Tag Archives: CO2 pipeline

Weekly News Check-In 7/8/22

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Welcome back.

We’ll kick off this week’s news with groundbreaking court action in The Netherlands. Two Dutch environmental groups represented by ClientEarth are suing airline KLM over claims that its 2019 “Fly Responsibly” ad campaign amounts to greenwashing – a marketing ploy meant to project an image of environmental sustainability that isn’t supported by reality.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the energy transition is accelerating at a time of global supply chain bottlenecks, and this is forecast to create a vast and growing market for recycled solar photovoltaic (PV) panel components. This part of the global green economy is expected to be worth more than $2.7 billion in 2030. That’s a 1,500% increase over the current value of $170 million in 2022, and it’ll grow much more by 2050 when solar will provide around 40% of total energy worldwide. But as our second story in this section illustrates, that economic green wave first has to move aside some of the entrenched relationships that keep state and local budgets reliant on tax revenue from oil, gas and coal to fund schools, hospitals and more.

Joe Biden’s election triggered a global surge in optimism that the climate crisis would finally be decisively confronted. But the US supreme court’s recent decision to curtail America’s ability to cut planet-heating emissions dealt a devastating blow to a faltering effort that is now in danger of becoming largely moribund. We include a climate story that reminds us why it matters. A new study finds that methane is four times more sensitive to global warming than previously thought, due to a nasty feedback loop associated with the increase in carbon monoxide from wildfires. This helps explain underlying causes of the recent stronger-than-expected rise in atmospheric methane.

The court’s EPA decision could also hobble the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is seen as critical for advancing clean energy.

So with the federal government sidelined, progress on clean energy remains largely at the state level. The Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs just published a roadmap for the state to achieve its emissions reductions targets, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels. The Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030, or CEC, takes two main approaches — electrification of end uses, and the decarbonization of Massachusetts’ electricity system.

Meanwhile, deploying renewable energy resources like large solar arrays can do more harm than good if sites are inappropriate. The Berkshire County town of Lenox is fighting a project now.

Connecticut is also stepping up. A new energy efficiency program is expected to help cut energy bills and improve living conditions for low-income residents throughout the state. Importantly, the program will pay for the cleanup of mold, asbestos and other health and safety barriers that can prevent homeowners from pursuing weatherization projects. And on the west coast, a project aims to address two of Richmond, California’s greatest problems: a lack of affordable housing and unreliable electricity. The project will create a “virtual power plant,” by using software to coordinate solar and storage batteries on housing units to export power to the grid, selling its electricity at times of high demand and high prices.

Our Clean Transportation section offers a reality check for folks buying into the auto industry spin that electric vehicles are green even if they’re huge and powerful. Big vehicles need big batteries to move them any distance. Lithium, the highly reactive silver-white metal that is a crucial ingredient in those batteries, is becoming much more expensive. Its price has risen six-fold since the start of the year, largely because demand is outpacing supply. Other battery chemistries are in development, but this fact of physics will always be true: smaller, lighter vehicles require less energy to move around, and that’s ultimately greener.

For those currently driving EVs in Massachusetts, the utility National Grid has launched a new initiative to give drivers rebates for charging their electric vehicles during off-peak hours. It’s a great idea, but some advocates worry the incentives aren’t high enough to significantly change behavior.

More Massachusetts news: our two major electric utilities currently wield considerable power by choosing the wind farm projects that can be built off the coast. When state-sanctioned clean energy contracts go out to bid, Eversource and National Grid (along with Unitil) get to pick the winners. It’s a power that has prompted conflict-of-interest questions, and state lawmakers may now take the decision-making authority away from the utilities and hand it to a third party, such as the state Department of Energy Resources.

Carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) works by capturing carbon dioxide emissions at their source to prevent their release into the atmosphere, then injecting the CO2 into rocks deep underground. Critics are concerned that CCS is being treated as an easy fix for the climate crisis by polluters who view the technology as a way to avoid strict emissions reductions. We’re focused on three CO2 pipeline projects in early planning in Iowa. The companies behind them have been contacting landowners in hopes of getting them to grant easements, but hundreds of people say they won’t sign.

We’ll wrap up with a look at the fossil fuel industry, and how the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and inflation are forcing the Biden administration to balance forces that conflict with urgent climate mitigation priorities. As it tries to lower gasoline prices and increase energy exports to counter Russia’s dominance of western European energy, the Biden administration took two of its biggest steps yet to open public lands to fossil fuel development. It held its first onshore lease sales and released a proposed plan for offshore drilling that could open parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet to leasing through 2028.

On top of that, blue hydrogen is having a moment. That’s the flavor of hydrogen that’s derived from natural gas, and the governments of Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, and the European Union believe it’s a “bridge” to an energy-rich future. Meanwhile, environmentalists have cautioned for years that blue hydrogen is little more than the newest attempt by the oil and gas industry to lock in dependency on fossil fuels.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

KLM greenwashing
In Historic Case, Green Groups Sue KLM for Greenwashing
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
July 6, 2022

In an ad campaign launched in 2019, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines invited airplane travelers and the rest of the aviation industry to join it in “flying responsibly.” A video advertisement released in July of that year said that customers could achieve this goal by scheduling virtual meetings when possible, taking the train instead, packing lighter and offsetting the carbon dioxide emissions from the flight.

Now, two Dutch environmental groups represented by ClientEarth are taking the airline to court over claims that its “Fly Responsibly” ad campaign amounts to greenwashing.

“We’re going to court to demand KLM tells the truth about its fossil-fuel dependent product.” Hiske Arts, a campaigner at Fossielvrij Netherlands — one of the two groups behind the suit — said in a ClientEarth press release. “Unchecked flying is one of the fastest ways to heat up the planet. Customers need to be informed and protected from claims that suggest it is not.”

In a tweet announcing the suit, Fossielvrij Netherlands said it was the first greenwashing case brought against an airline.

Flying is an extremely carbon-intensive activity. A roundtrip flight across the Atlantic generates the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as a single European resident heating their home for a year. Therefore, experts argue that air traffic must fall if the industry is to meet its climate goals and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. A recent report from Transport & Environment, for example, found that the net-zero goal could be achieved by ending EU airport expansion and reducing corporate travel to 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

The green groups behind the lawsuit — Reclame Fossielvrij in addition to Fossielvrij Netherlands — argue that KLM’s ad campaign offers frequent flyers a false way out. It tells them that they can offset their flight emissions by paying for reforestation efforts or to support KLM’s acquisition of biofuels. However, funding these projects doesn’t actually compensate for the emissions generated by a present-day flight. These claims therefore violate European laws against misleading consumers, the groups argue.
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

stepped on
Could Supreme Court ruling thwart FERC’s clean energy plans?
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
July 6, 2022

The landmark Supreme Court decision last week restricting EPA’s regulation of climate-warming emissions could spill over to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is seen as critical for advancing clean energy.

In a 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act did not authorize EPA to craft a broad rule targeting emissions from power plants like the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

The court majority justified the ruling using the “major questions” doctrine, a relatively new legal theory that holds that Congress must clearly express when agencies are allowed to decide matters of “vast economic and political significance”. Some observers say that could stunt potential new rules from agencies such as FERC, particularly on issues that pertain to climate change.

“The major questions doctrine, as they articulated it now, is so broad you could apply it to any major rulemaking,” said Harvey Reiter, a partner at Stinson LLP whose focus includes energy regulations. “[The decision] talks about cases of great ‘economic and political significance,’ but that could characterize any major rule of any agency.”

Charged with overseeing wholesale power markets and interstate energy projects, FERC is weighing rules that could transform the electric power sector and help facilitate the deployment of solar, wind and other clean energy resources. With support from its Democratic majority, the five-person commission this year also proposed changing how it reviews new natural gas projects to account for effects on the climate, nearby landowners and environmental justice communities.

Some legal experts say those actions fall clearly within FERC’s authority to ensure “just and reasonable” energy rates — as outlined in the Federal Power Act — and to approve gas pipelines that are shown to be in the public interest. But others said the Supreme Court decision may give ammunition to industry groups and others who’ve argued for a more narrow reading of what FERC can and cannot do, experts said.

“Even though agencies are different and have different statutory mandates, any agency that’s thinking about being ambitious in addressing climate change now has to worry that a federal court may use the language of the major questions doctrine to attack whatever the agency is doing,” said Joel Eisen, a professor of law at the University of Richmond.

In particular, a proposal issued in February to assess natural gas pipelines’ greenhouse gas emissions could be at risk of being abandoned or changed significantly due to concerns about the major questions doctrine, some analysts said.
» Read article       

» More about FERC

GREENING THE ECONOMY

avoidable
Solar panel recycling market to be worth billions by 2030, say researchers
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
July 7, 2022

Demand for recycled solar photovoltaic (PV) panel components is expected to grow dramatically through the remainder of the decade as installation numbers skyrocket and developers look to avoid supply bottlenecks.

New research published this week by Rystad Energy predicts that recyclable materials from solar PV panels reaching the end of their lifespan will be worth more than $US2.7 billion in 2030 – a mind boggling 1,500% increase over the current value of $US170 million in 2022.

Unsurprisingly, this trend will only accelerate, and is expected to hit $US80 billion by 2050.

In terms of the need for solar PV recycling, current expectations are that solar PV waste will grow to 27 million tonnes each year by 2040.

Conversely, Rystad Energy believes that recovered materials from retired panels could make up 6% of solar PV investments by 2040, as compared to only 0.08% today.

But it is the role in swerving away from an otherwise unavoidable supply bottleneck that is potentially the most important aspect of a solar PV recycling sector. Solar development continues to accelerate, with both residential and large-scale solar farms demanding ever more materials that are in increasing levels of short supply.

Specifically, demand for materials and minerals used in solar PV development will accelerate dramatically, likely causing higher prices, as solar grows to meet around 40% of the world’s power generation in 2050 – equivalent to 19 TW, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) net-zero emissions scenario.
» Read article       

oildorado
California Plans to Quit Oil. Resistance Is Fiercer Than You Think.
Dozens of state and local budgets depend heavily on tax revenue from oil, gas and coal to fund schools, hospitals and more. Replacing that money is turning out to be a major challenge in the fight against climate change.
By Brad Plumer, New York Times
Photographs by Alisha Jucevic
July 7, 2022

TAFT, Calif. — Every five years, this city of 7,000 hosts a rollicking, Old West-themed festival known as Oildorado. High schoolers decorate parade floats with derricks and pump jacks. Young women vie for the crown in a “Maids of Petroleum” beauty pageant. It’s a celebration of an industry that has sustained the local economy for the past century.

This is oil country, in a state that leads the country in environmental regulation. With wildfires and drought ravaging California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, wants to end oil drilling in the state by 2045. That has provoked angst and fierce resistance here in Kern County, where oil and gas tax revenues help to pay for everything from elementary schools to firefighters to mosquito control.

“Nowhere else in California is tied to oil and gas the way we are, and we can’t replace what that brings overnight,” said Ryan Alsop, chief administrative officer in Kern County, a region north of Los Angeles. “It’s not just tens of thousands of jobs. It’s also hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue that we rely on to fund our schools, parks, libraries, public safety, public health.”

Across the United States, dozens of states and communities rely on fossil fuels to fund aspects of daily life. In Wyoming, more than half of state and local tax revenues comes from fossil fuels. In New Mexico, an oil boom has bankrolled free college for residents and expanded medical care for new mothers. Oil and gas money is so embedded in many local budgets, it’s difficult to imagine a future without it.

Disentangling communities from fossil-fuel income poses a major obstacle in the fight against climate change. One study found that if nations followed the urging of scientists and cut emissions from oil, gas and coal deeply enough to avert catastrophic warming, United States tax revenues from oil and gas production, currently about $34 billion per year, could fall by two-thirds by 2050.
» Read article      
» Read the study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

tatters
Global dismay as supreme court ruling leaves Biden’s climate policy in tatters
Biden’s election was billed as heralding a ‘climate presidency’ but congressional and judicial roadblocks mean he has little to show
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
July 6, 2022

Joe Biden’s election triggered a global surge in optimism that the climate crisis would, finally, be decisively confronted. But the US supreme court’s decision last week to curtail America’s ability to cut planet-heating emissions has proved the latest blow to a faltering effort by Biden on climate that is now in danger of becoming largely moribund.

The supreme court’s ruling that the US government could not use its existing powers to phase out coal-fired power generation without “clear congressional authorization” quickly ricocheted around the world among those now accustomed to looking on in dismay at America’s seemingly endless stumbles in addressing global heating.

The decision “flies in the face of established science and will set back the US’s commitment to keep global temperature below 1.5C”, said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, in reference to the internationally agreed goal to limit global heating before it becomes truly catastrophic, manifesting in more severe heatwaves, floods, droughts and societal unrest.

“The people who will pay the price for this will be the most vulnerable communities in the most vulnerable developing countries in the world,” Huq added.

The “incredibly undemocratic Scotus ruling” indicates that “backsliding is now the dominant trend in the climate space,” said Yamide Dagnet, director of climate justice at Open Society Foundations and former climate negotiator for the UK and European Union. António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations who has called new fossil fuel infrastructure “moral and economic madness”, said via a spokesman that the ruling was a “setback” at a time when countries were badly off track in averting looming climate breakdown.

In the 6-3 ruling, backed by the rightwing majority of justices, the supreme court did not completely negate the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate emissions from coal plants. But it did side with Republican-led states in stating that the government could not set broad plans to shift electricity generation away from coal because of the nebulous “major questions doctrine” that demands Congress explicitly decide on significant changes to the US economy.
» Read article       

LA wildfires
Methane much more sensitive to global heating than previously thought – study
Greenhouse gas has undergone rapid acceleration and scientists say it may be due to atmospheric changes
By Kate Ravilious, The Guardian
July 5, 2022

Methane is four times more sensitive to global warming than previously thought, a new study shows. The result helps to explain the rapid growth in methane in recent years and suggests that, if left unchecked, methane related warming will escalate in the decades to come.

The growth of this greenhouse gas – which over a 20 year timespan is more than 80 times as potent than carbon dioxide – had been slowing since the turn of the millennium but since 2007 has undergone a rapid rise, with measurements from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recording it passing 1,900 parts a billion last year, nearly triple pre-industrial levels.

“What has been particularly puzzling has been the fact that methane emissions have been increasing at even greater rates in the last two years, despite the global pandemic, when anthropogenic sources were assumed to be less significant,” said Simon Redfern, an earth scientist at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

About 40% of methane emissions come from natural sources such as wetlands, while 60% come from anthropogenic sources such as cattle farming, fossil fuel extraction and landfill sites. Possible explanations for the rise in methane emissions range from expanding exploration of oil and natural gas, rising emissions from agriculture and landfill, and rising natural emissions as tropical wetlands warm and Arctic tundra melts.

But another explanation could be a slowdown of the chemical reaction that removes methane from the atmosphere. The predominant way in which methane is “mopped up” is via reaction with hydroxyl radicals (OH) in the atmosphere.

“The hydroxyl radical has been termed the ‘detergent’ of the atmosphere because it works to cleanse the atmosphere of harmful trace gases,” said Redfern. But hydroxyl radicals also react with carbon monoxide, and an increase in wildfires may have pumped more carbon monoxide into the atmosphere and altered the chemical balance. “On average, a carbon monoxide molecule remains in the atmosphere for about three months before it’s attacked by a hydroxyl radical, while methane persists for about a decade. So wildfires have a swift impact on using up the hydroxyl ‘detergent’ and reduce the methane removal,” said Redfern.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

green energy plan
Massachusetts releases clean energy plan, roadmap to cut GHG emissions 50% by 2030
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
July 1, 2022

The Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs on Thursday published a roadmap for the state to achieve its emissions reductions targets, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels. The Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030, or CEC, also sets the state on a path towards carbon neutrality by 2050.

The plan takes two main approaches — electrification of end uses, and the decarbonization of Massachusetts’ electricity system — to reduce emissions from buildings, the transportation sector, power generation, industrial processes and other sources.

Strategies include transitioning to electric vehicles, reducing growth in total vehicle miles traveled, adding offshore wind, solar and storage, and converting building heating systems to utilize heat pumps.

[…] An economic analysis of the CEC plans’s potential impacts sees significant job growth, said officials. According to the plan, modeling shows the 2025 and 2030 targets result in a net gain of over 22,000 jobs by 2030, “most of which will be in installing electric vehicle chargers, solar photovoltaic projects, energy efficiency retrofits in buildings, offshore wind projects, and transmission lines to connect the clean energy that powers the economy.”
» Read article      
» Read the Clean Energy Plan

happy Putin
‘Putin rubbing hands with glee’ after EU votes to class gas and nuclear as green
Parliament backs plan to classify some projects as clean power investments
By Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian
July 6, 2022

The European parliament has backed plans to label gas and nuclear energy as “green”, rejecting appeals from prominent Ukrainians and climate activists that the proposals are a gift to Vladimir Putin.

One senior MEP said the vote was a “dark day for the climate”, while experts said the EU had set a dangerous precedent for countries to follow.

The row began late last year with the leak of long-awaited details on the EU’s green investment guidebook, intended to help investors channel billions to the clean power transition.

The European Commission decided some gas and nuclear projects could be included in the EU taxonomy of environmentally sustainable economic activities, subject to certain conditions.

Under the plans, gas can be classed as a sustainable investment if “the same energy capacity cannot be generated with renewable sources” and plans are in place to switch to renewables or “low-carbon gases”. Nuclear power can be called green if a project promises to deal with radioactive waste.

The plan could only be stopped by a majority of EU member states or members of the European parliament.

With most EU governments in favour, attention turned to the European parliament, but on Wednesday MEPs failed to muster a blocking majority. Only 282 MEPs voted in favour of an amendment against the inclusion of gas and nuclear, falling short of the 353 votes needed to overturn the decision.

Bas Eickhout, the vice-president of the European parliament’s environment committee, said it was “dark day for the climate and energy transition”.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

plug and spackle
Connecticut weatherization program will tackle mold, asbestos, other barriers
Mold, asbestos and other hazards can prevent energy efficiency contractors from moving ahead with weatherization projects. A new state program will create funding to help homeowners address those barriers.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
July 7, 2022

A new Connecticut program is expected to help cut energy bills and improve living conditions for low-income residents throughout the state.

The Statewide Weatherization Barrier Remediation Program, overseen by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, will pay for the cleanup of mold, asbestos and other health and safety barriers that can prevent homeowners from pursuing weatherization projects.

Leticia Colon De Mejias, owner of an energy efficiency contracting company and executive director of the nonprofit Efficiency for All, said the program is long overdue. She has been advocating for a more equitable approach in the state’s efficiency programs since 2015.

That was the year she figured out that 30% to 40% of the homes her staff was visiting had barriers that prevented efficiency work from being done. Most were low-income and under-resourced households. Other contractors she talked to were experiencing the same thing, and, she learned, the weatherization programs simply paid them a fee for their time. The homeowners received no additional support.

“I said, that’s crazy — what are we doing to help these people?” she said. “That’s wrong. That’s exclusionary.”

The new program is expected to cover the cost of remediating hazardous conditions for up to 1,000 income-eligible households over the next three years. The program will draw from a utility-maintained list of some 20,000 homes that have been deferred from participation in the state’s energy efficiency programs due to barriers.

After remediation, the households will receive energy efficiency improvements through either the state-managed or utility-managed weatherization programs. Those programs provide home energy audits to customers at little to no cost, while also making improvements like sealing air leaks and installing low-flow showerheads.
» Read article      
» Check out the program

» More about energy efficiency       

MODERNIZING THE GRID

going virtual
This Virtual Power Plant Is Trying to Tackle a Housing Crisis and an Energy Crisis All at Once
A Bay Area project combines subsidized housing with solar and battery systems that work together to support the larger grid.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
July 7, 2022

Vicken Kasarjian is giddy as he describes a project that aims to address two of Richmond, California’s greatest problems: a lack of affordable housing and unreliable electricity.

Kasarjian is the chief operating officer of MCE, a nonprofit electricity provider that serves parts of four Bay Area counties. MCE’s plan is to retrofit about 100 houses and 20 businesses with rooftop solar, batteries and smart appliances, and then sell excess electricity from the solar and batteries into the grid.

“It is so interesting, enlightening and fun to do this,” he said.

He’s talking about a “virtual power plant,” which is when a company uses software to coordinate a series of energy systems—usually batteries—to export power to the grid at the same time. The result is a power plant that can participate in the state power market, selling its electricity at times of high demand and high prices.

There are dozens of virtual power plants in development across the country, with thousands of households and businesses involved. What’s different about the MCE project is it has a housing component, with plans to renovate abandoned properties and then sell them at subsidized prices to first-time homebuyers with qualifying incomes.

Richmond, with a population of about 110,000, has suffered for decades from air pollution from a giant Chevron oil refinery. The city has low incomes for the region, but high housing prices due to a lack of supply and proximity to some of the most affluent parts of the country, like Berkeley, which is 10 miles away.

“A virtual power plant is decentralized, decarbonized and democratized,” said Alexandra McGee, MCE’s manager of strategic initiatives.
» Read article       

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Tesla parking
‘Insane’ lithium price bump threatens EV fix for climate change
The price of the metal used in batteries for electric cars has risen six-fold since the start of the year.
By Ian Neubauer, Al Jazeera
July 7, 2022

Lithium, the highly reactive silver-white metal that is a crucial ingredient in batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs), is becoming much more expensive – and fast.

In April, as prices hit a record $78,000 a tonne, Tesla CEO Elon Musk floated the idea of the electric carmaker mining and refining the lightweight metal itself due to the “insane” increase in costs.

For governments ranging from China to the European Union that have pledged to phase out combustion engines in the near future, the soaring cost and growing scarcity of the metal raise questions about how they will meet their deadlines, many of which come due as soon as 2035.

With combustion engines accounting for one-quarter of carbon emissions, according to the United Nations, a delay in transitioning away from petrol and diesel cars would deal a serious blow to efforts to reduce carbon emissions and avert the worst effects of climate change.

“As Elon Musk has said, ‘lithium will be the limiting factor,’” Joe Lowry, an expert on the global lithium market and the founder of Global Lithium LLC, told Al Jazeera. “It is very simple math.”

Despite retreating from its April highs, the price of Lithium has jumped more than 600 percent since the start of the year, from about $10,000 per metric tonne in January to $62,000 in June, according to Benchmark Market Intelligence. Citigroup has predicted more “extreme” price hikes on the way.

[…] “The main takeaway here is that the EV market faces many decades of strong, compound growth,” Fastmarkets said in its most recent lithium report.

“For any supply chain that relies on getting raw materials out of the ground, it is going to be a supreme challenge to keep up with year after year of high compound growth.”

Lithium production will need to quadruple by 2030 to keep up with expected demand, according to Fastmarkets.
» Read article       

off-peak charge
National Grid offers incentives for off-peak electric vehicle charging. Are they enough?

The pilot program could cut the cost of summer charging by more than 17%; advocates say that the discount should be greater.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
July 6, 2022

Massachusetts utility National Grid has launched a new initiative to give drivers rebates for charging their electric vehicles during off-peak hours, but some advocates worry the incentives aren’t high enough to propel meaningful change.

The new program rewards customers who charge their vehicles between 9 p.m. and 1 p.m., when demand on the grid is lower and the power flowing into the system is generally cleaner and less expensive. The goal of the program is to ease the burden on the grid, help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and motivate more drivers to consider switching from gasoline-fueled cars.

“It helps improve the business case for charging at home and hopefully encourages some customers to buy electric vehicles,” said Rishi Sondhi, clean transportation manager for National Grid.

Today, electric vehicles make up just 56,000 of the 5 million vehicles registered in the state. But Massachusetts has set the ambitious target of putting 300,000 zero-emissions vehicles on the road by 2025 as part of its plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

As electric vehicle adoption increases, so will the load on the power grid. Currently about 44% of electric vehicles’ charging in Massachusetts is done during times of peak demand, according to National Grid’s testimony to the state public utilities department. If that pattern holds as more people buy electric vehicles, the transmission and distribution infrastructure will require expensive upgrades, and older, dirtier power plants will be called into action more often.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

Mountainview
Is a solar energy project a farm? That’s the question, as Lenox faces a legal challenge from a major developer
By Clarence Fanto, Berkshire Eagle
July 5, 2022

LENOX — A major developer is threatening to escalate a legal confrontation with Lenox, as it lays groundwork for a bid to install solar panels on land mostly in a residential area.

So far, it’s been hot words at municipal meetings and filings in local court.

Several Lenox officials want an end to “bombastic” statements by the developer and suggest they are not getting the whole truth about whether land adjacent to Lenox Dale will be used for farming or a large photovoltaic solar array.

The developer says the town is blocking a property owner’s use of its land for agricultural purposes — and the company will do what it takes to prevail.

[…] Alarm bells might have sounded, since the buyer was listed as PLH Vineyard Sky LLC. That’s the real estate partner of Ecos Energy, based in Minneapolis, which operates 37 solar projects across the nation for its parent company, Allco Renewable Energy LTD, headquartered in New Haven, Conn.

In 2018, the Housatonic Street property had been targeted for a $10 million commercial solar project by Sustainable Strategies 2020 and its partner, Syncarpha Capital of New York City. But local opposition doomed the project. In North Adams, Syncarpha’s $9 million, 3.5-megawatt solar array built in 2015 produces enough energy to meet the city’s municipal electricity needs.

But in Lenox, neighbors argued that the array of solar panels would obstruct scenic views and depress property values.

The current Lenox zoning bylaw for ground-mounted solar installations allows them “by right” only in industrial zones. While a small slice of the Housatonic property adjoining Willow Creek Road is zoned industrial, most of the land is in the residential zone.
» Read article       

» More about the siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

no easement
The bitter fight to stop a 2,000-mile carbon pipeline
Three pipeline projects are in early stages of planning in Iowa. An alliance of farmers, Indigenous groups and environmentalists wants to stop them
By Jenny Splitter, The Guardian
Photographs by Danny Wilcox Frazier
July 7, 2022

[…] There are three CO2 pipeline projects in early stages of planning in Iowa. The companies behind them – Summit, Navigator and a partnership of Wolf Carbon Solutions and Archer Daniel Midlands – have been contacting landowners in hopes of getting them to grant easements.

But hundreds of people say they won’t sign. Not only that, they don’t want to see these projects go forward at all. Webb and other landowners from different Iowa counties, some who farm and some who rent to other farmers, have joined forces in an unusual alliance with Indigenous groups and environmental organizations, to fight against the pipelines.

[…] Carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) works by capturing carbon dioxide emissions at their source to prevent their release into the atmosphere, then injecting the CO2 into rocks deep underground.

It has become a much-hyped answer to the need to rapidly reduce global carbon emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest working group report identifies seven pathways for limiting global warming – all but one include CCS. The Biden administration has pledged $2.3bn in funding to enhance capacity for existing US-based projects, each of which would be able to store at least 50m metric tons of captured CO2.

But critics are concerned that CCS is being treated as an easy fix for the climate crisis, especially by polluters who may rely on the technology to avoid strict emissions reductions. In some instances, captured carbon is used for enhanced oil recovery – a technique that uses liquefied CO2 to flush out residual oil – which serves to entrench fossil fuel production rather than replace it.

In Iowa, the pipelines – proposed for ethanol and fertilizer plants and any other agricultural facility that emits carbon dioxide – would transport the CO2 to nearby states, such as North Dakota, which have the right kind of rock formations to store the gas.

According to the companies, these projects would be able to store a total of 25m metric tons of CO2 a year and – of particular interest to Iowa’s corn ethanol industry – boost ethanol’s climate credentials. All three projects say their permits are for CO2 storage only and there are no plans to use the gas to extract oil.
» Read article       

» More about CCS

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

sniff test failed
Eversource faces conflict of interest questions in wind-energy contracts
State lawmakers aim to rein in utility company influence when it comes to selecting wind farm projects off the Massachusetts coast
By Jon Chesto, Boston Globe
July 3, 2022

The state’s two major electric utilities wield considerable power by choosing the wind farm projects that can be built off the coast of Massachusetts. Maybe not for much longer.

When state-sanctioned clean energy contracts go out to bid, Eversource and National Grid (along with Unitil) get to pick the winners. It’s a power that has prompted conflict-of-interest questions since before the Legislature passed the original law allowing it six years ago. Both of the big utilities have arms that invest in offshore wind projects, meaning they might end up with affiliates across the table bidding on these contracts. Even with internal firewalls, critics worry the utilities could still steer the process for their benefit.

This issue came to a head in the third and latest round of wind farm contracts. Eversource’s Bay State Wind venture with Danish energy company Ørsted didn’t even compete this time. But a new report from an independent evaluator, consulting firm Peregrine Energy Group, claims Eversource may have interfered to benefit its own offshore investment by unsuccessfully trying to knock another venture, Mayflower Wind, out of the bidding.

In the end, Mayflower Wind chief executive Michael Brown says he’s happy with the results: In December, his project won contracts for 400 megawatts — enough energy for 200,000-plus homes — while Avangrid’s Commonwealth Wind landed 1,200 megawatts. But the whole brouhaha could help push state lawmakers to take the decision-making authority away from the utilities and hand it to a third party, such as the state Department of Energy Resources.

That’s how these prizes are awarded in New York and Connecticut. Why not here in Massachusetts? Peregrine essentially poses this very question in its latest report.
» Read article      
» Read the independent evaluator report by Peregrine Energy Group

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Huntington Beach
Biden Administration Opens New Public Lands and Waters to Fossil Fuel Drilling, Disappointing Environmentalists
The president’s campaign promise to end fossil fuel development on public lands was thwarted by US courts, high gas prices and Russia’s domination of western European energy.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
July 1, 2022

This week, the Biden administration took two of its biggest steps yet to open public lands to fossil fuel development, holding its first onshore lease sales and releasing a proposed plan for offshore drilling that could open parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet to leasing through 2028.

The moves run counter to Joe Biden’s campaign pledge to halt new oil and gas development on federal lands and waters, and come as the president is under mounting political pressure to address high energy prices.

Biden faces a range of conflicting interests on climate change, energy and the economy as he tries to lower gasoline prices and increase energy exports to counter Russia’s dominance of western European energy, all without abandoning the ambitious climate agenda he brought to the White House. On Thursday, the Supreme Court dealt another blow to that agenda with a 6-3 decision that restricted the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to curb climate pollution from the power sector.

The Bureau of Land Management was also expected to release a new environmental impact statement for a major oil development proposed in the Alaskan Arctic this week, but the report was not public at the time of publication. That statement could amount to an endorsement for decades of future production from a sensitive and rapidly warming habitat.

“It is definitely a week that I would say calls into question Biden’s commitment to climate change,” said Nicole Ghio, fossil fuels program manager at Friends of the Earth, an advocacy group.

For many climate advocates, the new oil and gas leasing comes as a bitter disappointment, particularly because any new oil production will take years and is therefore highly unlikely to alleviate current high energy prices. Instead, advocates say, all the leasing will do is lock in additional oil and gas production years from now, when the nation’s climate targets dictate that oil and gas use should be on the decline.

“It is impossible to fight climate change if we continue to lease public lands and waters to fossil fuels,” Ghio said. “We cannot meet our international commitments, we cannot keep stable to 1.5 degrees [Celsius],” a level of warming beyond which climate impacts are likely to grow far worse, scientists say.
» Read article       

truck talk
Hype, Hope, and Hot Air: Inside Canada’s Hydrogen Strategy
Industry and governments are eager to embrace hydrogen power. But the plan to do so is “overly optimistic” and based on “unfounded assumptions.”
By Danielle Paradis, DeSmog Blog
July 5, 2022

Hydrogen is the future of net-zero — at least that is what the governments of Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, and the European Union believe.

Mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, however, has slammed key elements of these governments’ plans at a recent hydrogen summit in London, calling the movement towards blue hydrogen, a process that turns natural gas into hydrogen and carbon monoxide and dioxide and then sequesters the CO2 emissions using carbon capture and storage, an ineffective greenwash.

Nevertheless, examples of the energy industry’s overly optimistic hype on hydrogen abound. In late April, Nikola Corporation parked a prototype of its next hydrogen-powered semi-truck on a ballroom floor at the Edmonton Convention Centre in Alberta, Canada. The gleaming white Nikola Tre FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) was the star of the inaugural Canadian Hydrogen Convention, a three day gathering that aimed “to demonstrate Canada’s leadership in hydrogen.”

[…] However, environmental campaigners have cautioned for years that blue hydrogen is little more than the newest attempt by the oil and gas industry to lock in dependency on fossil fuels. With carbon capture and storage technology still largely unreliable, the key to making this type of hydrogen environmentally friendly is little more than wishful thinking. Even if CCS becomes more dependable, it would only capture emissions in the process of turning natural gas into hydrogen; all the methane — a powerful climate-warming gas — emitted in the production and transport of natural gas, would be unabated.

The problems don’t stop there. A scathing report from Jerry DeMarco, Canada’s federal environment commissioner, concluded that the optimism at the convention does not reflect the reality of hydrogen in Canada. The report, which was released during “hydrogen week,” found that the hydrogen-derived emissions reduction targets set by the federal government were unrealistic and that Canada may be unable to meet its Paris Agreement goals. The report sheds light on inconsistencies between various government agencies’ models of hydrogen’s potential to reduce emissions.
» Read article      
» Read the report

» More about fossil fuels

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Weekly News Check-In 6/3/22

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Welcome back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about peakers

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

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

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

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

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about pipelines

LEGISLATION

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

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

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

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

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

» More about legislation

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about EPA

CLIMATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about clean energy

BUILDING MATERIALS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about LNG

BIOMASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» More about biomass

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Weekly News Check-In 5/13/22

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Welcome back.

Long-time opponents of the Weymouth Compressor Station celebrated a victory last week when Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Joseph Leighton vacated the facility’s Chapter 91 Waterways permit. The decision sends the permit back to the state Department of Environmental Protection for further review. The compressor is now operating without a full set of permits. Recall that only a few weeks ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission admitted that the air quality permit should never have been granted…. Can we just shut it down already?

As momentum builds for natural gas hookup bans, a new gas industry “astroturf” group called ‘Fuelling Canada’ is coordinating a stealth ad campaign targeting first-time home buyers, priming them to think of natural gas as a clean, safe, and desirable fuel for heating and cooking. It’s one arm of the gas industry’s push to build out infrastructure and lock in future use. This relates to another report describing the economic risks associated with continued expansion of fossil fuel development, distribution, and dependence.

Here in Massachusetts, a diverse coalition is proposing to address two big problems at once by doubling the state’s very low deeds excise tax (a real estate transaction tax), bringing us in line with neighboring states. Half of the new revenue would go to affordable housing programs, and the other half would protect neighborhoods, homes, and businesses from the impacts of climate change while also investing in mitigation solutions like energy efficiency.

Climate change is pushing increasingly brutal heat waves, and parts of the world are bumping up against the limits of human survival. Northern India and Pakistan have been so hot already this spring that the health and productivity of workers are significantly impacted. At the same time, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide exceeded 420 parts per million (ppm) in April for the first time in human history.

Addressing all of the above involves quickly deploying massive clean energy resources. So a Department of Commerce investigation that could lead to retroactive tariffs on certain solar panels imported from Southeast Asia is putting a brake on the U.S. solar industry at a time when business should be booming. We’re also looking at hydropower, and a study showing high methane emissions from some reservoirs.

Producing energy – even green energy – gets messy, but we can always count on good news in the energy efficiency department. This week we’re offering a report describing cold weather heat pumps – widely available today but largely unknown or misunderstood in the U.S.

Energy storage, especially as it relates to electric vehicle batteries, is going to rely on a whole lot of lithium.   We’ve run a number of reports about how environmentally and culturally destructive lithium mining can be, and advocated for doubling down on extraction alternatives such as from geothermal brine at locations like California’s Salton Sea. Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington have produced magnets that can separate lithium and other metals from this sort of brine – a promising step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced a $3.16 billion plan to stimulate the production of batteries for electric vehicles in the U.S., an essential step in reducing carbon emissions from transportation.

Two years ago, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey prompted the state to begin mapping a natural gas phaseout. The Department of Public Utilities turned the process over to the gas distribution companies, who (to no one’s surprise) produced recommendations that looked a lot like business as usual and did very little to comply with emissions reduction mandates. AG Healey is calling for the state to toss out those recommendations – time to get serious.

It’s also time to start developing regulations pertaining to pipelines that carry carbon dioxide, in light of ambitious plans for extensive networks serving the future carbon capture and storage industry.

We’ll close with the fossil fuel industry, which is having a moment due to the war in Ukraine and the policy drive to replace Russian oil and gas with hydrocarbons pumped from friendlier regions. Sticking with the longer view that any near-term bump in production must not be allowed to lock in for the future, we’re alarmed by what’s happening. Already, planned increases in fracked oil and gas represent carbon and methane emissions well beyond our global warming budget. And a lot of the Big Oil & Gas decarbonization program appears to be more of an accounting gimmick than anything real. The majors are simply taking highly-polluting production sites off their books by selling to smaller operators who lack their own emissions limits. Related to all this, Canada sees new opportunity for Liquefied Natural Gas sales to Europe, and is reconsidering allowing construction of two Nova Scotia export terminals that seemed doomed just a year ago.

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

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

unnecessary and unwanted
Superior Court judge tosses out waterways permit for Weymouth compressor station
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
May 5, 2022

WEYMOUTH – A Superior Court judge has tossed out one of the state permits granted for the controversial natural gas compressor station in the Fore River Basin.

Judge Joseph Leighton this week vacated the Chapter 91 Waterways permit for the compressor station, sending the permit back to the state Department of Environmental Protection for further review.

The decision boils down to an interpretation of the word “required,” and whether the compressor station is considered an ancillary facility of existing natural gas infrastructure in the basin.

Leighton ruled that regulators incorrectly accepted “required” to mean “suitable,” rather than “necessary,” therefore allowing the siting of the compressor.

“The department’s interpretation was therefore inconsistent with the plain terms of the regulation and an error of law,” he wrote in the decision.

Alice Arena, of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said the residents are “ecstatic” over the decision.

“It’s very satisfying. The fact the judge concurred is a huge victory in all of this stupidity,” she said.

The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety problems.

State regulators issued several permits for the project despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents.

Local, state and federal officials have called for a halt of compressor operations since the station opened in the fall of 2020. Several emergency shutdowns since then caused hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas to be released into the air.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reexamined operations and safety at the station following the shutdowns. The commission didn’t revoke authorization for the station, but several members said regulators shouldn’t have approved the project to begin with.

Arena said she planned to notify the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of the Superior Court decision and hopes it will halt operations until Enbridge seeks a new waterways permit.
» Read article   

» More about the Weymouth compressor

NATURAL GAS BANS

astro-Canada
New Gas Industry Astroturf Group ‘Fuelling Canada’ Targets First-Time Homebuyers
‘Fuelling Canada’ is linked to major gas companies that are battling climate regulations.
By Geoff Dembicki, DeSmog Blog
May 10, 2022

In April, the Globe & Mail published an article on its website extolling the virtues of natural gas appliances in people’s houses.

The story, headlined “Why natural gas is the smart choice for your new home,” has the look and feel of actual journalism. It includes statistics about Canada’s “reliable” gas industry, a photo of a young couple cooking on their gas range and quotes from Canadian homebuilders and makers of consumer products—such as grills and fireplaces—that use gas.

It looks explicitly designed to appeal to first-time homebuyers.

But even though natural gas is a major growing source of emissions in the country (Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of the fossil fuel), the article didn’t once mention climate change, nor the potentially severe health impacts from breathing in gas fumes.

That’s because the article isn’t real journalism, but rather an advertisement paid for by an organization called Fuelling Canada that is linked to some of North America’s top gas companies. It has a small label at the top describing it as “sponsor content.” But otherwise it looks practically identical to news stories from real reporters on the Globe & Mail website.

“That’s what makes these sponsored ads so slimy. For the vast majority of readers who look at stuff very quickly, that nuance is lost on them,” Seth Klein, team lead and director of strategy for an advocacy group called the Climate Emergency Unit, told DeSmog. “The goal of this advertising is to lock us into more decades of using natural gas.”

[…] Fuelling Canada describes itself on its website as “a resource hub for Canadians to learn more about natural gas and its essential role in the Canadian economy.” But it is hardly neutral when it comes to discussing one of the world’s major contributors to global warming.

The organization was created by the Canadian Gas Association, an industry group whose members include gas companies like Enbridge and FortisBC, as well as TC Energy, builder of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a project that has faced fierce opposition led by hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Fuelling Canada wants to create the impression of a national grassroots campaign.

[…] Klein argues it’s not a coincidence that some of the same companies behind Fuelling Canada also belong to an industry alliance that is fighting against municipal rules designed to phase out climate-warming natural gas in homes and buildings and replace them with electric ranges and other cleaner energy sources.

Internal documents describe this “Consortium to Combat Electrification” as a campaign whose mission is to “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.” The gas industry, one slide explains, is “in for [the] fight of it’s [sic] life.”

The consortium’s members include Enbridge and FortisBC, two of the companies also involved with Fuelling Canada. The major industry players paying for cleverly framed sponsored content promoting natural gas are the very same ones working behind the scenes to stop a shift away from fossil fuels.

“They want to continue to lock in customers in new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Klein said. “And they’re pulling out all the stops.”
» Blog editor’s note: Enbridge operates the Weymouth compressor station as part of its Atlantic Bridge Pipeline.
» Read article  

» More about gas bans

DIVESTMENT

stranded tick-boom
Why our continued use of fossil fuels is creating a financial time bomb
We’re investing in things that will have little value if we move off fossil fuels.
By John Timmer, Ars Technica
May 9, 2022

The numbers are startling.

We know roughly how much more carbon dioxide we can put into the atmosphere before we exceed our climate goals—limiting warming to 1.5° to 2° C above preindustrial temperatures. From that, we can figure out how much more fossil fuel we can burn before we emit that much carbon dioxide. But when you compare those numbers with our known fossil fuel reserves, things get jaw-dropping.

To reach our climate goals, we’ll need to leave a third of the oil, half of the natural gas, and nearly all the coal we’re aware of sitting in the ground, unused.

Yet we have—and are still building—infrastructure that is predicated on burning far more than that: mines, oil and gas wells, refineries, and the distribution networks that get all those products to market; power plants, cars, trains, boats, and airplanes that use the fuels. If we’re to reach our climate goals, some of those things will have to be intentionally shut down and left to sit idle before they can deliver a return on the money they cost to produce.

But it’s not just physical capital that will cause problems if we decide to get serious about addressing climate change. We have workers who are trained to use all of the idled hardware, companies that treat the fuel reserves and hardware as an asset on their balance sheets, and various contracts that dictate that the reserves can be exploited.

Collectively, you can think of all of these things as assets—assets that, if we were to get serious about climate change, would see their value drop to zero. At that point, they’d be termed “stranded assets,” and their stranding has the potential to unleash economic chaos on the world.

[…] The big question is whether these pressures build slowly or suddenly. If assets lose their value slowly, without major strandings, everyone can adjust. Investors can shift to other markets, companies can change their focus, infrastructure can be allowed to deprecate until much of its value is gone. There will undoubtedly be some economic pain, especially if you’re in the fossil fuel business, but there won’t be wholesale economic disruption.

Unfortunately, our climate goals and our continuing emissions are making the probability of this sort of soft landing increasingly remote. “We dragged our feet, and we kind of have to double down,” Rezai told Ars. “If we have to have quicker adjustments, that creates the possibility of more disruptive adjustments, less smooth adjustments.” My conversation with him and Van der Ploeg was filled with talk of the potential for a Minsky moment, in which the value of some assets drops dramatically. For the climate, this could come in response to technology changes or government policy changes.

This sort of sudden collapse will have sweeping effects. People who have livelihoods based on fossil fuel extraction will see their jobs vanish. Governments that rely on taxes and fees from fossil fuel extraction and use may struggle to replace the lost revenue. Companies throughout the economy will take a huge hit. Obviously, this will include lost revenue for fossil fuel companies. But it can also mean that things they treat as assets—from equipment to extraction licenses—will have to be written off as stranded.
» Read article   

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Putnam Gardens
A strategy for tackling housing, climate crises simultaneously
HERO proposal would double state’s deeds excise tax
By Kimberly Lyle and Joseph Kriesberg, CommonWealth Magazine | Opinion
May 7, 2022

TWO CRISES are bearing down on our state. There’s the critical shortage of affordable housing, which leaves ever more of our neighbors unable to keep a roof over their heads. And there is the climate crisis, which promises more powerful storms, flooding, and deadly heat waves.

These crises demand urgent action. Now, a diverse coalition of housing, environmental, and faith-based organizations has come up with a plan to tackle both at once. The HERO Coalition urges the Massachusetts Legislature to raise the deeds excise tax — paid when real estate changes hands — to a level comparable with other Northeastern states. This could generate as much as $600 million annually for investments in climate and affordable housing.

[…] The HERO Coalition urges the Massachusetts  Legislature to double the deeds excise tax from $4.56 to $9.12 per $1,000 in sales price. This would bring us in line with neighboring states: New Hampshire’s tax is a whopping $15 per $1,000; in New York and Vermont it is $12.50. HERO would generate as much as $600 million in new revenue each year.

Half of the new revenue would go to affordable housing programs — the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Housing Stabilization and Preservation Trust Fund — serving both renters and low- and moderate-income homebuyers. The other half would go to the Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund, which would protect neighborhoods, homes, and businesses from the impacts of climate change while also investing in mitigation solutions, like energy efficiency, that will enable us to meet our state’s ambitious climate goals.

Raising the deeds excise tax is an equitable way to generate revenue. It is progressive because the tax is linked to real estate prices, buyers and sellers of high-end homes pay more. And it is affordable for lower-income homebuyers as well. Most families only pay the tax once or twice in their lifetime and it is amortized over the life of their mortgage.
» Read article   

» More about greening the economy  

CLIMATE

too hot
India tries to adapt to extreme heat but is paying a heavy price
Summer hasn’t arrived yet, but early heat waves have brought the country to a standstill
By Gerry Shih and Kasha Patel, Washington Post
May 9, 2022

[…] Typically, heat waves in India affect only part of the country, occur in the summer and only last for a week or so. But a string of early heat waves this spring has been longer and more widespread than any observed before. India experienced its hottest March on record. Northwest and central India followed with their hottest April.

“This probably would be the most severe heat wave in March and April in the entire [recorded] history” of India, said Vimal Mishra, a climate scientist at Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar.

Despite the unprecedented heat, fewer people appear to be dying. Heat waves in 2015 and 1998 took thousands of lives, but the India Meteorological Department has reported only a handful of deaths so far.

Across India, extreme heat has forced farmers, construction workers and students to rearrange their lives, showing how daily routines are changing — and work productivity is declining — in countries that are already among the poorest and hottest in the world.

In recent weeks, education officials in nine northern states have cut the length of classes in half so that students can be dismissed by 11 a.m. Some have ended the school year early. Administrators of large government-run rural employment programs mandated that workers digging canals and ditches stop before noon.

These shifts may be small on their own, but taken together they have far-reaching impacts. India loses more than 100 billion hours of labor per year because of extreme heat, the most of any country in the world, according to research published in Nature Communications.

“We’re reaching some of these critical thresholds in Southwest and South Asia, where people can no longer efficiently cool themselves and it’s almost deadly just to be outside, much less work,” said Luke Parsons, one of the paper’s co-authors. “It’s a really major issue in terms of who bears the cost of climate change first.”
» Read article  

new high
Atmospheric CO2 Hits Another All-Time High
By The Energy Mix
May 8, 2022

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels measured at Hawai’i’s Mauna Loa Observatory breached 420 parts per million (ppm) in April for the first time in human history.

Considered the gold standard for accurate measurements of atmospheric CO2, the new measurements were released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reports the Independent.

The NOAA data release shows CO2 levels hitting 420.23 ppm in April, eight years after they breached 400 ppm (400.2 ppm) in May, 2013.

Last May, atmospheric CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa stood at 419.13 ppm. In May 2002, they were 375.93 ppm, and in 1958, the first year scientists began to measure atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa, levels stood at 317.51 ppm.

May typically records the highest levels of atmospheric CO2, just before the northern hemisphere’s summer kicks in with an explosion of plant growth that pulls carbon out the atmosphere, causing levels to drop.

Emissions from fossil fuel burning, plus the loss of natural carbon sinks through the destruction of forest, wetlands, and mangroves, now mean that even the lowest seasonal CO2 levels—typically measured in September before the leaves fall—are far too high for climate health.

Last year, September readings at Mauna Loa stood at 413.30, well above the safe limit of 350 ppm long urged by climate scientists.

And CO2 is not the only thing to worry about, the Independent notes.

Atmospheric concentrations of the two other major greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, are also rising sharply. Methane is about 85 times more potent an atmospheric warming agent than CO2 over a 20-year span; nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful.

Atmospheric methane levels now stand at 1980.9 parts per billion (ppb), up 340 ppb from the early 1980s, while nitrous oxide just reached 335.2 ppb, up from 316 ppb just 20 years ago.
» Read article   

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

not ideal
Navigating the U.S. Solar Industry’s Spring of Discontent
Solar business owners feel worn down by a federal tariff investigation and the Biden administration’s failure to deliver on policy.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 5, 2022

Troy Van Beek is an optimist by nature, but he sounded dour this week.

His solar business, Ideal Energy in Fairfield, Iowa, is dealing with the blowback from a Department of Commerce investigation that could lead to retroactive tariffs on certain solar panels imported from Southeast Asia.

“We keep getting the rug pulled out from under us,” he said.

[…] The investigation has led to a spike in panel prices in anticipation of potential penalties, which is on top of existing supply chain problems that have made it difficult for solar installers to get the equipment they need.

Van Beek spends much of his time trying to chase down equipment and deciding how much he can pay at a time of volatile prices.

[…] The Commerce Department opened its investigation in response to a February legal filing by Auxin Solar, a small manufacturer in California, that said Chinese companies were circumventing the tariffs imposed in 2018 by the Trump administration. Auxin alleges that Chinese manufacturers avoided tariffs by sending equipment to nearby countries for minor assembly work before delivery to the United States. Since the 2018 tariffs, U.S. panel imports from China plummeted, largely replaced by imports from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Some panel manufacturers have opened plants in the United States, like Jinko Solar of China, which opened in Florida, but the new plants’ output remains small compared to what’s in Asia.

Investigators have a few months to determine if the conduct meets the legal definition of a circumvention of tariffs.

Solar industry groups reacted to the investigation with alarm. The Solar Energy Industries Association said that 24 gigawatts of projects that were projected for 2022 or 2023 would not happen in those years, a decrease of 46 percent compared to the prior forecasts, if the government orders retroactive tariffs. The trade group provided examples of projects that were on hold because of uncertainty about costs that may result from the investigation, and also warned that 100,000 jobs could be lost.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Jenny Chase, lead solar analyst for BloombergNEF, in an email.
» Read article   

hidden emissions
New Research Shows Higher Methane Emissions from Hydropower
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator, in The Energy Mix
May 1, 2022

This month regulators greenlighted a transmission line that would bring power generated from Canadian hydroelectric dams to New York City. New York’s plan to achieve a zero-emissions grid by 2040 depends on hydropower, and it’s not alone.

Globally hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy. In the United States it makes up 7% of electricity generation, and 37 states allow some form of hydropower in their renewable portfolio standards, which establish requirements for the amount renewable energy that must be used for electricity generation.

As U.S. states and countries across the world work to reduce fossil fuels and boost renewables, hydropower is poised to play an even bigger role.

There’s just one problem: A growing body of research published over the past two decades has found that most reservoirs, including those used for hydropower, aren’t emissions-free.

“Hydroelectric reservoirs are a source of biogenic greenhouse gases and in individual cases can reach the same emission rates as thermal power plants,” Swiss researchers found in a 2016 study published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Despite the green reputation of hydropower among policy-makers, some reservoirs emit significant amounts of methane, along with much smaller amounts of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.

That’s bad news because we already have a methane problem. This short-lived but potent gas packs 85 times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide over 20 years. If we hope to stave off catastrophic warming, scientists say we need to quickly cut methane. But new data show that despite this warning it’s still increasing at record levels — even with a global pledge signed by 100 countries to slash methane emissions 30% by 2030.

Methane can rise from wetlands and other natural sources, but most emissions come from human-caused sources like oil and gas, landfills, and livestock. We’ve known about the threat from those sources for years, but emissions from reservoirs have largely been either uncounted or undercounted.

In part that’s because tracking emissions from reservoirs is complicated and highly variable. Emissions can change at different times of the year or even day. They’re influenced by how the dam is managed, including fluctuations in the water level, as well as a host of environmental factors like water quality, depth, sediment, surface wind speed, and temperature.

But recent scientific research provides a better framework to undertake this critical accounting. And environmental groups say it’s time for regulators to get busy putting it to work.
» Read article   
» Read the 2016 study

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

snow cap
Heat pumps do work in the cold — Americans just don’t know it yet

These heating/cooling systems have been called the “most overlooked climate solution.” Now they can work in temperatures far below freezing.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
May 9, 2022

Heat pumps – heating and cooling systems that run entirely on electricity – have been getting a lot of attention recently. They’ve been called the “most overlooked climate solution” and “an answer to heat waves.” And the technology is finally experiencing a global boom in popularity. Last year, 117 million units were installed worldwide, up from 90 million in 2010. As temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions rise, heat pumps, which can be easily powered by renewable energy, promise to provide a pathway to carbon-free home heating. Environmental activist Bill McKibben even suggested sending heat pumps to Europe to help wean the continent off Russian natural gas.

But despite this global surge in popularity, heat pumps in the U.S. are laboring under a misconception that has plagued them for decades: That if the temperature falls to below 30 or even 40 degrees Fahrenheit, their technology simply doesn’t work. “Do heat pumps work in cold weather” is even a trending question on Google.

It’s a narrative that Andy Meyer, a senior program manager for the independent state agency Efficiency Maine, has spent the past decade debunking for residents in one of the U.S.’s coldest states.

“There were two types of people in Maine in 2012,” he said. “Those who didn’t know what heat pumps were — and those who knew they didn’t work in the cold.” But while that concern may have been true years ago, he said, today “it’s not at all true for high-performance heat pumps.”

[…] One of the benefits of installing heat pumps is cost-savings. In Maine, many homes are heated with fuel oil or propane. At current prices, Meyer says, running a heat pump costs half as much as oil and one-third as much as propane. According to Efficiency Maine’s analysis, that can save homeowners up to thousands of dollars in annual energy costs. A 2017 study by CEE similarly found that installing heat pumps in Minnesota could save residents between $349 and $764 per year, compared to heating with a standard electric or propane furnace.

There are some caveats. Lacey Tan, a manager for the carbon-free buildings program at the energy think tank RMI, says there is still a price premium for heat pumps: Some installers aren’t yet comfortable with how they work and try to reduce their risk by increasing up-front costs. In cold climates, some homes may want to have a back-up heating system for extremely frigid days or in the event of a power outage. (In Maine, Meyer says many homeowners use wood stoves as back-up for their heat pumps.)

But many experts believe more and more cold-weather heat pumps will be sold as homeowners learn about the new advances in the technology. Meyer says that Mainers who install heat pumps naturally begin to share their experience with friends and family. “We have over 100,000 salespeople who have already gotten heat pumps,” he said jokingly. “Not bad for a state where they ‘don’t work in the cold.’”
» Read article   

non-condensing
DOE updates water heater rule for first time in two decades
By Miranda Willson, E&E News
May 6, 2022

The Biden administration has unveiled the first new energy efficiency standards in over 20 years for water heaters in commercial buildings, a move it says could slash greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy costs.

Proposed yesterday by the Department of Energy, the updated standards would save businesses $140 million per year in operating costs and eliminate certain inefficient natural gas-consuming water heaters from the market, according to DOE.

The new standards would reduce carbon emissions by 38 million metric tons between 2026 and 2055, DOE said — an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of about 37 coal-fired power plants, according to an EPA calculator. Natural gas-powered water heaters typically use about 18 percent of the gas consumed in commercial buildings, the department said, citing data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“Water heating accounts for a considerable share of energy costs and domestic carbon emissions,” Kelly Speakes-Backman, principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at DOE, said in a press release. “Modernizing commercial water heater technology will slash energy costs for schools, hospitals, and small businesses while removing carbon and methane from our atmosphere.”

If finalized, the proposed rule would go into effect in 2026, resulting in less-efficient water heaters known as “non-condensing” models being effectively eliminated from the market.
» Blog editor’s note: this weak ruling (which still allows businesses to install new, “efficient” natural gas water heaters that will lock in emissions for decades) is opposed by groups representing natural gas utilities. It’s progress, but we need a bigger, faster shift.
» Read article   

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

nano magnet
In a World Starved for Lithium, Researchers Develop a Method to Get It from Water
National lab uses magnets to extract lithium, potentially helping with shortage of key battery material.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
May 12, 2022

The world needs vast quantities of lithium to meet demand for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. And the United States is way behind China in securing a supply of this rare metal.

Catching up in this global race may take some magic, or at least a process that looks like magic.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington have produced magnets that can separate lithium and other metals from water. This approach has the potential to allow companies to affordably gather lithium from sources like the brine used in geothermal power systems and the waste water left over from use by industry.

“We believe that this thing can be big,” said Jian Liu, a senior research engineer at the lab.

The lab has developed a magnetic “nanoparticle” that binds to the materials the user is trying to extract from a liquid. Then, as the liquid passes over a magnetic field, the nanoparticle, which is now latched onto the desired material—usually lithium—gets pulled out.

Liu and his team have been developing this system for eight years. The version in the lab looks like a collection of water containers connected by clear plastic tubes and electronic pumps.

[…] The main caveat is that the process has a cost that means it only makes economic sense for use in liquids with higher concentrations of lithium. The lab’s research is working to reduce the costs.
» Read article   

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

POTUS at Zero
Biden Announces $3 Billion in Grants for Domestic Electric Vehicle Battery Production
By Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, EcoWatch
May 3, 2022

The Biden administration has announced a $3.16 billion plan to stimulate the production of batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S., an essential step in reducing the carbon emissions that are causing global warming.

The money will be made available in the form of grants to encourage the manufacturing of more high-capacity batteries and the sourcing of the raw materials needed to make them. Funded by last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the grants will help U.S. companies build new factories and modify old ones so that they can manufacture EV batteries and parts, CNBC reported. There will be an additional $60 million for a battery reuse and recycling program, the Department of Energy said.

“With the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and stationary storage alone projected to increase the size of the lithium battery market five- to ten-fold by the end of the decade, it is essential that the United States invests in the capacity to accelerate the development of a resilient supply chain for high capacity batteries,” said a grant availability announcement from the U.S. Department of Energy, as the Detroit Free Press reported.

President Joe Biden wants half of all new vehicle sales in the country to be electric by the end of the decade, and has also issued guidelines for all new cars and trucks bought by the federal government to be emissions-free by 2035, reported The New York Times.
» Read article   

» More about clean transportation

GAS UTILITIES

start over
Two years after asking for future of gas investigation, Healey asks state to reject results
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
May 12, 2022

Attorney General Maura Healey, who two years ago prompted the state to begin mapping the phaseout of natural gas in Massachusetts, is now asking it to scrap the blueprint emerging from the process, saying it favors gas company profits over a healthy climate.

”We should be setting the path for an energy system that is equitable, reliable, and affordable — not one that pumps more money into gas pipelines and props up utility shareholders,” said Healey, who is running for governor.

In a 106-page document filed with the state Department of Public Utilities late last week, Healey also said the agency’s decision-making process should be overhauled to prioritize climate goals over the health of utilities, currently one of its functions.

The filing is the latest salvo in a battle that has raged largely out of sight over the future of the gas industry in Massachusetts. Many climate advocates and the state’s own roadmap to net-zero greenhouse emissions call for radically reducing fossil fuels such as natural gas in favor of electricity supplied by a clean power grid. But when the public utilities department launched what it called an investigation into the future of natural gas in 2020, it gave responsibility for developing the blueprint to the gas utilities themselves.

The proposals now emerging from that process, while they would allow for ramping up electrification, lean heavily on large-scale use of so-called decarbonized gas or renewable natural gas. These include tapping the gas generated by landfills or wastewater treatment plants, for example, or using renewable electricity sources to process hydrogen as a fuel. Utilities have also argued for a “hybrid electrification” system, where homes would have electric heat pumps, but also keep gas as a backup.

But advocates say the industry’s suggestions are problematic since they would allow gas companies to continue using fuels that contribute to global warming simply by replacing what flows through their pipes.

In eight hours of public testimony last week and hundreds of pages of comments submitted in the public utilities department proceeding, advocates, activists, and public officials raised concerns that the gas companies’ proposals overlook certain realities about decarbonized fuels — including high cost, limited supply, and that they may not be as climate-friendly as the utilities are claiming.

”Gas utilities have asked the DPU to approve the spending of ratepayer money on untested and costly technologies to maintain their century-old business plan,” Healey said in response to questions from the Globe.
» Read article  
» For the back story on why the utility-produced plan is so bad, MA Senator Cynthia Creem’s April 4, 2022
“Future of Gas” hearing is a must-watch!

» More about gas utilities

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

CO2 pipeline regs
Safety advocate warns of a lack of oversight for new CO2 pipelines needed for carbon capture
By Kara Holsopple, The Allegheny Front
April 29, 2022

The federal infrastructure bill has spurred new interest in carbon capture and storage as a way to reduce climate polluting emissions from the air and send them underground.

Bill Caram, the executive director of Pipeline Safety Trust, says there was also an expansion of existing tax credits for carbon capture to decarbonize parts of the economy. But his group has concerns about the current regulation of pipelines that carry carbon dioxide, and the many more CO2 pipelines that would be needed to fulfill some of these visions of the future.

Pipeline Safety Trust recently commissioned a report to assess the state of CO2 pipeline safety regulation, and The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple recently spoke with Caram about it.
» Listen to the conversation, or read the transcript        
» Read the report on CO2 pipeline safety regulations

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Dacono
US fracking boom could tip world to edge of climate disaster
140bn metric tons of planet-heating gases could be unleashed if fossil fuel extraction plans get green light, analysis shows
By Nina Lakhani and Oliver Milman, The Guardian
May 11, 2022

The fate of the vast quantities of oil and gas lodged under the shale, mud and sandstone of American drilling fields will in large part determine whether the world retains a liveable climate. And the US, the world’s largest extractor of oil, is poised to unleash these fossil fuels in spectacular volumes.

Planned drilling projects across US land and waters will release 140bn metric tons of planet-heating gases if fully realised, an analysis shared with the Guardian has found.

The study, to be published in the Energy Policy journal this month, found emissions from these oil and gas “carbon bomb” projects were four times larger than all of the planet-heating gases expelled globally each year, placing the world on track for disastrous climate change.

The plans include conventional drilling and fracking spanning the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado and the mountainous Appalachian region. But the heart is the Permian basin, a geological formation 250 miles wide that sits under the mostly flat terrain of west Texas and New Mexico.

One lobe of this formation, known as the Delaware basin, is predicted to emit 27.8bn metric tons of carbon during the lifetime of planned drilling, while another, known as the Midland basin, will potentially unleash 16.6bn tons of emissions.

It means the US, the centre of the world’s addiction to oil and gas, will play an outsized role in the heatwaves, droughts and floods that will impact people around the planet.

Compared with traditional drilling, fracking is linked to higher levels of exposure to toxic air pollutants and poor water quality, as well as unhealthy noise and light pollution. Numerous studies have suggested elevated rates of congenital heart defects, childhood leukaemia, asthma, and premature births in neigbourhoods close to fracking sites, while elderly people living near or downwind are more likely to die prematurely.
» Read article   

Niger Delta flares
Oil Giants Sell Dirty Wells to Buyers With Looser Climate Goals, Study Finds
The transactions can help major oil and gas companies clean up their own production by transferring polluting assets to a different firm, the analysis said.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
May 10, 2022

When Royal Dutch Shell sold off its stake in the Umuechem oil field in Nigeria last year, it was, on paper, a step forward for the company’s climate ambitions: Shell could clean up its holdings, raise money to invest in cleaner technologies, and move toward its goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

As soon as Shell left, however, the oil field underwent a change so significant it was detected from space: a surge in flaring, or the wasteful burning of excess gas in towering columns of smoke and fire. Flaring emits planet-warming greenhouse gases, as well as soot, into the atmosphere.

Around the world, many of the largest energy companies are expected to sell off more than $100 billion of oil fields and other polluting assets in an effort to cut their emissions and make progress toward their corporate climate goals. However, they frequently sell to buyers that disclose little about their operations, have made few or no pledges to combat climate change, and are committed to ramping up fossil fuel production.

New research to be released Tuesday showed that, of 3,000 oil and gas deals made between 2017 and 2021, more than twice as many involved assets moving from operators with net-zero commitments to those that didn’t, than the reverse. That is raising concerns that the assets will continue to pollute, perhaps even at a greater rate, but away from the public eye.

“You can move your assets to another company, and move the emissions off your own books, but that doesn’t equal any positive impact on the planet if it’s done without any safeguards in place,” said Andrew Baxter, who heads the energy transition team at the Environmental Defense Fund, which performed the analysis.

Transactions like these expose the messy underside of the global energy transition away from fossil fuels, a shift that is imperative to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
» Read article   
» Read the EDF report on transferred emissions

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Goldboro undead
2 stalled LNG projects in Nova Scotia may be on the brink of revival
Renewed signs of interest in Goldboro and Bear Head projects
Frances Willick, CBC News
May 11, 2022

Two proposed liquefied natural gas projects in Nova Scotia that previously stalled are now showing signs of advancing.

Pieridae Energy, the company behind the Goldboro LNG project, is in discussions with the federal government about how to move the project forward.

The proposed LNG terminal in Goldboro, N.S., was previously pitched as a $13-billion land-based facility that would bring in gas from Western Canada and then ship it to Europe. Pieridae shelved the project last summer due to cost pressures and time constraints.

But after Russia — a key supplier of oil and gas to Europe — invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the federal government approached Pieridae to see if the company could assist with efforts to ramp up energy exports to help wean Europe off Russian resources.

It’s a far cry from the situation a year ago, when Pieridae requested $1 billion from Ottawa to help make the project a reality — funding that did not materialize.

“The world has changed a lot since then,” Pieridae CEO Alfred Sorensen told CBC News Tuesday. “We have to take advantage of all the work we’ve done already and try and see if we can move the project forward very quickly.”

Earlier this year, Pieridae Energy was considering a smaller project with a floating LNG barge where gas would be super-chilled and then transferred onto tankers.

The company is now shifting its attention back to a land-based project because it would be able to produce more gas than a barge-based facility, and the federal government is interested in maximizing output, Sorensen said.

[…] Even with many approvals and permits already in place, Sorensen said gas would not likely flow from a Goldboro facility until January 2027.

[…] Any oil and gas project in Nova Scotia will face opposition from people concerned about its impact on climate change and greenhouse gas reduction targets.
» Read article   

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 3/25/22

banner 16

Welcome back.

Six devoted climate activists have pressed a hunger strike for more than a week now, protesting approval of the controversial Peabody, MA  peaking power plant. With the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency clearly calling for no new fossil fuel infrastructure, the hunger strike is a desperate attempt to get the Baker Administration to revisit the plant’s environmental permit. It’s worth noting that opponents of this peaker have proposed readily available, zero-emissions, less-expensive alternatives – and that this information has been ignored in favor of business-as-usual.

On the bright side, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will finally consider the climate and social justice impacts of proposed gas pipelines, which prompted a typical, frothy backlash from conservative politicians and the fossil fuel lobby. These folks argue that the new rules make it virtually impossible to approve new gas infrastructure projects. Ah… you’re catching on!

That’s a good introduction to the “alternative facts” world of gas utilities and the fossil fuel industry in general, who have twisted the concept of a clean energy transition to the point where it means continuing to drill, pipe, and burn – but a little bit more efficiently and with the magical help of some fuzzy carbon capture fantasy that makes all those emissions just… disappear. To be clear, that’s bunk. And as a new study shows, a just transition would require fossil fuel extraction to end much sooner in developed and robust economies like the U.S. and Canada, so that poorer countries have time to diversify their economies before turning off the hydrocarbon spigot that currently sustains them.

The solution to the climate crisis is maddeningly simple: stop burning stuff. Getting there is a complicated global project requiring will and cooperation, but we have the tools and technologies ready to go. If we all pull in the same direction, we’ll get there.

Of course, one of those global complications is Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine, and the uncomfortable fact that Europe is sustaining Putin’s army through their purchases of Russian oil and gas. The obvious solution is to pull out all the stops and deploy renewable energy generation and storage while rapidly electrifying transportation and home heating. Sure, it can’t be completed overnight, but neither can we replace all that fuel with liquefied natural gas, given the long lead time to build new terminals and ships. How we tackle this problem may well determine whether or not we keep global warming within the 1.5 degree C limit, beyond which there’s general scientific agreement that things get pretty nasty.

Massachusetts is kick starting its green economy with the help of a program that combines worker training with the goal of expanding access to clean transportation into underserved communities. There’s good news in energy efficient home heating, too. A new study shows that ditching your gas furnace or boiler in favor of an electric heat pump is a big win for the climate, whatever the refrigerant or the source of your electricity. That’s useful information for anyone thinking it’s better to wait until new, non-HFC refrigerants are available. Those are coming, but electrifying now is better than doing it later.

This has been a pretty crazy week in the news, so closing with a couple stories on cryptocurrency seems weirdly appropriate. The themes are familiar – an industry’s products are both beneficial and harmful, and it needs to mitigate a massive carbon footprint while trying to figure out its place in the future world. Also familiar: the mix of real and false solutions couched in lots of green messaging. We’ll keep an eye on it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

no more CO2
Hunger Strike Tour Opposed To Peabody Generator Hits Home
By Scott Souza, Patch
March 22, 2022

One full week after starting a hunger strike to protest the planned 60-megawatt fossil fuel-powered generator set for construction at the Waters River substation, seven members of the climate group 350 Mass were planning to be at Peabody’s Courthouse Square Tuesday as part of a passionate plea to stop the project.

The event culminates a week of protests asking the state to step in and re-examine the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company’s Project 2015A to build a gas- and oil-powered generator capable of providing electricity to 14 municipal energy communities – including Marblehead and Peabody – in times of extreme weather or “peak” energy demand.

The generator gained final approval from the state Department of Public Utilities last summer with a state order from Gov. Charlie Baker or action from Secretary of Environmental and Energy Services Kathleen Theoharides to reopen the environmental review process among the few viable options left to halt the impending project.

“The extremity is simply because nothing else seems to make a dent,” Sue Donaldson told Patch of the hunger strike on Tuesday. “It just feels like what else can you do at this point?”

Donaldson said the Peabody generator is the group’s “poster child” to protest greater issues involved with government oversight agencies’ allowance of continued reliance on fossil fuels amid the climate crisis.

“We are all pretty seasoned activists,” Donaldson said. “We have all protested, and rallied, and gotten arrested, and nothing else seems to have slowed people down. We really wanted to do something to highlight the urgency of the whole issue.”

MMWEC representatives have argued that the generator is necessary to ensure the continued delivery of energy in extreme conditions while protecting consumers from the potential price spikes of purchasing that power on the surge market. They have also said the generator is expected to operate about 239 hours a year and that it will be 94 percent more efficient than comparable generators across the state.

But fierce opponents of the project — including the hunger strikers — say that any new use of fossil fuels further endangers the future of the planet.

“Our house is on fire,” 350 Mass member Judith Black, of Marblehead, told Patch. “It’s amazing to me that everyone doesn’t have this at the top of their list of change. Our government has been criminal in its lack of action.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

no more gas power plants
As hunger strike continues, leaders push for review
By Dustin Luca, Salem News
March 22, 2022

A hunger strike opposing a new oil-and-gas powered “peaker” plant in Peabody has enlisted some legislative muscle as the strike hits its ninth day.

Opponents to the plant and environmental advocates held a protest in front of Peabody District Court Tuesday afternoon, the eighth day of the strike. The event included the support of state Rep. Sally Kerans, D-Danvers, and state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, who represents several communities in the area.

“I just want to send my best to the six individuals behind us who are putting themselves in harm’s way for a very important, critical issue,” Lovely said, then leaning to a group of protestors wearing black hats emblazoned with “HUNGER STRIKER” in big, white letters. “That’s why we’re here.”

The hunger strike was launched Tuesday, March 15, in opposition of the “Peabody Peaker” plant, an $85 million facility that will only operate during peak demand times to keep the region’s energy needs met. The plant is being sought by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company and would touch 14 communities if built.

“We’re in a fight for a clean energy future,” said Kerans. “To that end, these folks are literally putting your health on the line to make the point that, if we don’t transition to clean energy, the changes will come in other ways and will be cataclysmic and irreversible.

“So it isn’t too much to ask those of us who are in state government to use our authority,” Kerans continued. “That’s what we’re encouraging the officials from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs — to use their authority to revisit this plant.”

Much of the event targeted Kathleen Theoharides, the state’s secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. It was organized by Breathe Clean North Shore, which is now celebrating an anniversary because of the project.
» Read article      

» More about peakers

PIPELINES

open-cut trench
FERC Says it Will Consider Greenhouse Gas Emissions and ‘Environmental Justice’ Impacts in Approving New Natural Gas Pipelines
Environmentalists applauded the shifts in policy, while one Senate natural gas advocate said the guidelines would make approvals for new pipelines “next to impossible.”
By Zoha Tunio, Inside Climate News
March 21, 2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued new policy statements saying its approval process for natural gas pipelines and liquified natural gas facilities will take greenhouse gas emissions and “environmental justice” impacts into consideration in determining whether the infrastructure projects are in the public interest.

Although non-binding, the policy statements, issued last month, could significantly change how natural gas pipelines are approved by the commission going forward. Under its new approach, the commission would  be required to determine whether a project is actually needed to meet the energy demands of a given region and whether it is in the public interest, with its benefits outweighing its potential adverse impacts, such as air pollution or threats to groundwater.

Interim guidelines, which have gone into effect but remain open for public comment through April 4 before being finalized, require environmental impact statements for all projects emitting more than 100,000 metric tons of gases every year.

Pipelines and liquified natural gas facilities often release into the atmosphere vast quantities of methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, because of accidents, or during repairs and routine maintenance. Methane is a climate super-pollutant 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

While climate advocacy groups have welcomed FERC’s policy statements, opponents argue that they may have damaging impacts on industry’s ability to transport natural gas and export liquified natural gas, which is produced through an energy-intensive process that requires cooling natural gas to -259 degrees Fahrenheit.

U.S. Sen. John Barraso (R-Wyo.), a leading advocate for the natural gas industry, took aim at the new FERC policy during a March 3 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

“These policies are going to make it next to impossible to build any new natural gas infrastructure or upgrade our existing facilities in the United States,” he said.

[…] But Richard Glick, FERC’s chairman, said that the policies came in response to various court decisions in which the commission’s pipeline approvals were vacated because the commission had not sufficiently determined the pipelines were needed by consumers to provide heat and electricity.

Glick said the commission’s approach had evolved into one in which developers’ proposals “were treated as conclusive proof of the need for a proposed project.”
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

GAS UTILITIES

Dorchester Gas
What’s the future of gas in Mass.? Utilities and critics have different visions
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
March 18, 2022


New reports from the state’s five investor-owned gas utilities offer roadmaps to the companies’ future — and, in many ways, our own.

[…] In 2020, Attorney General Maura Healey asked the Department of Public Utilities to investigate how the local distribution companies planned to meet the state’s goals while ensuring continued safe and reliable gas service (even as demand declines), and ensure consumers do not pay unnecessary costs.

Technically known as Department of Public Utility Docket 20-80, the utility reports are based on analysis conducted by two independent research consulting firms selected by the local gas distribution companies. The researcher came up with nine pathways the utilities could take to meet Massachusetts’ ambitious emission limits.

The five utility reports are virtually identical. All call for increased energy efficiency measures; expanded use of heat pumps powered electricity generated by renewable solar and wind; and where necessary, using hybrid gas-electric heating systems comprised of electric heat pumps and back-up gas burners.

[…] But critics say the utility roadmaps are based on unproven technologies and warn the companies will spend billions of dollars installing new pipelines that will be obsolete by mid-century, leaving consumers to pay for the stranded assets long after they’re needed.

[…] The utilities hope to stay in the pipeline distribution business by substituting biogas, also known as renewable natural gas, for natural gas currently obtained from drilling and fracking fossil formations in the earth. Biogas is derived from capturing methane released from decomposing organic matter in landfills, farms and waste water treatment plants. Both biogas and natural gas are equally damaging to the climate if emitted into the atmosphere.

Sam Wade, director of public policy with the Renewable Natural Gas Coalition, estimates biogas can replace 20% of fossil gas.

California recently required the state to obtain 12% of its natural gas from biogas but Matt Vespa, a Senior Attorney with EarthJustice in California thinks that is overly optimistic.

“I think they’re pushing what is feasible with that amount,” Vespa said. “There are limited sources of biogas … so this is a niche solution that should be reserved for the most difficult applications that you can’t electrify.”

[…] National Grid and Eversource are also hoping to use a new technology known as networked geothermal energy. Eversource will drill an experimental pilot project in Framingham this summer. National Grid plans to start two projects next year but has not announced the locations.

Network geothermal uses the earth as a battery, tapping the constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit temperature just a few feet below the surface and circulating it to homes and businesses in the area through a network of pipes. The thermal energy would be heated or cooled using electric pumps.

The networked geothermal technology is promoted by Cambridge based HEET, which describes itself as a non-profit climate incubator. Co-executive director Zeyneb Magavi said gas utilities can evolve into “geo-utilities,” delivering a consistent temperature to customers instead of natural gas, and utilize the expertise of their work crews to drill holes and network the necessary pipes.

Without an ambitious project like that, Massachusetts is nowhere near achieving its goal, Magavi warned.

“If we can’t start doing this at a utility scale, street by street, everybody having access at a cost they can afford, I don’t think we’re going to get there,” she said.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

GREENING THE ECONOMY

bike mechanic
Massachusetts program funds strategies pairing equity and clean transportation

Accelerating Clean Transportation for All will provide $5 million in grants to 10 projects across the state focused on improving infrastructure for electric transportation for low-income areas and communities of color.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 21, 2022

Massachusetts has announced $5 million in grants for pilot projects aimed at connecting disadvantaged populations with clean, electric transportation.

The program, known as Accelerating Clean Transportation for All, will fund 10 projects across the state that are focused on improving infrastructure for electric taxis, increasing adoption of e-bikes, electrifying nonprofit fleets, or educating consumers about electric vehicles.

“The overarching goal of that program is to address clean transportation in areas that are overburdened by greenhouse gasses and also underserved by public transportation,” said Rachel Ackerman, director for transportation programming at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the agency administering the grant program.

Environmental justice has been a centerpiece of Massachusetts’ policy since last year, when the state passed ambitious climate legislation that included several provisions for ensuring the clean energy transition benefits low-income residents and communities of color. Accelerating Clean Transportation for All was developed with this goal in mind.

The grant-winning proposals will receive between $152,000 and $1 million to implement their plans. The clean energy center is in the process of finalizing contracts with the grantees, but many projects are expected to launch as early as this summer.
» Read article      

looming challenge
What happens to used solar panels? DOE wants to know
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
March 21, 2022

The Department of Energy released an action plan last week intended to help the United States launch a comprehensive system for handling and recycling solar panels, which some studies have suggested could make up a tenth of all electronic waste in coming decades.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) announced a new target to bring the cost of recycling solar panels to about $3 per panel by 2030, a threshold that would make the practice economic for the first time.

That follows an earlier DOE goal to try to halve the price of solar power by decade’s end. By 2035, solar could contribute 37 to 42 percent of the grid’s power, in line with the Biden administration’s goal of a carbon-free grid by that year, according to the office, which is part of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

The new recycling target would mean a cost reduction of “more than half,” DOE’s solar researchers estimated. It also would make recycling roughly as economic as sending old panels to landfills, a process that costs roughly $1 to $5 per panel before transportation costs are factored in, according to previous research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

“As we accelerate deployment of photovoltaic systems, we must also recognize the pressing need to address end-of-life for the materials in a sustainable way,” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, EERE’s principal deputy assistant secretary, in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that the recovery, reuse, recycling, and disposal of these systems and their components are accessible, low-cost and have minimal environmental impact.”

To reach the target, the solar office is aiming to fill a knowledge gap about what happens to solar panels after they reach the end of their useful lives.

“Little is known about the actual state and handling of [photovoltaic end-of-life panels],” including the amount of panel waste being generated, how owners go about decommissioning their panels, who handles the waste and how transportation works, DOE’s plan said.

At least one thing is clear, though, for the solar industry: Figuring out how to recycle old panels — or reuse parts like the precious metals often contained in them — is a looming challenge.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

world on fire
In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things
The truth is new and counterintuitive: we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch fossil fuels.
By Bill McKibben, The New Yorker
March 18, 2022

On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Then, just a few hours later, at the opening of a rare emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly, he catalogued the horrors of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and declared, “Enough is enough.” Citing Putin’s declaration of a nuclear alert, the war could, Guterres said, turn into an atomic conflict, “with potentially disastrous implications for us all.”

What unites these two crises is combustion. Burning fossil fuel has driven the temperature of the planet ever higher, melting most of the sea ice in the summer Arctic, bending the jet stream, and slowing the Gulf Stream. And selling fossil fuel has given Putin both the money to equip an army (oil and gas account for sixty per cent of Russia’s export earnings) and the power to intimidate Europe by threatening to turn off its supply. Fossil fuel has been the dominant factor on the planet for centuries, and so far nothing has been able to profoundly alter that. After Putin invaded, the American Petroleum Institute insisted that our best way out of the predicament was to pump more oil. The climate talks in Glasgow last fall, which John Kerry, the U.S. envoy, had called the “last best hope” for the Earth, provided mostly vague promises about going “net-zero by 2050”; it was a festival of obscurantism, euphemism, and greenwashing, which the young climate activist Greta Thunberg summed up as “blah, blah, blah.” Even people trying to pay attention can’t really keep track of what should be the most compelling battle in human history.

So let’s reframe the fight. Along with discussing carbon fees and green-energy tax credits, amid the momentary focus on disabling Russian banks and flattening the ruble, there’s a basic, underlying reality: the era of large-scale combustion has to come to a rapid close. If we understand that as the goal, we might be able to keep score, and be able to finally get somewhere. Last Tuesday, President Biden banned the importation of Russian oil. This year, we may need to compensate for that with American hydrocarbons, but, as a senior Administration official put it,“the only way to eliminate Putin’s and every other producing country’s ability to use oil as an economic weapon is to reduce our dependency on oil.” As we are one of the largest oil-and-gas producers in the world, that is a remarkable statement. It’s a call for an end of fire.
» Read article      

climate sniffles
Thanks to climate change, ticks and allergies are arriving earlier
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
March 22, 2022

Is that familiar allergic tickle in your throat showing up earlier in the spring? Does it seem like ticks are spreading across New England earlier, too? If so, it’s not just you — it’s climate change.

Thanks to the quickly warming Gulf of Maine, the region is warming faster than the rest of the world. Since 1900, temperatures in metropolitan Boston have climbed by about 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit), while temperatures on the rest of the planet rose an average of 1.14 degrees Celsius.

That means we’re seeing shorter winters, earlier blooms, and more pollen. In a study published last week in the journal Nature Communications, scientists from the University of Michigan examined 15 types of pollen from different plants found in the United States and found, in computer simulations, that pollen counts are increasing.

Richard B. Primack, a biology professor at Boston University who focuses on climate change, said the new study’s findings should come as no surprise.

”Plants are responding [to warming temperatures] by flowering earlier,” he said. “So of course, pollen season is coming earlier than it did in the past.”

Another yearly annoyance that’s exacerbated because of climate change: ticks. Milder winters, earlier springs, and wetter conditions are creating a perfect environment for the pests, which carry a host of dangerous diseases, including Lyme disease. They’re breeding, developing, and growing in population earlier in the year, and they’re also spreading northward into areas that used to be too cold for their liking, research shows.

As the climate is changing, a new kind of tick, known as the Lone Star tick, has also spread into New England, said Larry Dapsis, deer tick project coordinator and entomologist for the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

“The Lone Star tick has been spreading north steadily,” he said. “It’s a function of climate change: The earth is getting warmer, and we’re seeing plants and animals where we never used to see them before. This is a great example of that.”

Cases of tick-borne Lyme disease have been trending upward for years around the country, especially in the Northeast. Federal data isn’t available on Massachusetts because state officials have altered their reporting methods, which makes it hard to track trends, but EPA numbers show that Maine and Vermont have experienced the largest increases in reported case rates, with New Hampshire close behind.

“The incidence of Lyme disease has really increased dramatically over the last several decades in New England,” Primark said.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

blank term
There’s a Messaging Battle Right Now Over America’s Energy Future
Climate scientists and fossil fuel executives use the same terms when they talk about an energy transition. But they mean starkly different things.
By David Gelles and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
March 19, 2022

Climate scientists, oil executives, progressives and conservatives all agree on one thing these days: The energy transition is upon us.

The uninhibited burning of fossil fuels for more than a century has already warmed the planet significantly, and cleaner and more sustainable sources of power are urgently needed in order to avoid further catastrophic changes to the environment.

But even as longtime adversaries use the same terminology, calling in unison for an “energy transition,” they are often talking about starkly different scenarios.

According to the scientific consensus, the energy transition requires a rapid phasing out of fossil fuels and the immediate scaling up of cleaner energy sources like wind, solar and nuclear.

But many in the oil and gas business say the energy transition simply means a continued use of fossil fuels, with a greater reliance on natural gas rather than coal, and a hope that new technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration can contain or reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses they produce.

“The term energy transition is interpreted one way by the climate hawks, and in a totally different way by those in the oil and gas industry,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “It is a very ambiguous term. Like, what does that even mean?”

The phrase has become what is known in linguistics circles as a “floating signifier,” Dr. Leiserowitz said. He called it “a blank term that you can fill with your own preferred definition.”

Efforts to move the world away from fossil fuels have been proceeding in slow motion for years, as nations and corporations advance scattershot efforts to reduce emissions. But the transformation is reaching an inflection point today, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompting climate advocates and the oil and gas industry to advance dueling narratives about what the energy transition is and how it should be carried out.

Climate researchers point out that there is little room for ambiguity. With increasing urgency, a series of major scientific reports has underlined the need to phase out fossil fuels and the damaging effects of planet warming emissions.
» Read article      

listen up
U.N. Chief Warns of ‘Catastrophe’ With Continued Use of Fossil Fuels
António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said instead of replacing Russian oil, gas and coal, nations must pivot to clean energy.
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
March 21, 2022

Countries are “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe” if they continue to rely on fossil fuels, and nations racing to replace Russian oil, gas and coal with their own dirty energy are making matters worse, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned on Monday.

The ambitious promises world leaders made last year at a climate summit in Glasgow were “naïve optimism,” Mr. Guterres said. Nations are nowhere near the goal of limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic impacts increases significantly. The planet has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius.

And the pollution that is dangerously heating the planet is continuing to increase. Global emissions are set to rise by 14 percent in the 2020s, and emissions from coal continue to surge, he said.

“The 1.5 degree goal is on life support. It is in intensive care,” Mr. Guterres said in remarks delivered to a summit The Economist is hosting on sustainability via video address.

“We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe,” he said. “If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach. And that would be a catastrophe.”

Mr. Guterres’s speech comes as the European Union is trying to find ways to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, and countries like the United States are scrambling to increase fossil fuel production to stabilize energy markets. President Biden and European leaders have said that the short-term needs will not upend their longer-term vision of shifting to wind, solar and other renewable sources that do not produce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

But the U.N. secretary general said he fears that strategy endangers the goal of rapid reduction of fossil fuel burning. Keeping the planet at safe levels means slashing emissions worldwide 45 percent by [2030], scientists have said.
» Per 2019 IPCC report on pathway for achieving 1.5C: “In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045–2055 interquartile range).”
» Read article      

appropriate H2 application
How Putin’s war has “turbocharged” green hydrogen, and long term shift from fossils
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
March 24, 2022

Much has been written about the unintended boost Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might lend to the global shift to renewables, but two new reports from leading market analysts have singled out green hydrogen as a sector that stands to be “turbocharged” as a result of the conflict.

The reports, from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Rystad Energy, explain that soaring gas prices, driven up by the Russia-Ukraine war, have – as BNEF puts it – “opened a rare opportunity” for renewable electricity to make hydrogen and hydrogen-derived products more cheaply than gas.

BNEF, in a report published at the start of the month, said that since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, European gas prices have jumped to more than six times higher than the value over the same time period in 2021.

Gas import prices in Asia, meanwhile, have charted a nearly five-fold increase over the same period last year, while US gas prices have jumped by 60 per cent.

This has in turn driven up spot prices for ammonia, a gas-derived product primarily used for fertiliser, and those rising “grey ammonia” costs have in turn opened the door for “green” production processes, which rely on renewable electricity to make hydrogen.
» Read article      

TVA poster
Largest Government-Owned Utility in U.S. Backs Gas, Despite White House Climate Commitments
By The Energy Mix
March 20, 2022

America’s biggest federally-owned utility, still under the influence of a Trump-appointed board of directors, is facing a federal investigation after announcing plans to spend more than US$3.5 billion on new gas-fired power plants rather than investing in cheaper renewables.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said its move to replace its oldest coal plants with gas was all about ensuring reliable and cheap power for its nearly 10 million customers from across the southeastern U.S., writes the New York Times.

But TVA has also “gutted its energy efficiency program” and “interfered with the adoption of renewable energy,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, condemning the move to build expensive fossil fuel projects rather than invest in less expensive, climate-friendly technologies.

Currently the third-largest electricity provider in the United States, TVA plans to add roughly 5,000 MW of gas to an energy mix which is currently composed of 39% nuclear, 26% gas, 19% coal, 11% hydro, and 3% wind and solar.

“As the largest federally-owned utility, TVA should be leading the way on clean energy,” said Pallone, who has opened an investigation into TVA’s pursuit of new gas-powered plants. “It’s going in the wrong direction right now with more gas burning.”

TVA’s decision “sends a terrible message,” University of California, Santa Barbara environmental policy expert Leah C. Stokes told the Times.
» Read article     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

HVAC tech
The Climate Math of Home Heating Electrification
By Alex Hillbrand Pierre Delforge, NRDC | Expert Blog Post
March 3, 2022

The strong climate case for electrifying homes across America grew even stronger last week.

Researchers from U.C. Davis published a study in Energy Policy showing that a typical U.S. home can cut its heating-related climate pollution by 45 percent to 72 percent by swapping out a gas-fired furnace for an efficient, all-electric heat pump. And it’s true starting today, in every region in the country.

NRDC, a supporter of the study, asked U.C. Davis to look into this question for a couple of reasons. We often hear the concern that the CO2 emissions from generating electricity to power heat pumps make them too dirty today, and that we should wait to electrify – or swap out appliances that use fossil fuels in exchange for efficient electric models that can be powered by clean energy sources – until the grid gets cleaner. Other times we hear that electrifying too soon will exacerbate the impacts of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which cause climate change when leaked from appliances.

The new findings address both of these issues – plus the impact of the switch on fugitive methane emissions – and confirm that the time to act is now. Here are the results, in brief.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about energy efficiency

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

USPS trucks
Watchdog Finds Postal Service Could Serve 99% of Routes With Electric Fleet
The report comes as Democrats in Congress are challenging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s plan to buy new gas-powered delivery trucks despite the global need to transition off of fossil fuels.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
March 22, 2022

“A gas-guzzling fleet is clearly the wrong choice.”

That’s what Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said in response to a new report from the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) about how transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) would impact the USPS.

The OIG analysis, released last week, came as Huffman and other Democrats in Congress are challenging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s contract with Oshkosh Defense for new mostly gas-powered mail trucks, given climate experts’ warnings about the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

“The U.S. Postal Service employs 217,000 delivery vehicles to deliver mail and parcels to more than 135 million addresses. Many of these vehicles are beyond their intended service life and expensive to operate and maintain,” states the report. “The Postal Service is at a critical inflection point for its aging fleet and is preparing to acquire and operate a new generation of delivery vehicles.”

The OIG “identified several clear benefits of adopting electric vehicles into the postal delivery fleet, including improved sustainability and environmental impacts,” the document continues. “Electric vehicles are generally more mechanically reliable than gas-powered vehicles and would require less maintenance. Energy costs will be lower for electric vehicles, as using electricity to power an electric vehicle is cheaper than using gasoline.”

“Our research confirms that electric vehicle technology is generally capable of meeting the Postal Service’s needs,” the analysis adds, pointing out that of the roughly 177,000 USPS routes nationwide, only “around 2,600 of these routes (1.5% of the total) may be poorly suited to electric vehicle deployment.”

Most of the routes that are not well-suited for an EV are longer than the vehicle’s 70-mile range, though the paper notes that some shorter routes “may also experience range limitations if they include hilly terrain, since acceleration up steep slopes can reduce the range of a fully charged battery.”

The document also emphasizes that despite the higher upfront cost of buying new EVs and installing charging infrastructure, “the adoption of electric delivery vehicles could save the Postal Service money in the long term,” particularly for longer routes that are up to 70 miles, because the USPS would save on rapidly rising gas costs.
» Read article      
» Read the Inspector General’s report

BRPC charge plan
Berkshire Planning Commission Preparing for Electric Vehicle Movement
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires
March 20, 2022

Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is preparing for the statewide and national movement toward electric vehicles.

BRPC Transportation Planner Justin Gilmore presented a Berkshire County Electric Vehicle Charging Station Plan to the commission on Thursday that aims to put charging capabilities in every community.

“The primary purpose of this plan is really just to educate and inform the reader on the current state of electric vehicles and charging station technology and certainly equip municipal officials with the information they need to start making strategic investments around charging station installation,” Gilmore explained.

“And all of this is really coming on the heels of major commitments to address climate change.”

The state’s decarbonization roadmap, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 85 percent by 2050, outlines steps to require 100 percent zero-emissions light-duty vehicle (LDV) sales by 2035.

This means that after 2035 in the state of Massachusetts, people will no longer be able to buy new internal combustion engine vehicles.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan published in 2020 aims to increase the number of EVs in the state from about 36,000 to 750,000 by 2030.

“Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions nationally, at the state level, and locally here in the Berkshires, so this shift towards electrification really represents a critical opportunity to begin decarbonizing the transportation sector,” Gilmore explained.
» Read article      

pain at the pump
Decades of Lobbying Weakened Americans’ Gas Mileage and Turbocharged Pain at the Pump
The oil and automotive industries, as well as the Koch network, undercut efforts to make today’s fleet of vehicles more efficient and less reliant on fossil fuels.
By Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog
March 18, 2022

[…] The pain at the pump for American drivers has roots that run deeper than today’s crisis. In recent years, while fracking’s supporters were shouting “drill baby drill” the oil industry began lobbying behind the scenes to undercut programs designed to make vehicles more fuel efficient or less reliant on fossil fuels. Alongside automakers, they helped pave the way for a boom in gas guzzlers that attracted consumers when gas prices were relatively low: In 2021, a stunning 78 percent of new vehicles sold in the United States were SUVs or trucks, according to the Wall Street Journal. American carmakers like Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler have nearly abandoned making sedans for U.S. drivers altogether.

That was a step in the wrong direction, efficiency advocates say. “We absolutely should be moving to establishing independence from fossil fuels, both for geopolitical and for public health and climate reasons,” said Luke Tonachel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) clean vehicles and fuels group. “I think our best tool to fight petro-dictators is to shake off the need for the petroleum that is the source of their power.”

The recent bigger-is-better boom is creating big problems for drivers as gas prices soar because once a vehicle is built, keeping up with maintenance and deploying a few tips and tricks are about all your average driver can do to improve a car’s fuel efficiency beyond its design specs. Until today’s cars are retired, American drivers are pretty much stuck with hundreds of millions of vehicles built while gas prices largely hovered between $2 and $3 a gallon.

But while conversations about fuel efficiency are often dominated by debates about whether buyers or sellers should shoulder the blame for the stampede towards SUVs over Priuses, there’s another often-ignored actor in the room.

Federal rules shape the menu of options offered to consumers by requiring automakers to achieve fleet-wide averages on fuel efficiency. A quick look back shows the oil industry’s fingerprints (alongside those of car manufacturers) on gambits to grind down those fuel efficiency standards, leaving everyday Americans more dependent on oil.
» Read article      

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Peter Wall
Bitcoin Miners Want to Recast Themselves as Eco-Friendly
Facing intense criticism, the crypto mining industry is trying to change the view that its energy-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate.
By David Yaffe-Bellany, New York Times
March 22, 2022

Along a dirt-covered road deep in Texas farm country, the cryptocurrency company Argo Blockchain is building a power plant for the internet age: a crypto “mining” site stocked with computers that generate new Bitcoins.

But unlike other Bitcoin mining operations, which consume large quantities of fossil fuels and produce carbon emissions, Argo claims it’s trying to do something environmentally responsible. As Peter Wall, Argo’s chief executive, led a tour of the 126,000-square-foot construction site one morning this month, he pointed to a row of wind turbines a few miles down the road, their white spokes shining in the sunlight.

The new facility, an hour outside Lubbock, would be fueled mostly by wind and solar energy, he declared. “This is Bitcoin mining nirvana,” Mr. Wall said. “You look off into the distance and you’ve got your renewable power.”

Facing criticism from politicians and environmentalists, the cryptocurrency mining industry has embarked on a rebranding effort to challenge the prevailing view that its electricity-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate. All five of the largest publicly traded crypto mining companies say they are building or already operating plants powered by renewable energy, and industry executives have started arguing that demand from crypto miners will create opportunities for wind and solar companies to open facilities of their own.

The effort — partly a public-relations exercise, partly a genuine attempt to make the industry more sustainable — has intensified since last spring, when China began a crackdown on crypto mining, forcing some mining operations to relocate to the United States. A trade group called the Bitcoin Mining Council also formed last year, partly to tackle climate issues, after Elon Musk criticized the industry for using fossil fuels.
» Read article      

trading machine
There is a greener way to mine crypto
It’s worth examining how the many, many “clean” crypto initiatives, currencies, blockchains, and marketplaces for non-fungible tokens actually stack up.
By Nitish Pahwa, Grist
March 22, 2022

Last April, the cryptocurrency world announced its own virtual iteration of the Paris Agreement: the Crypto Climate Accord. The alliance bills itself as “a private sector-led initiative for the entire crypto community focused on decarbonizing the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry in record time.” Its goal is to transition the crypto industry to renewable energy sources in time for the 2025 United Nations climate conference. By 2040, it seeks to “achieve net-zero emissions for the entire crypto industry.”

Why does crypto need its own climate pact? Because it has a massive carbon footprint, one that’s kept growing as interest in cryptocurrencies — not to mention the sheer number of cryptocurrencies — has grown. A 2019 study in the science journal Joule estimated that, at the lowest bounds, Bitcoin’s power consumption emitted about 22 million metric tons of carbon dioxide the previous year. For context, that’s about 10 percent of the global railway sector’s annual emissions — and it’s just for one currency, even if it’s a major one. Such figures are a bad look for the industry’s public image, which is why phrases like “green crypto” and “clean crypto” are suddenly popping up everywhere, fueling efforts like the new climate accord. Crypto’s dirty reputation is an existential problem — so for the sake of both the planet and the industry, it’s worth examining how the many, many “clean” crypto initiatives, currencies, blockchains, and marketplaces for non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, actually stack up.

[…] The Crypto Climate Accord wants to start fueling crypto with renewables as opposed to fossil fuels, but at the moment, that simply isn’t an option. We don’t have enough renewable energy around the world to meet climate goals even without taking crypto into account; running crypto systems will require that major countries have surplus renewable-produced energy. Already, areas with dedicated green power sources for crypto, like the Nordic states, are running low on the surplus power capacity required for digital mining. Bitcoin’s energy use has shot up over the past year, and Scandinavia’s supply of excess power — about 30 terawatt-hours in an average year — is projected to decline as governments redirect it toward the development of fuels like hydrogen, while also exporting clean power to the rest of Europe.

[…] There are also crypto advocates who put forth dubious cases for digital currencies they claim are actually paving the path for clean power. Jack Dorsey’s company Block, back when it was still known as Square, released a white paper claiming Bitcoin mining is necessary to incentivize the scaling of renewable energy, an argument that doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny or play out in practice. Many green-blockchain advocates tout their purchasing and trading of carbon offsets, but these so-called offsets often only add to carbon emissions; others advertise themselves as “carbon-neutral,” promoting a shaky concept that’s mostly allowed energy firms aiming for “net-zero” emissions to not substantively reduce their carbon footprints.

So there are a lot of “green crypto” initiatives that are easy to dismiss as pure hype. At the same time, there are many digital traders, artists, engineers, and true believers who have been working for years, out of genuine concern, to try to build and scale solutions to crypto’s environmental problem.
» Read article      

» More about crypto

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

under Illinois
Advocates urge Illinois landowners to prepare for risks from CO2 pipelines

With geology considered ideal for carbon storage, residents worry about increasing proposals to transport and sequester carbon dioxide below farmland.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
March 15, 2022

A coalition of downstate Illinois environmental groups is warning rural landowners about potential safety and financial hazards from a planned carbon sequestration project in the region.

Illinois’ sandstone geology is considered ideal for below-ground carbon sequestration. Several such projects in the state have been proposed and researched in the past without coming to completion, as carbon capture and sequestration at scale remains an expensive and largely untested technology.

That could change with a Texas company’s proposed Heartland Greenway project, a 1,300-mile pipeline network that would carry carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in five Midwest states to central Illinois, where up to 15 million metric tons would be stored in “pore space” located under thousands of acres of farmland and other rural property.

The risk of damage from the project’s construction and operation has already raised significant opposition in Iowa. At a March 7 webinar, experts and local advocates in downstate Illinois urged landowners there to prepare a similar defense ahead of potential easement or eminent domain disputes.

Illinois is poised to become a “superhighway for CO2 pipelines gathering [carbon dioxide] all over the Midwest,” energy attorney Paul Blackburn said at the webinar, presented by the Coalition to Stop CO2 Pipelines. “Some folks believe these pipelines will stop climate change, but there are arguments about whether that is actually true.”
» Read article      

» More about carbon capture and storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

no more production
Here’s the ‘energy transition’ needed to stave off climate catastrophe
And it’s not the one oil executives had in mind.
By Kate Yoder, Grist
March 23, 2022

The world has a 50/50 chance of keeping climate change to relatively safe levels, a new report says — but only if there are drastic cuts to fossil fuel production, effective immediately.

The analysis, from researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom, found that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) requires more stringent emissions cuts than what any country is currently considering. The report, published Tuesday, is focused on avoiding going past that 1.5-degree threshold — a sort of danger line beyond which the effects of global warming turn from catastrophic to … well, something even worse.

At this point, the Earth has already warmed by 1.1 to 1.2 degrees C (about 2 degrees F). To have decent odds of meeting this 1.5-degree goal, rich countries would have to completely phase out oil and gas production in 12 years, the report said, while poorer countries would have until 2050 to do so, because they bear less responsibility for creating the problem. The authors make clear that there’s no room for new fossil fuel production “of any kind” — no more coal mines, oil wells, or gas terminals.

The report’s vision of the “energy transition,” a phrase some use to describe the world’s path away from fossil fuels, looks radically different from what oil executives have proposed when they use the same term. The oil and gas industry has argued for the continued use of their key products and lowering emissions by capturing and storing the carbon emitted when fossil fuels are burned.
» Read article      
» Read the Tyndall report

Reagan warned about this
How Europe Got Hooked on Russian Gas Despite Reagan’s Warnings
A Soviet-era pipeline, opposed by the president but supported by the oil and gas industry, set up the dependency that today helps fund the Russian assault on Ukraine.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
March 23, 2022

The language in the C.I.A. memo was unequivocal: The 3,500-mile gas pipeline from Siberia to Germany is a direct threat to the future of Western Europe, it said, creating “serious repercussions” from a dangerous reliance on Russian fuel.

The agency wasn’t briefing President Biden today. It was advising President Reagan more than four decades ago.

The memo was prescient. That Soviet-era pipeline, the subject of a bitter fight during the Reagan administration, marked the start of Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian natural gas to heat homes and fuel industry. However, those gas purchases now help fund Vladimir V. Putin’s war machine in Ukraine, despite worldwide condemnation of the attacks and global efforts to punish Russia financially.

In 1981, Reagan imposed sanctions to try to block the pipeline, a major Soviet initiative designed to carry huge amounts of fuel to America’s critical allies in Europe. But he swiftly faced stiff opposition — not just from the Kremlin and European nations eager for a cheap source of gas, but also from a powerful lobby close to home: oil and gas companies that stood to profit from access to Russia’s gargantuan gas reserves.

In a public-relations and lobbying blitz that played out across newspaper opinion pages, congressional committees and a direct appeal to the White House, industry executives and lobbyists fought the sanctions. “Reagan has absolutely no reason to forbid this business,” Wolfgang Oehme, chairman of an Exxon subsidiary with a stake in the pipeline, said at the time.
» Read article      
» Read the CIA memo

» More about fossil fuel

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

rusty tub
Why the U.S. Can’t Quickly Wean Europe From Russian Gas
The Biden administration’s plan to send more natural gas to Europe will be hampered by the lack of export and import terminals.
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
March 25, 2022

President Biden announced Friday that the United States would send more natural gas to Europe to help it break its dependence on Russian energy. But that plan will largely be symbolic, at least in the short run, because the United States doesn’t have enough capacity to export more gas and Europe doesn’t have the capacity to import significantly more.

In recent months, American exporters, with President Biden’s encouragement, have already maximized the output of terminals that turn natural gas into a liquid easily shipped on large tankers. And they have diverted shipments originally bound for Asia to Europe.

But energy experts said that building enough terminals on both sides of the Atlantic to significantly expand U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, or L.N.G., to Europe could take two to five years. That reality is likely to limit the scope of the natural gas supply announcement that Mr. Biden and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced on Friday.

[…] Friday’s agreement, which calls on the United States to help the European Union secure an additional 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas this year, could also undermine efforts by Mr. Biden and European officials to combat climate change. Once new export and import terminals are built, they will probably keep operating for several decades, perpetuating the use of a fossil fuel much longer than many environmentalists consider sustainable for the planet’s well-being. [emphasis added]

For now, however, climate concerns appear to be taking a back seat as U.S. and European leaders seek to punish President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for invading Ukraine by depriving him of billions of dollars in energy sales.
» Read article      

» More about LNG

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Weekly News Check-In 2/11/22

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Welcome back.

This week’s news is full of evidence that protests and legal actions against fossil fuel expansion projects have been successful. On the heels of the Bureau of Land Management’s court-directed cancellation of lease sales for oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico, the Biden administration is taking a fresh look at Conoco-Phillips’ sketchy ‘Willow’ development proposal for Alaska’s North Slope. Meanwhile the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has been invalidating Mountain Valley Pipeline permits granted after shoddy, rubber-stamp reviews during the Trump administration. Industry is not pleased with all this, and has fought back against protesters who take non-violent direct action to delay and draw attention to these projects. Their boots-on-the-ground efforts support and often drive the legal mechanisms that ultimately enforce environmental protection. Applying political influence, Big Oil & Gas has encouraged 36 states to criminalize many forms of peaceful resistance. These new felony charges are sending good people to prison, but they aren’t stifling opposition.

The divestment movement is also holding strong. French energy giant TotalEnergies is reportedly having trouble lining up the money it needs to despoil large areas of Uganda and Tanzania by way of its proposed Lake Albert oil fields development and related East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). A significant number of potential investors and insurers are now guided by internal climate-related policies, and have lost their appetite for fossil profits.

Pumping the bellows on these headwinds for big polluters is an increasing awareness that our reliance on natural gas has made methane pollution an urgent climate threat – and an opportunity. At every step from extraction and transport, to local distribution networks with their stubbornly pervasive gas leaks, methane’s powerful warming effect is finally understood as a primary threat to holding global warming within manageable limits. Quickly ramping down natural gas production and use can deliver huge benefits, but that entails rapidly electrifying buildings and replacing fossil fuel electricity generation with renewables. It’s a suite of changes requiring grid modernization, a process hampered by its own technical and regulatory speed bumps.

Gas utilities are taking tentative steps to explore roles beyond their current business model. Some recognize they’ll need to change or be left behind.

Our Greening the Economy section considers how to prioritize decarbonization, including consideration of the military’s fuel habit. Then we focus on the possible, and look at some of the rapidly developing technologies taking us there. Clean energy is seeing some breakthroughs in solar panel recycling, and a number of college campuses are building geothermal district heating systems to reduce emissions. Even industrial sectors like cement manufacturing, currently considered hard to decarbonize, may have an all-electric future because of advances in ultra-high-temperature thermal storage.

We know that long-duration energy storage plays a critical role in retiring fossil fuel generating plants, but how we do it has huge environmental and social justice implications. We offer three articles featuring exciting emerging technologies that promise to solve a number of problems that lithium batteries can’t.

Lithium-ion batteries are a mature product, having years of service in phones, laptops, and electric vehicles. This allowed them to gain early dominance in the short-term energy storage market. Lately, a few developers have found they can use these batteries to provide longer-duration power by simply increasing their numbers – so the typical four-hour limit can stretch to eight. But lithium is not abundant and mining it can disrupt sensitive areas. As such, we prefer that it be reserved for mobile applications where its light weight and high energy density make it difficult to substitute. For large stationary applications, it looks like iron-air and iron flow batteries, gravity storage, and high-temperature thermal storage (among others), will soon displace lithium with greener, cheaper, more durable, and longer-duration alternatives.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

North Slope pipelines
The Biden Administration Rethinks its Approach to Drilling on Public Lands in Alaska, Soliciting Further Review
The Bureau of Land Management is inviting public input on ConocoPhillips’ Willow project on the North Slope, following a court reversal on leases it approved last year in the Gulf of Mexico.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, Inside Climate News
February 4, 2022

The Biden administration will give the public a new opportunity to weigh in on a major oil project proposed in the Alaskan Arctic, handing a victory to environmental groups that have opposed the development.

In an announcement late Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management said it would solicit comments about the Willow project, which would pump about 590 million barrels of oil over 30 years from a rapidly-warming ecosystem on Alaska’s North Slope.

The ConocoPhillips project was approved in the final months of the Trump administration, but its future was thrown into doubt after a federal court in Alaska vacated the approval last year and sent the project back to the BLM for further environmental review. The Biden administration initially supported the project by defending it in court, but then declined to appeal last year’s ruling.

Climate advocates had called on the BLM to open a public “scoping period” as part of the court-ordered review of Willow, and they said Thursday’s announcement was a sign that the Biden administration may be taking their concerns seriously.

“The agency is going to start from the very beginning to assess the project,” said Layla Hughes, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law nonprofit that represented Indigenous and climate advocates in one of two lawsuits challenging the project that led to last year’s court ruling.

Hughes and other advocates had described Willow as a major test for the Biden administration’s climate policy, and had expressed concern that the BLM was conducting a narrow review in response to the court ruling, rather than taking a broader look at environmental and climate impacts. Advocates argue that such a review would show that the project should not proceed at all, given the urgency of limiting global warming and protecting a melting Arctic.

With Thursday’s announcement, Hughes said, “the agency is basically signaling its intent to meaningfully assess the project. Whether or not it does, we’ll have to see.”
» Read article      

protest felony charges
‘They criminalize us’: how felony charges are weaponized against pipeline protesters
Thirty-six states have passed laws that criminalize protesting on ‘critical infrastructure’ including pipelines. In Minnesota, at least 66 felony theft charges against Line 3 protesters remain open
Alexandria Herr, The Guardian
February 10, 2022

Last summer Sabine Von Mering, a professor of German at Brandeis University, drove more than 1,500 miles from Boston to Minneapolis to protest against the replacement of the Line 3 oil pipeline that stretches from Canada’s tar sands down to Minnesota.

Along with another protester, she locked herself to a semi-truck in the middle of a roadway, according to a filed court brief, as a means of peaceful resistance. But when she was arrested, she was charged with a serious crime: felony theft, which carries up to five years in prison.

Legal advocates say that in Minnesota the elevated charges are a novel tactic to challenge protest actions against pipeline construction. They see them as furthering evidence of close ties between Minnesota’s government and the fossil fuel industry. It follows reporting by the Guardian that the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, which is building Line 3, reimbursed Minnesota’s police department $2.4m for time spent arresting protesters and on equipment including ballistic helmets. Experts say the reimbursement strategy for arrests is a new technique in both Minnesota and across the US, and there’s concern it can be replicated.

“I do a lot of representation for people in political protests and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Jordan Kushner, a defense attorney representing clients charged in relation to Line 3 protests.

Two of Kushner’s clients were charged with felony “aiding attempted suicide” charges for crawling inside a pipe. The charge is for someone who “intentionally advises, encourages, or assists another who attempts but fails to take the other’s own life”, according to Minnesota law and carries up to a seven-year sentence. Authorities alleged that the protesters were endangering their lives by remaining inside the pipeline.

“To put it charitably, it’s a very creative use of this law,” said Kushner.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

MVP taking fire
Another blow to the Mountain Valley Pipeline
It’s Monday, February 7, and a federal court is dealing blow after blow to a natural gas pipeline.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 7, 2022

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile pipeline that would deliver natural gas from the shale fields of northern West Virginia to southern Virginia, is mostly built. But a federal court has indicated in the last few weeks that it shouldn’t be, siding with communities and environmental groups that have been fighting the project from the start.

On Thursday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Act authorization for the pipeline, which was granted under the Trump administration. The court found that the agency’s assessment of impacts to two endangered fish species, the Roanoke logperch and candy darter, was flawed, and that the agency had failed to consider the impact of climate change in its analysis.

That blow follows two others the previous week, when the same court rejected permits that had been issued for the pipeline by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for stream crossings in the Jefferson National Forest. This was the second time the court rejected the agencies’ permits for inadequately assessing the potential erosion and sediment disturbance caused by the pipeline. Throughout its development, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, or MVP, has been plagued by permitting battles that have delayed the project by four years and almost doubled its cost.

“Three more key federal agencies have been sent back to the drawing board after failing to analyze MVP’s harmful impacts,” said Kelly Sheehan, the senior director of energy campaigns for the Sierra Club, in a statement. Sheehan blamed the Trump administration’s “rushed, shoddy permitting” and urged the Biden administration to re-evaluate, and ultimately cancel, the whole project.
» Read article      

Highwater Ethanol
Carbon dioxide pipelines planned for Minnesota fall into regulatory black hole
Two multibillion-dollar pipelines would ship CO2 produced by ethanol plants to other states for underground storage.
By Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune
February 5, 2022

Two of the largest carbon dioxide pipelines in the world are slated to cross Minnesota, transporting the climate-poisoning gas for burial deep underground — yet also falling into a regulatory black hole.

CO2 is considered a hazardous pipeline fluid under federal law and in some states, including Iowa, but not Minnesota.

The pipelines — one of which would be more expensive than the Enbridge pipeline project across northern Minnesota — would primarily ship CO2 captured at ethanol plants across the Midwest.

Transporting and storing CO2 has never been done on this scale. Carbon-capture technology is still in a nascent stage. And a 2020 pipeline mishap in Mississippi caused an evacuation and dozens of injuries.

“CO2 is a hazardous material that can lead to absolutely disastrous ruptures,” said Bill Caram, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Washington state-based group. While CO2 isn’t explosive like natural gas, it’s an asphyxiant that can be fatal in large doses.

Right now, the CO2 pipelines don’t require approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). But the PUC in December opened a proceeding on whether it should change state regulations to deem CO2 pipelines as hazardous. The Minnesota Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, Commerce and Natural Resources (DNR) all favor such a change.

“A developing body of research has raised concerns about the safety and environmental effects of pipelines transporting CO2,” the DNR said in a PUC filing Monday. “Leaks or breaks in a pipeline can cause CO2 to accumulate in low-lying areas [including basements of area residences and buildings], thereby displacing oxygen.”
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

GAS LEAKS

Parker and Salem
Communities of color get more gas leaks, slower repairs, says study
By Barbara Moran, WBUR
February 4, 2022

People of color, lower-income households, and people with limited English skills across Massachusetts are more exposed to gas leaks — especially more hazardous gas leaks — than the general population, according to a new study. Those same communities also experience longer waits to get the leaks fixed.

“There is a disparity. It’s consistent. It’s across the state. That’s a civil rights issue to begin with,” said study co-author Marcos Luna, a professor of geography and sustainability at Salem State University. “This is not acceptable.”

Study co-author Dominic Nicholas built the database used in the study. Nichols, a program director for the Cambridge-based nonprofit Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), had taken the natural gas utilities’ records of gas leaks, geocoded them, and made the data publicly available.

“With this large data set finally being geocoded and really high quality, it allowed us to explore the problem at different geographic scales, which was a breakthrough, I think, for this work,” Nicholas said.

Researchers examined how frequently gas leaks of different grades occurred by community, the ages of the leaks and how quickly they were repaired.

The research revealed that gas leaks don’t affect everyone in the state equally; rather, race, ethnicity, English language ability, and income are the leading indicators of exposure to leaks. While there was some variation across the state — for instance, income disparity was a larger factor than racial disparity in the Berkshires — the overall findings held true even in areas of the state with denser populations and more gas pipelines, and areas with older gas infrastructure.

About half of households in Massachusetts use natural gas for heat. Gas leaks create fire hazards, degrade air quality, kill trees and contribute to climate change.

Recent research has found that natural gas infrastructure in eastern Massachusetts emits methane — a potent greenhouse gas — at about six times higher than state estimates, and leaks have not decreased over the past eight years, despite state efforts to fix them.
» Read article     
» Read the study

» More about gas leaks

DIVESTMENT

TotalEnergies
Total’s East Africa Pipeline ‘Struggling’ To Find Financiers
The companies leading the project are “staying quiet on the crucial question of where the money will come from”, activists say.
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog Blog
February 7, 2022

Total’s “incredibly risky” crude oil pipeline may still lack the financial backing it requires, campaigners have claimed, as the controversial project moves one step closer to completion.

Once finished, the 1,443km-long East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) could transport up to 216,000 barrels a day from the Lake Albert region in landlocked Uganda to Tanga in Tanzania, with the first oil expected in 2025.

However, a coalition of environmental and human rights groups opposing the pipeline, Stop EACOP, says the announcement is thin on detail and the project is not yet assured.

The final investment decision was a “show of progress”, said Ryan Brightwell, a campaigner at non-profit BankTrack, but companies were “staying quiet on the crucial question of where the money will come from for their incredibly risky pipeline plans”.

A number of financial institutions have already distanced themselves from the project after the coalition briefed financiers about the risks last year.

The pipeline forms one part of the Ugandan oil development, which also includes the country’s first planned oil refinery, and two oil fields — Tilenga and Kingfisher.

In a statement responding to the final investment decision, the coalition noted that 11 international banks and three insurance companies have already declined to finance the project.

The final investment decision comes nine months after the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned there can be no more new oil and gas investments if the world is to limit temperature rise to 1.5C.

Brightwell, of BankTrack, warned that crackdowns on peaceful protesters in Uganda, as well as risks to “communities, nature, water and the climate”, were harming the project’s image. “No wonder the project is struggling to find financiers unscrupulous and reckless enough to back it,” he said.
» Read article     
» Read the StopEACOP statement

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

heavy lifter
Should the Defense Dept. be exempt from cutting greenhouse gas emissions?
The department is not actually off the hook, nor should it be.
By Sharon E. Burke, Boston Globe | Opinion
February 10, 2022

President Biden recently directed all federal agencies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. There’s just one problem, according to a new letter from 28 members of Congress: The single largest source of greenhouse gases in the federal government, the Department of Defense, is off the hook. The signatories to the letter, led by Senator Ed Markey, want the president to live up to his pledges on climate change by denying the Pentagon an exemption for military emissions.

The senator has a point. With the exception of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, US armed forces depend on petroleum, chewing through around 90 million barrels a year.

At the same time, it’s not a realistic request. Imagine this scenario: President Vladimir Putin of Russia invades Ukraine, then begins amassing troops on Estonia’s border. NATO members agree to send troops to protect their ally, but Biden has to decline because flying C-130s full of soldiers to Eastern Europe would violate greenhouse gas targets.

No US president is going to agree to constrain military options in this way in order to cut greenhouse gases. Fortunately, there are better ways to advance climate policy, including at the Department of Defense.

No one actually knows the size of the defense sector’s carbon footprint (the Biden administration is taking bold steps to fix that, with accounting for the entire defense supply chain), but the Department of Defense itself emitted around 55 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2019. That’s significant for a single institution, but it adds up to less than 1 percent of America’s overall greenhouse gas footprint, which totaled about 6.6 billion metric tons in 2019.

In other words, if Biden were to completely eliminate the entire military tomorrow, it would barely make a dent in US greenhouse gas emissions. The largest American contributors to global climate change are all in the civilian economy — industry, agriculture and land use, electricity, transportation, and buildings. Even with better accounting of the defense sector, the main contributors will probably still be things like petrochemicals, power plants, and personal vehicles (an Abrams tank may get lousy gas mileage, but there are less than 5,000 of them, and they don’t travel very many miles in a normal workweek). A focus on the military would be a distraction from more important climate action priorities.

Still, the Defense Department is not actually off the hook, nor should it be. Most large corporations in the United States are taking environmental, social, and governance considerations seriously as both good business and responsible stewardship, and the Defense Department must also do so. Biden’s new executive order will accelerate the department’s ESG investments, including the electrification of almost 180,000 passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks, following in the footsteps of companies such as Amazon. It will also provide an additional push for clean electricity.
» Read article      

big shoes
‘Carbon footprint gap’ between rich and poor expanding, study finds
Researchers say cutting carbon footprint of world’s wealthiest may be fastest way to reach net zero
By Helena Horton, The Guardian
February 4, 2022

Wealthy people have disproportionately large carbon footprints and the percentage of the world’s emissions they are responsible for is growing, a study has found.

In 2010, the most affluent 10% of households emitted 34% of global CO2, while the 50% of the global population in lower income brackets accounted for just 15%. By 2015, the richest 10% were responsible for 49% of emissions against 7% produced by the poorest half of the world’s population.

Aimee Ambrose, a professor of energy policy at Sheffield Hallam University and author of the study published in the journal Science Direct, says cutting the carbon footprint of the wealthiest might be the fastest way to reach net zero.

In terms of energy demand in the UK, the least wealthy half of the population accounts for less than 20% of final demand, less than the top 5% consumes. While their homes may be more energy-efficient, high consumers are likely to have more space to heat. They also own and use more luxury items and gadgets.
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

flaring pit flames
To Counter Global Warming, Focus Far More on Methane, a New Study Recommends
Scientists at Stanford have concluded that the EPA has radically undervalued the climate impact of methane, a “short-lived climate pollutant,” by focusing on a 100-year metric for quantifying global warming.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
February 9, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency is drastically undervaluing the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas when the agency compares methane’s climate impact to that of carbon dioxide, a new study concludes.

The EPA’s climate accounting for methane is “arbitrary and unjustified” and three times too low to meet the goals set in the Paris climate agreement, the research report, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found.

The report proposes a new method of accounting that places greater emphasis on the potential for cuts in methane and other short-lived greenhouse gasses to help limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“If you want to keep the world from passing the 1.5 degrees C threshold, you’ll want to pay more attention to methane than we have so far,” said Rob Jackson, an earth system science professor at Stanford University and a co-author of the study.

Over a 100-year period, methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. However, over a 20-year period, a yardstick that climate scientists have previously suggested would be a more appropriate timeframe, methane is 81 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“It’s a huge swing in how much we value methane, and therefore how many of our resources go towards mitigating it,” Abernethy said.

However, the use of either time frame remains largely arbitrary.

To determine a “justified” time frame, the Stanford researchers took the Paris climate goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as a starting point, and then calculated the most appropriate time frame to meet that goal.
» Read article     
» Read the study

Watford City flare
Seen From Space: Huge Methane Leaks
A European satellite reveals sites in the United States, Russia, Central Asia and elsewhere that are “ultra emitters” of methane. That could help fight climate change.
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
February 4, 2022

If the world is going to make a dent in emissions of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, targeting the largest emitters would likely be the most cost-effective. But there’s a basic problem: How to find them.

A new study has shown one way. Using data from a European satellite, researchers have identified sites around the world where large amounts of methane are pouring into the air. Most of these “ultra emitters” are part of the petroleum industry, and are in major oil and gas producing basins in the United States, Russia, Central Asia and other regions.

“We were not surprised to see leaks,” said Thomas Lauvaux, a researcher at the Laboratory for Sciences of Climate and Environment near Paris and lead author of the study, published in Science. “But these were giant leaks. It’s quite a systemic problem.”

Among gases released through human activities, methane is more potent in its effect on warming than carbon dioxide, although emissions of it are lower and it breaks down in the atmosphere sooner. Over 20 years it can result in 80 times the warming of the same amount of CO2.

Because of this, reducing methane emissions has increasingly been seen as a way to more rapidly limit global warming this century.

“If you do anything to mitigate methane emissions, you will see the impact more quickly,” said Felix Vogel, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada in Toronto who was not involved in the study.

Among the nearly 400 million tons of human-linked methane emissions every year, oil and gas production is estimated to account for about one-third. And unlike carbon dioxide, which is released when fossil fuels are deliberately burned for energy, much of the methane from oil and gas is either intentionally released or accidentally leaked from wells, pipelines and production facilities.
» Read article      

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

PV panel close-up
Inside Clean Energy: Recycling Solar Panels Is a Big Challenge, but Here’s Some Recent Progress

German researchers have made solar cells from 100 percent recycled silicon.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
February 10, 2022

German researchers said this week that they have taken silicon from discarded solar panels and recycled it for use in new ones.

This is a positive step for dealing with the coming mountain of waste from solar power, but it’s just one part of dealing with a complicated challenge.

The Fraunhofer Center for Silicon Photovoltaics CSP in Freiburg, Germany, said that its researchers were part of a team that produced solar cells from 100 percent recycled silicon. Cells are the little squares, usually blue, that you see arranged in a tile pattern on solar panels. They are the parts that capture the sun’s energy to convert it to electricity, and silicon is their essential material.

To get an idea of the significance of this announcement, I reached out to Meng Tao of Arizona State University, a leading authority on developing systems to recycle solar components.

“I applaud their progress,” he said about the work at the Fraunhofer Center.

And then he explained why recycling silicon is only a small part of dealing with solar power waste.

Most of the weight in a solar panel, about 75 percent, is glass, Tao said. Next is aluminum, with 10 percent; wiring in a junction box, at 5 percent; and silicon, with just 3.5 percent. Panels also contain small amounts of lead, which is one reason that they need to stay out of landfills. (The percentages are approximate and can vary depending on variations in the technology and manufacturer of the panels.)

So, silicon is an important material, and being able to recycle it is a step forward, but researchers need to find cost-effective ways to recycle all the parts in a solar panel.

Today, most recyclers that work with solar panels are breaking them apart to reuse the aluminum and the wiring, but there is a limited market for the other components, Tao said.

Researchers have been looking for uses for glass from solar panels and found solutions like making a material that can be mixed with concrete.

But the ultimate goal for solar recycling is to make the process circular, which means old solar components could be processed to be used in new solar components, Tao said. That hasn’t happened yet with glass.

The desire for a circular economy around solar panels is one reason why the announcement from the Fraunhofer lab is so encouraging.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Carleton College
Colleges see untapped potential in geothermal district energy systems

Minnesota’s Carleton College is among a growing list of schools investing in the centuries-old technology as part of a path to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.
By Frank Jossi, Energy News Network
February 7, 2022

A small but growing list of U.S. colleges and universities are dusting off a centuries-old technology to help meet their ambitious climate goals.

Carleton College, a small, private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, is the latest to trade fossil-fueled steam heat for geothermal district energy as it aims to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.

Completed last summer, the $41 million project is Minnesota’s first geothermal district energy system and one of only about two dozen nationwide. They vary in design but typically consist of a network of pipes and heat pumps that tap into steady, subterranean temperatures to heat and cool buildings on the surface.

Most U.S. geothermal district energy systems were built more than 30 years ago amid rising oil and gas prices in the 1970s and 1980s, but the technology is seeing a resurgence today on college campuses as schools look for tools to help them follow through on climate commitments.

“I think it is one of the only scalable solutions for creating a low-carbon campus,” said Lindsey Olsen, an associate vice president and senior mechanical engineer for Salas O’Brien. The California-based engineering and facility planning firm has worked with Carleton College and others on geothermal projects.

Geothermal energy has been used for district heating for over a century in the United States. In Europe, the systems date back to ancient Rome. The oldest still in operation was installed at Chaudes Aigues in France in 1330.

Adoption has been significant in Europe —  France, Germany and Iceland are the leaders — but a market has never fully developed in the United States. A 2021 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory cited the availability of cheap natural gas, a lack of government incentives, and steep upfront costs as key factors. The U.S. geothermal district heating sector has been “relatively stagnant since the 1980s, with only four new installations over the past two decades,” the report said.

One emerging exception is higher education. “University and college campuses are currently leading the charge in pursuit of low-carbon district energy options as a result of aggressive greenhouse gas emission reduction goals (often 100%) within the next 15 to 30 years,” the report says.
» Read article      

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

electric cementRenewables for cement? Gates-backed startup eyes ‘missing link’
By David Iaconangelo, E&E News
February 8, 2022

A Bill Gates-backed startup is betting that renewables can serve as the foundation for low-carbon cement and be more than a clean resource for cars, buildings and power generation.

The company is Oakland, Calif.-based Rondo Energy Inc., which says it has figured out a way to turn wind and solar power into a source of intense heat and store it for the production of glass, cement and other common manufactured goods.

Many of those goods depend on fossil fuels to create the kinds of ultra-high temperatures necessary for production. Rondo’s plan, if successful, would prove a number of innovation experts wrong. It also highlights the race among emerging clean technologies for the future of heavy industry.

“This is the missing link for a very fast and profitable elimination of scope 1 emissions from industry,” John O’Donnell, Rondo’s chief executive, said in an interview yesterday about his company’s technology.

Rondo’s “thermal battery,” as the company describes the heat system, could provide a zero-carbon way to deliver heat reaching over 1,200 degrees Celsius, according to the company.

It said this morning it had raised $22 million in an initial funding round from two influential climate technology investors: Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund fronted by billionaire Gates, and Energy Impact Partners, whose $1 billion sustainable energy fund counts over a dozen large utilities as contributors.

O’Donnell said Rondo will use the money to start producing its thermal battery at scale, starting with hundreds of megawatt-hours’ worth of heat this year and hitting gigawatt-hour scale in 2023.

Scaling up the technology isn’t likely to be a cakewalk, not least of all because of the difficulty of selling clean heat at a low enough price to compete with fossil fuels — and convincing manufacturers to adopt the invention.

But new backing is notable because it suggests that some of the innovation world’s most prominent technical experts — such as those who work for Breakthrough and EIP — consider renewable electricity to be a strong option for decarbonizing heavy industry.
» Read article      

» More about building materials

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

Grist video - ESS flow battery
This iron and water battery could power a more renewable grid
By Jesse Nichols, Grist
February 10, 2022

Grist reporter Jesse Nichols traveled to a factory in Oregon, that’s building a new type of battery.

Sitting in a row outside of the factory, these giant batteries are the size of freight containers. Powered by vats of iron and saltwater, they’re called iron flow batteries. And they’re part of a wave of cleantech inventions designed to store energy from the sun and the wind, and solve a problem that has stumped the energy world for more than 150 years.

The problem is described in a Scientific American article from 1861.

“One of the great forces nature furnished to man without any expense, and in limitless abundance, is the power of the wind,” the article says. “Its great unsteadiness, however, is causing it to be rapidly superseded for such purposes by steam and other constant powers.”

To unlock the potential of wind and solar power, you need some kind of energy storage device. That could be batteries, hydrogen, or the device proposed in the Scientific American article.

When it was windy, the device would crank these heavy iron balls up this marble chute. Then, when the wind stopped blowing, they could release the balls to get energy when they needed it.

Unsurprisingly, wind energy did not take off. And fossil-fuels dominated.
» Blog editor’s note: This video provides a great non-technical explanation of what a “flow battery” is. Also, don’t dismiss the original “heavy iron balls” concept of energy storage! See its 21st century update here.
» Watch 7 minute video              

Rondo heat battery
Renewable energy heat batteries for industrial applications gain funding
Startup Rondo Energy closed a $22 million Series A funding round to decarbonize industrial processes with equipment that converts solar and wind energy into thermal energy.
By Ryan Kennedy, PV Magazine
February 8, 2022

Rondo Energy announced the closing of a $22 million Series A funding round to support its technology, a renewable energy heat battery aimed at reducing the carbon impact of industrial processes. The funding round was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Energy Impact Partners.

It is estimated about one third of global emissions can be attributed to heavy industry. And about 40% of that, or 10% of global emissions, comes from high-temperature industrial products like cement and steel.

The Rondo heat battery offers a zero emissions source of industrial heat, storing solar and wind energy at temperatures over 1200°C. The company said it plans to begin manufacturing and delivering systems to customers later this year.

“We believe the Rondo Heat Battery will prove critical to closing stubborn emissions gaps,” said Carmichael Roberts, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. “The cost of renewable energy has been steadily falling, but it hasn’t been an option for industries that require high temperature process heat since there was no way to efficiently convert renewable electricity to high temperature thermal energy. Rondo enables companies in industries such as cement, fuels, food and water desalination to reduce their emissions while also leveraging the falling costs of renewables.”

The system is designed to pull energy from solar, wind, and the energy grid, charging the battery intermittently, but delivering continuous heat. Rondo said the battery bricks are made of safe, widely available materials.
» Read article      

ENDURING thermal energy storage
NREL Results Support Cheap Long Duration Energy Storage in Hot Sand
By Susan Kraemer, SolarPACES
February 8, 2022

There aren’t many novel clean energy technologies that could also directly remove fossil energy plants. The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has created one.

Long duration storage at grid scale is crucial to meeting climate targets. Solar PV and wind have the momentum to be a big part of the new energy economy, but only if we can add enough energy storage to make these intermittent sources dispatchable on demand at lower cost and over longer durations and for many more cycles than batteries.

The world needs a long duration energy storage technology as cheap as pumped hydro, but without the environmental and location challenges.

To this end, three years ago the US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy  ARPA-E  “DAYS” program funded NREL to advance long duration (100 hour) thermal energy storage charged by surplus electricity from PV or wind.

Thermal energy storage is a fully tested technology in commercial CSP [concentrated solar power] plants, but using a liquid; molten salts. However, increasingly, particle storage is being researched as a more efficient storage medium than molten salts which have a working range between 290°C and 560°C – due to the much higher temperature differential of 300°C and 1000°C in particles of sand.

“We’ve studied particle-based thermal energy storage since 2011, initially for concentrating solar power,” said Zhiwen Ma, the NREL project lead. “Now it has been extended – to standalone particle thermal energy storage and industrial process heat, and heating and cooling in buildings – for even broader decarbonization, by replacing coal and natural gas.

The team partnered with GE to integrate the storage with a gas turbine power cycle.“The point of it was to try to use commercial systems as much as possible in terms of power cycles since they have a hundred years of development there’s a lot of expertise already there,” said Colorado School of Mines Ph.D. student and NREL collaborator Jeffrey Gifford.

To charge this thermal battery, surplus power from the grid would heat sand in silos. The sand particles would heat air – a gas which is predominantly nitrogen – to drive a commercially available gas turbine. Air is a much more environmentally friendly gas than natural gas and when heated by the stored sand particles it can drive the same hot gas turbine used in gas power plants today with no modifications. The air would be heated by silica sand particles from the Midwest stored in 90 meter tall silos – about the height of today’s industrial silos.

“We wanted to generate a thermal energy storage system that could integrate with what already exists,” Giffords said. “Just like how we can turn on natural gas power plants today when we need them – that’s the role of our long duration energy storage system – to be able to shape wind and solar for them to be dispatchable.”
» Read article      

» More about long-duration energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

EnergySource geothermal station
Where Is There More Lithium to Power Cars and Phones? Beneath a California Lake.
The U.S. race to secure a material known as ‘white gold’ turns to the Salton Sea, where energy companies hope to extract lithium from a geothermal reservoir
By Alistair MacDonald and Jim Carlton, Wall Street Journal
February 8, 2022

CALIPATRIA, Calif.—In the U.S. hunt for lithium, an essential component of the batteries that power electric vehicles and cellphones, one big untapped source might be bubbling under a giant lake in Southern California.

The U.S. currently imports almost all of its lithium, but research shows large reserves in underground geothermal brines—a scalding hot soup of minerals, metals and saltwater. The catch: Extracting lithium from such a source at commercial scale is untested.

At California’s Salton Sea, three companies, including one owned by Warren Buffett’s conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc., are pushing ahead with plans to do just that. Those efforts are backed by money from governments eager to secure supplies of critical minerals that are key to several modern technologies. Prices of lithium recently rose at their fastest pace in years as supply-chain bottlenecks mounted and demand from electric-vehicle makers such as Tesla Inc. intensified.

The plans could turn this southeastern corner of California into one of the largest producers of what some call “white gold” at a time when most of that material comes from Australia, Chile and China. The geothermal reservoir under the Salton Sea area is capable of producing 600,000 metric tons a year of lithium carbonate, according to estimates from the California Energy Commission. That level of output would surpass last year’s global production.

This push for lithium could also produce thousands of jobs in an area that sorely needs them. Imperial County, where the lake resides, has a population of 180,000 and is dependent on a volatile and low-wage farming industry. Unemployment was 14.7% in December, compared with 6.5% for the state. The county’s 20% poverty rate is the fourth-highest among California’s 58 counties.

“If it is what we hope, it would lift this entire valley off of what we have been living with,” said Imperial County Supervisor Ryan Kelley.
» Read article      

Swedish accent
New study probes impact of blackened wind turbine blades
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
February 7, 2022

Swedish power company Vattenfall has announced plans to embark on further research into whether painting one of the three blades on a wind turbine black can help to reduce the number of bird collisions, with a new three-year study.

Despite stories spread by some media outlets and across social media platforms, wind turbines have been shown to be much less likely to kill birds compared to other man-made obstacles and threats, including coal-fired power plants, as one prime example.

Nevertheless, Vattenfall is seeking to mitigate the impact wind turbines can have on bird populations through a new study in the Dutch seaport of Eemshaven.

Vattenfall will paint a single turbine blade black on seven wind turbines in an effort to determine whether this method can reduce the risk of birds colliding with turbine blades.

In a study already underway through the compiling of a baseline measurement through 2022, the seven turbine blades will be painted black in early 2023 and be monitored for two years through to the end of 2024.

The study will also assess aviation safety and the impact of the painted blades on the landscape.

The three-year assessment will follow the results of an existing study partly financed by Vattenfall on the island of Smøla in Norway which found that painting one wind turbine blade can result in 70% fewer collisions.

“That has to do with the way birds perceive the moving rotor of a wind turbine,” said Jesper Kyed Larsen, environmental expert at Vattenfall.

“When a bird comes close to the rotating blades, the three individual blades can ‘merge’ into a smear and birds may no longer perceive it an object to avoid. One black blade interrupts the pattern, making the blending of the blades into a single image less likely.”

Put another way, the researchers – who published their findings in the journal Ecology and Evolution in mid-2020 – concluded that “Provision of ‘passive’ visual cues may enhance the visibility of the rotor blades enabling birds to take evasive action in due time.”

Further, not only was the annual fatality rate significantly reduced at the turbines with a painted blade by over 70%, relative to the neighboring control … turbines” but, for some birds – notably the white-tailed eagle – the black turbine blade seemed to ensure no fatalities whatsoever.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts

MODERNIZING THE GRID

bidding floor upheld
A decision made behind closed doors may set clean energy back by two years
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 5, 2022

At a time when New England should be racing to bring as much clean energy online as possible to green its electricity supply, the grid moved this past week to effectively discourage major wind and solar projects for at least another two years.

Like other regional power suppliers, New England’s grid operator has been asked by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to remove or change a mechanism that makes it harder for clean energy projects to enter the competitive market. But after months of saying it supported such a measure, ISO-New England reversed its stance last week and aligned with a proposal from the natural gas industry that would slow-walk any such change.

“It’s another example of not meeting the moment to usher in the clean energy transition,” said Jeremy McDiarmid, of the Northeast Clean Energy Council. “It is an example of the system not being equipped to change as fast as we need it to.”

In Massachusetts, as in other states in the region, the clock is ticking to green the electrical grid. The climate legislation passed last year requires that the state halve its emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. To do so, the state is expecting a million homeowners to switch off fossil fuels and 750,000 vehicle owners to go electric by the end of the decade. But with those increased electricity demands, a crucial piece of the state’s equation is ensuring that the grid makes a rapid switch off fossil fuels and onto renewables.

The mechanism that was voted on — called a minimum offer price rule — limits what energy projects can bid into what’s known as the forward capacity market. Developers with successful bids are able to procure financing three years in advance, helping ensure that projects have the needed funds to be developed or expanded, and that the grid will have enough energy available in the future.

The minimum offer price rule was created to help insulate fossil fuel power plants from having to compete against renewables that cost less due to state programs and subsidies that exist to help foster clean energy development. It created a floor below which a developer cannot bid, meaning that those less expensive energy supplies, like large-scale offshore wind or solar, aren’t able to compete.

The fear from regulators and the fossil fuel industry was that without such a rule, fossil fuel plants could be forced offline before adequate clean energy was ready to fill the void on the grid, creating reliability problems. The effect has been that fossil fuel-fired power plants have been able to secure bids around the region, despite increasingly ambitious climate plans from the New England states that would indicate otherwise.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid

GAS UTILITIES

HP water heater test
Vermont gas utility has a new service: helping to electrify your home

Vermont Gas Systems announced that it would begin selling, leasing, installing and servicing electric heat pump water heaters for customers in a move that it expects to be neutral to its bottom line.
By David Thill, Energy News Network
February 7, 2022

A Vermont natural gas utility is expanding into a new and unexpected line of business: helping customers switch to electric appliances.

Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) announced in December that it would begin selling, leasing, installing and servicing electric heat pump water heaters for customers in and around its service territory in the northwest part of the state.

The move comes as Vermont’s 2020 climate law raises existential questions about the future of fossil fuels in the state. Achieving a mandatory 80% reduction (from 1990 levels) in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will all but require a reduction in natural gas sales.

“By offering this, VGS is helping Vermont achieve the climate action goals established by the Global Warming Solutions Act,” said Ashley Wainer, the company’s vice president of customer and energy innovation.

The company’s motivations aren’t entirely altruistic either. In a filing to state regulators in November, VGS explained that its “behind-the-meter” installation and maintenance services are an important source of revenue, expected to bring in about $1,175,000 in net revenue for the 2022 fiscal year.

“These services are a profitable part of VGS’s overall business, and the associated revenue reduces our [cost of service] and therefore reduces customers’ rates,” the company wrote.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Cuero flare
The end of natural gas has to start with its name
The oil and gas industry didn’t invent the name. But it invented the myth of a clean fuel.
By Rebecca Leber, Vox
February 10, 2022

Locals in the town of Fredonia, New York, noticed in the early 19th century how gas would sometimes bubble up in a creek and catch fire when lit. This wasn’t much more than a curiosity until 1821, when a businessman captured and sold it for fuel to Fredonia shops. This “inflammable air,” as one newspaper called it, was cheap to transport relative to the other lighting fuels of the day — whale oil for candles and gas produced from coal. From the start, “nature’s gas,” as it was nicknamed, was celebrated as the healthy and virtually inexhaustible miracle fuel of the future.

A big part of the early appeal was how much cleaner gas seemed than coal. In the 19th century, people could see and smell the particulate matter, sulfur, and nitrogen leaving a trail of smoggy air in cities. By comparison, natural gas is almost entirely made up of methane, a colorless, odorless gas that produces far fewer of these pollutants when burned.

What no one knew back then was that methane is pollution, too — just a different kind. A large body of scientific research now shows that gas, when it’s produced and when it’s consumed, poses a danger to human health and to the climate.

In the 19th century, this ignorance was understandable, but today most people still don’t appreciate how insidious gas fuel is. When the climate communications group Climate Nexus conducted a poll of 4,600 registered US voters last fall, 77 percent had a favorable view of natural gas, far higher than when asked about their views on methane. Less than a third were able to link that natural gas is primarily methane. In the same poll, a majority incorrectly answered that they think methane pollution is declining or staying about the same. Other surveys show similar results.

The reason for the disconnect is embedded in the very name, “natural gas.” The word “natural” tends to bias Americans to view whatever it is affixed to as healthy, clean, and environmentally friendly. Natural foods, natural immunity, and natural births are among the many buzzwords of the moment.

“The idea that we ought to do what’s natural, we ought to use what’s natural, and we ought to consume what’s natural is one of the most powerful and commonplace shortcuts we have,” said Alan Levinovitz, a religion professor who wrote Natural: How Faith in Nature’s Goodness Leads to Harmful Facts, Unjust Laws, and Flawed Science. “The term influences people’s attitudes toward natural gas. People are going to be more likely to see natural gas as better than it is; they’re more likely to see it as safer.”
» Read article      

FF hot seat
‘Big Oil’ board members face hot seat over climate ‘deception’
Oil industry insiders to appear before US Congress as some of the most powerful companies in the world face a reckoning for the climate crisis.
By Jack Losh, Aljazeera
February 7, 2022

In 1977, an internal memo at Exxon, the United States oil giant, made clear that carbon emissions from its product were causing climate change. But not only that – time was running out to act.

“CO2 release most likely source of inadvertent climate modification,” said the shorthand document. “5-10 yr time window to get necessary information.”

But over the coming years, rather than dropping fossil fuels to avert the dangers outlined in its own research, Exxon and other oil corporations chose a different path. The industry orchestrated a systematic campaign of disinformation to dupe the public, impede political action, and protect profits.

“Emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions regarding the potential enhanced Greenhouse effect,” said an Exxon paper in 1988, one of many published in the America Misled report on the fossil fuel industry.

“Stress environmentally sound adaptive efforts,” said another internal memo the following year. “Victory will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science,” added one more in 1998.

Against this decades-long backdrop of deception and denial, oil industry insiders will appear before the US Congress as some of the most powerful energy companies in the world face a reckoning for their role in creating – and attempting to cover up – the climate crisis.

Board members at BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell will be questioned under oath by a House panel on Tuesday. The aim is to illuminate the industry’s contribution to humanity’s worst existential threat – and how, at the same time, it spread disinformation to cast doubt over the catastrophic impact of burning its products.

Although the hearings cannot bring criminal prosecutions, experts see them as a crucial means of shifting public opinion. And that could spur consumers to shun carbon-based fuels and encourage investors to strip big polluters of capital, while empowering environmental activists and lawyers to take on powerful industrial interests.
» Read article      

» More about fossil fuels

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