Tag Archives: Community Eco Power

Weekly News Check-In 3/11/22

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Welcome back.

In Peabody, just north of Boston, ground is being prepared for a new fossil fuel powered peaking power plant with no defensible economic or technical reason to exist given today’s climate imperatives and renewable energy and storage alternatives. Two respected consulting firms have produced deeply-researched reports illuminating greener alternatives that in all cases cost less and reduce financial, health, and environmental risks. Now, a group of dedicated activists are prepared to begin a hunger strike, seeking to focus public and Baker administration attention on what has become a high stakes effort to stop an outdated and dangerous project from moving forward.

At the same time, the window is closing on any chance for national legislation that salvages the important climate components of President Biden’s stalled Build Back Better bill. Pressure is coming from a radically conservative Supreme Court that seems intent on preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, along with the real possibility that Democrats could lose control of one or both houses of Congress in upcoming midterm elections.

Both of those topics are loaded with the green economic transition’s promise to address climate change by cutting fossil fuel use, while simultaneously (finally) righting historic environmental injustices. The horrifying urgency of Russia’s war in Ukraine is driving energy-related decisions today that could push future emissions either up or down.

Some of those decisions involve physical and policy changes to modernize the electric grid. Here in New England, that starts with convincing our grid operator, ISO-NE, to embrace the coming changes and stop protecting the fuel-based status quo of the last century. Meanwhile, we have a story from Virginia about some of the creative ways renewable energy is being deployed.

The Biden administration recently restored California’s special status as a clean transportation leader, overturning the prior administration’s attempt to remove the state’s longstanding ability to set and enforce stringent tailpipe emissions requirements. Looking at aviation, efforts are underway to eventually eliminate emissions altogether in aircraft powered by green hydrogen fuel cells.

We have carried a number of stories about Massachusetts gas utility pilot projects to provide district heating and cooling using heat pumps connected to a network of underground pipes. We have an update, including a useful graphic showing what these ​“geo-grids” or ​“micro geo-districts” might look like.

Wrapping up with a local report, we’re looking at the possible sale and decommissioning of Pittsfield’s waste incinerator, which will benefit the area’s air quality and public health while also posing challenges. We’ll be advocating for policies that reduce packaging materials and divert organic waste to composting facilities.

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

fast company
Protestors plan hunger strike over Peabody power plant
By Paul Leighton, Salem News
March 11, 2022

Environmental activists say they plan to go on a hunger strike next week to protest the building of a new oil-and-gas powered plant in Peabody.

In a posting on the Breathe Clean North Shore website, six members of Climate Courage say they will begin the hunger strike on Tuesday and visit the 14 communities that are involved in the planned peaker plant in Peabody.

“We’ve tried everything,” said Joy Gurrie, of Ipswich, one of the planned hunger-strikers. “We’ve marched, protested to officials. This is like a last-ditch effort.”

The $85 million peaker plant — so called because it will run only during peak demand times for electricity — is scheduled to be built on Pulaski Street in Peabody. Fourteen municipal light plants, including those in Peabody and Marblehead, are partnering on the project through the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company.

The project has been approved by the state and site work has begun on its construction next to the Peabody Municipal Light Plant’s existing Waters River Substation. But residents and environmental advocates continue to fight it.

On Thursday, the Massachusetts Climate Action Network released two reports saying the plant is risky both financially and environmentally. One of the reports said the municipal light plants could provide more power at a lower cost by “buying capacity” from the market, rather than spending $85 million to build a plant. The report estimated that would save $29 million over the first 15 years.

Another report said the plant could end up being “stranded,” or abandoned, before the end of its projected 30-year lifespan due to new laws intended to protect environmental justice communities, which are defined based on income and minority populations. The report also cited the volatility of gas prices as a threat to the plant’s financial future.

Sarah Dooling, executive director of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, said the project was approved by the state before new rules protecting environmental justice communities were adopted. The plant would be located in an environmental justice neighborhood in Peabody and less than a mile from eight others, according to her organization.

Dooling said the organization has asked the state’s environmental secretary, Kathleen Theoharides, to conduct an environmental review of the project.

“If the Baker administration does not want this plant to be built, it would not be built,” Dooling said.
» Read article 
» Read the Clean Power Coalition’s post on the hunger strike – see how you can support the strikers!
» Read the Strategen Consulting report on market capacity purchases    

» Read the Applied Economics Clinic risk assessment report      

time is short
Peabody Generator Opponents Make Late Plea To Halt Project
Climate advocacy groups released data Thursday they hope will prompt the state to reopen the proposed generator’s approval process.
By Scott Souza, Patch
March 10, 2022

Climate advocacy groups made a late — and perhaps ultimately final — push for the state to reopen the approval process for the proposed 60-megawatt fossil fuel-powered peak capacity generator at Peabody’s Waters River substation on Thursday.

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company Project 2015A — which the state Department of Public Utilities approved for $85 million in funding last July after months of appeals and fierce objections from opposition groups and some elected officials — is designed to provide residents in 14 MMWEC communities, including Marblehead and Peabody, with peak-capacity energy at below-market prices in the case of extreme weather conditions.

The MMWEC last spring hit a 30-day “pause” on the project, which moved through the state approval process in relative obscurity for years. The MMWEC and Peabody Municipal Light Plant made some alterations aimed at lowering the emissions impact on the surrounding communities but ultimately got the go-ahead for much of the framework for the original plan the utility said will operate approximately 239 hours per year and be 94 percent more efficient than generators across the state.

But both state and local climate and environmental justice advocates groups have kept up the fight — on Thursday citing more data that the generator threatens to be more expensive for consumers and risks become a “stranded asset” based on recent price trends in the energy industry and improvements in battery storage capacity.

“Gas peakers right now are not the only capacity resource,” said Maria Roumpani, Senior Manager of Strategen, an impact-driven firm whose mission is to decarbonize energy systems. “Resource economics and climate change have progressed significantly over the past five or six years (since the outset of Project 2015A). Today, we’re more aware of environmental impacts and at the same time renewable and storage energy costs have fallen dramatically, which changes a lot of the economics of the peaker.”
» Read article  

» More about peaker plants

LEGISLATION

closing window
The political window is closing on climate change
If Democrats can’t compromise now, they may come away with nothing.
By The Editorial Board, Boston Globe
March 3, 2022

The long-predicted effects of climate change are now hard upon us, and they will only get worse unless we take sweeping action. But it’s not just the atmospheric window that’s closing. The political portal is as well — and not just for this year but for the next several. That means Democrats must move with dispatch to pass the climate provisions of the Build Back Better legislation.

Several coalescing probabilities make congressional action in the next few months the best, and perhaps last, chance for timely action. On Feb. 28, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit intended to block the federal government’s ability to take strong regulatory action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. That was the approach President Obama settled on in the face of Congress’s disinclination to act in a meaningful way on global warming. But Obama’s Clean Power Plan soon ran into legal problems, with the Supreme Court freezing it while a challenge to its legal grounding played out in court. Donald Trump then gutted Obama’s regulatory effort, only to see his own do-little-or-nothing rule thrown out by the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The Biden administration has signaled it intends to return to an Obama-like approach by using the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory power to crack down on energy-sector emissions, but has yet to detail its plan. Despite the lack of a currently relevant justiciable policy, however, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the D.C. Appeals Court’s ruling. The fact that the high court opted to hear this case before President Biden has a set of rules in the game suggests that its conservative majority is intent on preemptively closing that regulatory avenue. That would be in keeping with those justices’ clear skepticism about administrative authority based on a broad interpretation of statute. If so, the EPA would see its power to require sector-wide greenhouse-gas reductions severely curtailed.

On the electoral front, meanwhile, the prognosis does not look good for the Democrats in the mid-term elections. Republicans could well end up in control of the House and perhaps the Senate as well. Shortsighted though it is, congressional Republicans, who are both deeply beholden to the fossil-fuel industry and deep into climate denial, feel little compunction to address the climate issue. Should they win control of either branch of Congress in November, it becomes highly unlikely that any meaningful climate measure will pass.
» Read article

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Raimondi Park
How Air Pollution Across America Reflects Racist Policy From the 1930s
A new study shows how redlining, a Depression-era housing policy, contributed to inequalities that persist decades later in U.S. cities.
By Raymond Zhong and Nadja Popovich, New York Times
March 9, 2022

Urban neighborhoods that were redlined by federal officials in the 1930s tended to have higher levels of harmful air pollution eight decades later, a new study has found, adding to a body of evidence that reveals how racist policies in the past have contributed to inequalities across the United States today.

In the wake of the Great Depression, when the federal government graded neighborhoods in hundreds of cities for real estate investment, Black and immigrant areas were typically outlined in red on maps to denote risky places to lend. Racial discrimination in housing was outlawed in 1968. But the redlining maps entrenched discriminatory practices whose effects reverberate nearly a century later.

To this day, historically redlined neighborhoods are more likely to have high populations of Black, Latino and Asian residents than areas that were favorably assessed at the time.

California’s East Bay is a clear example.

[…]Margaret Gordon has had decades of experience with these inequalities in West Oakland, a historically redlined neighborhood. Many children there suffer from asthma related to traffic and industrial pollution. Residents have long struggled to fend off development projects that make the air even worse.

“Those people don’t have the voting capacity, or the elected officials, or the money to hire the lawyers, to fight this,” said Ms. Gordon, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, an advocacy group.
» Read article  
» Read the study

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Omsk refinery
As War Rages, A Struggle to Balance Energy Crunch and Climate Crisis
Rising oil prices and increased demand for expanded production come at a time when scientists say nations must sharply cut the use of fossil fuels.
By Brad Plumer, Lisa Friedman and David Gelles, New York Times
March 10, 2022

As the world reels from spikes in oil and gas prices, the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has laid bare a dilemma: Nations remain extraordinarily dependent on fossil fuels and are struggling to shore up supplies precisely at a moment when scientists say the world must slash its use of oil, gas and coal to avert irrevocable damage to the planet.

While countries could greatly reduce their vulnerability to wild swings in the oil and gas markets by shifting to cleaner sources of energy such as wind or solar power and electric vehicles — which is also the playbook for fighting climate change — that transition will take years.

So, for now, many governments are more urgently focused on alleviating near-term energy shocks, aiming to boost global oil production to replace the millions of barrels per day that Russia has historically exported but which is now being shunned by Western nations.

The two goals aren’t necessarily at odds, officials in the United States and Europe say.

Yet some fear that countries could become so consumed by the immediate energy crisis that they neglect longer-term policies to cut reliance on fossil fuels — a shortsightedness that could set the world up for more oil and gas shocks in the future as well as a dangerously overheated planet.

“In the short term we have to try to prevent this crisis from creating an economic catastrophe,” said Sarah Ladislaw, a managing director at RMI, a nonprofit that works on clean energy issues. “But there are also longer-term steps we need to take to reduce our underlying energy vulnerabilities.” Otherwise, she said, “we’ll end up right back in this situation several years down the road.”
» Read article  

Amazon fire
Amazon is less able to recover from droughts and logging, study finds
By Henry Fountain, New York Times, in Boston Globe
March 7, 2022

The Amazon is losing its ability to recover from disturbances like droughts and land-use changes, scientists reported Monday, adding to concern that the rainforest is approaching a critical threshold beyond which much of it will be replaced by grassland, with vast consequences for biodiversity and climate change.

The scientists said their research did not pinpoint when this threshold, which they described as a tipping point, might be reached.

“But it’s worth reminding ourselves that if it gets to that tipping point, that we commit to losing the Amazon rainforest, then we get a significant feedback to global climate change,” said one of the scientists, Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in England.

Losing the rainforest could result in up to 90 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide being put back into the atmosphere, he said, equivalent to several years of global emissions. That would make limiting global warming more difficult.

Among previous studies there has been a large degree of uncertainty as to when such a threshold might be reached. But some research has concluded that deforestation, drying, and other factors could lead to substantial forest destruction in the Amazon by the end of this century.

Carlos Nobre, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Brazil and one of the first to sound alarm over the potential loss of the Amazon more than three decades ago, described the new study as “very compelling.”

“It raised my level of anxiety,” said Nobre, who was not involved in the research.

Covering more than 2 million square miles in Brazil and neighboring countries, the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, and serves a crucial role in mitigating climate change in most years by taking in more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it releases. In its diversity of plant and animal species, it is as rich as or richer than anywhere else on the planet. And it pumps so much moisture into the atmosphere that it can affect weather beyond South America.
» Read article  

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

Mr Popular
Analysis: From Gas to Renewables to Efficiency, Putin’s War Has EU Scrambling for Energy Independence
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
March 7, 2022

With Vladimir Putin’s devastating war in Ukraine now well into its second week, news coverage and commentary are turning to the steps other European countries can take to break their dependence on Russian oil and gas, once and for all.

While the fossil industry tries to spin the war as justification for a new round of exploration and development, and Europe looks to alternate sources of gas for short-term relief, renewable energy and energy efficiency are dominating much of the conversation as a more practical, affordable solution.

Two intertwined issues brought into focus by the invasion of Ukraine are the 40% of European Union gas supply that comes from Russia, and the corresponding US$720 million in daily gas revenue that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using to finance his war. While sanctions and divestment are hitting broad swaths of the Russian economy, “in gas the flow continues unabated and, with European customers now paying even more exorbitant prices, Russia is benefiting from a staggering surge in revenue,” writes British historian and European Institute Director Adam Tooze, citing Bloomberg columnist Javier Blas.

“At the start of the year, Russia was earning $350 million per day from oil and $200 million per day from gas,” Tooze says. “On March 3, 2022, Europe paid $720 million to Russia for gas alone.”

[…]That dependence “has proved the Achilles’ heel of security for Europe and, by extension, the United States,” writes the Washington Post editorial board. “Quite simply, Russia has fossil fuels in abundance and has used this as a geopolitical tool to influence consuming countries such as Germany and Italy, blunting their willingness to take a stand against Mr. Putin’s aggressive policies until it is too late.”
» Read article  

800 MW offshore
House pushes for Massachusetts to become the center of U.S. wind production
By Mike Deehan, WGBH
March 3, 2022

House Speaker Ron Mariano and the Massachusetts House want to supercharge the wind energy industry in the Commonwealth by levying new fees on fossil fuels to invest in cleaner power produced off our shores.

“What oil did for Texas, wind can do for Massachusetts. We have enough wind energy out there that can power every home and every business in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said Franklin Rep. Jeffrey Roy, the House chairman of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and key author of the bill.

Mariano and Roy’s wind bill is seen by Democrats as a key piece of the state’s strategy to meet it’s long-term emissions goals.

Under state law, Massachusetts must by 2030 reduce carbon emissions by 50% from 1990 levels. That target moves to a 75% reduction in emissions by 2040 and 85% of 1990 levels by 2050.

To get there, the state’s electricity supply must shift from being generated by polluting fossil fuels to clean energy sources like wind, solar and hydro energy. After Maine voters rejected a plan by Massachusetts and other northeast states to buy and transport hydropower from Canada, the Bay state was left looking for new ways to increase green power production.

“We happen to be located in the perfect space because the most robust waters in the contiguous United States are 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.,” Roy said.
» Read article  

» More about clean energy    

MODERNIZING THE GRID

future now
The future is now: Doubling down on fossil fuels is not the solution to New England’s energy needs
By Joe Curtatone, Utility Dive | Opinion
March 1, 2022
Joe Curtatone is president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council

Across New England, the second half of January ushered in freezing temperatures and along with it, a reinvigorated debate about the region’s overreliance on fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. New England has made significant strides in recent decades, retiring most of its coal fleet and moving to a — comparatively — cleaner generating fleet that is now largely dominated by natural gas.

That is why it may surprise you to learn that in late January, the grid mix was, in fact, very dirty with over 25% coming from oil and coal at times, and with the monthly contribution of those dirty sources totaling a staggering 13%. Over the course of an entire year, coal and oil generation is quite small, typically below 1%, as it was in 2021. But in this cold, and with gas prices far higher than in recent years, it was coal and oil to the rescue on the vast majority of days. To be clear, the system was not in an emergency condition. It was just cold.

As we move on from a year that was the hottest in Boston’s history, with New England facing the impacts of climate change at an even more accelerated pace, this is simply untenable. New England states have enacted some of the most aggressive climate laws in the country, and we have made bold and smart bets on making clean energy resources like offshore wind and solar the new backbone of our grid in the future. But as this past January demonstrates, our work to meet those ambitions has only begun.

ISO New England’s CEO was recently quoted as saying, “[t]he clean energy transition is a long journey and we cannot escape the reality that the region will be reliant on much of the existing fleet, and the fuels they utilize, for many years to come”. We fear that framing the problem that way risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. By continuing to look to fossil fuel peaking resources as a first resort rather than last, we are ignoring significant opportunities that exist today to bring all available clean resources to solve this problem. Here are some ideas to start.
» Read article  

SEAM study
Grid operators’ ‘seam’ study paves way for renewable expansion

A new study shows how strategically sited transmission projects can unleash a wave of new clean energy generation.
By Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News, in Energy News Network
March 5, 2022

A joint study by two regional grid operators with territories that span a wide swath of the central U.S. reveals how strategically sited transmission projects along their boundaries could enable a wave of new renewable energy generation that may not otherwise get built.

The final study, published yesterday, is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and Southwest Power Pool (SPP) to help enable more wind and solar development across an area that’s become increasingly challenging for renewable developers because of grid constraints.

The study identified seven transmission projects along the MISO-SPP boundary that would cost $1.65 billion and enable 28 gigawatts of new generation capacity — and perhaps as much as 53 GW — across MISO and SPP combined. The latter estimate, based on modeling by SPP, would roughly double the combined wind and solar capacity that currently exists in the two regions.

“Identifying those projects that can meet the needs of interconnecting generators in both regions for a period of time is huge, it’s very important,” said Natalie McIntire, a technical and policy consultant for the Clean Grid Alliance, a St. Paul, Minn.-based group whose members include renewable developers.

The projects to help unlock the region’s renewable energy potential could accelerate the pace of the transition from fossil fuels in regions of the country long tied to coal.
» Read article  

» More about modernizing the grid

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

PV on abandoned coal mines
In Virginia, abandoned coal mines are transformed into solar farms
Six old mining sites owned by the Nature Conservancy will be some of the first utility-scale solar farms in the region — and the nonprofit group hopes the model can be replicated nationwide
By Zoeann Murphy, Washington Post
March 3, 2022

Empty freight cars line the railroad tracks as far as the eye can see from Tim Jennings’s backyard in Dante — a town of less than 600 residents.

“They should open up some more new mines around here,” the 61-year-old former coal miner says, pointing up at the mountains surrounding the valley. “Solar panels — that might work too.”

In southwest Virginia, abandoned coal mines are being transformed into solar installations that will be large enough to contribute renewable energy to the electric grid. Six old mining sites owned by the Nature Conservancy will be some of the first utility-scale solar farms in the region — and the nonprofit group hopes it’s creating a model that can be replicated nationwide.

In 2019, the Nature Conservancy acquired 253,000 acres of forest in the central Appalachian Mountains that it calls the Cumberland Forest Project. It’s one small part of the group’s efforts in the mountain range, which reaches from Alabama to Canada.

“We’ve identified the Appalachians as one of the most important places on Earth for us to do conservation,” says Brad Kreps, the Nature Conservancy’s Clinch Valley program director, who is leading the solar projects. “We put the Appalachians in a very rare company along with the Amazon, the wild lands of Kenya and the forests of Borneo.”

The Cumberland Forest includes several abandoned mine sites scattered around Virginia’s coal fields region. Solar developers partnering with the Nature Conservancy, such as Dominion Energy and Sun Tribe, say the mine sites have vast flat areas exposed to sunlight that are a rarity in the mountains, and the sites offer advantages like being close to transmission lines.
» Read article  

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Bay Bridge traffic
Biden Restores California’s Power to Set Stringent Tailpipe Rules
The state is expected to write strict auto pollution standards designed to significantly speed the transition to electric vehicles and influence new federal rules.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
March 9, 2022

The Biden administration on Wednesday restored California’s legal authority to set auto pollution and mileage rules that are tighter than federal standards, a potent climate policy that had been stripped away by former President Donald J. Trump.

The return of one of California’s most powerful environmental prerogatives could have a significant impact on the type of cars Americans will drive in the coming decade, the amount of gasoline the nation consumes and its ability to reduce the tailpipe emissions that contribute heavily to climate change.

As the most populous state, and with the world’s fifth-largest economy, California has been able to influence automobile makers and set the pace for the rest of the country. Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted the California rules, turning them into de facto national standards. Twelve other states are following California’s mandate to sell only zero-emissions vehicles after 2035.

With that leverage, California’s actions become pivotal to Mr. Biden’s broader push to accelerate the transition away from gasoline-powered vehicles toward electric vehicles, which require no oil and produce no emissions.
» Read article  

Zero E concept
Fortescue teams up with aero giant Airbus to accelerate green hydrogen planes
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
March 8, 2022

Fortescue Future Industries says it wants to speed up the development of aircraft fuelled by green hydrogen, as part of a push to decarbonise the aviation industry, forming a new partnership with European aircraft giant Airbus.

The clean energy unit of resources giant Fortescue Metals Group signed the MoU with Airbus on Tuesday to cooperate on the development of zero emissions aircraft, fuelled by hydrogen.

The partnership will see the two companies identify the needs and potential boundaries to the use of green hydrogen as an aircraft fuel, covering government regulation, necessary infrastructure and how to best establish global supply chains.

According to a joint statement, FFI will provide technical expertise on the development of the necessary hydrogen supply chains, and Airbus will focus on assessing the energy needs and fuelling requirements of the aviation industry, as well as the aviation regulatory environment.

Fortescue founder Dr Andrew Forrest said the aviation industry was responsible for a significant proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, and had so far proven elusive in decarbonisation efforts.

“The time is now for a green revolution in the aviation industry. This exciting collaboration brings together leaders in the aviation industry with leaders in green energy for a pollution-free future,” Forrest said.

Airbus has unveiled a number of zero emissions aircraft concepts and is hoping to launch its first hydrogen-fuelled commercial aircraft by 2035.

The company says that green hydrogen could be used through two key methods for reducing aviation emissions, including as an input in the production of synthetic fuels for use in current aircraft, as well as for direct use in next-generation aircraft using modified turbines and fuel cells.
» Read article  

» More about green transportation

GAS UTILITIES

vertical ground loops
A net-zero future for gas utilities? Switching to underground thermal networks
Three pilot projects in Massachusetts will connect ground-source heat pumps to heat and cool entire neighborhoods.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
March 1, 2022

Massachusetts’ major gas utilities, facing the eventual demise of fossil fuels under the state’s decarbonization mandate, are contemplating a new business model: replacing neighborhood gas pipeline networks with pipes that capture and share thermal energy underground.

Over the next year, utilities Eversource, National Grid and Columbia Gas plan to break ground on separate pilot projects testing the viability of making such ​“geo-grids” or ​“micro geo-districts” into in-the-ground realities. If they succeed, the model could be extended to a much broader set of the utilities’ customers — and potentially offer gas utilities in other regions a path toward a carbon-free future.

Nikki Bruno, Eversource’s director of clean technologies, said the utility has hopes to expand well beyond its $10.2 million, three-year pilot project in a lower-income neighborhood in the city of Framingham, Massachusetts.

For that to happen, however, ​“we would have to show an environmental benefit, customer affordability, and technology performance,” she said.

Right now Eversource is busy signing up a mix of residential and commercial customers willing to install heat pumps that can tap into the pipes it will be laying alongside its fossil gas pipelines, Bruno said. Those pipes will carry a water-and-antifreeze mix that circulates through loops in boreholes sunk hundreds of feet into the earth, absorbing underground temperatures that linger at a stable range around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

As that temperate fluid is brought back to the surface, it can be used by electric-powered heat pumps to generate heat when it’s cold outside or cold when it’s hot outside, whichever is needed, as this Eversource graphic indicates.
» Read article  

» More about gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

spinning it
Canada’s ‘petro-provinces’ see opportunity in Russia-Ukraine war
Amid calls to ban Russian oil and gas, environmentalists slam pro-oil ‘opportunism’ in Canada and call for energy transition.
By Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, Al Jazeera
March 8, 2022

As efforts ramp up to broker a ceasefire and bring an end to nearly two weeks of Russian attacks on Ukraine, calls have been growing internationally to ban oil imports from Russia as a way to exert pressure on President Vladimir Putin to end the war.

United States President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a ban on US imports of Russian oil and gas. It was unclear whether Europe, more energy-dependent on Russia than the US, would follow suit.

That is where Canada’s oil industry lobby groups and pro-oil politicians are now hoping to step in, urging countries to choose what they describe as Canadian “ethical oil” over Russian “conflict oil” reserves.

But environmentalists, rights advocates and other experts have denounced attempts to expand fossil fuel projects in light of the war in Ukraine, saying the conflict should instead hasten a global energy transition to respond to the climate crisis.

“We’re seeing once again the fossil [fuel] lobby seizing upon a crisis with horrific human consequences to promote its destructive agenda and double down on fossil production expansion,” Caroline Brouillette, national policy manager at Climate Action Network Canada, told Al Jazeera. “It’s been absolutely distressing to see some politicians echo this grotesque spin.”
» Read article  

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

CEP plume
If Pittsfield trash incinerator plant sale goes through it will close, which could mean you’ll pay more for trash disposal
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
March 11, 2022

If approved by a bankruptcy judge, a national company that boasts of capturing “value from waste” will take over and decommission a Pittsfield incinerator that has been a city landmark for two generations.

Filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court identify Casella Waste Management of Massachusetts as the company poised to pay $1 million to buy the Hubbard Avenue plant, whose smokestacks, visible across the city’s east side, long have concerned environmentalists.

In February, a letter to employees from Richard Fish, Community Eco Power’s president and CEO, confirmed that a prospective new owner intended to dismantle the incinerator, which, in 2021, burned 80,000 tons of trash from Pittsfield and Berkshire County.

In a letter of intent included in a recent bankruptcy court filing, a Casella executive says that if the sale is allowed, it would halt trash incineration in Pittsfield and transform the site into a transfer station. From there, the executive said, trash would be trucked to landfills, possibly including four owned by Casella in New York state.

Closing the incinerator would force Pittsfield and other customers to renegotiate how to dispose of trash, having lost the option to have those costs tempered by the use of waste to generate energy. Casella already holds a contract to collect trash in Pittsfield.
» Read article   

» More about waste incineration

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Weekly News Check-In 2/18/22

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Welcome back.

Lots happening in Massachusetts! We’ve been following an intriguing energy efficiency proposal for over a year – ever since a $10M Eversource pilot project was approved to link a hundred Framingham homes through a shared ground source heat pump system for super-efficient all-electric heating and cooling. Now, with National Grid putting $16M into its own project, the Boston Globe has run a profile of the two women behind this great idea.

Our state pension fund is in step with the fossil fuel divestment movement but taking a slightly different approach – by staying vested and using shareholder activism to change polluters from the inside. The goal is to steer them toward policies in line with the Paris Climate Agreement’s warming target of 1.5C. In oil-soaked Texas, it’s quite a different story: that state’s pension fund is threatening to drop investments in funds that dare to rank climate concerns above those of the fossil fuel industry. Yahoo, pardner….

In its final year, the Baker administration is maintaining opposition to gas hookup bans, even for new homes. This withholds, for now, an effective building sector climate mitigation tool. Meanwhile, the gas industry and its allies are busy churning out misinformation, falsely characterizing building electrification as risky and expensive.

Focusing on the grid, MA Attorney General Maura Healey is adding her voice along with other clean electricity advocates, asking federal regulators to intervene against a recent controversial decision by New England’s grid operator considered detrimental to renewable energy.

Checking in on climate, scientists have confirmed that the southwest is experiencing its worst drought in at least twelve centuries. On top of that, the atmospheric concentration of the powerful greenhouse gas methane is rising at an alarming rate – another warning that we really don’t have any more time to waste. The Biden administration is beginning to open the funding spigot, releasing significant funds from the recent infrastructure bill and applying it toward decarbonizing the economy – especially the thermally intensive heavy industries. Sectors benefiting from these investments include those producing building materials like steel, cement, and even asphalt.

We’re keeping a wary eye on those industrial decarbonization efforts, however, because along with the good stuff, fossil interests managed to include some strikingly shaky business-as-usual distractions. That includes the potential for over-reliance on green hydrogen where electrification could substitute, and most carbon capture and storage projects. While we’re on the subject of false solutions, we’re sharing an article that takes some of the shine off corn-based ethanol as a clean transportation solution.

Readers following international events are aware of the critical role liquefied natural gas is playing as Europe’s backup energy source this winter while an uncomfortably large portion of its pipeline-supplied gas is hostage to Russia’s threats against Ukraine. We found an article that considers LNG’s future prospects.

Landing back home where we started, we’re following an intriguing tip that Pittsfield’s stinky Community Eco Power waste incinerator might have an interested buyer considering near-term decommissioning. More on that later.

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

DIVESTMENT

up there
The Massachusetts pension fund is joining the climate fight
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 17, 2022

The board that oversees the state’s $104.1 billion pension fund voted on Thursday to start using its shareholder power to pressure companies to act on climate change.

The Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, which is chaired by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, voted unanimously in support of the new guidelines, which essentially transform the pension fund’s managers into shareholder-activists. It asks them to vote against any directors of companies the fund is invested in if they don’t make a plan for keeping warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, or hitting net-zero emissions by 2050.

The pension fund’s vote is an alternative to fossil fuel divestment, a step that a number of local and institutional funds have taken in recent years, and which the state of Maine moved to do this summer. Instead of pulling money out of any companies involved with the fossil fuel industry, the Massachusetts pension fund will try to transform the business practices of the companies it invests in from the inside, pressuring them to cut emissions and align with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

If a company the fund is invested in fails to deliver a plan aligned with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or it fails to make a plan for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the new directive would ask the fund’s directors to vote against the company’s board members. The message: Align yourself with ambitious climate goals, or risk losing your spot on your company’s board.

There is some recent precedent for this kind of action. In May of last year, a small, activist hedge fund managed to unseat at least two Exxon Mobil Corp. board members in an attempt to force the company to align its business with fighting climate change.

In advance of the vote, the union SEIU Local 509 —which represents 20,000 health and human service workers and educators, including 8,000 state workers — wrote in support of the move.

“The extreme heat, dangerous storms, wildfires, floods, droughts and the rest affect all of us, but those with fewer resources and less power are impacted more, and it’s getting worse,” wrote union chair Kathleen Flanagan and president Peter MacKinnon. “We do not want our retirement funds used to further this destruction.”
» Read article         

caved
Facing Texas pushback, BlackRock says it backs fossil fuels
By Ross Kerber, Reuters
February 17, 2022

BOSTON, Feb 17 (Reuters) – At the risk of being dropped from Texas pension funds, BlackRock Inc (BLK.N) has ramped up its message that the world’s largest asset manager is a friend of the oil and gas industries.

As a large and long-term investor in fossil fuel companies, “we want to see these companies succeed and prosper,” BlackRock executives wrote in a letter that a spokesman confirmed was sent at the start of the year to officials, trade groups and others in energy-rich Texas.

“We will continue to invest in and support fossil fuel companies, including Texas fossil fuel companies,” states the memo, signed by Dalia Blass, BlackRock’s head of external affairs, and copied to Mark McCombe, BlackRock’s chief client officer.

Although the message is consistent with its other statements, the emphasis is new after years in which BlackRock has stressed its efforts to take climate change and other environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues into account in its investment and proxy voting decisions.

In Texas, new legislation requires the state’s comptroller, Glenn Hegar, to draw up a list of financial companies that boycott fossil fuels. Those firms could then be barred from state pension funds like the $197 billion Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which has about $2.5 billion with BlackRock.
» Blog editor’s note: Texas is threatening to exclude financial firms that take a pro-climate/anti-fossil position in their portfolios. BlackRock caved. Apparently “divestment” can work both ways.
» Read article         

» More about divestment

GAS BANS

overheadNatural gas infrastructure a climate change sticking point
Baker administration opposes ban on fossil fuel use in new construction
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
February 15, 2022

AS MASSACHUSETTS SEEKS to transition away from fossil fuels and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, what to do with the state’s existing natural gas infrastructure is becoming a major point of contention.

At a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, several senators pressed Energy and Environment Secretary Kathleen Theoharides on why the Baker administration’s recent building code proposal doesn’t allow communities to experiment with banning fossil fuel infrastructure for heating and cooking in new construction.

Theoharides said the proposal would update two existing building codes and create a new third one. None of the codes would ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new buildings but they would be structured in a way to make it cost effective for builders to embrace electrification.

“What we’ve done through the code is make the case for electrification really strong based on the cost,” she said.

The existing building codes — a base code and a stretch code — would be updated to put downward pressure on greenhouse gas emissions in new buildings. The new opt-in net zero specialized stretch code would require new homes or commercial buildings using gas to achieve greater energy efficiency and also mount solar on the roof and pre-wire the building for electrification.

Theoharides said the administration’s proposal seeks to strike a balance between energy efficiency and cost. She said she opposes an outright ban on fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction even in individual communities that want to do so because such bans could hinder housing construction and because they could leave a smaller pool of customers carrying the financial load for the remaining natural gas system.

“We need to make a transition [away from natural gas], but it needs to be an orderly transition,” she said. “We think we have to do this with a high level of care when we’re transitioning away from a system that still exists all across the state.”

Sen. Cynthia Creem of Newton disagreed. “I think it’s shortsighted,” she said. “You may save money now but in the long run it’s not going to help.”

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington said Theoharides was stifling innovation by not allowing communities to experiment with doing away with fossil fuel infrastructure.
» Read article         

gas stove flame
Gas-Backed Front Group Spreads Misinformation About Costs of Electrification
In Colorado, a new industry-backed front group warns that “forced electrification” will increase costs to consumers. The evidence suggests otherwise.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
February 10, 2022

A group of natural gas companies and utilities in Colorado formed a front group to oppose the state’s push towards electrifying homes and businesses, spreading misinformation about the cost of electric heating while also promoting false solutions to lock in the ongoing use of natural gas.

The group, “Coloradans for Energy Access,” is made up of a coalition of gas companies, real estate interests, utilities, and other energy trade associations, including Atmos Energy, American Public Gas Association, and the Consumer Energy Alliance.

Announcing its formation in an op-ed in the Colorado Sun, Coloradans for Energy Access decried what it calls “forced electrification,” a reference to a growing movement in Colorado and around the country to discourage or prohibit natural gas connections in newly constructed homes and commercial buildings in an effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 50 cities, mostly in California, have moved to ban natural gas in new homes and buildings, serving multiple goals at once. Gas stoves emit pollutants like nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide that can contribute to respiratory illnesses. In addition, a January study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that stoves leak gas even when they are turned off, an indication that gas appliances are worse for the climate and human health than previously thought.

In making its pitch for natural gas, Coloradans for Energy Access asserted that “renewable natural gas” is one of the ways that “natural gas supports the energy transition to a lower carbon economy.”

But as DeSmog has previously reported, what the industry calls “renewable natural gas” — methane gas captured from landfills and industrial agriculture and repurposed for consumers to use — can’t fairly be considered a solution. The energy source faces technical, economic, and environmental challenges that prevent it from being a large-scale solution. Despite that, gas utilities around the country are promoting it, a move that critics say is simply a strategy to justify the expansion of gas infrastructure while doing little to address greenhouse gas emissions.

Contrary to the gas industry’s claims, Americans who use heat pumps are likely to spend less on heating compared to those with gas furnaces, according to a recent analysis from RMI, a Colorado-based think tank. And new improvements in heat pump technology mean they can work well even in cold climates.

“In Denver, we found that new single-family homes built with all-electric appliances — including high-efficiency electric heat pumps — have lower annual utility bills than new mixed-fuel single-family homes,” Talor Gruenwald, an associate at RMI, told DeSmog in an email. “So, the claim that ‘natural gas is cheap and electric heat pumps are expensive’ is indeed very misleading.”
» Read article        
» Read the RMI analysis

» More about gas bans

GREENING THE ECONOMY

hot programBiden administration launches industrial decarbonization initiative, targets $9.5B for clean hydrogen
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
February 16, 2022

With a goal of having net zero GHG emissions by the middle of the century, the Biden administration is targeting the industrial sector, which produced 23.8% of all carbon emissions in 2020, according to a draft emissions inventory released Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The transportation sector was the leading source of GHG emissions in 2020, accounting for 27.1% of all emissions, followed by the power sector at 24.8% of emissions.

Clean hydrogen can play a key role in cutting GHG emissions from hard-to-decarbonize industries such as ammonia and steel, DOE said Tuesday in a request for information about creating regional clean hydrogen hubs.

Based on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act , DOE issued a request for information to get comments on the $8 billion hydrogen hub initiative, a planned $1 billion clean hydrogen electrolysis program and a $500 million clean hydrogen manufacturing and recycling research program.

Meanwhile, the new interdepartmental Buy Clean task force will recommend potential pilot projects aimed at increasing federal procurement of “clean” construction materials, according to the White House.

The task force will include the departments of Defense, Energy and Transportation, the EPA, the General Services Administration and the White House Office of Management and Budget.
» Read article         

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Lake Oroville
US west ‘megadrought’ is worst in at least 1,200 years, new study says
Human-caused climate change significant driver of destructive conditions as even drier decades lie ahead, researchers say
By Gabrielle Canon, The Guardian
February 15, 2022

The American west has spent the last two decades in what scientists are now saying is the most extreme megadrought in at least 1,200 years. In a new study, published on Monday, researchers also noted that human-caused climate change is a significant driver of the destructive conditions and offered a grim prognosis: even drier decades lie ahead.

“Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the west has been dry for most of the last couple decades,” says Park Williams, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles and the study’s lead author. “We now know from these studies that is dry not only from the context of recent memory but in the context of the last millennium.”

Turning up the temperature – the result of human caused warming – has played a big part. Other studies show how the climate crisis “will increasingly enhance the odds of long, widespread and severe megadroughts”, the researchers write. Noting that as the west is now in the midst of the driest 22-year period in knowable history, “this worst-case scenario already appears to be coming to pass”.

Looking at moisture levels in soils, the team of climate scientists from UCLA, Nasa, and Columbia University focused on landscapes from Montana to northern Mexico north to south and from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. They analyzed data collected tree ring patterns that offered clues to soil moisture levels throughout the centuries. Rings that appear closer together show the stunted growth patterns occurring during dry times.

So-called megadroughts, which are characterized by prolonged periods of dryness that span more than two decades, were woven throughout history, the researchers found. Long before human industry, water availability ebbed and flowed naturally. That variability, however, has been intensified by the climate crisis. According to their findings, soil moisture deficits doubled in the last 22 years compared with levels in the 1900s. Human-caused warming accounted for a 42% increase in severity.

Experts and advocates hope it will serve as a call to arms to prepare for a future that is fast approaching. Already, unsustainable systems have started to crack. “We are watching our bank account of water decline,” Williams says, “and we know that eventually we need to slow our expenditures before the account runs out”.
» Read article         

methane rising fast
‘Dangerously Fast’ Methane Increase Suggests Feedback Mechanism May Have Begun
By The Energy Mix
February 14, 2022

Methane concentrations in the atmosphere have risen at a “dangerously fast” rate and now exceed 1,900 parts per billion, prompting some researchers to warn that climate change itself may be driving the increase.

Atmospheric methane levels are now nearly triple pre-industrial levels, a news article in the journal Nature states, citing data released last month by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Scientists says the grim milestone underscores the importance of a pledge made at last year’s COP 26 climate summit to curb emissions of methane,” a climate pollutant that Nature cites as at least 28 times more potent than CO2, but is actually 80 to 85 times more damaging over the 20-year span when humanity will be scrambling to get the climate emergency under control.

While the research focused to some degree on methane released through microbial action, Nature says nearly two-thirds of the methane releases between 2007 and 2016 were caused by human activity.

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest, landmark climate science assessment in August, researchers pointed to rapid, deep methane cuts as the single most important step in stemming the rise of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. In early November, scientists warned that the 30% reduction pledge at COP 26 fell short of what was needed.

The new research shows the problem getting worse.
» Read article        
» Read the study

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Schulman and Magavi
These climate activists aren’t just spouting rhetoric; they’re helping wean utilities off fossil fuels
By David Abel, Boston Globe
February 11, 2022

Over the years, they’ve been scoffed at as overly earnest activists or out-of-their-depth dilettantes.

At male-dominated energy conferences, they’ve been ignored, belittled as “gals,” and suffered through endless mansplaining in their areas of hard-fought expertise. Zeyneb Magavi, a 5-foot-1 engineer with a black belt in karate and a degree in physics, was once patted on the head and told she was “nice.” Her business partner, Audrey Schulman, a similarly diminutive novelist, has received condescending praise for “learning so much.”

“It can be exhausting trying to prove ourselves,” Magavi said.

They’re no longer so easily dismissed.

The duo of strong-willed Cambridge women, who joined forces over a common fear of how climate change would affect their children, recently had their once seemingly outlandish ideas for reducing carbon pollution adopted by the region’s largest utilities.

Last month, after years of prodding, state regulators approved a $16 million project that Magavi and Schulman proposed to demonstrate that there’s a financially viable, technically sound way to heat and cool the vast majority of the state’s homes and businesses without fossil fuels. The project uses linked heat pumps and subterranean pipes that can harness steady underground temperatures to heat and cool buildings.

That project, which will be installed by National Grid, follows the state’s approval of a similar geothermal project — also based on their ideas — proposed by Eversource, which plans to spend $10 million starting this year to connect about 100 homes and businesses in Framingham with a network of ground-source heat pumps.

If both projects work — heating and cooling air at reasonable costs — Magavi and Schulman hope the utilities will stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year replacing their aging system of gas pipes, and instead direct that money to installing geothermal energy throughout the region. Eventually, they believe, such emissions-free systems could replace the need for gas and oil in most homes.

The plan, Magavi and Schulman say, will also save state residents money in the long run. Every ratepayer dollar spent on investing in the utilities’ thousands of miles of gas pipes, which leak substantial amounts of methane that contributes disproportionately to global warming, will likely saddle future generations with unnecessary debt for what will largely become useless infrastructure as the state moves away from fossil fuels.
» Read article         

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

ArcelorMittal
ArcelorMittal, France Invest Billions in Low-Emissions Steel
By Energy News Service
February 11, 2022

Steelmaking giant ArcelorMittal, based in Luxembourg, is decarbonizing its factories in France and has attracted the financial support of the French Government to accomplish a drop of 40 percent a year in ArcelorMittal’s CO2 emissions in France by 2030.

Steel is made from iron ore, a compound of iron, oxygen and other minerals that occurs in nature.

The iron and steel sector directly accounts for 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, seven percent of the global total from the energy system and more than the emissions from all road freight combined.

ArcelorMittal says the investment puts France’s steelmaking industry on a path aligned with the 2015 Paris Agreement target of keeping global warming of the atmosphere to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.

To decarbonize, ArcelorMittal says the company’s strategy will change the way it produces steel in three ways:

  • – Increasing the recycling of steel: one kilo of steel produced by ArcelorMittal in France will soon contain up to 25 percent recycled steel
  • – Developing an innovative [Direct Reduction of Iron (DRI)] process to make steel without coal, with hydrogen
  • – Capturing residual carbon dioxide (CO2) to store and use

» Read article         

NAPA net zero
Asphalt Industry Outlines Plans to Reach Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050
By David Worford, Energy Leader
February 3, 2022

The asphalt industry in the United States plans to improve technology, especially when it comes to recycling materials, and to use all renewable energy in its operations as it aims to move toward net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) outlined a plan at its recent annual meeting, which also includes working with customers and suppliers to cut Scope 3 emissions as well as developing net zero materials throughout its supply chain. A 21-member Climate Stewardship Task Force has worked over the past year to study the sustainability in the industry and come up with the roadmap toward net zero.

There are nearly 3,500 asphalt plants in the US, according to NAPA. The organization says most of emissions from its mixing production comes from fuel combustion to heat and dry materials and keep asphalt hot.

NAPA says recycled asphalt is the top recycled material in the United States and that the industry reused 87 million tons of it in 2020. It wants to implement a greater use of existing technology such as recycled and warm-mix asphalt while developing and implementing new technologies to reach net zero targets.

Sustainable asphalt production hinges on recycled materials. New sustainable plants in the United Kingdom by Harsco Environmental’s recently relaunched sustainable asphalt company SteelPhalt, for example, can produce asphalt using 95% recycled aggregates.
» Read article        
» Read the NAPA plan

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

AG Healey
State policymakers, candidates and advocates decry controversial energy grid vote
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
February 11, 2022

In the wake of a controversial decision last week by the region’s energy grid that advocates say discourages wind and solar development, Attorney General Maura Healey and others are sounding an alarm, asking the federal regulator to intervene.

The decision by grid operator ISO-New England would allow the continuation for two years of a rule that Healey and others say hurts the expansion of renewable energy in the region, all at a time when states are racing to cut emissions and switch off of fossil fuels.

“My office remains opposed to this delay and will work to get it reversed,” Healey wrote on Twitter. “We cannot make this process more difficult for clean energy projects at time when our state should be doubling down on its transition.”

The state Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs is also reviewing last week’s vote, according to a spokesman, and will be taking a look at how it may impact the state and regional pursuits of clean energy.

Gubernatorial candidate Danielle Allen issued a statement saying that the decision by the grid was an example of “climate leadership is getting sabotaged at every turn by fossil fuel interests driving decisions behind closed doors” and called on other statewide candidates to join her in asking the federal regulator to step in.
» Read article         

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

grain auger
Corn-Based Ethanol May Be Worse For the Climate Than Gasoline, a New Study Finds

Long touted as a renewable fuel emitting 20 percent fewer greenhouse gasses than gasoline, ethanols’ emissions may be 24 percent higher. If verified, one expert said the finding shows ethanol failed spectacularly.
By Georgina Gustin, Inside Climate News
February 16, 2022

Ethanol made from corn grown across millions of acres of American farmland has become the country’s premier renewable fuel, touted as a low-carbon alternative to traditional gasoline and a key component of the country’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But a new study, published this week, finds that corn-based ethanol may actually be worse for the climate than fossil-based gasoline, and has other environmental downsides.

“We thought and hoped it would be a climate solution and reduce and replace our reliance on gasoline,” said Tyler Lark, a researcher with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and lead author of the study. “It turns out to be no better for the climate than the gasoline it aims to replace and comes with all kinds of other impacts.”

John Reilly, a co-director emeritus at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and a longtime Department of Agriculture researcher, called the study “impressive work” that will likely trigger yet more debate between environmental groups and the biofuels industry.
» Read article        
» Read the study         

CA leading
California Returns as Climate Leader, With Help From the White House
The Biden administration is restoring the state’s power to set its own limits on tailpipe pollution and is largely adopting the state’s rules regarding heavy trucks.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
February 15, 2022

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is preparing strict new limits on pollution from buses, delivery vans, tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks, the first time tailpipe standards have been tightened for the biggest polluters on the road since 2001.

The new federal regulations are drawn from truck pollution rules recently enacted by California and come as the Biden administration is moving to restore that state’s legal authority to set auto emissions limits that are tighter than federal standards, according to two people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak on the record.

The developments represent a revival of California’s influence on the nation’s climate and clean air policies, following four years in which President Donald J. Trump waged legal, political, and, at times, seemingly personal battles with the state. The Trump administration had stripped away California’s authority to institute its own vehicle pollution standards, power that the state had enjoyed for more than 40 years.

Mr. Trump claimed that California’s tougher rules made cars more expensive and less safe.

But now, California is reasserting itself as a leader in policies designed to fight pollution and global warming.

Federal regulators are looking to California for inspiration as they draft new national rules designed to meet President Biden’s pledge that half of all new cars sold in the United States by 2030 will be electric vehicles. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has signed an executive order to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered cars in California by 2035 and is proposing to spend $37 billion next year to cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, buildings and the energy sector.
» Read article         

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Mountaineer stacks
New federal guidelines could boost carbon capture in the US
The Biden administration says the US will ‘likely’ need controversial carbon capture tech to meet climate goals
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 15, 2022

On Tuesday, the Biden administration issued new guidelines for federal agencies on how to assess proposals to capture and sequester carbon dioxide pollution. The new guidance lays out steps that could encourage “widespread deployment” of a controversial form of climate tech, as well as the network of pipelines and other infrastructure that come along with it.

The bipartisan infrastructure law passed last fall included more than $12 billion for Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestration (CCUS) projects. The US will likely need such technologies to reach Biden’s climate goals, the new guidelines say. But the technologies, which draw CO2 out of smokestack emissions or the ambient air, are a divisive strategy for slowing climate change. Proponents say CCUS is needed to clean up hard-to-decarbonize industries like cement and steel. Critics, on the other hand, warn that the CCUS projects allow polluters to keep operating and could have negative consequences for nearby communities.

The guidelines issued today by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) seem to address some of those concerns by telling federal agencies how to conduct thorough environmental reviews of proposed CCUS projects. While CCUS typically refers to technologies that remove CO2 from emissions before they escape power plants or industrial facilities, the White House also lumps emerging “direct air capture” technologies that draw CO2 out of the ambient air into its definition. Both technologies depend on similar infrastructure, including pipelines that move the captured C02 to places where it can be stored underground or used in commercial products.

One of the concerns with devices that remove CO2 emissions from power plants or factories is that those facilities might continue to pump out other pollutants that make the air unhealthy to breathe. The new guidance recommends that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency study how CCUS projects affect pollution other than greenhouse gas emissions and stipulates that projects should avoid adding additional “burdens” on communities.

Another concern is that pipelines carrying captured carbon dioxide can rupture, releasing CO2 in concentrations strong enough to suffocate wildlife and make people sick. The world’s first CO2 pipeline explosion hospitalized dozens of residents of a small Mississippi community in 2020.

Regulatory approvals aside, there are other obstacles that have largely prevented CCUS projects from coming to fruition. So far, the technologies have been too expensive to deploy at scale. According to a December report by the watchdog Government Accountability Office, hundreds of millions of federal dollars have already been spent on projects in the US that ultimately failed.
» Read article         

» More about CCS

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

LNG jetty
Why the LNG ‘gold rush’ could soon turn to dust
Billed as a fuel for the energy transition, LNG demand has boomed this century. Sustained high prices and an accelerating energy transition could change this.
By Nick Ferris, Energy Monitor
February 16, 2022

It was billed as a fuel for the energy transition. An incredibly dense, colourless fossil fuel that can be conveniently transported in ships around the world like crude oil, and which produces around half as much carbon as coal when regasified and burnt. Advocates of liquefied natural gas (LNG) predicted a final fossil fuel ‘gold rush’, with Qatar, the US and Australia leading the charge.

Historically, most LNG was sold to the wealthy but resource-scarce countries of Japan and South Korea via long-term contracts linked to the oil price. In recent years, however, the US led a move towards more flexible, short-term sales, where the price is linked to natural gas trading hubs.

Since the turn of the century, the global LNG market has boomed, with worldwide LNG imports more than trebling between 2000 and 2020. The European market has quadrupled in size, as countries look for a cleaner alternative to coal, and to limit their reliance on gas pipeline imports from Russia.

The LNG industry [has] a response for those who argue that, given the steep decarbonisation required for the world to meet net zero by mid-century, there is no time for gas consumption to grow as a “transition fuel”. This comes in the form of “carbon-neutral LNG”, which companies claim can be achieved either through the purchase of carbon offsets, as French major TotalEnergies claims to have done, or through carbon capture and storage (CCS) of emissions.

At the same time, a growing body of evidence suggests this industry optimism may well be misplaced in the long term. For starters, there are serious doubts around suggestions that LNG can ever be carbon neutral. Analysis shows the offsets purchased by TotalEnergies for its “carbon-neutral LNG” are insufficient to actually cover the fuel’s carbon footprint. Meanwhile, the roll-out of CCS technology has proved both expensive and slow: a further Wood Mackenzie report into LNG and CCS, released in September 2021, highlights how CCS continues to account for less than 1% of annual carbon emissions, despite all the noise that the fossil fuel industry likes to make about it.

If there continue to be doubts over the feasibility of decarbonising LNG, then it is unlikely the fuel will gain much traction as a “transition fuel”, as countries begin to plan in earnest how they will get to net-zero emissions.
» Read article         

FORTUNA
Germany Tries to Loosen Its Ties to Russian Gas Pipelines
An increasingly belligerent Russia, an energy crunch and a new Green minister of economics all add up to a change of direction in Germany’s policy on natural gas.
By Melissa Eddy, New York Times
February  14, 2022

BERLIN — For decades, Germany has been a steadfast consumer of Russian natural gas, a relationship that has seemingly grown closer over the years, surviving Cold War-era tensions, the breakup of the former Soviet Union and even European sanctions against Moscow over its annexation of Crimea. Until this winter.

Since November, the amount of natural gas arriving in Germany from Russia has plunged, driving prices through the roof and draining reserves. These are changes that Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy behemoth, has been regularly pointing out.

“As much as 85 percent of the gas injected in Europe’s underground gas storage facilities last summer is already withdrawn,” Gazprom said on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, adding that “facilities in Germany and France are already two-thirds empty.”

With tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine — a key transit country for Russian gas — showing few signs of easing, Germany’s new minister for the economy and climate change, Robert Habeck, has begun to raise an issue that was unthinkable just a year or two ago: looking beyond Russia for the country’s natural gas needs.

Now the government is reviving plans for building a terminal for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, on Germany’s northern coast. That proposal, long pushed by Washington, was previously shelved as being too costly. But in recent months, liquefied natural gas, arriving via giant tankers from the United States, Qatar and other locations, has become a vital source of fuel for Europe as supplies piped in from Russia have dwindled.

Europe has more than two dozen LNG terminals, including ones in Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium, but the one proposed for Germany’s coast would be the country’s first.
» Blog editor’s note: This is a fossil energy supply solution that requires massive new investment in (liquefied) natural gas infrastructure, and therefore serves to further entrench the region’s dependence on this planet-cooking fuel. The ultimate solution, and the key to energy security, is rapid transition to renewable energy and storage. This whole mess is an unwelcome diversion from that work and a boon to the LNG industry.
» Read article         

» More about LNG

WASTE INCINERATION

CEP potential buyer
A potential buyer could turn Pittsfield’s waste-to-energy plant into a transfer station. That’s news to city officials
By Felix Carroll, The Berkshire Eagle
February 12, 2022

PITTSFIELD — Community Eco Power may have found a buyer for its waste-to-energy facility on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield.

In a letter to employees, the head of the company said the future use of the 5.8-acre Pittsfield facility, with its distinctive billowing smoke, could be as a trash transfer station.

An anonymous source sent the letter to The Eagle. The Eagle was able to verify that Community Eco Power employees had received it. It was sent by Richard Fish, the president and chief operating officer of the North Carolina-based company, which also owns a plant on the banks of the Connecticut River in Agawam.

The Eagle left voicemails on Fish’s cellphone on Saturday. He did not respond.
» Blog editor’s note: This is big news we’ll be watching carefully. BEAT and No Fracked Gas in Mass have been raising the issue of last summer and fall’s substantial increase in highly toxic, chemical-smelling and irritating emissions with City and State officials. After some action from MassDEP, the quality of emissions seems to have improved back to their usual level of odor, but it’s clear how damaged this plant is, and that a change is inevitable. We believe that strong action for waste reduction and City Zero Waste plan is going to be the only sensible means to not only cut emissions for health and climate concerns, but to cut disposal costs for the City. Stay tuned on No Fracked Gas in Mass’ Community Eco Power page.    
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