in this legislation, we propose to begin to execute on the plan. If you like metaphors, last year was about laying out a roadmap, today we start traveling down the road. That’s why this is all about implementation,” Barrett, a Lexington Democrat, said on the Senate floor. “I am happy beyond measure, I am so happy, that this Senate has the courage to move beyond roadmapping and beyond laying out a template and is in favor of getting to the question of implementation and execution.”
» Read article    

» More about legislation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

providing certainty
FERC must stand strong against industry pressure to weaken climate and environmental justice policies
By Moneen Nasmith, Utility Dive | Opinion
April 20, 2022

[…] Federal law requires FERC to consider a broad range of factors when assessing how gas infrastructure projects, like pipelines and export terminals, impact the public. Gas projects often cause significant harm to the climate and communities. They release methane pollution — a potent greenhouse gas that is a major contributor to the climate crisis — and facilitate the burning of fossil fuels for decades to come. And they degrade air quality and threaten public health, often in low-income communities and communities of color already overburdened with pollution.

But FERC has long overlooked the environmental costs of gas projects while accepting unsubstantiated claims by industry about their alleged benefits. The agency has historically rubberstamped nearly all the gas projects that came before it, without seriously considering whether they are even needed. As a result, these projects have been vulnerable to litigation — and FERC and the pipeline industry keep losing in court.

Most recently, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled in March that FERC failed to adequately assess the greenhouse gas emissions from a compressor station and gas pipeline in Massachusetts. Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action team, a community group, filed a lawsuit challenging FERC’s approval of the project without considering climate impacts. The court agreed and ordered FERC to redo its environmental analysis.

To improve its broken review process, FERC recently proposed two common-sense policies to consider adverse effects like greenhouse gas emissions and environmental injustice when it reviews gas projects. The first outlines four factors the agency will consider before approving pipeline projects, including environmental impacts and the interests of environmental justice communities. The second lays out how the agency will quantify and evaluate the impacts from greenhouse gas emissions from a gas project, including pipelines and export terminals. These policies better balance the pros and cons of building new gas projects — something the courts have effectively been directing FERC to do.

Predictably, the fossil fuel industry and their political allies came out in full force to attack the new policies and pressure FERC to weaken and delay implementation of its policies. Gas companies claimed the new policies create uncertainty and will reduce investment in new pipelines and export terminals. But the reality is that the policies will reduce uncertainty for all stakeholders by ensuring that new projects are legally sound.
» Read article   

» More about FERC   

GREENING THE ECONOMY

narrow lakeBiden restores parts of environmental protection law, reverses Trump policy
By Lisa Friedman New York Times, in Boston Globe
April 19, 2022

The Biden administration will announce Tuesday that it is restoring parts of a bedrock environmental law, once again requiring that climate impacts be considered and local communities have input before federal agencies approve highways, pipelines, and other major projects.

The administration plans to resurrect requirements of the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act that had been removed by President Donald Trump, who complained that they slowed down the development of mines, road expansions, and similar projects.

The final rule announced Tuesday would require federal agencies to conduct an analysis of the greenhouse gases that could be emitted over the lifetime of a proposed project, as well as how climate change might affect new highways, bridges, and other infrastructure, according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The rule would also ensure agencies give communities directly affected by projects a greater role in the approval process.

Brenda Mallory, chairwoman of the council, described the regulation as restoring “basic community safeguards” that the Trump administration had eliminated.

[…] Administration officials said the new rule would not have major immediate impacts since the Biden administration had already been weighing the climate change impacts of proposed projects. But it would force future administrations to abide by the process or undertake a lengthy regulatory process and possibly legal challenges to again undo it.

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970, after several environmental disasters including a crude oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and a series of fires on the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio that shocked the nation.

It mandates federal agencies to assess the potential environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions before allowing them to proceed. Agencies are not required to reject projects that might worsen climate change — only to examine and report the impacts.
» Read article    

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

unfocused
As Earth’s temperature rises, Massachusetts residents’ sense of urgency on climate change declines
By Sabrina Shankman and Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
April 19, 2022

Despite increasingly urgent international warnings and an onslaught of catastrophic wildfires and weather linked to global warming, fewer Massachusetts residents see the climate crisis as a very serious concern than they did three years ago, according to a new poll.

It’s not that respondents weren’t aware of the climate threat; a large majority acknowledged that symptoms of the crisis such as increased flooding, extreme heat waves, and more powerful storms are either already happening or very likely within five years, according to the poll, a collaboration of The Boston Globe and The MassINC Polling Group. And more than three quarters called climate change a “very serious” or “serious” concern.”

But with a pandemic and war in Ukraine as a backdrop, fewer than half, 48 percent, ranked climate in the highest category of concern, down from 53 percent in 2019, the last time the poll was taken. Less than half said they would vote along climate lines or take steps such as switching their home heat off fossil fuel.

“Climate change is the kind of issue where people still think they can put it off on the back burner of their minds, especially when they’re dealing with COVID, when they’re dealing with inflation, when they’re dealing with all kinds of other terrible things in the world,” said Richard Parr, research director with The MassINC Polling Group.
» Read article    

gap
G20 Falling Behind, Canada Dead Last in Widening Gap Between Climate Pledges, Climate Action
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
April 22, 2022

G20 countries are falling behind on the all-important “say-do gap” between their 2030 emission reduction pledges and the climate action they’re actually taking, and Canada shows up dead last among the 10 wealthiest nations in the group, according to the first annual Earth Index released this week by Corporate Knights.

The analysis [pdf] points to some signs of progress, particularly in electricity generation in high-income countries. But it shows slower action in other sectors and warns that middle-income G20 countries are producing three times the emissions of the wealthiest—a trend that will continue without much wider, faster efforts to transfer proven technologies and techniques to the parts of the world that need them.

Corporate Knights CEO Toby Heaps said G20 countries’ climate commitments to date would hold average global warming to 1.8°C, citing an assessment released by the International Energy Agency during last year’s COP 26 climate summit. That outcome would “still be destructive, but it’s a scenario where we can still thrive, species can thrive, and our civilization can thrive,” Heaps told a webinar audience Wednesday.

The problem is the gap, he added, with the latest working group report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing warming on a trajectory for 3.2°C.
» Read article   
» Read the Earth Index

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Zion solar
Biden Admin Wants to Nearly Double Renewable Energy Capacity on Public Lands by 2023

By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
April 21, 2022

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced the steps it was taking to increase the amount of renewable energy projects on public lands.

The plans include increasing renewable energy capacity by almost 10,000 megawatts by 2023, which would nearly double existing capacity, The Hill reported.

“The Department of the Interior continues to make significant progress in our efforts to spur a clean energy revolution, strengthen and decarbonize the nation’s economy, and help communities transition to a clean energy future,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “The demand for renewable energy has never been greater. The technological advances, increased interest, cost effectiveness, and tremendous economic potential make these projects a promising path for diversifying our national energy portfolio, while at the same time combating climate change and investing in communities.”

The new steps announced by Biden’s Department of the Interior (DOI) Wednesday all advance towards the goal of permitting 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2025 and creating a carbon-free power grid by 2035.
» Read article    

CT green H2 path
CT plans a green hydrogen path, but it has potholes

By Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT Mirror
April 13, 2022

“Green hydrogen” seems to be the climate change solution of the moment — a not-widely-understood substance now talked up by the Biden administration, northeastern governors and Connecticut lawmakers, as well as the few people here who actually know what green hydrogen is.

Among other initiatives, the Biden administration has launched a competition for four hydrogen “hubs” that will share $8 billion in federal funds to develop, well, something. Connecticut is partnering with New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts to come up with a proposal for what one such something might be. Separately, the Connecticut legislature is considering a bill to establish a task force to study green hydrogen’s potential in the state and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is planning for a hydrogen component in its new Comprehensive Energy Strategy. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) includes hydrogen among the mitigation strategies in its final and alarming 6th assessment report released last week.

But the environmental community is, at best, wary of green hydrogen. Some are downright opposed to aspects of making and using it and even more worried about non-green hydrogen. Even green hydrogen’s biggest supporters admit it has limitations and is not a silver bullet for addressing climate change.

“A lot of really important questions come with this policy area,” said Katie Dykes, DEEP’s commissioner. “What is the hydrogen being produced with? What are the emissions associated with the production of the hydrogen? How is it being transported and stored? What are you using it for?

“Those are more questions than answers.”

So what is green hydrogen exactly and is its potential in mitigating climate change worth getting excited about? The answer is complicated.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

heat pump rebates
Unlikely gatekeepers in the fight against climate change: HVAC contractors
Rebates encourage homeowners to embrace climate-friendly heating systems. Will contractors block or bolster the switch to heat pumps?
By Eve Zuckoff, CAI Public Radio
February 23, 2022

Homeowners looking to replace their heating systems can now receive up to $10,000 to switch from boilers and furnaces to air source heat pumps. The rebates are part of the state’s ambitious plan to lower carbon emissions and address climate change.

But for the state’s plan to work, it needs more than the support of homeowners and environmental activists. It needs your local heating and cooling contractor.

[…] Today, 27 percent of Massachusetts’ total carbon emissions come from heating and water heating in homes and other buildings, according to data from the state. To drastically cut those emissions, state officials want 1 million homes to rely on electric heat pumps, rather than boilers and furnaces, by 2030.

While powerful financial incentives from Mass Save, the state’s energy-efficiency program, are expected to attract homeowners, it’s up to contractors to heed the call. Some say they’re ready.

“I would say nine out of 10 – if not more– of our jobs are heat pump jobs and we’re doing several hundred jobs a year,” said Jared Grier, owner of an HVAC company in Marstons Mills that’s betting hard on the future. It’s called Cape Cod Heat Pumps.

Home heating systems are expensive for most homeowners, but rebates can create a competitive advantage for heat pumps.

Like many contractors, Grier said it’s nearly impossible to estimate the average cost of installing a heat pump system because it involves so many variables, including the size of the home, how insulated it is, and how many units are needed. But the overall cost to install – and operate – a heat pump can be a selling point when compared to other heating systems.

[…] Beyond cost comparisons, some installers say they are pivoting to heat pumps because they’re afraid of what could happen if they don’t.

“You have to embrace it or you get left behind. We can’t afford as a business to be left behind,” said Gary Thompson, sales and installation manager at Murphy’s Services of Yarmouth, which does air conditioning, heating and plumbing. “The boilers and the furnaces – the fossil fuel heating systems – are the dinosaurs. They’re going away.”

Advancing heat pump technology has transformed his sales over the last five years, he said, but many veteran installers remain resistant.

“The contractors – be it time, economics, training – they haven’t embraced it,” he said. “You know, kind of the old adage in this industry: ‘I’ll try anything new as long as my father and grandfather used it first.’”
» Read article    
» See Mass Save heat pump rebates

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

V2X MOU
Department of Energy looks to integrate Vehicle-to-Everything bi-directional charging into US infrastructure
The US DOE released a Memorandum of Understanding that aims to bring together parties to advance bi-directional charging with cybersecurity as a core component.
By Anne Fischer, PV Magazine
April 21, 2022

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and partners announced the Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that aims to bring together resources from the DOE, national labs, state and local governments, utilities, and private entities to evaluate the technical and economic aspects of integrating bidirectional charging into the nation’s energy infrastructure.

As the number of electric vehicles (EVs) grows (including larger trucks and buses), their batteries can be used to add support [to] the grid.

A bidirectional EV fleet could serve as both a clean transportation as well as an energy storage asset that sends power back to everything from critical loads and homes to the grid. A bidirectional fleet could also create new revenue opportunities for EV owners or fleets.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) conservatively estimates that 130 million electric vehicles (EVs) will be on the road globally by 2030.  Bidirectional plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) offer an opportunity to support the grid, enhancing security, resilience, and economic vitality.

“The MOU signed today represents a collaborative approach to researching and developing novel technologies that will help unify the clean energy and transportation sectors while getting more American consumers into electric vehicles,” said Deputy Secretary of Energy Dave Turk. “Integrating charging technology that powers vehicles and simultaneously pushes energy back into the electrical grid is a win-win for the future of clean transportation and our energy resilience overall.”
» Read article    

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

interchangeable
As N.H. lawmakers and utilities embrace renewable natural gas, environmental groups raise concerns

Environmentalists say renewable natural gas is costly and limited, and that it can be used to justify building and maintaining fossil fuel infrastructure.
By Amanda Gokee, New Hampshire Bulletin, in Energy News Network
April 20, 2022

Buried under a pile of trash in a landfill in northern New Hampshire, apple cores, eggshells, and other bits of discarded food are decomposing. That process generates a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide — a gas the state’s utilities want to capture and use as fuel.

This so-called renewable natural gas comes from other sources, too: livestock operations generating agricultural waste and wastewater treatment plants that handle human waste. Once purified, the gas is “fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. As of last September, that had resulted in 548 landfill gas projects across the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gas utilities in New Hampshire are looking to use renewable natural gas as a fuel of the future. Lawmakers have broadly supported the efforts, in spite of environmental and cost concerns. Renewable natural gas could cost three times as much as conventional natural gas.

Senate Bill 424 was voted out of two Senate committees with unanimous support and passed the Senate floor on a voice vote in March. The bill left the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee with five House lawmakers voting against it and 15 in its favor, and it is now up for a vote before the full House with the committee’s recommendation that it pass into law.

[…] Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the guardrails in the bill are too weak to guarantee the promised environmental benefits.

“It gives utilities an opportunity to claim they’re doing something green and environmentally beneficial. But when you pull back the layer, it’s not going to be environmentally beneficial,” Krakoff said.

One specific problem, Krakoff said, is a lack of accounting when it comes to methane leakages, which can occur during processing or transportation and can quickly cancel out the climate benefits associated with renewable natural gas. And the greenhouse gas emissions from transporting the gas must be calculated as well, he said. The bill is currently silent on both. “When you weigh the greenhouse gas impacts, you need to look at the whole picture,” he said.

Krakoff’s larger critique of renewable natural gas is that it’s diverting attention and money from cleaner alternatives, like heat pumps.

The Conservation Law Foundation has written that the gas is both costly and limited; the organization argues that, for those reasons, it will do little to lower emissions but could be used to justify building and maintaining fossil fuel infrastructure.

“It’s just a way of avoiding what really needs to be done to transition to clean energy,” Krakoff said.
» Read article   
» Read CLF’s position on renewable natural gas

first rule of holes
A fossil-free National Grid? Critics call it a pipe dream.
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
April 19, 2022


National Grid today released a plan to go fossil-free in order to meet Massachusetts’ 2050 net-zero climate emission targets.

The company’s “clean energy vision” is designed to transform the way the gas utility provides heat throughout its New England territory, while continuing to rely on its vast gas infrastructure.

Currently, most homes and businesses in the region burn natural gas for heat, which National Grid distributes to customers through a network of pipelines. By mid-century, if the company fails to change its business model, the net-zero requirements of the state climate law will essentially put it out of business.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, has a shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide, but is far more effective at trapping heat. Thousands of miles of pipes in Massachusetts leak methane, and are being repaired and replaced at an estimated cost of $20 billion.

The key to National Grid’s plan is using their same pipeline distribution system, but providing a different mix of gas, said Stephen Woerner, regional president of the utility: “We eliminate fossil fuels and we replace them with renewable natural gas and green hydrogen.”

Renewable natural gas — or RNG — is methane produced by decomposing organic matter. The utility plans to capture methane produced on farms, landfills and waste treatment plants and pipe it through its network.  “Green” hydrogen would be produced by offshore wind farms that split water into oxygen and hydrogen, with no carbon emissions. The company envisions a new gas mix including 30% RNG and 20% green hydrogen by 2040, and 80% RNG and 20% green hydrogen by 2050.

One of the environmental groups calling for electrification of the region’s heating system is the Massachusetts-based Conservation Law Foundation. The group also advocates for the use of electric heat pumps and neighborhood geothermal heating, which uses the Earth as a battery to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer.

Caitlin Peale Sloan, vice president of CLF for Massachusetts, called National Grid’s plan “a false solution, just a way for the company to stay in business using their existing network of pipelines to distribute climate-disrupting gas.”

“Any plan that still counts on burning methane is not a decarbonization plan,” Sloan said. She notes that methane, regardless of the source, is still a climate threat.
» Read article    

» More about gas utilities

GAS LEAKS

big cowboy line break
Unregulated gas pipeline causes a huge methane leak in Texas
By Aaron Clark and Naureen Malik, Bloomberg, in The Boston Globe
April 18, 2022

A natural gas pipeline in Texas leaked so much of the super-potent greenhouse gas methane in little more than an hour that by one estimate its climate impact was equivalent to the annual emissions from about 16,000 US cars.

The leak came from a 16-inch (41-centimeter) pipe that’s a tiny part of a vast web of unregulated lines across the US, linking production fields and other sites to bigger transmission lines. Although new federal reporting requirements start next month for so-called gathering lines, the incident highlights the massive climate damage even minor parts of the network can inflict.

Energy Transfer, which operates the line where the leak occurred through its ETC Texas Pipeline unit, said an investigation into the cause of the event last month is ongoing and all appropriate regulatory notifications were made. It called the pipe an “unregulated gathering line.”

The timing of the release and its location appeared to match a plume of methane observed by a European Space Agency satellite that geoanalytics firm Kayrros called the most severe in the US in a year. Bloomberg investigations into methane observed by satellite near energy facilities show the invisible plumes often coincide with routine work and deliberate releases.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Severely curbing or eliminating releases of the gas from fossil fuel operations is crucial to avoiding the worst of climate change. The International Energy Agency has said oil and gas operators should move beyond emissions intensity goals and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to methane releases.
» Read article    

» More about gas leaks

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Frontline series
‘Frontline’ Review: Why the Climate Changed but We Didn’t
“The Power of Big Oil” examines a dispiriting, well-financed history of denialism and inaction.
By Mike Hale, New York Times
April 18, 2022

PBS’s investigative public-affairs program “Frontline” specializes in reminding us of things we would rather forget. On Tuesday, it begins a three-part dive into climate change, that potential species-killer that has taken a back seat recently to more traditional scourges like disease and war.

Titled “The Power of Big Oil,” the weekly mini-series is focused on climate change denialism as it was practiced and paid for by the fossil fuel industry — particularly Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries — along with its allies in business and, increasingly, politics. By extension, it’s a history, more depressing than revelatory, of why nothing much has been done about an existential crisis we’ve been aware of for at least four decades.

The signposts of our dawning comprehension and alarm are well known, among them the climatologist James Hansen’s 1988 testimony to Congress, the Kyoto and Paris agreements, the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and increasingly dire United Nations reports. The response that “Frontline” meticulously charts — a disciplined, coordinated campaign of disinformation and obfuscation that began in industry and was embraced by conservative political groups — is less familiar but was always in plain sight.

Part of the campaign is public, a barrage of talking heads on television and op-eds and advertorials in prominent publications (including The New York Times) that do not absolutely deny global warming but portray it as the night terrors of attention-mongering eggheads. Behind the scenes, the thinly disguised lobbying groups paid for by Big Oil apply pressure on key politicians at key moments — whenever it looks as if the United States might pass legislation affecting their profits.

One lesson the show offers, almost in passing, is the way in which the refusal to accept the reality of climate change prefigured the wider attacks on science — and on knowledge in general — that were to characterize the Trump years and the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The successful but lonely battle fought by the oil and gas industries is joined wholeheartedly by Republican politicians when they see how climate denialism, and the specter of unemployed miners and drillers, dovetails with their efforts to demonize President Barack Obama and radicalize conservative voters. At that point, the fig leaf of scientific debate is dropped and pure emotion takes over.
» Read article    

KY mountain top
The Decline of Kentucky’s Coal Industry Has Produced Hundreds of Safety and Environmental Violations at Strip Mines
Internal records and emails show that state regulators struggle to keep up with the violations as coal bankruptcies and “zombie” mines proliferate.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
April 18, 2022

As the coal industry has collapsed in Kentucky, companies have racked up a rising number of violations at surface mines, and state regulators have failed to bring a record number of them into compliance, internal documents show.

Enforcement data from 2013 through February, along with recent internal emails, both provided to Inside Climate News by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in response to a state open records law request, paint a picture of an industry and its regulators in a state of crisis.

The documents reveal an agency struggling to enforce regulations designed to protect the public and the environment from some of the industry’s most destructive practices amid mining company bankruptcies and an overall industry decline that has also seen the shedding of thousands of coal mining jobs in the state.

Environmental advocates fear lax enforcement could also be happening in other coal mining states, such as West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, due to similar pressures on the industry and regulators, despite a recent uptick in coal mining. And they are calling on federal regulators to make sure slowed, idled or bankrupt mines are not left to deteriorate.

“This data shows there are a lot of zombie mines out there,” said Mary Varson Cromer, an attorney and deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center Inc., in Whitesburg, Kentucky, using a term that refers to mines that have been idled, sometimes for years, without the required reclamation work on their sites.

[…] “This is completely out of control,” warned Courtney Skaggs, a senior environmental scientist in the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources, in a separate Dec. 15 email to the department’s commissioner, Gordon Slone. “This is going to blow up in someone’s face,” wrote Skaggs, a former acting director of the agency’s Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement.
» Read article    

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cheniere
Should EPA Back-Off Pollution Controls to Help LNG Exports Replace Russian Gas in Germany?
Cheniere Energy says the agency’s decision to start enforcing pollution controls on gas turbines is “counterproductive” in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Environmentalists strongly disagree.
By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News
April 20, 2022

The nation’s top exporter of liquified natural gas, Cheniere Energy, is using Russia’s war on Ukraine to pressure the Biden administration for a break on regulations aimed at reducing toxic air emissions at its LNG export terminals in Louisiana and Texas.

Environmental advocates are hoping the Biden administration stands firm on its March decision to finally, after nearly two decades, enforce limits on toxic air emissions from certain kinds of gas-powered turbines used in a variety of industrial operations, including the chilling and liquefaction of natural gas at Cheniere’s export terminals on the Gulf Coast for shipment overseas in large tanker vessels.

But Russia’s war in Ukraine has placed enormous counterpressure on the president from the oil and gas industry and its supporters in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, who want U.S. LNG exports to replace Russian gas.Before the war, Russia was supplying about 40 percent of the EU’s gas.

Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, said now is precisely the moment in which Biden should show resolve in the face of Cheniere’s request to relax pollution controls.

“If EPA says, ‘No, you don’t have to comply now, we will give you a waiver for two more years,’ then as soon as they do, every other operator of a stationary turbine will ask for the same thing,” said Williams, who is closely following the issue. In addition to the chillers making LNG, gas powered turbines are commonly used in electricity generation. “We have been trying to get (EPA) to reduce emissions from turbines for 30 years.”

Attorneys at Bracewell, the Houston-based law firm that asked EPA in March for the break on Cheniere’s behalf, say the federal agency has not responded. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency was considering Cheniere’s request.

The next move is Biden’s, and It’s not at all clear how the administration is going to react with the war in Ukraine raging, natural gas prices soaring, gasoline prices at the pump near record highs and the 2022 midterm elections approaching.
» Read article    

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

Drax lobby
Biomass Industry Pushes Back Against Europe’s Plans To Protect Woodlands
Leaked documents show UK power plant Drax is at the heart of lobbying efforts to dilute EU biodiversity rules that could limit its supply of wood.
By Phoebe Cooke, DeSmog Blog
April 12, 2022

A powerful US biomass lobby group is pushing for a raft of changes that would weaken European renewable energy rules geared to better protect biodiversity and tackle climate change, DeSmog can reveal.

Leaked documents shared with DeSmog show that Yorkshire wood-burning power plant Drax is at the heart of the effort to water down EU sustainability criteria.

Campaigners say that the proposed amendments pose an “existential threat” to the company, which in 2021 produced nearly 13 percent of the UK’s renewable electricity through burning wood pellets.

The lobbying by US Industrial Pellet Association (USIPA) comes at a time of intense debate over the future of energy. The European Commission pledged to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds after President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The International Energy Agency has also recommended “maximising” bioenergy – which derives from burning organic material for fuel.

USIPA, whose members include Drax and top pellet producers Granuul and Enviva, sent the document to select MEPs in early March.

In it, the industry group appears to push back strongly against rules that might limit its supply of wood – including opposing the European Commission’s proposal for a no-go area for sourcing biomass from virgin and highly biodiverse  forests.

USIPA also attempts to establish in law that old, or misshapen trees should be used to make pellets, and suggests that companies should still be allowed to harvest wood from countries with national plans for timber and forest management deemed inadequate by the EU.
» Read article    

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 4/1/22

banner 17

Welcome back.

Another youth-led climate organization is making waves, alongside the better-known Extinction Rebellion that has mounted bold non-violent actions against the buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure for the past few years. The group Just Stop Oil demands that the British government agree to halt all new licenses for fossil fuel projects. This is reasonable, and right in line with United Nations and International Energy Agency roadmaps for limiting global warming to levels just below catastrophic. The kids are alright.

Science and common sense aside, industry’s zombie-like, shuffling trudge toward new fossil projects includes persistent pressure for new gas peaking power plants. We’re fighting one in Peabody, MA; this week’s report highlights one on Long Island. Meanwhile, it seems our good-news story from last week about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new requirement to consider downstream emissions and environmental justice communities before permitting new natural gas pipelines may have been a tad premature. In a disappointing reversal, FERC chair Richard Glick is walking that back.

With inflation biting into budgets at a time when about one third of American households already have trouble paying their energy bills, it’s fair to ask whether states with ambitious climate goals will make things better or worse from the kitchen-table perspective. We found a new report that concludes “prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars.” It’s a strong economic argument for improving people’s lives while moving quickly to decarbonize. This involves up-front investment, but it makes a whole lot more sense to shovel loads of cash at something expected to pay handsome social and economic dividends – rather than stuffing all those greenbacks into the furnaces and smokestacks tended by the business-as-usual lobby.

Our climate stories draw a line under that. One talks about the dangers of buying into the popular idea that it’s OK to overshoot our global warming target – that we can pull the planet back into the safe zone later. Nope. Now read the second article, featuring young people who refuse to give up in the face of daunting odds. They argue that embracing climate doom can be a cop out that excuses inaction.

Thousands of Canadians are staying engaged – calling for an end to the carbon capture tax credit, a giveaway to industry that relies on unproven and expensive technology, without meaningful return in the form of emissions remediation. Germany appears ready to act, now that the invasion of Ukraine exposed the country’s untenable dependence on Russia’s natural gas. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is doubling down on a clean energy transition. This, along with decisions made in other European capitals will decide the course of the current industry-led race to simply replace all that Russian gas with shipments of liquefied natural gas from North America. It’s worth stepping back from LNG’s breathless promotion of this “solution” to consider that it would lock in lots of new fossil infrastructure and take years to implement – none of which addresses Europe’s urgent energy needs nor the climate’s requirement that we stop doing things like that.

And consider this: every new study of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector seems to conclude that releases of this extra-powerful greenhouse gas are much larger than previously known. Connecticut is on the right track, with its regulators calling for a halt to subsidies for new gas hookups. The argument that gas is cleaner than any other fuel, including coal, is increasingly difficult to defend.

Good news this week includes the fact that we’re getting closer to integrating the batteries in electric vehicles as energy storage units capable of providing grid services. In the not-too-distant electric-mobile future, a utility could peel off a little charge from tens of thousands of parked EVs, greatly reducing the need for larger battery storage units to handle peak demand. And electrified transportation is a broad category, including e-bikes. Massachusetts is finally expected to move forward with regulations allowing them more widespread use and even subsidies for affordability. Forty-six other states have already taken similar measures.

Of course, expanding electric mobility requires mining a host of metals, and the U.S. has concluded its supply chains are far too reliant on foreign (sometimes unstable and/or unfriendly) sources. Lithium, cobalt, and nickel are key metals in EV batteries, and selecting the least environmentally- and culturally-damaging extraction sites is of urgent importance. We offer a report on locations currently under consideration.

Here in Massachusetts, the Baker administration continues its attempt to rewrite the state’s science-based biomass regulations, to allow certain biomass-fueled electricity generators to qualify for lucrative clean energy credits. Scientists, public health professionals, and activists are strenuously opposing that effort.

We’ll wrap up with two stories on the energy demands of cryptocurrency. Bitcoin miners are moving to the oil patch, increasingly running their power-thirsty banks of processors off “waste” gas from drilling operations and using fuzzy math to claim it’s a win for the climate. Meanwhile, others suggest a practical change that could eliminate up to 99% of that energy demand.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

just stop oil and XR
Environmental protesters block oil terminals across UK
Activists climb on tankers and glue themselves to roads around London, Birmingham and Southampton
By Damien Gayle, The Guardian
April 1, 2022

Hundreds of environmental protesters have blocked seven oil terminals across the country as part of a campaign to paralyse the UK’s fossil fuel infrastructure.

Early on Friday, supporters of Just Stop Oil began blockades at oil refineries around London, Birmingham and Southampton by climbing on top of tankers and gluing themselves to road surfaces.

Shortly after 4am, activists blocked terminals in Purfleet and Grays, Essex, which they said were the biggest in the country. In Tamworth, near Birmingham, a group of more than two dozen protesters had been hoping to disrupt the nearby Kingsbury oil terminal. However, due to police intervention they were able only to block a road leading to the site.

Just Stop Oil has demanded that the government agree to halt all new licences for fossil fuel projects in the UK. They have vowed to continue disrupting the UK’s oil infrastructure until the government agrees.

Louis McKecknie, 21 from Weymouth, who last month zip-tied his neck to a goalpost at Goodison Park, Everton’s football ground, as part of the campaign, said: “I don’t want to be doing this but our genocidal government gives me no choice. They know that oil is funding Putin’s war and pushing millions of people into fuel poverty while energy companies reap billions in profits. They know that to allow more oil and gas extraction in the UK is suicidal and will accelerate global heating.

“It means millions dying of heat stress, losing their homes or having to fight for food. This is the future for my generation, I stop when oil stops.”
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions     

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

no NRG peaker
NRG’s Proposed Astoria Power Plant Slammed as Company Attempts to Revive Plans
By Allie Griffin, Sunnyside Post
March 17, 2022

A large energy company that had its plans to build a power plant in Astoria rejected by the state in October has challenged the decision and in doing so has drawn the ire of local officials and activists.

NRG Energy is seeking the state’s approval to replace its 50-year-old peaker plant on 20th Avenue with a natural gas-fired generator that it says would significantly reduce its carbon footprint at the site.

The company’s application was denied by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in October and NRG requested an adjudicatory hearing in November.

Elected officials and climate activists, however, remain firmly opposed to the plan. They slammed the plan at a public hearing Tuesday.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has been an outspoken critic of the plan since its inception, called on the Department of Environmental Conservation to uphold its initial denial of the project. The DEC concluded in October that the plan failed to comply with the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a 2019 law that established a mandate to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“The DEC was right to deny a permit for a destructive, fossil fuel plant in Astoria and should reject their appeal as well,” Gianaris, who championed the law, said. “Our community drew a line in the sand against new fossil fuel infrastructure and won. Let the DEC issue a strong statement that ‘no new fossil fuel plants’ is the policy of New York as we fight the ravages of the climate crisis.”
» Read article      

» More about peakers

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Glick retreats
FERC retreats on gas policies as chair pursues clarity
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
March 25, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rolled back sweeping new policies for large natural gas projects, including a framework for assessing how pipelines and other facilities contribute to climate change, weeks after prominent lawmakers panned the changes.

In a decision issued unanimously at the commission’s monthly meeting yesterday, FERC will revert back to its long-standing method for reviewing natural gas pipeline applications — while opening changes announced in February to feedback rather than applying them immediately.

[…] While the policy changes issued in February were intended to update and improve the agency’s approach for siting new gas projects, the commission has concluded that the new guidelines “could benefit from further clarification,” said FERC Chair Richard Glick.

“I’m all for providing further clarity, not only for industry but all stakeholders in our proceedings, including landowners and affected communities,” said Glick, a Democrat who supported the initial changes.

In a pair of orders condemned by the commission’s Republican members, FERC’s Democratic majority voted last month to advance new policies altering the commission’s process for reviewing new natural gas projects.

One of the policies expanded the range of topics included in FERC’s reviews of interstate pipelines, adding new consideration for environmental and social issues.

It explained that the commission would consider four major factors before approving a project: the interests of the developer’s existing customers; the interests of existing pipelines and their customers; environmental interests; and the interests of landowners, environmental justice populations and surrounding communities.

The other policy was an “interim” plan for quantifying natural gas projects’ greenhouse gas emissions. It laid out, for the first time, how the agency would determine whether new projects’ contributions to climate change would be “significant,” and encouraged developers to try to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article      

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

pathways to affordable energy
Aligning climate and affordability goals can save states billions

By Arjun Makhijani and Boris Lukanov, Utility Dive | Opinion
March 30, 2022

One in three U.S. households — about 40 million in all — are faced with the persistent, difficult and fundamental challenge of paying their energy bills and paying for other essentials like food, medicine and rent. Utility bills have been rising as have gasoline prices. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and associated sanctions have added sharp volatility to oil prices. Significant increases, even if temporary, can have adverse long-term impacts on low-income households as evidenced by the fact that over one-third of adults cannot readily meet an unexpected expense of $400.

An urgent question posed by climate imperatives is: will the transition away from fossil fuels worsen energy cost burdens or can it be managed in ways that increase energy affordability. Nearly half of all U.S. states have set legal targets to increase the share of clean energy resources and lower greenhouse gas emissions, yet few of these policies address longstanding concerns around energy affordability and energy equity directly. Our recent study, prepared for the Colorado Energy Office by researchers at PSE Healthy Energy and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of energy cost burdens — a key metric for measuring energy affordability — and outlines strategies to meet state emissions targets while lowering the cost of residential energy for low-and moderate-income households.

Our conclusion: prioritizing investments in energy-cost-burdened populations can help states meet their emissions reductions targets while saving billions of dollars. These savings result from a significant expansion of energy efficiency, electrification, community solar and demand response programs for low- and moderate-income households, lowering the total amount of direct assistance needed to make utility bills affordable for these households over time. The study also shows that an affordability and equity-informed approach more directly addresses long-standing social inequities stemming from the use of fossil fuels, can lower health-damaging air pollution faster, and can accelerate the clean energy transition, thereby benefiting all of society including non-low-income households.
» Read article
» Read the Pathways To Energy Affordability study            

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

overshoot
Can the world overshoot its climate targets — and then fix it later?
Policymakers seem to be banking on it. But irreversible climate impacts could get in the way.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
March 30, 2022

In February, on the eve of the release of a major new report on the effects of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, several of its authors met with reporters virtually to present their findings. Ecologist Camille Parmesan, a professor at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, was the first to speak.

Scientists are documenting changes that are “much more widespread” and “much more negative,” she said, than anticipated for the 1.09 degrees Celsius of global warming that has occurred to date. “This has opened up a whole new realm of understanding of what the impacts of overshoot might entail.”

It was a critical message that was easy to miss. “Overshoot” is jargon that has not yet made the jump from scientific journals into the public vernacular. It didn’t make it into many headlines.

[…] The topic of overshoot has actually been lingering beneath the surface of public discussion about climate change for years, often implied but rarely mentioned directly. In the broadest sense, overshoot is a future where the world does not cut carbon quickly enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels — a limit often described as a threshold of dangerous climate change — but then is able to bring the temperature back down later on. A sort of climate boomerang.

Here’s how: After blowing past 1.5 degrees, nations eventually achieve net-zero emissions. This requires not only reducing emissions, but also canceling out any remaining emissions with actions to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, commonly called carbon removal. At that point, the temperature may have only risen to 1.6 degrees C, or it could have shot past 2 degrees, or 3, or 4 — depending on how long it takes to get to net-zero.

[…] When I reached out to Parmesan to ask about her statement in the press conference, she was eager to talk about overshoot. “It’s so important, and really being downplayed by policymakers,” she wrote.

“I think there’s very much an increased awareness of the need for action,” she told me when we got on the phone. “But then they fool themselves into thinking oh, but if we go over for a few decades, it’ll be okay.
» Read article      

OK Doomer
‘OK Doomer’ and the Climate Advocates Who Say It’s Not Too Late
A growing chorus of young people is focusing on climate solutions. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me.’”
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
March 22, 2022

Alaina Wood is well aware that, planetarily speaking, things aren’t looking so great. She’s read the dire climate reports, tracked cataclysmic weather events and gone through more than a few dark nights of the soul.

She is also part of a growing cadre of people, many of them young, who are fighting climate doomism, the notion that it’s too late to turn things around. They believe that focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With the war in Ukraine prompting a push for ramped up production of fossil fuels, they say it’s ever more pressing to concentrate on all the good climate work, especially locally, that is being done. “People are almost tired of hearing how bad it is; the narrative needs to move on to solutions,” said Ms. Wood, 25, a sustainability scientist who communicates much of her climate messaging on TikTok, the most popular social media platform among young Americans. “The science says things are bad. But it’s only going to get worse the longer it takes to act.”

Some climate advocates refer to the stance taken by Ms. Wood and her allies as “OK Doomer,” a riff on “OK Boomer,” the Gen Z rebuttal to condescension from older folks.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Olav Scholz
Germany’s New Government Had Big Plans on Climate, Then Russia Invaded Ukraine. What Happens Now?
A new chancellor and his coalition want to enact major clean energy legislation at the same time that the war has scrambled the geopolitics of energy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
March 25, 2022

Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has made Germany’s reliance on Russian oil and gas untenable, and led the center-left government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz to accelerate the transition to clean energy.

This is more than just talk. German leaders are in the early stages of showing the world what an aggressive climate policy looks like in a crisis. Scholz and his cabinet will introduce legislation to require nearly 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035, which would help to meet the existing goal of getting to net-zero emissions by 2045.

“Our goal of achieving climate neutrality in Germany by 2045 is more important than ever,” Scholz said this week in an address to parliament.

Germany’s strategy is in contrast to the United States, where the Biden administration, also elected with ambitious climate plans, has seen that part of its agenda almost completely stalled.

The difference is that Germany—and much of the rest of Europe—have a head start on the United States in making a transition to clean energy, said Nikos Tsafos of the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

“There is more social and political consensus in favor of decarbonization [in Europe], and the plans and strategies are far more developed,” Tsafos said in an email. “By contrast, climate legislation remains highly politicized in the United States, and the instinct among many is to merely increase oil and gas production.”
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

V2G Leaf
EVs: The next grid battery for renewables?
By Peter Behr, E&E News
March 30, 2022

Around noon on Fridays, as a yoga class heats up at a recreation center in Boulder, Colo., electricity flows in from a Nissan Leaf plugged in behind the facility, cutting the city’s utility bill by about $270 a month, or roughly what it costs to lease the car, Boulder official Matthew Lehrman says.

The results of this experiment are making a potent point about the nation’s clean energy future, demonstrating vehicle-to-building power supply for controlling electricity costs and extending the reach of wind and solar power, according to David Slutzky, founder and chief executive of Fermata Energy, developer of the software that manages the power transfer.

EVs — battery-driven and plug-in hybrids — are projected to grow from about 5 percent of the U.S. car market this year to 30 percent or even one-third by 2030, according to a number of estimates, assuming EV costs shrink and charging station numbers grow.

And by 2025, not just the Leaf but nearly all new EVs are expected to come with bidirectional charging capability, Slutzky predicts, equipping them to be backup power sources when not on the road or being recharged overnight.

The potential of the technology has some high-level supporters, including Jigar Shah, head of the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office, and John Isberg, a vice president of National Grid, which has electricity customers in New York and New England and has drawn on EV battery capacity last summer to cut peak demand in a partnership with Fermata Energy.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., California’s largest electric utility, and General Motors this month announced plans to test GM vehicles equipped with bidirectional charging to reduce homeowners’ power demands.

And a division of Siemens AG is working with Ford on a custom bidirectional electric vehicle charger for the Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck, allowing the truck to provide power to homes and, in the future, the grid itself, the companies said.

“Electric Vehicles like most vehicles are parked 96 percent of the time,” Shah said recently on social media. “If they are plugged in at scale they can be a valuable grid resource.”

[…] A report by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in January listed EVs among the primary customer-owned energy resources that could become “shock absorbers” helping grid operators manage large volumes of renewable power and get through grid emergencies.

“Auto manufacturers see this is really appealing. Even though we’re not there yet, the industry is moving toward bidirectional,” said Kyri Baker, an assistant professor on the engineering staff at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
» Read article      
» Read the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report    

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

legal purgatory
Top lawmaker vows movement on e-bike bill long sought by advocates
By Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
March 30, 2022

Hours after a protest in front of the State House pushing for legislation that would bring electric bicycles, known as e-bikes, out of their legal purgatory, a top lawmaker said the bill is likely to move out of committee by Friday.

Representative William Straus, co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he’s confident the committee will act on the bill that would regulate the increasingly popular e-bikes as bikes as opposed to motor vehicles, which require a license, and allow them to be ridden on bike paths, by its Friday deadline. This legislation has been considered by state lawmakers before, but never made it all the way to the governor’s desk.

“I’m optimistic that this is [the] time for e-bike classification,” the Mattapoisett Democrat said.

At the rally in front of the State House Wednesday, city officials and advocates from Boston and nearby municipalities pressed for the legislation that would bring Massachusetts in line with 46 other states and Washington, D.C. Advocates say the much needed clarity will encourage more people to replace car trips with e-bike trips, reducing congestion and climate change-causing emissions.

Advocates also want to see a separate bill pass that would allow the Department of Energy Resources to provide rebates on purchases of e-bikes of up to $500 for general consumers and $750 for low- and moderate-income consumers, currently pending before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

“E-bikes . . . provide climate justice, economic justice, and transportation justice,” said Boston Cyclists Union executive director Becca Wolfson. “We need these bills to pass now.”

E-bikes allow people to travel further distances with more ease than a regular bike. The e-bike regulation bill would create a three-class system to categorize them. The system allows municipalities to regulate e-bikes further, based on the classes.
» Read article      

nickel sheets
Russia’s War in Ukraine Reveals a Risk for the EV Future: Price Shocks in Precious Metals
After the nickel market goes haywire, the United States and its allies launch a critical minerals energy security plan, with stockpiling an option.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
March 28, 2022

[…] Russia’s war on Ukraine has roiled global commodities markets—including those for nickel and other metals used in EV batteries—and laid bare how vulnerable the world is to price shocks in the metals essential to the EV future. That volatility comes on top of the pandemic-triggered supply chain woes that have dogged the auto industry for months. President Joe Biden’s pledge to catalyze the electric vehicle transition has been only partly fulfilled, with consumer EV tax credits, much of the money for charging stations and other assistance stalled with the rest of his Build Back Better package in Congress.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the linchpin for any effort to revive the legislation, this month said he is particularly reluctant to invest in an EV future because of U.S. dependence on imported metals for electric transportation. “I don’t want to have to be standing in line waiting for a battery for my vehicle, because we’re now dependent on a foreign supply chain,” Manchin said at the annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.

But last week, automakers, the Biden administration and U.S. trading partners and allies were doubling down on their commitment to vehicle electrification—not only to address climate change but because of concerns about energy insecurity in a world reliant on oil for transportation. Skyrocketing prices at gasoline pumps have made clear that U.S. drivers are not insulated from spikes in the global oil market, even though the United States is producing more oil domestically than ever.

Automakers are embarking on an array of strategies to secure supply of the critical minerals they will need for electric vehicles, including alternative battery chemistries, investment in new processing plants and deals with suppliers. Meanwhile, the United States and the 30 other member nations of the International Energy Agency last week launched a critical minerals security program. That could eventually include steps such as the stockpiling of metals needed for EVs and other renewable energy applications, just as IEA nations have committed since the 1970s to hold strategic stockpiles of oil. The IEA meeting participants also discussed a greater focus on systematic recycling of metals.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the brine pools of SQM lithium mine on the Atacama salt flat in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, January 10, 2013. Picture taken January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

U.S. seeks new lithium sources as demand for clean energy grows
By Patrick Whittle, Associated Press, on PBS Newshour
March 28, 2022

The race is on to produce more lithium in the United States.

The U.S. will need far more lithium to achieve its clean energy goals — and the industry that mines, extracts and processes the chemical element is poised to grow. But it also faces a host of challenges from environmentalists, Indigenous groups and government regulators.

Although lithium reserves are distributed widely across the globe, the U.S. is home to just one active lithium mine, in Nevada. The element is critical to development of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are seen as key to reducing climate-changing carbon emissions created by cars and other forms of transportation.

Worldwide demand for lithium was about 350,000 tons (317,517 metric tons) in 2020, but industry estimates project demand will be up to six times greater by 2030. New and potential lithium mining and extracting projects are in various stages of development in states including Maine, North Carolina, California and Nevada.

[…] Expanding domestic lithium production would involve open pit mining or brine extraction, which involves pumping a mineral-rich brine to the surface and processing it. Opponents including the Sierra Club have raised concerns that the projects could harm sacred Indigenous lands and jeopardize fragile ecosystems and wildlife.

But the projects could also benefit the environment in the long run by getting fossil fuel-burning cars off the road, said Glenn Miller, emeritus professor of environmental sciences at the University of Nevada.

[…] The new lithium mining project closest to development is the one proposed for Thacker Pass by Lithium Americas. That northern Nevada mine would make millions of tons of lithium available, but Native American tribes have argued that it’s located on sacred lands and should be stopped.

Construction could start late this year, said Lithium Americas CEO Jonathan Evans, noting that it would be the first lithium project on federal land permitted in six decades.

[…] California’s largest lake, the salty and shrinking Salton Sea, is also primed to host lithium operations. Lithium can be extracted from geothermal brine, and the Salton Sea has been the site of geothermal plants that have pumped brine for decades. Proponents of extracting lithium from the lake said it would require less land and water than other brining operations.

One project, led by EnergySource Minerals, is expected to be operational next year, a spokesperson for the company said. General Motors Corp. is also an investor in another project on the Salton Sea that could start producing lithium by 2024.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, envisions that California’s lithium can position the state to become a leader in the production of batteries. He called the state the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” during a January address.
» Blog editor’s note: Lithium extraction projects mentioned in this article include locations in Maine, North Carolina, Nevada, and California.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Chrystia Freeland
Thousands of Canadians Call on Government to Scrap Carbon Capture Tax Credit
The scheme, said one campaigner, “is being used as a Trojan horse by oil and gas executives to continue, and even expand, fossil fuel production.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 28, 2022

“Magical thinking isn’t going to solve the climate crisis.”

That’s what Dylan Penner, a climate and social justice campaigner with the Council of Canadians, said in a statement Monday as advocacy organizations revealed that 31,512 people across Canada are calling on the federal government to scrap a proposed carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) tax credit expected in the upcoming budget.

Referencing The Lord of the Rings, Penner warned that “doubling down on CCUS instead of cutting downstream emissions from fossil fuels extracted in Canada is like trying to wield the One Ring instead of destroying it in Mount Doom. Spoiler warning: that approach doesn’t end well.”

The signatures were collected by the Council of Canadians as well as Environmental Defense, Leadnow, and Stand.earth. Their demands are directed at Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is also minister of finance.

A December 2021 briefing from Environmental Defense points out that “to date, CCUS has a track record of over-promising and under-delivering. The vast majority of projects never get off the ground. The technology remains riddled with problems, unproven at scale, and prohibitively expensive.”
» Read article      
» Read the Environmental Defense briefing on CCUS

» More about CCS

CRYPTOCURRENCY

ND flare
As Oil Giants Turn to Bitcoin Mining, Some Spin Burning Fossil Fuels for Cryptocurrency as a Climate Solution
In a pilot project last year, ExxonMobil used up to 18 million cubic feet of gas per month to mine bitcoin in North Dakota.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 31, 2022

Flaring — or the burning of stranded natural gas directly at an oil well — is one of the drilling industry’s most notorious problems, often condemned as a pointlessly polluting waste of billions of dollars and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

In early March, oil giant ExxonMobil signed up to meet the World Bank’s “zero routine flaring by 2030” goal (a plan that — when you look just a bit closer — doesn’t entirely eliminate flaring but instead reduces “absolute flaring and methane emissions” by 60 to 70 percent.)

How does ExxonMobil plan to reach that goal? In part, it turns out, by burning stranded natural gas directly at its oil wells — not in towering flares, but down in mobile cryptocurrency mines.

Roughly speaking, crypto miners compete with each other to solve complex puzzles. Those puzzles, designed to require enormous computing power, can be used to help make a given coin more secure. Successful miners are rewarded for their efforts with newly generated coins.

Using the energy-intensive process of crypto mining to fight pollution is the latest in a wave of claimed climate “solutions” whose environmental benefits seem to only appear if you squint at them from very specific angles — like “low carbon” oil, measured not by the oil’s actual carbon content but by how much more carbon was spent to obtain it.

Critics point out that replacing flaring with mining crypto could become a way for fossil fuel producers to spin money directly from energy, polluting the climate without heating people’s homes or transporting people from place to place in the process. “In terms of productive value, I would say there is none,” Jacob Silverman, a staff writer at the New Republic, said in a recent interview. “The main value of cryptocurrency is as a tool for speculation. People are trying to get rich.”

That, of course, includes oil drillers. “This is the best gift the oil and gas industry could’ve gotten,” Adam Ortolf, a crypto mining executive, told CNBC. “They were leaving a lot of hydrocarbons on the table, but now, they’re no longer limited by geography to sell energy.”
» Read article      

proof of stake
Climate groups say a change in coding can reduce bitcoin energy consumption by 99%
A simple switch in the way transactions are verified could reduce bitcoin’s energy-guzzling mining habits
By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
March 29, 2022

Bitcoin mining already uses as much energy as Sweden, according to some reports, and its booming popularity is revitalizing failing fossil fuel enterprises in the US. But all that could change with a simple switch in the way it is coded, according to a campaign launched on Tuesday.

The campaign, called Change the Code Not the Climate and coordinated by Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace USA and several groups battling bitcoin mining facilities in their communities, is calling on bitcoin to change the way bitcoins are mined in order to tackle its outsized carbon footprint.

The software code that bitcoin uses – known as “proof of work” – requires the use of massive computer arrays to validate and secure transactions. Proof of work is a way of checking that a miner has solved the extremely complex cryptographic puzzles needed to add to the bitcoin ledger.

Rival cryptocurrency etherium is shifting to another system – “proof of stake” – that it believes will reduce its energy use by 99%. In the proof of stake model, miners pledge their coins to verify transactions; adding inaccurate information leads to penalties.

With the value and use of cryptocurrencies rising, the campaign’s organizers argue bitcoin must follow suit or find another, less energy intensive, method. “This is a big problem. In part because of where the industry stands now but also because of our concerns about its growth,” said Michael Brune, campaign director and former executive director of Sierra Club.

The US now leads the world in cryptocurrency mining after China launched a crackdown on mining and trading last May.

“Coal plants which were dormant or slated to be closed are now being revived and solely dedicated to bitcoin mining. Gas plants, which in many cases were increasingly economically uncompetitive, are also now being dedicated to bitcoin mining. We are seeing this all across the country,” said Brune.
» Read article      

» More about crypto

GAS UTILITIES

CT ending expansion
Connecticut regulators move to end subsidies for new natural gas hookups
The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said a program meant to help Connecticut residents and businesses switch from oil to natural gas has not met targets and no longer aligns with the state’s climate goals.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
March 25, 2022

Connecticut regulators want to halt a program that incentivizes homeowners and businesses to convert to natural gas as soon as the end of April.

The program, which began in 2014, is authorized through the end of 2023. But in a draft decision issued Wednesday, the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority, known as PURA, called for “an immediate winding down” of the program and said it is “no longer in the best interest of ratepayers.”

PURA has been reviewing the utility-run gas expansion program, which is subsidized by ratepayers, for more than a year. Established under former Gov. Dannel Malloy at a time when natural gas was considerably cheaper than oil, it called for the state’s three natural gas distribution companies to convert 280,000 customers over 10 years.

After eight years of using marketing and incentives to persuade new customers to sign on, the companies have only reached about 32% of their goal. At the same time, average costs per new service and new customer have tripled for Eversource, and doubled for Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Natural Gas, according to PURA.

In their draft decision, regulators cited the companies’ failure to meet their conversion goals and the rising costs as key reasons for ending the program. In addition, they noted, the price differential between oil and gas has lessened considerably since the program’s start.

And finally, regulators concluded that the program no longer furthers the state’s climate goals. They cited Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent executive order on climate, which recognizes that the greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s building sector have increased in recent years, and calls for a cleaner energy strategy that reconsiders the continued expansion of the natural gas network.

While the gas expansion program “was intended to provide benefits to both ratepayers and the environment,” regulators concluded, “the proffered benefits have simply failed to materialize.”

That conclusion echoes a finding by the state Office of Consumer Counsel, which has also called for an end to the program. Ratepayers “are now funding investments that are likely to become stranded assets in light of the state’s climate and clean energy goals,” the consumer advocate said in testimony submitted earlier this year to PURA.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Loco Hills NM
Methane Leaks in New Mexico Far Exceed Current Estimates, Study Suggests
An analysis found leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas drilling in the Permian Basin were many times higher than government estimates.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
March 24, 2022

Startlingly large amounts of methane are leaking from wells and pipelines in New Mexico, according to a new analysis of aerial data, suggesting that the oil and gas industry may be contributing more to climate change than was previously known.

The study, by researchers at Stanford University, estimates that oil and gas operations in New Mexico’s Permian Basin are releasing 194 metric tons per hour of methane, a planet-warming gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. That is more than six times as much as the latest estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The number came as a surprise to Yuanlei Chen and Evan Sherwin, the lead authors of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“We spent really the past more than two years going backwards and forwards thinking of ways that we might be wrong and talking with other experts in the methane community,” said Dr. Sherwin, a postdoctoral research fellow in energy resources engineering at Stanford. “And at the end of that process, we realized that this was our best estimate of methane emissions in this region and this time, and we had to publish it.”

He and Ms. Chen, a Ph.D. student in energy resources engineering, said they believed their results showed the necessity of surveying a large number of sites in order to accurately measure the environmental impact of oil and gas production.
» Read article       https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/climate/methane-leaks-new-mexico.html
» Read the study

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

blind alley
Europe Scrambles To Accommodate LNG Import Surge
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
March 28, 2022

While Europe is set to import an increasing amount of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as part of its efforts to reduce reliance on Russian pipeline gas, the European market is struggling to secure enough floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs) and advance LNG import facilities construction.

“Europe is screaming for FSRUs to get energy in, whatever it costs,” Yngvil Asheim, managing director of Norway-based FSRU owner BW LNG, told the Financial Times.

Last week, the European Union and the United States announced a deal for more U.S. liquefied natural gas exports to the EU as the latter seeks to replace Russian supplies, on which it is dependent. According to the terms of the deal, the United States will deliver at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to the EU this year more than previously planned, the White House said in a fact sheet.

Europe–unlike the United States–cannot afford to go without Russian gas currently, so the European partners have been reluctant to slap sanctions or impose an embargo of imports of oil and gas from Russia.

The Russian war in Ukraine made Europe rethink its energy strategy, and the European Union has now drafted plans to cut EU demand for Russian gas by two-thirds before the end of 2022 and completely by 2030, to replenish gas stocks for winter and ensure the provision of affordable, secure, and sustainable energy.

However, FSRUs and LNG import terminals currently operating in Europe are not enough, according to analysts who spoke to FT. It will take years for terminals to be built.
» Read article      

toxic export
US plan to provide 15bn cubic meters of natural gas to EU alarms climate groups
The deal is intended to decrease reliance on Russia but will entrench reliance on fossil fuels, environmentalists say
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
March 25, 2022

A major deal that will see the US ramp up its supply of gas to Europe in an attempt to shift away from Russian fossil fuel imports risks “disaster” for the climate crisis, environmental groups have warned.

Under the agreement, unveiled on Friday, the US will provide an extra 15bn cubic meters of liquified natural gas (LNG) to the European Union this year. This represents about a tenth of the gas the EU now gets from Russia, which provides 40% of the bloc’s total gas supply.

The increased gas exports from the US will escalate further, with the EU aiming to get 50bn cubic meters of gas a year from America and other countries in order to reduce its reliance upon Russia after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Joe Biden, who announced the deal during a trip to Brussels, said the increased supply will ensure “families in Europe can get through this winter” while also hampering Vladimir Putin, who has used gas income to “drive his war machine”.

But environmental groups have reacted to the agreement with alarm, arguing that it will help embed years of future gas use at a time when scientists say the world must rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“We should be rapidly transitioning to affordable clean energy, not doubling down on fossil fuels,” said Kelly Sheehan, senior director of energy campaigns at the Sierra Club. “Reducing reliance on fossil fuels is the only way to stop being vulnerable to the whims of greedy industries and geopolitics.”
» Read article      

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

we breathe what you burn
Opponents torch proposed rules for burning wood to create electricity in Mass.
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
March 29, 2022

Massachusetts is once again revisiting wood-burning biomass power regulations, and the public, it seems, is not pleased with the plan.

The state’s Department of Energy Resources held a virtual hearing on Tuesday to get feedback on a proposal to change which biomass plants qualify for lucrative renewable energy subsidies, and how the state tracks and verifies the type of wood these plants burn. And for about two hours, the vast majority of speakers implored the department to leave the regulations alone.

“Whether it’s gas, oil or wood, burning stuff for energy emits carbon dioxide and pollutants into the atmosphere, and that has harmful consequences,” said Mireille Bejjani of the nonprofit Community Action Works.

“Biomass is not a climate solution. It’s a climate problem,” said Johannes Epke, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation.

“It is frankly beyond my comprehension how Massachusetts can justify allowing biomass electric-generation plants to be incentivized,” said Susan Pike of Montague. “These are incentives that ratepayers contribute to in order to support clean renewable energy development.”

[…] It’s been a while since biomass was in the news, and to really understand what the state is proposing now, you have to understand how these rules came into effect. If you want to dive deep into biomass, check out our explainer from 2020.

[…] In 2019, the Department of Energy Resources under Gov. Charlie Baker proposed “updating” Massachusetts’ strict biomass rules to make it easier for some older and less efficient plants to get clean energy subsidies. While the administration said it would be good for the state’s climate goals, environmental groups like the Conservation Law Foundation and Partnership for Policy Integrity, as well as Attorney General Maura Healey and prominent climate scientists came out against the changes.

[…] As part of last year’s landmark Climate Law, the office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is legally required to conduct a study about the emissions and public health impacts associated with biomass. That study is not expected to be finished until next summer.

The Department of Energy Resources will likely submit its regulatory changes to the Secretary of State before that deadline.

[…] At a hearing last year, Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said that the proposed changes were intended to do two things: “streamline” language between two clean energy programs and help Massachusetts achieve its climate goals. He argued that it will be a while until renewable energies like offshore wind are able to be a sizable part of our energy portfolio, and in the meantime, we have emissions goals that we need to meet. He added that his department’s calculations show that the state will see net greenhouse gas reductions over the next few decades by burning wood instead of natural gas.

Caitlin Peele Sloan, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts, disagrees with these assumptions.

The “[Department of Energy Resources] has been trying to weaken these biomass regulations for more than three years now, while evidence grows that burning wood for electricity is massively inefficient and produces untenable amounts of local air pollution and climate-damaging emissions,” she says.

Many environmental groups in Mass., including the Conservation Law Foundation and the Sierra Club, signed a letter earlier this year in support of legislation that would remove woody biomass from the renewable energy subsidy program, effectively rendering the regulations moot. Several speakers during Tuesday’s hearing pushed for lawmakers to pass this legislation.
» Read article      
» Read the CLF and Sierra Club letter

» More about biomass

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