Tag Archives: climate change

Weekly News Check-In 7/9/21

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Welcome back.

We’ll open today with big thanks to everyone who stood out with us last Friday – and to those braving today’s soggy weather – holding signs to raise public awareness of pollution issues related to Pittsfield’s largest peaking power plant. We’re thrilled to report that Pittsfield’s Board of Health voted unanimously to write to the plant’s owner, Hull Street Energy, and request that officials explore a transition to green energy to alleviate its contribution to global warming and to lessen local health consequences.

Elsewhere, protests and actions by local activists resulted in cancellation of the Byhalia Pipeline project which appeared to have been deliberately routed through environmental justice communities in southwest Memphis. While that victory points to the possibility of a better future, a split decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the Gulf Run pipeline points to a regulator still struggling to extract itself from the tar pit of the past.

Maine caught our attention when pro-environment Governor Janet Mills signed into law a bill prohibiting offshore wind farms in state waters. But on closer reading, it appears to make sense. The legislation protects the near-shore region, keeps the lobster industry happy, and encourages wind development in federal waters – generally more than three miles offshore.

The proposed Climate Conservation Corps got a boost this week when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made clear that he would prioritize its inclusion in federal infrastructure legislation currently taking shape. Inspired by Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, the new CCC would provide a national service platform where young people can apply their energies to solve environmental and climate challenges, and prepare themselves for good jobs in the emerging green economy.

The Guardian published an excellent long article exploring some of the earliest government policy responses to emerging awareness of human-caused climate change. The historical perspective is sobering, and we followed it provocatively with a rather speculative article describing potential future problems related to the alarming buildup of plastic waste in the environment. We’re being warned again – will we act this time or follow the same path of deflection, denial, and delay?

We’re calling out Grasshopper Energy for its unacceptable disregard for indigenous artifacts located on a site it’s developing for a 2.4MW solar farm in eastern MA. Destruction of ceremonial stone landscapes is the same assault, whether it’s done for gas pipelines or clean energy.

New York based BlocPower is in the news again, having secured funding to expand its energy efficiency retrofit model to even more buildings in typically under-served communities. Transportation could also get an efficiency boost as the Biden administration aims to establish a set of milestones that encourage rapid electrification of that sector.

A new report sheds light on fossil fuel industry pollution of the Gulf of Mexico during ten years of offshore fracking. And just like last week, we close with a report that suggests further likelihood that the Goldboro LNG export facility will never be built in Nova Scotia.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

new public ally
‘Peaker’ power plant owner should discuss cleaner operation, Pittsfield health officials say
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
July 8, 2021

PITTSFIELD — A grassroots fight to curb a Pittsfield power plant’s environmental damage just won a new public ally.

Health officials in Pittsfield will appeal to the company that owns Pittsfield Generating on Merrill Road to discuss ways to shift from use of fossil fuels to lighten the plant’s carbon footprint and environmental harm.

“It’s consistent with our mission,” Brad Gordon, a member of the Board of Health, told his colleagues Wednesday.

The four-member board voted unanimously to write to the plant’s owner, Hull Street Energy, and request that officials explore a transition to green energy to alleviate its contribution to global warming and to lessen local health consequences.

That letter will go out in the days ahead, as Hull Street Energy continues to pursue a new permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“I would think that we’d want to get that process moving,” said board member Steve Smith.

The move widens public calls for action. On June 30, the leader of the Tri-Town Health Department, which covers Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, urged Hull Street Energy to clean up its act.

“Given the feasible alternative of solar energy with battery storage, the Tri-Town Health District, and its board of health members hereby strongly encourages that these outdated facilities transition to green energy to comply with reductions in emissions,” wrote James J. Wilusz.
» Read article
» Check out the Put Peakers in the Past campaign

stop the peak pollution
Berkshire Environmental Group Pushing To “Put Peakers In The Past”
By Josh Landes, WAMC
July 7, 2021

Tonight, the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Board of Health will hear a petition calling for three Berkshire County power plants to transition to green energy. The Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s No Fracked Gas in Mass initiative is behind the effort. The group says it would reduce the environmental and health impacts from the “peaker” plants that come online during spikes in energy use by customers. They’ve also organized an ongoing Friday afternoon demonstration series against the plants on Dalton Avenue in Pittsfield by one of the peakers located on Merrill Road. WAMC spoke with No Fracked Gas in Mass program director Rose Wessell about the initiative.

WESSEL: No Fracked Gas in Mass started in response to the large pipeline projects that were being proposed in 2014. We initially responded to the NED pipeline, the Northeast Energy Direct, that was proposed by Kinder Morgan, and soon found that there were five large pipelines being proposed across the state at that time. Since then, that project has been withdrawn, one of the other big pipelines was withdrawn. We’ve been making sure to keep on top of new fracked gas infrastructure that was being proposed and present arguments as to why it shouldn’t be built. And now with our “Put Peakers In The Past” campaign, we’re starting to take on existing fossil fuel infrastructure that we feel has had its time and doesn’t need to be what it is anymore.
» Read article or listen to the interview

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Byhalia cancelled
‘A victory for us’: Southwest Memphis residents elated as developers drop Byhalia Pipeline project

Landowners who received money from planners can keep it, eminent domain cases will be withdrawn, stakeholders told
By Carrington J. Tatum and Hannah Grabenstein, MLK50
July 2, 2021

At first, it was just a few Black residents – most elderly – in one of Memphis’ poorer neighborhoods, up against a behemoth pipeline company.

Then some younger activists showed up. They organized rallies, wrangled support from elected officials, filed and fought lawsuits. National media and celebrities took notice.

And then late Friday afternoon came the news: Developers of the Byhalia Connection Pipeline – what proponents insisted would create hundreds of jobs and what opponents called the embodiment of environmental racism and a threat to the water supply – would no longer pursue the project.

The explanation given was “lower US oil production resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” but at least one environmental activist gave the credit to pipeline opponents, including the grassroots Memphis Community Against the Pipeline organization.

At a hastily called gathering Friday evening at Alonzo Weaver Park in Southwest Memphis — where MCAP held most of its rallies — MCAP founder Justin J. Pearson stood with his hands stretched to the sky, thanking God.

“This is where what we view as power, met people-power, in a community they thought was powerless,” Pearson said. “It’s time to make sure we’ll never have to fight this fight again. And when we pass those laws, it will be an even bigger celebration.”
» Read article                 

Ro Khanna
Lawmaker Threatens to Subpoena Exxon After Secret Video
The chairman of a powerful House subcommittee said he is seeking answers from Exxon and other oil and gas giants over their role in spreading disinformation on climate change.
By Hiroko Tabuchi and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
July 2, 2021

The chairman of a House subcommittee is demanding that executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Shell, Chevron and other major oil and gas companies testify before Congress about the industry’s decades-long effort to wage disinformation campaigns around climate change.

Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, said Friday he was prepared to use subpoena power to compel the companies to appear before lawmakers if they don’t do so voluntarily.

The move comes a day after a secretive video recording was made public in which a senior Exxon lobbyist said the energy giant had fought climate science through “shadow groups” and had targeted influential senators in an effort to weaken President Biden’s climate agenda. Several of those senators said this week that the lobbyist exaggerated their relationship or that they had no dealings with him.

“The video was appalling,” Mr. Khanna said in an interview on Friday. He called it the latest evidence of the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to “engage in climate denialism and to manipulate public opinion and to exert undue influence in shaping policy in Congress.”

Mr. Khanna said the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Environment, which he chairs, will issue letters next week to top executives at Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and other oil and gas companies and trade groups demanding documents and testimony. One major target of the panel’s inquiry are dark money groups that have been funded by fossil fuel companies to disseminate falsehoods about climate science and policy solutions. The hearing is expected to be held in the fall.
» Read article                 

» More about protests and actions

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Gulf Run approvedEnergy Transfer’s Gulf Run Pipeline to Export Fracked Gas from Louisiana set to Begin Construction
But FERC’s business-as-usual approach to fossil fuel projects during the climate crisis looks increasingly shaky, casting new doubt on the industry’s prospects.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
July 1, 2021

In June, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) narrowly approved the construction of a new 42” diameter gas pipeline that will connect shale wells in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Ohio to a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on the Gulf Coast, carrying over a billion cubic feet of fracked gas to be transported overseas every day.

The FERC decision was split, with two of the five commissioners dissenting, writing that the Commission had failed to adequately examine the climate-changing pollution linked to the fossil fuel pipeline.

That dissent in Gulf Run takes on new relevance as the term of FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, appointed by Donald Trump in 2017, ended on Wednesday. President Joe Biden is expected to soon announce a nominee as Chatterjee’s replacement — a decision rumored to be between Willie Phillips, who, according to Politico Morning Energy, previously worked for Jeff Sessions and interned in George W. Bush’s Office of General Counsel, and Maria Duaime Robinson, a former official with Advanced Energy Economy, which advocates for solar, wind, hydroelectric and nuclear energy.

The Gulf Run pipeline, one small piece of the shale industry’s strategy to revive itself despite the growing climate crisis, offers a view of the crossroads faced by the Biden administration.

The project highlights federal regulators’ continued business-as-usual approach to fossil fuel infrastructure projects with decades-long expected lifespans and regulators’ failures to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article                 

» More about FERC

LEGISLATION

Maine coast - Expedia
New Maine law prohibits offshore wind farms in state waters
But the compromise still encourages the development of offshore wind technology in federal waters off Maine.
By Kevin Miller, Portland Press Herald, in centralmaine.com
Photo: Maine Coast | Expedia
July 7, 2021

Gov. Janet Mills has signed into law a bill prohibiting offshore wind farms in state waters, in a compromise aimed at siting such projects farther from Maine’s heavily used inshore waters.

Mills is a vocal supporter of wind energy who has made addressing climate change a top priority of her administration. But segments of Maine’s fishing industry – particularly lobstermen – have been battling to ban any wind development off the coast of Maine over concerns about potential loss of access to valuable fishing grounds and other conflicts.

The bill proposed by Mills and signed into law this week would prohibit state and local governments from licensing or permitting the siting, construction or operation of wind turbines in the state territorial waters that extend three miles from shore. A demonstration project under development off Monhegan Island and future “pilot-scale, limited duration” research projects would be exempt from the prohibition.

The bill, L.D. 1619, also would create an Offshore Wind Research Consortium with an advisory board that includes representatives of the lobster industry, other commercial fishermen and the recreational charter fishing industry as well as energy experts. The board will advise the state on local and regional impacts from offshore wind power projects as gleaned from a state-backed “research array” of up to 12 turbines to be located in federal waters.
» Read article                 

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

this is huge
‘This Is Huge’: Schumer Commits to Creating Civilian Climate Corps

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to confront the climate crisis and create millions of middle-class union jobs,” he said. “Creating a new Civilian Climate Corps is a key step.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
July 8, 2021

After being targeted by progressive climate campaigners, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made clear on Wednesday that he will work to include the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps in evolving federal infrastructure legislation.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a lengthy statement outlining his support for the inclusion of a Civilian Climate Corps (CCC), which was inspired by a New Deal-era program and formally unveiled as legislation earlier this year by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on the same day they reintroduced the Green New Deal Resolution.

The Sunrise Movement, whose New York City chapter took to the streets to push Schumer on the CCC proposal, celebrated his statement as a victory for local organizers and the youth-led movement more broadly.

“In the upcoming American Jobs and Families Plans legislation, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to confront the climate crisis and create millions of middle-class, family-sustaining union jobs,” Schumer said. “Creating a new Civilian Climate Corps is a key step towards both goals.”
» Read article                 

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

NY homes destroyed
Sixty years of climate change warnings: the signs that were missed (and ignored)
The effects of ‘weird weather’ were already being felt in the 1960s, but scientists linking fossil fuels with climate change were dismissed as prophets of doom
By Alice Bell, The Guardian
Photo: Homes destroyed by a storm in New York state in 1962. Photograph: Bettmann/Getty/Guardian Design
July 5, 2021

In August 1974, the CIA produced a study on “climatological research as it pertains to intelligence problems”. The diagnosis was dramatic. It warned of the emergence of a new era of weird weather, leading to political unrest and mass migration (which, in turn, would cause more unrest). The new era the agency imagined wasn’t necessarily one of hotter temperatures; the CIA had heard from scientists warning of global cooling as well as warming. But the direction in which the thermometer was travelling wasn’t their immediate concern; it was the political impact. They knew that the so-called “little ice age”, a series of cold snaps between, roughly, 1350 and 1850, had brought not only drought and famine, but also war – and so could these new climatic changes.

“The climate change began in 1960,” the report’s first page informs us, “but no one, including the climatologists, recognised it.” Crop failures in the Soviet Union and India in the early 1960s had been attributed to standard unlucky weather. The US shipped grain to India and the Soviets killed off livestock to eat, “and premier Nikita Khrushchev was quietly deposed”.

But, the report argued, the world ignored this warning, as the global population continued to grow and states made massive investments in energy, technology and medicine.

Meanwhile, the weird weather rolled on, shifting to a collection of west African countries just below the Sahara. People in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad “became the first victims of the climate change”, the report argued, but their suffering was masked by other struggles – or the richer parts of the world simply weren’t paying attention. As the effects of climate change started to spread to other parts of the world, the early 1970s saw reports of droughts, crop failures and floods from Burma, Pakistan, North Korea, Costa Rica, Honduras, Japan, Manila, Ecuador, USSR, China, India and the US. But few people seemed willing to see a pattern: “The headlines from around the world told a story still not fully understood or one we don’t want to face,” the report said.
» Read article                

Saami council
An Indigenous Group’s Objection to Geoengineering Spurs a Debate About Social Justice in Climate Science
The Sámi people of Northern Sweden say blocking out the sun with reflective particles to cool the earth is the kind of thinking that produced the climate crisis in the first place.
By Haley Dunleavy, Inside Climate News
July 7, 2021

It was February in northern Sweden and the sun was returning after a dark winter. In the coming months the tundra would reawaken with lichens and shrubs for reindeer to forage in the permafrost encrusted Scandinavian mountain range. But the changing season also brought some unwelcome news to the Indigenous Sámi people, who live across northern Scandinavia, Finland and eastern Russia.

The members of the Saami Council were informed that researchers at Harvard planned to test a developing technology for climate mitigation, known as solar geoengineering, in Sápmi, their homeland. “When we learned what the idea of solar geoengineering is, we reacted quite instinctively,” said Åsa Larsson Blind, the Saami Council vice president, at a virtual panel about the risks of solar geoengineering, organized by the Center for International Environmental Law and other groups.

“This goes against our worldview that we as humans should live and adapt to nature,” she said.

The planned geoengineering project sought to limit global warming by releasing reflective particles into the stratosphere, reducing the amount of sunlight that beams down to Earth’s surface. The test, originally scheduled for June, would have been the first step in a series of small-scale experiments aimed at understanding the feasibility of combating global warming.
» Read article                 

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

grasshopper energy out of bounds
Wilson Street solar project ordered to pause after tribal officials claim disregard for Indigenous artifacts
By Mary Ellen Gambon, Hopkinton Independent
July 7, 2021

Two cease and desist orders were filed last week against Grasshopper Energy to stop construction of a 2.4-megawatt solar farm between Wilson Street and Cedar Street after allegations were made by the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office that artifacts sacred to the tribe’s culture were destroyed.

“The Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office had done an investigation of the site and found some items of historical significance that they felt it was important to preserve on the ceremonial hill,” explained John Gelcich, the town’s principal planner. “There is a condition in the special permit that says that, if they find any new resources that they bring it before the Planning Board.”

He confirmed that two separate cease and desist orders were issued, the first by the tribal office and the second by the town, to stop work in the area of the ceremonial hill, which sits on the western portion of the site.

“My understanding of the town’s cease and desist order is just to bring the historical resources to their attention and to do what needs to be done to protect those resources,” Gelcich explained. “This will bring all parties to the table to discuss that.”

Narragansett tribal historic preservation officer John Brown was more direct in his criticism of the company. He said items of cultural significance were destroyed, including some large stone formations. Brown said the stones would have been used “several hundreds of years ago to [thousands] of years ago” as table-like structures on which ritual ceremonies were performed.

“We sent a cease and desist order because [Grasshopper] did not comply with the special permit issued by the town,” said Brown, whose organization is based in Charlestown, Rhode Island. “Several areas of the stone wall have been pulverized.”
» Blog editor’s note: Some of our readers may recall the 2017 battle over ceremonial stone landscapes and the CT Expansion pipeline. It’s no better when solar companies show disregard.
» Read article           

companies ask for CES
More than 75 companies ask Congress to pass clean electricity standard
By Zack Budryk, The Hill
July 7, 2021

More than 75 major U.S. companies including Apple, Google, Lyft and Salesforce signed a letter circulated Wednesday urging Congress to adopt a federal clean electricity standard.

In the letter, signers urged the federal government adopt a standard that achieves 80 percent carbon neutrality by the end of the decade, with a goal of completely emission-free power by 2035.

Signers of the letter, organized by sustainability advocacy group Ceres and the Environmental Defense Fund, also include automakers General Motors and Tesla.

The letter notes that the electrical power sector alone generates a full third of nationwide carbon dioxide emissions created by burning fossil fuels. It is also the source of about 50 percent of natural gas use nationwide, which is itself a major driver of methane upstream leaks.

Scientists have estimated human-produced methane accounts for at least 25 percent of current warming.

“In addition to reducing emissions from the power sector, a clean electric power grid is also essential to unlock opportunities to reduce emissions in other sectors. Electrification of the transportation, buildings, and industrial sectors is a critical pathway for the U.S. to achieve a net zero-emissions future. Together, clean electricity and electrification could cut carbon pollution economy-wide by up to 75%,” the letter states.

“By acting now to enact a federal clean electricity standard, Congress and the President can spur a robust economic recovery, create millions of good-paying jobs, and build the infrastructure necessary for a strong, more equitable, and more inclusive American economy for the next century,” it adds.

White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy said in June a clean energy standard was one of the climate provisions the White House considers “non-negotiable” in a reconciliation infrastructure package.
» Read article                 

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

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Weekly News Check-In 4/23/21

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Welcome back.

As part of our Put Peakers in the Past campaign, we’re keeping an eye on a new gas peaking power plant proposed for Peabody on Boston’s north shore. Plans drawn up six years ago are now moving through the permitting process. But much has changed in that brief time, and today it’s very hard to justify building any new gas peakers. The combination of affordable battery storage, energy efficiency measures, and demand response tends to outperform even the most advanced gas plants on all counts: cost, maintenance, grid services, emissions, and environmental justice. Stakeholders are complaining about a lack of transparency by the developer, and pressing for a fresh review of that project.

French and Chinese oil majors received approval to build the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, to transport heavy, sludgy crude from at least 130 proposed wells inside Uganda’s largest national park, 900 miles to Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast. Every part of this project is an ecological disaster, and is widely opposed. Still, it’s moving ahead.

Our divestment section offers a surprising report that shows U.S. gas producers bucking the broader industry trend of tighter, more expensive financing options. In spite of mounting risks associate with litigation and stranded assets, investors appear to remain bullish on gas. Meanwhile, Congress is holding hearings as it fleshes out President Biden’s proposed infrastructure legislation, and getting calls to immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies.

Yesterday was Earth Day, when many of us do a little extra thinking about the sustainability of our lifestyles – and make plans to do better. And while committing to taking public transportation or switching to electric vehicles, or insulating and electrifying our homes are all important, these efforts will only become part of a green economy when government and business make real and lasting moves toward sustainability. We may be at a moment when at least some of those players finally see climate change as an urgent priority. We will be watching the upcoming COP26 climate summit closely – but what happens afterward is the only thing that matters.

Strategies now exist for reliable ways to integrate many sources of clean energy into the modern grid. Now we’re faced with hard decisions about exactly where to locate acres and acres of solar arrays. Our need for solar energy requires a total area that far exceeds available rooftops, parking lots, retired landfills, and other “disturbed” real estate – and resistance to the coming solar buildout is already mounting.

Of course, maximizing energy efficiency reduces pressure to convert agricultural land to solar fields. Look no farther than new commercial and residential buildings to see that Massachusetts’ optional net-zero energy stretch code is a big part of the solution. Experience already shows that multi-unit affordable housing can be built to net-zero with virtually no increase in up-front cost, along with greatly-reduced maintenance and utility costs over the property’s lifetime. In this section, we acknowledge the accomplishment of developer Betsy Harper, who has completed the first-in-the-world net-zero energy Victorian-style home to Passive House standards. Ms. Harper’s project proves that ultra-high performance can be achieved in a wide variety of building styles.

News about energy storage tends to center on grid-scale lithium-ion battery installations, but it’s much more varied than that. We found two articles that demonstrate some of that diversity – including deploying smaller battery installations in specific high-congestion locations, and using advanced compressed air energy systems (no batteries at all!) to generate electricity during periods of peak demand.

The fossil fuel industry has a major problem with radioactive waste, especially associated with fracking operations. We found some excellent investigative reporting on where that stuff actually goes. And ahead of President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate this week, a group of 101 Nobel laureates published a letter urging world leaders and governments to “keep fossil fuels in the ground”. The group includes winners in the peace, chemistry, physics, and medicine categories, who consider this a critical first step toward addressing the climate emergency.

In a similar action, more than 200 environmental groups from 27 states urged President Joe Biden to halt the export of liquefied natural gas from six U.S. ports and stop the development of almost two dozen more, in an effort to curtail the expansion of natural gas infrastructure worldwide.

Closer to home, the Baker administration seems to be backing away from some of its earlier support for biomass. Now that the Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield has been stopped by the Department of Environmental Protection, it looks like the rush to include biomass in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard is being reconsidered. Climate and environmental activists argue that it should be removed from the RPS altogether.

We close with an update on plastics recycling, and conclude that it’s till broken. This story relates to our Earth Day article calling for government and corporations to step up and solve some of the problems that just can’t be addressed by individuals.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

Denver7 peaker plants
The Promising Future Of Battery Storage On The U.S. Grid
Battery storage is becoming a more viable tool for meeting peaks in energy demand — and it could do it in a greener, healthier way than fossil plants.
By Evan Thomas and Cliff Judy, Denver Channel 7 (abc)
April 19, 2021

Today, when demand for energy surges, many utilities will turn to so-called “peaker plants” powered by fossil fuels. But high-capacity batteries are starting to meet more of that demand — and that could help clean up some of the dirtiest parts of the U.S. grid.

“They charge overnight or in the late morning,” says Paul Denholm, principal energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “They are fully charged by that 3, 4 p.m. period, and they can start to discharge to replace the energy that would have otherwise been generated from a peaking power plant.”

Grid-scale batteries can now more often compete on cost with fossil power plants and with pumped water storage. They’re more often being installed with renewable power sources, which makes solar and wind energy more flexible.

And renewable-charged batteries are far cleaner than peaker plants — which can be heavy polluters even by fossil power standards.

Elena Krieger, director of research at Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, says: “One of the particular issues that we see with peaker power plants … is that a lot of them have higher emission rates for every megawatt hour of electricity generated than for some of your more baseload plants.”

Research into peaker plants across the U.S. has shown that a disproportionate number of these dirty plants are in disadvantaged communities. Large or even smaller distributed batteries could help meet community power needs in a much healthier, more environmentally just way.
» Read article             

lack of transparency
Column: Peak electricity demand — stoke it or shave it
By Carolyn Britt, Ipswich Local News | Opinion
April 16, 2021

On April 2, Governor Baker signed a ground-breaking energy bill that establishes a roadmap for Massachusetts to achieve “net zero” fossil fuel emissions by 2050. Alongside his earlier executive order setting goals for 2050 and the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, enacted in 2008, the new law details Massachusetts’ firm commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

Why, then, is the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Corporation (MMWEC), the entity that provides wholesale electricity to the Ipswich Electric Light Department and nineteen other municipally owned electric light plants (MLPs), proposing a new gas- and oil-burning peaking power plant in Peabody?

The Peabody peaking plant will burn fossil fuels — natural gas and oil — to produce 60 megawatts of electricity during periods of peak electricity demand, estimated at about 200 and no more than 500 hours a year.

The new law specifies that an environmental impact report is required for a facility seeking an air quality permit that is located within five miles of an environmental justice neighborhood. The Peabody peaking plant, however, would be located within a mile from two environmental justice neighborhoods that are already burdened by high rates of air pollution and noisy industrial facilities. But because the project’s permit piggybacks on an existing Peabody power plant, the state’s requirement is inconsistent with the new law.

The project also seems to encompass a serious lack of local transparency. With its non-descriptive name — Project 2015a — and the authority to enter into contracts with municipal light department managers without community review, some participating communities knew nothing about it.

MMWEC is seeking to bond about $85 million for construction with authorization from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. Debt service on the bond would not conclude until after 2050 — beyond the year Massachusetts has committed to achieving net-zero emissions.

Instead of investing in a new fossil-fuel powered plant, MMWEC could be joining forward-looking utilities, investing in renewable energy linked to battery installations to address peak demand.

When MMWEC began to plan the Peabody peaking plant six years ago, it may have seemed like a suitable way to provide peak demand power for their members. Since then, however, the energy landscape has changed dramatically. Utilities today have options. Investing in a new fossil-fueled power plant that won’t be paid off until after 2050 seems not only bad for climate trends but fiscally questionable.
» Read article
» Read about climate-friendly alternatives and sign the MA Climate Action Network petition

» More about peakers

PIPELINES

savanna elephant
Total’s East African oil pipeline to go ahead despite stiff opposition
By Mongabay
April 19, 2021

The Ugandan and Tanzanian governments have signed agreements with French oil major Total and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to build a 1,400-kilometer (900-mile) pipeline from Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park to the Tanzanian port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean. The pipeline’s critics say 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) of protected areas will be impacted and 12,000 families displaced from their land.

If completed, the $3.5 billion pipeline will transport heavy crude from more than 130 wells inside Uganda’s largest national park, which is home to threatened African elephants and lions, a formidable population of Nile crocodiles, and more than 400 bird species. Conservationists say it won’t just threaten wildlife but that it flies in the face of efforts to curb global warming by locking in investment in a dirty fuel.

“We have been working in the oil-rich subregion of Uganda. It’s not a desert, like many oil mining spaces, but rather a high biodiversity area,” Atuheire Brian at the African Initiative on Food Security & Environment (AIFE) told Mongabay in an email. “We can’t afford to have agreements signed in secrecy, and that’s the case for Uganda.”

Total has a majority stake in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project, with the Uganda National Oil Company, CNOOC, and Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation being minority stakeholders.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

easy money
As climate concerns grow, how is it getting cheaper to finance gas in the US?
By Justin Guay, Utility Dive | Opinion
April 20, 2021

It appears global financial institutions are beginning to price in the energy transition and associated climate risks — except when it comes to oil and gas.

That’s a key finding of an important new study released by a team of researchers led by Ben Caldecott at the University of Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. Poring over financial transaction data that spans two decades, the team sought to answer a basic question — are financial markets pricing in climate risk? The answer it turns out is not that simple and frankly, a bit disturbing.

First the good news — clean energy finance is getting cheaper and coal finance is getting awfully expensive. The most eye popping results the study had to offer were in global loan spreads for thermal coal power generation, which saw an increase of 38% over the past decade plus. When compared to the spreads for offshore wind, which declined 24% over the same time period, it’s clear that lenders have turned on thermal coal generation, making it increasingly more expensive to build and operate. But while coal is receiving the brunt of investor scrutiny, the oil and gas industry has not suffered the same fate.

The big counterintuitive finding from the Oxford team is that while financing costs for coal have gone up, they haven’t budged for oil and gas. In fact, for certain segments of the oil and gas industry in certain parts of the world, they’ve actually fallen. Yes, just as the world is beginning to grapple with the unfolding climate crisis, financing new oil and gas infrastructure has been largely untouched by financier concerns — or even steadily getting cheaper.
» Read article             

» More about divestment                    

LEGISLATION

common senseFossil fuel subsidies are a ‘disgrace’, Greta Thunberg tells US House panel
Climate activist asked to speak at hearing as part of push by Democrats to include fossil fuel subsidy elimination in bill
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 22, 2021

Subsidies given to fossil fuel companies are a “disgrace” and must be immediately ended, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist, has told a US congressional committee.

A sweeping $2tn infrastructure plan put forward by Joe Biden has proposed the rolling back of support and tax breaks for oil, gas and coal producers to help lower planet-heating emissions and pay for new investments. Eliminating such subsidies would bring in $35bn to the US government over a decade, according to the Biden administration.

Thunberg, testifying to the House oversight committee on Earth Day on Thursday, said it was incredible that fossil fuels were subsidized given the climate crisis.

“It is the year 2021. The fact we are still having this discussion and even more that we are still subsidizing fossil fuels using taxpayer money is a disgrace,” said the 18-year-old. “It’s clear proof that we have not understood the climate emergency at all.”

Thunberg, who sparked the global climate school strike protest movement, was asked to speak to the committee as part of a push by Democrats to including fossil fuel subsidy elimination in an infrastructure bill.

Ro Khanna, a House Democrat from California, said he was committed to ending the subsidies. “They are out of date and they must end,” he said.

The fossil fuel industry currently gets a range of assistance, including tax breaks for drilling costs and tax deductions for if their reserve of resources falls in value over time. Last year, the industry got further tax code breaks due to the Covid-19 pandemic – a financial boost that did not stop many of them shedding tens of thousands of jobs.

This direct and indirect help can be added up in different ways but, globally, the International Monetary Fund has said that such subsidies total more than $5tn a year if the cost of the pollution freely emitted is also considered.

Thunberg said there was a “huge gap” between what countries are doing to cut emissions and what is required to avoid the world heating up by more than 1.5C, a key goal of the Paris climate accords. “The uncomfortable fact is if we are to live up to our Paris agreement promises we have to end fossil fuel subsidies, end new exploration, completely divest from fossil fuels and keep the carbon in the ground,” said Thunberg.
» Read article             

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GREENING THE ECONOMY

bails
Spare Yourself the Guilt Trip This Earth Day – It’s Companies That Need to Clean Up Their Acts
By Courtney Lindwall, Natural Resources Defense Council, in EcoWatch | Opinion
April 18, 2021

Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth’s resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We’ve carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.

Clearly, something isn’t working, but as a consumer, I’m sick of the weight of those millions of tons of trash falling squarely on consumers’ shoulders. While I’ll continue to do my part, it’s high time that the companies profiting from all this waste also step up and help us deal with their ever-growing footprint on our planet.

There are currently no laws that require manufacturers to help pay for expensive recycling programs or make the process easier, but a promising trend is emerging. Earlier this year, New York legislators Todd Kaminsky and Steven Englebright proposed a bill—the “Extended Producer Responsibility Act”—that would make manufacturers in the state responsible for the disposal of their products.

Other laws exist in some states for hazardous wastes, such as electronics, car batteries, paint, and pesticide containers. Paint manufacturers in nearly a dozen states, for example, must manage easy-access recycling drop-off sites for leftover paint. Those laws have so far kept more than 16 million gallons of paint from contaminating the environment. But for the first time, manufacturers could soon be on the hook for much broader categories of trash—including everyday paper, metal, glass, and plastic packaging—by paying fees to the municipalities that run waste management systems. In addition to New York, the states of California, Washington, and Colorado also currently have such bills in the works.
» Read article             

climate change adviser
Biden Is Pushing a Climate Agenda. Gina McCarthy Has to Make It Stick.
Gina McCarthy, Barack Obama’s E.P.A. chief, could only watch as the Trump administration dismantled her climate work. Now, she’s back with another chance to build a lasting legacy.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
April 20, 2021

Gina McCarthy worked six or seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, to produce America’s first real effort to combat climate change, a suite of Obama-era regulations that would cut pollution from the nation’s tailpipes and smokestacks and wean the world’s largest economy from fossil fuels.

Then the administration of Donald J. Trump shredded the work of President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency chief before any of it could take effect.

Ms. McCarthy is back, as President Biden’s senior climate change adviser, and this time, she is determined to make it stick.

She is the most powerful climate change official in the country other than Mr. Biden himself, and her charge is not simply to reconstruct her Obama-era policies but to lead an entire government to tackle global warming, from the nation’s military to its diplomatic corps to its Treasury and Transportation Department. She will also lead negotiations with Congress for permanent new climate change laws that could withstand the next change of administration.

“I’ve got a small stronghold office, but I am an orchestra leader for a very large band,” Ms. McCarthy, 66, said in a speech in February.

Mr. Biden’s two-day global climate summit meeting, which begins Thursday, is his chance to proclaim America’s return to the international effort to stave off the most devastating impacts of a warming planet, but it is Ms. McCarthy’s re-emergence as well. Mr. Biden is expected to pledge that the United States will cut its planet-warming emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels in the next decade.

The world has seen such promises before, with the Kyoto accords in the 1990s, then the Paris Agreement in the Obama era, only to see them discarded by subsequent Republican administrations. It will fall to Ms. McCarthy to prove the skeptics wrong.

Washington “has offered nothing on how it plans to make up for the lost four years,” said the spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, on Friday.

The administration plans concurrent efforts to enact regulations to curb auto and power plant emissions, restrict fossil fuel development and conserve public lands while pressing Congress to pass the climate provisions in Mr. Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure bill, such as renewable power and electric vehicle programs. Ms. McCarthy hopes to push the infrastructure bill further, possibly by mandating that power companies produce a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar. That will be a tough sell to many Republicans — but if it passes Congress, it could stand as the Biden administration’s permanent climate legacy, even if other rules are swept away by future presidents.
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

what it isThe Science of Climate Change Explained: Facts, Evidence and Proof
Definitive answers to the big questions.
By Julia Rosen, New York Times
April 19, 2021
Ms. Rosen is a journalist with a Ph.D. in geology. Her research involved studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica to understand past climate changes.

The science of climate change is more solid and widely agreed upon than you might think. But the scope of the topic, as well as rampant disinformation, can make it hard to separate fact from fiction. Here, we’ve done our best to present you with not only the most accurate scientific information, but also an explanation of how we know it.

» Read article              

relentless
‘Relentless’ climate crisis intensified in 2020, says UN report
Pandemic had no effect on emissions but made impacts of global heating even worse for millions of people, report says
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
April 19, 2021

There was a “relentless” intensification of the climate crisis in 2020, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization.

The coronavirus pandemic made the accelerating impacts of global heating even worse for millions of people. But the temporary dip in carbon emissions due to lockdowns had no discernible impact on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, the WMO report said.

Last year was ranked as the hottest on record, in a tie with 2016 and 2019, despite the cooling effect of the cyclical natural climate phenomenon, La Niña. Without this, 2020 would most likely have been the hottest year yet. The decade 2011-20 was the hottest on record.

Extreme weather events broke records across the world, from hurricanes and cyclones in the US and India, heatwaves in Australia and the Arctic, floods in large parts of Africa and Asia, and wildfires in the US.

“All the key climate and impacts information in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies,” said Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary general.

The WMO’s State of the Climate report comes just before a global leaders’ summit, convened by the US president, Joe Biden, and as the UK prepares to host the crucial Cop26 UN climate summit in November, at which urgent action must be agreed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement, to keep the global temperature increase to well below 2C and 1.5C if possible. In 2020, the temperature was 1.2C above pre-industrial levels.

“This is the year for action,” said the UN head, António Guterres. “The climate is changing, and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet. Countries need to submit, well ahead of Cop26, ambitious plans to cut global emissions by 45% by 2030.”
» Read article             
» Download WMO’s State of the Global Climate 2020          

flaring pit
Ahead of the Climate Summit, Environmental Groups Urge Biden to Champion Methane Reductions as a Quick Warming Fix
Methane cuts remain essential to slow climate change over the coming decades and limit warming to 1.5C.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 20, 2021

The Environmental Defense Fund has a clear message for the Biden Administration on the eve of an international climate summit marking the U.S.’s further re-entry into the Paris climate agreement: “We need to cut methane now.“

So says the U.S.-based environmental advocacy organization in a 15-second ad released after a missive the nonprofit and other, leading environmental advocacy groups sent to the president earlier this month.

The letter calls for a 40 percent or more cut in methane emissions by 2030, including a 65 percent reduction from the oil and gas sector, as part of an ambitious U.S. recommitment to the Paris climate agreement. The commitment, or nationally determined contribution, is anticipated to be released by the administration any day as the U.S. prepares to host the online Leaders Summit on Climate on Thursday and Friday.

Methane is “the biggest and really the only lever we have to slow temperature rise during the next two decades, the critical decades for preventing irreversible tipping points and shaving the peak warming to protect vulnerable communities,” said Sarah Smith, super pollutants program director with the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental organization that co-authored the letter.

Methane, the largest component of natural gas, is sometimes called a “short-lived climate pollutant” because it remains in the atmosphere for far less time than carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.  But methane is also a climate “super-pollutant,” 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 20-year period.

Sources of methane include wetlands, rice paddies, livestock, biomass burning, organic waste decomposition and fossil fuel drilling and transport.

Methane’s potency and short atmospheric life make it a key greenhouse gas for policy makers to focus on as a way to combat global warming in the near term because the impact of those cuts will be felt almost immediately.
» Read article              

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

portfolio conceptAs Biden targets 100% clean electricity, strategies emerge to reliably integrate rising renewables
System controls, flexibility through DER, and new policies supporting market economics are coming
By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive
April 19, 2021

In the transitioning power system, barriers are falling between renewables and traditional fossil and nuclear generation and between types of variable generation like wind and solar.

The energy infrastructure proposals from the Biden administration, if approved by Congress, are likely to accelerate the growth of utility-scale wind, solar and storage detailed by a December 2020 data compilation from Department of Energy (DOE) researchers. As variable renewables reach even higher penetrations and reliance on less cost-competitive natural gas fades, new solutions already in the works will assure reliability, power system analysts said.

Combined, utility-scale wind and utility-scale solar were “58% of all new U.S. generation capacity over the past six years,” said Research Scientist Mark Bolinger of DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). LBNL’s presentation of where the two resources have reached or can reach higher penetrations shows regulators and utilities how to plan “more-realistic portfolios” for their regions to meet Biden administration goals, Bolinger said.

The LBNL data reflects a transition “to an era where we need to assemble portfolios of resources into tradable energy products” that can be dispatched as predictably as traditional generation, Energy Innovation Senior Fellow Eric Gimon said. “There may not be one perfect way to bring this portfolio concept into markets, but we need to learn how to do it” to make clean energy viable and reliable in the energy marketplace.

Regulators, system operators, utilities and the private sector are starting to develop ways to reliably integrate the rising penetrations of variable renewables with flexible distributed energy resources (DER) to increase reliability, Bolinger and Gimon agreed. But the smart 21st century transmission and distribution (T&D) system and policy strategies the new power system will need to optimize this resource transformation are still in the works, stakeholders said.
» Read article             

Four Star Farms
A farmer’s fight for solar reveals a U.S. land problem
By Benjamin Storrow, E&E News
April 19, 2021

NORTHFIELD, Mass. — When the L’Etoile family decided to build a 10-megawatt solar plant, they saw it as a chance to confront climate change and keep the family farm.

Many of their neighbors feel differently.

In a community where views of sweeping cropland are framed against a horizon of rolling hills, some worried about the prospect of staring at a chain-link fence around the panels.

Others worried about declining home values, or disturbing an area rich with Native American history. And still others fretted about a potential future in which the region’s scarce farmland is covered with solar arrays.

The so-called Pine Meadow solar project would generate enough electricity to power 2,000 homes. The L’Etoiles are banking on the lease payments from a Boston-based developer to provide a financial foundation for the farm’s future.

Regulators in Massachusetts estimate that meeting the commonwealth’s net-zero ambitions will require 60,000 acres for solar development, or more than 1% of the state’s land area. It comes as tensions are already high over disappearing crop fields. The state lost 6% of its farmland between 2012 and 2017.

Much of that space could be found on rooftops instead of in fields. But even if nearly every building in the state had solar panels, roughly 30,000 acres of land would still be needed to meet the state’s solar energy goals, regulators say.

Demand for open space has ignited conflict among regional groups that have historically been united. Conservation organizations and renewable interest groups clashed last year as Massachusetts regulators updated state incentives for solar projects.

Conservationists worried the incentives were prompting developers to fell forest and cover farmland with panels. Developers, meanwhile, objected to an initial state proposal that they said was too restrictive on new solar developments.

Regulators settled on a compromise: providing incentives for dual-use projects like the L’Etoiles’ and discouraging developments that reduce open space.

The conflict has scrambled traditional political alliances and alarmed conservation and climate advocates.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

net zero victorian
A Net-Zero-Energy Victorian Home Makes History
The brand-new—but historic—house at 60 Stearns Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts
By Kristina DeMichele, Harvard Magazine
April 21, 2021

Earth Day encourages all of us to reflect on how we can contribute to building a greener, cleaner environment. Cambridge is known worldwide as a center for innovation of all kinds, including net-zero-energy construction—the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s “HouseZero” being a prime example. Now a new residential house in Cambridge, nearing completion, is showing the way toward low-energy use within the constraints of traditional architecture.

Sustainable construction, more accurately referred to as “high-performance” home development, is gaining traction around the world. In most instances, these newly constructed homes are aesthetically contemporary, modern boxes. In an effort to reach net-zero energy demand (offsetting a home’s already ultra-low energy use with renewable generation), builders sometimes sacrifice design and character for energy efficiency.

Financier turned developer Betsy Harper, M.B.A. ’84, has proven that a new home can be both: net zero with respect to energy use, and rich in architectural details. She has created the first Victorian “passive house” in the world; according to the Passive House Institute (PHIUS), such a home is designed to maintain “comfortable and consistent indoor temperatures throughout the heating and cooling seasons.”

Harper was motivated by her own experience as a homeowner. “I live in a leaky Victorian,” she explained. “It’s architecturally stunning, but I spend $20,000 a year on upkeep. Moisture from rain and snow seeps under the clapboards, making it prone to rot, and I have to stuff pieces of wool under the window sills to stop drafts. Over the years I’ve undertaken air-sealing and insulation renovations four times, and the house still has hot and cold spots that make it uncomfortable in the winter.”

By contrast, the 4,191-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath, state-of-the-art house she built in Cambridge will use 70 percent less energy than a conventional Massachusetts-code-compliant home of similar size.

The dwelling already runs entirely on electricity. With solar panels on the south-facing roof, energy modeling predicts a net negative electric bill within the first year of operation. This means the house will actually be net-energy positive: it will produce more energy than it uses, and the homeowners can donate or sell their surplus electricity to others.
» Read article             
» Passive House principles

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

City Island
ConEd and GI Energy advance new model for storage deployment with Bronx project
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
April 19, 2021

Con Edison and infrastructure company GI Energy are partnering on a unique demonstration project, installing a 1 MW battery storage project on a customer property on City Island in the Bronx. The project will deliver power to businesses along the commercial strip in the summer, relieving grid strain when temperatures rise.

The project involved a lease agreement with the business, accommodating an agreement on the terms of location and battery operation guidelines.

“This project simplifies the value proposition for customers,” said Alex Trautner, section manager in Con Edison’s Demonstration Projects group. “Rather than installing batteries for their end use behind the meter, these customers are simply providing land in these higher-value areas for front-of-meter battery installations, in exchange for a lease payment.”

ConEd and GI Energy are planning four installations as part of the demonstration; this is the second battery system in the project, joining one deployed on the North Shore of Staten Island early last year.

As ConEd expands its renewable energy portfolio, increasing battery storage will be essential to ensure grid reliability. The utility is exploring more system platforms and hybrid models, like an integrated microgrid at the Hudson Yards development, as it contends with the energy transition.

But, Trautner explained, there is limited space for large storage projects and relatively few customers have conditions that can justify the up-front cost of a battery while also offering the location that a utility needs. This model, where the utility selects the location and guidelines for the battery in exchange for a lease payment (with no impact to the site’s utility bills), “could help expand the universe of viable high-value locations for siting such front-of-the-meter projects.”
» Read article             

A-CAES
Canada’s biggest-ever clean-energy storage plant plans charged up with launch funding
Up-to-500MW advanced compressed air energy storage facility to be built in Ontario by start-up Hydrostor with $3.2m government seed finance
By Darius Snieckus, Recharge News
April 19, 2021

Canada’s largest clean-energy storage facility, a giant up-to-500MW system based on compressed-air technology, has taken a major stride forward following the award of C$4m ($3.2m) in backing from the country’s government.

Funding for Toronto-headquartered Hydrostor’s Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage (A-CAES) facility, which came via Natural Resources Canada’s Energy Innovation Programme and Sustainable Development Technology Canada, clears the way for the start-up to complete engineering and planning on the flagship and take “critical steps” toward construction.

The 300-500MW project will be modeled on Hydrostor’s operating 1.75MW/10MWh Goderich, Ontario storage facility, which currently provides the province’s independent electricity system operator with 12 hours of long -duration back-up.

The full-scale A-CAES project, said Hydrostor Curtis VanWalleghem, Hydrostor’s CEO, would “support Canada’s green economic transition [as an example of] designing, building, and operating emissions-free energy storage facilities, [and] employing the people, suppliers, and technologies from the oil & gas sector”.
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Lotus LLC waste storage siteWhere Does All The Radioactive Fracking Waste Go?
A year-long investigation finds a major West Texas disposal site with a patchy record is also importing radioactive oilfield waste from abroad.
By Justin Nobel, DeSmog Blog
April 22, 2021

The oil and gas industry produces an extraordinary amount of waste. Much of it is toxic, and it can be highly radioactive too. And since 1997 about one million barrels worth of oilfield waste has been brought to Lotus’s disposal site, situated off a dusty desert road located 19 miles west of Andrews, Texas (and just several miles from a massive solar array financed by Facebook and which provides energy to Shell’s fracking operations).

But according to correspondence with federal and state regulators, documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and interviews with an industry whistleblower, DeSmog has found that the Lotus disposal site has at times struggled to safely manage the radioactive waste it receives from across the United States.

Despite this challenge, it is importing oil and gas waste from other countries too, and is expanding its reach internationally.

The company has relied heavily on a decades-old industry exemption passed in 1980 — known as the Bentsen and Bevill Amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — that classifies oil and gas waste as non-hazardous, thereby affording it little regulatory scrutiny. Meanwhile, Railroad Commission documents obtained via a FOIA request suggest that practices at Lotus’s remote disposal site have put the company’s workers and the environment at risk.

“The oil and gas industry has been really good at painting the picture that they are not a radioactive industry,” said Melissa Troutman, an Earthworks analyst and author of a 2019 report on oil and gas waste, “when in reality it produces a massive amount of radioactive material.”

A growing group of environmentalists, politicians, communities, and even the industry’s own workers have become increasingly critical of the fossil fuel industry, and see room for action under the Biden administration, though most attention has been placed on hot-button topics like climate change and methane emissions. But a small yet ardent band of advocacy groups have been focused on radioactive oilfield waste, long an industry problem but one that has metastasized in the fracking boom and potentially poses an even greater risk to the industry’s bottom line.
» Read article             
» Read the Earthworks report on oil and gas waste

nobel letter101 Nobel Laureates Urge World Leaders to ‘Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground’
“Fossil fuels are the greatest contributor to climate change. Allowing the continued expansion of this industry is unconscionable.”
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
April 21, 2021

On the eve of Earth Day and the start of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate, a group of 101 Nobel laureates published a letter urging world leaders and governments to “keep fossil fuels in the ground” as a critical first step toward addressing the climate emergency.

The letter—which was signed by Nobel peace, literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, and economic sciences laureates—notes that the climate emergency “is threatening hundreds of millions of lives, livelihoods across every continent, and is putting thousands of species at risk.” It adds that “the burning of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—is by far the major contributor” to the crisis.

Signers of the letter—who include Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, the Dalai Lama, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Jody Williams, and Muhammad Yunus—said that “urgent action is needed to end the expansions of fossil fuel production, phase out current production, and invest in renewable energy.”

The signatories urge world leaders to do the following “in a spirit of international cooperation”:

  • End new expansion of oil, gas, and coal production in line with the best available science as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and United Nations Environment Program;
  • Phase out existing production of oil, gas, and coal in a manner that is fair and equitable, taking into account the responsibilities of countries for climate change and their respective dependency on fossil fuels, and capacity to transition; and
  • Invest in a transformational plan to ensure 100% access to renewable energy globally, support dependent economies to diversify away from fossil fuels, and enable people and communities across the globe to flourish through a global just transition.

“Fossil fuels are the greatest contributor to climate change,” the letter concludes. “Allowing the continued expansion of this industry is unconscionable. The fossil fuel system is global and requires a global solution—a solution the Leaders Climate Summit must work towards. And the first step is to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
» Read article             
» Read the letter              

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

no smoking LNGLooking to halt LNG expansion, opponents urge Biden to block exports
New campaign adds to pressure on Gov. Murphy to block planned natural gas port in South Jersey
By Jon Hurdle, NJ Spotlight News
April 16, 2021

More than 200 environmental groups from 27 states urged President Joe Biden to halt the export of liquefied natural gas from six U.S. ports and stop the development of almost two dozen more, including one in New Jersey.

Activists including the New Jersey State Industrial Council and the New Jersey Student Sustainability Coalition argued in a letter to Biden on Wednesday that exporting the super-cooled form of natural gas results in emissions that are at least as potent as coal in forming greenhouse gases, and so are at odds with the climate policies of the new administration.

Exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) stimulates the production of fracked natural gas whose main component, methane, is many times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, the letter said. It said that producing, liquefying and transporting natural gas would produce 213 metric tons of CO2 in the U.S. by 2030, or the equivalent of putting 45 million cars on the road, according to research by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The expansion of LNG export capacity requires the proliferation of gas drilling and fracking to feed the demand created by the export market,” the letter said. “This induces new and expanded fracking and its infrastructure, such as pipelines and, with that, environmental destruction, public health harm, and climate damage.”

In New Jersey, opponents of LNG export are already pressing the Murphy administration to block a plan by New Fortress Energy to build a new dock at Gibbstown on the Delaware River where LNG from Pennsylvania would be loaded onto ocean-going tankers for shipment overseas.

If built, the Gibbstown dock would be the first LNG export terminal in New Jersey and the second on the East Coast.

The U.S. started exporting LNG in 2016 after the fracking boom beginning in the mid-2000s accessed abundant domestic reserves of natural gas in Pennsylvania and other states, and led the industry to seek overseas markets. LNG prices rose sharply in late 2020 in response to weather-related demand in Asian markets and unplanned outages at some overseas LNG terminals, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency predicts that the volume of U.S. LNG exports will rise 30% in 2021 compared with 2020.

The Biden administration could be hard-pressed to ban a business that has seen LNG prices rise to around $6 per thousand cubic feet from about $4 a year ago. But activists who fought successfully to ban fracking for natural gas in New York state in 2014 are hopeful they can do the same with LNG exports.
» Read article            
» Read the letter to President Biden

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

chips
Mass. Backtracks On Renewable Energy Subsidies For Wood-Burning Biomass Plants
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
April 16, 2021

The Baker administration says it no longer stands behind a plan it proposed last December to change state regulations to allow some wood-burning biomass power plants to qualify for renewable energy subsidies. The move follows a loud outcry from environmental groups, public health experts and several prominent politicians who opposed the planned changes.

The state’s initial recommendations drew widespread criticism because they would have allowed a proposed biomass facility in the heart of an environmental justice community in Springfield to qualify for lucrative rate-payer subsidies. In walking back that proposal, the administration dealt a blow to that project while also effectively preventing any similar facilities from being built in the state in the future.

In a statement, Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman celebrated the news and said it was “the direct result of grassroots action by residents, activists, and local elected officials both here in Springfield and across the state.”

Attorney General Maura Healey also applauded the change from DOER, writing in a statement that “this is great news for our state and the type of consideration that should inform all energy policy for our communities.”  She added that “science demonstrates that biomass energy is bad for our residents and runs counter to the [state’s] aggressive climate goals.”

The changes announced Friday have to do with the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), a list of rules detailing which power sources qualify as “renewable” and under what circumstances power plants can receive renewable energy subsidies.

The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) says its new proposal will do two important things. First, it will mandate that any new biomass facility in the state meet a high efficiency standard in order to qualify for subsidies. Under the previous proposal, DOER would waive these efficiency standards for facilities that used “non-forest derived material” such as sawdust, utility trimmings and other waste wood.

Second, the proposal will prohibit any biomass plant located within five miles of environmental justice community from being eligible for RPS subsidies.

At a press conference Friday morning, state Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary Kathleen Theoharides said that the changes are designed to build upon the environmental justice provisions recently signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker.
» Read article             

» More about biomass              

PLASTICS RECYCLING

wheelie bins
The Recycling Industry in America Is Broken

By Tiffany Duong, EcoWatch
April 20, 2021

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. According to The National Museum of American History, this popular slogan, with its iconic three arrows forming a triangle, embodied a national call to action to save the environment in the 1970s. In that same decade, the first Earth Day happened, the EPA was formed and Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, encouraging recycling and conservation of resources, Enviro Inc. reported.

According to Forbes, the Three R’s sustainability catch-phrase, and the recycling cause it bolstered, remain synonymous with the U.S. environmental movement itself. There’s only one problem: despite being touted as one of the most important personal actions that individuals can take to help the planet, “recycling” – as currently carried out in the U.S. – doesn’t work and doesn’t help.

Turns out, there is a vast divide between the misleading, popular notion of recycling as a “solution” to the American overconsumption problem and the darker reality of recycling as a failing business model.

When it was first introduced, recycling likely had altruistic motivations, Forbes reported. However, the system that emerged was never equipped to handle high volumes. Unfortunately, as consumption increased, so too did promotion of recycling as a solution. The system “[gave] manufacturers of disposable items a way to essentially market overconsumption as environmentalism,” Forbes reported. Then and now, “American consumers assuage any guilt they might feel about consuming mass quantities of unnecessary, disposable goods by dutifully tossing those items into their recycling bins and hauling them out to the curb each week.”

Little has changed since that Forbes article, titled “Can Recycling Be Bad For The Environment?,” was published almost a decade ago; increases in recycling have been eclipsed by much higher consumption rates. In fact, consumerism was at an all-time high in January 2020 before the pandemic hit, Trading Economics reported.

But, if the system doesn’t work, why does it continue? Turns out, consumers were misled – by the oil and gas industry. News reports from September 2020 revealed how the plastic industry-funded ads in the 1980s that heralded recycling as a panacea to our growing waste problem. These makers of virgin plastics were the biggest proponents and financial sponsors of plastic recycling programs because they created the illusion of a sustainable, closed-cycle while actually promoting the continued use of raw materials for new single-use plastics.
» Read article            

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 3/19/21

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Welcome back.

Cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline was a positive move for the planet. But in the near term, it will force more tar sands oil into virtual pipelines – rail cars that have been implicated in horrific “train bomb” incidents involving massive destruction and mass casualties. Recent experiments prove that this oil can be transported economically without the explosive volatile constituents that make these trains so dangerous. Fast-track implementation of this transport method would extend direct benefits from the pipeline cancellation down to everyone living or working near train tracks.

Now that the Biden administration’s energy policies are coming into focus, a coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries is pressing for a rapid cut-off of all fossil fuel subsidies. The confirmation of Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) as the Interior Department’s first Native American Secretary sends a powerful signal, and indicates the administration’s seriousness about greening the economy. More locally, activists in Massachusetts are celebrating passage of truly landmark climate legislation, which now appears likely to receive Governor Charlie Baker’s signature.

As wealthy countries distribute Covid-19 vaccines, economic activity is resuming and oil consumption is rebounding toward pre-pandemic highs. Climate watchers expected this, and caution that we’re a long way from addressing the profound changes required at all levels of society to address global warming.

We’re always on the lookout for bird-safe wind power at an appropriate scale for residential use. Spanish startup Vortex Bladeless is proposing more than we bargained for! Maybe News Check-In readers can suggest finishing touches that would show the neighbors you’re really living the clean energy lifestyle.

Energy storage is getting some good attention in New York, with utility Con Edison moving to take advantage of virtual power plant services of batteries in homes and commercial buildings. This is a non-wires solution, where the utility incentivizes ownership of batteries in parts of the grid where extra power is needed during peak usage periods. In a complementary development, large stationary batteries, especially when associated with wind and solar power, have reached an economic point where they out-compete fossil fueled peaking power plants.

Of course batteries are also key to getting everyone into electric vehicles. We lead this section with a side trip into the new age of sailing ships, and follow that with a dose of reality about those vehicle batteries. Two articles consider consequences of sourcing all the lithium, nickel, and cobalt required to whisk all these people and things around without burning fuel.

All these new electric vehicles, wind turbines, and green buildings are – at least for now – going to need a lot of steel. But it’s a notoriously carbon-intensive material, and that has the industry taking a hard look at the possibility of creating a zero-carbon product. It’s technically possible, but the capital investment is daunting.

Regardless of how fast humanity reduces its emissions, we’ve already reached such a crisis point that climate scientists argue for some amount of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to avoid the worst effects of global warming. This can be a tricky subject, because the fossil fuel industry dangles the promise of carbon capture from smokestacks to greenwash a version of the future where business-as-usual continues without consequences. We’ll be bringing you CCS news as we find it, and will attempt to call out the propaganda.

While the Biden administration has already paused new oil and gas leases on federal land, legal experts are examining the feasibility of canceling some existing leases. This is in line with the “keep it in the ground” strategy, a reality that the fossil fuel industry appears to be grudgingly acknowledging through record write-downs of the value of their reserves. Another threat to the industry is a broad-based call for Biden to halt liquefied natural gas exports. We found a report that explores that issue, and considers the complicating factors – which unfortunately seem to rely heavily on the “natural gas as a bridge fuel” argument, when maybe we should be diverting some of this LNG build-out investment into the clean energy infrastructure that will achieve real climate goals.

We close with another clarification of the environmental threat that proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant poses to the environmental justice communities in Springfield. Also, a check-in on a newly-implemented international agreement that aims to curb the dumping of waste plastic into developing countries ill-equipped to safely process it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

bomb train alternativeAnalysis: Canceled Keystone XL Pipeline Driving Major Safety Changes in Canadian Oil-by-Rail
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
March 12, 2021

The Biden administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline in January appears to be driving a revolutionary improvement in Canadian oil-by-rail safety that could protect the public from what have become known as “bomb trains.”

Without the KXL pipeline to help transport tar sands bitumen from Alberta to refineries in the United States, Canadian oil producers are turning to trains. And using a new technology to help make it more affordable — and less flammable.

When tar sands bitumen is mined and processed, it results in a thick, tarry substance which industry material safety data sheets note is a “low fire hazard” and “must be heated before ignition will occur.”

To ship tar sands oil by pipeline, however, the raw bitumen must be diluted with a light volatile petroleum product called condensate, which turns it into a “highly flammable” product, according to material data safety sheets. “This product,” the safety sheets state, “will easily ignite in the presence of heat sources, sparks, or flames.” This volatility is what causes devastating fires and explosions to happen so easily when oil trains derail.

Traditionally, the industry has chosen to pump this volatile diluted bitumen, or dilbit, into rail tank cars when shipping it by rail. But now the oil-by-rail industry is exploring a way to transport a form of bitumen that no longer easily ignites like the dilbit.

To do this, they’re investing in new technology that removes the flammable component of the diluted bitumen mixture before putting it into rail tank cars. The process is expected to make rail transport as affordable as sending bitumen via pipeline.

The first commercial application of this technology is being marketed as DRUbit and is a collaboration between Gibson Energy and US Development Group LLC that expects to begin operations in the second half of 2021. ConocoPhillips Canada has contracted to move 50,000 barrels per day and rail companies CP and Kansas City Southern will transport the product from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

DRUbit is a form of tar sands that is non-flammable and likely will not create large spills in derailments because raw or less-diluted bitumen doesn’t easily flow when exposed to air temperatures — effectively removing the risks to the public and environment from Canadian crude-by-rail transportation.
» Read article                

» More about virtual pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

end all fossil subsidies430+ Groups From 6 Continents Demand Biden End All US Subsidies for Global Fossil Fuel Projects
“We have to stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies at the expense of our climate.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
March 18, 2021

A coalition of more than 430 environmental organizations spanning 53 countries Thursday called on the Biden administration to quickly cut off all U.S. public financing for fossil fuel projects overseas and work with governments around the world to bring about an end to taxpayer subsidies for the dirty energy sources driving the global climate emergency.

“We urge the Biden administration to act swiftly to end new financing for all parts of the fossil fuel supply chain (including for gas), stop new U.S. fossil fuel support within 90 days across all government institutions, and work with other nations to end fossil fuel financing,” reads a letter (pdf) sent to top Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Signed by 432 groups from six continents—including Africa, Asia, and South America—comes weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden delivered a speech at the White House condemning “handouts to Big Oil” and vowing to work with Congress to eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in the U.S.

“Governments can’t claim to be serious about climate change if they pump billions of dollars into the most polluting industries every year,” said Alex Doukas of Oil Change International, one of the signatories. “If President Biden is serious about zeroing out emissions by mid-century or earlier, the U.S. must end its billions of dollars in support for oil, gas, and coal projects around the world.”

Arguing that U.S. action to end public funding of fossil fuel infrastructure could spur other nations to follow suit, the new letter urges Biden to follow through on his initial steps toward launching a “whole-of-government” approach to tackling the climate crisis. The groups point to Biden’s January executive order directing federal officials to craft a plan aimed at “promoting the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from high-carbon investments.”
» Read article                
» Read the coalition letter to the Biden administration

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Deb Haaland confirmedDeb Haaland Confirmed As 1st Native American Interior Secretary
By Nathan Rott, NPR
March 15, 2021

Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo, has become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

The Senate voted 51-40 Monday to confirm the Democratic congresswoman to lead the Interior Department, an agency that will play a crucial role in the Biden administration’s ambitious efforts to combat climate change and conserve nature.

Her confirmation is as symbolic as it is historic. For much of its history, the Interior Department was used as a tool of oppression against America’s Indigenous peoples. In addition to managing the country’s public lands, endangered species and natural resources, the department is also responsible for the government-to-government relations between the U.S. and Native American tribes.

“Indian country has shouted from the valleys, from the mountaintops, that it’s time. It’s overdue,” Sandia Pueblo tribal member Stephine Poston told NPR after Haaland was nominated.

As a congresswoman, Haaland was a frequent critic of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda and supported limits on fossil fuel development on public lands. She opposes hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. She was also one of the first lawmakers to support the Green New Deal, which calls for drastic action to address climate change and economic inequality.
» Read article                

stealth carbon bombI Tried to Buy a Climate-Friendly Refrigerator. What I Got Was a Carbon Bomb.
Most refrigerators in the U.S. are still cooled by climate “super-pollutants” called hydrofluorocarbons. I’d been promised my new fridge wouldn’t be…
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
March 11, 2021

As a climate reporter covering “super-pollutants”—greenhouse gases thousands of times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide—I thought I knew enough to avoid buying a refrigerator that would cook the planet. Turns out, I was wrong.

Nearly all refrigerators in use in the United States today use chemical refrigerants that are some of the most potent greenhouse gases on the planet. Yet, a growing number of manufacturers now offer new models with an alternative refrigerant that has little to no climate impact.

But none of the major appliance makers advertise which fridges are climate-friendly, and which are carbon bombs. In some cases, it seems they themselves don’t know which is which.

It didn’t have to be this way. In 1993, a German appliance manufacturer started selling an HFC-free refrigerator whose very name—“Greenfreeze”—touted its use of a climate-friendly refrigerant. More than 1 billion HFC-free refrigerators have now been sold worldwide, including units sold overseas by U.S. manufacturers, at a time when climate-friendly refrigerators are just becoming available in the United States.

A recent Inside Climate News investigation found the decades-long delay in the use of climate-friendly refrigerants in America has been driven largely by the U.S. chemical industry, which manufactures HFCs. HFCs are multi-billion dollar products that would likely be replaced by less expensive and more efficient climate-friendly alternatives if standards put forth by Underwriters Laboratories didn’t until recently limit their use, likely at the behest of chemical companies. Underwriters Laboratories, now known as “UL,” is a private company that provides independent safety certifications for thousands of consumer products.

When GE first submitted its application to EPA in 2008 to use only small amounts of isobutane as a refrigerator coolant, Honeywell International, one of the leading HFC manufacturers, opposed the rule change. The company claimed that isobutane is “highly flammable and explosive even in small amounts,” a claim that has not been substantiated by the more than 1 billion isobutane refrigerators in safe operation worldwide. The agency finally granted the request in 2011.

When I asked Julie Wood at GE Appliances why the company wasn’t now advertising the environmental benefit of its climate-friendly refrigerator models, she said she didn’t think there would be much interest.

“At the end of the day, there is just low consumer awareness,” Wood said.
» Read article                
» Visit EIA’s HFC-free refrigerator buyer’s guide

» More about greening the economy

LEGISLATION

Kathleen Theoharides EEA Secretary
Baker administration ‘very pleased’ with climate change bill
With few options, top aide embraces Legislature’s amended proposal
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
March 18, 2021

WITH BOTH BRANCHES of the Legislature approving climate change legislation by veto-proof majorities, the Baker administration on Thursday declared victory and signaled that the governor will sign the bill into law.

“The governor and I are very pleased the Legislature adopted the vast majority of our amendments,” said Katie Theoharides, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

She said she couldn’t definitively say the governor will sign the bill until it actually reaches his desk and he can see it in its final form, but she signaled that was likely. “We are very pleased by the inclusion of key amendments as well as technical changes,” she said.

Baker has little running room on the climate change bill. His only options are to sign the bill into law or veto it, and vetoing it would trigger overrides in the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature that could hurt him politically.

Baker “reluctantly” vetoed the climate change legislation passed by the Legislature at the end of the last session, saying he was boxed in by the calendar, which allowed him to only veto it or sign it into law because the bill reached his desk after the Legislature had adjourned. The Legislature responded by passing the exact same bill again in the current session; Baker sent it back in February with a series of amendments.

Between the original veto message and the filing of the amendments, Baker’s tone changed dramatically. In the veto message, Baker was defiant and dismissive, insisting the Legislature’s goal of reducing emissions in 2030 50 percent below 1990 levels was too radical and would end up unnecessarily costing Massachusetts residents an extra $6 billion. He also objected to binding interim emission goals for six industry subsectors and raised questions about a proposed municipal energy code and a series of other provisions.

When he sent the bill back with amendments in February, Baker dropped his objections to some provisions and sought to compromise on others. On the 50 percent emissions reduction goal, for example, Baker suggested a target of somewhere between 45 and 50 percent with the administration setting the final goal. He also urged that goals for industry subsectors be used as planning tools rather than binding requirements.

The Senate passed a revised bill on Monday by a 39-1 margin and the House passed it 146-13 on Thursday. Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate’s point person on climate change, said the bill reflected a number of technical changes sought by the governor but didn’t budge on the major provisions in the Legislature’s original bill.
» Read article                

» More about legislation

CLIMATE

wrong direction
As Oil Demand Rebounds, Nations Will Need to Make Big Changes to Meet Paris Goals, Report Says
Covid-19 decreased oil demand by almost 9 percent last year, according to the International Energy Agency. But it could surpass pre-pandemic levels within a few years.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
March 18, 2021

Global oil demand is expected to grow steadily over the next five years and quickly surge past pre-pandemic levels, a path that could put climate goals out of reach, according to the International Energy Agency.

In a report released Wednesday, the agency said that while the pandemic will have lasting effects on the world’s oil consumption, governments have to act immediately to set the global energy system on a more sustainable path.

Oil demand needs to fall by about 3 million barrels per day below 2019 levels by the middle of the decade to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the report said. But on the current trajectory, consumption is instead set to increase by 3.5 million barrels per day.

“Achieving an orderly transition away from oil is essential to meet climate goals, but it will require major policy changes from governments, as well as accelerated behavioral changes,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “Without that, global oil demand is set to increase every year between now and 2026.”

While Covid-19 sent oil demand plummeting last year by nearly 9 percent, the report said demand is set to surpass pre-pandemic levels by 2023. Nearly all that growth will come from developing and emerging economies, particularly in Asia, and the bulk will come not from transportation but from petrochemicals used to make plastics.

The agency, made up of 30 member countries including the United States, stressed that the future is not preordained. But the report also underscored the huge policy and other changes that will be needed—including faster adoption of electric vehicles and a doubling of plastics recycling rates—to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).
» Read article                
» Read the International Energy Agency report

beach erosion UK
World’s coastal cities face risk from land and sea
As the tides rise ever higher, the world’s coastal cities carry on sinking. It’s a recipe for civic catastrophe.
By Tim Radford, Climate News Network
March 15, 2021

Citizens of many of the world’s coastal cities have even more to fear from rising tides. As ocean levels swell, in response to rising temperatures and melting glaciers, the land on which those cities are built is sinking.

This means that although, worldwide, oceans are now 2.6mm higher every year in response to climate change, many citizens of some of the world’s great delta cities face the risk of an average sea level rise of up to almost 10mm a year. Both the rising waters and the sinking city streets are ultimately a consequence of human actions.

Humans have not only burned fossil fuels to alter the planet’s atmosphere and raise global temperatures, they have also pumped water from the ground below the cities. They have raised massive structures on riverine sediments; they have pumped oil and gas from offshore, and they have dammed rivers to slow the flow of new sediments.

And because of such steps, some of the world’s great cities have been steadily going downhill. Tokyo in Japan has subsided by four metres in the course of the 20th century. Shanghai in China, Bangkok in Thailand, New Orleans in the US and Djakarta on the island of Java in Indonesia have all sunk by between two and three metres in the last 100 years.

Now a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change has found that 58% of the world’s coastal citizens live on soil and bedrock that is collapsing beneath their feet. Fewer than 1% are settled on terrain that is uplifting. Most are exposed to possible relative sea level rises of between 7.8mm and 9.9mm a year.
» Read article                
» Read the Nature Climate Change study            

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

skybrator
Good vibrations: bladeless turbines could bring wind power to your home
‘Skybrators’ generate clean energy without environmental impact of large windfarms, say green pioneers
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
March 16, 2021

The giant windfarms that line hills and coastlines are not the only way to harness the power of the wind, say green energy pioneers who plan to reinvent wind power by forgoing the need for turbine towers, blades – and even wind.

“We are not against traditional windfarms,” says David Yáñez, the inventor of Vortex Bladeless. His six-person startup, based just outside Madrid, has pioneered a turbine design that can harness energy from winds without the sweeping white blades considered synonymous with wind power.

The design recently won the approval of Norway’s state energy company, Equinor, which named Vortex on a list of the 10 most exciting startups in the energy sector. Equinor will also offer the startup development support through its tech accelerator programme.

The bladeless turbines stand at 3 metres high, a curve-topped cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. To the untrained eye it appears to waggle back and forth, not unlike a car dashboard toy. In reality, it is designed to oscillate within the wind range and generate electricity from the vibration.

It has already raised eyebrows on the forum site Reddit, where the turbine was likened to a giant vibrating sex toy, or “skybrator”. The unmistakably phallic design attracted more than 94,000 ratings and 3,500 comments on the site. The top rated comment suggested a similar device might be found in your mother’s dresser drawer. It received 20,000 positive ratings from Reddit users.
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

powerwall VPP
New York utility Con Edison recognises value of home energy storage with new virtual power plant
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
March 17, 2021

The CEO of US virtual power plant provider Swell Energy has said that New York utility company Con Edison has been “very progressive” in recognising the value that aggregated home battery systems paired with solar can offer.

Swell Energy’s Suleman Khan was among a handful of staff that launched what later became known as Tesla Energy in 2015. Having taken responsibility at Tesla for pricing up the company’s Powerwall residential storage product, he now heads up a company that takes storage systems including Powerwalls and aggregates them into virtual power plants by combining their capacity and capabilities.

Swell Energy currently has under contract 300MWh of virtual power plant agreements in territories including Hawaii and California, having raised US$450 million in project financing, which Khan said represents about 14,000 homes’ worth of battery storage. The company’s business model is essentially based around selling homeowners batteries with or without solar at a discounted price, after agreeing local capacity contracts with utilities that help them reduce aggregate load in specific areas, the “surgical value of behind-the-meter storage” as he calls it.

“We ended up, from the business development standpoint approaching utilities and saying: ‘look, here’s your customer base, here’s your aggregate load. If you were to add storage to this portion of the customer base, you would really take your aggregate load down in periods where you want it to be down.’ We show them precisely how certain loads can be taken down on certain circuits in a surgical manner, as opposed to just a massive battery farm in the middle of the desert.”
» Read article               

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Oceanbird
New age of sail looks to slash massive maritime carbon emissions
By Andrew Willner, Mongabay
March 15, 2021

Despite the present dominance of fossil-fueled cargo ships, it’s well understood by industry insiders that the current maritime logistics system is both aging and fragile.

Fossil fuel transport today is up against a grim carbon reality: if ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. International shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. International Maritime Organization’s most recent data.

This annual surge of atmospheric carbon released by ocean going ships not only worsens climate change — one of nine scientifically defined planetary boundaries (PBs) we now risk overshooting — it also contributes to ocean acidification (a second planetary boundary) which is beginning to seriously impact biodiversity (a third PB). And add to that significant chemical pollution (a fourth planetary boundary) that is emitted from ship smokestacks.

All of these planetary boundaries interrelate and influence one another (negatively and positively): for example, reducing black carbon (or soot), the fine particulate matter emitted from fossil fueled oceangoing vessels could slow global warming somewhat, buying time to implement further steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Another problem with today’s vessels: when cargo ships dock, they use auxiliary engines that generate SOx, NOx, CO2 and particulate discharges, while also creating noxious noise and vibrations. (Innovators are already solving this problem with cold ironing, providing shoreside electrical power to ship berths, allowing main and auxiliary engines to be shut down.)

Today’s cargo industry is plagued not only by environmental issues, but by a difficult logistical and economic problem: its current fleet of fossil-fueled container ships are mostly behemoths — with immense carrying capacities. However, the “overcapacity” of these giant ships leaves them without the nimbleness to adapt to unexpected shifts in global supply and demand; the world’s ports and specialized markets could likely be better served, say experts, by smaller, far more fuel-efficient cargo ships.

The current sea cargo system — reliant upon high-priced carbon-based fuels and unstable energy markets; interwoven inextricably into long-distance, globalized world trade; and designed for just-in-time delivery that requires precisely scheduled shipments — is increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of fossil fuel shortages, price shocks and surges, as well as geopolitical conflict and volatility in the Middle East, Venezuela and elsewhere.
» Read article                

Thacker Pass
The Battle of Thacker Pass
Electric cars require a lot of lithium. A showdown in Nevada shows that getting it won’t be easy.
By Maddie Stone, Grist
March 12, 2021

When Edward Bartell first learned that a lithium mine might be moving into his remote corner of northern Nevada, the longtime cattle rancher wasn’t upset.

“I was actually kind of excited about it,” Bartell said. He knew that lithium is a key metal used in batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid, and he knew the United States is going to need a lot of it to transition off fossil fuels.

But as Bartell started learning more about the proposed Thacker Pass mine — which would be the second, and by far the largest, lithium mine in the United States — he grew increasingly worried about its impacts on his ranching business and nearby ecosystems. In spite of the numerous concerns Bartell and others raised during a comment period in which the government solicited opinions about the proposed mine project from members of the public, Thacker Pass received speedy review and was approved by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, on January 15, the Trump administration’s final Friday in office. Construction of mining facilities and “pre-stripping” to expose lithium-rich ores could begin later this year.

Bartell is now suing the federal government to try to stop that from happening.
» Read article                

perilous pathway
Will the Race for Electric Vehicles Endanger the Earth’s Most Sensitive Ecosystem?
Materials needed to make the batteries for electric cars and other clean technology is driving interest in deep-seabed mining, and scientists fear the cost to the ocean will be steep.
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator
March 10, 2021

From 2010 to 2019 the number of EVs on the road rose from 17,000 to 7.2 million. And that number could jump to 250 million by 2030, according to an estimate from the International Energy Agency.

The growing demand for electric vehicles is good news for limiting climate emissions from the transportation sector, but EVs still come with environmental costs. Of particular concern is the materials needed to make the ever-important batteries, some of which are already projected to be in short supply.

“Climate change is our greatest and most pressing challenge, but there are some perilous pathways to be aware of as we build out the infrastructure that gets us to a new low-carbon paradigm,” says Douglas McCauley, a professor and director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California Santa Barbara.

One of those perilous pathways, he says, is mining the seafloor to extract minerals like cobalt and nickel that are widely used for EV batteries. Extraction of these materials has thus far been limited to land, but international regulations for mining the deep seabed far offshore are in development.

“There’s alignment on the need to go as fast as we can with low-carbon infrastructure to beat climate change and electrification will play a big part in that,” he says. “But the idea that we need to mine the oceans in order to do that is, I think, a very false dichotomy.”

As pressure mounts to claim terrestrial minerals, commercial interest is growing to extract resources from the deep seabed, where there’s an abundance of metals like copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese, lead and lithium. Investors already expect profits: One deep-sea mining company recently announced a plan to go public after merging with an investment group, creating a corporation with an expected $2.9 billion market value.

But along with that focus comes increased warnings about the damage such extraction could do to ocean health, and whether the sacrifice is even necessary.

McCauley hopes that a combination of advances will help take the pressure off sensitive ecosystems and that we don’t rush into mining the seabed for short-term enrichment when better alternatives are on the horizon.

“One of my greatest fears is that we may start ocean mining because it’s profitable for just a handful of years, and then we nail it with the next gen battery or we get good at doing low-cost e-waste recycling,” he says. “And then we’ve done irreversible damage in the oceans for three years of profit.”
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

BUILDING MATERIALS

sheets of steel
How to Clean Up Steel? Bacteria, Hydrogen and a Lot of Cash.
With climate concerns growing, steel companies face an inevitable crunch. ArcelorMittal sees solutions, but the costs are likely to run into tens of billions of dollars in Europe alone.
By Stanley Reed, New York Times
March 17, 2021

Few materials are more essential than steel, yet steel mills are among the leading polluters. They burn coke, a derivative of coal, and belch millions of tons of greenhouse gases. Roughly two tons of carbon dioxide rises into the atmosphere for every ton of steel made using blast furnaces.

With climate concerns growing, a crunch appears inevitable for these companies. Carbon taxes are rising, and investors are wary of putting their money into businesses that could be regulated out of existence.

None of this has been lost on the giant steel maker ArcelorMittal.

The company is spending 325 million euros (about $390 million) on pilot programs that include making steel with hydrogen and using bacteria to turn carbon dioxide into useful chemicals. The amount is less than 1 percent of the company’s 2020 revenue. But [Aditya Mittal, 44, who recently succeeded his father as chief executive], who had been ArcelorMittal’s chief financial officer, said the company had greater technical resources and global scale than most rivals and was well positioned to lead the cleanup.

“We can now imagine that it is possible to make steel without carbon emissions,” he said.

But the future costs of converting a string of blast furnaces into climate-friendly operations are likely to run into tens of billions in Europe alone, the company says.

In recent years, the oil and gas industry has come under pressure from governments embracing increasingly ambitious climate goals. One result is greatly expanded investments in renewable energy. Now, many see the regulatory focus turning to the steel industry and other heavy polluters.
» Read article                

» More about building materials

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

LCO2 carrier
Two European companies are mapping a future service for direct air capture to sequestration of CO2
By Jonathan Shieber, Tech Crunch
March 9, 2021

The Swiss-based, venture capital-backed, direct air capture technology developer Climeworks is partnering with a joint venture between the government of Norway and massive European energy companies to map the pathway for a business that could provide not only the direct capture of carbon dioxide emissions from air, but the underground sequestration and storage of those emissions.

The deal could pave the way for a new business that would offer carbon capture and sequestration services to commercial enterprises around the world, if the joint venture between Climeworks and the newly formed Northern Lights company is successful. It would mean the realization of a full-chain carbon dioxide removal service that the two companies called a necessary component of the efforts to reverse global climate change.

Northern Lights was incorporated in March as a joint venture between Equinor, Shell and Total to provide processing, transportation and underground sequestration services for captured carbon dioxide emissions. The business is one of the lynchpins in the Norwegian government’s efforts to capture and store carbon emissions safely underground under a plan called The Longship Project.

“There is growing awareness of the need to build capacity to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to achieve net zero by 2050. We are enthusiastic about this collaboration with Climeworks. Combined with safe and permanent storage, direct air capture has the potential to get the carbon cycle back in balance,” said Børre Jacobsen, the managing director of Northern Lights, in a statement.
» Read article                
» Read about the Longship Project

Carbfix
This Icelandic Startup Is Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Stone
By Savannah Hasty, EcoWatch
March 14, 2021

Carbon emissions are the leading cause forcing the climate crisis today. These emissions account for more than 60% of man-made global warming, as well as other conditions related to climate crisis such as ocean acidification and weather pattern disruptions. However, a new solution to these impending carbon catastrophes has been discovered by Icelandic startup Carbfix, which is turning carbon dioxide into stone.

Carbfix offers a plan for reaching Paris agreement goals for limiting anthropogenic warming using a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). The project, founded in 2007 by Reykjavik Energy and several research institutions (now owned by Reykjavik Energy), aims to capture CO2 from industrial sites, dissolve it in water, and then inject it into the ground where it turns to rock. The process only takes two years, effectively accelerating the process of natural carbon storage to meet increasing carbon emissions throughout the developed world.

Carbfix’s proprietary technology “captures” the carbon dioxide from an industrial facility before it enters the atmosphere, effectively bringing the facility’s emissions to zero. They are also partnering with a Swiss company, Climeworks, to perform what is called carbon capture, which withdraws the CO2 from surrounding air. This can reduce a company’s net carbon footprint, as well as negate previously unaddressed carbon emissions.
» Read article            

» More about carbon capture and sequestration

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

summer surgesReport: These rarely used, dirty power plants could be cheaply replaced by batteries
By Rachel Ramirez, Grist
June 11, 2020

As air conditioning units begin to hum with summer’s arrival, electricity use surges. Across the U.S., that demand is met by more than 1,000 so-called peaker power plants, which typically only run during infrequent periods of peak energy demand. They tend to be expensive, inefficient, and disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods of color, where they emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and harmful pollutants.

For all these reasons, environmental advocates consider peaker plants a high priority for retirement and replacement. A sweeping analysis released last month by researchers at the nonprofit Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Health Energy (PSE) studied nine states to identify which peaker plants have the greatest potential to be replaced by clean energy alternatives, based on their operational features and the characteristics of local electricity grids, as well as the health, environmental, and equity benefits of retiring the plants. All of these factors combined present unique opportunities to replace some of the electricity sector’s most polluting facilities in Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York.

The feasibility of these opportunities is largely the result of recent breakthroughs in energy storage, particularly battery storage. Energy storage is essentially any system used to store electricity generated at one point in time for use at another time. The most familiar type of energy storage is battery storage, in which the electricity generated by a solar panel system during the day, for example, could be stored and then later supplied once the sun sets.

“Energy storage is now competitive with peaker power plants,” said Elena Krieger, PSE’s director of research. “We’re sort of at that economic turning point where that’s the opportunity, but ideally that could set a precedent for how we think about adopting clean energy across the grid as a whole — so that we bring on these clean resources and not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but prioritize health, prioritize resilience, and prioritize equitable access.”
» Read article               
» Read report – The Fossil Fuel End Game (March 2021)  

» Read report – Dirty Energy, Big Money (May 2020)
» Join BEAT’s Put Peakers in the Past coalition! 

» More about peakers

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Kern County pumpjack
Keeping It All In the Ground?
Exploring legal options for congressional and executive actions to terminate existing fossil fuel leases on federal lands.
By Eric Biber, Legal Planet
March 11, 2021

The Biden Administration has set aggressive goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the United States.  And a necessary component for any long-term plan to address greenhouse gas emissions from the United States is reducing and ultimately eliminating the emissions from fossil fuels produced on federal lands.

Why is this such a critical issue? Almost half of the coal mined in the United States, about a quarter of the oil, and around one-sixth of the natural gas is produced from leasing federal lands to private parties for coal, oil, and gas development.  Without addressing federal fossil fuel leasing, the United States would not be able to meet the commitment of the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid more than two degrees Celsius in global temperature increases.

The Biden transition team indicated that they were looking at ending new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands – particularly coal – to help meet climate goals. On Biden’s first day in office, the administration set a 60-day pause on leasing and permitting, and there is talk of a full moratorium. But that just addresses new leases. What about the existing leases on federal lands, which already lock in substantial emissions and under current leasing systems could produce for decades to come?

Addressing those leases may be crucial for the new Administration.  To help answer this open question, we undertook a comprehensive assessment of the legal capacity of the federal government to end existing fossil fuel leases.

Of course, just because something can be legally done doesn’t mean it should be.  For example, there is a fair amount of uncertainty about whether unilateral efforts by a single nation to restrict the production of fossil fuels will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since those unilateral reductions may be offset by imports from other producers around the world, or by substituting one fossil fuel for another.  However, our initial review suggests that it is plausible that termination of coal leasing on federal lands in the United States would lead to significant emissions reductions – in part because the global market for coal is not nearly as robust as for oil, and in part because there are good lower-carbon or carbon-free substitutes for many uses of coal (e.g., renewable energy to produce electricity).
» Read article                
» Read the legal assessment

welcome to Colorado
Energy companies have left Colorado with billions of dollars in oil and gas cleanup
As the state tries to reform its relationship to drilling, an expensive task awaits: plugging nearly 60,000 oil and gas wells.
By Nick Bowlin / High Country News, reprinted in Energy News Network
March 12, 2021

When an oil or gas well reaches the end of its lifespan, it must be plugged. If it isn’t, the well might leak toxic chemicals into groundwater and spew methane, carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere for years on end.

But plugging a well is no simple task: Cement must be pumped down into it to block the opening, and the tubes connecting it to tanks or pipelines must be removed, along with all the other onsite equipment. Then the top of the well has to be chopped off near the surface and plugged again, and the area around the rig must be cleaned up.

There are nearly 60,000 unplugged wells in Colorado in need of this treatment — each costing $140,000 on average, according to the Carbon Tracker, a climate think tank, in a new report that analyzes oil and gas permitting data. Plugging this many wells will cost a lot — more than $8 billion, the report found.

Companies that drill wells in Colorado are legally required to pay for plugging them. They do so in the form of bonds, which the state can call on to pay for the plugging. But as it stands today, Colorado has only about $185 million from industry — just 2% of the estimated cleanup bill, according to the new study. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) assumes an average cost of $82,500 per well — lower than the Carbon Tracker’s figure, which factors in issues like well depth. But even using the state’s more conservative number, the overall cleanup would cost nearly $5 billion, of which the money currently available from energy companies would cover less than 5%.

This situation is the product of more than 150 years of energy extraction. Now, with the oil and gas industry looking less robust every year and reeling in the wake of the pandemic, the state of Colorado and its people could be on the hook for billions in cleanup costs. Meanwhile, unplugged wells persist as environmental hazards. This spring, Colorado will try to tackle the problem; state energy regulators have been tasked with reforming the policies governing well cleanup and financial commitments from industry.
» Read article               

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cove Point 2014Biden faces climate clash over LNG
By Lesley Clark and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News
March 8, 2021

The Biden administration has yet to fully delineate its position on liquefied natural gas, prompting cautious optimism from industry but spurring pushback from groups that want to phase out the fuel.

In an interview Friday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged DOE’s legal responsibility to review proposed LNG export facilities and suggested that could move in step with things like curbing flaring and leaks from gas pipelines (see related story).

LNG shipments are often bound for “countries that would otherwise be using very carbon-intensive fuels,” Granholm said, adding that “it does have the impact of reducing internationally carbon emissions.”

“However, I will say there is an opportunity here, as well, to really start to deploy some [carbon capture, use and storage] technologies with respect to natural gas in the Gulf [of Mexico] and other places that we are siting these facilities for that we are obligated to do under the law,” Granholm said.

The comments highlight a dilemma the Biden administration is facing on LNG: How will the fuel coexist with aggressive climate targets without infuriating a core of the Democratic base? President Biden has vowed to tackle climate change by transitioning to a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050.

It’s currently unclear how Biden might differ on the issue from the previous two administrations. President Obama got many LNG export projects off the ground, and both Trump administration Energy secretaries were enthusiastic supporters. Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s DOE dubbed it “freedom gas” at one point, boasting that it provided U.S. allies with a cleaner source of energy.

Biden officials have, however, made comments that mirror those from industry and some analysts about the role LNG exports can play in offsetting the continued growth of coal, particularly in China and Southeast Asia.
» Read article                

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

biomass facts for VicDespite his claims, science is not on Vic Gatto’s side
Proponent of biomass power plant is making up ‘facts’
By Mary S. Booth, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
March 18, 2021

VIC GATTO has been a tireless campaigner for the 42-megawatt biomass power plant in East Springfield that his company wants to build over widespread community opposition. But in his effort to ostensibly dispel “public misinformation” about the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy plant (“Biomass Plant COO Says Science is on His Side,” Feb. 27, 2021), he is simply blowing more smoke.

We’ll grant Gatto’s complaint that the permitting process, which began in 2008, has been lengthy, complex, and litigious. This is testament to how bitterly contested this proposal has been from the beginning. But just because this plant has a permit does not make it benign.

Let’s look at the facts. According to its 2011 operating permit from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Palmer biomass plant will burn nearly a ton of green wood chips per minute around the clock, requiring a smokestack more than 20 stories high to help disperse the pollution.

Even with “state of the art” pollution controls, the plant will emit more than 200 tons of harmful air pollutants each year, including fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals, and heavy metals such as mercury and lead. And that’s assuming the plant, once built, is able to comply with its permit restrictions. Around the country, the performance of biomass plants has been less than stellar, with frequent cases of air and water permit violations, fires, and other environmental hazards.

Gatto’s dismissive comments about the “very slight” air quality impacts of his project are particularly insensitive to the legitimate concerns of the Springfield community. The air permit allows the Palmer biomass plant to release more than 33 tons of fine particulate pollution per year, and emissions from increased truck traffic and “fugitive” emissions from wood chip and ash storage at the site will add to the ground-level air pollution burden. Since the plant was proposed, we’ve learned more about the cumulative impacts of air pollution, which include asthma, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, low birth weight, dementia, and now, increased impacts and deaths from COVID-19.

These impacts are likely to be particularly acute in an overburdened environmental justice community like Springfield, where state environmental health tracking data show that residents already suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma and heart attack hospitalizations, poor air quality, and inadequate access to health care.  Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has written that “the proposed biomass facility in Springfield would jeopardize the health of an environmental community already deemed the nation’s ‘asthma capital.’”

In addition to denying the health risks, Gatto continues to make unsubstantiated claims about the climate benefits of his project, claiming that a state-sponsored study concludes that burning “waste” wood such as tree trimmings will result in less greenhouse gas pollution compared to chipping it and “allowing it to decompose to methane on the ground.”

We could not find this statement anywhere in the studies Gatto cited — probably because it’s not what the science says.  Burning a ton of green wood releases about a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere instantaneously. That same ton of wood, if left to decompose on the forest floor, would gradually emit carbon dioxide over a span of 10-25 years, returning some of the carbon to the soil and forest ecosystem. Methane — a potent climate-warming gas — is only created when oxygen is not available. In reality, a much more likely source of methane from rotting wood will be the 30-foot high, 5,000-ton wood chip fuel pile at the plant.
» Read article          

» More about biomass         

PLASTICS RECYCLING

trash pickers
Countries Tried to Curb Trade in Plastic Waste. The U.S. Is Shipping More.
Data shows that American exporters continue to ship plastic waste overseas, often to poorer countries, even though most of the world has agreed to not accept it.
By Hiroko Tabuchi and Michael Corkery, New York Times
March 12, 2021

When more than 180 nations agreed last year to place strict limits on exports of plastic waste from richer countries to poorer ones, the move was seen as a major victory in the fight against plastic pollution.

But new trade data for January, the first month that the agreement took effect, shows that American exports of plastic scrap to poorer countries have barely changed, and overall scrap plastics exports rose, which environmental watchdog groups say is evidence that exporters are ignoring the new rules.

The American companies seem to be relying on a remarkable interpretation of the new rules: Even though it’s now illegal for most countries to accept all but the purest forms of plastic scrap from the United States, there’s nothing that prevents the United States from sending the waste. The main reason: the United States is one of the few countries in the world that didn’t ratify the global ban.

“This is our first hard evidence that nobody seems to be paying attention to the international law,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a nonprofit group that lobbies against the plastic waste trade. “As soon as the shipments get on the high seas, it’s considered illegal trafficking. And the rest of the world has to deal with it.”

The scrap industry says that many of the exports are quite likely compliant with the new rules and that the increase in January reflects growing global demand for plastic to recycle, and use as inputs for new products. Recent history, however, shows that a large amount of plastic scrap exported from the United States does not get recycled but ends up as waste, a reality that was the impetus for the new rules.

The new rules were adopted in 2019 by most of the world’s countries, although the United States isn’t among them, under a framework known as the Basel Convention. Underlying the change was the need to stem the flow of waste from America, and other wealthier nations, to poorer ones.

Though many American communities dutifully collect plastic for recycling, much of the scrap has been sent overseas, where it frequently ends up in landfills, or in rivers, streams and the ocean. China, which once accepted the bulk of that waste, in 2018 banned all plastic scrap shipments, declaring that it no longer wanted to be the “world’s garbage dump.”
» Read article               

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 1/22/21

banner 10

Welcome back.

“… When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
— Amanda Gorman, excerpt from “The Hill We Climb”, in The Guardian

What a week! The Biden/Harris administration kicked off by returning science and sanity to the White House. The inauguration was a high-volume Kleenex event for many, and we already see seismic shifts in policy. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is considering allowing opponents of the Weymouth compressor station to argue that the facility doesn’t serve a public need and presents a danger to nearby environmental justice communities. We include a link with this story – please send your own comments to FERC encouraging them to follow through. This is a big break – let’s work it!

The Keystone XL pipeline is dead. Now, opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline argue it should meet the same fate, for the same reasons. Strangely, Enbridge is attempting to swim against this anti-pipeline tide by refusing to comply with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s recent order to shut down its aging Line 5 pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac.

It’s beginning to look like Baltimore’s legal action against the fossil fuel industry will become a pivotal Supreme Court case. The high court agreed to hear a narrow issue related to jurisdiction, but then the oil and gas industry pushed it to go further. At stake is whether this and similar suits can be heard in any state court.

This week, Democrat Richard Glick became Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair. He has a strong and consistent record of opposing FERC’s “rubber stamp” approach to pipeline project approval, is serious about environmental justice (see Weymouth, above), and is committed to the clean energy transition. Although the Commission will remain majority-Republican till June, he may already have enough support to begin to tackle the big issue of transmission reform.

This week’s biggest, most hopeful, and least-surprising climate story is the pending U.S. return to the Paris Climate Agreement. President Biden stated his administration’s intent in a letter signed within hours of his inauguration. Our return becomes official after thirty days.

Clean energy has a new player. A “tidal kite” is generating renewable electricity from the tidal flows in Vestmannasund, a strait in the Faroe Islands. Tethered to the seabed, the kite’s primary innovation is its ability to “fly” a figure 8 pattern in the tidal current, thereby increasing relative velocity through the water and maximizing energy generation from the onboard turbine.

Necessary advances in building energy efficiency are being threatened by the powerful National Association of Home Builders. We found a great article that makes the case for better buildings, and explains how the building trade’s short-sighted obsession with initial construction cost is passing large downstream bills to home owners and renters – while also cooking the planet with excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric vehicles are currently burdened with long charge times – a problem that mostly concerns drivers taking long trips. New battery designs aim to change that, by making a charge-up take about the same time as a fill-up. The trick involves replacing electrode graphite with nanopaticles that allow a higher rate of electron flow. One example of this new lithium-ion battery was developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines. While it’s not quite ready for commercial scale deployment, it proves the concept and assures a quick-charge future. Other battery manufacturers are pursuing similar designs.

Recall that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of a landmark climate bill was predicated in large part on $6 billion that he insisted the legislature’s aggressive emissions reduction goals would cost the commonwealth. That allowed the governor to claim a point for fiscal responsibility… except that it sort of looks like he just made that number up! Hopefully the bill will be reintroduced quickly. The Governor and Legislature have expressed an eagerness to move forward. Let’s keep it real….

The fossil fuel industry is sorting out its future in light of the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation and the Biden/Harris climate agenda. We found an interesting article that explores how a number of pipeline projects in the U.S. and Canada could ultimately be affected, and how they’re related.

We’ve mentioned FERC several times, and we’ll close with a story on its decision to affirm that energy company Pembina can’t move forward with the highly-contested Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project without a key clean water permit from the state of Oregon. After years of battle, this federal regulator has given the opposition hope by merely acting… sensibly.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

glimmer of hopeAfter years of protests, a glimmer of hope for opponents to the Weymouth gas compressor
By David Abel, Boston Globe
January 19, 2021

After years of protests, residents opposing a controversial natural gas compressor station in Weymouth received a glimmer of hope Tuesday that federal regulators might reconsider last fall’s decision to allow the plant to operate.

In a vote by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a majority of members ruled the panel had improperly denied a request for a hearing on its approval from neighbors and environmental advocates who have long opposed the compressor. The commissioners, one of whom was appointed since the facility won approval in the fall, cited safety and environmental concerns for their action.

The vote comes after the compressor had two emergency shutdowns in September — just days after regulators authorized it to start operating. It has yet to resume operations, and it’s unclear when it will be allowed to do so.

At an online hearing, Commissioner Richard Glick said the FERC must look more closely at the impact of the station on low-income residents who live nearby and “do more than give lip service to environmental justice.”

“That needs to change,” he said.

In a post on Twitter, Glick added that the station “raises serious environmental justice questions, which we need to examine. The communities surrounding the project are regularly subjected to high levels of pollution & residents are concerned emissions from the station will make things worse.”

A new commissioner, Allison Clements, a Democratic appointee, said the commission should “carefully consider how to address health and safety concerns.” The commissioners serve five-year, staggered terms, and no more than three of the five commissioners may be from the same party as the president.

This ruling comes after residents spent six years fighting the $100 million compressor, which they have said presents health and safety risks to the polluted, densely populated Fore River Basin.

The 7,700-horsepower compressor was built by Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline giant, as part of its $600 million Atlantic Bridge project. The compressor, the subject of a Globe investigation last year, seeks to pump 57.5 million cubic feet of gas a day from Weymouth to Maine and Canada.

“This is significant because this is the first time in six years that they have actually considered our concerns about environmental justice, health, and safety,” said Alice Arena, president of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.
» Read article        
» Submit comments to FERC

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

worse than crude
After a decade of struggle, Keystone XL may be sold for scrap
By Alexandria Herr, Grist
January 20, 2021

After 12 embattled years of approval, cancellation, and re-approval, Keystone XL may be done for good. President Biden rescinded the permit for the pipeline via executive order on his first day in office, delivering a long-fought victory to anti-pipeline activists.

The current Keystone pipeline carries oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to refineries in Louisiana and Texas. The Alberta tar sands are known for being particularly bad for the climate — emissions from oil extracted there are about 14 percent worse, on average, than a typical barrel of oil. The proposed expansion of the northern leg, which would run from Alberta to Steel City, Nebraska, would carry an estimated 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

It’s been a complicated decade since the Keystone XL project was first proposed in 2008 by the Canadian oil company TC Energy. President Obama approved the southern leg of the pipeline in 2012, and it was in use by 2013. But in 2015, after an outpouring of grassroots activism, Obama rejected the northern leg. That decision was reversed by President Trump during his early days in office in 2017. The following year, construction was halted when Montana’s U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that the State Department needed to give further consideration to the pipeline’s potential for environmental damage. Then, last June, Trump dissolved Morris’ injunction by issuing a presidential permit, bypassing the State Department entirely. Today, the northern leg of the pipeline is mostly constructed, with some gaps remaining in Nebraska, but it’s not yet ready to pump oil.

Indigenous activists and environmentalists have been fighting the pipeline for much of its history, due to the risks of oil spills, its contribution to climate change, and infringements of treaty rights. Last Thursday, a group of Indigenous women leaders wrote a letter asking Biden to reject a set of pipeline projects, including Keystone XL, Line 3 in Minnesota, and the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Biden has not yet taken a stance on either of these other projects.) In addition to environmental risks, the letter cited the connection between pipeline construction and sexual violence. Company-owned temporary housing for laborers — “man camps” — along pipeline routes have been documented as centers of sexual assault and trafficking of Indigenous women and girls, and fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure is similarly linked to the tragic epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Daniel T’seleie, a K’asho Got’ine Dene activist, told CBC news that he thought Biden’s decision was “largely due to the actions of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people on the southern side of the border who have really been fighting against this pipeline … and have been making it very clear that this pipeline is not going to get built without their consent.”
» Read article         

DAPL too‘No more broken treaties’: indigenous leaders urge Biden to shut down Dakota Access pipeline
Tribes and environmentalists hail decision to cancel Keystone XL pipeline but call on president to go further
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
January 21, 2021

Indigenous leaders and environmentalists are urging Joe Biden to shutdown some of America’s most controversial fossil fuel pipelines, after welcoming his executive order cancelling the Keystone XL (KXL) project.

Activists praised the president’s decision to stop construction of the transnational KXL oil pipeline on his first day in the White House, but they stressed that he must cancel similar polluting fossil fuel projects, including the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), to stand any chance of meeting his bold climate action goals.

The KXL order was issued on Wednesday as part of the first wave of Biden’s promised environmental justice and climate action policies, which include rejoining the Paris agreement and halting construction of the southern border wall.

Rescinding the Canadian-owned KXL pipeline permit, issued by Donald Trump, fulfills a campaign promise Biden made in May 2020 and comes after more than a decade of organizing and resistance by indigenous activists, landowners and environmental groups.

“The victory ending the KXL pipeline is an act of courage and restorative justice by the Biden administration. It gives tribes and Mother Earth a serious message of hope for future generations as we face the threat of climate change. It aligns Indigenous environmental knowledge with presidential priorities that benefit everyone,” said Faith Spotted Eagle, founder of Brave Heart Society and a member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota nation.

“This is a vindication of 10 years defending our waters and treaty rights from this tar sands carbon bomb. I applaud President Biden for recognizing how dangerous KXL is for our communities and climate and I look forward to similar executive action to stop DAPL and Line 3 based on those very same dangers,” said Dallas Goldtooth, a member of the Mdewakanton Dakota and Dine nations and the Keep It In The Ground campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.
» Read article         

sunken hazard
Michigan Pipeline Fight Intensifies as Permit Deadline Nears
Enbridge is defying Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s move to shut down the Line 5 underwater pipeline, which environmentalists and tribes fear could cause an environmental disaster.
By Andrew Blok, Drilled News
January 14, 2021

Under the strong and fickle currents of the Straits of Mackinac, which flow through a four-mile gap between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas, twin pipelines have transported two million gallons of petroleum products daily for seven decades.

This year they may shut down for good.

In November, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revoked the 1953 easement allowing the twin pipelines, known as Line 5, to run under the straits, and gave its owner, Enbridge Inc., 180 days to shut them down.

“The continued use of the dual pipelines cannot be reconciled with the public’s rights in the Great Lakes and the State’s duty to protect them,” Whitmer said in a statement.

On Jan. 12, Enbridge announced in a 7-page letter to Whitmer that it would defy her shutdown order, claiming that the governor had overstepped her authority. The Calgary, Alberta-based company has also sued the state in federal district court, arguing that the U.S. government, not Michigan, has regulatory power over pipeline safety.

The moves are the latest twists in a controversial decade for Enbridge in Michigan.

Before 2010, most Michiganders didn’t know Line 5 existed, said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of For Love of Water, a Michigan-based environmental policy non-profit.

But that changed, she said, after the Kalamazoo River spill: a massive leak from Enbridge’s Line 6b that ranks among America’s largest ever inland oil spills. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than one million gallons of oil polluted nearly 40 miles of waterways, injuring wildlife and scarring farmlands. Cleanup and restoration of hundreds of acres of streams and wetlands took four years and cost over $1 billion.

Despite multiple alarms, Enbridge had restarted Line 6b several times in the 17 hours before identifying the leak. According to the terms of a 2017 settlement with the EPA, Enbridge has committed to spending more than $110 million on upgrades and programs to prevent future spills, paying $62 million in civil penalties for Clean Water Act violations, and reimbursing more than $5.4 million in cleanup costs on top of $57.8 million already paid.

In the wake of this disaster, the National Wildlife Federation in 2012 issued a report, titled “Sunken Hazard,” that described how a major leak from Line 5 could spread quickly in the strong currents of the Straits of Mackinac and harm popular outdoor destinations and regional fisheries, including fisheries guaranteed to Native Americans by treaty.
» Read article        

» Read the Enbridge statement

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Baltimore inner harbor
Could Baltimore’s Climate Change Suit Become a Supreme Court Test Case?
The high court agreed to hear a narrow issue related to jurisdiction. But then the oil and gas industry pushed it to go further.
By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
January 19, 2021

What began as a narrow jurisdictional question to be argued Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court in a climate change lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore could take on far greater implications if the high court agrees with major oil companies to expand its purview and consider whether federal, rather than state courts, are the appropriate venue for the city’s case and possibly a host of similar lawsuits.

The high court initially agreed to hear a request by the oil and gas industry to review a ruling by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in which the court affirmed a federal district judge’s decision to allow Baltimore’s lawsuit to be tried in state, rather than federal, court based on a single jurisdiction rule.

The city is seeking damages related to climate-induced extreme weather—stronger hurricanes, greater flooding and sea-level rise—linked to oil and gas consumption that warms the planet. Baltimore’s attorneys argue that state court is the appropriate venue for such monetary awards.

But after the Supreme Court agreed to take on that narrow question, Exxon, Chevron, Shell and other oil companies went further in court filings and are now pressing the court to consider the much larger and consequential question of whether state courts have jurisdiction over these lawsuits at all.

The stakes could be enormous if Baltimore becomes a test case for 23 other city, county and state governments that have filed similar climate change lawsuits seeking damages.
» Read article         

» More about protests and actions

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Chairman Richard Glick
Glick named FERC chair, promises ‘significant progress’ on energy transition
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
January 21, 2021

Commissioner Richard Glick was named chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by President Joe Biden Thursday morning.

Glick was considered a front runner for the chairmanship as the longest serving Democrat on the commission. He will succeed Chairman James Danly, and the commission is expected to retain its Republican majority until Commissioner Neil Chatterjee’s term is up June 30.

Glick has said publicly that on the electric side he would prioritize transmission reform, reassessing capacity markets, and continuing efforts to lower barriers to clean energy resources in regulated markets. On gas, he believes the commission should rethink how it assesses greenhouse gas emissions and more seriously review environmental justice impacts when approving gas infrastructure.

Glick opposed many of the actions FERC took under Chairmen Chatterjee and Danly, and his long list of dissents and public comments foreshadow a commission more bullish on its role in the power sector’s energy transition.

“I’m honored President Joe Biden has selected me to be [FERC] Chairman,” Glick said in a tweet. “This is an important moment to make significant progress on the transition to a clean energy future. I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle the many challenges ahead!”

Though Glick will still be running a majority Republican commission, he and Chatterjee have begun to find common ground on some issues in recent months, and many power sector observers think transmission reform will be one critical area Glick may tackle relatively early.
» Read article         

» More about FERC

CLIMATE

climate kick-offBiden returns US to Paris climate accord hours after becoming president
Biden administration rolls out a flurry of executive orders aimed at tackling climate crisis
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
January 20, 2021

Joe Biden has moved to reinstate the US to the Paris climate agreement just hours after being sworn in as president, as his administration rolls out a cavalcade of executive orders aimed at tackling the climate crisis.

Biden’s executive action, signed in the White House on Wednesday, will see the US rejoin the international effort curb the dangerous heating of the planet, following a 30-day notice period. The world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases was withdrawn from the Paris deal under Donald Trump.

Biden is also set to block the Keystone XL pipeline, a bitterly contested project that would bring huge quantities of oil from Canada to the US to be refined, and halt oil and gas drilling at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two vast national monuments in Utah, and the Arctic national wildlife refuge wilderness. The Trump administration’s decision to shrink the protected areas of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will also be reviewed.

The flurry of first-day action on the climate crisis came after Biden, in his inauguration speech, said America needed to respond to a “climate in crisis”. The change in direction from the Trump era was profound and immediate – on the White House website, where all mentions of climate were scrubbed out in 2017, a new list of priorities now puts the climate crisis second only behind the Covid pandemic. Biden has previously warned that climate change poses the “greatest threat” to the country, which was battered by record climate-fueled wildfires, hurricanes and heat last year.

The re-entry to the Paris agreement ends a period where the US became a near-pariah on the international stage with Trump’s refusal to address the unfolding disaster of rising global temperatures. Countries are struggling to meet commitments, made in Paris in 2015, to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C above the pre-industrial era, with 2020 setting another record for extreme heat.
» Read article         

ccs - if only
Carbon capture and storage won’t work, critics say
Carbon capture and storage, trapping carbon before it enters the atmosphere, sounds neat. But many doubt it can ever work.
By Paul Brown, Climate News Network
January 14, 2021

One of the key technologies that governments hope will help save the planet from dangerous heating, carbon capture and storage, will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction, a new report says.

Instead of financing a technology they can neither develop in time nor make to work as claimed, governments should concentrate on scaling up proven technologies like renewable energies and energy efficiency, it says.

The report, from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, was commissioned by the two groups from researchers at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

CCS, as the technology is known, is designed to strip out carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of industrial processes. These include gas- and coal-fired electricity generating plants, steel-making, and industries including the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen, so that the gas can then be re-classified as a clean fuel.

The CO2 that is removed is converted into a liquid and pumped underground into geological formations that can be sealed for generations to prevent the carbon escaping back into the atmosphere.

It is a complex and expensive process, and many of the schemes proposed in the 1990s have been abandoned as too expensive or too technically difficult.

An overview of the report says: “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

Currently there are only 26 CCS plants operating globally, capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.

Ironically, 81% of the carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out. This means that captured carbon is being used to extract oil that would otherwise have had to be left in the ground.
» Read article         

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

tidal kite
First tidal energy delivered to Faroese electricity grid
By FaroeIslands.fo
January 11, 2021

For the first time ever, homes in the Faroe Islands are being run by electricity harvested from an underwater tidal kite. Renewable electricity is generated from the tidal flows in Vestmannasund, a strait in the Faroe Islands, using Deep Green technology, a unique principle of enhancing the speed of the kite through the water. A rudder steers the kite in a figure of eight trajectory and as it “flies”, water flows through the turbine, producing electricity.

Minesto, a leading marine energy technology company from Sweden, has developed the system in collaboration with Faroese utility company, SEV.

Hákun Djurhuus, CEO of SEV, says: “We are very pleased that the project has reached the point where the Minesto DG100 delivers electricity to the Faroese grid. Although this is still on trial basis, we are confident that tidal energy will play a significant part in the Faroese sustainable electricity generation. Unlike other sustainable sources, tidal energy is predictable, which makes it more stable than, for example, wind power.”

Following successful trials of the DG100 system in Vestmannasund, SEV and Minesto have plans for a large-scale buildout of both microgrids (<250kW) and utility-scale (>1MW) Deep Green systems in the Faroe Islands. The long-term ambition is to make tidal energy a core energy source in the Faroe grid mix. This is part of the islands’ goal of having 100% green electricity production by 2030, including onshore transport and heating.
» Read article & watch video

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

building codes under pressure
What Will Happen to Your Next Home if Builders Get Their Way?
A lobby is trying to block building codes that would help fight climate change.
By Justin Gillis, New York Times | Opinion
January 21, 2021

Just about every new building that goes up in America is governed by construction codes. They protect people from numerous hazards, like moving into firetraps or having their roofs blown off in storms. Increasingly, those codes also protect people from high energy bills — and they protect the planet from the greenhouse gas emissions that go with them.

Yet the National Association of Home Builders, the main trade association and lobby for the home building industry, is now trying to monkey around with the rules meant to protect buyers and ensure that new homes meet the highest standards.

If the group succeeds, the nation could be saddled with millions of houses, stores and offices that waste too much energy and cost people too much money to heat and cool. Weakened construction standards could also leave houses and other buildings more vulnerable to the intensifying climate crisis, from floods to fires to storms. And they will make that crisis worse by pouring excessive greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

State and local governments tend to adopt model codes drawn up every three years at the national level instead of devising their own. The group that puts out the most influential models is the International Code Council. The council is supposed to consider the public interest, broadly defined, in carrying out its work, even as the home building industry participates in drawing up the codes. The builders’ short-term interest is to weaken the codes, which cuts their costs. The interest of home buyers and of society at large is exactly the opposite: Strong building standards, even when they drive up the initial cost of a house, almost always result in lower costs over the long run. That was on vivid display in Miami in 1992.

Building codes must play a critical role as the nation confronts the climate crisis, and the need to cut its emissions drastically. The codes can require better insulation, tighter air sealing, advanced windows and more efficient delivery of hot water, heating and air-conditioning. They can also increase the resilience of buildings in an age of intensifying weather disasters, turning every new building into a climate asset.

That brings us to the new effort to weaken these codes.

Proposals to the council called for sharp cuts in energy use by new buildings in the 2021 code update. Under the council’s procedures, those proposals were put to a vote by state and local governments. Their representatives turned out in record numbers to approve the tighter measures.

The big turnout seems to have caught the builders’ association off guard. Through tortuous committee procedures, it managed to kill some important provisions, including a requirement that new homes come already wired for electric vehicle chargers.

Luckily, most of the other energy provisions survived. As a result, buildings constructed under this year’s model code will be on the order of 10 percent more efficient than under the previous code. This was a big step forward, given that the builders had managed to stall progress for most of the last decade. Compared to the 1980s, buildings going up under the new code will be roughly 50 percent more efficient, showing what kind of progress is possible.

The builders are now trying to upend the voting process that led to the more stringent rules. They are trying to rush through a rewrite of the rules to block future voting by state and local governments. The builders’ lobby wants the energy provisions of the model code put under the control of a small committee, which the builders would likely be able to dominate.

The International Code Council denies that is unduly influenced by the home builders. However, in 2019, The New York Times revealed a secret agreement between the council and the National Association of Home Builders. That agreement — whose existence the council acknowledged only under pressure — gives the builders inordinate power on a key committee that approves residential building codes.

Even now, only a synopsis of the deal is available; the council refuses to release the full text. The council’s board is to consider the proposed rewrite of the rules in a meeting on Thursday.

Given the International Code Council’s influence over the construction of nearly every new building in America, as well as those of some foreign countries, it needs to become a major target of scrutiny and of climate activism.

Change may be on the way. In a letter on Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee demanded information from the council, including a copy of the secret agreement with the home builders.

That is good news. If the council persists in undermining the public interest, Congress or a coalition of states could potentially turn the job of drawing up building codes over to a new, more objective group. And lawmakers ought to adopt a national policy to govern this situation, mandating steady improvement in the energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions of new buildings.

With the climate crisis worsening by the year, America can no longer indulge the stalling tactics of the home builders.
» Read article         

BlocPower CEO Baird
Watt It Takes: BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird Wants to Electrify Buildings for Everyone
This week on Watt It Takes: Donnel Baird talks harnessing his anger over racial inequities and using it to build a clean-energy business model.
By Stephen Lacey, GreenTech Media
January 14, 2021

BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird is on a mission to clean up old, inefficient buildings in America’s cities — and help people who are exposed to the worst pollution.

BlocPower was founded in 2012. It’s raised venture capital from Kapor Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. But that process was not easy for a company with a mostly non-white leadership team. As a Black founder, Donnel was turned down 200 times before any venture firms were willing to back his vision.

“It was really difficult for us raising capital. One of our investors, when I talked to him two or three years ago and said I was struggling to raise capital, he was like, ‘Yeah, man, just hire some white people and send them into the fundraising meetings, and it’ll clear things up,’” explains Donnel.

BlocPower is a Brooklyn, New York startup electrifying and weatherizing buildings in underserved communities — slashing pollution and saving money in the process. This includes housing units, churches and community centers.

And the mission for Donnel isn’t just about hitting milestones for investors. It’s about changing the fabric of underserved communities that are plagued by pollution and energy poverty. That’s because Donnel has lived it himself.

In this episode, Powerhouse CEO Emily Kirsch talks with Donnel about how he channeled his frustration and anger around racial unfairness into a business model for the energy transition.
» Listen to podcast              

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

fast charge future
Electric car batteries with five-minute charging times produced
Exclusive: first factory production means recharging could soon be as fast as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 19, 2021

Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes have been produced in a factory for the first time, marking a significant step towards electric cars becoming as fast to charge as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles.

Electric vehicles are a vital part of action to tackle the climate crisis but running out of charge during a journey is a worry for drivers. The new lithium-ion batteries were developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines.

StoreDot has already demonstrated its “extreme fast-charging” battery in phones, drones and scooters and the 1,000 batteries it has now produced are to showcase its technology to carmakers and other companies. Daimler, BP, Samsung and TDK have all invested in StoreDot, which has raised $130m to date and was named a Bloomberg New Energy Finance Pioneer in 2020.

The batteries can be fully charged in five minutes but this would require much higher-powered chargers than used today. Using available charging infrastructure, StoreDot is aiming to deliver 100 miles of charge to a car battery in five minutes in 2025.

“The number one barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles is no longer cost, it is range anxiety,” said Doron Myersdorf, CEO of StoreDot. “You’re either afraid that you’re going to get stuck on the highway or you’re going to need to sit in a charging station for two hours. But if the experience of the driver is exactly like fuelling [a petrol car], this whole anxiety goes away.”

“A five-minute charging lithium-ion battery was considered to be impossible,” he said. “But we are not releasing a lab prototype, we are releasing engineering samples from a mass production line. This demonstrates it is feasible and it’s commercially ready.”

Existing Li-ion batteries use graphite as one electrode, into which the lithium ions are pushed to store charge. But when these are rapidly charged, the ions get congested and can turn into metal and short circuit the battery.

The StoreDot battery replaces graphite with semiconductor nanoparticles into which ions can pass more quickly and easily. These nanoparticles are currently based on germanium, which is water soluble and easier to handle in manufacturing. But StoreDot’s plan is to use silicon, which is much cheaper, and it expects these prototypes later this year. Myersdorf said the cost would be the same as existing Li-ion batteries.
» Read article         

Toyota greenish
Toyota to Pay a Record Fine for a Decade of Clean Air Act Violations
Toyota’s $180 million settlement with the federal government follows a series of emissions-related scandals in the auto industry.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
January 14, 2021

Toyota Motor is set to pay a $180 million fine for longstanding violations of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. attorney’s Office in Manhattan announced on Thursday, the largest civil penalty ever levied for a breach of federal emissions-reporting requirements.

From about 2005 to 2015, the global automaker systematically failed to report defects that interfered with how its cars controlled tailpipe emissions, violating standards designed to protect public health and the environment from harmful air pollutants, according to a complaint filed in Manhattan.

Toyota managers and staff in Japan knew about the practice but failed to stop it, and the automaker quite likely sold millions of vehicles with the defects, the attorney’s office said.

“Toyota shut its eyes to the noncompliance,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney, said in a statement. Toyota has agreed not to contest the fine.

Eric Booth, a spokesman for the automaker, said that the company had alerted the authorities as soon as the lapses came to light, and that the delay in reporting “resulted in a negligible emissions impact, if any.”

“Nonetheless, we recognize that some of our reporting protocols fell short of our own high standards, and we are pleased to have resolved this matter,” Mr. Booth added.

Toyota is the world’s second-largest automaker behind Volkswagen, and once built a reputation for clean technology on the back of its best-selling Prius gasoline-electric hybrid passengers cars. But the auto giant’s decision in 2019 to support the Trump administration’s rollback of tailpipe emissions standards — coupled with its relatively slow introduction of fully-electric vehicles — has made it a target of criticism from environmental groups.

Toyota’s more recent lineup of models has been heavy on gas-guzzling sports-utility vehicles, which come with far bigger price tags and have brought far higher profit margins. According to a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency, Toyota vehicles delivered some of the worst fuel efficiency in the industry, leading to an overall worsening of mileage and pollution from passenger cars and trucks in the United States for the first time in five years.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

fuzzy math
Questions on Baker’s $6b climate change cost estimate
Barrett, CLF’s Campbell say governor’s veto letter not convincing
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
January 19, 2021

THE SENATE’S POINT person on climate change legislation said he doesn’t know where Gov. Charlie Baker came up with his estimate that the Legislature’s target for emissions reductions in 2030 would cost state residents an extra $6 billion.

“Boy, would I like to know,” said Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington. “I have never – and I am familiar with all of the written documents the administration has released on this topic – I had never seen that $6 billion figure until [Thursday]. I wonder if the governor had ever seen the $6 billion figure until [Thursday].”

In his letter vetoing the Legislature’s climate change bill, Baker said the difference between a 45 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels versus a 50 percent reduction was $6 billion in extra costs incurred by Massachusetts residents. “Unfortunately, this higher cost does not materially increase the Commonwealth’s ability to achieve its long-term climate goals,” the letter said.

A spokesman for the Baker administration wasn’t able to produce the analysis yielding the $6 billion figure on Friday but promised more information this week.

Barrett, appearing on The Codcast with Bradley Campbell, the president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said he has asked repeatedly for information on the $6 billion figure and never received it.

“I can’t wait to see the economic study that buttresses that claim because it will be unlike any economic study I’ve ever read,” he said. “These figures to some extent are arbitrary. Neither figure [45 percent or 50 percent] is supported by modeling. Both are judgment calls.”
» Read article        
» Listen to Barrett and Campbell on the CodCast 

» More legislative news

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

NoKXL
Keystone XL Pipeline Canceled. Here’s What It Means for the Future Fight Against Fossil Fuels
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 20, 2021

[While] the defeat of Keystone XL is historically momentous, it raises questions about other routes for Canadian tar sands. After sitting on the drawing board for years, Canada’s oil industry has already turned to alternative pipelines, such as Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement through Minnesota and, even more importantly, the Trans Mountain Expansion from Alberta to British Columbia.

“With Line 3 and TMX [Trans Mountain Expansion], Alberta has sufficient capacity to get its oil to market,” Werner Antweiler, a business professor at the University of British Columbia, told DeSmog.

In fact, scrapping Keystone XL arguably makes these other projects more urgent. “For the federal government of Canada, which has a vested interest in the commercial success of TMX, the cancelation of the KXL project may ultimately be good news because it ensures that there is sufficient demand for TMX capacity,” Antweiler said. “This means it is more likely now that TMX will become commercially viable and can be sold back to private investors profitably after construction is complete.”

This at a time when Keystone XL proved to be an expensive gamble. In 2019, Alberta invested $1.1 billion in Keystone XL in order to add momentum to the controversial project, funding its first year of construction. Now the province may end up selling the vast quantities of pipe for scrap, while also hoping to obtain damages from the United States.

Others are less convinced that the cancelation of one project is a boon to another. Even the Trans Mountain Expansion faces uncertainties in a world of energy transition. “Looking back a century ago, as one-by-one carriage manufacturers shut down as car manufacturers expanded production, prospects for the remaining carriage manufacturers didn’t improve,” Tom Green, a Climate Solutions Policy Analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, told DeSmog.

“Canada can take its cue from Biden: recognize the costly Trans Mountain pipeline isn’t needed or viable, it doesn’t fit with our climate commitments, and instead of throwing ever more money into a pit, government should invest those funds in the energy system of the future,” he said.
» Read article         

Total quits API
Total Quits Fossil Fuel Lobby Group the American Petroleum Institute Over Climate Change
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
January 15, 2021

French oil giant Total announced on Friday that it would not renew its membership to the American Petroleum Institute (API), a stunning blow to the oil industry’s most powerful business lobby. Total pointed to its differences with API over climate policy as its main motivation.

“We are committed to ensuring, in a transparent manner, that the industry associations of which we are a member adopt positions and messages that are aligned with those of the Group in the fight against climate change,” Patrick Pouyanné, Total’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Total cited API’s support for the rolling back of U.S. methane emissions on oil and gas operations, as well as the lobby group’s opposition to subsidies for electric vehicles and its opposition to carbon pricing.

Last year, the French oil company, along with BP and Royal Dutch Shell, cut ties with another oil industry lobby group, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents oil refiners. BP also withdrew from the Western States Petroleum Association and the Western Energy Alliance, two other powerful lobby groups in the western United States.

However, Total is the first oil major to quit API. The decision highlights the growing divergence between European oil majors, who have announced decisions to begin transitioning towards cleaner energy, and their American counterparts, who appear determined to continue to increase oil and gas production. The withdrawal also reflects the growing pressure for the oil industry to slash greenhouse gas emissions from investors, policymakers, activists and the public amid a worsening climate crisis.
» Read article         

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Jordan Cove rallyFeds: Jordan Cove LNG terminal can’t move forward without state water permit
By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press
January 19, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Plans for a major West Coast liquified natural gas pipeline and export terminal hit a snag Tuesday with federal regulators after a years-long legal battle that has united tribes, environmentalists and a coalition of residents on Oregon’s rural southern coast against the proposal.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that energy company Pembina could not move forward with the proposal without a key clean water permit from the state of Oregon. The U.S. regulatory agency gave its tentative approval to the pipeline last March as long as it secured the necessary state permits, but the Canadian pipeline company has been unable to do so.

It had appealed to the commission over the state’s clean water permit, arguing that Oregon had waived its authority to issue a clean water certification for the project and therefore its denial of the permit was irrelevant.

But the commission found instead that Pembina had never requested the certification and that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality “could not have waived its authority to issue certification for a request it never received.”

The ruling was hailed as a major victory by opponents of Jordan Cove, which would be the first such LNG overseas export terminal in the lower 48 states. The proposed 230-mile (370-kilometer) feeder pipeline would begin in Malin, in southwest Oregon, and end at the city of Coos Bay on the rural Oregon coast.

Jordan Cove did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment and it was unclear what next steps the project would take.

Opposition to the pipeline has brought together southern Oregon tribes, environmentalists, anglers and coastal residents since 2006.

“Thousands of southern Oregonians have raised their voices to stop this project for years and will continue to until the threat of Jordan Cove LNG is gone for good,” said Hannah Sohl, executive director of Rogue Climate.
» Read article         

» More about liquefied natural gas

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Weekly News Check-In 1/8/21

banner 08

Welcome back.

The Trump administration derailed this week, arriving at what some observers might describe as its inevitable destination. But we still managed to keep at least some of our attention on the energy scene.

Opponents of Weymouth’s compressor station have vowed to keep up the fight, focusing on a petition drive and information campaign. That project was typical of the recent fossil fuel infrastructure build-out, where construction proceeded even prior to obtaining final permits. This sets up an awkward situation when, as in the case of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project is cancelled. Property was taken and damaged. Trees were felled and miles of pipe are in the ground – now what?

ExxonMobil is playing the victim card in an attempt to evade litigation in Massachusetts court, where it is being sued for fraud related to climate change. Ironically, the giant oil company claims that Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit amounts to a SLAPP, or “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation”. Anti-SLAPP legislation exists to protect against lawsuits aimed at quelling free speech, and it’s typically invoked by environmental groups seeking shelter from frivolous litigation brought against them by the fossil fuel industry attempting to quell protest.

Greening the economy inevitably involves building a lot of new green infrastructure, and that requires a whole lot of concrete. To help minimize the embodied carbon in all this new construction, planners are increasingly turning to a new tool: EC3, or the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator.

Our climate section looks back at 2020, which by all accounts was brutal on both an individual and global level. It was the hottest year on record, with the cost of climate-driven disasters doubling in the U.S. from the previous year. And a new study concludes that we’ve now locked in at least two degrees celsius of warming over the preindustrial benchmark.

On a happier note, deep geothermal is a source of clean energy made accessible by drilling techniques and knowledge of geological formations developed by the fracking industry. It is now technologically possible to drill miles down to hot rock, water, and steam in Earth’s mantle, and apply that energy directly to district heating systems.

Energy efficiency is a good news / bad news story this week. On the one hand, Boston is implementing zoning that requires new large buildings to be net-zero energy consumers. The bad news involves a proposed policy change by the International Code Council (ICC), to eliminate voting by municipal officials when a new base energy efficiency code is developed. We feel this is direct blow-back by the powerful building and development lobbies, in response to tremendous voter participation in 2019, which resulted in a roughly 10% improvement in building energy efficiency. We urge you to take just three minutes right now to use this template and object to this anti-democratic policy change (deadline Monday, 1/11 at 8PM).

If you top up your car in Cambridge, you’ll soon notice a sticker on the fuel pump reminding you that burning gasoline is bad for the planet. It also asks users to consider alternative clean transportation.

The big legislative news involves a major climate bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature and currently awaiting Governor Baker’s signature. There is massive public support for this, along with considerable uncertainty about whether or not the Governor will sign it.

The Environmental Protection Agency implemented a rule change that disregards scientific studies unless they fully disclose all underlying data. That sounds reasonable until you consider that any legitimate study involving the effects of pollution on human health necessarily requires vast amounts of personal medical data protected by privacy laws. This is simply another pro-industry, anti-science move by Trump’s EPA, and takes a page directly from the tobacco industry’s original self-defense playbook.

Meanwhile, Mark C. Christie was sworn in this week to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The fossil fuel industry largely shrugged off the Trump administrations offer to lease drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Countering that bit of good news is a disturbing forecast for an expected 12% investment bump in Canada’s oil industry during 2021.

And we wrap up our news with biomass. While the just-passed Massachusetts climate legislation appears to put the brakes on applying renewable energy credits for biomass-to-energy plants, there’s still considerable uncertainty about the fine print. Recently proposed changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard further complicate the situation. Opponents of the proposed biomass generating plant in East Springfield are actively seeking clarification.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FRRACS petition drive
Compressor opponents continue their fight
By Ed Baker, Wicked Local
January 4, 2021

WEYMOUTH- The natural gas compressor station could be fully operative sometime in January, but opponents of the facility show no signs of quitting.

Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station leader Alice Arena said the group is launching a No Compressor Weymouth  petition drive for people to state their opposition to the facility to government leaders.

“More than anything, we are trying to get people to know about the situation,” she said. “It makes you a little crazy that there are some people who literally live blocks away from the place, and they don’t know what it is about.”

The compressor station is owned by Enbridge Inc. and is managed by the company’s subsidiary, Algonquin Gas Transmission.

Enbridge received a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in January 2017 to construct the facility.

Opponents say the compressor station poses health and safety dangers to Weymouth, Quincy, East Braintree, Hull, and Hingham.

Gas leaks occurred at the facility during tests on Sept. 11 and Sept. 30.

According to state and local officials, both seepages collectively released 444,000 cubic feet of natural gas into the facility’s air and forced emergency shutdowns.

The leaks are under investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
» Read article             

» More about the Weymouth compressor station          

 

PIPELINES

unwrap the ACP
Regulators get plan for undoing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
By Sarah Rankin, Associated Press, on PBS News Hour
January 5, 2021

The developers of the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline have laid out plans for how they want to go about unwinding the work that was done for the multistate natural gas project and restoring disturbed land.

In a filing with federal regulators made public Tuesday, the pipeline company proposed an approximately two-year timeline for efforts across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, where progress on the project ranged from uninitiated to essentially complete.

The plan outlines where the company wants to clean up felled trees and where it plans to leave them behind, and it proposes abandoning the approximately 31 miles (50 kilometers) of pipe that was installed in place.

“We spent the last several months working really closely with landowners and agencies to develop the most responsible approach for closing out the project,” said Aaron Ruby, an employee of lead developer Dominion Energy who has served as a spokesman for the joint project with Duke Energy. “And ultimately our primary goal is to complete the project as efficiently as possible, and with minimal environmental disturbance.”

Ruby also confirmed for the first time that the company does not intend to voluntarily release the easement agreements it secured on landowners’ properties.

In most cases, the legal agreements were obtained through negotiations with landowners, who were paid and who the company has previously said will keep their compensation. But in other cases, in which sometimes vociferously opposed landowners fought the project, the easements were obtained through eminent domain proceedings.
» Read article             

Enbridge utility contractors
Ojibwe bands ask appeals court to stop Enbridge Line 3 construction
The Red Lake and White Earth bands filed suit, the second such filing in a week by pipeline opponents.
By Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune
December 30, 2020

Two Ojibwe bands have petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals to suspend state regulators’ approval of Enbridge’s new Line 3 and stop construction of the controversial pipeline across northern Minnesota.

The petition filed late Tuesday by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe is the second such filing in the past week by pipeline opponents to shut down construction on the $2.6 billion pipeline. Enbridge earlier this month started work on the replacement for the aging and corroding current Line 3 earlier this month.

In a separate filing Wednesday, Friends of the Headwaters also asked the state appellate court to halt the pipeline, citing “irreparable” environmental harm.

The two bands — plus the Sierra Club and the Indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth — last week sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asking for a preliminary injunction to stop construction of Line 3.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state’s primary pipeline regulator, approved Line 3 in February after nearly six years of review.

Several groups, including the Minnesota Department of Commerce, challenged that decision before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing among other things that the PUC didn’t properly evaluate Enbridge’s long-term oil demand forecast.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines             

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Mobil in Saugus
Exxon Doubles Its Defense, Urges Mass. State Court to Toss Mass. Attorney General’s Climate Fraud Case with Two Motions to Dismiss

By Dana Drugmand, Climate in the Courts
January 3, 2021

ExxonMobil is pushing back, and trying to play the victim card, in response to a climate change accountability lawsuit filed in October 2019 by the Massachusetts attorney general alleging investor and consumer fraud over the oil major’s statements and advertising pertaining to its fossil fuel products and their impacts on the climate system.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ExxonMobil on October 24, 2019 for allegedly misleading investors and consumers on climate risks of Exxon’s business and products – including systemic risks to the economy – in violation of Massachusetts’ consumer protection statute. The complaint includes allegations of failing to disclose climate-related risks to Exxon’s business to investors, deceptive marketing of certain Exxon products as environmentally friendly to consumers, and ongoing misleading or greenwashed advertising of the company to obscure Exxon’s harmful environmental and climate impact. It is just one of almost two dozen lawsuits targeting Exxon and similar petroleum giants for deceptive behavior on the climate consequences of their products to protect their business interests.

The oil major is not only pushing back with a standard motion to dismiss, but is complaining that its protected speech or “petitioning rights” are unlawfully targeted by the lawsuit. In other words, Exxon is playing the victim card and demanding the court dismiss the lawsuit under an anti-SLAPP action. SLAPP refers to “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation” and anti-SLAPP laws are intended to protect against lawsuits quelling free speech.

Exxon filed a special motion to dismiss under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute on July 30, 2020. In its motion, Exxon argues that the Mass. AG lawsuit amounts to “lawfare,” and is an attempt to squash political opponents who do not share the Commonwealth’s views on climate change.      

“Those, like ExxonMobil, who decline to parrot the Attorney General’s call for an immediate transition to renewable energy are not simply diverse viewpoints in a public debate with state, federal, and global policy implications, but targets who must be silenced through ‘lawfare,’” Exxon attorneys write.  

Exxon also alleges that the Attorney General “conspired” with private interests like environmental activists and attorneys to bring this litigation, and that the real objective is to impose the AG’s preferred “views” and policies on climate. In essence, Exxon argues that the AG’s allegations concern policy disagreements, not deceptive or fraudulent conduct. According to Exxon, the “Attorney General brought this suit to advance its preferred climate policies by silencing perceived political opponents.”
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions            

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

global cement productionCutting Concrete’s Carbon Footprint
New approaches could reduce the carbon-intensity of cement production and lessen concrete’s broader environmental impact.
By Ingrid Lobet, GreenTech Media
January 5, 2021

After years of slow headway, building design and industry professionals say sharp reductions in the climate impact of concrete are possible now. That is significant because cement, the critical glue that holds concrete together, is so carbon-intensive that if it were a country, it would rank fourth in the world as a climate polluter. 

The Global Cement and Concrete Association this year committed to zero emissions concrete by 2050. No single solution has surfaced to reach this goal. But an expanding set of data tools and departures from tradition are starting to add up. 

Take LinkedIn’s new headquarters in Mountain View, California, which eliminated 4.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide that would have been embedded in the new building, much of it by cutting back on cement. Jenny Mitchell, the company’s senior manager of design and build, works under the gun — parent company Microsoft has committed to removing all its historic carbon from the atmosphere. 

Mitchell believes concrete will actually get to net zero. “I think it is a tall task, but I think we can,” she told 200 people at the virtual Global Concrete Summit this month.

To help get there, Mitchell’s team uses a tool that’s swiftly gaining traction called EC3, for Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator. EC3 launched last year under the auspices of the Carbon Leadership Forum in Seattle.

The free calculator compares the embodied carbon of similar products. Rock aggregate that travels by barge could have a much smaller carbon footprint than aggregate that travels by truck, for example, even if it comes from farther away.

The EC3 software works by comparing Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that are fed into it by suppliers. Picture a nutrition label, but instead of calories and carbohydrates, it lists carbon quantities. 

“The number of EPDs for concrete is exploding,” rising from 800 to 23,000 over the past year or so, said Don Davies, president of Magnusson Klemencic Associates, a structural and civil engineering firm in Seattle. “Embodied carbon is starting to be a differentiator as to [which firm] gets the work.”
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

hot 2020
2020 Ties 2016 as Earth’s Hottest Year on Record, Even Without El Niño to Supercharge It
Annual reports from European and Japanese climate agencies show that last year was yet another marked by extraordinary global heat.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
January 8, 2021

European climate scientists have tallied up millions of temperature readings from last year to conclude that 2020 was tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record for the planet.

It’s the first time the global temperature has peaked without El Niño, a cyclical Pacific Ocean warm phase that typically spikes the average annual global temperature to new highs, said Freja Vamborg, a senior scientist with the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, who was lead author on its annual report for 2020.

That report shows the Earth’s surface temperature at 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1850 to 1890 pre-industrial average, and 1.8 degrees warmer than the 1981 to 2010 average that serves as a baseline against which annual temperature variations are measured.

In the past, the climate-warming effect of El Niño phases really stood out in the long-term record, Vamberg said. The 1998 “super” El Niño caused the largest annual increase in global temperatures recorded up to that time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

“If you look at the 1998 El Niño, it was really a spike, but now, we’re kind of well above that, simply due to the trend,” Vamberg said.
» Read article             

Silverado Fire
U.S. Disaster Costs Doubled in 2020, Reflecting Costs of Climate Change
The $95 billion in damage came in a year marked by a record number of named Atlantic storms, as well as the largest wildfires recorded in California.
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
January 7, 2021

Hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters across the United States caused $95 billion in damage last year, according to new data, almost double the amount in 2019 and the third-highest losses since 2010.

The new figures, reported Thursday morning by Munich Re, a company that provides insurance to other insurance companies, are the latest signal of the growing cost of climate change. They reflect a year marked by a record number of named Atlantic storms, as well as the largest wildfires ever recorded in California.

Those losses occurred during a year that was one of the warmest on record, a trend that makes extreme rainfall, wildfires, droughts and other environmental catastrophes more frequent and intense.

“Climate change plays a role in this upward trend of losses,” Ernst Rauch, the chief climate scientist at Munich Re, said in an interview. He said continued building in high-risk areas had also contributed to the growing losses.

The new numbers come as the insurance industry struggles to adjust to the effects of climate change. In California, officials have tried a series of rule changes designed to stop insurers from pulling out of fire-prone areas, leaving homeowners with few options for insurance.

Homeowners and governments around the United States need to do a better job of making buildings and communities more resilient to natural disasters, said Donald L. Griffin, a vice president at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, which represents insurance companies.

“We can’t, as an industry, continue to just collect more and more money, and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild in the same way,” Mr. Griffin said in an interview. “We’ve got to place an emphasis on preventing and reducing loss.”
» Read article             

locked-in warming
More Than Two Degrees of Climate Warming Is Already Locked In, New Study Finds
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
January 6, 2021

Existing greenhouse gases will eventually push the climate into more than two degrees of warming, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change on Monday.

That number puts the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels out of reach, says Andrew Dessler, study coauthor and Texas A&M University climate scientist. Still, he warned against “climate doomers,” The Associated Press reported.

“While I would not categorize this as good news, it is not game over for the climate,” Dessler said in a video explaining the paper.

So what exactly does the study say?

Dessler worked with colleagues at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) and Nanjing University in China to analyze what is called “committed warming,” or the amount of warming that would occur if atmospheric greenhouse gases were paused at their current concentrations.

Previous estimates had put committed warming at around 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Dessler said in the video. But those estimates were based on faulty assumptions about Earth’s climate system, the paper authors argued.

“Typically, committed warming is estimated assuming that changes in the future will pretty much follow changes in the past,” Mark Zelinka, coauthor and LLNL atmospheric scientist, said in a press release. “But we now know that this is a bad assumption.”

Specifically, the researchers pointed to the regions of the planet that have not yet warmed, such as the Southern Ocean. The temperatures of these regions cause clouds to form that reflect sunlight and further cool the planet. But eventually those regions will warm too, dispersing the clouds and further raising temperatures.

“After accounting for this effect, the estimated future warming based on the historical record would be much higher than previous estimates,” lead author Chen Zhou of Nanjing University said in the press release.

The researchers estimated that a likely total of 2.3 degrees Celsius of warming is now locked in, about a full degree above the previous estimate.

The good news is that this warming could take centuries to occur, provided the world acts now to reduce emissions.

“If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the rate we currently are, then we will blow through the 1.5 and two degree Celsius limits possibly within a few decades,” Dessler said in the video. “This means that our work is consistent with the conclusion that we need to reduce emissions as quickly as possible.”

Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, who was not involved with the research, called the study fascinating on Twitter.

“I don’t think this paper fundamentally changes our understanding of committed warming, and pattern effects are still an area of active research. But it should make us a bit cautious about being too confident in predictions of zero warming after emissions reach net-zero,” he concluded.
» Read article            
» Watch video explaining the research       
» Read article predicting less locked-in warming after net-zero achieved        

» More about climate                  

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Svartsengi geothermalCan Geothermal Power Play a Key Role in the Energy Transition?
Aided by advances in deep-drilling technology for fracking, engineers are developing new methods of tapping into the earth’s limitless underground supplies of heat and steam. But the costs of accessing deep geothermal energy are high, and initial government support will be crucial.
By Jim Robbins, Yale Environment 360
December 22, 2020

A river of hot water flows some 3,000 feet beneath Boise, Idaho. And since 1983 the city has been using that water to directly heat homes, businesses, and institutions, including the four floors of city hall — all told, about a third of the downtown. It’s the largest geothermal heating system in the country.

Boise didn’t need to drill to access the resource. The 177-degree Fahrenheit water rises to the surface in a geological fault in the foothills outside of town.

It’s a renewable energy dream. Heating the 6 million square feet in the geothermally warmed buildings costs about $1,000 a month for the electricity to pump it. (The total annual cost for depreciation, maintenance, personnel, and repair of the city’s district heating system is about $750,000.)

“We’re heating 92 of the biggest buildings in the city of Boise,” said Jon Gunnarson, the city’s geothermal coordinator. “The buildings strip heat, collect it, and run it to an injection well. We use it once and reinject it and use it again.”

The Boise district system is how geothermal energy is most often thought of — natural hot water is pumped into radiators or used to generate electricity. It is considered a local phenomenon — few places are sitting on an underground river of steaming hot water — and so geothermal has not been viewed as a major feature on the alternative energy landscape.

But a number of experts around the world say that notion is wrong. Thanks especially to the deep-drilling techniques and knowledge about underground formations developed by the oil and gas industry during the fracking boom, a type of geothermal energy called deep geothermal can access hot temperatures in the earth’s mantle as far down as two to three miles. At various depths up to this level, much of the planet contains extremely hot water or there is hot rock into which water can be injected and heated, a technology known as enhanced geothermal systems. In either case, the hot water is pumped out and used to directly heat buildings or to generate electricity with steam or hot water.

“Wherever we are on the surface of the planet, and certainly the continental U.S., if we drill deep enough we can get to high enough temperatures that would work like the Boise system,” said Jefferson Tester, a professor of sustainable energy systems at Cornell University and a leading expert on geothermal energy. “It’s not a question of whether it’s there — it is and it’s significant. It’s a question of getting it out of the ground economically.”
» Read article

MA State House
US solar sector welcomes tax clarity in Massachusetts climate bill
By Edith Hancock, PV Tech
January 5, 2021

A new bill that would require the state of Massachusetts to run on 40% renewable energy by 2030 has been lauded by the US solar industry for making key changes to net metering and tax incentive policies.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts have put forward a new bill that would require the state to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Called An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, it outlines a number of key policies that would accelerate the transition to renewable energy and offer tax breaks for utilities and entities that adopt small solar systems over the coming decade. If passed by Governor Charlie Baker, the conference committee bill could raise the standard requirement for utilities’ renewable energy portfolios in the state by 3% each year between 2025 and 2029.

The bill would also relax the state’s net metering thresholds for solar PV energy, allowing large businesses to sell wholesale rooftop solar power at retail rates. It also included a provision clarifying how taxes are assessed by towns and municipalities on wind, solar and energy storage systems, providing tax breaks for households and small businesses that install behind-the-meter solar systems.

In addition, it provides incentives for entities enrolled in the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) programme to serve lower income areas. Under the programme, which was introduced two years ago, solar power system owners in the state receive fixed rate payments for the energy they produce based on the kilowatt-hours of power produced. The agreements last 10 years and vary based on system size. The state’s lawmakers had issued emergency regulation for the programme last April to double its PV capacity deployment target to 3.2GW, as well as mandating the addition of energy storage on projects exceeding 500kW.
» Read article            
» Read the legislation – S2995         

» More about clean energy              

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Boston net-zeroBoston zoning change would require net-zero emissions from new buildings
The initiative is among the most aggressive of existing or proposed strategies to cut energy consumption in buildings, which are responsible for 70% of the city’s carbon output.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Edward Faulkner / Flickr / Creative Commons
January 5, 2021

The city of Boston is laying plans to require newly constructed large buildings to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, a move supporters hope will help make carbon-neutral design more approachable and mainstream. 

“There are going to be folks that find this incredibly challenging — there are a lot of industry norms that are being questioned and challenged,” said John Dalzell, senior architect for sustainable development at the Boston Planning and Development Agency. “But I’m pleased to see some of these old norms starting to fall away.”

In 2019, the city released the Carbon Free Boston report, a framework for making the city carbon neutral by 2050. Reducing emissions from buildings, which are responsible for 70% of the city’s carbon output, is a critical part of the plan. 

Other strategies for cutting building emissions are already in play or in the works. Boston has an existing energy disclosure ordinance, which requires buildings over 35,000 square feet to report their energy use each year. The city is also developing a performance standard that will require these buildings to meet targets for emissions reduction. And last year, Boston partnered with utility Eversource to launch an energy efficiency hub, a set of resources that will help the owners and operators of large buildings find ways to reduce their energy consumption.

One of the most aggressive measures the city intends to take is the plan to require new large buildings to achieve net-zero emissions. 

The details are still under development. The new requirements will modify existing green building zoning guidelines that apply to projects larger than 50,000 square feet, a threshold that includes about two-thirds of all new construction in the city. Over time, the threshold is likely to fall, encompassing more and more buildings over time, Dalzell said.
» Read article           

IECC changes
Code Development Changes Could Silence Voter Voices
By Lauren Urbanek, National Resource Defense Council
December 21, 2020

This year was a busy one when it came to defending strong building energy codes—and it looks like the work won’t be slowing down any time soon. After approving a 2021 energy code that will be more efficient than ever before, the International Code Council (ICC) is considering changes to the code development process that will eliminate local input. The ICC just announced it wants to change how the nation’s model building energy code is developed—moving it from a large, open process to having it be developed by a committee without input from the local government building officials who administer it.

The ICC—which is the body that manages creation of the building code—recently announced a public comment period for a proposal to use a standards process to develop the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), rather than the code development process that has been in place for the past decade and a half. The implications are unclear about what that will mean to the efficiency of future codes, but it’s a substantial change to the process used to develop a code that is referenced in federal law and adopted by jurisdictions in every state of the country.

For years the building energy code development process has been dominated by builders and industry interests, with input from environmental groups like NRDC. Governmental members showed up in a big way to develop the 2021 IECC, with voter turnout at its highest level ever. They voted in droves to approve proposals to make the code the most efficient one ever, with improvements in insulation, lighting, and other building components that will reduce energy consumption while lowering energy bills and keeping inhabitants more comfortable.

It’s impressive progress, achieved through a process that ultimately puts the final vote in the hands of the code officials and other local government employees who are the ones using the code—not anyone with a vested financial interest in the code’s outcome. So why is the ICC proposing such a dramatic change? That’s our question, too.
» Read article          
» Public comment information – deadline for written submissions 8 PM ET, January 11, 2021 (template here – takes about 3 minutes)           

» More about energy efficiency             

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Cambridge stickers fuel pumps
Massachusetts city to post climate change warning stickers at gas stations
Bright yellow stickers warn drivers burning of gasoline has ‘major consequences on human health and the environment’
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
December 25, 2020

Cambridge, Massachusetts, has become the first US city to mandate the placing of stickers on fuel pumps to warn drivers of the resulting dangers posed by the climate crisis.

The final design of the bright yellow stickers, shared with the Guardian, includes text that warns drivers the burning of gasoline, diesel and ethanol has “major consequences on human health and the environment including contributing to climate change”.

The stickers will be placed on all fuel pumps in Cambridge, which is situated near Boston and is home to Harvard University, “fairly soon” once they are received from printers, a city spokesman confirmed.

“The city of Cambridge is working hard with our community to fight climate change,” the spokesman added. “The gas pump stickers will remind drivers to think about climate change and hopefully consider non-polluting options.”
» Read article          

» More about clean transportation              

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

Hull turbine
8 Ways The New Climate Bill Affects You, Your Washing Machine And Our Climate Goals
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
January 5, 2021

Gov. Charlie Baker has 10 days to decide whether to sign — or kill — a massive climate bill.

The legislation, which the House and Senate approved Monday, represents the state’s first big update to the landmark 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act. It writes into law the ambitious goal of reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050, and could radically transform the energy sector, building codes, transportation and more.

From geothermal energy to lightbulbs, the bill covers a lot of ground, but here’s what you need to know — in plain English — about how it will affect you, if Baker signs it:
» Read article       

» More legislative news             

 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

new EPA rule
A Plan Made to Shield Big Tobacco From Facts Is Now E.P.A. Policy
The E.P.A. has finalized a so-called transparency plan that it says will improve the credibility of science. Scientists say it is designed to stop new public health protections by limiting what research the agency can consider.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
January 4, 2021

Nearly a quarter century ago, a team of tobacco industry consultants outlined a plan to create “explicit procedural hurdles” for the Environmental Protection Agency to clear before it could use science to address the health impacts of smoking.

President Trump’s E.P.A. has now embedded parts of that strategy into federal environmental policy. On Tuesday Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., formally released a new regulation that favors certain kinds of scientific research over others in the drafting of public health rules.

A copy of the final measure, known as the Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information Rule, says that “pivotal” scientific studies that make public their underlying data and models must be given more weight than studies that keep such data confidential. The agency concluded that the E.P.A. or anyone else should be able to independently validate research that impacts regulations.

“It’s sunshine, it’s transparency,” Mr. Wheeler said of the regulation on Tuesday during an online forum with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that opposes most environmental regulation. He described the policy as an effort “to reduce misunderstanding of our regulatory decisions.”

The new rule, public health experts and medical organizations said, essentially blocks the use of population studies in which subjects offer medical histories, lifestyle information and other personal data only on the condition of privacy. Such studies have served as the scientific underpinnings of some of the most important clean air and water regulations of the past half century.

Critics say the agency’s leaders disregarded the E.P.A.’s scientific review system to create an additional layer of scrutiny designed to impede or block access to the best available science, weakening the government’s ability to create new protections against pollution, pesticides, and possibly even the coronavirus.
» Read article            
» Read the new EPA rule        

» More about the EPA                

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

ISO-NE cap mkt FERCed
Christie Sworn in as Newest FERC Commissioner
FERC press release
January 4, 2021

Mark C. Christie was sworn in today as a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during a ceremony in the chambers of the Virginia State Corporation Commission in Richmond. Judge G. Steven Agee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit performed the swearing-in ceremony.

Commissioner Christie comes to FERC from the Virginia State Corporation Commission, having served three terms totaling almost 17 years, most recently as Chairman. He is a former president of the Organization of PJM States, Inc. (OPSI), which is comprised of regulators representing the 13 states and the District of Columbia that form the PJM region. He also is a former president of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners (MACRUC).

A West Virginia native, Commissioner Christie earned Phi Beta Kappa honors upon graduating from Wake Forest University, and received his law degree from Georgetown University. He has taught regulatory law as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Virginia School of Law and constitutional law and government in a doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Commissioner Christie also served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
» Read article             

» More about FERC             

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

unbidden ANWR
Trump auction of oil leases in Arctic refuge attracts barely any bidders
Coastal plain was up for sale as part of the Trump administration’s plan to pay for Republicans’ tax cuts with oil revenue
By Emily Holden, The Guardian
January 6, 2021

The Trump administration’s last-minute attempt on Wednesday to auction off part of a long-protected Arctic refuge to oil drillers brought almost zero interest from oil companies, forcing the state of Alaska into the awkward position of leasing the lands itself.

The coastal plain of the Arctic national wildlife refuge was up for sale to drillers as part of the Trump administration’s plan to pay for Republicans’ tax cuts with oil revenue. Conservatives argued the leases could bring in $900m, half for the federal government and half for the state.

But the lease sales fell dramatically short of that amount – with the high bids totaling about $14m on 11 tracts of land that cover about 600,000 acres of the 1.6m-acre coastal plain.

The results back up the arguments from environmental advocates and watchdog groups that leasing the public land is a bad deal for the country, particularly when oil is in such low demand and public scrutiny grows of the industry’s role in the climate crisis and damage to sensitive habitats. Drilling for new oil now, when the planet is already experiencing dangerous heating, would be irresponsible, they said.

“This lease sale was an epic failure for the Trump administration and the Alaska congressional delegation,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “After years of promising a revenue and jobs bonanza they ended up throwing a party for themselves, with the state being one of the only bidders.”
» Read article             

Exxon reports Scope 3
Exxon, under investor pressure, discloses emissions from burning its fuels
By Reuters staff
January 6, 2021

Exxon Mobil Corp, under increasing pressure from investors and climate change activists, reported for the first time the emissions that result when customers use its products such as gasoline and jet fuel.

The largest U.S. oil producer said the emissions from its product sales in 2019 were equivalent to 730 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, higher than rival oil majors. The data comes as the company has drawn the ire of an activist investor focused on its climate performance.

The so-called Scope 3 data is included in its latest Energy & Carbon Summary released Tuesday, though Exxon downplayed its significance. “Scope 3 emissions do not provide meaningful insight into the Company’s emission-reduction performance,” the report said.

“Even to get to the point of having them disclose this has been like pulling teeth,” said Andrew Grant at think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative. “Quite a lot of the rest of the world has moved on from the disclosure to ‘What are we going to do about this?’”

Most major oil companies already report Scope 3 emissions and some have reduction targets, including Occidental Petroleum, which in November set a goal to offset the impact of the use of its oil and gas by 2050.
» Read article             

Alberta pumps it up
Investment In Canada’s Oil Industry Set To Grow 12% In 2021
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
January 5, 2021

Canada’s oil industry expects that 2021 will be the year of recovery from the downturn caused by the pandemic in 2020, with total investments in Canada’s oil sector expected to increase by 12 percent this year compared to last year.

Combined investments in oil sands operations and conventional oil and gas production are expected to rise to nearly US$21 billion (C$27 billion) in 2021, compared to US$19 billion (C$24 billion) in 2020, Calgary Herald reports, citing forecasts from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

“An extra $2 billion of investment into the Western Canadian economies, relative to 2020, I’d say is a pretty significant vote of confidence there will be some stability and recovery in energy markets,” CAPP vice president Ben Brunnen told Calgary Herald’s Chris Varcoe.

According to CAPP’s November 2020 capital investment and drilling forecast, exploration and production (E&P) capital spending was US$27 billion (C$35 billion) in 2019, down by 10 percent compared to 2018. Due to the pandemic, the forecast for the 2020 investment showed an unprecedented 32-percent slump from 2019 to US$19 billion (C$24 billion).

The association expected that around 3,000 oil and gas wells would have been drilled in 2020, while the number would increase to around 3,300 oil and gas wells drilled in 2021.

Oil companies have plans to ramp up their production after the Alberta government said it would remove oil production limits at the end of last year.
» Read article           

» More about fossil fuel          

 

BIOMASS

Baker is wrong
Baker is wrong to subsidize wood burning
4 scientists say using wood to generate electricity will worsen climate change
By William Moomaw, John Sterman, Juliette Rooney-Varga and Richard Birdsey, CommonWealth Magazine
January 4, 2021

GOVS. CHARLIE BAKER of Massachusetts and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan were featured US officials at the fifth anniversary celebration of the Paris Climate Agreement. Their presence demonstrated that state leaders, from both political parties, are actively battling the climate emergency.

It is therefore baffling that the Baker administration just released new regulations that directly undermine the governor’s and Legislature’s goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The regulations allow wood-burning electric power plants that currently fail to meet Massachusetts’ environmental standards to receive subsidies from ratepayers. But burning wood to generate heat or electricity is unnecessary, will increase carbon emissions, and worsen climate change.

By removing trees from our forests, the proposed regulations also reduce the ability of our forests to remove carbon from the atmosphere. This undermines the governor’s net zero emissions plan that relies on our forests to soak up carbon emitted by any fossil fuels we still use in 2050.  As Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides has noted, “The conservation of the Commonwealth’s forests is critical to meet our ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050.”

The Department of Energy Resources justifies weakening the existing standards by falsely arguing that burning wood instead of natural gas will reduce carbon emissions.  Wood burning releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than any fossil fuel – 75 percent more than natural gas. Therefore, generating heat or electricity with wood immediately increases greenhouse gas emissions more than fossil fuels, worsening climate change.

Eventually, regrowth might remove enough carbon to equal the additional carbon emitted when the wood is burned. But regrowth takes time. New England forests take upwards of a century or more for additional growth to capture enough carbon to breakeven with fossil fuels. Break-even times are far longer for wood bioenergy compared to wind and solar, even after counting  the emissions from making and installing the turbines and panels.

Under the Baker administration’s proposed regulations, utilities will be charging electricity users – all of us – to burn more of our forests, worsen climate change, harm our health, and erode social justice. We urge Baker to preserve his reputation as a champion for climate, health, and justice by withdrawing these flawed regulations. The legislature should also eliminate wood bioenergy from the energy sources eligible for subsidies in the climate legislation they are now considering, and support climate-friendly energy instead.
» Read article            
» Read the proposed regulations           

Palmer Paving Corp
Massachusetts lawmakers deal blow to Springfield biomass project
By Jim Kinney, MassLive
January 4, 2021

Power from wood-to-energy plants — like the long-proposed Palmer Renewable Energy in East Springfield — won’t qualify as “green power” for municipal power utilities for at least five years under new rules announced over the weekend by state lawmakers.

A conference committee of state senators and representatives also called on Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration to complete a new study examining the impact of these biomass plants on greenhouse emissions, global climate change and public health. The conference report – meant to hammer out differences between the Senate and House bills passed in 2020 – will go to lawmakers for a vote before the term ends Tuesday.

It’s part of a major climate change legislation.

The five-year moratorium removes one incentive utilities would have had to buy power from Palmer Renewable Energy.

State. Sen. Eric P. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, praised the conference report Sunday, calling it “a major win for environmental justice.”

But Laura Haight, a biomass opponent and U.S. Policy Director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, said another subsidy that could benefit the Palmer Renewable Energy plant is still alive.

“However, this bill may not have any impact on the proposed biomass plant in Springfield,” she said.

Also winding its way through the statehouse in Boston is a different set of regulations – ones introduced in December by the Baker administration – that would make the Springfield biomass project eligible for green energy credits.

Those regulations, now sitting in front of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, would grant the Palmer Renewables project as much as $13 million a year in green energy subsidies paid for by the state’s electricity customers through the Commonwealth’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards program, also called RPS.

Haight’s group and others have been speaking out against Baker’s proposed rule changes since they came out in December.
» Read article             

» More about biomass              

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