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Weekly News Check-In 12/31/21

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Welcome back.

First, we’d like to acknowledge and thank everyone who traveled with us though this tumultuous year. You kept yourselves up to date on climate and energy issues by reading our newsletters, you contacted legislators, you stood with us in the street, and you supported us with donations. It’s slow, hard work, but we’re making tangible progress and, with you, we’re walking in good company.

A lot of reporting these past couple weeks has been retrospective, so it amounts to a useful overview of 2021’s major themes and sets us up for the coming year. The Weymouth compressor station is fully operational and managed to get though the year without another unplanned gas release. But it’s bad infrastructure in the wrong place, so opposition continues. The proposed peaking power plant in Peabody, MA is a similar old-think dinosaur, and we offer Ben Hillman’s latest video to explain why it shouldn’t be built.

Predictably disappointing results from recently concluded COP26 climate talks underscore the fact that governments have yet to rise to the level of action and commitment that meet the urgent demands of our three inseparable crises: climate, environment, and equity. But we’re seeing an increasingly effective trend in litigation, forcing action in areas where political will and diplomacy have failed. For an example of that political failure at a national level, look no farther than the fact that a single coal-loving Democratic Senator (along with every single Republican) has so far stopped the Build Back Better act, leaving the U.S. without desperately needed tools to drive emissions down. In the absence of Federal leadership, a few states and cities continue to show the way. New York City’s recent $3b pension fund divestment from fossil fuels is worth celebrating.

Greening the economy requires a lot of metals for batteries, and obtaining them requires mining and other forms of extraction and processing. Two stories highlight efforts to reduce environmental and social harms, while our Clean Transportation section shows why we’ll need so many batteries so quickly and also discusses how some battery chemistries are more sustainable than others.

During 2021 our changing climate seemed to force just about everyone on the planet to take precautions, take cover, or run for their lives. It’s difficult to find anyone who still believes it’s someone else’s problem. DeSmog Blog’s Nick Cunningham offers an excellent summary of what just happened and why it matters. Meanwhile we gained ground in clean energy and energy storage, while negative forces persist in hyping false solutions like carbon capture and storage, and some utilities take advantage of disruptions to gouge customers. All this while the fossil fuel industry is having a coal moment, largely resulting from our over-dependence on natural gas as a “bridge fuel”, rather than having invested early enough in renewable energy, storage, and grid modernization. So pandemic disruptions made gas temporarily scarce and expensive, and coal is filling the void.

We’ll close out the year by adding another topic to our watch list: waste incineration, or more broadly the whole suite of waste-to-energy technologies. These facilities are sources of nasty, toxic pollution, but bill themselves as producers of renewable energy. Renewable, that is, as long as humans create a nearly limitless supply of waste while failing to reduce, reuse, recycle, or compost a good percentage of it.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PEAKING POWER PLANTS

stop Peabody peakerOutrage over plan for new dirty power plant in Peabody, MA.
By Ben Hillman, YouTube
December 22, 2021
» Watch video

» More about peaking power plants

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

view from Fore River Bridge
Neighbors dealt another blow in Fore River compressor station fight; court tosses lawsuit
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
December 24, 2021

WEYMOUTH – A state Appeals Court tossed out a lawsuit filed by residents challenging one of the approvals granted for the natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

A three-judge panel affirmed a Superior Court judge’s decision that the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station could not seek judicial review of the approval issued by the state Office of Coastal Zone Management.

The court ruled that the citizens group did not have a right to an agency hearing, and therefore did not have a right to judicial review.

Alice Arena of the anti-compressor group said the town initially filed the appeal and the citizens group intervened. But Arena said the residents were left “out in the ether” when the town dropped its appeal as part of a host community agreement with energy company Enbridge.

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

Arena said several rehearing requests are pending in federal court, and the group’s appeal of the waterways permit will soon be heard in Superior Court.
» Read article             

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

blue marble head
COP26: Five Key Takeaways on the Rising Tide of Climate Litigation
By L. Delta Merner, Union of Concerned Scientists | Blog
December 22, 2021

Nation-states have been trying for nearly 30 years to address climate change through global diplomacy. Creating mechanisms and processes for making global commitments to address climate change is no easy task and, while a future in which global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5° C) above pre-industrial levels is still scientifically possible, the commitments that governments have made so far will not get us there– and not nearly enough is being done to help communities that are suffering from the impacts of climate change today.

I left COP26 more convinced than ever that climate litigation has an important role to play to help ensure the changes we vitally need to prevent worse impacts from climate change.

Before the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015, the world was on track for 4° C of warming; after the meetings in Scotland and assuming the commitments nations made there are realized, we are on track for a reality closer to 2.4° C of warming.

Unfortunately, 2.4 degrees would be devastating—and it is not aligned with the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty with a stated goal to limit global warming to well below 2, and as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible, compared to pre-industrial levels. So, change is happening and it is incremental, as the process promised.

During the meetings, speakers repeated that the science is clear. It’s clear that we need to limit emissions. It’s clear where the emissions are coming from. Yet, there’s no question something huge is standing in the way of real change. Standing in those meeting rooms, the sheer influence of the fossil fuel industry at the negotiations was also on clear display.

Over the last five years, the courts have made it clear that they have the power to rule on cases related to climate change and that governments and companies have a legal duty to address climate change, which includes reducing emissions and helping communities prepare and adapt to any unavailable impacts. These decisions are being made based on science,  and international and human rights law. The impacts of judicial decisions will continue to grow with new cases and new venues, including increased use of international legal bodies such as the international court of justice.
» Read article          

» More about protests and actions

LEGISLATION

after Manchin
Why the collapse of Biden’s Build Back Better would be a major blow to the climate fight
It would be almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges without the $1.75tn package that Manchin refuses to support
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
December 22, 2021

The collapse of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation would have disastrous consequences for the global climate crisis, making it almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges made under the Paris accords.

The US president’s sweeping economic recovery and social welfare bill is in serious trouble after the Democratic senator Joe Manchin announced his opposition to the $1.75tn spending package that includes the country’s largest ever climate crisis investment.

The shock move by the fossil fuel-friendly West Virginia lawmaker came after a year of record-breaking fires, floods, hurricanes and droughts devastated families across America, and amid warnings that such deadly extreme weather events will intensify unless there is radical action to curb greenhouse gases.

The Build Back Better (BBB) legislation earmarks $555bn to tackle the US’s largest sources of global heating gasses – energy and transportation – through a variety of grants, tax incentives and other policies to boost jobs and technologies in renewable energy, as well as major investments in sustainable vehicles and public transit services.
» Read article             

» More about legislation

DIVESTMENT

divest NY‘Historic’ NYC Pension Fund Fossil Fuel Divestment Heralded as Model for Others
One activist said this is what “every pension fund can and should” do to address the climate crisis.
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
December 22, 2021

In what climate campaigners on Wednesday celebrated as not only a “historic” win but also a model for the rest of the country, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and trustees of major public pensions funds announced a $3 billion divestment from fossil fuels.

“We’d like to thank Comptroller Stringer, for his years of public service and his leadership in protecting our pensions and our planet by divesting from fossil fuel investments. Thank you for joining the fight to reduce the money flowing to the world’s most dangerous polluters,” said 350NYC Steering Committee member Dorian Fulvio.

Stand.earth Climate Finance Program director Richard Brooks declared that “once again, New York City is a beacon of progressive climate action.”

“This ahead-of-schedule and unprecedentedly transparent completion of one of the biggest fossil fuel divestments translates words and commitment into real action,” he said. “Every pension fund and investor needs to pay attention: If divestment can be completed in New York, it can and should happen everywhere.”

Stand.earth earlier this month published what it called a “first-of-its-kind” analysis exposing how U.S. public pension funds are “bankrolling the climate crisis.” The advocacy group and fund beneficiaries nationwide responded to the findings by demanding divestment from fossil fuel holdings as well as investment in “just and equitable climate solutions.”

New York City leaders in January 2018 committed to divesting major public pension funds from fossil fuel reserve companies within five years, and have urged others to follow suit.

On Wednesday, Stringer and trustees of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS) and the New York City Board of Education Retirement System (BERS) revealed that those funds “have completed their process of divesting approximately $1.8 billion and $100 million in securities, respectively,” bringing the total for all funds to approximately $3 billion.
» Read article             

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

nickel processing plantCan a Tiny Territory in the South Pacific Power Tesla’s Ambitions?
Nickel is vital to electric car batteries, but extracting it is dirty and destructive. A plant with a turbulent history in New Caledonia is about to become an experiment in sustainable mining.
By Hannah Beech, New York Times
Photographs by Adam Dean

December 30, 2021

GORO, New Caledonia — From the reef-fringed coast of New Caledonia, the Coral Sea stretches into the South Pacific. Slender native pines, listing like whimsical Christmas trees, punctuate the shoreline. The landscape, one of the most biodiverse on the planet, is astonishingly beautiful until the crest of a hill where a different vista unfolds: a gouged red earth pierced by belching smokestacks and giant trucks rumbling across the lunar-like terrain.

This is Goro, the largest nickel mine on a tiny French territory suspended between Australia and Fiji that may hold up to a quarter of the world’s nickel reserves. It also poses a critical test for Tesla, the world’s largest electric vehicle maker, which wants to take control of its supply chain and ensure that the minerals used for its car batteries are mined in an environmentally and socially responsible fashion.

Tesla’s strategy, the largest effort by a Western electric vehicle maker to directly source minerals, could serve as a model for a green industry confronting an uncomfortable paradox. While consumers are attracted to electric vehicles for their clean reputation, the process of harvesting essential ingredients like nickel is dirty, destructive and often politically fraught.

Because of its nickel industry, New Caledonia is one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita. And mining, which began soon after New Caledonia was colonized in 1853, is intimately linked to the exploitation of its Indigenous Kanak people. The legacy of more than a century of stolen land and crushed traditions has left Goro’s nickel output at the mercy of frequent labor strikes and political protests.

If done right, the approach by Tesla, which has the capacity to churn out close to a million cars a year, could lead the way in setting global standards for the electric vehicle revolution, in yet another convention-defying move by the company’s enigmatic founder, Elon Musk. It also provides Western car companies a path to begin sidestepping China, which currently dominates the production of electric vehicle batteries.

If done wrong, Goro will serve as a cautionary tale of how difficult it is to achieve true sustainability. “Going green” or “acting local” are nice bumper stickers for a Tesla. Meeting these ideals, however, will require not just cash and innovation but also savvy about one of the most remote places on earth, a scattering of French-ruled islands hovering on the cusp of independence. Some of the world’s biggest nickel miners have tried to profit at Goro — and failed.
» Read article             

SQM Li plant
Chile Rewrites Its Constitution, Confronting Climate Change Head On
Chile has lots of lithium, which is essential to the world’s transition to green energy. But anger over powerful mining interests, a water crisis and inequality has driven Chile to rethink how it defines itself.
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times
Photographs by Marcos Zegers

December 28, 2021

SALAR DE ATACAMA, Chile — Rarely does a country get a chance to lay out its ideals as a nation and write a new constitution for itself. Almost never does the climate and ecological crisis play a central role.

That is, until now, in Chile, where a national reinvention is underway. After months of protests over social and environmental grievances, 155 Chileans have been elected to write a new constitution amid what they have declared a “climate and ecological emergency.”

Their work will not only shape how this country of 19 million is governed. It will also determine the future of a soft, lustrous metal, lithium, lurking in the salt waters beneath this vast ethereal desert beside the Andes Mountains.

Lithium is an essential component of batteries. And as the global economy seeks alternatives to fossil fuels to slow down climate change, lithium demand — and prices — are soaring.

Mining companies in Chile, the world’s second-largest lithium producer after Australia, are keen to increase production, as are politicians who see mining as crucial to national prosperity. They face mounting opposition, though, from Chileans who argue that the country’s very economic model, based on extraction of natural resources, has exacted too high an environmental cost and failed to spread the benefits to all citizens, including its Indigenous people.

And so, it falls to the Constitutional Convention to decide what kind of country Chile wants to be. Convention members will decide many things, including: How should mining be regulated, and what voice should local communities have over mining? Should Chile retain a presidential system? Should nature have rights? How about future generations?

Around the world, nations face similar dilemmas — in the forests of central Africa, in Native American territories in the United States — as they try to tackle the climate crisis without repeating past mistakes. For Chile, the issue now stands to shape the national charter. “We have to assume that human activity causes damage, so how much damage do we want to cause?” said Cristina Dorador Ortiz, a microbiologist who studies the salt flats and is in the Constitutional Convention. “What is enough damage to live well?”

Indeed the questions facing this Convention aren’t Chile’s alone. The world faces the same reckoning as it confronts climate change and biodiversity loss, amid widening social inequities: Does the search for climate fixes require re-examining humanity’s relationship to nature itself?

“We have to face some very complex 21st century problems,” said Maisa Rojas, a climate scientist at the University of Chile. “Our institutions are, in many respects, not ready.”
» Read article             

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

recap 20212021: Year in Review for Climate Change Wins and Losses
As the climate crisis worsens, the calls for more aggressive action grow louder. 2021 saw more business as usual, industry obfuscation and delay, but also some reasons for optimism.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
December 22, 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, we look back on a year that was full of climate chaos, relentless oil industry propaganda, and frustrating progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But 2021 also saw a significant number of victories against the expansion of the fossil fuel industry in the U.S. and around the world, and some glimmers of hope for climate action.

The year started with a conspiracy-fueled coup plot on the U.S. government by President Trump and his supporters in what was ultimately a failed attempt to stay in power. Two weeks later, President Biden was sworn into office, and he quickly signed a flurry of executive orders that included the cancelation of the Keystone XL pipeline and a pause on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. Those moves signaled an intention to prioritize climate change during the Biden era after years of giveaways to the fossil fuel industry.

But the oil industry and its allies fought hard this year to delay meaningful climate policy, part of a decades-long campaign to protect corporate profits at the expense of people and the planet. Campaigns of misinformation and misleading PR continue to characterize public discourse around energy and climate change, even as those corporate strategies and tactics evolve.

On a hopeful note, renewable energy and electric vehicles made substantial strides, putting the entrenched fossil fuel industry on the defensive. Looking forward, the clean energy transition will continue to progress even absent big federal policy. And strong grassroots movements once again demonstrated their ability to stop major oil and gas pipeline projects around the country, even against steep odds.
» Blog editor’s note: This is an excellent summary and analysis, and well worth reading the whole article!
» Read article             

tornado damage
The Year in Climate Photos
From the president’s desk to protests and disasters around the world, photos showed climate change is always easy to see but sometimes hard to look at.
By Katelyn Weisbrod, Inside Climate News
December 27, 2021
» Blog editor’s note: This is a roundup of Inside Climate News’ biggest stories from the past year. It includes striking photos, and also links to related articles.
» Read article             

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

more offshore wind in NE
Massachusetts taps Vineyard Wind, Mayflower Wind to deliver an additional 1.6 GW
By Iulia Gheorghiu, Utility Dive
December 20, 2021

Massachusetts on Friday announced the selection of two offshore wind projects totaling 1,600 MW of new capacity, bringing the state to 3,200 MW of a 5,600 MW offshore wind procurement goal by 2027.

The state’s third offshore wind procurement awarded two developers that are already working on large-scale projects in the area, Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind, doubling the amount of offshore wind secured by the state.

As of Friday, U.S. states have procured over 17,100 MW of offshore wind, nearly double the January total of 9,100 MW, according to the Business Network for Offshore Wind.

Massachusetts is also aiming to build up the supply chain, drawing investments to ports in Salem and Falls River, and supporting the construction of a cable facility at Brayton Point, through the latest contracts.

“Offshore wind is the centerpiece of Massachusetts’ climate goals and our effort to achieve Net Zero emissions in 2050, and this successful procurement will build on our national clean energy leadership and the continued development of a robust offshore wind supply chain in the Commonwealth,” Kathleen Theoharides, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said in a statement.
» Read article             

Dwight IL
Inside Clean Energy: Here Are 5 States that Took Leaps on Clean Energy Policy in 2021
While federal policy fell short of expectations, many states had high ambitions and delivered results.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
December 23, 2021

It’s understandable if people are feeling dour during this unseasonably warm December when, once again, the U.S. Congress has failed to pass major climate legislation.

But while the federal government might have failed in pushing through the Build Back Better bill, with its many climate provisions, 2021 has seen some long-awaited successes in the states.

Five states (Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, North Carolina and Rhode Island) passed laws requiring a shift to 100 percent carbon-free electricity or net-zero emissions. And Washington State passed a law that takes steps to implement its 2019 and 2020 climate and clean energy laws.

Several other states moved forward, even if they didn’t pass their own versions of “100 percent” laws. Colorado and Maryland are examples of states that are making progress on climate and clean energy through a series of smaller, targeted actions, rather than swinging for the fences on single pieces of legislation.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY STORAGE

graphene material
Australian discovered graphene material could be key to low-cost next-gen batteries
By Michael Mazengarb, Renew Economy
December 22, 2021

Australian researchers have struck a deal to commercialise a new next-generation graphene material they say could unlock cheaper and better performing lithium-ion batteries.

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), based at the University of Wollongong, say they have discovered a new form of graphene, called ‘Edge Functionalised Graphene’ (EFG), which is both highly conductive and processable for use in a range of electronics.

This includes lithium-ion batteries, with the innovative graphene material promising to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of battery technology used in energy storage devices and electric vehicles.

The research team, which included a collaboration with the Australian National Fabrication Facility – itself based at Melbourne’s Monash University – says the inclusion of graphene material in battery designs could help improve battery lifetimes and charging speeds by improving the conductivity of battery components.
» Read article             
» Caution: Graphene has potential for health and environmental harm

random Tesla photo
Volta bets on space technology for battery storage fire prevention
By Jason Plautz, Utility Dive
December 21, 2021

Energy storage developer Volta Energy Products last week announced a three-year deployment order with San Diego-based KULR Technology Group to apply KULR’s thermal safety solutions — initially designed for space missions — to energy storage.

KULR’s passive propagation resistant (PPR) solution suite — designed to stop lithium-ion battery failures from spiraling out of control without external fire suppression — has been used on NASA missions. The system prevents cell-to-cell thermal runaway and contains any fire and debris inside a battery pack protection, turning the system off to prevent any spread in damage.

The partnership between KULR and Volta parent company Viridi Parente marks the first application of PPR for energy storage and will see Volta deploy up to 1,000 new storage units with the safety technology. Viridi Parente CEO Jon Williams said the “failsafe system” can make energy storage safer and less expensive for a variety of residential and business uses by limiting the need for external fire suppression tools.

Although lithium-ion batteries are the dominant energy storage technology on the market because of their cost and availability of materials, they do carry safety risks. One of the biggest concerns is thermal runaway, where a cell in a lithium-ion battery pack overheats and causes a chain reaction of other overheated cells, resulting in a fire or explosion. While any number of factors can contribute to a cell overheating, experts say that preventing those failures from escalating is key for safety.

“For a pack system to be in someone’s home or a hospital or a daycare center or a university or gas station or even an accountant’s office, that pack has to be failsafe,” Williams said. “When everything fails, will it be safe? Getting there is critically important at a macro level to expand storage for renewables, but on a micro level for Volta, this is the most significant product we will have on the market.”
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

NJ diesel truck phaseout
In an East Coast first, New Jersey will phase out diesel trucks
New Jersey joins California, Oregon, and Washington in setting ambitious goals to electrify trucks by 2035.
By María Paula Rubiano A., Grist
December 23, 2021

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection earlier this week adopted a rule to phase out diesel-powered trucks – meaning anything bigger than a delivery van – starting in 2025. Based on California’s Advanced Clean Trucks rule, or ACT, New Jersey’s policy will require between 40 to 75 percent of new truck sales in the state be pollution-free, zero-emission by 2035.

“New Jersey is already experiencing the adverse impacts of climate change, but we have the power and obligation to reduce its worsening in the years ahead by acting now to limit our emissions of climate pollutants,” Shawn LaTourette, the state’s commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, said in a press release about the new rule.

Contributing to about 40 percent of New Jersey’s total carbon emissions, the transportation sector is the largest greenhouse gas source in the state. In turn, the almost 423,000 medium and heavy trucks that make up NJ’s fleet represent about 20 percent of vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, and Union of Concerned Scientists analyzing the benefits of implementing the rule. These vehicles are also responsible for large quantities of pollutants, including nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, which have been linked to multiple health issues like premature deaths, asthma, pulmonary cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
» Read article             

pretending to think
We ranked 3 types of EV batteries to find the most efficient and sustainable one
Lithium vs sodium vs solid-state batteries
By Ioanna Lykiardopoulou, The Next Web
December 28, 2021

Amidst the booming influx of electric vehicles worldwide, automakers and tech companies have been focusing on optimizing the most vital and expensive part of EVs: the batteries.

They aren’t all alike, and manufacturers use a range of different kinds of batteries. So we’ve decided to select and rank the three most prominent (or promising) battery types: lithium, solid-state, and sodium-ion batteries.

We’ll compare the batteries using four criteria: safety, energy density and charging time, sustainability, and price.

But before we begin, let’s brush up the basics we need to know.

Lithium-ion and solid-state batteries are very much alike. Both types use lithium to produce electrical energy and they have an anode (the battery’s negative terminal), a cathode (the battery’s positive terminal), and an electrolyte, which helps  transfer ions from the cathode to the anode and vice versa.

They primarily differ in the state of the electrolyte: lithium-ion batteries use liquid electrolytes and solid-state batteries use solid electrolytes.

As for sodium-ion batteries, imagine the exact same structure — the only difference is that sodium ions replace lithium ions.

And now that we’ve laid the basis, let’s rank these battery types on our selected criteria:
» Read article             

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

smells like fertilizer
Scientist: CO2 Pipelines are a ‘scheme’
By Elijah Helton, nwestiowa.com
December 27, 2021

Climate change is the purported catalyst for the multibillion-dollar pipelines set to scuttle across Iowa, but environmental experts say the ag projects smell like fertilizer.

Chris Jones is an environmental engineering researcher at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He argues that the carbon-capture pipelines — namely the Midwest Carbon Express and the Heartland Greenway — are more economical than ecological.

“This is more of a scheme to make money, and so, if we’re really serious about climate change and we’re going to use public dollars to address that, then we should focus our efforts on long-term strategies that are going to reduce the emissions,” he said.

Jones, like many others opposed to the pipeline, points out that the corporate interests behind the Midwest Carbon Express and Heartland Greenway are the ones poised to profit most off the nominally low-carbon biofuels.

“This is more of a strategy — it’s a lifeboat, if you will — for ethanol, which is now under some threat from electric vehicles emerging in their marketplace,” Jones said. “That’s what’s driving this.”
» Read article             

CO2 removal investors
The cash behind carbon removal: Big Oil, tech and taxpayers
By Corbin Hiar, E&E News
December 17, 2021

After making his mark in the advertising world, Andrew Shebbeare wanted to help the rest of the globe. It was 2018, a few years after the 500-person firm he’d helped found had been bought by the ad industry’s largest agency.

“The question was, where can I make the most difference?” Shebbeare recalled in an interview last week. The audacious answer he eventually settled on: bankrolling startups working to reverse climate change.

Shebbeare and the other United Kingdom-based founders of Counteract Partners Ltd. are part of a wave of investors betting on the world-saving potential of small, privately held carbon dioxide removal companies.

To remove heat-trapping CO2 from the atmosphere, the firms use nature-based approaches, like planting carbon-hungry trees and cover crops, or engineered systems, which can deploy fans, solvents and pipes to trap carbon molecules and inject them underground.

The startups are part of a burgeoning sector attracting billions of dollars from interests as varied as oil major Exxon Mobil Corp., movie star Leonardo DiCaprio and the U.S. government.

Once a theoretical tool to tackle climate change, sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has now become a necessity.

To have a shot at avoiding the collapse of coral reef ecosystems, widespread extreme heat waves and other impacts associated with warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the world will need to remove more than 5 billion tons of carbon from the air annually by midcentury, according to the most optimistic scenario in the latest United Nations climate report. By comparison, all the world’s forests combined currently offset 7.5 billion tons of CO2 each year, a recent peer-reviewed analysis found.

Then in the latter half of the century, the U.N. data shows billions more tons of yearly carbon removals would be needed — even as emissions fall. The slower emissions decline, the more need there would be for future CO2 removals.
» Read article             

» More about carbon capture and storage

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Uri post mortem
‘Anecdotal evidence’ points to price gouging during winter storm Uri, NERC official says
Robert Walton, Utility Dive
December 22, 2021

There is “anecdotal evidence” of natural gas price gouging in Texas during February’s winter storm Uri, according to an official with the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC). Millions were left without electricity during the storm as power plants struggled to obtain fuel and freezing temperatures halted some wind production.

Wellhead freeze-offs accounted for a large portion of the gas issues, as well as, to a lesser extent, power outages at compressor stations that move gas through pipelines, NERC Chief Technical Advisor Thomas Coleman said during a presentation on Friday to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

Texas regulators are rushing to make grid and market improvements ahead of potential freezing temperatures this winter. On Thursday, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) approved changes to the state’s wholesale markets intended to improve reliability when electricity supplies become scarce.

Coleman’s presentation to an ERCOT working group sheds new light on February’s outages across Texas and the U.S Southwest, and raises questions about whether consumers were cheated by gas producers.

A November joint report by NERC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that a combination of freezing and fuel issues caused about three-quarters of the unplanned generating unit outages, derates and failures to start in February. Of those, gas-fired units experienced 58% of all generator issues.

Most of the problem came from frozen gas facilities and, to a lesser extent, gas compressor facilities that lost power when electricity companies cut power.
» Read article             
» Read the NERC-FERC joint report

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Coal 2021
Coal isn’t dying yet. 2021 brought a record surge in use.
As much of the world emerged from lockdown, coal stepped in to meet energy needs.
By María Paula Rubiano A., Grist
December 17, 2021

In the span of a year, coal power generation went from a historic drop to an all-time high.

In 2021, global electricity generation from coal increased by nine percent, the highest in history, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency, or IEA. Most of that increase came from power plants in China and India, where the need for electricity jumped by nine and 12 percent, respectively. According to the IEA, Europe saw a 12 percent increase while the U.S. went up by 17 percent – despite nearly a decade of declines in coal power generation in both regions.

“Coal and emissions from coal are stubborn,” said IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol in a press call. “Without strong and immediate actions by governments to tackle coal emissions – in a way that is fair, affordable and secure for those affected – we will have little chance, if any at all, of limiting global warming.”

According to the IEA’s projections, as more economies recover from the pandemic, coal demand will increase, peaking in 2022 and staying elevated until at least 2024.

The IEA says the report should serve as a reality check of government policies, which they say are insufficient to curb coal use and its carbon emissions. The report, Fatih Berol says, “is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net zero.”
» Read article             
» Read the IEA report

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

Wheelabrator Saugus
Burned: Why Waste Incineration Is Harmful
By Daniel Rosenberg, Veena Singla, and Darby Hoover, NRDC | Expert Blog
July 19, 2021

Since the Biden administration took office, Congress is considering bills to fund infrastructure, tackle plastic pollution, and combat climate change. While legislative action is welcome, Congress must avoid ideas disguised as environmental advances that actually threaten public health and the environment. One example is the bundle of troubling technologies that all involve waste incineration, such as “waste-to-energy” or many forms of “chemical recycling” (processes frequently used to convert plastics into fuel that is then burned). These technologies are touted as being environmentally beneficial by various industries, but waste incineration—even if it’s masquerading as “chemical recycling”—is a false solution that Congress should firmly reject.

Regardless of what is being burned (mixed municipal solid waste, plastic, outputs from “chemical recycling”), waste incineration creates and/or releases harmful chemicals and pollutants, including:

  • Air pollutants such as particulate matter, which cause lung and heart diseases
  • Heavy metals such as lead and mercury, which cause neurological diseases
  • Toxic chemicals, such as PFAS and dioxins, which cause cancer and other health problems

These chemicals and pollutants enter the air, water and food supply near incinerators and get into people’s bodies when they breathe, drink, and eat contaminants.
» Read article             

» More about waste incineration

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Weekly News Check-In 12/4/20

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Welcome back.

The Weymouth compressor station is taking another run at becoming operational. Recall that their first attempt failed because of back-to-back unplanned gas releases caused by equipment failures. They now have Federal approval to try again, beginning today, and that comes with further – planned – releases of methane into the community as part of the process of voiding air from the lines.

In news about other pipelines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected the request from National Fuel and its Empire Pipeline subsidiary to extend the construction deadline for the Northern Access pipeline from February 2022 to December 2024. The upshot is they’ll need to apply again for that extension in a year or two, while the economic and environmental arguments against new pipelines continue to harden.

Legal action against the fossil fuel industry could be less effective if cases are heard in federal court, rather than at state level. That’s why the industry is pushing a strategy to make that happen, with an eye toward the very conservative US Supreme Court. Shifting gears to a whole different type of action, we found a great article on activist trolling of fossil fuel companies – taking it to the greenwashers through social media and calling them out for their propaganda.

And the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize was awarded to six environmental activists for grassroots work all over the world. Read about them at the end of this section.

The sunsetting Trump administration is trying to make divestment more difficult, by bullying banks into financing Arctic oil extraction. This follows announcements by all the major US banks that they won’t finance expansion into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. What the Trump camp apparently doesn’t understand, is that banks are backing off purely out of economic interest. They have concluded that extracting oil and gas from the Arctic is a lousy business proposition.

Nonetheless, we’re still pumping a gusher. Articles in our Climate section warn that the pandemic-related emissions drop is both minor and temporary – and that the world is on track to extract and burn increasing amounts of oil and gas well into the future. Opposing that seemingly-inevitable trend are a few court rulings, mostly in Europe, that begin to force countries to take their climate commitments seriously.

The geothermal micro-district concept is a way to provide emissions-free heating and cooling to entire neighborhoods. Two pilot projects are underway in Massachusetts. Aside from being a super-efficient use of clean energy, its deployment offers a natural transition for existing utilities – a way to leverage the electrical and pipe fitting skills of their current workforce into green jobs.

Our Energy Efficiency section gives a shout-out to Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, for her vision and persistence in launching the ‘At Home in Pittsfield’ loan program. While it isn’t aimed directly at increasing home energy efficiency, it helps homeowners finance some of the exterior repair work that often must be done prior to insulation and sealing. Its a welcome complement to existing energy efficiency programs like Mass Save.

Energy Storage covers new residential batteries, while our Clean Transportation section considers how to recycle old ones. We also found another article on the huge problem of aftermarket emissions control defeat devices installed in diesel vehicles – especially pickup trucks. A new EPA report estimates this problem is much worse in terms of total emissions than the notorious Volkswagen “clean diesel” scandal from a few years ago.

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was gutted and politicized under Trump, some devoted career scientists still remain. They’re mounting a concerted effort to resist the administration’s last-ditch assault on the environment, with an eye toward clearing a path for the incoming Biden administration to quickly reverse some of the worst damage. Dissent is also bubbling up at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), where commissioners are beginning to stake out positions that seem to anticipate coming changes.

Fossil fuel industry news includes a lot of buzz about the Trump administration’s upcoming sale of extraction leases for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But banks have signaled a distinct lack of interest in financing future operations and environmentalists are ready with lawsuits. Meanwhile, oil refineries are showing financial stress, with many offered for sale and few interested buyers.

We close with an update on biomass. The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that would reclassify energy from burning woody biomass as carbon neutral. The value of renewable energy credits resulting from that reclassification would tip the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass generating plant in Springfield from the “loser” to the “winner” column. After twelve years of protest, it would finally be financed and built. A massive effort is underway to prevent this environmental and public health disaster from happening. We offer a link to a petition you can sign, in opposition.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

compressor station photoWeymouth Compressor May Vent Gas As Part Of Its Startup Week
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
December 1, 2020

Crews at a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth could vent natural gas into the community several times during the first week of operations at the site set to begin on Friday.

A spokesperson for Enbridge, the energy company that built the controversial facility, said Tuesday that the process to place the compressor into service will officially start on Dec. 4 after federal regulators gave the final stamp of approval last week.

That process will involve “controlled, planned venting of natural gas” to remove any air in the station’s pipes, according to the spokesperson, Max Bergeron.

“The controlled venting of natural gas may occur intermittently between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on December 4 through December 11, 2020,” Bergeron said in an email. “The controlled venting of natural gas is a safe and routine procedure, and the gas which is vented will naturally dissipate. Algonquin Gas Transmission representatives will be on site during this work, and monitors that constantly measure the levels of natural gas will be used.”

Community leaders as well as environmental and public health groups have battled the proposed facility for years, but a federally ordered pause in operations at the site following two emergency shutdowns ended after about seven weeks.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station group that has been at the center of the opposition campaign announced it would mark the start of compressor service with an “Elf effigy” in Kings Cove Park near the facility.
» Read article             

Feds Give Compressor Station Approval to Start Up
Emergency Shutdowns Tied to O-Ring, Electrical Issues
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service
November 25, 2020

Enbridge will start pumping natural gas through its Weymouth compressor station next month after federal regulators on Wednesday gave the final green light, ruling that the company sufficiently corrected any issues behind two emergency shutdowns this fall.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration signed off Wednesday on a plan to restart operations at the site with gas pressure limited to 80 percent of the levels before the most recent incident.

With the agency’s Thanksgiving eve approval, the controversial project appears set to begin operating in the next few weeks after years of opposition from community groups and elected officials.

News that the contentious project was again on the verge of completion sparked immediate criticism from opponents, including U.S. Sen. Ed Markey.

“This project is a threat to public safety, health, and the environment, and I will continue to fight it,” Markey tweeted.
» Read article            

» More about the Weymouth compressor station

PIPELINES

Not so fast - FERC
Federal agency refuses to extend construction deadline for National Fuel pipeline
By Thomas J. Prohaska, The Buffalo News
December 2, 2020

National Fuel was premature in requesting an extension of its deadline to complete a new $500 million pipeline to carry natural gas from northern Pennsylvania to Canada through Western New York.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday rejected the request from National Fuel and its Empire Pipeline subsidiary to push the construction deadline for the Northern Access pipeline from February 2022 to December 2024.

Although FERC said it was too soon for the company to ask for such an extension, it rejected National Fuel’s Oct. 16 request “without prejudice,” meaning the company is free to ask again when the question is more timely.

“We remain fully committed to this project and, as indicated in the FERC comments, we are able to file again,” National Fuel spokeswoman Karen L. Merkel said.

“We’re glad they denied it,” said Diana Strablow, vice chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Niagara Group.

The seven-page FERC ruling noted that 64 comments, all negative, were received during a 15-day public comment period.

“I think they had an impact,” Strablow said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has tried to block the pipeline project by refusing to grant a water quality permit that would allow the 24-inch-wide pipeline to cross 192 streams in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Erie counties.
» Read article             

hands off Oregon
When Can Pipelines Take Private Land? Jordan Cove LNG Project a Test for Eminent Domain
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
November 24, 2020

In 2005, Deb Evans and her husband Ron Schaaf bought a piece of property in Klamath County, Oregon, where they hoped to build a house and selectively harvest timber on the land. They saw it as a long-term investment. About a month after they closed on the property, they went to walk through portions of it where they considered building a home, but they noticed orange survey tape hanging from the trees. “We had no idea who had put it there or why,” Evans said.

After calling around, they soon found out that a company wanted to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal in Coos Bay on the Oregon coast, and run a natural gas pipeline to California — and Evans’ land was in the way. If the company’s plans worked out, the pipeline would travel right through their property.

A decade and a half — and two White House administrations — later, there’s still no pipeline.

But the project still looms over Evans and Schaaf, limping along in a zombie-like fashion. The Jordan Cove LNG project, now overseen by Canadian company Pembina, just won’t seem to die — even after it had been rejected by federal regulators twice and had key environmental permits denied. Now, in a final attempt to stop the pipeline that would supply the LNG terminal, local residents are suing to protect their property.

Evans and a group of about two dozen landowners, represented by the Niskanen Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., are appealing the Trump administration’s approval of the pipeline (reversing an Obama-era rejection) in a case that will be heard by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021. The outcome could have far-reaching ramifications for how pipelines get built in the U.S., and how pipeline companies can use eminent domain to take private land.
» Read article             

» More about pipelines     

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

SCOTUS bait and switch
Here’s How Big Oil Wants The Supreme Court to Help Delay and Derail Climate Lawsuits
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
December 2, 2020

On January 19, 2021 — just one day before President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office — the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a climate change accountability lawsuit brought by Baltimore, Maryland, against almost two dozen fossil fuel corporations.

Like over a dozen other climate lawsuits, Baltimore’s case seeks to hold major oil and gas companies including Chevron and ExxonMobil accountable for fueling the climate crisis through the extraction and sale of their products and for spreading climate disinformation and downplaying the dangers of fossil fuels to the public and shareholders in order to boost corporate profits.

And similar to other cases brought at the municipal or state level, Baltimore’s lawsuit demands that oil majors help pay for things such as seawalls to better protect the city from the impacts of climate change like more dramatic flooding. Proving the alleged corporate deception around the reality and severity of climate change is at the heart of the lawsuits lodged by communities like Baltimore which are facing enormous costs and damages from the unfolding climate crisis.

Seeking help from the fossil fuel companies to pay for these sorts of climate adaptation efforts, however, can likely only be done by keeping the case at the local level rather than trying it in higher federal courts.

This is why fossil fuel companies and their allies are currently waging a procedural battle to punt these cases from state to federal court. The upcoming hearing in the Supreme Court — which has dismissed climate lawsuits in the past — could determine whether or not the Baltimore lawsuit can remain at the state level. A ruling in favor of the fossil fuel industry will at the very least delay Baltimore’s case and similar climate cases from advancing in state court, and could derail these cases altogether if the Supreme Court determines they must be brought in federal, rather than state, courts.

In a series of legal briefs recently filed with the Supreme Court, several trade and lobby groups, and more than a dozen government bodies, are backing Big Oil’s argument that the case should only be heard in federal court.

This includes the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (The Chamber of Commerce and NAM, whose members include fossil fuel companies, both regularly intervene on the industry’s behalf in court.)

Two conservative law organizations — the Atlantic Legal Foundation and the Washington Legal Foundation — also filed briefs, along with an organization of defense lawyers called DRI – Voice of the Defense Bar and Energy Policy Advocates, a shadowy initiative that files public records requests on behalf of fossil fuel interests.

On top of that, two retired military officers filed briefs as well as the U.S. federal government and 13 politically conservative states, including Alaska, Louisiana, and Texas. Under Trump, the Justice Department has regularly intervened on industry’s behalf in court cases — and its recent brief in the Baltimore case echoes arguments made by the fossil fuel industry.

Alyssa Johl, legal director with the Center for Climate Integrity, an initiative that supports holding polluters accountable for climate harms, described the oil companies’ Supreme Court plea as a “bait and switch.”

“Big Oil and their allies are asking the justices to bypass the narrow issue before them and instead issue a sweeping decision that would send all related climate damages cases to federal court,” she said. “Since the oil defendants have repeatedly failed to win that argument in lower courts, this really feels like a Hail Mary pass to escape accountability.”
» Read article             

greentrolling
Greentrolling: A ‘maniacal plan’ to bring down Big Oil
By Kate Yoder, Grist
November 19, 2020

Mary Heglar has a “maniacal plan” to save the planet. It doesn’t involve shutting down pipelines or protesting in the streets. Heglar has simply been “trolling the shit out of fossil fuel companies” on social media.

Heglar is known for her essays about climate change and for being one half of the duo behind Hot Take, a newsletter and podcast she co-hosts with the journalist Amy Westervelt. Her strategy started taking shape after the oil giant BP shared a carbon footprint calculator on Twitter last fall.

“Find out your #carbonfootprint with our new calculator & share your pledge today!” the oil company tweeted.

Hegar’s reply went viral. “Bitch what’s yours???”

“They can just walk out on the biggest arena in the world and pretend that they’re something that they’re not,” Heglar told Grist. “And it’s really persuasive. If I didn’t know better, I would believe that BP was on the right side of history.”

Heglar was tired of climate-conscious people turning against one other, shaming others for flying or eating meat. Instead, she wanted to direct their anger at the companies responsible for the largest share of global greenhouse gas emissions. So she started prowling the social media feeds of Shell, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips every day to point out their hypocrisy. (She can’t see Exxon’s tweets anymore, because she got blocked.) “I’m petty like that,” she said. “I am a Scorpio and I am vindictive.”

“Greentrolling,” as Heglar describes it, is a way of letting off steam. But there’s a deeper motivation behind it. The point isn’t to convince oil companies to do better. It’s to make sure that people aren’t misled by corporate PR teams — to try and shatter the idea that they’re champions of the environment, and point out the ways they shift blame to individuals to avoid accepting responsibility for their role in the climate crisis.

Greentrolling is catching on. Earlier this month, Shell tweeted a poll asking “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?” Every corner of Climate Twitter had something to say about it. “This you?” said climate activist Jamie Margolin, sharing a photograph of a 2016 Shell oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Sunrise Movement tweeted, “omg cute!! we’re still gonna prosecute your execs for lying to the public about climate change for 30 years though!!!” Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York also chimed in.
» Read article             

Goldman Prize 20206 Grassroots Activists Win ‘Green Nobel Prize’
By Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay
November 30, 2020

Six grassroots environmental activists will receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in a virtual ceremony this year. Dubbed the “Green Nobel Prize,” this award is given annually to environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continents.

This year’s winners include an Indigenous Mayan beekeeper who led a coalition to ban genetically modified soy in seven Mexican states, a French activist who pressured France’s three largest banks to stop financing coal, a woman who harnessed youth activism to enact a ban on single-use plastics in the Bahamas, an Indigenous Waorani woman who organized legal action preventing oil extraction in a huge expanse of Amazon rainforest, an Indigenous Karen organizer who spearheaded the formation of the world’s first peace park in an active conflict zone, and an activist who prevented the construction of what would have been the first coal-fired power plant in Ghana.

“These six environmental champions reflect the powerful impact that one person can have on many,” John Goldman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said in a statement. “Even in the face of the unending onslaught and destruction upon our natural world, there are countless individuals and communities fighting every day to protect our planet. These are six of those environmental heroes, and they deserve the honor and recognition the Prize offers them — for taking a stand, risking their lives and livelihoods, and inspiring us with real, lasting environmental progress.”
» Read article             

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

forced investment
Trump Administration Accused of Trying to Bully Banks Into Financing Arctic Fossil Fuel Extraction
“Contrary to the claims of oil-backed politicians, banks don’t want to finance more drilling in the Arctic not because of some vast liberal conspiracy, but because it’s bad business,” said a Sierra Club leader.
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
November 20, 2020

Responding to grassroots pressure and shareholder activism, five of the six largest U.S. banks have decided they want no part of financing fossil fuel drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—but that isn’t stopping the Trump administration from what critics on Friday called bullying banks into funding oil and gas extraction.

The Wall Street Journal reports the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on Friday proposed a new rule that would bar financial institutions from refusing to lend to entire categories of lawful businesses. In the name of “fair access,” the proposed rule would force banks to finance not only the fossil fuel industry that is largely responsible for the ever-worsening climate emergency, but also other highly controversial sectors such as for-profit private prisons and firearms manufacturers.

“We need to stop the weaponization of banking as a political tool,” Brian Brooks, the acting comptroller, told the Journal. “It’s creating real economic dislocations.”

Under the proposal—which came on the heels of complaints by Republican politicians that banks are discriminating against Big Oil—institutional lenders would only be permitted to decline loans if an applicant failed to meet “quantitative, impartial, risk-based standards established by the bank in advance.”

The proposal will be open for public comment until January 4, 2021 before it is subject to final approval. That would leave Brooks just over two weeks to enact the measure before President Donald Trump leaves office on January 20. The financial services industry is likely to push back against the proposal, fearing it could force banks to finance individuals, entities, or endeavors against their will.
» Read article             

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

lost hills
UN Report: Despite Falling Energy Demand, Governments Set on Increasing Fossil Fuel Production
Top countries are projected to produce twice the limit on oil, gas and coal required to meet Paris climate agreement goals.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
December 2, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has sent global energy demand plummeting, and led many analysts and oil executives to conclude that a transition away from fossil fuels is marching nearer. But a new United Nations report says the world’s leading fossil fuel producers still appear set on expanding their output to levels that would send temperatures soaring past global climate goals.

The report, published Wednesday by the U.N. Environment Program and written by researchers from several universities, think tanks and advocacy groups, looked at national plans and projections for fossil fuel production. It found that top producing governments were set to produce twice as much oil, gas and coal by 2030 as would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the more ambitious goal of the Paris climate agreement. The countries are on track to expand output by 2 percent per year, the report said, while production needs to decline by about 6 percent per year to meet the Paris goal.

The government projections that underpin the U.N.’s second annual Production Gap Report were published mostly before the pandemic transformed global energy markets and sent fossil fuel production down by about 7 percent this year. But while this sharp drop, and trillions of dollars in government stimulus programs, present an opportunity to shift the global energy system, far more money has been directed toward activities that encourage burning fossil fuels than toward reducing emissions.

“So far, all indications are that, overall, governments are planning to expand fossil fuel production at a time when climate goals require that they wind it down,” the report said. “If governments continue to direct Covid-19 recovery packages and stimulus funds to fossil fuels, these plans could become reality.”
» Read article            
» Read the report

no Covid emissions relief
Covid-19 Shutdowns Were Just a Blip in the Upward Trajectory of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Emissions will drop by 4 to 7 percent for 2020, but carbon dioxide will continue to increase, the annual World Meteorological Association bulletin finds.
By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
November 23, 2020

Global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will drop by 4 percent to 7 percent in 2020 because of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, but that decline won’t stop the continued overall buildup of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The carbon dioxide level will continue to increase, “though at a slightly reduced pace,” according to the annual greenhouse gas bulletin, published today by the World Meteorological Organization. The impact on CO2 concentrations from pandemic-related economic disruptions is no bigger than the normal year-to-year fluctuations from natural ocean or plant cycles, the report concluded.

The bulletin is based on global average figures for 2019, but 2020 data from individual stations in the greenhouse gas monitoring network show that atmospheric CO2 continued to increase this year. At sampling sites on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, and Cape Grim in Australia, the average September 2020 CO2 concentrations rose by about 2 parts per million from the previous year, passing 410 parts per million for the first time on record.
» Read article             

France held accountable‘Historic’ Court Ruling Will Force France To Justify Its Climate Targets
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
November 20, 2020

A French court this week issued what climate campaigners are calling a “historic decision” in the fight to hold national governments accountable for insufficient action to address the climate crisis.

The decision finds that France in recent years has exceeded its “carbon budgets” — the upper limit of allowable carbon emissions to help keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The French government must now justify within the next three months how its refusal to take more stringent measures to curb emissions in line with the Paris Agreement puts the nation on track to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target.

This is the first court ruling of its kind in France — and it could influence other ongoing climate lawsuits in the country. The decision is the latest in a string of successful legal challenges to European governments’ inadequate policies to tackle the climate crisis, including in Ireland and most famously in the Netherlands, which was the first time a court anywhere in the world ruled that a national government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change.

While the decision this week in France does not order the French government to take more aggressive climate action (as was the case with the Dutch government), it is one step away from that. If the court finds the French government’s justification for its less-ambitious targets insufficient, it could order the nation to take action to rapidly slash emissions. France ranks among the top 20 carbon polluters in the world, according to 2018 data analyzed by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
» Read article             

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

micro-district concept MA
Innovative geothermal micro-district concept moves ahead in Massachusetts
Utilities could prove useful partners in the projects, which involve drilling, trenching and laying pipe to bring underground heat into buildings.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
Photo By Chris Sullivan / NREL
December 3, 2020

Two pilot projects in Massachusetts will attempt to deploy geothermal heating across entire neighborhoods — an innovative model that aims to slash fossil fuel use while providing an economic transition for gas utilities and their workers.

“The more we’ve learned, the more incredible it has seemed,” said Audrey Schulman, co-founder and co-executive director of the Home Energy Efficiency Team, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that developed and promoted the geothermal micro-district concept.

The first pilot is slated for the Merrimack Valley, an area in northeastern Massachusetts hit by a series of gas explosions and fires in September 2018 that federal investigators blamed on inadequate management by Columbia Gas. The $56 million settlement the company agreed to this fall included $4 million to implement a geothermal test project.

A second project is being developed by utility Eversource, which plans to spend $10.3 million constructing a district geothermal system in a densely populated, mixed-use area that has not yet been selected.

“We’re really thinking about how we can be a catalyst for clean energy in the region,” said Michael Goldman, director of energy efficiency for Eversource.

Geothermal systems — also referred to as ground-source heat pumps — are not a new concept. They work by running pipes filled with antifreeze liquid as far as 500 feet into the ground, to a depth at which the temperature is relatively stable, usually lingering in the low 50s Fahrenheit in Massachusetts. Heat is extracted from the earth and carried through the liquid-filled pipes to warm buildings.

The same principle allows for geothermal cooling as well: On hot days, a heat pump extracts heat from the air in the building and transfers it into the liquid in the pipes. The warmed liquid travels downward and its heat is released into the ground.
» Read article             

ILSR study
How Renewable Energy Could Power Your State
By Tara Lohan, The Revelator, in EcoWatch
November 20, 2020

How much of U.S. energy demand could be met by renewable sources?

According to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the answer is an easy 100%.

The report looked at how much renewable energy potential each state had within its own borders and found that almost every state could deliver all its electricity needs from instate renewable sources.

And that’s just a start: The report found that there’s so much potential for renewable energy sourcing, some states could produce 10 times the electricity they need. Cost remains an issue, as does connecting all of this capacity to the grid, but prices have dropped significantly, and efficiency continues to improve. Clean energy is not only affordable but could be a big boost to the economy. Locally sourced renewables create jobs, reduce pollution, and make communities more climate resilient.

So where are the opportunities? Rooftop solar, the study found, could supply six states with at least half of their electricity needs. But wind had the greatest potential. For 35 states, onshore wind alone could supply 100% of their energy demand, and offshore wind could do the same in 21 states. (The numbers overlap a bit.)

The study follows a similar report conducted a decade ago and shows that the clean energy field has made substantial progress in that time.
» Read article             

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

at home in Pittsfield
‘At Home in Pittsfield’ loan program overcomes earlier City Council opposition
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
November 24, 2020

PITTSFIELD — Nearly two years after she proposed it, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer won support Tuesday for a plan to help residents fix up the outsides of their homes through use of potentially forgivable loans.

When Tyer’s “At Home in Pittsfield” program was defeated in April 2019 by a different City Council, opponents said Pittsfield should not be pulling money from an economic development fund that’s a legacy of the General Electric Co.’s departure from the city.

Two of those councilors, Kevin Morandi of Ward 2 and Christopher Connell of Ward 4, remained against the plan. But with two other opponents no longer on the body, the measure passed 8-2. It needed and secured a supermajority to pass. Council President Peter Marchetti recused himself due to a conflict.

After seeing her idea sidelined in 2019, Tyer vowed to try again, arguing that helping residents invest in their homes not only builds equity and family wealth for borrowers who qualify, it is good for the whole city, particularly in distressed neighborhoods.

And more than a year later, that campaign came through.

Tyer told councilors Tuesday that she would not come back to the panel seeking additional funding beyond the $500,000 approved Tuesday for the program, which will allocate loans to qualifying applicants over the next two or three years.

The program is designed to help homeowners who might not otherwise qualify for financing for repairs. Four local banks are partners. Applicants without mortgages can apply through the city.

Loans can be used for exterior improvements that prevent deterioration, such as repairs to porches, roofs, windows or chimneys.
» Blog editor’s note: This program addresses a problem that often prevents energy efficiency upgrades from happening. Many of the repairs funded by ‘At Home in Pittsfield’ are required to properly prepare a building envelope for insulation upgrades and sealing, but homeowners often struggle to pay for them. Kudos to Mayor Tyer for her leadership and persistence – this is a big win.
» Read article             

green line
Retroactive energy efficiency loans offer pandemic lifeline for some businesses

Green banks are offering businesses a chance to borrow against previous investments in energy-saving upgrades.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By Green Line Pharmacy / Courtesy
November 23, 2020

The Green Line Apothecary in Rhode Island is known for its old-school flair: Both locations in Wakefield and Providence boast authentic soda fountains where customers can sit and chat over root beer floats.

“We wanted to reestablish the days when the pharmacy was more than just a place to pick up your pills,” said Ken Procaccianti, who runs Green Line with his wife Christina, a pharmacist, and is also a builder. “It used to be a community gathering place.”

But when it came to readying the space for their Providence location, which opened just last year, the couple took a decidedly forward-thinking approach. The North Main Street site was so rundown it required a gut rehab. Beyond replacing the roof, plumbing and windows, however, the couple also invested in more than $300,000 in energy-saving upgrades, including LED lighting, spray-foam insulation, and high-efficiency HVAC equipment.

It was only after the project was finished that they learned they could borrow against those energy improvements, providing their growing business with valuable liquidity. And so earlier this fall, the Procacciantis closed on a $327,584 retroactive loan through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank’s C-PACE financing program.
» Read article             

» More about energy efficiency

ENERGY STORAGE

sonnenCore
Sonnen launches ‘affordable’ all-in-one home battery storage system in US
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
November 23, 2020

Germany-headquartered residential battery storage manufacturer sonnen has launched an “all-in-one” system in the US which comes at a recommended retail price of US$9,500.

The company, owned by oil and gas major Shell since last year, has just brought out sonnenCore, a home energy storage system (HESS) which comes with a free 10 year or 10,000 cycle warranty to an expected lifetime throughput of 58MWh.

SonnenCore has 4.8kW of continuous AC output or 8.6kW peak output and 10kWh usable capacity to 100% depth-of-discharge (DoD). The system, which uses lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry, has been listed to UL 9540 standards for fire safety and sonnen said it is suitable for applications including time-of-use load shifting, solar self-consumption and emergency backup power.

The company said it comes with a newly-developed sonnen inverter and includes custom energy management software (EMS) which sonnen claimed enables “comprehensive end-to-end system integration and optimisation”.
» Read article             

» More about energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

EV timebomb
The Race To Crack Battery Recycling—Before It’s Too Late
Millions of EVs will soon hit the road, but the world isn’t ready for their old batteries. A crop of startups wants to crack this billion-dollar problem.
By Daniel Oberhaus, Wired
November 30, 2020

Every day, millions of lithium-ion batteries roll off the line at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. These cells, produced on site by Panasonic, are destined to be bundled together by the thousands in the battery packs of new Teslas. But not all the batteries are cut out for a life on the road. Panasonic ships truckloads of cells that don’t pass their qualification tests to a facility in Carson City, about a half hour’s drive south. This is the home of Redwood Materials, a small company founded in 2017 with an ambition to become the anti-Gigafactory, a place where batteries are cooked down into raw materials that will serve as the grist for new cells.

Redwood is part of a wave of new startups racing to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist yet: How to recycle the mountains of batteries from electric vehicles that are past their prime. Over the past decade, the world’s lithium-ion production capacity has increased tenfold to meet the growing demand for EVs. Now vehicles from that first production wave are just beginning to reach the end of their lifespan. This marks the beginning of a tsunami of spent batteries, which will only get worse as more electric cars hit the road. The International Energy Agency predicts an 800 percent increase in the number of EVs over the next decade, each car packed with thousands of cells. The dirty secret of the EV revolution is that it created an e-waste timebomb—and cracking lithium-ion recycling is the only way to defuse it.

Redwood’s CEO and founder J. B. Straubel understands the problem better than most. After all, he played a significant role in creating it. Straubel is cofounder and, until last year, was the CTO at Tesla, a company he joined when it was possible to count all of its employees on one hand. During his time there, the company grew from a scrappy startup peddling sports cars to the most valuable auto manufacturer on the planet. Along the way, Tesla also became one of the world’s largest battery producers. But the way Straubel sees it, those batteries aren’t really a problem. “The major opportunity is to think of this material for reuse and recovery,” he says. “With all these batteries in circulation, it just seems super obvious that eventually we’re going to build a remanufacturing ecosystem.”
» Read article             

diesel tuners
Illegal Tampering by Diesel Pickup Owners Is Worsening Pollution, E.P.A. Says
By Coral Davenport, New York Times
November 25, 2020

The owners and operators of more than half a million diesel pickup trucks have been illegally disabling their vehicles’ emissions control technology over the past decade, allowing excess emissions equivalent to 9 million extra trucks on the road, a new federal report has concluded.

The practice, described in a report by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Enforcement, has echoes of the Volkswagen scandal of 2015, when the automaker was found to have illegally installed devices in millions of diesel passenger cars worldwide — including about half a million in the United States — designed to trick emissions control monitors.

But in this case no single corporation is behind the subterfuge; it is the truck owners themselves who are installing illegal devices, which are typically manufactured by small companies. That makes it much more difficult to measure the full scale of the problem, which is believed to affect many more vehicles than the 500,000 or so estimated in the report.

In terms of the pollution impact in the United States, “This is far more alarming and widespread than the Volkswagen scandal,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation, the research group that first alerted the E.P.A. of the illegal Volkswagen technology. “Because these are trucks, the amount of pollution is far, far higher,” he said.

The E.P.A. focused just on devices installed in heavy pickup trucks, such as the Chevrolet Silverado and the Dodge Ram 2500, about 15 percent of which appear to have defeat devices installed. But such devices — commercially available and marketed as a way to improve vehicle performance — almost certainly have been installed in millions of other vehicles.
» Read article            
» Read the EPA report

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ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

surge in resistance
E.P.A.’s Final Deregulatory Rush Runs Into Open Staff Resistance
By Lisa Friedman, New York Times
November 27, 2020

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rushing to complete one of its last regulatory priorities, aiming to obstruct the creation of air- and water-pollution controls far into the future, when a senior career scientist moved to hobble it.

Thomas Sinks directed the E.P.A.’s science advisory office and later managed the agency’s rules and data around research that involved people. Before his retirement in September, he decided to issue a blistering official opinion that the pending rule — which would require the agency to ignore or downgrade any medical research that does not expose its raw data — will compromise American public health.

“If this rule were to be finalized it would create chaos,” Dr. Sinks said in an interview in which he acknowledged writing the opinion that had been obtained by The New York Times. “I thought this was going to lead to a train crash and that I needed to speak up.”

With two months left of the Trump administration, career E.P.A. employees find themselves where they began, in a bureaucratic battle with the agency’s political leaders. But now, with the Biden administration on the horizon, they are emboldened to stymie Mr. Trump’s goals and to do so more openly.

The filing of a “dissenting scientific opinion” is an unusual move; it signals that Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., and his politically appointed deputies did not listen to the objections of career scientists in developing the regulation. More critically, by entering the critique as part of the official Trump administration record on the new rule, Dr. Sinks’s dissent will offer Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s E.P.A. administrator a powerful weapon to repeal the so-called “secret science” policy.
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FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FERC dissents
FERC Dissents Reveal Continued Political Tension on Clean Energy Policy
FERC’s sole Democrat blasts New England market and PURPA decisions, warns of legal challenges.
By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media
November 20, 2020

Thursday’s meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission started off with expressions of comity between its three commissioners. It ended with another round of dissents from its sole Democrat, who warned of possible legal challenges to FERC decisions approved by its Republican majority over his objections.

Questions of political pressure on the avowedly nonpartisan agency have swirled around FERC over the past weeks after the Trump administration demoted Neil Chatterjee from his two-year tenure as FERC chairman to appoint fellow Republican James Danly to the leadership position.

But Chatterjee was gracious to Danly in welcoming him as chair and thanked Democrat Richard Glick for finding “common ground” amid “our fair share of political disagreements.” He also congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their election victory, making him one of the few Trump-appointed federal officials to do so.

Glick, in turn, noted that he’s had a “very good and open level of discussion” with his Republican colleagues, despite their disputes.

Glick was less sparing, however, in his dissents regarding two decisions to deny pleas from states and clean energy groups to reconsider two key FERC decisions — one applying to federally regulated wholesale energy markets in New England and the other to clean-energy facilities competing in states with vertically integrated utility regulatory structures.

Glick, who is considered a likely pick to chair FERC under the incoming Biden administration, said both decisions will have a negative impact on clean energy resources and noted that Thursday’s decisions are both open to legal challenges in federal court.
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FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

ANWR lease sale scheduled
Administration Schedules Lease Sale for Arctic Wildlife Refuge
Environmental groups blasted the move and warned that petroleum companies bidding on leases will face legal battles “fraught with high costs and reputational risks.”
By Sabrina Shankman, InsideClimate News
December 3, 2020

Even in the final weeks of his administration, President Donald Trump is trying to make good on his early promise to bring oil development to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, not bothering to wait for the public comments that are customary before such a move.

The Bureau of Land Management announced on Thursday that the administration plans to hold an oil leasing sale for the refuge on Jan. 6. This is far sooner than environmental organizations expected, and the announcement met with immediate criticism from groups that have been fighting to keep drilling out of what is known as the “crown jewel” of the nation’s wildlife refuge system.

Just over two weeks ago, the Bureau of Land Management issued a “call for nominations,” asking oil companies to let them know which tracts of the refuge they might want to drill on. That process typically involves a 30-day public comment period, and is usually followed by a period of analysis—often several weeks—in which the bureau decides what tracts to offer up. Based on that timeline, it seemed that the earliest a lease sale could happen would be a few days before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.

“This timing is highly unusual and breaks with protocol,” said Kristin Monsell, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Though Biden has said that protecting the refuge from drilling is a priority, once the leases are sold, the process of getting them back is complicated. That may be one reason the administration is rushing to get them sold before Trump’s term ends.

“This is a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
» Read article             

With Bank of America Announcement, Every Major US Bank Has Ruled out Funding for Arctic Drilling
By Gabby Brown, Sierra Club
November 30, 2020

Bank of America has reportedly joined its peers and ruled out funding for new drilling in the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citi have all announced similar policies this year. Bank of America has faced mounting pressure in recent months from Indigenous communities, environmental advocates, and shareholders to follow suit.

The Trump administration is racing ahead with plans to hold a lease sale in the delicate coastal plain of the refuge in the final days before President-Elect Biden’s inauguration, but industry analysts have raised questions about whether oil companies, or the financial institutions that fund them, will be interested in making such a risky investment. Biden has pledged to protect the Arctic Refuge from drilling.

“It has long been clear that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would trample Indigenous rights, threaten vulnerable wildlife, and worsen the climate crisis. Now that every major American bank has stated unequivocally that they will not finance this destructive activity, it should be clearer than ever that any oil company considering participating in Trump’s ill-advised lease sale should stay away,” said Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative Ben Cushing.
» Read article             

no refinery buyers
Oil Companies Can’t Find Any Buyers For Refineries Struggling Amid Pandemic Crisis
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
November 23, 2020

Major players in the U.S. petroleum refining industry — which is experiencing a historic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic — are attempting to sell refineries, with little luck. Unable to find any buyers, several refineries are becoming stranded assets as they are permanently shut down.

The pandemic continues to set new records in the U.S. almost daily — more than 250,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 since February. This mounting crisis is leading to a second round of shutdowns and measures that will limit economic activity and slow the consumption of fuel. Amid this, the refining industry is expected to face a prolonged downturn.

In the second week of November 2019, U.S. refinery inputs totaled 16.0 million barrels per day (mbpd). In the same week in 2020, the total was 13.6 mbpd — a 15 percent decrease.

Expectations are for the economy and fuel consumption to return to 2019 levels at some point in the future, with one caveat: The demand for very profitable jet fuel (which accounted for 9 percent of total U.S. refinery output last year) may never return. This change poses a major threat to the basic business model of many refineries.
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BIOMASS

Palmer RE rendering
Activists Look To Beacon Hill To Stop Biomass Power Plant Project
By Paul Tuthill, WAMC
December 2, 2020

Environmental activists are keeping up their efforts to block construction of a long-proposed wood-burning power plant in Springfield, Massachusetts.

With the end of the legislative session on Beacon Hill a month away, opponents of a biomass power plant proposed more than a decade ago are lobbying furiously to get language stricken from a climate bill that would provide valuable financial incentives to the project’s developer.

The efforts include phone calls to the offices of legislators, letter-writing, and an online petition with close to 3,000 signatures, so far, requesting removal of language from the climate bill labeling biomass a “non-carbon emitting” energy source.

Plans to build a 35-megawatt plant that would burn woody biomass to generate electricity in an industrial section of East Springfield were first disclosed about 12 years ago.  From the start it faced stiff resistance from nearby residents, local activists, and statewide environmental organizations.

“We call it the zombie project because it keeps coming back to life,” said  Verne McArthur of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition.

He said the plant would cause air pollution not just from the wood that would be burned, but also from the trucks that would drive to and from the site daily.

“Its destructive to the local residents sound and air quality,” said McArthur.
» Read article
» Sign the petition

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