Activists fighting the Weymouth compressor station are keeping pressure on Mayor Robert Hedlund over his recent settlement agreement with Enbridge. We’re also keeping track of pipeline developments, with major projects mired in litigation. These challenges are expected to increase with the incoming Biden administration.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline project has been slowed by relentless litigation, but it has also faced fierce opposition from tree-sitters committed to halting progress by taking up long-term residence high in trees along the pipeline’s path. A remnant group has held out for over two years in steep terrain, but faces removal by court order next Monday.
The other end of the protest and action spectrum includes people who make a living creating the illusion of grass-roots support for fossil fuel projects. We found an important report on FTI Consulting, a well-connected firm financed by industry and laying astroturf far and wide.
California now has almost forty municipalities that have legislated natural gas hookup bans in new buildings. With the recent addition of San Francisco, these local laws are becoming so common that California is considering a state-wide rule. Note that Massachusetts law requires gas hookup bans to be addressed differently – through the building code. Several environmental organizations are promoting that change.
Somewhat related to that, Massachusetts natural gas utilities have embarked on a project initiated by Attorney General Maura Healey, to plan for their orderly transition to a decarbonized future. We have a description of the process, which is similar to efforts underway in California, Colorado, and New York.
Much of this week’s climate news explores the significance of President-elect Biden’s plans and approach. We offer articles describing the important immediate pro-climate steps he could take, and also some of the obstacles created by the Trump administration’s four-year frontal assault on the planet.
In clean energy, the east coast is grappling with the transmission requirements posed by the coming massive deployment of offshore wind resources. And a report from down under shows Australia the path to zero emissions without the natural gas “bridge”.
Even as the clean energy transition unfolds at an accelerating rate, the fossil fuel industry is still building out natural gas infrastructure. We highlight a new gas generating plant beginning construction in Oregon, in spite of stiff resistance. Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell launched a snarky promotion on Twitter, gaslighting users by asking “What are you willing to change?” for the climate. The blowback was immediate and intense.
The US liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry is staggering from self-inflicted wounds. Due to sloppy handling and lax regulations, the combined effect of fugitive methane emissions, flaring, and general inefficiency from wellhead to export terminal puts the fuel’s global warming impact on par with coal. This fuel serves export markets in Europe and Asia, and many of these buyers now require a full accounting of upstream emissions associated with any load of LNG. Contracts are being cancelled, and financing has dried up for some planned LNG export facilities.
— The NFGiM Team
WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION
Massachusetts Locals Accuse Town Mayor Of ‘Colluding’ With Enbridge Over Controversial Natural Gas Project
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmo Blog
November 11, 2020
Residents of Weymouth, Massachusetts, are raising questions about a deal made between the city and multi-billion dollar Canadian energy pipeline company Enbridge, Inc., with some calling the situation a “complete sell-off” that could jeopardize the health of the community and environment.
Protesters during a demonstration outside the town hall on November 6 accused the mayor of “colluding” with Enbridge by signing a $10 million settlement agreement dropping the town’s official opposition and legal fights against a newly constructed natural gas compressor station in town. Compressor stations, which pump large volumes of fracked gas at high pressure and are critical parts of gas pipeline infrastructure, are prone to hazards due to the extreme pressure by which the gas is processed.
The demonstration also comes after two recent accidental emergency shutdowns at the Weymouth compressor station less than three weeks apart — the facility is now under federal investigation. But despite this pending safety investigation, the Weymouth mayor struck an unexpected deal on October 30 with Enbridge, the owner of the compressor station, leaving town residents, neighboring municipalities, and even the town council without the town’s official support in their ongoing fight against the operation of the station.
In response to the mayor’s settlement agreement, the Weymouth Town Council voted unanimously this week to send a letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General asking her to look into the legality of the mayor’s newly agreed contract with Enbridge that effectively censures town officials from continuing to challenge the controverisal compressor station. This apparent silencing of the town’s legislative branch without its consent is potentially in violation of the town’s charter.
The town of Weymouth and the mayor had together opposed the compressor project for the last five years.
Wendy Cullivan, a Weymouth resident who attended the Friday demonstration, said the town’s 180-degree-manuever left community members and the town council high and dry in the battle with Enbridge. “From my perspective I’ve always looked to the town of Weymouth as the leader in the fight. When they relinquished themselves from that role last week, they didn’t tell anybody. They just dropped us like a hot potato,” she explained. “The way the agreement works is it carves out our town council from being active in the fight.”
» Read article
Opponents demonstrate against Weymouth compressor station deal
About 70 opponents held a demonstration outside Weymouth Town Hall on Friday.
By Fred Hanson, The Patriot Ledger
November 8, 2020
WEYMOUTH — Opponents of the newly constructed natural gas compressor station have a message for Mayor Robert Hedlund.
They say the host agreement that the mayor has reached with Enbridge, the owner of the station, is a bad deal and doesn’t go far enough to protect the safety of the community.
“We are not going away,” said Alice Arena, the leader of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station.
About 70 people gathered in front of Weymouth Town Hall on Friday night, carrying signs with messages of their continued opposition to the compressor station.
Some of the signs read, “A bribe by any other name would smell as bad” and “Hedlund to Weymouth: Drop Dead.” Some passing drivers honked their horns as a show of support for the demonstrators.
Arena said the group will be organizing similar events as time goes on.
The host community agreement would provide the town an upfront payment of $10 million and potentially $28 million in tax revenue over the next 35 years.
The upfront payment can be spent on expenses for public safety, health and environmental needs, general infrastructure improvements for North Weymouth, coastal resiliency infrastructure and information technology.
Arena said the agreement is “selling out our lives and community for a lousy $10 million.”
District 1 Town Councilor Pascale Burga told the group that the council had no involvement in the negotiations for the agreement.
The mayor did not appear at the demonstration.
» Read article
Mountain Valley Pipeline faces another legal roadblock. What does that mean for the long-embattled project?
By Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury
November 12, 2020
On Monday the Richmond-based 4th Circuit issued a ruling that effectively bars Mountain Valley from continuing any construction related to its crossing of hundreds of streams, rivers and wetlands in Virginia and West Virginia until a broader case about the validity of its water-crossing permit is settled.
Project opponents — which include the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, among others — had argued that “irreparable harm” to the environment would result if stream-crossing work wasn’t halted before the resolution of the larger case. In August, Diana Charletta, president and chief operating officer of Mountain Valley developer Equitrans Midstream, told analysts on an earnings call that the company intended to try to cross “critical” streams “as quickly as possible before anything is challenged.”
MVP attorney George Sibley told the 4th Circuit that the developer’s haste is in recognition “that our opponents are implacable.”
“We have the authorizations,” he said Monday. “We are not going to wait to get sued and wait for those lawsuits to be resolved.”
Mountain Valley has argued that its stream-crossing permit is valid and that by delaying construction, the company is suffering severe financial harm amounting to losses of $20 million per month. Derek Teaney, an attorney for Appalachian Mountain Advocates representing MVP’s opponents, however, characterized those losses as “self-inflicted” because of ongoing deficiencies with agency approvals.
» Read article
Future of Dakota Access pipeline uncertain as Biden presidency looms
By Laila Kearney, Reuters
November 12, 2020
The election of Democrat Joseph Biden could create more headaches for the Dakota Access Pipeline’s (DAPL) owners, who are already embroiled in legal battles to keep the main conduit for flowing oil out of North Dakota running.
The $3.8 billion DAPL ships about 40% of the crude oil produced from the Bakken shale region in North Dakota to refiners in the Midwest and exporters in the U.S. Gulf. Without the 557,000-barrel-per-day line, getting oil out of the area, which has about 1 million bpd of output, would be much more difficult left to smaller existing pipelines and rail.
DAPL’s controlling owner, Dallas-based Energy Transfer LP, is fighting to keep the pipeline running after a judge threw out its permit to run the line under a South Dakota lake that is a water source for Native American tribes that want the pipeline shut.
DAPL was a controversial project that sparked massive demonstrations starting in 2016 in North Dakota by native tribes and climate activists opposed to its completion.
President Donald Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, blocked a permit that would have allowed construction under South Dakota’s Lake Oahe, a critical water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
The line was finished in 2017 after Trump, upon taking office, approved a final permit allowing construction under the lake to be completed.
» Read article
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
Judge orders tree-sitters down after more than 2 years
By Laurence Hammack, The Roanoke Times
November 12, 2020
After spending two years, two months and seven days in the trees — where they have maintained an aerial blockade of the Mountain Valley Pipeline — protesters were told Thursday that they have four more days.
A temporary injunction issued by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Robert Turk ordered the three unidentified tree-sitters and 10 of their supporters to be gone by Monday.
While Mountain Valley has a legal right to a 125-foot-wide easement on which the natural gas pipeline will be built off Yellow Finch Lane, it has been unable to cut trees out of fear that it will harm the protesters in and around them.
If the defendants do not leave the property that has been occupied since Sept. 5, 2018, by Monday, “the Sheriff’s Office shall thereupon take such measures as are necessary to remove them,” the order entered by Turk reads.
Left unsaid in the order and during a two-hour hearing that preceded it was how the protesters might be extracted from tree stands about 50 feet off the ground on a steep, wooded slope near Elliston.
» Read article
How One Firm Drove Influence Campaigns Nationwide for Big Oil
FTI, a global consulting firm, helped design, staff and run organizations and websites funded by energy companies that can appear to represent grass-roots support for fossil-fuel initiatives.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
November 11, 2020
In early 2017, the Texans for Natural Gas website went live to urge voters to “thank a roughneck” and support fracking. Around the same time, the Arctic Energy Center ramped up its advocacy for drilling in Alaskan waters and in a vast Arctic wildlife refuge. The next year, the Main Street Investors Coalition warned that climate activism doesn’t help mom-and-pop investors in the stock market.
All three appeared to be separate efforts to amplify local voices or speak up for regular people.
On closer look, however, the groups had something in common: They were part of a network of corporate influence campaigns designed, staffed and at times run by FTI Consulting, which had been hired by some of the largest oil and gas companies in the world to help them promote fossil fuels.
An examination of FTI’s work provides an anatomy of the oil industry’s efforts to influence public opinion in the face of increasing political pressure over climate change, an issue likely to grow in prominence, given President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s pledge to pursue bolder climate regulations. The campaigns often obscure the industry’s role, portraying pro-petroleum groups as grass-roots movements.
As part of its services to the industry, FTI monitored environmental activists online, and in one instance an employee created a fake Facebook persona — an imaginary, middle-aged Texas woman with a dog — to help keep tabs on protesters. Former FTI employees say they studied other online influence campaigns and compiled strategies for affecting public discourse. They helped run a campaign that sought a securities rule change, described as protecting the interests of mom-and-pop investors, that aimed to protect oil and gas companies from shareholder pressure to address climate and other concerns.
» Read article
With Biden’s Win, Climate Activists See New Potential But Say They’ll ‘Push Where We Need to Push’
Advocacy groups are preparing for the challenges of a likely Republican Senate and planning their next moves.
By Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News
November 8, 2020
Even before Joe Biden won the presidential election on Saturday, climate activists and environmental groups began vowing to push the new president for aggressive action on climate and strategizing for a Biden administration.
“We’ve seen that Biden, in his final debate speech, committed to a transition off of fossil fuels. We’re excited to hold a Biden administration accountable to that promise,” said Emily Southard, a campaign manager with 350 Action. “We’ll push where we need to push.”
If the Senate remains in Republican hands, the chances of passing transformative climate policies are slim, worrying many advocates who say any compromise on policy will be insufficient to tackle the deepening climate crisis.
But with time running out for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, every possible action—from local green ballot initiatives to a new federal position of “climate czar” to financial regulatory reforms—is on the advocacy agenda. Already, climate advocates are celebrating a shift in momentum.
“Simply because we have a Republican Senate that isn’t representative of the majority of Americans who want action on climate change, doesn’t mean that things like a Green New Deal aren’t happening already,” Southard said, noting that green ballot initiatives passed in several cities. “The Green New Deal isn’t just a piece of legislation; it’s a vision for an economy that moves us off of fossil fuels. There’s a lot Biden can do, from stopping the Keystone Pipeline to banning fracking on public lands.”
» Read article
San Francisco’s gas ban on new buildings could prompt statewide action
The vote adds San Francisco to the growing list of nearly 40 California cities to pass such ordinances since Berkeley’s historic ban in July 2019.
By Kristin Musulin, Utility Dive
November 12, 2020
San Francisco this week became the latest, and perhaps the largest, U.S. city to ban natural gas in new buildings.
In a meeting on Tuesday, the city’s Board of Supervisors passed legislation requiring new residential and commercial building construction to utilize all-electric power, starting with projects that file permits next year. This ordinance will cover about 60% of the city’s current development pipeline in an effort to reduce city carbon emissions and tackle climate change, said District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in the meeting.
“San Francisco has taken climate change seriously for a long time and today — on the heels of yet another catastrophic fire season, a record string of unhealthier days, extreme heat waves, and even a day when the sun didn’t come up — we San Franciscans have an opportunity to make one more incremental but important move to help save our planet,” he told his colleagues in the meeting.
The board’s unanimous vote concludes nearly a year of deliberation with the Zero Emissions Building Taskforce, Mandelman said, which brought together affordable housing and mixed-use developers, architects and engineers, labor and building trades and community advocates to craft the legislation. It complements the approval of the city’s electric preference ordinance, passed last fall to require higher energy efficiency standards from natural gas buildings, and an ordinance passed earlier this year requiring all-electric construction for new municipal projects.
The vote also adds San Francisco to the growing list of nearly 40 California cities to pass such ordinances since Berkeley’s historic ban on natural gas infrastructure July 2019. Experts say San Francisco’s measure could hold enough weight to pressure similar legislation from cities such as Los Angeles, and could even push Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, toward statewide action.
» Read article
Can gas utilities survive the energy transition? Massachusetts is going to find out.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
November 4, 2020
Massachusetts may be a climate leader in the U.S., with a goal to reduce economy-wide emissions in the state to net-zero by 2050, but it will face a major obstacle along the way: More than 1.3 million of its households make it through those cold New England winters by burning natural gas. Roughly one-third of the state’s emissions come from the fuels burned in buildings for heating, hot water, and cooking.
Now the state is responding to pressure from its attorney general, Maura Healey, to take a look at what the path to net-zero in the building sector might look like, particularly for the gas companies whose entire reason for existing could be eliminated in the process. Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) officially opened a new proceeding to start guiding utilities into a decarbonized future while protecting their customers. As the number of people using the gas system shrinks over time, the cost of maintaining reliable service for remaining ratepayers could balloon.
“It’s a really complicated set of issues as you look at what’s going to be happening on the gas side as people peel off,” said Susan Tierney, a senior advisor and energy expert at the Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm. “There’s real trade-offs about affordability of supply, safety of service.”
The Massachusetts DPU joins regulators in California and New York, and now Colorado, who have all initiated similar investigations into these trade-offs and the future of natural gas in their states.
To aid in its inquiry, the DPU is requiring gas distribution companies in the state to jointly hire an independent consultant who will review two climate “roadmap” documents the state plans to release for various sectors later this year. The consultant will then analyze the feasibility of the proposed pathways in those roadmaps and offer additional ideas for how each company might comply with state law, using a uniform methodology. Ultimately the consultant must produce a single, comprehensive report of their findings for all companies. By March 2022, the companies are required to submit new proposals with “plans for helping the Commonwealth achieve its 2050 climate goals, supported by the Report,” for the DPU to review.
Tierney called this a “clever approach,” since often in utility rulemakings, each stakeholder will hire its own expert and use its own set of assumptions, leading to a data war of sorts where it’s hard to know whose numbers to go on. In this case, the DPU, utilities, ratepayers, and environmental advocates will at least have a common set of facts on which to base discussions.
» Read article
Biden Urged to Be #ClimatePresident by Taking These 10 ‘Game-Changing’ Steps in First 10 Days in Office
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams, reposted in DeSmog Blog
November 9, 2020
With Democrats anxious about the probability that President-elect Joe Biden will be forced to grapple with a Republican-led Senate after taking office in January, a coalition of more than a dozen climate action groups are calling on Biden to take every possible step he can to help solve the planetary emergency without the approval of Congress.
Even in the face of a Senate controlled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Republican Party, Biden can and must still be a “Climate President,” say the groups, which include the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth.
The organizations originally released the Climate President plan nearly a year ago during the Democratic primary, and are now calling on Biden to take “ten steps in [his] first ten days in office” to help “form the necessary foundation for the country’s true transformation to a safer, healthier, and more equitable world for everyone.”
“If the world is to have any reasonable chance of staying below 1.5°C and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, the next president of the United States must demonstrate national and global leadership and take immediate and decisive action to launch a rapid and just transition off of fossil fuels economy-wide,” reads the website set up by the coalition, ClimatePresident.org. “Recognizing the steps that the next president can take without any additional action from Congress is critical because these are the ‘no excuses’ actions that can be taken immediately to set the nation on a course to zero emissions.”
The organizations list 10 action items which would help the Biden White House single-handedly put the U.S. on the path to meaningfully fighting the climate crisis:
» Read article
What Will Trump’s Most Profound Legacy Be? Possibly Climate Damage
President-elect Biden can restore many of the 100-plus environmental regulations that President Trump rolled back, but much of the damage to the climate cannot be reversed.
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
November 9, 2020
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will use the next four years to try to restore the environmental policies that his predecessor has methodically blown up, but the damage done by the greenhouse gas pollution unleashed by President Trump’s rollbacks may prove to be one of the most profound legacies of his single term.
Most of Mr. Trump’s environmental policies, which erased or loosened nearly 100 rules and regulations on pollution in the air, water and atmosphere, can be reversed, though not immediately. Pollutants like industrial soot and chemicals can have lasting health effects, especially in minority communities where they are often concentrated. But air quality and water clarity can be restored once emissions are put back under control.
That is not true for the global climate. Greenhouse pollution accumulates in the atmosphere, so the heat-trapping gases emitted as a result of loosened regulations will remain for decades, regardless of changes in policy.
“Historically, there is always a pendulum to swing back and forth between Democratic and Republican administrations on the environment, and, theoretically, the environment can recover,” said Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard and a former adviser to the Obama administration. “You can put rules back in place that clean up the air and water. But climate change doesn’t work like that.”
Moreover, Mr. Trump’s rollbacks of emissions policies have come at a critical moment: Over the past four years, the global level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere crossed a long-feared threshold of atmospheric concentration. Now, many of the most damaging effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and more devastating heat, droughts and wildfires, are irreversible.
At home, Mr. Biden may find it more difficult than his former boss, President Barack Obama, to use executive authority to create tough, durable climate change rules because the six-justice conservative majority on the Supreme Court is expected to look unfavorably on policies that significantly expand federal agencies’ authority to regulate industry.
And abroad, the influence that the United States once had in climate talks was almost certainly damaged by Mr. Trump’s policy rollbacks and withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Those actions slowed down international efforts to reduce emissions and prompted other governments to follow the American lead in weakening emissions rules, though none have followed the United States out of the agreement.
All of that means that as Mr. Biden works to enact domestic climate change rules and rejoin the Paris accord, emissions attributable to Mr. Trump’s actions will continue, tipping the planet further into a danger zone that scientists say will be much harder to escape.
» Read article
A Biden victory positions America for a 180-degree turn on climate change
New administration will seek to shift U.S. off fossil fuels and expand public lands protections, but face serious opposition from Senate GOP.
By Juliet Eilperin, Dino Grandoni and Darryl Fears, Washington Post
November 7, 2020
Joe Biden, the projected winner of the presidency, will move to restore dozens of environmental safeguards President Trump abolished and launch the boldest climate change plan of any president in history. While some of Biden’s most sweeping programs will encounter stiff resistance from Senate Republicans and conservative attorneys general, the United States is poised to make a 180-degree turn on climate change and conservation policy.
Biden’s team already has plans on how it will restrict oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters; ratchet up federal mileage standards for cars and SUVs; block pipelines that transport fossil fuels across the country; provide federal incentives to develop renewable power; and mobilize other nations to make deeper cuts in their own carbon emissions.
In a victory speech Saturday night, Biden identified climate change as one of his top priorities as president, saying Americans must marshal the “forces of science” in the “battle to save our planet.”
“Joe Biden ran on climate. How great is this?” said Gina McCarthy, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency during President Barack Obama’s second term and now helms the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’ll be time for the White House to finally get back to leading the charge against the central environmental crisis of our time.”
Biden has vowed to eliminate carbon emissions from the electric sector by 2035 and spend $2 trillion on investments ranging from weatherizing homes to developing a nationwide network of charging stations for electric vehicles. That massive investment plan stands a chance only if his party wins two Senate runoff races in Georgia in January; otherwise, he would have to rely on a combination of executive actions and more-modest congressional deals to advance his agenda.
Still, a number of factors make it easier to enact more-ambitious climate policies than even four years ago. Roughly 10 percent of the globe has warmed by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature rise the world has pledged to avoid. The price of solar and wind power has dropped, the coal industry has shrunk, and Americans increasingly connect the disasters they’re experiencing in real time — including more-intense wildfires, hurricanes and droughts — with global warming. Biden has made the argument that curbing carbon will produce high-paying jobs while protecting the planet.
Biden’s advisers are well aware of the potential and pitfalls of relying on executive authority to act on climate. Obama used it to advance major climate policies in his second term, including limits on tailpipe emissions from cars and light trucks and the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Trump has overturned them, along with 125 others.
League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski pointed to California — which has already adopted a low-carbon fuels standard and requirement that half its electricity come from carbon-free sources within five years — as a model. “You look at where California is now going, the federal government needs to get there.”
Some of the new administration’s rules could be challenged in federal court, which have a number of Trump appointees on the bench. But even some conservative activists said that Biden could enact enduring policies.
» Read article
New Technology Claims to Pinpoint Even Small Methane Leaks From Space
Amid growing alarm about methane’s role in driving global warming, a Canadian firm has begun selling a service to detect even relatively small leaks. At least two rivals are on the way.
By Paul Tullis, New York Times
November 11, 2020
Methane, the powerful, invisible greenhouse gas, has been leaking from oil facilities since the first wells were drilled more than 150 years ago. Most of that time, it was very difficult for operators to measure any emissions accurately — and they had little motivation to, since regulations are typically weak.
Now, technology is catching up just as there is growing alarm about methane’s role driving global warming. A Canadian company, GHGSat, last month used satellites to detect what it has called the smallest methane leak seen from space and has begun selling data to emitters interested in pinpointing leaks that previously were harder to spot.
“The discovery and quantification of gas leaks from space is a game-changer in the interaction of atmospheric sciences and climate change mitigation,” said Thomas Roeckmann, professor of atmospheric physics and chemistry at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and coordinator of a project, called MEMO2, to measure methane leaks at ground level. “We will likely be able to detect smaller and thus potentially many more leaks from space in the near future.”
Soon the company may have competition. Bluefield Technologies, based in New York City, plans a group of satellites for launch in 2023 that promises an even finer resolution. And the Environmental Defense Fund hopes to launch MethaneSAT in the next couple of years, which is designed to pick up small perturbations in methane across large areas.
Until a few years ago, measuring methane from small areas such as a fracking well required ground-based sensors. They were good at determining gas concentrations at a site, but considering the millions of oil-and-gas facilities worldwide and the high cost of checking and rechecking, finding leaks could be time consuming and complicated, even with the use of airplanes and drones. In 2002, satellites from Japan and the European Space Agency began taking stock of global emissions, but the resolution was too low to identify point sources.
» Read article
A Looming Transmission Crunch for the US East Coast’s Offshore Wind Ambitions
Planning and cost-sharing disconnects could stymie states’ plans for 29 GW of offshore wind. But there are solutions, experts say.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 11, 2020
Building the transmission grid needed to grow U.S. renewable energy capacity is complicated enough on solid ground. It’s even more complicated for the nascent offshore wind industry.
But if East Coast states want to hit their goals of nearly 29 gigawatts of offshore wind in the next 15 years, they’ll need to find solutions. A key first step will be working with federal regulators and regional grid operators to find ways to share the costs of building offshore transmission, rather than going it alone.
That’s the key message from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s technical conference on offshore wind integration last month, featuring representatives from utilities and states trying to plan ahead for an unprecedented undersea high-voltage transmission system build-out.
Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts are calling for a combined 28.5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2035. That will cost roughly $100 billion, of which about $15 billion and $20 billion will go into offshore transmission, according to an October report from the Business Network for Offshore Wind advocacy group.
But today’s constructs for allocating transmission costs are unlikely to lead to those investments being completed in time, workshop participants warned.
“The current ‘generator-lead’ approach that states have used to date,” in which individual offshore wind projects and offtakers bear the costs of building individual transmission corridors needed to bring their power to shore, “is unsustainable,” Stuart Nachmias, CEO of the transmission unit of New York utility Con Edison, said in his opening remarks.
Instead, Nachmias promoted a “transmission-first” approach that shares costs among multiple offshore wind project investors, utilities, states and the ratepayers that will end up paying for them.
» Read article
» Read the BNOW report
Australia will benefit from shift to zero emissions, with no gas required
By Michael Mazengarb, RenewEconomy
November 10, 2020
New analysis published by the Climate Action Tracker initiative has detailed how Australia could take action on climate change consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, in a way that would leave it economically stronger, and with gas not needed as a transition fuel
In a new report titled Scaling up Climate Action, the Climate Action Tracker initiative found that Australia would be economically better off if governments adopted an ambitious switch to zero emissions energy sources, including an almost complete transition of the electricity system to renewable energy sources by 2030.
The report found that as many as 76,000 new jobs could be created over the next ten years within the renewable energy sector alone, through more ambitious emissions reduction policies.
“This report shows how Australia can get on a pathway to net zero emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5C, increasing employment and ratcheting up its 2030 target from the currently inadequate 26-28% to a 66% emissions reduction,” CEO and senior scientist at Climate Analytics Bill Hare said.
“We show how this is feasible. But it needs real climate policy across all sectors of the economy. An important first step to achieving this is a planned and managed phase out of coal from power generation by 2030.”
The report finds that Australia’s current emissions reduction targets are not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s aims of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, and both a commitment to a zero net emissions target, and a stronger 2030 interim target are a necessary, but achievable, to bring Australia into line with the Paris Agreement.
The analysis detailed an economically and technically feasible pathway for transitioning the electricity system to renewable energy sources, that would help Australia achieve the 66 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article
» Read the report
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Oregon Allows a Controversial Fracked Gas Power Plant to Begin Construction
Having fought the plant for years, environmentalists expressed surprise that the state has greenlighted a major new greenhouse gas polluter.
By Ilana Cohen, Inside Climate News
November 5, 2020
Columbia Riverkeeper and Friends of the Columbia Gorge asked a Multnomah County court on Monday to review a “grievously” unlawful decision by the Oregon Department of Energy to allow construction of the controversial Perennial Wind Chaser Station power plant. If built, the plant would be one of the state’s largest stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
The nonprofit environmental groups alleged that the state allowed developers to avoid required stormwater and air pollution permits and meet a Sept. 23 construction deadline by breaking the construction into “phases.” They claimed that grading the site in preparation for an access road represented “phase 1” of the plant construction in a way that was never approved by a state siting panel.
If completed, the 415-megawatt, natural gas-fired power plant, near Hermiston in rural Umatilla County, 160 miles east of Portland, would provide additional power to the power grid to complement intermittent renewable sources, like wind and solar, at times of peak energy demand.
According to Columbia Riverkeeper, the plant would generate more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually, in addition to increased air pollution linked to cardiovascular and respiratory illness.
Five years out from the plant’s initial approval in 2015, developers have yet to secure a buyer for the electricity the plant would produce, though they remain in dogged pursuit.
Finding a market for the plant’s output in Oregon, where hydropower and other renewable energy sources account for a majority of the state’s utility-scale net electricity generation, has probably become more difficult amidst stricter statewide energy standards and a pandemic that has depressed overall natural gas demand.
Environmentalists contend this lack of a market should be proof enough that the plant need not go forward. Still, they say, they find themselves having to use every legal device at their disposal to keep it from proceeding.
» Read article
Shell’s climate poll on Twitter backfires spectacularly
Oil giant accused of gaslighting after asking users: ‘What are you willing to change?’
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
November 3, 2020
A climate poll on Twitter posted by Shell has backfired spectacularly, with the oil company accused of gaslighting the public.
The survey, posted on Tuesday morning, asked: “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?”
Though it received a modest 199 votes the tweet still went viral – but not for the reasons the company would have hoped. The US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one high-profile respondent, posting a tweet that was liked 350,000 times.
[I’m willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuels emissions would destroy our planet]
Greta Thunberg accused the company of “endless greenwash”, while the climate scientist Prof Katharine Hayhoe pointed out Shell’s huge contribution to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is heating the planet. Shell then hid her reply, she said.
Another climate scientist, Peter Kalmus, was more direct, and said the company was gaslighting the public by suggesting individual actions could stop the climate crisis, rather than systemic change to the fossil fuel industry. Some Twitter users saw irony in this, while others asked if the company was “out of its mind”.
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LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS
French government puts U.S. gas imports on ice
By Chathurika Gamage & Georges Tijbosch, Green Biz
November 12, 2020
A move by one of the largest European energy companies shows that both markets and governments are beginning to pay attention to methane emissions and factor them into business decisions. France’s Engie has halted its commitment to a long-term U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract with NextDecade Corp estimated at $7 billion.
This is being done under pressure from the French government, which holds a 23.6 percent stake in Engie. The delay was driven in large part by concerns over the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of U.S. gas production, particularly from the Permian Basin, which will feed NextDecade’s proposed Rio Grande LNG export plant in Texas. While we cannot ignore the geopolitical considerations also at play, these concerns reflect the growing consensus that all natural gas cannot be seen as equal in terms of its impact on the climate.
There has long been debate about reducing emissions within the oil and gas sector. Earlier this year, Singapore’s biggest buyer of LNG, Pavilion Energy Pte Ltd, asked all LNG sellers to quantify the GHG emissions associated with each LNG cargo produced, transported and imported into Singapore.
This latest halted contract comes on the back of the European Commission’s (EC) newly proposed EU Methane Strategy, part of the European Green Deal. The strategy prioritizes improved measurement and reporting of emissions of methane, a powerful climate pollutant, for member states and the international community. In the recent announcement, the EC called out energy imports as a major source of methane emissions, and committed to explore possible targets, incentives or standards for energy imports into the EU.
Engie’s decision demonstrates a trend toward increased scrutiny of gas deals within and beyond the EU. From the outside looking in, the United States does not seem to stand up to such scrutiny. The Trump administration’s rollback of many climate policies and EPA rulings, including those pertaining to oil and gas methane emissions reporting, monitoring and repair, are just a few of nearly 100 environmental rules being dismantled.
Continuing down this route may make it difficult for U.S. gas producers and exporters to lock in deals with overseas markets, which could have big economic consequences for the U.S. gas industry. In 2019, 38 percent of the United States’ domestically produced LNG was exported to Europe, equating to about $2.9 billion in revenue (based on the median 2019 price at export). The export volume to Europe has increased substantially over the last five years, paving the way for the approval of 15 new LNG export terminals in North America beyond the six main terminals that exist today. These new terminal projects may face delays or even cancellation of final investment decisions based on the market’s consideration of climate impact.
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Gas Export’s Dirty Secret: A Carbon Footprint Rivaling Coal’s
By Catherine Traywick, Stephen Cunningham, Naureen Malik and Dave Merrill (Bloomberg), in gCaptain
January 23, 2020
In May, while President Donald Trump toured a new $10 billion plant designed to prepare natural gas for export, he made a vow. Such facilities would be good for the environment, he said, or they won’t get approved.
The president has greenlit 11 projects so far, bringing the U.S. total to 18. Environmentalists once touted the fuel, nicknamed “freedom gas” by the Trump administration, as a better energy alternative, but an analysis shows the plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions rival those of coal.
Not all the export terminals are completed and in use, but if they were, simply operating them could spew 78 million tons of CO2 into the air every year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from environmental filings. That’s comparable to the emissions of 24 coal plants, or 18 gigawatts of coal-fired power—more than Kentucky’s entire coal fleet. And those numbers don’t account for the harm caused by transporting the gas from wellheads to processing facilities and then overseas, which can be significant.
“The emissions from these projects can’t be squared with the sorts of drastic, drastic reductions we need in order to avoid catastrophic climate change,” says Nathan Matthews, a senior Sierra Club attorney.
As long as natural gas stays in the pipeline, emissions remain relatively low. But the sprawling terminals that export the fuel use ozone-depleting refrigerants to supercool it into liquid form, called LNG. They also belch toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide and burn off excess methane, a greenhouse gas more immediately destructive to the atmosphere than CO2.
Proponents of exporting natural gas, including government officials, argue that it will help wean other countries off coal, and that additional emissions here are offset by lower emissions abroad. But natural gas’s role in global warming is complicated. While the fuel has been key to reducing U.S. emissions as it displaces coal-fired power, the electricity industry’s growing dependence on it has nevertheless “offset some of the climate gains from this coal decline,” according to the Rhodium Group. With the effects of climate change already supercharging wildfires and flooding some coastal communities, the surprise that emissions from LNG terminals rival those of coal plants is not a pleasant one.
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