Tag Archives: Climeworks

Weekly News Check-In 9/17/21

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Welcome back.

Lewis Carroll published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, early in the industrial period and nearly a hundred years before the nascent fossil fuel industry launched its mind-warping climate disinformation campaign to delay meaningful and rational action to avoid the planetary catastrophe baked into their business model. While collecting articles this week, I found myself asking more than once, “How did he know?”

Let’s begin with an overview of how utilities are still selling gas burning peaking power plants as solutions to our need to cut emissions. Also, Canada claims to be reducing emissions while pushing hard to complete the Trans Mountain tar-sands oil pipeline, even as giant Chubb becomes the sixteenth insurer to drop coverage. And while a Congressional committee calls for oil majors to testify next month about their organized and sustained influence and disinformation campaigns, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin threatens to hold up meaningful climate legislation because, “What is the urgency?”.

“Well, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense.” – L.C.

How about this for urgency… renowned climate scientist James Hansen predicts that, due to a reduction in aerosol pollution, the rate of global warming over the next 25 years could be double what we experienced in the previous 50. Again, Lewis Carroll on what that means for our climate mitigation efforts: “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

Meanwhile, back in the real world, efforts are underway to build out lithium battery recycling centers and diversify the green economy workforce. Australian startup SunDrive posted a power output efficiency record with its new solar PV module – using relatively abundant copper in its design instead of silver – a significant clean energy development. And energy storage company EnerVenue has found a way to bring long-duration nickel-hydrogen batteries down in price and down from space, where they have been successfully deployed for years – including on the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope.

At least as important as all that nice technology is actually leaning into the monumental task of improving the energy efficiency of our built environment. While Connecticut falls behind on this effort, the town of Brookline, Massachusetts doggedly pursues a ban on gas hookups for new construction – a key motivator for progress in this area.

We’re using our Clean Transportation section to spotlight where all the lithium for electric vehicles is likely to come from, and also launch a discussion about the biofuel “solution” to aviation emissions – too good to be true?

In the spirit of reality checks, we found some reasonable skepticism about Iceland’s big new carbon capture and sequestration project. The issue is whether it can ever be scaled up to a level that matches the need.

While much of this week’s fossil fuel industry news was just silly, we found some serious reporting on coal. The first article describes the utter environmental devastation caused by a partnership between Wall Street money and mountaintop-removal mining operations in Appalachia. The second notes that plans for most new coal plants have been cancelled in the six years since the Paris Climate Agreement.

We’ll close with a report on efforts in Massachusetts to remove renewable energy subsidies from woody biomass. And for anyone who still maintains that biomass is carbon neutral as it’s being harvested, processed, and burned, we’ll let Lewis Carroll have the last word: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

CenterPoint
Fight over ‘peaker’ plants poses grid climate test
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
August 24, 2021

A proposed natural gas power plant and pipeline project in southwestern Indiana are drawing fire out of concerns that they will add more pollution to a region saddled with fossil fuel infrastructure.

The controversy surrounding CenterPoint Energy Inc.’s plans for the site of an aging coal plant near Evansville, Ind., highlights a broader debate over natural gas “peaker” plants — backup power producers that rarely run but can be ramped up quickly when electricity demand is high.

Some electric utilities are proposing new peaker units as coal plants retire and the power grid becomes more dependent on intermittent solar and wind farms, but the gas projects face opposition from local environmental groups who say their communities are already overburdened by emissions-spewing facilities.

In addition to the fight brewing near Evansville, utilities in Peabody, Mass., and Queens, N.Y., have similarly proposed new “peaking” gas units at the sites of existing or retiring fossil fuel generators. In all three cases, activists contend that the closure of fossil fuel plants should be used as opportunities to remedy historic environmental injustices.

“The majority of peaker plants across the country are sited in low-income areas and communities of color, many of which are already overburdened by decades of pollution from fossil-fuel infrastructure, industrial processes, and heavy transportation,” Seth Mullendore, vice president of the nonprofit advocacy organization Clean Energy Group, said in an email.

Because new peaker plants are often used less than 10% of the time and release less carbon dioxide than coal plants, environmentalists don’t always challenge them. In Minnesota, for example, several clean energy groups were “encouraged” by Xcel Energy Inc.’s plan to build new solar and wind projects as well as a transmission line, even though it also included two small gas units (Energywire, June 28). The groups added that they are still reviewing the plan and the need for the gas units.

Peaker plants built today are also much more energy efficient and lower-cost than older versions, said Alex Bond, deputy general counsel for climate and clean energy at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities.

Nonetheless, clean energy groups are calling on utilities to pursue more advanced solutions to the grid reliability issues posed by renewables, such as battery storage, demand-response programs and power lines to connect to far-flung solar or wind farms. And some environmentalists in communities with a legacy of fossil fuels perceive new gas plants as half measures toward clean air.
» Read article                 

» More about peaker plants

PIPELINES

TMX pipe
Liberals say Trans Mountain pipeline could stay open until 2060
By Brian Hill, Global News
September 14, 2021

The Trans Mountain Pipeline could remain operational for another “30 to 40 years,” according to Liberal candidate Jonathan Wilkinson.

Wilkinson, who is also the current environment minister, made the remarks during an interview with Global News on Sept. 13 about the future of fossil fuels and pipelines in Canada.

“What you’re going to start to see is declining demand for oil over the coming 30 years — 40 years perhaps in the context of some of the developing countries,” Wilkinson said.

“And so, in that context, I would say that the utilization of the Trans Mountain Pipeline is probably in that order of 30 to 40 years.”

Wilkinson said building and operating the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, which will increase the existing pipeline’s current capacity from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000 barrels, will ensure Canadian energy producers receive “full value” for the oil they extract by opening up foreign markets other than the United States.

Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada and an instructor of environmental studies at the University of Toronto, said expanding any pipeline at a time of decreasing demand for fossil fuels is illogical.

“When you’re supposedly moving to a zero carbon economy, that doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Stewart said.

“There’s this notion that we can basically get off fossil fuels, and yet somehow continue to export them.”

A report recently published in the journal Nature said 84 per cent of Canada’s 49 billion barrels of proven oil sand reserves, and nearly two-thirds of global oil supplies, must remain “unextracted” to avoid temperatures rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That target was set at the 2015 Paris climate change summit.

“Canada’s resources are really expensive to extract, in addition to having a super high carbon intensity,” said Caroline Brouilette, domestic policy manager at Climate Action Network Canada. “In a global market, where demand has to decrease, those resources that are the most expensive and most polluting will have to be the first one to stay in the ground.”
» Read article                  
» Read the Journal Nature report

» More about pipelines                    

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

gas station damage
House Panel Expands Inquiry Into Climate Disinformation by Oil Giants
Executives from Exxon, Shell, BP and others are being called to testify in Congress next month after a secret recording this year exposed an Exxon official boasting of such efforts.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
September 16, 2021

The House Oversight Committee has widened its inquiry into the oil and gas industry’s role in spreading disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming, calling on top executives from Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, as well as the lobby groups American Petroleum Institute and the United States Chamber of Commerce, to testify before Congress next month.

The move comes as Washington is wrestling with major climate legislation intended to slash the nation’s reliance on oil and gas, and in a year of climate disasters that have affected millions of Americans. Raging wildfires in the West burned more than two million acres, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States left a path of destruction from Louisiana to New York City, and heat waves smashed records and delivered life-threatening conditions to regions unaccustomed to extreme heat.

Thursday’s demands from the powerful Oversight Committee put senior executives from some of the world’s largest oil companies at the center of an investigation into the role their industry has played in undermining the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is a root cause of global warming.

“We are deeply concerned that the fossil fuel industry has reaped massive profits for decades while contributing to climate change that is devastating American communities, costing taxpayers billions of dollars, and ravaging the natural world,” read the letter to Darren Woods, the Exxon chief executive.

“We are also concerned that to protect those profits, the industry has reportedly led a coordinated effort to spread disinformation to mislead the public and prevent crucial action to address climate change,” the letter said.
» Read article                   

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

TMP - Chubb out
BREAKING: Trans Mountain Loses 16th Insurer as Industry Giant Chubb Walks Away
By The Energy Mix
September 14, 2021

The world’s biggest publicly-traded provider of property and casualty insurance, Chubb, has become the 16th insurer to declare that it won’t back the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline, a coalition of climate and Indigenous campaigners announced yesterday.

The flurry of social media activity was triggered by a single tweet from Financial Times insurance correspondent Ian Smith, with no elaborating news story as The Energy Mix went to virtual press Tuesday evening. “Chubb does not provide insurance coverage for any tar sands projects,” a spokesperson told Smith, following a protest at the U.S. Open tennis tournament earlier this month.

Chubb became the official insurance sponsor for the annual tournament last year.

At the U.S. Open last week, campaigners “erected a 15-foot inflatable of Chubb CEO Evan Greenberg to demand he act on climate change,” Insure Our Future wrote in a release. “U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) wrote to Greenberg in March asking how Chubb’s underwriting policies align with its sustainability commitments.”

That was apparently enough pressure for Chubb, which became the first U.S. insurer to withdraw investment and risk coverage from coal projects in 2019. That action made the company a leader at the time, Insure Our Future said, “but the company has not made any additional climate commitments since then. In recent months, it has been under increasing pressure for its involvement with the tar sands industry.”
» Read article                   

shift
Harvard to Divest Fossil Fuels, Sets Example for Other Institutions
By The Energy Mix
September 12, 2021

Climate activists are hailing Harvard University’s move to divest from fossil fuels as a profound shift in the status quo and a model for other institutions.

The iconic and wealthy university’s decision to go fossil-free comes after years of resisting calls to divest, writes The Washington Post, citing Harvard President Larry S. Bacow’s invocation of the climate crisis as the reason for the about-face.

“We must act now as citizens, as scholars, and as an institution to address this crisis on as many fronts as we have at our disposal,” Bacow said in an open letter explaining the shift.

The university’s a call to action “is likely to have ripple effects in higher education and beyond, given Harvard’s US$41-billion endowment and its iconic status among American institutions,” notes the Post. Along with ending all direct investment in fossil exploration or development, Harvard “also plans to allow its remaining indirect investments in the fossil fuel industry—through private equity funds—to lapse without renewal.”

That figure currently stands at about 2% of the endowment, the Post says.

“Harvard is really a very potent symbol of the status quo,” said Richard Brooks, climate finance director at San Francisco-based Stand.earth. “With this move, they have shifted the status quo. That’s where the power of this announcement and this change really lies.”
» Read article                  
» Read Harvard President Larry S. Bacow’s letter

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

urgency is obvious
In the Democrats’ Budget Package, a Billion Tons of Carbon Cuts at Stake
The package is imperiled by opposition from Joe Manchin, a coal state Democrat, who is balking at the costs, and advocates fear the chance won’t come again.
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
September 17, 2021

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was explaining why he opposed his Democratic colleagues’ $3.5 trillion budget plan, but his words summed up the Congressional response on climate change for the past 30 years.

“What is the urgency?” asked Manchin in an appearance on CNN on Sunday.

With climate action advocates now in a race against both the forces of nature and the political calendar, some might say the answer is obvious.

The legislation that Manchin wants to stall contains the policies that most Democratic senators see as the best hope left to make the deep cuts in greenhouse gases necessary to curb devastating planetary warming.

With a key round of international climate talks scheduled for November in Glasgow—the first since the United States rejoined the Paris accord—Congressional action now would demonstrate the nation’s commitment to President Joe Biden’s ambitious pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2030.

And with the Democrats’ slim majority in both the House and Senate in jeopardy in next year’s midterm elections, the budget package may mark the last opportunity to act.

“We have a responsibility now—while we don’t have fossil fuel-funded Republican control in the House or the Senate, and while we have President Biden in the White House—to get this done,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) at a rally outside the Capitol on Monday. “If we miss this moment, it is not clear when we will have a second chance.”
» Read article                   

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

elemental
Li-ion battery recycling specialist Li-Cycle plans Alabama facility after demand exceeds expectations
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
September 13, 2021

Lithium battery recycling company Li-Cycle is planning its fourth facility in North America, the company said, as it made its first financial results release since listing on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in August.

The new plant will be built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which Li-Cycle co-founder and executive chairman Tim Johnston said is in response to demand for lithium-ion battery recycling exceeding the company’s expectations. Li-Cycle builds ‘Hub and Spoke’ facilities: lithium batteries are dismantled and turned into ‘black mass’ which contains all their different metals at Spokes and then the black mass is processed at Hubs.

The company has two Spokes already in operation in Kingston, Ontario, and Rochester in Upstate New York and then announced a further Spoke in Arizona in April to meet both supply and demand from the West Coast. Meanwhile it is still developing its first Hub, which will also be in Rochester and is expected to be its major revenue-generator.

Li-Cycle is betting, as are many in the battery industry, that recycling will become a big opportunity further down the line and has sought to enter the space early. At the moment the majority of its feedstock comes from the 5% to 10% of assembly line batteries that manufacturers reject, but it is anticipating a “tsunami” of end-of-life batteries to begin in the next couple of years.
» Read article                   

help wanted
E2: ‘The face of clean energy is predominantly White and male’
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
September 14, 2021

People of color and women are “vastly underrepresented” in clean energy jobs compared to the U.S. workforce at large, and many underrepresented groups lost ground between 2017 and 2020, according to a report released last week by BW Research Partnership, E2, and a coalition of clean energy industry groups.

Underrepresented racial and ethnic groups hold just four in ten clean energy jobs, according to the report. Black workers were the most poorly represented in the sector, composing 8% of clean energy jobs compared to 13% of the U.S. workforce as a whole.

With people of color and women now representing the majority of young students in the U.S., clean energy companies could face labor shortages in the future if they fail to recruit more diverse workers, according to Paula Glover, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. “If you’ve done nothing and know nobody, then your roadway is a lot longer than someone who has been at it a long time,” she said.
» Read article                  
» Read the E2 report

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

the devil collects
The Rate of Global Warming During Next 25 Years Could Be Double What it Was in the Previous 50, a Renowned Climate Scientist Warns
Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen urged Congress decades ago to act on climate change. Now he says he expects reduced aerosol pollution to lead to a steep temperature rise.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
September 15, 2021

James Hansen, a climate scientist who shook Washington when he told Congress 33 years ago that human emissions of greenhouse gases were cooking the planet, is now warning that he expects the rate of global warming to double in the next 20 years.

While still warning that it is carbon dioxide and methane that are driving global warming, Hansen said that, in this case, warming is being accelerated by the decline of other industrial pollutants that they’ve cleaned from it.

Plunging sulfate aerosol emissions from industrial sources, particularly shipping, could lead global temperatures to surge well beyond the levels prescribed by the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as 2040 “unless appropriate countermeasures are taken,” Hansen wrote, together with Makiko Sato, in a monthly temperature analysis published in August by the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Declining sulfate aerosols makes some clouds less reflective, enabling more solar radiation to reach and warm land and ocean surfaces.

Since his Congressional testimony rattled Washington, D.C. a generation ago, Hansen’s climate warnings have grown more urgent, but they are still mostly unheeded. In 2006, when he was head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, George W. Bush’s administration tried to stop him from speaking out about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The removal of air pollution, either through air quality measures or because combustion processes are phased out to get rid of CO2, will result in an increase in the resulting rate of warming,” said climate scientist and IPCC report author Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute.

There’s a fix for at least some of this short-term increase in the rate of warming, he said.

“The only measures that can counteract this increased rate of warming over the next decades are methane reductions,” Rogelj said. “I just want to highlight that methane reductions have always been part of the portfolio of greenhouse gas emissions reductions that are necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This new evidence only further emphasizes this need.”
» Read article               

methane plume
U.S., EU pursuing global deal to slash planet-warming methane – documents
By Kate Abnett and Valerie Volcovici, Reuters
September 14, 2021

BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON, Sept 13 (Reuters) – The United States and the European Union have agreed to aim to cut emissions of the planet-warming gas methane by around a third by the end of this decade and are pushing other major economies to join them, according to documents seen by Reuters.

Their pact comes as Washington and Brussels seek to galvanize other major economies ahead of a world summit to address climate change in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, and could have a significant impact on the energy, agriculture and waste industries responsible for the bulk of methane emissions.

The greenhouse gas methane, the biggest cause of climate change after carbon dioxide (CO2), is facing more scrutiny as governments seek solutions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, a goal of the Paris climate agreement.

In an attempt to jumpstart the action, the United States and the EU later this week will make a joint pledge to reduce human-caused methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, compared with 2020 levels, according to a draft of the Global Methane Pledge seen by Reuters.

“The short atmospheric lifetime of methane means that taking action now can rapidly reduce the rate of global warming,” the draft said.
» Read article                   

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

new breed
Australia’s breakthrough solar tech has eye on rooftop and mega-project markets
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
September 15, 2021

The Australian start up that has achieved a major new benchmark for solar cell efficiency says it hopes to target the rooftop solar market first and then expand into some of the mega, multi-gigawatt scale projects proposed in the north and west of Australia.

SunDrive, a solar start-up founded six years ago in a Sydney garage by two UNSW graduates, last week claimed a world record of 25.54 per cent for commercial size silicon solar cell efficiency, from testing carried out by Germany’s Institute for Solar Energy Research at Hamelin.

The significance of this, however, was not so much the record in itself – impressive as it was – it was the fact that it was achieved using a new breed of solar cells that rely on more abundant and cheaper copper rather than the silver traditionally used in solar cells.

The switch from silver to more abundant and lower cost copper is the principal aim of SunDrive, and the goal when graduates and flatmates Vince Allen and David Hu set up operations in a Sydney suburban garage in 2015, with the backing of solar industry luminary Zhengrong Shi, the founder of Suntech.
» Read article                 

ITER magnet
Magnet milestones move distant nuclear fusion dream closer
Teams working on two continents have marked similar milestones in their respective efforts to master nuclear fusion
By FRANK JORDANS, SETH BORENSTEIN and DANIEL COLE, Associated Press, in The Berkshire Eagle
September 9, 2021

SAINT-PAUL-LES-DURANCE, France (AP) — Teams working on two continents have marked similar milestones in their respective efforts to tap an energy source key to the fight against climate change: They’ve each produced very impressive magnets.

On Thursday, scientists at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in southern France took delivery of the first part of a massive magnet so strong its American manufacturer claims it can lift an aircraft carrier.

Almost 60 feet (nearly 20 meters) tall and 14 feet (more than four meters) in diameter when fully assembled, the magnet is a crucial component in the attempt by 35 nations to master nuclear fusion.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists and a private company announced separately this week that they, too, have hit a milestone with the successful test of the world’s strongest high temperature superconducting magnet that may allow the team to leapfrog ITER in the race to build a ‘sun on earth.’
» Read article                   

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Hartcord CT
Connecticut losing ground on building emissions despite efficiency programs

Climate activists say the state’s progress on reducing building emissions has been far too slow given the pace of the climate crisis, and that it needs to end incentives for energy-efficient natural gas heating.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
September 15, 2021

Greenhouse gas emissions from heating and cooling buildings continue to rise in Connecticut despite the state’s efforts to improve energy efficiency.

An annual greenhouse gas inventory released last week for 2018 — the latest available data — showed vehicle exhaust remains the state’s largest problem, but the sharpest year-over-year increase came in the residential sector. Commercial building emissions were also higher.

The report attributes the increases to greater cold-weather heating demand, but climate activists underscore the state’s lack of progress on building emissions, which are roughly the same as they were a decade ago. They say the state lags on the adoption of electric heat pumps relative to the rest of New England, continues to expand its natural gas infrastructure, and doesn’t allow municipalities to adopt more stringent efficiency standards for new buildings.

Just one day after the emissions report was released, the state’s Energy Efficiency Board approved the next round of ratepayer-funded energy efficiency incentives, and despite pleas not to do so, included subsidies to entice homeowners to switch from oil heating to high-efficiency natural gas furnaces. Activists met the news with incredulity.

“Continuing to subsidize polluting fossil fuels defies logic,” said Shannon Laun, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, in a statement. “If Connecticut continues subsidizing gas heating, the state will not meet its climate goals and our communities will suffer.”

“I’m not seeing very much in the way of a change in the standard way of doing business in Connecticut, which is just continuing to do things they way they’ve been done for the last several decades,” said Bruce Becker, a Westport-based developer who specializes in highly efficient building projects and is converting a former office building in New Haven into what could be the country’s first net-zero-energy hotel. “Public utilities are still sending out mailers to get people to convert to natural gas, which is not helping.”
» Read article                   

gas-lit flame
Brookline Tries Again For A Fossil-Free Future
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
June 3, 2021

On June 2 Brookline voted, again, to become the first municipality in Massachusetts with an ordinance designed to keep fossil-fuel hookups out of new buildings. This was the town’s second attempt to get builders to go all-electric in future construction.

Brookline’s first attempt, which was overwhelmingly approved in Town Meeting in 2019, was declared unlawful by Attorney General Maura Healey because it superseded state authority. Healey said she supported Brookline’s clean-energy goals, however.

This time, instead of banning fossil-fuel installations in future construction, Town Meeting members proposed two carefully-worded warrant articles. Instead of a ban, the proposals require that people applying for special construction permits agree to go fossil-free in exchange for permit approval. Both proposals passed by margins of more than 200 to 3.

Brookline Town Meeting member Lisa Cunningham, one of the leaders of the effort, says municipalities must take action because the state, which is legally obligated to reduce climate emissions to net zero by 2050, has no mechanism for limiting fossil fuel use. Buildings account for 27% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Brookline’s new ordinances “won’t get us where we have to go,” Cunningham said, “but it is a first step and we really need to stop making this problem worse; we need to make it better.”

The Attorney General’s Municipal Law Unit will review Brookline’s new ordinances before they go into effect. The office has 90 days for review, which can be extended to six months.
» Read article                   

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

EnerVenue
EnerVenue to use latest funding to build gigawatt-scale nickel-hydrogen battery factory in USA
By Kelly Pickerel, Solar Power World
September 15, 2021

Metal-hydrogen battery company EnerVenue announced today it has raised $100 million in Series A funding that it will use to build a gigawatt-scale factory in the United States, accelerate R&D efforts and expand its salesforce.

EnerVenue’s batteries use nickel-hydrogen technology that has been tested for decades on the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope. The company formed in 2020 to bring the NASA-originated technology to grid-scale and other stationary power applications.

“With the durability, flexibility, reliability, and safety of its batteries, EnerVenue is delivering a unique and future-proof solution for grid-scale energy storage,” said Jorg Heinemann, CEO, EnerVenue. “We have proven the advantages that our next-generation nickel-hydrogen battery delivers and are excited to accelerate our journey forward with Series A backing and our agreement with Schlumberger.”

EnerVenue nickel-hydrogen batteries can work in -40° to 60°C (140°F) temperatures with projected 30,000-cycle lifespans. With no lithium, the batteries have no thermal runaway risk. Also with no toxic materials and easily separable parts, the batteries are expected to be 100% recyclable.
» Read article                   

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

white gold ev boom
In Argentina’s north, a ‘white gold’ rush for EV metal lithium gathers pace
By Agustin Geist, Reuters
September 14, 2021

Beneath the South American country’s highland salt flats, reached by winding mountain roads, is buried the world’s third largest reserve of the ultra-light battery metal, which has seen a price spike over the past year on the back of a global push towards greener modes of transport.

Already the fourth top producer of lithium worldwide, Argentina’s national and local governments are now looking to speed up development, held back for years by red tape, high tax rates, rampant inflation and currency controls.

Provinces like Salta are building regional mining logistics nodes and access roads, lowering tax rates and rationalizing confusing rules for the sector to attract investment in the ‘white gold’ metal.

That has seen a flurry of new activity, deals and plans to ramp up production, which could make Argentina a key player in the electric vehicle supply chain in coming years, with demand from carmakers and buyers like China expected to gain pace.

“Argentina could become the world’s leading producer from brines in less than a decade if the flow of projects is followed and maintained,” David Guerrero Alvarado, a consultant advising Canada’s Alpha Lithium, told Reuters in Salta.

Alpha Lithium is in the investigation stage for a project in the nearby Salar Tolillar, one of many early-stage developments that – while offering promise – need an often long and costly process to be turned into a reality.

With countries around the world scrambling to reduce emissions, rising global lithium demand and surging prices have drawn increased interest in the so-called ‘lithium triangle’ that spans parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.
» Read article                   

environmental toll
Biden Outlines a Plan for Cleaner Jet Fuel. But How Clean Would It Be?
Some biofuels may contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in ways that can significantly reduce, and sometimes offset, their advantages over fossil fuels, studies have shown.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
September 13, 2021

At first glance, it’s a big step forward in curbing climate change. In a deal announced Thursday, the Biden administration and the airline industry agreed to an ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050, a target meant to drive down flying’s environmental toll.

As early as 2030, President Biden said, the United States will aim to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about 10 percent of current jet fuel use — from waste, plants and other organic matter, reducing aviation’s emissions of planet-warming gases by 20 percent and creating jobs.

The airline industry has set sustainable fuel targets before. The International Air Transport Association, a trade group of the world’s airlines, had pledged to replace 10 percent of the jet fuel it uses with sustainable fuels by 2017. That year has come and gone, and sustainable fuels are still stuck at far less than 1 percent of supply.

Could it be different this time?

It could. Momentum is building for action even in industries like aviation, which are particularly reliant on burning fossil fuels, because powering planes solely with batteries, especially for long-haul flights, is tricky.

But there’s a twist: Depending on the type of alternative fuel, using billions of gallons of it could hurt, not help, the climate.

Scientists’ concerns center on the complicated calculations that go into assessing the true climate-friendliness of biofuels, a major subset of sustainable fuels. Growing crops like corn and soy to be made into biofuels can significantly change how land is used, and trigger emissions increases — for example, if forests are cut down or grassland is dug up to make way for those crops.

Add in the emissions from fertilizers, and from transporting and processing the crops into fuel, and the overall climate costs become unclear. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that corn ethanol emits just 20 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline, and that calculation doesn’t fully take into account past land-use changes, scientists say. Scientific studies have long shown that biofuels can be as polluting as fossil fuels.
» Read article                   

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

carbfix
Critics question viability of world’s largest carbon sucking plant
By Andy Rowel, Oil Change International l Blog Post
September 13, 2021

The latest techno-fix to try and reduce carbon dioxide emissions has begun operations in a remote, bleak landscape of Iceland.

Called Orca, or Icelandic for energy, it is the first such facility to suck carbon dioxide out the air and then permanently dispose of it underground as it dissolves into rock.

Climeworks’ co-chief executive Jan Wurzbacher told the Financial Times, “this is the first time we are extracting CO2 from the air commercially and combining it with underground storage.”

Most CCS projects to date try and capture carbon dioxide in a smoke stack after carbon has been burnt, where concentrations of CO2 can be as high as ten percent. However, the Orca plant extracts carbon dioxide directly out of the air, which is less than 0.05 per cent.

So although this plant is different from other CCS projects, such as Gorgon in Australia, it is easy to question whether this is another so-called solution that offers false hope at a time-scale that is unrealistic.

Firstly, it is way more expensive than other CCS projects. As Bloomberg notes: “Individuals wanting to purchase carbon offsets can pay the company up to $1,200 per ton of CO2.”

And then there is CCS’s perennial problem of scale. The new Orca facility, which is built by Swiss startup Climeworks and Iceland’s Carbfix, will capture 4,000 tons of CO2 a year, which according to Bloomberg Green, makes “it the largest direct-air capture facility in the world.”

As with much CCS technology, there is immediately a problem. 4,000 tons of CO2 is the equivalent of the annual emissions of 250 US residents or some 870 cars. As other CCS projects, it is not living up to the hype or the hope. Also to put it in perspective, 33 billions tons of CO2 will be emitted this year.
» Read article                   

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

mountaintop-removal coal mining
When Wall Street came to coal country: how a big-money gamble scarred Appalachia
Around the turn of the millennium, hedge fund investors put an audacious bet on coal mining in the US. The bet failed – but it was the workers and the environment that paid the price.
By Evan Osnos, The Guardian
September 14, 2021

Around the turn of this century, hedge funds in New York and its environs took a growing interest in coalmines. Coal never had huge appeal to Wall Street investors – mines were dirty, old-fashioned and bound up by union contracts that made them difficult to buy and sell. But in the late 1990s, the growing economies of Asia began to consume more and more energy, which investors predicted would drive up demand halfway around the world, in Appalachia. In 1997, the Hobet mine, a 25-year-old operation in rural West Virginia, was acquired for the first time by a public company, Arch Coal. It embarked on a major expansion, dynamiting mountaintops and dumping the debris into rivers and streams. As the Hobet mine grew, it consumed the ridges and communities around it. Seen from the air, the mine came to resemble a giant grey amoeba – 22 miles from end to end – eating its way across the mountains.

This was more than just the usual tradeoff between profit and pollution, another turn in the cycle of industry and cleanup. Mountaintop removal was, fundamentally, a more destructive realm of technology. It had barely existed until the 90s, and it took some time before scientists could measure the effects on the land and the people. For ecologists, the southern Appalachians was a singular domain – one of the most productive, diverse temperate hardwood forests on the planet. For aeons, the hills had contained more species of salamander than anywhere else, and a lush canopy that attracts neotropical migratory birds across thousands of miles to hatch their next generation. But a mountaintop mine altered the land from top to bottom: after blasting off the peaks – which miners call the “overburden” – bulldozers pushed the debris down the hillsides, where it blanketed the streams and rivers. Rainwater filtered down through a strange human-made stew of metal, pyrite, sulphur, silica, salts and coal, exposed to the air for the first time. The rain mingled with the chemicals and percolated down the hills, funnelling into the brooks and streams and, finally, into the rivers on the valley floor, which sustained the people of southern West Virginia.
» Read article                   

Nantong coal plant
Most plans for new coal plants scrapped since Paris agreement
Report by climate groups found more than three-quarters of projects were discarded after the deal was signed
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
September 14, 2021

The global pipeline of new coal power plants has collapsed since the 2015 Paris climate agreement, according to research that suggests the end of the polluting energy source is in sight.

The report found that more than three-quarters of the world’s planned plants have been scrapped since the climate deal was signed, meaning 44 countries no longer have any future coal power plans.

The climate groups behind the report – E3G, Global Energy Monitor and Ember – said those countries now have the opportunity to join the 40 countries that have already signed up to a “no new coal” commitment to help tackle global carbon emissions.

“Only five years ago, there were so many new coal power plants planned to be built, but most of these have now been either officially halted, or are paused and unlikely to ever be built,” said Dave Jones, from Ember.

“Multiple countries can add their voices to a snowball of public commitments to ‘no new coal’, collectively delivering a key milestone to sealing coal’s fate.”

The remaining coal power plants in the pipeline are spread across 31 countries, half of which have only one planned for the future.

Chris Littlecott, the associate director at E3G, said the economics of coal have become “increasingly uncompetitive in comparison to renewable energy, while the risk of stranded assets has increased”.
» Read article                   

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Pinetree power station
New bill would eliminate subsidies for biomass energy
By State House News Service
September 14, 2021

With regulations ready to take effect that effectively close about 90 percent of the state’s land area to new wood-burning power generation facilities, Springfield-area lawmakers on Monday pushed for legislation that would more permanently eliminate state clean energy program subsidies for biomass anywhere in the Bay State.

Sens. Eric Lesser and Adam Gomez, and Rep. Orlando Ramos, each of whom represent parts of the western Mass. city known as the asthma capital of the United States, were joined by Boston Rep. Jay Livingstone in calling for the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy to issue favorable reports on bills (H 3333/S 2197) that would remove state incentives for facilities that burn wood products to generate power.

“The purpose of these two bills, and they are identical, is to remove woody biomass as an eligible fuel source in Massachusetts’ renewable energy portfolio standard, RPS, and the alternative energy portfolio standard, the APS standard,” Lesser, an opponent of a controversial wood-burning power plant proposed in East Springfield, said. “I want to be clear … H 3333 and S 2197 do not outright ban biomass. What they do is they eliminate the subsidy for biomass, and I feel strongly that Massachusetts ratepayers should not be subsidizing what is an inherently dirty fuel.”
» Read article                   

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 9/10/21

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Welcome back.

With Labor Day behind us, data confirm that we just experienced the hottest Summer on record. Our event calendar – extending well into the Fall – includes deadly heat waves, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes. We were warned, beginning decades ago and repeatedly with increasing urgency. But we’re still locking in a hotter, more dangerous future.

With that in mind, we’re leading this week with profiles of individuals and groups whose hard work, sacrifice, protests, and actions have given us a shot at turning this around. These activists have also inspired others – and that is a foundation for hope.

The outcome is far from certain. Important climate legislation hangs in precarious partisan balance, while the shape of the future green economy is contested between established workers and a new generation with their own fresh ideas. Imagine being Jimmy Carter, who as president steered the country through a second major oil supply crisis in the ’70s and set the U.S. on an ambitious pivot toward renewable energy – only to see momentum lost to climate denial, Big Oil, Reagan, and the rest.

President Biden’s ambitious new program to generate 45% of the nation’s energy from solar by 2050 is a nod to Carter’s vision. Meanwhile, the question of where to locate all those solar panels is generating lots of debate and considerable innovation. The other half of that equation requires buildings to greatly increase energyefficiency. Long-duration energy storage ensures that energy is available whenever it’s needed, and to that end a Minnesota electricity cooperative is testing promising new iron-air battery technology. Then there’s aviation, which may be the hardest sector to clean up. We found a guide to six big problems to solve on the way to friendly skies.

As we glean energy from the sun and wind, store it away to use when necessary, and upgrade our buildings from energy guzzlers to sippers, it’s worth considering whether there’s room in that world for cryptocurrency. Another puzzler: will just-nominated Willie Phillips bring what’s needed to reform the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or are his industry ties too deep?

It’s time to pay attention to carbon capture and sequestration. We’ve delayed meaningful climate action for so long that scientists agree a certain amount of active CO2 removal from the atmosphere will be required to mitigate global heating effects. A direct air capture system operating in Iceland is one example of how this might work. We also have an excellent podcast and investigative report on how Big Oil and Gas is promoting their own version of this technology to justify continuing business as usual, which stacks up as a Very Bad Idea. CO2 pipelines? Yikes!

Meanwhile, another major study confirms that the majority of fossil fuel industry reserves must stay in the ground if we’re to meet the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement. So of course, the industry’s response is an all-out lobbying blitz aimed at preserving subsidies to keep them drilling, pumping, and burning on the taxpayer’s dime.

We thought we had pretty much covered all the ways biomass harms people, climate, and the environment – deforestation to acquire the fuel and high emissions when it’s burned. But a just-published article in The Guardian warns of health hazards in the middle phase. Workers at biomass plants are getting sick from exposure to wood pellet dust.

We’ll close with an overview of plastics in the environment – how they get there, and how they’re related to fossil fuels. And some good news, too! Common sense is fighting back against those insidious, useless, recycling triangles. California is on track to be the first state to ban them except on materials that actually get… recycled. Other states should be following soon.

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

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Lynn Nadeau
What Makes For An Activist?
By Judith Black, Clean Power Coalition
Photos by Jerry Halberstadt
September 9, 2021

Some people are so self involved that they don’t notice the world around them, except in the ways it touches them.

Some people see a problem, shrug their shoulders and say ‘That is too big! I can’t do anything about it.”

Lynn Nadeau looks at a problem, rubs her hands together, rolls up her sleeves, and says “Let’s get to it, now!”

When one of her best friends died at a relatively young age from breast cancer, she did not simply attend the funeral, make a donation to the American Cancer Society and go back to teaching math at an area high school. Along with Jane Bright, Lori Ehrlich (now state representative to the legislature for Marblehead, Swampscott, and Lynn), and a few others, she dug into what might have caused a healthy woman to contract a deadly cancer.  Data showed a high rate of cancer in the area of  a coal burning power plant across a small harbor, just upwind of them in Salem MA.

That is when this teacher, mother, and Democrat declared her intention to “clean that plant.” She held meetings in her living room, and HealthLink was born as a nonprofit entity with a mission to “protect public health by reducing and eliminating environmental toxins through education, research and community action.”  Confronting the plant owners, the town, and state protection agencies, she set out to stop the toxic emissions from that plant.  They marched, went to Washington, protested, informed, and eventually 15 years after their campaign began, the Salem Power Plant was closed and sold, the coal burning stopped.  Lead, fly ash, mercury and more from their uncovered waste piles no longer flew across the harbor into local air, water, land, porches, cars and boats which had been covered with soot.

This would be her first venture into environmental activism, but hardly her last.  Lynn quoted Archimedes “Give me a place to stand and a lever, and I will move the world.”
» Read article                

walk for water
Indigenous Resistance Instrumental in Stopping High-Profile Fossil Fuel Projects, Says Report
Indigenous peoples in North America have helped block tar sands mines, oil pipelines, and LNG export terminals. Their successes against the fossil fuel industry have kept enormous volumes of carbon pollution out of the atmosphere.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
September 8, 2021

The efforts of Indigenous peoples in North America have helped block or delay a long list of major fossil fuel projects over the past decade, successfully leading to the avoidance of a massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report.

“The numbers don’t lie. Indigenous peoples have long led the fight to protect Mother Earth and the only way forward is to center Indigenous knowledge and keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Dallas Goldtooth, a Keep It In The Ground organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), said in a statement. The report was coauthored by IEN and Oil Change International, a research and advocacy organization focused on transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Indigenous resistance has been key in blocking at least eight major projects, including the Keystone XL pipeline, the C$20 billion Teck Frontier tar sands mine in Alberta, the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Oregon, and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to name a few. Taken together, those delayed and canceled projects would have been responsible for nearly 800 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, or about 12 percent of the total emissions of the U.S. and Canada in 2019.

Another half-dozen projects are currently contested, including the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia, and the Rio Grande LNG project in Texas, for example. These projects represent another 12 percent of total U.S. and Canadian emissions, which, if opponents have their way, would bring the total carbon pollution avoided due to Indigenous resistance to 1.6 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent. That’s roughly equal to the pollution from 400 new coal-fired power plants or 345 million passenger vehicles.

As the report notes, this is likely an underestimate because it only includes 17 of the largest and most iconic fossil fuel projects in recent years.
» Read article               
» Read the report: Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

drifting awayWill a Summer of Climate Crises Lead to Climate Action? It’s Not Looking Good
A $3.5 trillion budget bill is faltering in the Senate, and in America at large, well, as one expert put it: “It’s really hard to get people to change their way of life.”
By Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
September 3, 2021

This summer, the climate crisis has roared into basement apartments in Brooklyn, leaped across the dry tops of the Sierra Nevadas and kicked over the towers that held up the power and communication networks of Louisiana. It has shredded homes in New Jersey and poured into the underpasses of Philadelphia, turning a cross-town expressway into a murky, swirling river.

But as fall approaches, bringing the best opportunity in years for Congress to act on global warming, prospects are dimming for the package of investments that make up President Joe Biden’s plan to jump-start a clean energy transition.

In the Senate, where Biden will need every Democratic vote to pass a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that contains the bulk of his climate plan, party unity is fraying. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) placed an editorial in the Wall Street Journal calling for Democrats to “pause” the package, because of concerns over inflation and the national debt. Less noticed, but just as lethal to the package’s chances was a statement by a spokesman for Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in Politico on Aug. 23: She will not support a $3.5 trillion budget bill, he said.
» Read article                

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

union pipefitters
One Big Hurdle for a San Diego Gas Ban: Union Labor
Across the state, cities are seeking to ditch gas and require buildings be equipped to run solely on electricity. Union-represented gas workers worry the trend could mean more work for electricians and less work for the people digging trenches or laying and maintaining gas pipes.
By MacKenzie Elmer, Voice of San Diego
September 8, 2021

The city of San Diego is about to drop its latest plan to fight climate change, but local unions representing workers in the natural gas industry are worried it could cost them jobs.

Across the state, cities are seeking to ditch gas and require buildings be equipped to run solely on electricity for all energy needs including heating and cooking. And union-represented gas workers are paying attention.

In short, they worry the trend could mean more work for electricians and less work for the people digging trenches or laying and maintaining gas pipes.

“It’s not just a pipeline, it’s a lifeline,” said Joe Cruz, executive director of the California State Council of Laborers, which represents the workers who do heavy digging for pipe laying. “(Natural gas) creates many good-paying jobs. The ban on natural gas and decarbonization efforts in California will have a major impact on laborers across the state, including San Diego if that moves forward.”
» Read article                

no point
‘No point in anything else’: Gen Z members flock to climate careers
Colleges offer support as young people aim to devote their lives to battling the crisis
By Angela Lashbrook, The Guardian
September 6, 2021

California is facing a drought so devastating, some publications call it “biblical”. Colorado now has “fire years” instead of “fire seasons”. Miami, which sees more dramatic hurricanes each year, is contemplating building a huge seawall in one of the city’s most scenic tourist districts to protect it from storm surges.

“Once you learn how damaged the world’s ecosystems are, it’s not really something you can unsee,” says Rachel Larrivee, 23, a sustainability consultant based in Boston. “To me, there’s no point in pursuing a career – or life for that matter – in any other area.”

Larrivee is one of countless members of Gen Z, a generation that roughly encompasses young people under 25, who are responding to the planet’s rapidly changing climate by committing their lives to finding a solution. Survey after survey shows young people are not just incorporating new climate-conscious behaviors into their day-to-day lives – they’re in it for the long haul. College administrators say surging numbers of students are pursuing environmental-related degrees and careers that were once considered irresponsible, romantic flights of fancy compared to more “stable” paths like business, medicine, or law.

“I cannot imagine a career that isn’t connected to even just being a small part of a solution,” says Mimi Ausland, 25, the founder of Free the Ocean, a company that aims to leverage small actions to remove plastic from the ocean.
» Read article                

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Jimmy Carter RE plan
Joe Biden’s Solar Plan and the Prescience of Jimmy Carter
The best time to plant a solar panel was forty years ago—but Biden is trying hard to make up for lost time.
By Bill McKibben, The New Yorker
September 8, 2021

The Biden Administration’s announcement on Wednesday of a plan that could set the country on a course to generate forty-five per cent of its electricity from solar panels by mid-century might—might—someday be remembered as one of those moments that mattered. That’s because it sets a physical target whose progress will be relatively easy to measure—it’s the energy equivalent of announcing that “before this decade is out” we will achieve the goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” This plan is much more ambitious, though: the Apollo project focussed all the nation’s technological might on moving one person; this is more akin to landing all of us somewhere very new. But physical targets are easier to track and understand than, say, the squishy and amorphous chatter about “net zero” emissions and so forth. Observers will be able to track with ease our progress and see if future Administrations are keeping up the pace.

Jimmy Carter, midway through his Administration, and faced with the second OPEC oil shock, put forward a goal for producing twenty per cent of the country’s energy from renewable resources by the year 2000. In fact, as he unveiled solar panels on the White House roof, in 1979, he said these words:

In the year 2000, this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy. . . . A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.

Carter was prophetic, and sadly so. I first saw one of those solar panels, which the Reagan Administration removed from the White House roof, in a Chinese museum. Had Carter been reëlected, and had we pursued steadily his vision through the nineteen-eighties and nineties, we may have gone down the learning curve decades earlier.
» Read article                

global health emergency
Medical Journals Call Climate Change the ‘Greatest Threat to Global Public Health’
By Winston Choi-Schagrin, New York Times
September 7, 2021

A collection of leading health and medical journals called this week for swift action to combat climate change, calling on governments to cooperate and invest in the environmental crisis with the degree of funding and urgency they used to confront the coronavirus pandemic.

In an editorial published in more than 200 medical and health journals worldwide, the authors declared a 1.5-degree-Celsius rise in global temperatures the “greatest threat to global public health.” The world is on track to warm by around 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100, based on current policies.

“The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the preindustrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse,” the authors wrote. “Indeed, no temperature rise is ‘safe.’”

Although medical journals have copublished editorials in the past, this marked the first time that publication has been coordinated at this scale. In total more than 200 journals representing every continent and a wide range of medical and health disciplines from ophthalmology to veterinary medicine published the statement. The authors are editors of leading journals including The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine.
» Read article                
» Read the medical journal editorial – call for emergency action

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Lennon solar farm
From 4% to 45%: Energy Department Lays Out Ambitious Blueprint for Solar Power
The department’s analysis provides only a broad outline, and many of the details will be decided by congressional lawmakers.
By Ivan Penn, New York Times
September 8, 2021

The Biden administration on Wednesday released a blueprint showing how the nation could move toward producing almost half of its electricity from the sun by 2050 — a potentially big step toward fighting climate change but one that would require vast upgrades to the electric grid.

There is little historical precedent for expanding solar energy, which contributed less than 4 percent of the country’s electricity last year, as quickly as the Energy Department outlined in a new report. To achieve that growth, the country would have to double the amount of solar energy installed every year over the next four years and then double it again by 2030.

Such a large increase, laid out in the report, is in line with what most climate scientists say is needed to stave off the worst effects of global warming. It would require a vast transformation in technology, the energy industry and the way people live.
» Read article                
» Read the Dept. of Energy report

H2 horsetrading
As DOE ramps up Hydrogen Shot initiative, debate about means of production begins
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
September 7, 2021

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm kicked off a summit on the Hydrogen Shot — a challenge from the Department of Energy to industry and academics to find a means of cutting the cost of hydrogen to $1 per kilogram — with a call for participants to focus on clean, zero carbon solutions and to avoid “solutions that claim to be clean but are not.”

Breakout sessions during last week’s summit allowed participants to choose specialized discussions focused on ways hydrogen could be produced. One track covered the use of electrolysis to split water and create “green” hydrogen, while another considered innovations to conventional methods of extracting hydrogen from methane, and a third looked at early stage or even theoretical means.

While Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) described hydrogen as a true “all of the above fuel” and argued the U.S. needs to consider all possible options for hydrogen production, Chanell Fletcher,  deputy executive officer for the California Air Resources Board, expressed concern that casting too wide a net would “muddy the water and open the door for polluting pathways.”
» Read article                

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Sydney Engel
Opinion: Climate-friendly buildings are essential to city’s future
By Sydney Engel and Sarah Simon, Boston Business Journal
September 3, 2021

In Boston, buildings have a profound impact on the changing climate; just 3% of them account for 50% of all our greenhouse-gas emissions because they use so much oil and gas for heating and cooling. These fossil fuels emit not only substantial amounts of carbon dioxide but also other air pollutants known to make people sick. In Massachusetts, more people die from building-related air pollution than air pollution from electricity generation. We need climate-friendly, healthier buildings.

A solution for Boston is on the way. As shown in the 2018 Carbon Free Boston report, we can update our buildings and meet Boston’s 2050 carbon-neutral targets with efficiency improvements and existing heating and cooling technology.

This June, Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley took up a key element outlined in the city’s 2019 Climate Action Plan and introduced an update to the existing Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance, otherwise known as BERDO. This update would significantly decrease carbon emissions from large, existing buildings over the next 30 years while allowing building owners to decide how to meet the emissions standards.
» Read article                

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

Form Energy stock photo
Minnesota utility co-op sees big battery as piece of grid reliability puzzle

Great River Energy, a distribution and transmission cooperative, has partnered with a Massachusetts startup on a long-duration energy storage pilot project that it hopes will help buffer its grid from extreme cold and heat impacts.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
September 10, 2021

The utility cooperative partnering with Form Energy on its first “iron air” battery project sees the long-duration energy storage technology as a potential buffer for its grid during extreme cold snaps like 2019’s polar vortex.

Great River Energy, a Minnesota generation and transmission cooperative that serves 28 member utilities, had been in discussions with the Massachusetts startup company for several years before committing to the pilot project, according to Jon Brekke, its vice president and chief power supply officer.

“We’re interested in pursuing long-duration storage because it gives us reliability advantages over traditional lithium-ion batteries,” Brekke said. “We can look at a 10-day weather forecast, and if we see that the weather is going to get very cold seven or eight days out, we can make sure that the battery is charged up.”

Wind speeds tend to decrease during extremely cold temperatures. Meanwhile, turbine components can become brittle or stop working as temperatures plunge into the double-digits below zero. Those factors caused Upper Midwest wind generation to drop off two winters ago during a prolonged polar vortex. (Coal and gas plants also experienced outages.)

The stakes for wintertime grid reliability will increase as more homes and buildings transition to electric heat, but long-duration energy storage could also help utilities manage the grid during scorching hot weather that is also becoming more common in Minnesota due to climate change.
» Read article                

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

six problems
The six problems aviation must fix to hit net zero
With passenger numbers growing and time to slash emissions dwindling fast, the industry must tackle urgent stumbling blocks on fuel, frequent flyers and more
By Jocelyn Timperley, The Guardian
September 5, 2021

Aviation tanked in 2020. The number of people taking flights fell by three quarters compared with 2019 levels and as a result there was a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. But as countries open up and people begin to fly again, aviation is expected to see a slow climb back to previous levels. The industry anticipates a return to 2019 passenger numbers globally by 2023 and to be back on track with previous growth projections within a couple of decades.

All this is bad news for the planet. CO2 emissions from the industry are likely to triple by 2050. But if the world is to limit global heating to 1.5C, it needs to have hit net zero CO2 emissions by this time. Aviation is a complicated sector to decarbonise. It has some prickly ingredients: difficult technological solutions, hidden extra climate effects, an association with personal freedoms and a disproportionately wealthy and powerful customer base. Here are just a few of the big hurdles the sector will need to overcome if it is ever to be carbon neutral.
» Read article                

» More about clean transportation

RENEWABLE ENERGY SITING IMPACTS

floating PV arrayPonds, reservoirs could host floating solar in space-constrained Massachusetts
Developers intend to install the floating solar panels atop storage ponds, water treatments plants, and other human-made bodies of water — a first in a state mired in debate over how best to site projects.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
September 7, 2021

A new joint venture between Boston-based BlueWave Solar and European photovoltaics firm Ciel et Terre is poised to bring floating solar panels to the ponds and reservoirs of Massachusetts for the first time. Supporters say the plan has the potential to mitigate ongoing concerns about finding enough space for clean energy development.

“This is an opportunity to site solar a lot more responsibly going forward,” said Mike Marsch, principal and head of solar development at BlueWave. “We think it’s an incredibly elegant and responsible way to use land.”

BlueWave has a history of building community solar projects and so-called “dual-use” installations, in which solar panels sit over active agricultural fields. Ciel et Terre, based in France, is a pioneer in the floating solar sector. The company introduced Hydrelio, a modular floating photovoltaic system, in 2012. In 2017, it launched a U.S.-based development arm, Laketricity.

Together they intend to develop floating solar projects atop human-made bodies of water such as storage ponds, water treatment plants, quarries, and reservoirs in Massachusetts and, eventually, the entire Northeast. Laketricity will contribute technology and on-the-ground experience, while BlueWave will share its extensive knowledge of the Massachusetts clean energy market and the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program (SMART), which provides incentives to encourage solar development.
» Read article                

» More about renewable energy siting impacts

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC building
Biden taps DC regulator Phillips to fill FERC’s 5th seat; ‘a gift to corporate utilities,’ says critic
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
September 10, 2021

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced plans to nominate Willie Phillips Jr., currently chairman of the District of Columbia Public Service Commission (PSC), to fill the vacant seat at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The choice is being closely watched, with the five-seat commission now split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, and Biden’s choice received mixed reviews. Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, who chaired the commission during part of the Trump administration, stepped down at the end of August.

The commission will play a key role in implementing the Biden administration’s clean energy and environmental goals. The White House has called for the U.S. to decarbonize its power sector by 2035 and to end carbon emissions across the economy by 2050.

Some environmental advocates had been hoping the next FERC commissioner would be more focused on consumer interests. Phillips’ nomination is a “gift to corporate utilities and the fossil fuel industry,” Drew Hudson, senior national organizer for Friends of the Earth, said in a statement.

Hudson noted that during his PSC tenure, Phillips voted to approve rate hikes, gas infrastructure and the merger between Washington, D.C.’s utility, Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco). and Exelon.

“Although if confirmed, Mr. Phillips would bring much needed racial diversity to the all-white and 4/5 male commission, his record of ignoring public comment and opposition from environmental justice advocates is a glaring red flag and demonstrates why he isn’t fit for this role,” Hudson said.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, on the other hand, said it is confident that Phillips “will help us put the regulatory reforms in place we need, all while championing equity and creating billions of dollars in economic growth.”
» Read article                

» More about FERC

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Bitcoin energy demand
Bitcoin Uses More Electricity Than Many Countries. How Is That Possible?
By Jon Huang, Claire O’Neill and Hiroko Tabuchi
September 3, 2021

Cryptocurrencies have emerged as one of the most captivating, yet head-scratching, investments in the world. They soar in value. They crash. They’ll change the world, their fans claim, by displacing traditional currencies like the dollar, rupee or ruble. They’re named after dog memes.

And in the process of simply existing, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, one of the most popular, use astonishing amounts of electricity.

We’ll explain how that works in a minute. But first, consider this: The process of creating Bitcoin to spend or trade consumes around 91 terawatt-hours of electricity annually, more than is used by Finland, a nation of about 5.5 million.

In the early days of Bitcoin, when it was less popular and worth little, anyone with a computer could easily mine at home. Not so much anymore.

Today you need highly specialized machines, a lot of money, a big space and enough cooling power to keep the constantly running hardware from overheating. That’s why mining now happens in giant data centers owned by companies or groups of people.

What if Bitcoin could be mined using more sources of renewable energy, like wind, solar or hydropower?

It’s tricky to figure out exactly how much of Bitcoin mining is powered by renewables because of the very nature of Bitcoin: a decentralized currency whose miners are largely anonymous.

Globally, estimates of Bitcoin’s use of renewables range from about 40 percent to almost 75 percent. But in general, experts say, using renewable energy to power Bitcoin mining means it won’t be available to power a home, a factory or an electric car.
» Read article                

» More about cryptocurrency

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

CO2 collector
Biggest Carbon Capture Effort Begins in Iceland, But Involves a Fraction of the Gas in the Atmosphere
Even a planned facility 10 times larger would have almost no impact on the 33 billion tons of carbon to be emitted this year.
By Leslie Hook, Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
September 9, 2021

The start-up behind the world’s biggest direct carbon capture plant said it would build a much larger facility in the next few years that would permanently remove millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

As Zurich-based Climeworks opened its Orca “direct air capture” project in Iceland on Wednesday, co-chief executive Jan Wurzbacher told the Financial Times it had started design work on a facility 10 times larger that would be completed in the next few years.

Orca will collect about 4,000 tons of CO2 a year and store it underground—a tiny fraction of the 33 billion tons of the gas forecast by the International Energy Agency to be emitted worldwide this year, but a demonstration of the technology’s viability.

“This is the first time we are extracting CO2 from the air commercially and combining it with underground storage,” Wurzbacher said.

The Orca plant sells the most expensive carbon offset in the world, costing as much as almost $1,400 a ton of CO2 removed and counting Microsoft founder Bill Gates among its customers.

Wurzbacher said commercial demand had been so high that the plant was nearly sold out of credits for its entire 12-year lifespan, prompting the accelerated development of the much larger plant using the same technology.
» Read article                

CO2 pipeline episode
It’s like a Rube Goldberg Pollution Machine – The CO2 Pipeline Episode
By 8 O’Clock Buzz, WORT 89.9 FM
August 31, 2021

Join Sikowis for the Tuesday 8 O’clock Buzz on WORT 89.9 FM in Madison! She will be discussing the new greenwashed, carbon capture tactic to address the climate crisis–CO2 Pipelines. This tactic is not so much a solution to curbing the climate crisis but more of a ploy by the fossil fuel industry and governments to keep drilling, fracking, and extracting rather than truly reducing emission levels.
» Listen to podcast                

gassing Satartia
The Gassing Of Satartia
A CO2 pipeline in Mississippi ruptured last year, sickening dozens of people. What does it forecast for the massive proposed buildout of pipelines across the U.S.?
By Dan Zegart, Huff Post
August 26, 2021

It was just after 7 p.m. when residents of Satartia, Mississippi, started smelling rotten eggs. Then a greenish cloud rolled across Route 433 and settled into the valley surrounding the little town. Within minutes, people were inside the cloud, gasping for air, nauseated and dazed.

Some two dozen individuals were overcome within a few minutes, collapsing in their homes; at a fishing camp on the nearby Yazoo River; in their vehicles. Cars just shut off, since they need oxygen to burn fuel. Drivers scrambled out of their paralyzed vehicles, but were so disoriented that they just wandered around in the dark.

The first call to Yazoo County Emergency Management Agency came at 7:13 p.m. on February 22, 2020.

“CALLER ADVISED A FOUL SMELL AND GREEN FOG ACROSS THE HIGHWAY,” read the message that dispatchers sent to cell phones and radios of all county emergency personnel two minutes later.

First responders mobilized almost immediately, even though they still weren’t sure exactly what the emergency was. Maybe it was a leak from one of several nearby natural gas pipelines, or chlorine from the water tank.

The first thought, however, was not the carbon dioxide pipeline that runs through the hills above town, less than half a mile away. Denbury Inc, then known as Denbury Resources, operates a network of CO2 pipelines in the Gulf Coast area that inject the gas into oil fields to force out more petroleum. While ambient CO2 is odorless, colorless and heavier than air, the industrial CO2 in Denbury’s pipeline has been compressed into a liquid, which is pumped through pipelines under high pressure. A rupture in this kind of pipeline sends CO2 gushing out in a dense, powdery white cloud that sinks to the ground and is cold enough to make steel so brittle it can be smashed with a sledgehammer.
» Read article                

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Inglewood Oil FieldTo Meet Paris Accord Goal, Most of the World’s Fossil Fuel Reserves Must Stay in the Ground
A new study in Nature reports that oil, gas and coal production must begin falling immediately to have even a 50 percent chance of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
September 8, 2021

After a summer of weather extremes that highlighted the urgency of limiting global warming in starkly human terms, new research is clarifying what it will take to do so. In order to have just a 50 percent chance of meeting the most ambitious climate target, the study found, the production of all fossil fuels will need to start declining immediately, and a significant majority of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves will have to remain underground over the next few decades.

While the research, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, is only the latest to argue that meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement goals to limit warming requires a rapid pivot to clean energy, it lays out with clear and specific figures exactly how far from those targets the world remains.

“The inescapable evidence that hopefully we’ve shown and that successive reports have shown is that if you want to meet 1.5 degrees, then global production has to start declining,” said Daniel Welsby, a researcher at University College London, in the United Kingdom, and the study’s lead author. As part of the Paris Agreement, nations agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

The study found that nearly 60 percent of global oil and gas reserves and about 90 percent of coal reserves must be left unexploited by 2050, though a portion of those fuels could be produced in the second half of the century. Total oil and gas production must begin declining immediately, the research said, and continue falling at about 3 percent annually through 2050. Coal production must fall at an even steeper rate.

While the authors noted a few signs of change, including that coal production is already on the decline, the current course is far off what’s needed.
» Read article                
» Read the research paper

fossil lobby blitz
Oil Industry Launches Lobbying Blitz as Congress Targets Fossil Fuel Subsidies
A lobbying group representing large fracking companies is pressing Democrats to keep in place billions of dollars of subsidies that drillers receive.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
September 2, 2021

The oil industry has embarked on a lobbying blitz in an effort to derail any attempts by Congress to repeal fossil fuel subsidies as part of a much broader assault by corporate interests on the $3.5 trillion budget package that Democrats are currently drafting.

In particular, the oil industry is worried about the potential loss of one specific subsidy that they receive: the intangible drilling cost (IDC) deduction. This allows companies to deduct from their taxes the costs of drilling new wells.

The industry’s fear follows a letter sent to Democratic leadership on August 30, by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the Chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who chairs the subcommittee on Environment.

The letter, signed by 50 other Democrats from the House of Representatives, specifically calls for the removal of the IDC deduction as part of the budget reconciliation process underway. The tax giveaway is worth billions of dollars each year, and makes up a large portion of the $20.5 billion that Democrats are targeting.

“Fossil fuel subsidies have been embedded in our tax code for over a hundred years, enriching oil and gas companies and their lobbying firms at the expense of our planet. It comes as no surprise to see Big Oil currently working overtime to protect these benefits,” Congressman Ro Khanna’s office told DeSmog in a statement. “What’s different now is that we have a real chance to end the worst of these subsidies in the Build Back Better Act and I’m committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to do so.”
» Read article                
» Read the letter

» More about fossil fuels

BIOMASS

Drax in the dock
Drax faces prosecution over health risk of dust from biomass pellets
Allegations relate to employee safety at power plant and spark renewed criticism from environmentalists
By Jillian Ambrose, The Guardian
September 2, 2021

The owner of the Drax power plant in North Yorkshire faces a criminal prosecution hearing after allegations that dust from wood pellets used to generate electricity could pose a risk to its employees’ health.

The company has earned hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidies by upgrading its generating units to burn biomass pellets instead of coal, but the Health and Safety Executive is taking it to court over concerns that the wood dust may have threatened employee health.

Drax will appear at Leeds magistrates court on 30 November to face the allegations as well as a separate charge that it breached risk assessment obligations before allowing employees to work with potentially “hazardous substances” at the plant.

The charges, which first reported by Sky News, have reignited criticism of Drax’ biomass strategy from environmentalists, who say burning wood pellets risks wasting multimillion pound subsidies and fueling the climate crisis.
» Read article                

» More about biomass

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

spooky pooka
The Big Problem With Plastic
CR reveals where most of the plastic you throw away really ends up and explains what to do to limit its environmental harm
By Kevin Loria, Consumer Reports
September 08, 2021

Consider the amount of plastic you put into the trash or recycling on a typical day. There’s the lid to your coffee cup, and perhaps a bag from a newspaper. There’s the wrapper from a granola bar, a yogurt container, a salad clamshell, and the plentiful packaging from inside a box that arrived in the mail.

Many of these plastic items are useful and convenient, but they also come with a high environmental cost. In 2016, the U.S. generated more plastic trash than any other country—46.3 million tons of it, according to a 2020 study published in Science Advances. That’s 287 pounds per person in a single year. By the time these disposable products are in your hands, they’ve already taken a toll on the planet: Plastics are mostly made from fossil fuels, in an energy-intensive process that emits greenhouse gases and creates often hazardous chemicals.

And then there’s what happens when you throw them away.

If you’re like most people, you probably assume that when you toss plastic into the recycling bin it will be processed and turned into something new. The truth is that only a fraction of plastic is actually recycled. According to the most recent data estimates available from the Environmental Protection Agency, just 8.7 percent of the plastic that was discarded in the U.S. in 2018 was recycled.

The popular perception that plastic is easily and widely recycled has been shaped by decades of carefully calculated messaging designed and paid for by the petroleum and gas companies that make most of that plastic in the first place, and the beverage companies that depend on plastic to bottle their products.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment

PLASTICS RECYCLING

no trash
California Aims to Ban Recycling Symbols on Things That Aren’t Recyclable
The well-known three-arrows symbol doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is actually recyclable. A new bill would limit the products allowed to feature the mark.
By Hiroko Tabuchi and Winston Choi-Schagrin, New York Times
September 8, 2021

The triangular “chasing arrows” recycling symbol is everywhere: On disposable cups. On shower curtains. On children’s toys.

What a lot of shoppers might not know is that any product can display the sign, even if it isn’t recyclable. It’s false advertising, critics say, and as a result, countless tons of non-recyclable garbage are thrown in the recycling bin each year, choking the recycling system.

Late on Wednesday, California took steps toward becoming the first state to change that. A bill passed by the state’s assembly would ban companies from using the arrows symbol unless they can prove the material is in fact recycled in most California communities, and is used to make new products.

“It’s a basic truth-in-advertising concept,” said California State Senator Ben Allen, a Democrat and the bill’s lead sponsor. “We have a lot of people who are dutifully putting materials into the recycling bins that have the recycling symbols on them, thinking that they’re going to be recycled, but actually, they’re heading straight to the landfill,” he said.

The measure, which is expected to clear the State Senate later this week and be signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, is part of a nascent effort across the country to fix a recycling system that has long been broken.

Though materials like paper or metals are widely recycled, less than 10 percent of plastic consumed in the United States is recycled, according to the most recent estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency. Instead, most plastic is incinerated or dumped in landfills, with the exception of some types of resins, like the kind used for bottled water or soda.

For years, the United States also shipped much of its plastic waste overseas, choking local rivers and streams. A global convention now bans most trade in plastic waste, though U.S. waste exports have not completely ceased.

This summer, Maine and Oregon passed laws overhauling their states’ recycling systems by requiring corporations to pay for the cost of recycling their packaging. In Oregon, the law included plans to establish a task force that would evaluate “misleading or confusing claims” related to recycling. Legislation is pending in New York that would, among other things, ban products from displaying misleading claims.
» Read article                

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 4/16/21

Welcome back.

Two related sets of gears seem to be turning in opposite directions. The Weymouth compressor station’s most recent unplanned massive release of natural gas (3rd in 8 months!) has increased the possibility that its operating permit will be revoked on safety and environmental justice grounds. At the same time, Pieridae Energy is approaching an end-of-June final investment decision on the controversial Goldboro LNG export facility in Nova Scotia. The project appears to depend on fracked natural gas piped from Pennsylvania via the now-imperiled Weymouth compressor.

We’re taking another look at Berkshire Environmental Action Team’s campaign to shut down inefficient and polluting peaking power plants, and also include a story on a new Australian study that finds battery storage to be 30% cheaper than gas peakers – and better suited to the task.

More states are adopting industry-promoted legislation criminalizing nonviolent direct actions, especially those taken against pipelines. This sets up a situation where energy companies can take land, clear trees, dig trenches, and cause significant environmental damage even before completing the permitting process – but aggrieved land owners, indigenous Tribe members, and environmentalists can’t stand in their way without risking serious jail time. That’s wrong – and this week’s climate articles drive home the point that we have very little time left to shake off our dependence on fossil fuels.

We’re remembering John Topping, a Republican climate activist and former Environmental Protection Agency official who grew frustrated with the Reagan administration’s failure to take climate change seriously. An early advocate for climate action, he left the EPA to found the Climate Institute, which he directed until his death on March 9th, at age 77. He had a legitimate claim on being in the battle early with his organization’s simple URL: “climate.org”.

The promise of affordable, grid-scale, long-term battery storage is a little closer to reality now that two projects using flow batteries with zinc-air chemistry have advanced to the demonstration phase in New York and Colorado. Zinc is abundant, non-toxic, and non-flammable; air is pretty much everywhere. That last point is also driving development of carbon capture and sequestration systems based on direct air capture. This technology, still in its infancy, may eventually be useful in drawing down some of the excess atmospheric CO2 – but its success very much depends on how quickly we stop adding to the supply.

A look at clean transportation reveals both good and bad news this week. On the up side, battery prices are dropping quickly and that should drive total conversion to all-electric new car sales by 2035 based on purchase price advantage alone. But converting the heavy truck fleet is another story, because the charging infrastructure to support big rigs is considerably more expensive than auto and light truck EV chargers.

The fossil fuel industry is absorbing a federal court order reversing the Trump administration’s attempt to open the Arctic Ocean and much of the eastern seaboard to drilling. It’s also waiting to see if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new emphasis on climate and environmental justice means an end to new pipelines.

We close with a fascinating and insightful article from Grist, exploring how it happened that the Delaware River Basin’s recent fracking ban was implemented by the same group of officials who green-lighted a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Gibbstown, NJ. If built, that facility will depend on the extremely risky business of shipping LNG by rail from fracking fields in Pennsylvania, through vulnerable communities throughout the Delaware River Basin.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION


Will a Recent Emergency Methane Release Be the Third Strike for Weymouth’s New Natural Gas Compressor?

Nearby residents, environmentalists and energy executives are all asking whether this time, FERC actually pulls the facility’s permit in this closely watched environmental justice case.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
April 16, 2021

For the third time in less than a year, the operators of a new natural gas compressor shoe-horned into an environmental justice community near Boston have vented an emergency release of natural gas into surrounding neighborhoods.

The unplanned venting came as federal regulators, including a Trump appointee, had already moved to consider a possible re-assessment of the facility’s permit out of safety concerns related to the first two unplanned releases.

The sudden release of large volumes of natural gas poses a potential explosion hazard. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is also a potent greenhouse gas, 86 times more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide over the near-term. The venting of natural gas also contributes to ground level ozone, which causes more than 100,000 premature deaths globally each year, and releases volatile organic compounds like benzene and toluene, some of which have been found to be carcinogenic.

If the permit for the compressor—the linchpin of a pipeline network that ships hydraulically fractured gas from Pennsylvania to Canada—is revoked, it could have wide-ranging implications for the natural gas industry regionally and nationwide.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a little known yet powerful federal entity that oversees new natural gas infrastructure in the U.S., has only rarely rescinded a permit once it has been issued.

The key question everyone from community and environmental advocates in small town Massachusetts to fossil fuel executives in Calgary and Houston are now asking is whether this might be an instance when the  commission actually takes a permit away.
» Blog editor’s note: Bechtel Corp plans to deliver a fixed-price proposal to build the Goldboro LNG plant by the end of May, and developer Pieridae Energy said on Thursday 4/15 it continues to work toward making a final investment decision (FID) by June 30 (Reuters). Fracked gas, shipped north through the Weymouth compressor station, plays a significant role in Pieridae’s plans.
» Read article        

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PEAKING POWER PLANTS


Local Environmentalists Demand Cleaner Berkshires Power Plants
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires
April 11, 2021

Local environmentalists are taking a stand against air pollution from power plants that are hardly used.

A Berkshire Environmental Action Team campaign “Put Peakers in the Past” is demanding that the three peaking power plants located in Berkshire County revert to only renewable and clean alternatives. “Peaking” plants are used to meet periods of high energy demand.

The decades-old plants at Pittsfield Generating Co. on Merrill Road, the Eversource substation on Doreen Street and the EP Energy plant on Woodland Road in Lee run off fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and kerosene. Pittsfield Generating is a co-generating plant that also provides steam energy.

Rosemary Wessel, program director for BEAT’s “No Fracked Gas in Mass” campaign, said this sparks concern from environmentalists because the fuels emit excess nitrogen oxides and contribute to the region’ s greenhouse gas emissions.

Pittsfield Generating Co. reportedly accounts for over 15 percent of Pittsfield’s stationary emissions despite only running for a few days out of the year.

“We started last year when we were looking into emissions for the city of Pittsfield and found out that the Pittsfield Generating only runs about 5 percent of the time but it makes 15 percent of the stationary emissions for Pittsfield every year,” Wessel said.

“So even though these plants don’t run often, they only run when there’s a peak demand on the grid when the regular power plants are starting to max out, they tend to be older plants and they’re very inefficient and put out a tremendous amount of pollution for the number of megawatts they generate.”

Most peaker plants in the state run 5 percent of the time or less, she added, but the Doreen Street and Lee plants run less than 1 percent of the time, which makes the total emissions numbers alarming to the group.

“Very little run time, still substantial pollution, ” Wessel said.

The campaign’s first actions are obtaining signatures on their virtual petition and talking to plant owners and see if they already have plans to switch over to clean energy solutions. Wessel said that they haven’t heard back from the plant owners yet and are hoping to get legislators involved to facilitate that communication.

She cited the state’s climate change legislation to reduce gas emissions that was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last month. This bill codifies into law the Baker-Polito administration’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and furthers the state’s efforts to combat climate change and protect vulnerable communities.

“The state, of course, just signed the next-generation climate bill, which means we’ re going to be going for net zero very quickly, so these plants are facing, sort of a change or die kind of situation,” Wessel explained. “And we’re interested in finding out if they’re planning to retire, or if they have plans to change to clean energy, or how they’re going to deal with the fact that they’ re not going to be able to burn fossil fuels for very much longer. ”

Alternatives to peakers include demand response or  “peak-shaving” in which customers avoid energy use during peak demand, grid storage that uses solar plus storage to produce and store clean energy to use by the grid, and Mass Save’s  “Connected Solutions” program that allows electric customers to use battery storage alternatives to replace power plants.
» Read article              
» Read about the Put Peakers in the Past campaign
» Sign the Petition to Shut Down Berkshire County’s Peaking Power Plants


Battery storage 30% cheaper than new gas peaker plants, Australian study finds
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 12, 2021

Battery storage can be a significantly cheaper and more effective technology than natural gas in providing peaking capacity, according to a new study released by the Clean Energy Council, the industry group which represents Australia’s clean energy sector.

Grids around the world rely on open cycle gas turbine (OCGT) technology at times when demand for electricity is at its highest. OCGTs often only run for a few hours at a time and a few times per year but are among the most polluting assets in the grid operator’s toolkit for balancing energy supply with demand.

While OCGTs were state-of-the-art decades ago, offering the ability to start generating power within 15 minutes of starting up, lithium-ion battery energy storage can respond to grid signals in fractions of a second and can be charged with renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

The authors of CEC’s new paper, ‘Battery storage: the new, clean peaker,’ found that a 250MW, four-hour (1,000MWh) battery system in New South Wales would be a cheaper option for meeting peak demand than a 250MW new-build OCGT from both levelised cost of energy (LCOE) and levelised cost of capacity (LCOC) perspectives.

The National Electricity Market (NEM), which covers six Australian states including New South Wales, generally sees peaker plants called into use for about three or four hours each night from 6pm as solar production tails off and evening demand goes up.

Batteries can cover this period, CEC said, and even before factoring in the falling cost of charging the batteries with solar and wind energy resources that continue to get cheaper as well as the falling costs and rising efficiencies of the batteries themselves, neither the economic rationale or necessity to build new gas plants exists anymore in Australia.
» Read article              
» Download report, Battery Storage: The New, Clean Peaker

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS


Driven by Industry, More States Are Passing Tough Laws Aimed at Pipeline Protesters
Bills to increase penalties for “impeding” the operations of a pipeline or power plant—in many cases elevating the offense to a felony—are pending in at least six states and have been enacted in 14 others.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
April 12, 2021

When Nancy Beaulieu’s Ojibwe ancestors signed a series of treaties with the federal government in the 19th century, one of the goals was to protect the land, she said. So she sees it as not just her right but her duty to protest the building of a major oil pipeline underway in northern Minnesota.

As an organizer for the state chapter of 350.org, Beaulieu has helped lead a campaign against the replacement and expansion of Line 3, which carries oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States. Advocates say more than 200 protesters have been arrested as part of the campaign, and Beaulieu said she intends to be arrested herself as construction continues this spring.

But a bill currently pending in the state legislature threatens her right to do so, by increasing the penalties for trespassing on pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

“These are our own lands in some areas, ceded lands. We never gave up the right to hunt, fish and travel. So just because we don’t hold title doesn’t mean we cannot protect. That’s what treaties are all about, is that responsibility,” she said. The Minnesota bill would impose a felony offense carrying up to five years in prison for anyone who enters a pipeline construction site with “intent to disrupt” operations.

“They’re violating our treaties again,” she said. “They’re denying us our voice.”

The legislation is just one of a growing number of such bills, backed by the oil and gas industry, that are pending in at least six states and have been enacted in 14 others over the last four years, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. While the details vary state by state, the legislation in many cases imposes felony charges for trespassing and “impeding” the operation of pipelines, power plants and other “critical infrastructure.”

The bills emerged in 2017 after a pair of stinging losses for the pipeline industry. Activists had used civil disobedience and mass arrests to draw attention to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects, and the Obama administration eventually blocked both. States’ critical infrastructure legislation raised the stakes for protesters by increasing penalties for acts like blocking access to a construction site, in many cases converting the offenses from misdemeanors to felonies.

Some of the laws include clauses allowing prosecutors to seek 10 times the original fines for any groups found to be “conspirators.” Those bills have prompted concerns on the part of civil liberties advocates and leaders of groups like the Sierra Club, who fear they could be roped into trials and face steep fines for having joined with broader coalitions that include an element of civil disobedience.
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

CLIMATE


Decade of inaction means it’s too late to cap global warming at 1.5 °C
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
April 15, 2021

Leading Australian climate scientists are calling for Australia to dramatically upgrade its climate policies in the light of new research that shows a decade of inaction means it may be too late to try and limit  average global warming to just 1.5°C.

A review of recent climate science findings published by the Climate Council reveals a growing scientific consensus that the world is already on track to warm by more than 1.5°C, and that only an ‘overshoot and drawdown’ trajectory, requiring the extensive use of carbon capture and storage, will allow temperatures to be stabilised at that level.

It may still be possible to limit average global warming to just 2°C above pre-industrial levels, but a rapid ramp-up of decarbonisation efforts will be required by all countries to meet the target. In Australia, that would translate into reaching 100 per cent renewables, or close to it, by 2030, and a 75 per cent economy-wide emissions reduction target by the same date.

In 2015 in Paris, countries agreed to limit global warming to 2°C, and ideally just 1.5°C. But Climate scientist and Climate Council member professor Will Steffen says it is becoming clear that global warming of at least 1.5 degrees is already inevitable.

“Talking to a lot of my colleagues, particularly in Europe, it’s just become clear to all of us behind the scenes that we’re not going to cap temperature rise at 1.5 [degrees],” Steffen said.

“Talking with my colleagues, I think the best we can do is well below [2 degrees], which is exactly what our report says. It’s not one piece of information. It is a synthesis of a wide range of observations.”
» Read article            


Methane Emissions Spiked in 2020. Scientists Fear Feedback Loops
NOAA announced the biggest annual increase in methane ever recorded.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
April 12, 2021

Preliminary data shows that methane emissions jumped in 2020 by the largest amount since systematic record-keeping began decades ago. And despite a dip in polluting activities due to the pandemic, concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to its highest level in 3.6 million years.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that global methane concentrations shot up by 14.67 parts per billion (ppb) in 2020, the largest annual increase ever recorded, and a sharp increase from the 9.74 ppb rise in 2019. The data is an ominous sign that the world is badly off track in terms of reaching its climate goals.

“Human activity is driving climate change,” Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of the Global Monitoring Lab, a division within NOAA, said in a statement. The Global Monitoring Laboratory makes highly accurate measurements of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide from four baseline observatories in Hawaii, Alaska, American Samoa, and the South Pole.

“If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuels emissions to near zero — and even then we’ll need to look for ways to further remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere,” Sweeney said.

The data that NOAA released this month is preliminary and attributing the precise source of increased methane pollution is difficult. The data suggests that a large portion of the methane comes from fossil fuels, such as drilling, flaring, and other sources of methane leaks. But in a worrying sign, researchers think that some of the increase came from “biogenic” sources, such as methane leaking from wetlands or melting permafrost.

“That would, in a sense, be much worse as that sort of feedback — under which warming begets more warming — both is something we can’t easily control and would make our limits on greenhouse gas emissions to meet a given target even stricter,” Drew Shindell, professor of Earth science at Duke University and a former scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told DeSmog, commenting on the new study. “So in that sense it would’ve been preferable in many ways if these were from fossil fuels, but the jury is still out on that.”
» Read article              


Scientists Warn 4°C World Would Unleash ‘Unimaginable Amounts of Water’ as Ice Shelves Collapse
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, in EcoWatch
April 11, 2021

A new study is shedding light on just how much ice could be lost around Antarctica if the international community fails to urgently rein in planet-heating emissions, bolstering arguments for bolder climate policies.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that over a third of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves — including 67% of area on the Antarctic Peninsula — could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures soar to 4°C above pre-industrial levels.

An ice shelf, as NASA explains, “is a thick, floating slab of ice that forms where a glacier or ice flows down a coastline.” They are found only in Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, and the Russian Arctic—and play a key role in limiting sea level rise.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise,” explained Ella Gilbert, the study’s lead author, in a statement. “When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”

“We know that when melted ice accumulates on the surface of ice shelves, it can make them fracture and collapse spectacularly,” added Gilbert, a research scientist at the University of Reading. “Previous research has given us the bigger picture in terms of predicting Antarctic ice shelf decline, but our new study uses the latest modelling techniques to fill in the finer detail and provide more precise projections.”

Gilbert and co-author Christoph Kittel of Belgium’s University of Liège conclude that limiting global temperature rise to 2°C rather than 4°C would cut the area at risk in half.

“At 1.5°C, just 14% of Antarctica’s ice shelf area would be at risk,” Gilbert noted in The Conversation.

While the 2015 Paris climate agreement aims to keep temperature rise “well below” 2°C, with a more ambitious 1.5°C target, current emissions reduction plans are dramatically out of line with both goals, according to a United Nations analysis.

Gilbert said Thursday that the findings of their new study “highlight the importance of limiting global temperature increases as set out in the Paris agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea level rise.”
» Read article              
» Read the study

» More about climate

ENERGY STORAGE


Progress in US initiatives to demonstrate and investigate long-duration energy storage tech

By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
April 12, 2021

A zinc-air energy storage system (ZESS) offering 10 hours of storage is being trialled in a New York Power Authority (NYPA) project, while a US Department of Defense-funded investigation into flow batteries has moved into a physical validation and evaluation phase in Colorado.

Zinc8 Energy Solutions won a contract with public power organisation NYPA in January 2020 to demonstrate its patented zinc-air battery technology through the utility’s competitive Innovation Challenge programme, which was hosted in partnership with the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University.

NYPA will contribute to the costs of installing the technology solution in a project which aims to demonstrate the use cases for long-duration storage and how it can help integrate larger shares of renewable energy onto the state’s electric grid network.

“Best known for its industrial use in galvanising steel, zinc is abundant and inexpensive, and without any geopolitical complications as we have a significant North American supply. Zinc utilises the only battery chemistry that uses earth-abundant, recyclable materials with chemistry that is robust and safe.

“Unlike lithium-ion technology, which requires new stacks in order to scale, zinc batteries are able to decouple the linkage between energy and power. This means that scaling the zinc battery technology can be accomplished by simply increasing the size of the energy storage tank and quantity of the recharged zinc particles,” [Ron MacDonald, CEO of Zinc8] wrote.

“Zinc-air batteries use oxygen from the atmosphere to extract power from zinc, making zinc-air battery production costs the lowest of all rechargeable batteries. Zinc-air batteries are non-flammable and non-toxic with a longer lifetime as compared to other batteries.”
» Read article              

» More about energy storage

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION


How direct air capture works (and why it’s important)
Climeworks operates multiple direct air capture plants around the world and is currently building the world’s largest climate-positive direct air capture plant in Iceland.
By Grist
April 15, 2021

In January 2021, eight shipping container-sized boxes were assembled in Hellisheiði, Iceland, next to the third-largest geothermal power station in the world. Twelve giant fans mounted on the outside of each box will start spinning later this year.

The facility, called Orca, is intended to suck approximately 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide directly from the air each year. Developed by the Swiss engineering firm Climeworks, Orca is the largest example of direct air capture to date — a technology intended to suck carbon dioxide out of thin air.

“To me, this is kind of the last hope,” Christoph Beuttler, the carbon dioxide removal manager of Climeworks tells Grist. “This, together with reducing emissions and planting as many trees as we can, enable[s] us to just make the Paris Agreement.”

You can think about the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere like a bucket. Today, that bucket is almost full: We have about nine percent of the volume left to fill if we want to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2050. To keep that bucket from overflowing, we’ll certainly have to cut back on global emissions (which, with the exception of 2020’s pandemic shutdown, are projected to keep rising).

But all of the pathways that keep us at or below 1.5 degrees C, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also include development of direct air capture technologies like the giant fans set to start spinning in Iceland. Direct air capture can’t keep us below that threshold on its own, but it can help poke a hole in our proverbial carbon bucket to drain out some of our past emissions.

To make a big enough hole, though, this tech will have to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year. Such projects represent “an engineering project probably larger than has ever been created by humanity in the past,” says Jeffrey Reimer, a materials chemist at The University of California Berkeley who is not affiliated with Climeworks. He says there’s still a long way to go, but a few key pieces have fallen into place and set the project in motion.
» Read article            

» More about CCS

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION


Advances mean all new US vehicles can be electric by 2035, study finds
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
April 15, 2021

Rapid advances in the technology and cost of batteries should allow all new cars and trucks sold in the US to be powered by electricity by 2035, saving drivers trillions of dollars and delivering a major boost to the effort to slow the climate crisis, new research has found.

Electric vehicles currently make up only about 2% of all cars sold in the US, with many American drivers put off until now by models that were often significantly more expensive than gasoline or diesel cars, as well as concerns over the availability of plug-in recharge points.

This situation is likely to drastically change this decade, according to the new University of California, Berkeley study, with the upfront cost of electric cars set to reach parity with petrol vehicles in around five years’ time. As electric cars are more efficient and require less costly maintenance, the rapid electrification of transport would save about $2.7tn in driver costs by 2050.

Researchers said the plummeting cost of batteries, the main factor in the higher cost of electric vehicles, and improvements in their efficiency mean that it will be technically feasible for the US to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars within 15 years. This would shrink planet-heating emissions from transport, currently the largest source of greenhouse gases in the US.

“In order to meet any sort of carbon goals, the transport sector needs to be electrified,” said Amol Phadke, a senior scientist at University of California, Berkeley and report co-author.

Phadke added: “The upfront price of electric vehicles is coming down rapidly, which is very exciting. Because of battery technology improvements, most models now have a range of 250 miles, higher than the daily driving distance of most people, and now come with pretty astonishing fast-charging capabilities.”
» Read article            
» Read the U.C. Berkeley study


EV charging setup would cost Schneider, NFI more than 10 times annual fuel savings: study
By S.L. Fuller, Utility Dive
April 6, 2021

Schneider could save $554,813 in annual fuel costs by electrifying its 42-truck fleet based out of Stockton, California, according to a study prepared by Gladstein, Neandross & Associates funded by the Environmental Defense Fund. And NFI could save $748,311 annually by electrifying its fleet of 50 trucks that operate out of Chino, California, according to the report released Wednesday.

But the report also found that those savings are not enough to mitigate upfront infrastructure costs required to support the electric fleets. Schneider would pay $8.9 million, while NFI would need to shell out $10.4 million. Those costs include charging hardware and construction.

EDF called charging infrastructure “the greatest challenge of electrifying heavy-duty trucks,” and recommended governments and utilities pursue policies to help bring down the upfront costs for fleets.

Whether a fleet or OEM has invested in battery-electric vehicles, fuel-cell-electric vehicles or both, infrastructure is one of the biggest question marks.

Standing up a national hydrogen network presents steep funding and other challenges.

Electric charging capabilities are becoming more commonplace around the country as electric passenger cars grow in popularity. But stations that can accommodate heavy-duty trucks require more power.

NFI is testing 10 electric Daimler trucks out of Chino, and building chargers was the longest part of the project, NFI Senior Vice President of Fleet Services Bill Bliem said in February.

One lesson NFI learned during that process was how different it was to deal with a utility company’s rates, rather than paying for a standard fuel source.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY


John Topping, 77, Dies; Early Advocate for Climate Action
A former official of the Environmental Protection Agency, he was a Republican activist on global warming when it was an issue with bipartisan support
By John Schwartz, New York TImes
April 10, 2021

John Topping, whose work to warn the world of the risks of climate change stretched back to the 1980s, and who helped spur the international effort to limit warming, died on March 9 at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 77.

The cause was gastrointestinal bleeding, his daughter Elizabeth Barrett Topping said.

A Rockefeller Republican, Mr. Topping took on the emerging climate crisis when fighting planetary warming was still a bipartisan issue.

“John was an early actor,” said Rafe Pomerance, senior fellow at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts, who recalled Mr. Topping’s ability to connect people who might not otherwise have had much in common. “He brought a lot of interesting people to the table and got involved.” As a Republican of solid credentials, Mr. Pomerance said, Mr. Topping “reached out into places I had no access to.”

In a phone interview, Joe Cannon, who served as an Environmental Protection Agency official with Mr. Topping, called him “very patient” and said he had a “gigantic understanding of things — bureaucracy in general, and environmental policy in particular.”

James Hansen, a former NASA scientist who introduced Mr. Topping to climate issues in 1982, recalled a special quality Mr. Topping had as an advocate: “John was a jolly fellow, always upbeat and happy, even though he was working on what he knew was a serious problem.”

Dr. Hansen, who would become a prominent clarion of climate risk, said he first met Mr. Topping when the Ronald Reagan administration tried to cut his funding for research into carbon dioxide and climate change. Mr. Topping and Mr. Cannon got the research funded, but the gains were only temporary, Dr. Hansen recalled. Mr. Topping was disturbed to discover that, by his count, only seven people at the E.P.A. out of some 13,000 staff members were assigned to work on climate change and ozone depletion.

“Topping was frustrated with the administration, which wouldn’t take climate change seriously,” Dr. Hansen said, “so he finally decided to form his own organization.”

The organization that became known as the Climate Institute is widely considered the first nongovernmental entity dedicated to addressing climate change. Mr. Topping served as its president until his death.
» Read article              
» Visit the Climate Institute

» More about the EPA

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY


Federal Court Ends Trump Effort to Open 128 Million Acres of Atlantic, Arctic Oceans to Drilling
“As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future.”
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
April 14, 2021

A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt the final blow to former President Donald Trump’s attempt to open nearly 130 million acres of territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to oil and gas drilling.

In April of 2017, Trump signed an executive order aiming to undo an Obama-era ban on fossil fuel exploration in that territory, but a federal judge in Alaska ruled the move unlawful in 2019.

Though the Trump administration appealed the ruling, President Joe Biden revoked his predecessor’s 2017 order shortly after taking office, rendering the court case moot. On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to dismiss the Trump administration’s appeal.

“Because the terms of the challenged Executive Order are no longer in effect, the relevant areas of the [Outer Continental Shelf] in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Atlantic Ocean will be withdrawn from exploration and development activities,” the court said in its order.

Erik Grafe of Earthjustice, which represented a coalition of advocacy groups that challenged Trump’s order, said in a statement that “we welcome today’s decision and its confirmation of President Obama’s legacy of ocean and climate protection.”

“As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future that does not come at the expense of wildlife and our natural heritage,” Grafe continued. “One obvious place for immediate action is America’s Arctic, including the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic, which the previous administration sought to relegate to oil development in a series of last-minute decisions that violate bedrock environmental laws.”
» Read article


‘Seismic shift’ at FERC could kill natural gas pipelines
By Arianna Skibell, E&E News
April 13, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to assess a proposed natural gas pipeline’s contribution to climate change could have major implications for gas infrastructure, analysts say, including nearly unheard-of project rejections.

“Once one starts to look at the impact of the pipelines on the climate, it won’t be business as usual,” said Jennifer Danis, a senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “FERC took a really important first step in a long overdue process.”

For the first time ever, FERC last month weighed greenhouse gas emissions related to a Northern Natural Gas Co. pipeline replacement project running 87 miles from northeast Nebraska to Sioux Falls, S.D. The independent agency ultimately approved the project (Energywire, March 19).

The issue will be revisited this week at FERC’s meeting, where the agency is expected to consider Enbridge Pipeline’s request to intervene in the case. If FERC approves that, the company could file a lawsuit challenging the decision to account for pipeline greenhouse gas emissions.

The landmark order signals that the five-member commission under Democratic Chairman Richard Glick could begin assessing emissions for all projects in its purview, from interstate gas pipelines to liquefied natural gas terminals. Glick has long called for carrying out such reviews.

“FERC announced [through] a policy that it does not consider itself universally incapable of conducting a [greenhouse gas] significance assessment,” said Gillian Giannetti, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That would seem to strongly suggest FERC is going to try to do a significance assessment every time.”

Experts agree the move could lead to FERC denying certification for major natural gas projects, though not for all proposals.
» Read article              

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS


The Delaware River Basin paradox: Why fracking is so hard to quit
The regulatory agency charged with protecting the Delaware River Basin both banned fracking and paved the way for an LNG export facility within a few months, demonstrating just how hard it is to sever ties with natural gas.
By Zoya Teirstein, Grist
April 15, 2021

In late February, the Delaware River Basin Commission made a historic announcement: It banned hydraulic fracturing in the basin, a 13,539-square-mile area that supplies some 17 million people with drinking water.

“Prohibiting high volume hydraulic fracturing in the Basin is vital to preserving our region’s recreational and natural resources and ecology,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who represents one of the four states in the Delaware River Basin Commission, or DRBC. “Our actions,” he added, “will protect public health and preserve our water resources for future generations.”

The decision to permanently protect the watershed from fracking was the culmination of years of dedicated activism and public input. Politicians, environmental groups, and citizens alike celebrated the decision by the commission — a powerful, interstate-federal regulatory agency made up of the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania and the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division.

But the same commission that made the historic decision to protect the basin from fracking also voted several months earlier to pave the way for a natural gas company to use the Delaware River to export its product abroad.

In December 2020, the DRBC voted to approve construction of a dock in the New Jersey city of Gibbstown, in Gloucester County. That dock, attached to an export terminal constructed on the site of a former Dupont munitions plant, will receive a fossil fuel called liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from a plant in northern Pennsylvania and then ship it overseas.

When complete, the Delaware River Basin’s first-ever liquefied natural gas project will pose immediate risks to a wide swath of the Eastern seaboard — to people who live near the liquefaction plant in Pennsylvania and to communities clustered along the 200-mile route between the plant and the export dock in New Jersey — as well as to the Delaware River itself.

The two decisions weighed against each other point to an interesting paradox in the DRBC’s attitude toward natural gas, a significant contributor to global warming. While the commission doesn’t want exploration to pollute the basin, it’s still tacitly permitting the industry to use the river for a different side of the natural gas business — one that’s not without its own environmental and health threats. The rulings illuminate the complex, often contradictory relationship with natural gas that many policymakers find themselves in at the moment, as pressure builds for communities to transition away from fossil fuels toward a clean economy.
» Blog editor’s note: keep reading for a fascinating account of how the Gibbstown LNG project was sneaked in through the back door with little oversight or environmental review, and what might happen next….
» Read article              

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 3/19/21

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about virtual pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions

GREENING THE ECONOMY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about greening the economy

LEGISLATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about legislation

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean transportation

BUILDING MATERIALS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about building materials

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about carbon capture and sequestration

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about peakers

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuels

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass         

PLASTICS RECYCLING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about plastics recycling

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