Tag Archives: climate change

Weekly News Check-In 9/30/22

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Welcome back.

Climate activists were central to a big story this week, as persistent, intense, and coordinated pressure resulted in Senator Joe Manchin agreeing to pull his “dirty deal” on fossil fuel project permitting “reform” legislation from the must-pass funding bill. Don’t think for a second that Big Oil&Gas is giving up on this though – they’re already maneuvering for a comeback. They need to grease the skids to keep the party rolling – the United States is currently building (or planning to build) more miles of new pipelines than any other country.

Why is that a bad idea? Aside from the obvious climate-busting problems associated with continuing to burn fossil fuels, there are real and significant local health implications for anyone living or working near power plants, pipelies, and other infrastructure. A new study shows for the first time what industry has tried hard to conceal: natural gas transported by interstate pipelines contains hazardous air pollutants and known human carcinogens. These leak into the air both intentionally and by accident at numerous points along the transmission path.

Methane flaring is a different but related issue, and largely occurs around fossil fuel production, storage, and processing sites. This is the practice of burning off methane (natural gas) that may be a byproduct at an oil well, or otherwise can’t easily be transported away for commercial sale. Flaring, when successful, produces carbon dioxide, soot, and nitrogen oxides – all nasty, but arguably less immediately damaging to the climate than allowing methane to directly enter the atmosphere. Except that flaring turns out, in practice, to let an awful lot of methane slip past the flame.

For fans of the classic “Wizard of Oz” movie, we’ve arrived at the part where the scene shifts from black & white to color. Here’s the good stuff:

In a glimpse of the future green economy, a Massachusetts renewable energy company has developed a way to help low-income consumers nationwide access the financial benefits of clean energy with a new platform that allows homeowners to share excess solar credits. Homeowners will receive state incentives for the power generated, while the credits generated by the additional energy production are passed on at no cost to low-income residents, who can use them to offset their electricity bills.

Also, the U.S. Senate just ratified the Kigali Amendment, which adds to the 1987 Montreal Protocol that saved life on Earth by phasing out ozone-gobbling CFCs. This latest amendment will transition the economy away from HFC refrigerants in refrigerators, air conditioners, and heat pumps, and replace them with climate-friendlier chemistries. HFCs are very powerful but short-lived global warmers, so we’ll see the benefits quickly.

New York just launched a 2 GW renewable energy solicitation as natural gas prices are driving up electricity bills. The city is working to obtain 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and continues to build utility-scale projects alongside a flourishing base of distributed resources.

We’ve run many stories covering the hype around clean hydrogen. A new review of scientific papers in the UK throws another wet blanket over that flame, concluding that hydrogen is unsuitable for use in home heating, and likely to remain so, despite the hopes of the UK government and plumbing industry. The same calculations apply here. California is having none of it. Regulators just voted unanimously to develop new rules that would effectively ban the sale of natural gas-powered heating and hot water systems beginning in 2030, a first-in-the-nation commitment. That’s related to hydrogen because mixing hydrogen with natural gas for home heating is an enduring gas utility fantasy. Nope. Not gonna do it.

Recognizing that “clean energy” carries its own environmental burdens, the Biden administration is proposing a new permitting program for wind energy turbines, power lines and other projects that kill bald and golden eagles. As unpleasant as that is, “birds tell us that climate change is the biggest threat they face,” said Garry George, director of the National Audubon Society’s Clean Energy Initiative. If it’s executed responsibly, he said the new program could strengthen protections for eagles as renewable energy expands.

In clean transportation  a pair of hyperlocal ride-hailing startups in Chicago are positioning themselves to better serve predominantly Black neighborhoods that are under-served by traditional ride-hailing services and public transit. This is a form of small-scale, electrified transportation that addresses the “last mile” problem of sparse public transit routes. Meanwhile, the Federal government is working on legislation to maximize reuse and recycling of end-of-life electric vehicle batteries in federal fleet vehicles.

We’ll close with developing stories around the energy transition as it relates to modernizing the grid. New England allowed itself to become much too dependent on natural gas for electricity generation, and now finds itself with precarious fuel supplies during winter cold snaps – when gas is also critically essential (for now) to heat buildings. There’s a big debate underway, and we’re working hard for a short term solution to get us through the transition without any build-out of additional gas infrastructure.

Part of the solution is the deployment of long-duration energy storage, of the type that iron flow battery maker ESS has agreed to supply the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, including 2 gigawatt-hours of storage. The city-owned power company is committed to ending carbon emissions by 2030.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

we resist
‘People Power Has Won The Day’: Manchin Dirty Deal Defeated
The win was the result of “hundreds of national and grassroots organizations, along with concerned Americans from coast to coast, working together for the health and safety of frontline communities and a livable future for the planet,” said one campaigner.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
September 27, 2022

Climate campaigners and people on the frontlines of the planetary emergency celebrated Tuesday after Sen. Joe Manchin requested that his fossil fuel-friendly permitting reforms be stripped out of a stopgap funding bill.

“People power has won the day,” said Protect Our Water Heritage Rights Coalition (POWHR) organizer Grace Tuttle. “Thank you to everyone who rallied together to stop this bill. We will keep fighting alongside you. Our letters, calls, rallies, and grassroots activism secured this victory.”

“We recognize that the fight is not over, and we stand with all frontline communities from the Gulf Coast to Alaska facing fossil-fueled injustices,” Tuttle vowed. “Our movement to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline is bigger and stronger than ever. We will keep fighting to end the era of fossil fuels and for the future we deserve.”

Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter declared that “tonight’s turnaround represents a remarkable, against-all-odds victory by a determined grassroots climate movement against the overwhelming financial and political might of the fossil fuel industry and its Senate enablers.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed to hold a vote on permitting reforms in exchange for Manchin (D-W.Va.) supporting the Inflation Reduction Act. However, a growing number of lawmakers indicated in recent days that they would oppose an urgent government funding bill if it included the “dirty deal,” which would fast-track fossil fuel projects.

Given the mounting opposition to his Energy Independence and Security Act, Manchin on Tuesday evening asked Schumer to cut out his proposal.

“While the campaign against polluting oil and gas is far from over,” said Hauter, “this repudiation of Sen. Manchin’s so-called permitting reform bill marks a huge victory against dirty energy—and also against dirty backroom Washington deal-making.”

“This victory would not have been possible without the coordinated efforts of hundreds of national and grassroots organizations, along with concerned Americans from coast to coast, working together for the health and safety of frontline communities and a livable future for the planet,” she stressed.
» Read article    

third act founder
Bill McKibben: Victory Over Big Oil as Sen. Manchin Forced to Drop “Hideous Deal” on Energy
Democracy Now, Youtube
September 27, 2022


”All environmental victories are temporary. This one may be more temporary than most. There’s already news today that Manchin and the Republicans are going to try and bring it back, attaching it in December not to the budget but to the Defense Authorization Act. Look. Big Oil never sleeps and it never gives up. But for a day anyway, an impressive win by grassroots environmentalists.”
» Watch video      

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

crude guys
15K Miles of New Oil Pipelines Worldwide Show ‘Almost Deliberate Failure to Meet Climate Goals’
The United States is currently developing more new oil pipeline capacity than any other country, a global analysis shows.
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
September 27, 2022

As climate scientists and frontline communities plead with governments to urgently phase out planet-wrecking fossil fuels, an analysis released Tuesday shows that nearly 15,000 miles of new oil pipelines are currently in development worldwide, potentially imperiling the hopes of curbing runaway warming.

Titled Crude Awakening: Oil Pipelines in Development Across the Globe, the new report from Global Energy Monitor (GEM) finds that the United States is currently pursuing more new oil pipeline capacity by length than any other country, with a total of around 1,700 miles of pipelines either proposed or already under construction.

The majority of U.S. pipeline construction is linked to the Permian Basin, a massive carbon bomb located in the country’s southwest.

“Buoyed by record profits in 2021–22, the oil industry is moving ahead with a massive expansion of the global oil pipeline system,” the report states. “Over 24,000 km of crude oil transmission pipelines are in development, about 40% of which are already under construction.”

“Despite taking a backseat to the global gas boom in recent years,” the analysis warns, “this expansion of crude oil infrastructure creates a substantial stranded asset risk for project developers and is dramatically at odds with plans to limit global warming to 1.5°C or 2.0°C.”

[…] The new analysis comes as the U.S. Senate is preparing to vote on a permitting reform plan pushed by right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that, if passed, would pave the way for final approval of the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline and fast-track other polluting oil and gas infrastructure.

Baird Langenbrunner, a research analyst at GEM, told The Guardian that the continued push for new oil pipelines in the face of dire warnings from scientists, the head of the United Nations, and others about the consequences of more fossil fuel development “shows an almost deliberate failure to meet climate goals.”

“Despite climate targets threatening to render fossil fuel infrastructure as stranded assets,” Langenbrunner added, “the world’s biggest consumers of fossil fuels, led by the U.S. and China, are doubling down on oil pipeline expansion.”
» Read article    
» Read the report

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

too chummy
Sen. Manchin pulls environmental permitting ‘reform’ bill from stopgap funding legislation
By Eric Schaeffer, Oil and Gas Watch
September 27, 2022

With the clock ticking on a possible government shutdown on Friday, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin late today pulled from a stopgap funding bill his proposed legislation that would fast-track permitting reviews of major energy projects.

Senator Manchin made the move after failing to receive support from Republicans and some Democrats for his “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022.” The permitting “reform” legislation was part of a deal struck with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden to earn Manchin’s vote on landmark climate legislation last month.

Manchin and Schumer claimed that the permitting fast-track bill had to be rushed through Congress as part of an emergency funding resolution to keep government open because the U.S. allegedly needed to speed up the permitting of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, multi-state pipelines, and other very large energy projects.

However, the bill was criticized from both sides of the aisle – and did not have political support or a sound factual basis. The argument that permit reviews for oil and gas projects must be accelerated did not withstand close scrutiny.  And despite promising not to weaken the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws, the Manchin bill would have done the opposite. The bill would have flat-out ordered federal agencies to approve construction of the controversial Mountain Valley pipeline in Manchin’s home state while prohibiting any judicial review of that decision.

So it is good that the bill was pulled.

A review of recent decisions to issue permits for LNG terminals suggests the Manchin bill was a solution in search of a problem.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has the lead responsibility for approving such projects, after determining that they are a public “necessity,” minimize damage to natural and cultural resources as required under the National Environmental Policy Act, and have environmental permit approvals from the EPA and other agencies.
» Read article     

» More about legislation

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

added burden
Research shows neighborhoods near new plant face high rates of health issues
By Caroline Enos, The Salem News
September 21, 2022

PEABODY — A new peaker plant in Peabody would be built in an area with higher rates of health disparities, new research confirms.

As of now, the project would be completed without any prior health and environmental impact reports done by the state, something Peabody’s Board of Health and local activists are hoping to change.

The 55-megawatt “peaker” plant would be powered by oil and natural gas and only run during peak times of energy use for at most 1,250 hours annually. Construction on the $85 million project is expected to be completed by summer 2023.

The new peaker would be more efficient and produce fewer emissions than the Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s decades-old 20-megawatt generator currently in use at the same site, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company, the owner and operator of the new plant. MMWEC hopes the old generator will be decommissioned by 2026.

Still, the new peaker would use fossil fuels that emit carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and other harmful particles into the air, the Board of Health said in a joint letter to the state last year.

This was emphasized again during a presentation of new research at the board’s meeting Thursday night.

“(The research) demonstrated that there are residents in proximity to the proposed plant who have vulnerabilities that could be exacerbated by air pollution, and that residents in these neighborhoods show a heavier burden of diseases,” said Sharon Cameron, the city’s public health director.

Kathryn Rodgers, a Ph.D. student in environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health, conducted this research during an internship with the Massachusetts Climate Action Network this summer. These concerns had been raised last year as well by doctors and other advocates opposed to the peaker plant.

“Populations living closer to the proposed power plant face significantly more health burdens than the rest of the state,” Rodgers said of her findings.

[…] Seven new air monitors were installed earlier this month to collect air pollution data on Pulaski Street and in other neighborhoods.

They will start running this week and upload live data to a fire and smoke map at https://tinyurl.com/fireandsmokemap.

“We expect that data from the Purple Air monitors will be useful in additional assessment of the potential impact of air pollution on our community,” Cameron said.
» Read article     

» More about peakers

GAS LEAKS

pollutant concentrations
Natural Gas Leaked from Interstate Pipelines Contains Hazardous Air Pollutants and Carcinogens
By Adrienne Underwood, PSEhealthyenergy.org
September 20, 2022

OAKLAND, CA – Natural gas transported by interstate pipelines contains hazardous air pollutants and known human carcinogens, according to a first of its kind study published in Environmental Research Letters by researchers at the nonprofit research institute PSE Healthy Energy.

In the United States, interstate transmission pipelines that transport natural gas release significant quantities of unburned gas during routine operations and unintentional leaks (e.g., blowdowns and blowouts). In 2020 alone, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that natural gas transmission infrastructure leaked over 1.4 million tons of methane—a potent greenhouse gas. Despite this, no previous analysis has evaluated whether the gas in this system contains hazardous air pollutants.

“Interstate natural gas pipelines are critical energy infrastructure that is normally off limits to researchers,” said the study’s leading author Curtis Nordgaard, an environmental health scientist at PSE Healthy Energy and a board-certified pediatrician. “This is the first study to investigate the chemicals moving through our nation’s vast natural gas transmission network. Our results indicate that there are surprising levels of harmful air pollutants and carcinogens, creating potential health risks if gas leaks into nearby communities.”

Using industry-reported data from infrastructure applications submitted to federal regulators, PSE scientists calculated the concentration of hazardous air pollutants in natural gas transmission pipelines. The researchers found BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes) and hexane reported in nearly all filings that disclosed hazardous air pollutant data. Industry reports also included other health-damaging compounds, including mercury, the radioactive gas radon, and hydrogen sulfide. While concentrations of these chemicals varied, some were health-relevant. In the case of benzene, concentrations in transmission gas were reported as high as 299 parts per million, or 30,000 times the short-term exposure level considered low-risk by the California Environmental Protection Agency. Concentrations of benzene in condensate were much higher. Many of the chemicals reported in this pipeline gas are known to cause neurodevelopmental impairments, lung cancer, leukemia, and respiratory illness.

“We know that natural gas transmission infrastructure is responsible for methane emissions that damage the climate. This new study indicates that these leaks also contain chemicals that are dangerous for human health,” said PSE Healthy Energy Executive Director Seth B.C. Shonkoff. “Stopping natural gas leaks is critical for the climate and to protect the health of our communities.”
» Read article    
» Read the study         

» More about gas leaks

GREENING THE ECONOMY

solar equity
Massachusetts program allows homeowners to share excess solar power

The program encourages homeowners considering solar panels to opt for larger systems than they need, then pass credits for the extra energy along to help offset the electricity bills of residents who aren’t able to install solar themselves.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
September 26, 2022

A Massachusetts renewable energy company hopes to help low-income consumers nationwide access the financial benefits of clean energy with a new platform that allows homeowners to share excess solar credits.

The Solar Equity Platform, created by Boston-based Resonant Energy, encourages homeowners with sufficient space to install systems larger than their households need. Homeowners will receive state incentives for the power generated, while the credits generated by the additional energy production are passed on at no cost to low-income residents, who can use them to offset their electricity bills.

“We take people who have the structural advantage of having large homes and capitalize on that asset,” said Ben Underwood, co-founder and co-CEO of Resonant Energy. “It’s taking some of that value and sending it to people in low-income neighborhoods.”

Currently, the platform is operating only in Massachusetts. However, Resonant hopes to expand the concept into other states as well. And it isn’t just its creators who see the promise in the idea: The platform made it to the final round of the U.S. Department of Energy’s American Made Solar competition.

Even as solar power proliferates across the country — solar installations made up close to half of the new electric generation capacity added nationwide in 2021, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association — low-income households are often left out of this progress. The upfront costs of installing a system are often too high for a family struggling to pay the bills. Low-income consumers are also more likely to live in rental units or in houses with older roofs or outdated electrical systems that can’t support solar panels.

In an attempt to narrow this gap, Massachusetts’ solar incentive plan, the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program (SMART), offers additional money for systems on the homes of low-income families as well as those that allocate part or all of the clean energy produced to low-income households, allowing these residents to receive the benefit of stable, generally lower prices on their electricity.

So far, though, this incentive has gained limited traction: Just 10% of the capacity the program has received applications for has claimed some form of these higher incentives.

The Solar Equity Platform is designed to boost these numbers by simplifying the process of building and sharing excess capacity.
» Read article    

Kigali ratified
Senate Votes to Ratify the Kigali Amendment, Joining 137 Nations in an Effort to Curb Global Warming
The binding agreement will reduce the use of HFCs used in refrigeration and air conditioning, which will almost immediately slow global warming and create domestic manufacturing jobs.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
September 24, 2022

With rare, bipartisan support including a phalanx of Republican lawmakers, the U.S. Senate voted 69-27 Wednesday in favor of ratifying a key international climate agreement that will significantly curb global warming and, climate advocates say, could serve as a springboard for further emissions reductions.

The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is a binding agreement to reduce production and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning that are also potent, short-lived greenhouse gases. President Joe Biden is expected to soon sign the agreement, something he has called for since his inauguration. The United States would join 137 other countries in an agreement that is projected to prevent substantial additional warming by the end of the century.

“I am thrilled to see the U.S. rally to the support of this vital agreement,” John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, who, as U.S. Secretary of State, helped forge the initial agreement in 2016, said in a written statement.

“Businesses supported it because it drives American exports; climate advocates championed it because it will avoid up to half a degree of global warming by the end of the century; and world leaders backed it because it ensures strong international cooperation,” Kerry said.

A 2018 report by the U.S. air conditioning and refrigeration industry found that by 2027, the Kigali amendment would increase U.S. manufacturing jobs by 33,000, increase U.S. exports by $5 billion, and reduce imports by nearly $7 billion.

The United States began phasing down the production and use of HFCs after Congress passed the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, legislation that was signed by then President Donald Trump in 2020. Subsequent regulations released by the EPA in 2021 are compliant with the Kigali Amendment, which requires the U.S. and other developed countries to reduce production and use of HFCs by 85 percent by 2036.

[…] Phasing down HFCs is of particular importance because the chemicals are “short-lived climate pollutants.” HFCs remain in the atmosphere for 15 years on average, far shorter than carbon dioxide which remains in the atmosphere for 300 to 1000 years. Any effort to curb HFC emissions or other short-lived climate pollutants such as methane will have a near-instantaneous impact on slowing global warming.
» Read article    

Fiona over Puerto Rico
Puerto Ricans: We Won’t Become Resilient Until We Have an Equitable and Just Recovery
By Juan Declet-Barreto, Senior Social Scientist for Climate Vulnerability, UCCSUSA
September 28, 2022

“Refuse to glorify resilience; demand accountability.” Thus reads a meme on Puerto Rican social media, the background image a house with a wind-battered roof, a combination of rusted tin and ragged palm tree leaves. It is illustrative of the growing discontent of Puerto Ricans at being called resilient in the face of Hurricanes Maria and Fiona. But wait…aren’t Puerto Ricans resilient to the torrential rains, flooding, and winds that hurricane season brings year after year? Aren’t they (shouldn’t they!) be used to, adapted to, resilient to, the undeniable climate and extreme weather realities that are part of living in the Caribbean? Before answering the question, let’s unpack these assumptions first.

The idea that populations facing climate and other social, economic, or environmental disasters are innately resilient to climate and other environmental impacts is long-standing and incorrect. It is a harmful framing that romanticizes the conditions of duress under which impacted populations attempt to survive disasters when they already live, day in, day out, in precarious circumstances. It is also a convenient framing that leaves governments off the hook and unaccountable for their own unwillingness to prioritize the wellbeing of vulnerable populations and adequately respond to risks to which scientists have provided plenty of warning and solutions.

And the etymology of resilience contributes to the problem as well. It evokes elasticity—of a rubber band or a NERF ball, for example—that allows something that becomes deformed or bent out of shape by an external force to return to its original form or condition. But people and the social, technological, economic, and political systems upon which they rely to live their lives are not rubber bands or foam balls. Even if people and the things they require had such elasticity, in the face of climate upheavals spiraling out of control, it is not desirable to return to the original form.

What is desirable and needed is to reshape into a form that can prevent or minimize the deformation in the first place, especially when the strength of the force is increasing under a changing climate.
» Read article    

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

speeding up
On top of Mount Washington, signs of changing climate

Research shows warming temperatures, fewer cold days
By Kevin Skarupa, WMUR
September 28, 2022

MOUNT WASHINGTON, New Hampshire — At a height of over 6,000 feet, Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeast and is known as having the world’s worst weather, but that weather has been changing recently.

Mount Washington is an iconic spot in New Hampshire, and for decades, researchers have been stationed at the peak.

“Anytime we have a lot of icing events — frozen precipitation, freezing rain, glaze ice — sometimes we can get inches and inches of it per hour, which does a lot of damage to some of our instruments,” said Jay Broccolo, director of weather operations.

It’s hard work living there, but it has paid off over the years. Researchers might not have known how important it would be when they started gathering data in 1935, but it’s incredibly rare to have hourly observations at that altitude.

“We definitely rely on our data set, which now at 90 years, it’s getting to be longer than most people live,” Broccolo said.

Coupled with detailed data from nearby Pinkham Notch, Mount Washington is being looked at carefully by the scientific community to better understand the magnitude of the warming of Earth’s atmosphere.

Georgia Murray, a staff scientist at the Appalachian Mountain Club, released a study recently that showed that while people living below 6,000 feet have been feeling the effects of a warming planet for some time, Mount Washington and Pinkham Notch have been exempt up until about 20 years ago.

“We look at the annual temperature trends,” Murray said. “Our paper found that for the first time, the summit is tipping to what we call significantly warming.”
» Read article    

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

big apple
New York launches 2 GW renewable energy solicitation as natural gas prices drive up electricity bills
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
September 22, 2022

New York is working to obtain 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and continues to build out utility-scale projects alongside a flourishing base of distributed resources.

New York “is moving ahead with full force as we look to build more large-scale renewable energy projects across the state,” NYSERDA President and CEO Doreen Harris said in a statement.

The solicitation is expected to result in the generation of approximately 4.5 million MWh annually, sufficient to reduce the state’s carbon emissions by 2 million metric tons, officials said.

NYSERDA will host a webinar on Oct. 6 to provide more information on the solicitation. Projects must show the ability to reach commercial operation by May 2025, though the solicitation provides an option to extend the deadline until May 2028.

Solar developers in New York celebrated the solicitation.

“The clean energy projects awarded through NYSERDA’s predictable solicitation process will add to the more than 12,000 solar jobs in our state,” Zack Dufresne, executive director of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement.

The solicitation for utility-scale renewables follows NYSERDA’s competitive solicitation for offshore wind, issued in July.

New York is also looking to distributed solar to help meet its climate goals. On Wednesday, the state announced 4 GW of community, residential, small commercial and industrial solar projects have been installed — sufficient to power more than 710,000 homes.

The state is on track to exceed its goal of having 6 GW of distributed solar installed by 2025, officials said, en route to 10 GW by 2030.

New York is racing to add renewables as the price of natural gas drives up electricity costs.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

less efficient
Hydrogen is unsuitable for home heating, review concludes
Too many technical difficulties to overcome to make it a viable low-carbon heating fuel, say researchers
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
September 27, 2022

Hydrogen is unsuitable for use in home heating, and likely to remain so, despite the hopes of the UK government and plumbing industry, a comprehensive review of scientific papers has concluded.

Hydrogen lobbyists are out in force at the Labour party conference this week, sponsoring several events in Liverpool, and will be plentiful at the Conservative party conference that begins this weekend.

They are hoping to persuade the UK government to push ahead with a mooted large-scale rollout of hydrogen for home heating, as a replacement for the gas used to heat the vast majority of British homes. Hydrogen proponents say it would avoid households having to replace gas boilers with heat pumps, the other main contender for low-carbon home heating.

But researchers reviewed 32 studies of hydrogen and concluded that it was unlikely to play a major role in home heating, either as a full replacement for fossil fuel gas heating, or as a blend with natural gas.

Jan Rosenow, Europe director at the Regulatory Assistance Project, an energy thinktank, and co-author of the study, said there were too many technical difficulties to overcome to make hydrogen a viable and economic low-carbon heating fuel.

“Using hydrogen for heating may sound attractive at first glance. However, all of the independent research on this topic comes to the same conclusion: heating with hydrogen is a lot less efficient and more expensive than alternatives such as heat pumps, district heating and solar thermal,” he said.

The study, published on Tuesday in the peer-review scientific journal Joule, is the third major blow in the past week to proponents of hydrogen for home heating. Earlier this week, a separate study by the analyst company Cornwall Insight concluded that hydrogen would be close to twice as expensive for home heating as using gas alone. Last week, the Guardian revealed problems with a hydrogen pilot project in Scotland.
» Blog editor’s note: the same economics and physics apply in the U.S. as they do across the Pond.
» Read article    
» Read the study

dump it
California’s 2030 ban on gas heaters opens a new front in the war on fossil fuels
The first-of-its-kind plan will purge gas from existing buildings, not just new construction.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
September 26, 2022

California regulators voted unanimously last week to develop new rules that would effectively ban the sale of natural gas-powered heating and hot water systems, a first-in-the-nation commitment. The California Air Resources Board, or CARB, an agency that oversees the state’s climate targets and regulates pollution, passed the measure on Thursday as part of a larger plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions and comply with federal air quality targets.

Beginning in 2030, homeowners in California looking to replace their furnace or hot-water heater will only be able to purchase zero-emission appliances. Regulators expect this to primarily mean a switch to heat pumps — very efficient electric devices that can both heat and cool homes — as well as heat pump water heaters.

It will be the first legal mandate in the country designed to purge natural gas from existing buildings — in contrast with past policies aimed at stopping new developments from using the fuel.

“We are celebrating this historic win as California becomes the first state to end the sale of polluting fossil fuel appliances,” said Leah Louise-Prescott, a senior associate at the clean energy think tank RMI. “California’s leadership sets a clear example for other states to follow in their transition to a healthy, all-electric future.”

The use of fossil fuels in homes for space and water heating, drying clothes, and cooking food is responsible for about 10 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. California municipalities have been at the vanguard of tackling these emissions for several years now, beginning in 2019 when the city of Berkeley passed an ordinance preventing new developments from hooking up to the gas system. Cities around the state and across the country have since followed with similar policies, including Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and, most recently, Chicago.

California has also led the way at the state level. Last year it adopted a landmark building code change that strongly encourages all new buildings in the state to forgo gas hookups. And earlier this month, the Golden State’s utility board took another pioneering step to end subsidies for gas line extensions to new buildings. In many states, utilities do not charge new customers the full cost of extending a gas line to their building — instead incorporating those costs into rates and spreading them across their customer base.
» Read article    

» More about energy efficiency

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Sacramento
ESS inks largest-ever US flow battery purchase with Sacramento utility
The innovative deal will supply 2 gigawatt-hours of storage over multiple years and includes provisions for workforce training in and around the California capital.
By Julian Spector, Canary Media
September 27, 2022

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District will soon be decarbonizing its power supply — in part by pumping iron.

The city-owned power company has committed to ending its carbon emissions by 2030, an aggressive timeline compared to California’s statewide 2045 deadline to do the same. That means the state capital can’t wait any longer to figure out how to close the gap between abundant daytime solar production and post-sunset demand for electricity.

Last week, SMUD took a decisive step toward its clean energy goal when it signed a contract with iron flow battery company ESS to deliver 200 megawatts/​2 gigawatt-hours of its products, which store electricity in a liquid electrolyte containing dissolved iron.

A purchase of this size is a massive step forward for flow battery storage, a technology that just might help rid the grid of fossil fuels if it ever gets sustained market traction.

The deal contains a master supply agreement for ESS to deliver units over the course of the next few years. It will start with several megawatts over the next 18 months, said Hugh McDermott, senior vice president for business development and sales. Then it will ramp to tens of megawatts in the second phase and then potentially up to the 100-megawatt level.

The multiyear commitment is meant to track the natural planning cycles of utility procurement and project development, McDermott told Canary Media in the expo hall of the RE+ convention in Anaheim, California last week.

“This is a very uncertain supply situation for the rest of this decade, for everybody,” McDermott said of the grid storage market. “[SMUD is] going to get certainty on supply — a major bonus — and they’re going to get a commitment that we’ll have the manufacturing behind that. We’ll get the visibility [to future demand] so we can plan our manufacturing expansion.”
» Read article    

» More about long-duration energy storage

MODERNIZING THE GRID

cold in Houston
Trouble brewing in the power grid as officials warn of possible electricity shortages in N.E. this winter
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
September 27, 2022

The prospect is alarming: rolling blackouts across New England as temperatures plummet below freezing for days on end, the result of a power grid that can’t keep up.

Mindful of the debacle in Texas, where failures in the power grid resulted in hundreds of deaths during a freezing spell in February 2021, energy officials here are issuing unusually strident warnings about the potential for shortages if this winter turns out to be especially cold.

The culprit? Russia’s war with Ukraine has destabilized energy markets, particularly supplies of liquefied natural gas, while pipelines that bring natural gas in from other parts of the United States remained constrained. The threat also underscores the stark choices New England faces for its energy future, as gas and pipeline companies push to bring more gas to the region, while clean energy and climate advocates warn that will harm the planet and only make the region’s dependence on gas worse.

The concern is great enough that earlier this month, the five commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission made a rare visit to New England to hold a daylong meeting in Burlington to come to grips with just how serious the problem is.

[…] The challenge is daunting, as New England has limited ways to bring in natural gas — pipeline, ship, truck, or barge. In addition to being the dominant fuel for home heating, natural gas is used to generate more than half of the electricity in New England. And in winter, when demand is high, gas goes to heating buildings first before generating electricity.

“The underlying problem is that we’re overly dependent on a single fuel,” said Rebecca Tepper, chief of the energy and environment bureau at the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. “We’re overly dependent on natural gas and the entire region is at risk any time we have any disruption on that system.”

But while the region is racing to switch from fossil-fuel-fired power plants to renewable energy, some experts say this winter is exposing the challenges of that transition, with the best clean energy solutions, such as offshore wind, not yet on line, leaving officials to scramble for solutions that don’t further tie the region to fossil fuels.

When ISO-New England has issued similar warnings in previous years, clean energy advocates say, the grid has looked first to solve the problem by securing more supplies of gas.

“Investing in more fossil fuel infrastructure is not going to solve the problem,” said Melissa Birchard, the director of clean energy and grid transition for the Acadia Center, a clean energy advocacy group. “It just continues our cycle of not investing in clean resources, and can exacerbate climate change.”

Instead, she and other advocates want the region to reduce demand by doubling down on its existing successes with energy efficiency, while also pushing for more conservation efforts and working to get clean energy on line quickly.

Right now, Massachusetts is on the cusp of an offshore wind boom. The first phase of one project, the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind farm, is expected to be up and running next year. In 2025, a second offshore wind farm, Mayflower Wind, is expected to bring roughly the same amount on line. Two years later, an additional 1,600 megawatts are expected to be powering the grid.
» Read article    

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

clounds and shadows
US proposal would permit eagle deaths as renewables expand
The Biden administration is proposing a new permitting program for wind energy turbines, power lines and other projects that kill bald and golden eagles
By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press, in The Berkshire Eagle
September 29, 2022

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Biden administration on Thursday proposed a new permitting program for wind energy turbines, power lines and other projects that kill eagles, amid growing concern among scientists that the rapid expansion of renewable energy in the U.S. West could harm golden eagle populations now teetering on decline.

The Fish and Wildlife Service program announced Thursday is meant to encourage companies to work with officials to minimize harm to golden and bald eagles.

It’s also aimed at avoiding any slowdown in the growth of wind power as an alternative to carbon-emitting fossil fuels — a key piece of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda. It comes after several major utilities have been federally prosecuted in recent years for killing large numbers of eagles without permits.

The federal government already issues permits to kill eagles. But Thursday’s proposal calls for new permits tailored to wind-energy projects, power line networks and the disturbance of breeding bald eagles and bald eagle nests.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams said the new program would provide “multiple pathways to obtain a permit” while also helping conserve eagles, which she described as a key responsibility for the agency.

Bald eagle numbers have quadrupled since 2009 to about 350,000 birds. There are only about about 40,000 golden eagles, which need much larger areas to survive and are more inclined to have trouble with humans.

The number of wind turbines nationwide more than doubled over the past decade to almost 72,000, according to U.S. Geological Survey data, with development overlapping prime golden eagle territory in states including Wyoming, Montana, California, Washington and Oregon.

[…] Illegal shootings are the biggest cause of death for golden eagles, killing about 700 annually, according to federal estimates. More than 600 die annually in collisions with cars, wind turbines and power lines; about 500 annually are electrocuted; and more than 400 are poisoned.

Yet climate change looms as a potentially greater threat: Rising temperatures are projected to reduce golden eagle breeding ranges by more than 40% later this century, according to a National Audubon Society analysis.

“Birds tell us that climate change is the biggest threat they face,” said Garry George, director of the National Audubon Society’s Clean Energy Initiative. If it’s executed responsibly, he said the new program could strengthen protections for eagles as renewable energy expands.
» Read article   

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

hyper local
Black-owned companies seek to close electric transportation gaps in Chicago
A pair of hyperlocal ride-hailing startups in Chicago are positioning themselves to better serve predominantly Black neighborhoods that are underserved by traditional ride-hailing services and public transit.
By Audrey Henderson, Energy News Network
September 30, 2022

The transition to electric vehicles is well under way, but the benefits will be slow to arrive in communities where private car ownership is still a luxury.

Long before app-based ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, unlicensed cabs known as “jitneys” provided a similar service in Black neighborhoods that conventional White-owned taxi companies frequently refused to serve. Today, ride-hailing service is also low in several predominantly Black neighborhoods on Chicago’s Far South Side, corresponding with low rates of household vehicle ownership.

Hyperlocal shared ride services represent a potential alternative. In Chicago, two Black-owned companies — Jitney EV and GEST Chicago — are positioning themselves to fulfill that role, while also trying to ensure that environmental justice communities are not left behind in the transition from fossil fuel-based transportation.

“Post COVID and as a result of climate change, we have a once-in-a-lifetime investment in public infrastructure to address climate change and to address the transition away from fossil fuel production, toward clean energy, both in building and transportation. So it’s important that our community does not get left behind,” said William “Billy” Davis, general manager for Jitney EV.

Their efforts are specifically targeting the “last mile” gap between public transit stops and destinations such as grocery stores, banks and entertainment, along with providing an option for reliable transportation to and from work for residents within its service area, Davis said.

“We have, in Illinois, a transit system that is required by statute to generate 50% of its operating revenue from the fare box. So that tends to drive routes based on ridership. And it tends to punish those routes that have low ridership, even if they are in disadvantaged communities,” Davis said.
» Read article    

Fed recycling plan
US Senate passes bill to maximize EV battery recycling for federal fleet vehicles
Sponsors of the bipartisan bill say the federal government needs a plan to bolster recycling and reuse of EV batteries, to lessen U.S. dependence on international markets for battery components.
By Megan Quinn, Utility Dive
September 16, 2022

The Strategic EV Management Act, which aims to maximize reuse and recycling of end-of-life electric vehicle batteries in federal fleet vehicles, passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. It now heads to the House of Representatives.

The bill calls for federal agencies such as the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget to collaborate with the U.S. EPA, manufacturers and recyclers to create a strategic plan for reusing and recycling EV batteries. It also calls for coordinating with scientists, labs and startups working on such projects. The amended version passed in the Senate also calls for a report on how costs to operate and maintain electric vehicles in the federal fleet compare with costs for vehicles with combustion engines.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah; Gary Peters, D-Mich.; Richard Burr R-N.C.; and Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn.

“As the federal government’s electric vehicle fleet continues to grow, it must also ensure it has a coordinated strategy for optimal battery longevity,” Romney said in a statement. “The federal government should lead by example, and the more cost-efficient we are in this space, the less dependent we will be on foreign suppliers.”

Current recycling technologies can recover up to 95% of the minerals and materials needed to manufacture new batteries, he added.

The Senate’s passage of the bill marks another recent instance of federal action in the EV and lithium-ion battery recycling space.

The Department of Energy is working to allocate $335 million in funding for lithium-ion battery recycling included in the 2021 infrastructure law. That’s in addition to about $60 million in funding for second-life applications and recycling processes for EV batteries.

Government policies that incentivize EV recycling could have an impact on recycling markets for materials such as nickel and lithium in the near future, said Joe Pickard, chief economist and director of commodities for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, during a media briefing about the U.S. economy on Thursday.
» Read article    

» More about clean transportation

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Permian flare
Methane Might Be a Bigger Climate Problem Than Thought, Study Finds
Flaring, meant to burn off the planet-warming gas at industrial sites, doesn’t always work as intended, according to researchers.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
September 29, 2022

The oil industry practice of burning unwanted methane is less effective than previously assumed, scientists said Thursday, resulting in new estimates for releases of the greenhouse gas in the United States that are about five times as high than earlier ones.

In a study of the three largest oil and gas basins in the United States, the researchers found that the practice, known as flaring, often doesn’t completely burn the methane, a potent heat-trapping gas that is often a byproduct of oil production. And in many cases, they discovered, flares are extinguished and not reignited, so all the methane escapes into the atmosphere.

Improving efficiency and ensuring that all flares remain lit would result in annual emissions reductions in the United States equal to taking nearly 3 million cars off the road each year, the scientists said.

“Flares have been kind of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” said one of the researchers, Eric A. Kort, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Michigan. “But they actually matter more for climate than we realized.”

[…] Methane is the primary component of natural gas, also known as fossil gas, which can leak into the atmosphere from wells, pipelines and other infrastructure, and is also deliberately released for maintenance or other reasons.

But vast amounts are flared.

Gas that is flared is often produced with oil at wells around the world, or at other industry facilities. There may not be a pipeline or other means to market it economically, and because it is flammable, it poses safety issues. In such cases, the gas is sent through a vertical pipe with an igniter at the top, and burned.

The International Energy Agency estimated that worldwide in 2021, more than 140 million cubic meters of methane was burned in this way, equal to the amount imported that year by Germany, France and the Netherlands.

If the combustion is efficient, almost all of the methane is destroyed, converted into carbon dioxide, which has less of an immediate climate impact. The Environmental Protection Agency, in studies conducted in the 1980s, calculated that flares destroyed 98 percent of the methane sent through them.

But the new research found that flaring was actually far less effective, especially when unlit flares were taken into account. Emissions from improper flaring accounted for as much as 10 percent of all methane emissions in the oil and gas industry, the scientists said. The findings were published in the journal Science.
» Read article    

fossil database
A Global Database on Fossil Fuel Projects Goes Live
The Global Registry of Fossil Fuels offers an in-depth, free, and publicly-available look at oil, gas, and coal projects from around the world, shedding light on an industry threatening global climate targets
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
September 20, 2022

A new database cataloging the world’s oil and gas reserves reveals extensive data on the global fossil fuel industry for the first time.

The Global Registry of Fossil Fuels, launched by Carbon Tracker and Global Energy Monitor, is the first public and free-to-use database of fossil fuel production, reserves, and emissions. The registry contains more than 50,000 fields across 89 countries, and it covers 75 percent of global production. The database is not only a high-level look at figures for a whole country, but it also includes data that drills down to the individual project level.

“The Global Registry will make governments and companies more accountable for their development of fossil fuels by enabling civil society to link production decisions with national climate policies,” Mark Campanale, founder of Carbon Tracker and Chair of the Registry Steering Committee, said in a statement. “Equally, it will enable banks and investors to more accurately assess the risk of particular assets becoming stranded.”

Data included in the registry suggests that simply burning through existing oil, gas, and coal reserves, would unleash more than 3.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, amounting to more than seven times the remaining carbon budget that would keep the world beneath the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warming target.

In fact, the U.S. and Russia alone have enough remaining fossil fuel reserves still in the ground that, if burned, would result in the world blowing past climate targets even if all other countries halted production.

The data stands in sharp contrast to calls from global climate scientists to wind down the extraction and production of dirty assets. Fossil fuel production must “start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C,” the UN warned in its 2021 Production Gap report.

But the buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure continues. In the U.S., for example, three large liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects are under construction, which will expand U.S. LNG export capacity by roughly a third by the mid-2020s. Natural gas production is at record levels, and crude oil production, while short of a pre-pandemic peak, continues to edge up. There is no national plan or policy to manage the necessary decline in output over time. Few countries, if any, have mapped out how to unwind their fossil fuel industries.
» Read article    
» Explore the database

» More about fossil fuel

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Weekly News Check-In 6/17/22

banner 09

Welcome back.

We’ve been seeing how climate-related court actions are playing out both ways. That dynamic was on display this week. First, a coalition of environmental groups sued the Biden administration for failing to consider the harms caused to endangered species from the emissions produced by oil and gas drilling on public lands. The idea is to enlist the Endangered Species Act in the climate fight. On a similar track, a petition from a group of scientists and former public officials calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

In the opposite corner, we’re watching the rapidly-growing roster of lawsuits brought under the Energy Charter Treaty by fossil fuel companies against signatory countries whose climate mitigation policies threaten polluters’ business-as-usual bottom line.

Meanwhile, climate activists building on earlier success in persuading wealthy universities to divest their stocks from fossil fuel companies are now raising awareness of the billions of dollars those same institutions accept from fossil companies for climate research.

All of the above influences how quickly we manage to transition to a green economy. It’s a good place to check in with Johanna Chao Kreilick, President, Union of Concerned Scientists about whether we need new technology to address climate change – and if not, what’s the hold-up? Just to underline the urgency of getting that climate mitigation in gear, we look at new research that uncovered “off the charts” warming in the Arctic, and also a report on the increasingly precarious existence of billions of people who contributed nothing to the atmospheric carbon buildup.

The nuclear power industry has pitched a new generation of small modular reactors (SMRs) as a vital base load component in our clean energy future.  Trouble is, they still produce radioactive waste – potentially lots of it – and the U.S. has never solved the problem of where to put it. In the renewables world, a new peer-reviewed analysis from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has determined that current inflationary pressures will eventually ease up on solar and wind, and the cost trend should return to its previous downward trajectory.

A couple stories out of Boston show how innovations in renewables and energy efficiency can address the needs of a variety of existing buildings. There’s a lot happening in battery storage also, with new avenues being explored because of the high cost and huge demand for lithium – driven largely by the exponential growth of electric vehicles. And for all you EV drivers who are frustrated with the sketchy and sometimes unreliable public charging infrastructure, an update to federal rules could be a game changer.

Looking at the production side, Activists in New York state are backing a bill to increase the role of public-owned power generation. It’s an idea that’s been gaining ground with climate advocates around the country as they grow increasingly frustrated that investor-owned utilities are not moving away from fossil fuels quickly enough.

In the last few years, mitigating methane emissions has become a top priority in our effort to keep total warming below 2 degrees Celsius. So the hunt is on for emissions sources, especially from oil and gas production and distribution activities. Evidence from infrared cameras and satellites is mounting that fossil producers vastly underreport their emissions. Related to this is the recent industry push to extensively build up U.S. liquefied natural gas export capacity. The industry argues that the facilities would support Europe’s energy needs in lieu of Russia’s assault on Ukraine. But actual operations from the proposed facilities won’t begin until well after the crisis is expected to have passed. Emissions from simply operating those facilities – never mind the end-use combustion or leakage of their product – would be astronomical.

We’ll close with another story about plastics recycling that’s more of a problem than a solution. So-called ‘advanced recycling’ uses a high-heat process known as pyrolysis to turn plastic into fuel. In a world where we really need to stop burning stuff, it’s hard to find anything about this ‘solution’ that seems like a good idea. Slick marketing is working to convince you otherwise.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

monk seal
Can a Law Protecting Endangered Animals Stop New Oil Drilling?
Environmentalists say the government failed to study the threats to endangered species from climate change before issuing oil and gas drilling permits.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
June 15, 2022

A coalition of environmental groups sued the Biden administration on Wednesday for failing to consider the harms caused to endangered species from the emissions produced by oil and gas drilling on public lands.

Using a novel legal argument based on the Endangered Species Act, the groups are arguing that oil burned from a well drilled in Wyoming adds to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is heating the planet and devastating coral reefs in Florida, polar bears in the Arctic and monk seals in Hawaii.

If the coalition succeeds, more than 3,500 drilling permits issued during the Biden administration could be revoked and future permitting could be far more difficult.

“The science is now unfortunately quite clear that climate change is a catastrophe for the planet in every which way, including for endangered species,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. It is leading the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“We need to stop the autopilot-like approach of fossil fuel leasing on public lands,” he said.
» Read article   
» Read the lawsuit

obscure
Why the energy charter treaty is a threat to the global transition effort

An obscure international trade pact, which has protected investments in the energy sector since the 1990s, is deterring governments from taking decisive action on climate change
By Sam Haddad, Raconteur
June 15, 2022

In April, a report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that international trade agreements could obstruct government-led decarbonisation projects.

It cited the energy charter treaty (ECT) – a legally binding pact protecting investments in activities such as oil and gas extraction, coal mining and petroleum refining – as the most egregious case, largely because several claims brought under the ECT had been “settled in favour of foreign investors” at the expense of “much-needed climate action”.

The 1994 treaty, which took effect in 1998, has 53 signatories, including the UK and the EU. Its original purpose was to protect western firms that were investing in newly independent former Soviet states, but the ECT’s reach has broadened to include countries such as Cyprus, Jordan and Yemen.

“Its main goal was to promote energy security where investors were unsure about going into new places, because there was a chance of having their assets expropriated or nationalised,” says Rachel Thrasher, a researcher at the Boston University Global Development Policy Center.

Aside from its “neo-colonial historical context”, as Audrey Changoe, trade campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, puts it, the biggest problem with the treaty is a mechanism called the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system. This allows energy firms to sue foreign governments privately in courts of arbitration. [emphasis added]

[…] Claims brought under the ISDS can go into billions, which is money that could be used for the green energy transition. After the Dutch government revealed its plans to close all coal-fired power plants in the Netherlands by 2030. German energy firms RWE and Uniper issued lawsuits in 2020 for €1.4bn and €1bn respectively to compensate them for their impending loss of business there.

Changoe notes that governments are “phasing out fossil fuels because of pressure from civil society. Dutch citizens had actually sued their own government in 2015 for failing to protect them from the climate crisis. This is a democratic process that big fossil-fuel companies are seeking to undermine.”
» Read article    

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

Harvard divest
Universities face mounting pressure to stop taking fossil fuel funds
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
June 13, 2022

Climate activists, emboldened by their success in pushing wealthy universities to divest their stocks from fossil fuel companies, are now looking to a new and even thornier target: the billions of dollars universities accept from those companies for climate research.

Some researchers, including academics at the nation’s most prestigious institutes, say fossil fuel money helps them conduct crucial climate research. Having less of it, they say, could actually slow progress in the fight against climate change.

“I don’t see how that’s a win for the climate or MIT or society,” said Christopher Knittel, a professor of applied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who led the 2016 study Utility of the Future, which focused on decarbonizing the grid — and was sponsored in part by oil and gas firms.

But other leading climate experts, citing evidence of the oil industry’s history of disinformation and scientists’ dire calls to phase out fossil fuels, said institutions must cut these ties. Oil companies fund research, they said, that protects their business models, greenwashes their reputations, and distracts from the urgent need to abandon fossil fuels altogether.

Their effort, dubbed the Fossil Free Research campaign, is gaining traction. In March, 500 academics — including climatologist Michael Mann, creator of the iconic “hockey stick” graph of the past millennium’s global temperature rise; Bill McKibben, perhaps the most prominent fossil fuel divestment advocate; and dozens of Ivy League scholars — called on universities to reject oil and gas funding.

“Academics should not be forced to choose between researching climate solutions and inadvertently aiding corporate greenwashing,” they wrote.
» Read article    

» More about divestment

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Morgantown Generating Station
Greenhouse gases must be legally phased out, US scientists argue
A petition calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions under the Toxic Substances Control Act
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
June 16, 2022

Greenhouse gas emissions should be subject to legal controls in the US and phased out under the Toxic Substances Control Act, according to a group of scientists and former public officials, in a novel approach to the climate crisis.

“Using the TSCA would be one small step for [the US president] Joe Biden, but potentially a giant leap for humankind – as a first step towards making the polluters pay,” said James Hansen, a former NASA scientist, who is a member of the group alongside Donn Viviani, a retired 35-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Their legal submission, filed to the EPA on Thursday, states that greenhouse gas emissions present a danger to the climate and should be regulated as such under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a law passed in 1976 as part of a suite of environmental regulations in the US.

The TSCA, which was amended in 2016, allows the EPA to place monitoring requirements on companies and enforce strict controls on certain substances. It has been used to restrict chemicals including asbestos, lead in paint, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The law covers substances that pose “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment”. The petitioners believe it can be interpreted to allow for a phase-out of greenhouse gas emissions.

Viviani said: “TSCA is like the ruby slippers [in The Wizard of Oz] – it can do just about anything. It can allow you to put a levy on carbon, and can deal with the legacy of carbon emissions. It has nearly international reach, as the US is the biggest market in the world and could apply these measures to imports too.”
» Read article   
» Summary of the TSCA

» More about EPA

GREENING THE ECONOMY

to the people
Do We Really Need New Technology to Fight Climate Change?
By Johanna Chao Kreilick, President, Union of Concerned Scientists | Blog
June 13, 2022

I was invited to speak at a panel discussion last Wednesday as part of The Economist’s annual Sustainability Week, titled “What technologies are needed to avert a climate disaster?” True to the theme, I was asked about which technological innovations would be necessary to save our planet. I wanted to take this space to share some of my thoughts from the panel—and why I believe this wasn’t exactly the right question to ask.

Technology is where most energy transition conversations remain focused. And yet, technological innovation is not what’s standing in the way of significant and necessary near-term climate progress. We already have so many of the foundational technological building blocks of the clean energy transition at hand: renewables, energy efficiency, energy storage, and pathways to electrifying a vast array of energy end uses. Combined, these technologies have the capacity to get us an overwhelming amount of the way there.

No question, there’s still room for technological innovation—to make existing technologies better, and to push the frontiers of what’s possible to enable the best possible outcomes for climate, for health, for equity, for affordability, for resilience, and for overall quality of life. But we could be making enormous strides right now. And yet, we aren’t. Indeed, in most scenarios today, it is everything but the technology that’s impeding progress.

Overly focusing on technological innovation will miss the basic changes needed to drive the clean energy transition at scale and at pace today, including required breakthroughs on collaboration, collective action, communication, governance, and business model reforms. These pieces are critical to unleashing necessary change—regardless of the technologies at hand—yet are too often overlooked.
» Read article    

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Barents Sea
‘Off the Scale’: Warmer Arctic Ocean Fueling Climate Feedback Loop Faster Than Previously Known
“This is one of the scariest reports I have ever seen,” said one climate scientist in response to new study.
By Jon Queally, Common Dreams
June 15, 2022

New scientific research published Wednesday shows the waters in the North Barents Sea are warming at a rate that is much more rapid than most climate models have predicted, with worrying implications about feedback loops for the larger Arctic region and far beyond.

Extending between the north coast of Norway and Russia in the eastern Arctic Ocean, the North Barents Sea has been warming at a rate nearly seven times that of the global average, the study shows. The researchers used temperature data over four decades to determine that the trends in the region—the “fastest warming place known on Earth”—should be seen as an “early warning” of what could happen elsewhere.

Published in Scientific Reports, the new findings offer further confirmation that feedback loops in the Arctic are taking hold but could be doing so at a faster rate than previously understood.

“The warming pattern is primarily consistent with reductions in sea ice cover and confirms the general spatial and temporal patterns represented by reanalyses,” states the abstract of the study. “However, our findings suggest even a stronger rate of warming and [sea ice concentration (SIC) and sea surface temperature (SST)] relation than was known in this region until now.”

Researchers behind the study, reports High North News, warn the increased warming is likely to fuel “increases in extreme weather in North America, Europe and Asia.” The scientists say the Barents sea region offers a window into how warming is already impacting the Arctic more broadly and what more rapid warming could look like elsewhere in the future.
» Read article   
» Read the study

Dima Hasao
On Climate Change’s Front Lines, Hard Lives Grow Even Harder
Hundreds of millions of humanity’s most vulnerable live in South Asia, where rising temperatures make it more difficult to address poverty, food insecurity and health challenges.
By Mujib Mashal and Hari Kumar, New York Times
Photographs by Atul Loke
June 14, 2022

FATEHGARH-SAHIB, India — When the unseasonably heavy rains flooded the fields, and then the equally unseasonable heat shriveled the seeds, it didn’t just slash Ranjit Singh’s wheat harvest by nearly half.

It put him, and nearly all the other households in his village in northern India, that much further from financial stability in a country where a majority of people scratch out a living on farms. Like many Indian farmers, Mr. Singh is saddled with enormous debt and wondering how he will repay it, as a warming world makes farming ever more precarious.

For India and other South Asian nations, home to hundreds of millions of humanity’s most vulnerable, a seemingly bottomless well of challenges — poverty, food security, health, governance — has only deepened as the region bakes on the front lines of climate change.

Global warming is no longer a distant prospect that officials with short electoral mandates can choose to look away from. The increasing volatility in weather patterns means a greater risk of disasters and severe economic damage for countries already straining to increase growth and development, and to move past the pandemic’s devastation to lives and livelihoods.

[…] South Asia has always been hot, the monsoons always drenching. And it is far from alone in contending with new weather patterns. But this region, with nearly a quarter of the world’s population, is experiencing such climatic extremes, from untimely heavy rain and floods to scorching temperatures and extended heat waves, that they are increasingly becoming the norm, not the exception.
» Read article    

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

no turns
Smaller reactors may still have a big nuclear waste problem
A new generation of reactors promises a nuclear energy renaissance, but critics say the U.S. needs to figure out what to do about its radioactive garbage.
By Gregory Barber, Grist
June 15, 2022

Lindsay Krall decided to study nuclear waste out of a love for the arcane. Figuring how to bury radioactive atoms isn’t exactly simple — it takes a blend of particle physics, careful geology, and engineering, and a high tolerance for reams of regulations. But the trickiest ingredient of all is time. Nuclear waste from today’s reactors will take thousands of years to become something safer to handle. So any solution can’t require too much stewardship. It’s gotta just work, and keep working for generations. By then, the utility that split those atoms won’t exist, nor will the company that designed the reactor. Who knows? Maybe the United States won’t exist either.

Right now, the United States doesn’t have such a plan. That’s been the case since 2011, when regulators facing stiff local opposition pulled the plug on a decades-long effort to store waste underneath Yucca Mountain in Nevada, stranding $44 billion in federal funds meant for the job. Since then, the nuclear industry has done a good job of storing its waste on a temporary basis, which is part of the reason Congress has shown little interest in working out a solution for future generations. Long-term thinking isn’t their strong suit. “It’s been a complete institutional failure in the US,” Krall says.

But there’s a new type of nuclear on the block: the small modular reactor or SMR. For a long time, the U.S. nuclear industry has been stagnating, in large part because of the tremendous costs of building massive new plants. SMRs, by contrast, are small enough to be built in a factory and then hauled elsewhere to produce power. Advocates hope this will make them more cost-effective than the big reactors of today, offering an affordable, always-on complement to less-predictable renewables like wind and solar. According to some, they should also produce less radioactive waste than their predecessors. A Department of Energy-sponsored report estimated in 2014 that the U.S. nuclear industry would produce 94 percent less fuel waste if big, old reactors were replaced with new smaller ones.

Krall was skeptical about that last part. “SMRs are generally being marketed as a solution — that maybe you don’t need a geological repository for them,” she says. So as a postdoc at Stanford, she and two prominent nuclear experts started digging through the patents, research papers, and license applications of two dozen proposed reactor designs, none of which have been built so far. Thousands of pages of redacted documents, a few public records requests, and a vast appendix full of calculations later, Krall, who is now a scientist with Sweden’s nuclear waste company, got an answer: By many measures, the SMR designs produce not less, but potentially much more waste: more than five times the spent fuel per unit of power, and as much as 35 times for other forms of waste. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this week.
» Read article   
» Read the research paper

Palmetto Bay
DOE: Here’s where renewable costs are heading
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
June 14, 2022

Recent challenges facing wind and solar likely won’t sink their longer-term progress in the United States, as industries figure out ways to keep the cost of renewable power on a downward slope, according to a new peer-reviewed analysis from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Three Berkeley Lab researchers assessed how well the wind and solar industries have performed based on the historical prices of renewable electricity, and then used the findings to project how renewables’ levelized costs of energy would decrease through 2050.

The team found that every time utility-scale wind capacity doubles in size, its levelized cost of electricity will decline by 15 percent. For big solar projects, that decline will be even steeper, at 24 percent, according to the analysis published in iScience journal in May.

By 2035, solar could cost as little as $22 per megawatt-hour on average. That’s down from a 2020 average of $34 per MWh. It is also close to what the Energy Department is targeting for solar in 2030 — $20 per MWh, under a goal declared last year.

Wind, for its part, could hit $24 per MWh, down from $32 per MWh two years ago, according to the analysis.

The projection of plunging costs may seem to clash with the recent reality of wind and solar, whose economics have been battered by soaring commodity prices and trade policy pressures. The price of wind turbines rose 9 percent last year, for instance. And the cost of power purchase agreements rose across all of the U.S.’s electricity markets, according to industry analyses (Energywire, May 17).

The solar industry has been particularly vocal about its endangered growth, which it linked to a Commerce Department probe into new import tariffs. Earlier this week, the solar industry said a “substantial amount” of solar had been lost because of the Commerce move, despite a tariff waiver by President Joe Biden to ease pressure on the industry (Energywire, June 8). In April, the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, Abigail Ross Hopper, said the probe had plunged the industry into its “most serious crisis” in history (Energywire, April 6).

The Berkeley Lab analysis — which was based on nationwide, plant-level data from 1982 through 2020 — did not factor in those recent problems.

Yet the researchers wrote that they expected both renewable industries to adapt and return to slashing costs again, judging from their past track record.
» Read article    

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Boston steam
How century-old ​‘district energy’ networks can help decarbonize cities
Vicinity Energy aims to convert Boston’s steam network to run on clean electricity, showing how some cities can move toward climate-friendly heating and cooling of buildings.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
June 7, 2022

Buildings need to switch from being heated with fossil fuels to being heated with clean electricity to meet the world’s decarbonization goals. That switch can happen one building at a time — or, for city centers and university and corporate campuses that have district energy systems, there’s another option.

One example is the eSteam plan being pursued by Vicinity Energy for the nearly 90-year-old district steam system serving about 65 million square feet of buildings in the cities of Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the coming years, Vicinity plans to augment its fossil-gas-fired cogeneration plant in downtown Cambridge with electric-powered boilers and industrial-scale heat pumps.

That could serve as a template for electrifying more of the district heat and cooling systems the Boston-based company owns and operates in cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia and Oklahoma City and college campuses across the U.S. Northeast, Vicinity CEO Bill DiCroce said.

“We can become a converter of electric renewable power to steam, and our customers don’t have to do a damn thing,” he said. The grid power for those electric heating systems will increasingly come from the gigawatts of onshore solar and offshore wind power being built to meet Massachusetts’ clean-energy targets.

[…] Retrofitting hundreds of millions of square feet of buildings with zero-carbon heating is ​“going to be expensive. It’s going to take time to build in that electrical infrastructure,” DiCroce said. Not all cities have a district energy system that could serve as an alternative to that approach, he said. But Boston and Cambridge do, and ​“we’re coming in and saying, ​‘We can take 65 million square feet off your hands really quickly.’”

[…] District energy can also be more resilient during power outages, DiCroce said. Vicinity plans to install molten-salt batteries that can store clean electricity for hours or days at a time to ride through lulls in wind and sun or other electricity supply shortfalls, he said. And while it expects to run its gas-fired power plant less and less as the need for its steam is replaced by electric boilers and heat pumps, that generator will still be available for emergencies, he said.
» Read article    

Edgewood Street
$20 million is in sight for Boston three-decker energy pilot
By Jennifer Smith, WBUR
June 7, 2022

A $20 million pilot to retrofit three-deckers and other multi-family homes for energy efficiency is included in the latest round of federal funding before the Boston City Council.

Earlier this year, Mayor Michelle Wu announced the “nation-leading pilot,” which is bundled in a $206 million package of other affordable housing investments. The funding would come from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a federal pot of money aimed at assisting states and municipalities in weathering and recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic. ARPA funding has to be obligated by the city by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

This proposal takes aim at two of Wu’s priority areas: affordable housing and climate resiliency. Though other retrofit programs exist, like the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s triple-decker pilot which pursues high-efficiency electric retrofits of the housing type, this Boston-based pilot is a new enterprise for the city in line with its green goals.

Buildings selected for the pilot would include deed restricted housing, naturally occurring affordable housing, and public housing.

“This particular program would be dedicated funding to address gaps in the available financing for deep energy retrofits of affordable housing and would also have a focus on helping to allow residents to stay in place through that work,” said Joe Backer, senior development officer with the mayor’s Office of Housing in the neighborhood housing development division.

Still in its infancy pending funding, the pilot would explore flexible options to bring “deep energy retrofits” to existing housing stock, targeting income-restricted housing. Given the diversity in housing types, even between three-deckers, officials expect the pilot to involve building-by-building energy assessments.

Deep energy retrofits are holistic approaches to making structures themselves more energy-efficient. So, rather than an individual just swapping out lightbulbs, it may also involve better exterior cladding to make sure the house is well insulated. Certain homes may be modified for different fuel sources, prioritize more efficient heating and cooling, and across the board more efficient appliances.

According to the presentation before the council, the $20 million could fund these retrofits for about 300 housing units.
» Read article    

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

future of NA-ion
As EVs drive off with Li-Ion supply, the push to stationary storage alternatives accelerates
Once seen as synonymous with renewable batteries, stationary Li-ion faces strong headwinds due to rapidly accelerating demand from the automotive sector as EVs capture the mainstream.
By Randy Selesky, CRO, Enervenue, in PV Magazine
June 16, 2022

Mining and refinement capacity simply cannot keep up. Experts from mining industry prognosticators to Elon Musk foresee a widening chasm between li-ion supply and demand over the next few years. As that gap expands, expect the stationary renewable storage market to adopt emerging technologies more aligned with the needs of the stational market – and expect organizations to diversify well beyond Li-ion to meet energy demands and advance their renewable transformation goals.

Li-ion batteries are particularly suited to electric vehicle (EV) use cases: Li-ion’s energy density is required to make EVs viable. As EV adoption increases over the next decade, so too will Li-ion costs as lithium supply pressures grow in severity. In short, EVs will eat up Li-ion supply out of necessity, while alternatives already better-suited to stationary use cases carve out their own niche.

Such stationary alternatives aren’t just going to be more affordable, they’ll also be matched to their purpose. As a battery technology, Li-ion has been the standard, but it has limits. Li-ion batteries bring comparatively high operating expenses. They supply power for relatively short durations. They struggle in locations with extreme temperatures – which an ever-increasing swath of the world falls into. They’re also limited in their lifespans, and show environmental and safety issues over the long term.

These challenges leave the future open to alternatives more appropriate to stationary applications. While lead-acid and redox flow batteries struggle with many of the same issues as lithium-ion, other technologies aim to improve on where Li-ion falters.

In my view, there are three energy storage technology categories quickly maturing and with a clear potential to lead the stationary energy storage market into the future. [Metal-hydrogen, gravity-assisted, and sodium-ion batteries are all discussed.]
» Read article   

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV charging only‘A solid floor’: How new rules could remake EV charging
By David Ferris, E&E News
June 13, 2022

The nation’s electric vehicle charging stations — an improvisational curio shop of machines that often don’t work — might become more reliable and easier to use thanks to new government rules.

That is the conclusion of longtime electric vehicle watchers, who cheered the federal guidelines.

Until now, “it’s been mixed, to be polite,” said Dan Bowermaster, the head of EV research at the Electric Power Research Institute. “It’s great that this focus is on how do we as an industry scale up as quickly and as cost-effectively and, you could say, as driver-friendly as possible.”

The new guidelines, proposed late last week, start to dictate how states can spend the $7.5 billion of federal money approved in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law for electric vehicle charging.

The pot of money is intended to be a jolt that transforms the EV charging effort from scattershot to standardized, the better to deliver electrons to a wave of millions of EVs soon to come from automakers. The stations are essential to replacing the gasoline- and diesel-burning vehicles that form the biggest slice of America’s climate emissions.

Experts say that a side benefit is that the federal government, with its authority and purse, can set ground rules that make the e-fueling experience more trustworthy and consistent, and set a baseline for what drivers and others should expect from a charging station.

“What we’re going to see is cohesion now,” said Nick Nigro, the founder of Atlas Public Policy, an EV advisory group. “This rulemaking is going to build a solid floor on which to build a national charging network.”
» Read article   
» Read the proposed guidelines

» More about clean transportation

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

public power
A push for public power stalled in New York, but activists say they’re just getting started
Advocates say the New York Power Authority is a “sleeping giant” in the energy transition.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
June 10, 2022

On Monday night, more than 200 activists tuned into a “rapid response” Zoom call organized by the New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA. It was a chance to regroup after a rollercoaster week where it looked as though a DSA-authored climate bill might make it through the state legislature.

The bill, called the Build Public Renewables Act, soared through the New York State Senate last Wednesday. After a zealous eleventh-hour push by grassroots organizers to garner support in the Assembly, it appeared to have the 76 “yeas” required to send it to the governor’s desk, and then some. But on Saturday, Carl Heastie, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, brought the year’s legislative session to a close without ever giving his colleagues a chance to vote on it.

“We need to consider this as the beginning of our movement as opposed to the end,” Zohran Mamdani, a state assembly member from Queens, said on the Monday call.

Supporters of the bill painted it as a climate package that would have sped up the pace at which renewable energy comes online in New York state. But beyond that, it would have opened the door for a larger role for publicly owned power, testing whether giving the government more ownership over the clean energy transition can deliver in ways that the private market hasn’t.

It’s an idea that’s been gaining ground with climate advocates around the country as they grow increasingly frustrated that energy systems are not moving away from fossil fuels quickly enough. They argue that publicly owned power companies, which are not beholden to shareholders and do not have the same profit motive as their private counterparts, can enable a transition that’s faster, more affordable, more worker-friendly, and more accountable to communities.
» Read article    

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

methane monitor
Leak Detection Technology Catches Fossils Underreporting Methane
By Christopher Bonasia, The Energy Mix
June 12, 2022

Regulators around the globe are using monitoring tools, from infrared cameras to satellites, to call out oil and gas companies for methane leaks that are often underreported by fossil producers, with one group of U.S. legislators concluding that fossils are not concerned that the technology could fail—but rather that it might succeed.

In Australia, a new report recently showed that emissions from the country’s coal industry are nearly twice that reported in official estimates, says BBC. Though Australia did not sign on to the highly-touted methane reduction pledge at last year’s COP 26 climate summit, its newly-elected government is promising to take action on the leaks, which will obstruct the country from reaching its climate targets if not addressed.

The report compared the officially reported methane leaks against research compiled by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which used satellites to paint a more accurate picture of the problem, BBC says.

[…] Methane leak monitoring was also the focus of recent hearings before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, after the release of a report compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA found that fossils are “failing to address super-emitting methane leaks, deflecting the use of methane quantification data, and deploying mitigating methane detection technologies too slowly and too inconsistently,” said Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), at a committee hearing last week investigating methane leaks in the fracking fields of the Permian Basin.

Using internal data from oil and gas companies, the committee found that operators were “failing to design, equip and inform” methane leakage detection programs, and that their response to the problem does not “reflect the latest scientific evidence on methane leaks,” reports CNN.

Although the investigation was meant to evaluate the scale of methane leakage across the entire sector, the committee focused on the Permian because of its “centrality” as a source of oil and gas sector methane emissions, the legislators wrote.

Among the key findings was that, where Methane Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) strategies are implemented, the scope is too narrow and limited to fully address the scale of the problem, despite the technology’s ability to provide a more rigorous assessment.

One company’s methane management team commented that permanent deployment of LDAR technology would pose “near-term risks”—including that “more frequent awareness of gas emissions and leaks could lead to more action, which could be costly”. That had the committee speculating that expected costs were motivating fossils to dodge more effective monitoring.

“The point is brutally clear,” said the report. “The operator’s technology experts were warning that the technology’s biggest risk was not that it would fail, but rather that it would succeed – and in doing so, would find more methane leaks that the operator would then be responsible for, with all of the accompanying repair costs and reputational risks that might ensue.”
» Read article   
» Read the House science committee report on methane monitoring

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Cameron LNG plantEmissions From New U.S. Natural Gas Projects Will Equal 18 Million Cars
A report details the disturbing climate implications of a new LNG push, which gained steam after the invasion of Ukraine.
By Molly Taft, Gizmodo
June 15, 2022

Despite the Biden administration’s vows to fight climate change, the U.S. is currently embarking on a major effort to build out fossil fuel infrastructure following the war in Ukraine—with potentially disastrous climate results.

A report released last week from the Environmental Integrity Project finds that 25 proposed and in-development liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in the U.S. have the potential to release as much greenhouse gases each year as 18 million gas-powered cars—roughly equivalent to all of the cars in Florida.

“Although there is pressure to hurry up approvals of these LNG projects, government regulators should be careful and thoughtful in considering their significant environmental impacts,” Alexandra Shaykevich, research manager at the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement. “A dramatic increase in global dependence on LNG could be risky, from a climate perspective.”

[…] According to numbers that are included in the permits and proposed permits for these facilities, all together, they have the potential to release more than 90 million tons of greenhouse gases a year. [See blog editor’s note, below] That number includes 27.3 million tons from facilities currently under construction, 25.6 million tons from facilities that have gotten permits but haven’t started construction, and 37.7 million tons from facilities awaiting approval.

This 90 million figure is also deceptively low: The greenhouse gas emissions included in permits for these terminals and expansions are just from operating the plants, not from producing the gas or using it. [emphasis added] There are currently just seven terminals that export all of the LNG in the U.S., and those aren’t included in the analysis; together, these facilities are permitted to emit 28.3 million tons of greenhouse gases from their operation each year. (Six of these facilities, according to the report, are currently operating at maximum capacity since the war began.)

[…] Paradoxically, energy experts have pointed out that a mass build-out of LNG infrastructure won’t actually help solve the short-term energy crisis the world is facing—despite sustained messaging from the fossil fuel industry that they’re the only ones who can fix things. Many of the facilities that have been greenlit or proposed since the war started won’t actually be up and running until later this decade. By the time they come online and start exporting gas, Europe, which has been working hard since the war began to cut its natural gas use and increase energy efficiency and renewable use, may not be such an eager customer.
» Blog editor’s note: The report considers emissions of all major greenhouse gases: CO2, Methane, etc, and expresses the total as if it were an equivalent amount of CO2 that would have the same warming effect on climate. Unit: CO2e).
» Read article  
» Read the report

» More about LNG

PLASTICS RECYCLING

plastic bottle
Senate passes bill that would clear the way for plastics-to-fuel plants in R.I.
[Rhode Island] Senate votes 19-14 for legislation for ‘advanced recycling’ facilities using a high-heat process that environmentalists call ‘highly polluting, energy-intensive, unproven’
By Edward Fitzpatrick, Boston Globe
June 7, 2022

PROVIDENCE — In the video, a 7-year-old boy with missing front teeth talks about how much plastic there is in the world, including his plastic toy dinosaurs.

“By the time I’m my Dad’s age, like in 30 years, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish,” he says. “And it makes me feel bad.”

The solution, the boy says, lies in the “advanced recycling” plant where his father works in Ashley, Indiana, a small town best known for a water tower painted with a bright-yellow smiley face.

“I saw plastic getting turned back into oil,” the boy says on a tour of the plant. “It will keep plastic from going into landfills, incinerators, and our oceans, reducing greenhouse gas, which will help us from going extinct like the dinosaurs.”

Senator Frank Lombardo III, a Johnston Democrat, showed the video to the Senate Judiciary Committee in April, saying it simplifies the argument for his bill to clear the way in Rhode Island for “advanced recycling” plants, which use the high-heat process known as pyrolysis to turn plastic into fuel.

The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday by a vote of 19 to 14.

But environmentalists say the Brightmark corporate video does more than simplify the matter – they say the gee-whiz narrative attempts to paint a smiley face on a “toxic industry” that would set back Rhode Island’s progress in addressing climate change and matters of environmental justice.

“This bill is the biggest legislative threat to our environment this year,” said Kevin Budris, staff attorney for the zero waste project at the Conservation Law Foundation’s Rhode Island office. “The Brightmark video shown to the Senate Judiciary Committee was incredibly misleading.”

He said Brightmark does not recycle plastic or manufacture products. Rather, he said, Brightmark uses a two-step pyrolysis process to burn plastic waste. He said 90 percent of the output from its Ashley, Indiana, plant is plastic-derived fuel, most of which it burns onsite, and the other 10 percent is toxic char, which must go to a landfill.
» Read article    

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 6/10/22

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Welcome back.

A case that took six years to move through the courts finally concluded this week when the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the U.S. Department of the Interior must analyze the climate impacts of oil and gas leasing on 4 million acres of federal land spanning five states before drilling can commence. This comes after the oil and gas industry failed to strike down three separate settlements arising out of lawsuits brought against the DoI by U.S. conservation groups.

In a surprising twist, Massachusetts may become the first state to pass legislation reversing a national trend in which states open their electricity markets to competition. But studies show that retail electric suppliers have generally offered plans that turn out to be more expensive for consumers than default rates from utilities.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s first-ever senior counsel for environmental justice and equity, Montina Cole, has stated that the commission can “absolutely” improve its assessments of natural gas projects to better account for environmental justice issues. We’re looking forward to seeing how this translates into action. FERC recently declared that the Weymouth compressor station should never have been permitted, but then declined to actually do anything about this unhealthy and dangerous facility located within an environmental justice community.

On a related topic, we offer an interview with one of the authors of a new paper arguing that policies focused only on greenhouse gas emissions will be less successful than a broader approach that tackles inequality and climate change together. Turns out that climate change increases inequality – something we already knew – but inequality also makes climate change worse and more difficult to address.

In climate news, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just surpassed anything seen on Earth in the past four million years. There’s also new research saying we have greater than a 50% chance of locking in global warming of more than 1.5°C unless greenhouse gas emissions can be dramatically reduced before 2025.

That certainly lays down a challenge, so we’re happy to report that the Biden Administration this week took executive action, invoking the Defense Production Act to build up domestic production of all sorts of clean energy products including solar panels, electric transformers, heat pumps, insulation and hydrogen-related equipment. At the same time, we found a cautionary article about hydrogen, calling attention to several chemical pathways by which it could become another powerful greenhouse gas if leaked into the atmosphere. The message: limit hydrogen to applications for which there are no alternatives, and stop hyping it as the answer to all-things-energy.

The European Commission is responding to Russian energy blackmail associated with its war in Ukraine by proposing to end sales of fossil fuel boilers by 2029. That will boost the energy efficiency of building heat by encouraging a more rapid adoption of heat pumps and district geothermal networks, but experts are saying the timeline should be more ambitious.

Out west, Wyoming is preparing to bump coal off its position as the state’s top energy revenue earner, through grid modernization in the form of two major high-voltage transmission lines connecting itself to several other states in the West. The Gateway South and TransWest Express transmission lines will allow a major expansion of wind energy development.

The road to clean transportation isn’t always smooth. Two Massachusetts state senators are calling out the Baker administration for broken electric vehicle chargers along the Mass Turnpike – two of six having been inoperable for over a year. But in the ‘win’ column, Colorado-based Solid Power just took a major step toward realization of its solid state EV battery with completion of its pilot production line. This is necessary to prove production capability at commercial scale, and also allows the long testing and safety certification process to begin.

We have a couple of articles on how some electric utilities have worked behind the scenes to undermine progress toward clean energy, and even to promote climate denial. But regulations are changing to make that harder. In others cases, courts are coming for the worst offenders in the same way they’re going after fossil fuel producers who internally acknowledge climate risk while telling a different story to investors and the public.

We’ve known for a long time about health risks associated with natural gas infrastructure, but it’s difficult to monitor how pollutants move through the air at the local level. A recent innovative study in a heavily fracked Ohio county showed that regional air quality monitors failed to capture short-term neighborhood-level variations in pollution that affect people’s health. But low-cost local monitors revealed the true story.

Wrapping up the energy news, a huge spike in the cost of fossil fuels is driving worldwide inflation. Natural gas futures hit a 13-year high ahead of what traders expect to be a very hot summer. This sort of price volatility is a risk associated with energy derived from fuels traded on global commodity markets. Renewable energy and energy storage are technology-based and therefore tend to experience price reductions over time.

The last word goes to another fossil-derived product: single-use plastics, which the Biden administration just committed to phasing out in all U.S. public lands including national parks. Once fully implemented, it will cut 80,000 tons from the Department of the Interior’s annual waste stream.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

climate impactsJudge: U.S. Must Conduct Climate Review Of Leases Before Drilling Can Commence
By Julianne Geiger, Oil Price
June 3, 2022

The U.S. Department of the Interior must analyze the climate impacts of oil and gas leasing on 4 million acres of federal land spanning five states before drilling can commence, a legal settlement reached this week concluded, according to Reuters.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruling comes after oil and gas industry groups failed to succeed with their motion to strike down three separate settlements arising out of lawsuits brought against the DoI by U.S. conservation groups.

This week’s settlement is just the latest in the six-years-long saga that started when conservation groups WELC and WildEarth Guardians sued the Department of the Interior over millions of federal acres that were leased to oil and gas companies in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

Years ago—well before the Biden Administration took office, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras blocked drilling permits and required the DoI to do a more thorough environmental analysis that included GHG emissions. Today confirms that ruling despite oil and gas industry challenges.

The Biden Administration must now conduct a more thorough environmental review of those leases. For Biden, this is a precarious position indeed, particularly in the runup to mid-term elections. On the one hand, the U.S. President has taken heavy criticism for his energy policies in the wake of record-high gasoline prices. On the other, he has taken heavy criticism from his green supporters for his failure to live up to some of his anti-fossil fuel campaign promises.
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

Wikimedia MA Statehouse
Massachusetts lawmakers consider ending retail electric choice for residential customers
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
June 8, 2022

At least 18 states have opened up their electricity markets to competition. Arizona backed away from plans to allow retail choice in the early 2000s in the face of the Western energy crisis, but no states have reversed course so far after allowing it, retail choice advocates say. Massachusetts, which opened its retail electricity market to competition in 1998, could be the first, after studies and support from the Office of the Attorney General showed retail electric supplier offers as generally being more expensive than the default utility supply offer.

The state legislature has considered this issue in the House of Representatives since 2018, as the AG reported higher costs for customers who left municipal or investor-owned utility service. Healey’s testimony on S. 2150 last summer noted that arrears increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that residents were being charged more by electric suppliers in nearly every community examined.

“I know it is a big deal for us to call for the banning of an industry,” Healey told the state Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, but “this industry has overcharged Massachusetts customers for far too long.”

However, the 2021 study is “riddled with inaccurate results,” creating an unrealistic picture for state legislator support of eliminating retail choice for residential customers, Christopher Ercoli, president of the Retail Energy Advancement League, said in an interview with Utility Dive.

According to REAL, retail suppliers lock rates in at the beginning of a contract, so many retail energy customers in Massachusetts that are locked into rates from last fall are currently saving money as energy prices are currently increasing in the country and internationally.
» Read article      

» More about legislation

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Montina Cole
FERC’s EJ counsel says agency can bolster gas oversight
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
June 2, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can “absolutely” improve its assessments of natural gas projects to better account for environmental justice issues, according to the agency’s first-ever senior counsel for environmental justice and equity.

One year into her role at FERC, Montina Cole joined a webinar yesterday to discuss how the commission is becoming more responsive to historically disadvantaged communities affected by its decisions and policies — something that environmental justice advocates say has long been overlooked.

Cole said FERC is planning to build staff capacity focused on justice and equity in natural gas proceedings, as well as hold a public workshop on environmental justice issues “that are arising in the gas facility review process.” A FERC spokesperson said the timing on the public workshop has not been determined.

“I’m very, very optimistic and looking forward to ways that we can improve [gas permitting],” Cole said during the webinar, hosted by the Wires Group, a trade association for the electric transmission industry.

[…] Earlier this year, FERC proposed changes to its guidelines for assessing new natural gas pipelines, calling for “robust consideration” of projects’ effects on environmental justice communities as part of a costs and benefit analysis. In its updated permitting policy, the majority of commissioners said that FERC would try to more accurately identify disadvantaged communities. They also said the commission would consider a new pipeline’s cumulative impacts — meaning the total burdens or benefits that affected communities could experience from the facility and other infrastructure in the area.

Critics, however, said the new policy went too far on environmental and landowner issues and would make it difficult and expensive for new gas projects to get built. In March, FERC turned the proposal and another, related policy into “drafts,” open to further consideration and revisions (Energywire, March 25).

While Cole did not directly address that controversy, she said she is reviewing the commission’s “key regulations and guidance” for the siting of new natural gas projects. That effort will include consideration of projects’ cumulative impacts and the “thresholds” currently used by FERC to identify environmental justice communities, Cole said.
» Read article       

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

GND climate case
Q&A: The Causal Relationship Between Inequality and Climate Change
DeSmog interviewed an author of a new paper that says that policies focused only on greenhouse gas emissions will be less successful than a broader approach that tackles inequality and climate change together.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 3, 2022

Climate change has worsened global inequality, with poorer countries less able to withstand and adapt to climate change’s effects. It also has worsened inequality within countries between the rich and the poor: The impacts of drought, floods, hurricanes, and extreme heat are disproportionately felt by low-income communities and communities of color.

But new research suggests the reverse is also true: Not only is climate change contributing to greater inequality, but inequality is also fueling climate change. A new peer-reviewed paper by Fergus Green and Noel Healy, published in One Earth, analyzes the various ways in which inequality contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously making climate action even more difficult to pursue. The paper also asserts that climate policies that only focus on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, while ignoring inequality, will prove less effective at addressing the climate crisis compared to a much broader movement — like the Green New Deal — that attacks both inequality and climate change at the same time.

DeSmog spoke with one of the authors, Fergus Green, a lecturer in political theory and public policy at University College London, about the new research. The following conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
» Read article      
» Read the paper

Welcome to Ithaca
Inside Ithaca’s plan to electrify 6,000 buildings and grow a regional green workforce using private equity funds

The city has mustered $105 million in private funds to support low-cost loans for businesses and residents to install heat pumps.
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
June 2, 2022

Ithaca, New York, made headlines last year when its city council voted to fully decarbonize. Achieving the 2030 goal will require grid decarbonization, electrifying transportation and rolling out heat pumps to the city’s 6,000 aging commercial and residential buildings.

Ithaca is known for its progressive politics — in the 90s the city pioneered a time-based currency to inspire local spending, for example. But the decarbonization plan is among its most ambitious efforts, according to Director of Sustainability Luis Aguirre-Torres.

“When I came to Ithaca last year … my job was to craft a plan to decarbonize in eight years. I told the mayor, ‘You’re nuts. This is very difficult to achieve,’” said Aguirre-Torres, who took the job in April 2021.

Ithaca’s plan is “innovative,” Building Decarbonization Coalition Executive Director Panama Bartholomy said, and is an example of the kind of work many cities are now exploring.

“It’s encouraging to see a city take a wholesale approach to buildings instead of trying to adopt policies that are more reactive,” Bartholomy said. “Every major city in the United States right now is trying to figure out the right model for how to do this.”

Installing heat pumps and making other efficiency improvements makes financial sense for some buildings: the energy savings will pay for the improvements. Other projects may be close, or simply not pencil out. Either way, the savings accrue slowly. So in order to get all buildings decarbonized, the city aggregated blocks of buildings to manage project risk, and then securitized the project to attract private capital.

“The numbers work for some [buildings], they don’t work for some. But in the end, as a whole, it works for the investor,” Aguirre-Torres said. The program is essentially a way of covering the upfront costs of making building improvements and turning it into “electrification as a service,” he explained, resulting in long-term leasing or long-term lending at a low interest.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

future on fire
“Limited time:” World will lock in 1.5°C warming by 2025 without big emissions cuts
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
June 7, 2022

The world faces a greater than 50 per cent chance of locking in global warming of more than 1.5°C  unless greenhouse gas emissions can be dramatically reduced before 2025, new research suggests.

In a new paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, warn that the world needs an ‘abrupt cessation’ of greenhouse gas emissions to prevent locking in global warming above safe levels.

The research also confirm that net zero targets by 2050 are insufficient to cap average global warming  below 2°C, and that does not include like feedback loops that will accelerate temperature rises.

“Gobal warming is projected to exceed 1.5°C within decades and 2°C by mid-century in all but the lowest emission scenarios, the paper says. “That is, there is limited time and allowable carbon dioxide emissions (a remaining carbon budget) before these temperature thresholds are exceeded.”

The research, led by oceanography researcher Michele Dvorak, used geophysical modelling that finds the world already has a 42 per cent chance of exceeding 1.5°C of global warming – even if further greenhouse gas emissions were immediately ceased.

The probability of breaching this and higher temperature levels will increase year-on-year, the research shows, until the world achieves a status of zero net emissions.
» Read article       

Mauna Loa ABO
Carbon Dioxide Levels Are Highest in Human History
Humans pumped 36 billion tons of the planet-warming gas into the atmosphere in 2021, more than in any previous year. It comes from burning oil, gas and coal.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
June 3, 2022

The amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere broke a record in May, continuing its relentless climb, scientists said Friday. It is now 50 percent higher than the preindustrial average, before humans began the widespread burning of oil, gas and coal in the late 19th century.

There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any time in at least 4 million years, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said.

The concentration of the gas reached nearly 421 parts per million in May, the peak for the year, as power plants, vehicles, farms and other sources around the world continued to pump huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Emissions totaled 36.3 billion tons in 2021, the highest level in history.

As the amount of carbon dioxide increases, the planet keeps warming, with effects like increased flooding, more extreme heat, drought and worsening wildfires that are already being experienced by millions of people worldwide. Average global temperatures are now about 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than in preindustrial times.

Growing carbon dioxide levels are more evidence that countries have made little progress toward the goal set in Paris in 2015 of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic effects of climate change increases significantly.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

DPA invoked
Biden invokes Defense Production Act to boost domestic manufacturing in clean energy, grid sectors
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
June 7, 2022

The U.S. Department of Energy aims to build up domestic production of solar panels, electric transformers, heat pumps, insulation and hydrogen-related equipment under the Defense Production Act, or DPA, determinations issued Monday by the White House.

The DOE could support those sectors through commitments to buy clean energy products from U.S. manufacturers; direct investments in facilities; and aid for clean energy installations in homes, military sites and businesses, Charisma Troiano, department press secretary, said in an email.

The Biden administration’s move to use its executive power is a “game changer” that will establish and bolster a manufacturing base to support the renewable energy transition, according to Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The DPA, which President Joe Biden has invoked to spur COVID-19 vaccine and electric battery production, allows the White House to coordinate with industry to obtain supplies that are deemed to be in the interest of national defense, according to Su.

The White House issued similar DPA determinations for the solar, hydrogen, heat pump, insulation and grid equipment sectors.

“Ensuring a robust, resilient, and sustainable domestic industrial base to meet the requirements of the clean energy economy is essential to our national security, a resilient energy sector, and the preservation of domestic critical infrastructure,” Biden said in the findings.

The Center for Biological Diversity in February urged Biden to use his executive powers, including through the DPA, to tackle climate change.
» Read article       

H2 pathways
Hydrogen Leaks Could Make Climate Change Worse, Scientists Warn
By The Energy Mix
June 5, 2022

As the world invests billions in hydrogen fuel systems, scientists are urging vigilance against leakage, since its release into open air can trigger chemical reactions that significantly warm the atmosphere.

Widely seen as one of the only ways to decarbonize sectors that aren’t easily electrified (like heavy industry and aviation), hydrogen has much to recommend it as a clean fuel—unless it leaks into the air, where three chemical pathways can transform it into an indirect greenhouse gas with 33 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide over 20 years, writes Bloomberg.

The first pathway involves hydrogen’s tendency to react with atmospheric hydroxyl (OH), an element which also reacts with methane in a manner that helps remove this dangerous greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. The more hydrogen that leaks into the atmosphere, the less hydroxyl will be available to neutralize the warming effects of methane, which is about 85 times more powerful a warming agent than CO2 over a 20-year span.

The second pathway is hydrogen’s involvement, near ground level, in a chemical chain reaction that produces ozone, another potent greenhouse gas.

Finally, leaked hydrogen that makes it into the stratosphere produces more water vapour, “which has the overall effect of trapping more thermal energy in the atmosphere.”

Most leaked hydrogen would not escape into the air, but would rather be absorbed by microbes in the soil. But any hydrogen that does get airborne can wreak climate havoc, at least in the short term.

And it’s the short term that matters, given the speed with which global temperatures are rising, say climate scientists with the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

“The potency is a lot stronger than people realize,” EDF climate scientist Ilissa Ocko told Bloomberg. “We’re putting this on everyone’s radar now, not to say ‘no’ to hydrogen, but to think about how we deploy it.”
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

  

Meissen rooftops
Ditching gas boilers for heat pumps will take EU “well beyond next winter”
To quit Russian gas, the European Commission now wants to end sales of fossil fuel boilers by 2029. Some experts are pinning new hopes on geothermal heat pumps.
By Nour Ghantous, Energy Monitor
June 3, 2022

As part of its REPowerEU proposal to end Russian fossil fuel imports, the European Commission announced an increase in its energy efficiency target for 2030 from 9% to 13% on 18 May 2022. Part of achieving this ambition will be to double the roll-out of heat pumps, with a view to banning gas boilers by 2029, and integrating geothermal and solar thermal energy in modernised district and communal heating systems.

The move is a win for energy efficiency campaigners who argue that the best way to reduce energy imports is to reduce our energy demands in the first place. “A structural reduction of energy demand must be at the core of any strategy to increase EU energy security,” said Arianna Vitali Roscini, secretary-general of the Coalition for Energy Savings, in a statement about the plans. She suggests that the Commission’s inclusion of energy efficiency targets in its proposal will ensure long-term solutions to the energy crisis: “REPowerEU [proposes] measures that go well beyond next winter only.”

The general response in the EU energy sphere has been a sigh of relief at seeing more robust energy efficiency policies proposed, but no festivities just yet as some argue the plans still fall short of necessary ambition.

“We are very happy to see a phase-out date [for gas boilers] but we are not happy with the date itself,” says Davide Sabbadin, senior policy officer for climate and circular economy at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a network of environmental NGOs.
» Read article       

cut by half
St. Paul school is latest to conclude geothermal is ‘the way to go’
Space constraints, energy savings and the long-term return on investment convinced St. Paul Public Schools to install a ground-source geothermal heat pump system at a high school that until now hasn’t had a cooling system.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
June 7, 2022

[…] In St. Paul, only about a third of public schools have air conditioning — a growing liability as heat waves become more common, resulting in potentially distracting or dangerous temperatures in classrooms. The district also has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its buildings by 45% by 2030.

Johnson High School, in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood on the city’s East Side, is among the sites that have lacked cooling options. Its 1961 facade and interior were refreshed a few years ago but its HVAC system is decades old.

Space constraints limited the school’s options. While geothermal systems can require a large underground footprint, relatively little equipment is installed above ground, which along with financial aspects made it a good option.

“Geothermal seemed the way to go,” said Henry Jerome, facilities project manager.

The school district hired a local firm, TKDA, to consult on the project. Over the spring, the district hired a contractor to bore 160 wells 305 feet deep into the school’s baseball field. A liquid glycol mixture will run through buried pipes, transferring heat between the ground and the school’s heat pump.

The school won’t be able to entirely depend on geothermal during the coldest stretches of winter. A high-efficiency condensing boiler and two steam boilers will remain in operation when temperatures drop below freezing, but the school expects to cut natural gas consumption by more than half.

[…] Geothermal can cost more upfront than conventional heating and cooling systems and require enough land for well drilling. But the economics can appeal to schools, governments, and other building owners with long-term outlooks. After installation, the systems require a relatively small amount of electricity to operate.

Peter Lindstrom, a manager for Minnesota’s Clean Energy Resource Teams, specializes in helping public sector organizations with clean energy projects. He said geothermal is getting more attention recently as public schools and other institutions aim to reduce emissions and energy costs. Other Minnesota schools that have installed geothermal systems include Pelham, Onamia, and Watertown-Mayer Schools. And it may not be the last in St. Paul.
» Read article    

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

Seven Mile Hill
Greenlit powerlines forecast Wyoming wind energy boom

Developers are poised to double Wyoming’s wind energy capacity, replacing coal as the state’s top source of electrical generation.
By Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile, in Energy News Network
June 3, 2022

Having recently cleared key legal and permitting hurdles, developers are slated to begin construction of two major high-voltage transmission lines connecting Wyoming to several states in the West. When completed, the Gateway South and TransWest Express transmission lines will open the door to a major expansion of wind energy development in the Cowboy State, industry officials say.

“The TransWest Express project opens the ability for Wyoming wholesale electricity supplies to reach new markets, like southern California, Arizona and Nevada, that the state is not directly serving today,” Power Company of Wyoming Communications Director Kara Choquette said.

The $3 billion, 732-mile long TransWest Express transmission line will transport electricity from Power Company of Wyoming’s Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in south-central Wyoming, as well as other potential new wind energy facilities. Situated in Carbon County, the project’s 900 wind turbines with a total capacity of 3,000 megawatts will be the largest onshore wind energy facility in the United States.
» Read article       

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EVstop
Senators blast Baker administration over broken EV chargers on Mass. Pike
By Aaron Pressman, Boston Globe
June 7, 2022

Two state senators are taking the Baker administration to task for broken electric vehicle chargers along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

As the Globe reported in April, two of the six chargers installed at rest stops along the 138-mile highway — in Natick and the westbound Charlton stop — have been out of service for over a year. EVgo, the company that operated the chargers, withdrew all six charger locations from its listings and said it could not repair the problems on its own.

On Monday, in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler, state senators Cynthia Creem and Michael Barrett demanded that the broken chargers be fixed by July 1 and asked for information about who was responsible for their operation and maintenance.

“The continued inoperability of these chargers hampers the Commonwealth’s ability to reach its EV goals, not only because it makes it more difficult for EV drivers to travel across the Commonwealth, but also because it feeds into an inaccurate yet prevalent narrative that EVs are not reliable for long-distance travel,” the pair wrote to Tesler.

MassDOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We would like to see the broken EV chargers on the Pike returned to operation by no later than July 1 of this year, ahead of the busiest periods of summer travel,” the senators added. “We would also like to know that there is a plan in place to ensure that future issues with chargers are resolved immediately.”

The chargers were first installed in 2017. Matthew Beaton, then-secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said they would give “consumers confidence that they will have access to charging stations on long trips, a commonly cited hurdle in transitioning to zero emission vehicles.”
» Read article       

Solid Power pilot line
Solid-state batteries for EVs move a step closer to production
Solid Power wants to give cells to BMW and Ford for testing later this year.
By Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica
June 6, 2022

Solid Power, a Colorado-based battery developer, moved one step closer to producing solid-state batteries for electric vehicles on Monday. The company has completed an automated “EV cell pilot line” with the capacity to make around 15,000 cells per year, which will be used first by Solid Power and then by its OEM partners for testing.

“The installation of this EV cell pilot line will allow us to produce EV-scale cells suitable for initiating the formal automotive qualification process. Over the coming quarters, we will work to bring the EV cell pilot line up to its full operational capability and look forward to delivering EV-scale all-solid-state cells to our partners later this year,” said Solid Power CEO Doug Campbell.

Solid-state batteries differ from the lithium-ion batteries currently used in EVs in that they replace the liquid electrolyte with a solid layer between the anode and cathode. It’s an attractive technology for multiple reasons: Solid-state cells should have a higher energy density, they should be able to charge more quickly, and they should be safer, as they’re nonflammable (which should further reduce the pack density and weight, as it will need less-robust protection).

It’s one of those technologies that to a very casual observer is perennially five years away, but in Europe there are already operational Mercedes-Benz eCitaro buses with solid-state packs.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation  

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

under the radar
Meet the group lobbying against climate regulations — using your utility bill
The federal government is considering a rule change that would make it harder for utility companies to recover trade association dues.
By Nick Tabor, Grist
June 7, 2022

A typical electricity bill leaves the customer with the sense that she knows exactly what she’s paying for. It might show how many kilowatts of power her household has used, the costs of generating that electricity and delivering it, and the amount that goes to taxes. But these bills can hide as much as they reveal: They don’t indicate how much of the customer’s money is being used to build new power plants, for example, or to pay the CEO’s salary. They also don’t show how much of the bill goes toward political activity — things like lobbying expenses, or litigation against pollution controls.

Most U.S. utility bills also fail to specify that they’re collecting dues payments for trade associations. These organizations try to shape laws in electric and gas companies’ favor, in addition to more quotidian functions like coordinating regulatory compliance. On any given billing statement, these charges may only add up to pennies. By collecting them from tens of millions of households, however, trade associations have built up enormous budgets that translate to powerful political operations.

The Edison Electric Institute, an association that counts all of the country’s investor-owned electric utilities as its members, is the power industry’s main representative before Congress. With an annual budget of over $90 million, Edison is perhaps the largest beneficiary of the dues-collection baked into utility bills. In recent years, it’s attracted attention for its national campaign against rooftop solar panels, and for its role in the legal fight against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Within the next year or two, however, this financial model could come to an end. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, the top government agency overseeing the utility industry, is considering a rule change that would make it harder for companies to recover these costs. While utilities are already nominally barred from passing lobbying costs along to their customers, consumer advocates and environmental groups argue that much trade association activity that isn’t technically “lobbying” under the IRS’s definition is still political in nature — and that households are being unfairly charged for it.
» Read article       

Plant Scherer
Warned of ‘massive’ climate-led extinction, Southern Company funded crisis denial ads

The Georgia-based utility spent at least $62.1 million running campaigns to deceive the public about climate change, new research has found.
By Geoff Dembicki, The Guardian
June 8, 2022

In 1980, a report circulated to a division of one of the biggest coal-burning utilities in the U.S. warned that “fossil fuel combustion” was rapidly warming the atmosphere and could cause a “massive extinction of plant and animal species” along with a “5 to 6-meter rise in sea level” across the world.

Several years later an official at the utility co-chaired a conference where scientific researchers fretted that “as we continue to exploit the vast deposits of fossil fuels” it could cause “disruptive climate changes.”

Not only did Southern Company fail to adjust its business model towards cleaner energy sources, it began paying for print advertisements saying climate change was not real. “Who told you the earth was warming,” asks one ad from 1991.

Major oil and gas producers are now being sued in more than 20 U.S. jurisdictions for running campaigns to deceive the public about climate change while internally acknowledging the risks of burning fossil fuels. And the new report suggests that coal-burning electric utilities like Southern Company, which were also warned about climate change for decades, could be sued next.

The Georgia-based utility made its multimillion-dollar payments between 1993 and 2004, according to the Energy and Policy Institute’s analysis of corporate filings. It was a crucial period when aggressive U.S. action to combat the climate crisis could have potentially made the emergency less intense than it is now.
» Read article       

» More about electric utilities

HEALTH RISKS – NATURAL GAS INFRASTRUCTURE

Yuri Gorby
In Ohio, researchers find EPA data doesn’t tell the whole story on fracking pollution

Scientists working with community organizations established a network of local-level air monitors, finding details that regional monitors can miss.
By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
June 8, 2022

A recent study in a heavily fracked Ohio county found that regional air quality monitors failed to capture variations in pollution at the local level, spotlighting the need to address gaps in data on fossil fuel emissions.

Existing Environmental Protection Agency monitors track broad regional trends in air quality. But they don’t reflect differences from place to place within an area. And their reporting often misses short-term spikes that can affect human health, said lead study author Garima Raheja at Columbia University.

“Health is not a broad regional effect,” Raheja said. Health impacts from pollution often depend on more local conditions and can vary “day to day, hour to hour,” she noted.

[…] The team developed a grassroots, community-based network of low-cost air monitoring stations. Each monitoring station used PurpleAir monitors. The monitors cost a couple hundred dollars each, compared to up to $100,000 or more for equipment at the regional EPA air monitoring stations, Raheja said.

The equipment measures levels of fine particulate matter, or PM. Corrected data from PurpleAir monitors correlate strongly with those from reference-grade monitors, studies have found. Tweaks to the monitors also let the network track levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. And community members kept logs about physical symptoms or things they noticed in the area.

Additionally, the researchers made an inventory of all pollution emissions already permitted for the area. The data let them model how pollution could travel in the area.

“We wanted to show what people are actually experiencing,” Raheja said. “And we wanted to show some examples of plumes from different sources.”

General trends in emissions levels were similar for the EPA monitoring stations and the local monitors. However, there were substantial variations in the emissions levels recorded by the two types of stations. Those results showed that exposure to pollutants varies throughout the study area.

The results also showed multiple cases when spikes in certain emissions tracked closely with log entries about residents’ health symptoms or other events in the area, such as pipeline pigging or compressor station blowdowns.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about gas infrastructure health risks

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

blistering
Natural Gas Futures Hit 13-Year High As Traders Expect “Blistering Hot Summer”
By Tom Kool, Oil Price
June 6, 2022

On Monday, Henry Hub natural gas futures were up nearly 10% at a 13-year high.

At 5:00pm EST, Henry Hub prices for July contracts sat at $9.368, up 9.91%. August contracts were at $9.350, up 9.87%.

A key reason for the sudden surge is heat, with temperatures expected to rise significantly in the middle part of this month, with production declining and demand threatening to exceed supply.

Natural Gas Intelligence (NGI) quoted EBW analyst Eli Rubin as saying in a note to clients that a “blistering hot summer” is first and foremost among fears. Rubin said the increasing demand for natural gas for cooling in the coming weeks “could ignite another substantial rally in Nymex futures into mid-summer”.

Texas, in particular, is expected to see demand for natural gas soar to a historical record this week–even before the hottest part of summer sets in.

Also driving natural gas futures upward is rising demand, declining production, and soaring exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the U.S. Gulf coast, diverting domestic supplies.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuel

PLASTICS BANS

ban single use
US government to ban single-use plastic in national parks
Biden officials make announcement on World Oceans Day in effort to stem huge tide of pollution from plastic bottles and packaging
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
June 8, 2022

The Biden administration is to phase out single-use plastic products on US public lands, including the vast network of American national parks, in an attempt to stem the huge tide of plastic pollution that now extends to almost every corner of the world.

The US Department of the Interior will halt the sale of single-use plastics in national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands, though not entirely until 2032, with a reduction planned in the meantime. The government will look to identify environmentally preferable alternatives to plastic bottles, packaging and other products, such as compostable materials.

Previously, national parks were able to ban the sale of plastic water bottles but this was stopped by Donald Trump when he was president. The Trump administration echoed the sentiments of the bottled water industry in preventing the ban.

The new plastics ban will eventually span 480m acres of federal land, a size about four times larger than Spain, and will cut the 80,000 tons of waste the Department of the Interior creates each year.

“The interior department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate,” said Deb Haaland, the secretary of the interior.

Plastic pollution is now widespread across the US and the rest of the world, with trillions of tiny pieces of plastic found in the oceans, where much of the waste ends up. Plastics are so pervasive they have been found in the lungs of people and in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica.

The growing production of cheap, disposable plastics has been exacerbated by a falling recycling rate, which has dipped to about 5% in the US following some countries’ refusal to take shipments of American waste.
» Read article      

» More about plastics bans

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Weekly News Check-In 7/9/21

banner 15

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

Continue reading

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             

» More about legislation

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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