Tag Archives: Divestment

Weekly News Check-In 7/1/22

banner 13

Welcome back.

A new study revealed potential health risks of natural gas from multiple toxins that ride along with the methane into your home. This is a particular issue for unburned gas, and it comes on the heels of recent research that shows how leaky typical gas cooking stoves and other appliances are, even when not in operation. So the fact that the carcinogen benzene and other nasty constituents are commonly present at the appliance means they also escape into the air you breath indoors.  The study found considerable variation in the level of toxins present in gas at different times of year. Concentrations tended to increase in winter months – an unwelcome finding since that’s when living spaces are closed tight, allowing less fresh air ventilation.

The findings struck another blow against the brand identity of natural gas as a “clean fuel”, but utilities like Eversource are still working overtime to add additional miles to their pipeline networks. Last week’s utility-sponsored visit to the proposed Longmeadow pipeline expansion project was attended by a state senator and multiple activists who expressed skepticism about the merits of the project. Some responses by utility representatives to attendee questions were jaw-dropping….

We recently called attention to the obscure Energy Charter Treaty, and how it’s being used – mostly in the European Union – by fossil fuel companies to sue countries over climate mitigation plans that threaten the fossil business model. An update of the treaty was just negotiated, but experts still consider it a threat to climate progress. The U.S. is not a signatory to that treaty, but we’ve nevertheless been quite effective in torpedoing our own climate efforts. A small example is how a single Democratic assemblyman in California’s legislature killed a bill that would have caused two huge state pension funds to divest from fossil fuels. Were industry campaign contributions a factor? Meanwhile, suits against the fossil fuel industry are piling on.

The real bell-ringer was yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, which gutted the EPA’s role in regulating fleet-wide power plant emissions. The U.S. is now playing catch-up in the climate race with both feet in a potato sack. We’re back to hoping progressive states and cities can save the day. One example is New Hampshire, where regulators are finalizing rules for community power programs which would allow communities to begin buying electric power on their own. This provides relief from major utility price hikes driven by dependence on natural gas generating plants, and should allow more flexibility in greening the grid.

Also, Rhode Island lawmakers have approved a long-fought bill to ban plastic bags at retail checkout lines. The legislation requires retail establishments to offer recyclable bag options such as paper bags, or reusable bags that were brought in by the customer. Those who do not comply will be fined.

If you still detect a faint pulse at the federal level, it might be from bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives would authorize a national approach for residential water heaters to be utilized as demand response resources, in a bid to strengthen electric grid resilience and flexibility. Ah yes… the Senate.

Our politics are a mess, but energy jobs in the U.S. are growing faster than employment in the overall domestic economy, driven in particular by renewables and the development of clean transportation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

There’s a glimmer of good news from Down Under, now that pro-fossil conservatives were sent packing in the recent election. Australia’s new government is putting climate change at the top of its legislative agenda when Parliament returns next month. Bills will require a significant cut in greenhouse gas emissions and make electric cars cheaper.

We’ll close with an example of how carbon capture and storage projects are ripe for all sorts of sketchy dealings. One in New Mexico is being used to keep an aging coal generating plant and mine operating, even though the state government has long sought its closure and has a plan to protect workers. Also despite financial analysis concluding that the numbers just don’t add up. If you figure this one out, let us know!

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

HEALTH RISKS OF NATURAL GAS

gas-lit flameUnburned natural gas contains 21 toxic air pollutants, study finds
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
June 28, 2022

There’s been a lot of focus recently on the negative health impacts of burning natural gas indoors, but a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology sheds light on what’s in the unburned gas piped into millions of homes across the U.S.

[…] In the U.S., “43 million homes cook with gas, another 17 million or so heat with gas. That’s a lot of end users,” says Drew Michanowicz, lead author and visiting scientist at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “There’s a lot of really good reasons for us to start thinking about natural gas leaks because of climate change. We are really looking for other ways by which natural gas leaks are also directly impacting health.”

When most people think about natural gas, they likely think about methane. And for good reason — natural gas is mostly methane. Methane isn’t known to have any direct human health impacts — though given its contribution to climate change, it certainly has big indirect impacts. And with increasing evidence that gas leaks are a lot more common than anyone realized, Michanowicz says he and others wanted to know exactly what else is in the fossil fuel so many people use in their homes.

Over the course of 16 months, they tested natural gas in 69 homes across the Greater Boston region. They took samples from customers of all three major utilities, and did so several times throughout the course of the study. Those samples were then sent to a lab and analyzed for 300 trace chemicals.

Of the 21 air toxics found, the most concerning was benzene, which can cause cancer, blood disorders and other health problems. While the concentration of benzene measured was quite low, Michanowicz says the finding is important given the ubiquity of natural gas in homes.

“Because natural gas is so widely used in society and it is so widely used in our indoor spaces,” he says, “any small leaks of these hazardous air pollutants in our homes can potentially impact our health.”

The study also found considerable variation in the level of [toxins] present in gas at different times of year. The authors aren’t sure why, but gas delivered to peoples’ homes in the wintertime had more harmful pollutants than summertime gas. Wintertime gas also had lower levels of odorants — the sulfur compounds added to natural gas to give it a smell — though all samples met federal guidelines.

Taken together, these findings suggest that exposure to toxics may be most pronounced in the wintertime when people are already more likely to be indoors, have their windows shut and use more natural gas for heating.

A study published earlier this year from Stanford University scientists found that gas stoves are quite leaky, and that a lot of the gas bleeds out when the stove isn’t even on. Along those lines, about 1 in 20 homes tested during this study had gas leaks that merited further inspection.
» Read article    
» Read the study

Weymouth brownies
Scientists measured the pollutants coming from gas stoves in Boston. They found dangerous chemicals.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
June 28, 2022

The natural gas used in homes in the Greater Boston area contains varying levels of toxic chemicals, according to a new study, upending the long-held idea that natural gas is a “clean” fossil fuel.

In a first-ever look at the chemical makeup of gas coming into homes, scientists found benzene — a carcinogen for which there is no known safe level of exposure — in 95 percent of the samples, which were collected between December 2019 and May 2021, according to the study, published today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“We found that unburned natural gas delivered to homes contains numerous air toxics … that can cause cancer and other serious health effects,” said lead author Drew Michanowicz, a visiting scientist at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy.

The findings come at a time when a seemingly innocuous appliance — the kitchen stove — has come to represent a pressure point in the clean energy transition, as local initiatives from the Boston suburbs to Southern California aim to restrict the use of fossil fuels in new buildings. The gas industry has heavily promoted the idea that good cooking equates to cooking with gas, while fighting municipal bans on gas hookups.

Recent studies have shown that natural gas — which consists of up to 90 percent methane — is leaking at far higher rates than expected, even when stoves are turned off, and that it contains other health-damaging pollutants such as nitrogen oxides.

The new study identifies the full spectrum of chemicals that can leak into homes, finding 21 different chemicals designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous air pollutants.

“Historically, natural gas has been described as a clean, or cleaner, fossil fuel,” said Zeyneb Magavi, co-executive director of HEET, a nonprofit that promotes geothermal heat, and a co-author on the study. “Now that we know there are small quantities of VOCs present in the gas supply in the Greater Boston area, it is reasonable to conclude that our gas supply is not as clean as we thought it once was.”
» Read article    
» Read the study

» More about health risks of natural gas

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

walk away from ECT
Energy treaty update fails to address climate crisis, activists say
1994 agreement allows investors to sue governments for changes in energy policy that harm their profits
By Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian
June 24, 2022

Climate activists have said a deal to update a “dangerous” energy treaty has failed to make the agreement compatible with the urgency of the climate crisis.

After more than four years of talks, 52 countries and the EU on Friday struck a deal to “modernise” the energy charter treaty, a 1994 agreement that allows investors to sue governments for changes in energy policy that harm their profits.

The treaty has been described by a former whistleblower as “a real threat” to the landmark Paris climate agreement, which aims to cap global heating at 1.5C, because it is feared that governments would blow their green transition budgets on compensating the owners of coalmines, oil wells and other fossil fuel projects.

This week 76 climate scientists told EU leaders that even a modernised ECT would “jeopardise the EU climate neutrality target and the EU green deal”, referring to a swathe of policy proposals launched last year to tackle the climate crisis.

The compromise agreement, which was largely designed by the EU, reduces the protection afforded to companies that have invested in oil and gas projects. But a fossil fuel exemption would not kick in until 2033 at the earliest.

Under the deal, new fossil fuel investments will cease to be protected in the EU and UK from mid August 2023. Existing fossil fuel investments in the EU and UK would lose protection after 10 years. But the 10-year phase-out for oil and gas only comes into force once the treaty has been ratified by three-quarters of the ECT’s 53 signatories.

[…] “With a 10-year phase-out period for fossil fuel investments, EU countries could still be sued for putting in place progressive climate policies for at least another decade – the key window for action if humanity is to avoid climate catastrophe,” said Amandine Van Den Berghe, a lawyer at the NGO ClientEarth.

“The new treaty will also open the door to a wave of financial compensation claims protecting investments in energy sources and technologies raising significant sustainability concerns, such as biomass, hydrogen and carbon capture storage,” she said, referring to the decision to extend treaty protection to these areas.

“The bottom line is we are still left with a dangerous agreement that will obstruct urgent action to tackle the climate crisis for years to come. The EU must finally do what is necessary for climate and legally right: walk away.”
» Read article    

site inspection
Canada Steps Up Surveillance of Indigenous Peoples To Push Fossil Fuel Pipelines Forward
An international human rights body condemned Canada’s treatment of Indigenous communities opposing two major oil and gas pipelines.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 17, 2022

Canadian police and security forces have intensified their surveillance and harassment of Indigenous people in recent months in an effort to clear the way for the construction of two long-distance oil and gas pipelines in British Columbia, earning the condemnation of international human rights observers.

“The Governments of Canada and of the Province of British Columbia have escalated their use of force, surveillance, and criminalization of land defenders and peaceful protesters to intimidate, remove and forcibly evict Secwepemc and Wet’suwet’en Nations from their traditional lands,” the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) wrote in an April 29 letter.

It was the third time the international body reproached the Canadian federal and provincial governments for their treatment of Indigenous communities in relation to the construction of the two fossil fuel projects. The Tiny House Warriors, a group of Secwepemc people, are opposing the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline, a long-distance oil pipeline that is under construction and would run from Alberta’s tar sands to the Pacific Coast, ending near Vancouver. And Wet’suwet’en land defenders are opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a fossil gas pipeline that would feed an LNG export terminal in northern British Columbia.

A 1997 Supreme Court decision affirmed Aboriginal rights to land, and both Indigenous movements fighting the two fossil fuel projects state that their physical presence on their pre-colonial lands is a way of exercising their rights. The Tiny House Warriors have constructed small mobile homes on their ancestral lands, in the path of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en has also occupied their traditional territory, building permanent homes and spiritual buildings in a heavily forested area south of the small town of Houston.
» Read article    
» Read the UN letter

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

Eversource v IPCC
Why Sen. Lesser and advocacy groups don’t want the Eversource backup pipeline
By Juliet Schulman-Hall, MassLive
June 24, 2022

Among approximately 100 attendees of an Eversource pipeline site visit in Longmeadow on Tuesday was Massachusetts state Sen. Eric Lesser and several activist organizations who have opposed the construction for years now.

“I really just wanted to show my support to the opponents [of the pipeline] and to the residents in the area and to the activists who have been working so hard on on trying to shed light on the project,” said Lesser. “I also wanted to substantively hear the [Eversource] presentation and learn more about the plans.”

The in-person meeting on Tuesday was hosted by the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act Office (MEPA) to view existing site conditions at the Longmeadow Country Club maintenance facility at 14 Hazardville Road, which is the site proposed for a meter station facility associated with the pipeline project. Attendees also included Springfield School Committee member Maria Perez and advocates from Climate Action Now and Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said Michele Marantz, leader of the Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group.

The MEPA office has not yet responded to a request for comment about the meeting.

Priscilla Ress, the western Massachusetts spokeswoman for Eversource, was optimistic about the outcome of the site visit.

“[The] MEPA meeting was well attended and provided a good opportunity for community and interested persons to participate in the siting process as we continue working to update and strengthen the backbone of the gas system,” Ress said.

However, Lesser, who is running for Lieutenant Governor, and others weren’t as happy with the site visit.

“There certainly was a disconnect [between Eversource and attendees],” said Lesser. “They could always do a better job at answering people’s questions.”

Naia Tenerowicz, member of Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, said she was similarly frustrated by how Eversource was unable to answer attendees’ questions.

“People asked questions about things that Eversource did not have adequate answers or in some cases, any answers at all,” said Tenerowicz.

Tenerowicz said she and others were “shocked” to learn that an Eversource representative said he was unfamiliar with an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was when an attendee referenced it — reports that in recent years have raised alarms about humanity’s short window to act to reduce climate change.

“So not only their lack of adequate answers, but seemingly their lack of awareness about the climate aspects of this was very concerning to all of us,” Tenerowicz said.
» Read article    
» Read the IPCC report referenced above

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

CALSTRS
California Assemblyman Kills Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill
The bill would have required the state’s two enormous public pension funds to divest from fossil fuels, but it was squashed by a Democrat who has taken money from oil and gas companies.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
June 28, 2022

The California legislature was close to passing a bill that would require the state’s two massive pension funds to divest from fossil fuels, but on June 21 the legislation was killed by one Democratic assemblyman who has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the energy industry.

Senate Bill 1173 would have required the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the two largest public pension funds in the country, to divest from fossil fuels. CalPERS and CalSTRS, which manage pensions for state employees and teachers, together hold more than $9 billion in fossil fuel investments.

The global divestment movement now claims that more than 1,500 institutions have divested from fossil fuels, representing more than $40 trillion in value. New York and Maine have also committed to phasing out fossil fuel investments from their public pensions.

But because of the size of the two California pension funds, their divestment from fossil fuels would be a significant achievement for the global movement. The call comes as the state continues to suffer from long-term drought and catastrophic wildfires that are worsening with climate change. Activists say that the state cannot claim to be a leader on climate action while maintaining billions of dollars’ worth of investments in the fossil fuel industry.

Senate Bill 1173 would have required the pension funds to divest by 2027, and the legislation had the support of the California Faculty Association, the California Federation of Teachers, associations representing higher education faculty, and roughly 150 environmental and activist organizations.

However, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-backed front group with ties to the oil industry, opposed the bill, warning that divesting from fossil fuels would put public sector pensions in financial jeopardy.
» Read article    

» More about divestment

LEGISLATION

BlueScope Steel
Australia prioritizes reducing emissions and cheaper EVs
By ROD McGUIRK, The Associated Press, in The Boston Globe
June 29, 2022

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s new government is putting climate change at the top of its legislative agenda when Parliament sits next month for the first time since the May 21 election, with bills to enshrine a cut in greenhouse gas emissions and make electric cars cheaper, a minister said on Wednesday.

A bill will be introduced to commit Australia to reducing its emissions by 43% below 2005 levels by 2030 when Parliament sits on July 26, Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen told the National Press Club.

Another bill would abolish import tariffs and taxes for electric vehicles that are cheaper than the luxury car threshold of 77,565 Australian dollars ($53,580).

Only 1.5% of cars sold in Australia are electric or plug-in hybrid, and passenger cars account for almost 10% of the nation’s emissions, the government said.

The new center-left Labor Party government expects EVs will account for 89% of Australian new car sales by 2030.

The government’s fleet will be converted to 75% no-emission vehicles, bolstering a second-hand EV market as government vehicles are sold after three years.

The new government has already officially informed the United Nations of Australia’s more ambitious 2030 target than the previous conservative Liberal Party-led administration had pursued, a reduction of 26% to 28%.

But Bowen said legislating the 43% target would create greater confidence.

“It’s about certainty and stability, mainly for the business investment community,” Bowen said.
» Read article    

» More about legislation

GREENING THE ECONOMY

now hiring
Energy sector job growth outpaces overall US economy, with strength in transportation, renewables: DOE
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
June 28, 2022

Energy jobs in the U.S. are growing faster than employment in the overall domestic economy, driven in particular by renewables and the development of clean transportation, according to a new analysis released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Energy sector jobs grew 4% in 2021, while employment across all industries rose just 2.8% in the same time period, according to the 2022 U.S. Energy & Employment Report.

Not all energy sectors saw growth, however. Employment in the fuels technology sector, which includes gas, coal and petroleum, declined by more than 29,271 jobs, or about 3.1%. The coal industry saw the greatest percentage decline, shedding 7,125 jobs and reducing employment by 11.8%, while gas saw a small increase.

The annual energy jobs report captures a unique period in the U.S. economy, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and with the Covid-19 recovery ongoing. It sketches out a new “starting gate” in the country’s efforts to build a skilled clean energy workforce, federal officials said.

“Notably, jobs in renewables, like solar and wind, outpaced economy-wide growth. And electric and hybrid vehicles posted a whopping 25% increase in employment,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a Monday call with reporters.

The United States is working to transform to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, and Granholm said 41% of all energy jobs last year were oriented towards that goal. “The jobs are growing in industries we need to support a 100% clean power sector, like energy efficiency, transportation and storage,” she said.
» Read article    
» Read the report

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

self-inflicted
Supreme Court rejects EPA ability to set fleet-wide GHG emissions standards for power plants
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
June 30, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency cannot set fleet-wide greenhouse gas emissions limits for existing power plants under the Clean Air Act’s Section 111(d), the Supreme Court ruled Thursday, dismissing arguments raised by a group of electric utilities, the Biden administration and others.

Congress did not give the EPA in Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act the explicit authority to set emissions caps based on the “generation shifting” approach the agency took in the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the decision, said.

“Today’s ruling limits the tools available to the [EPA] to sensibly reduce power plant emissions using cost-effective strategies that reflect the realities of an electric power system that is increasingly dynamic and diverse,” Jeff Dennis, Advanced Energy Economy general counsel and managing director, said in a statement. “In light of this Supreme Court decision, it will fall to Congress, state policymakers, and the markets to drive the transition to a clean energy economy.”

[…] Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by associate justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The court’s decision “strips” the EPA’s ability to respond to climate change, according to Kagan.

“The majority’s decision rests on one claim alone: that generation shifting is just too new and too big a deal for Congress to have authorized it in Section 111’s general terms,” Kagan said. “But that is wrong. A key reason Congress makes broad delegations like Section 111 is so an agency can respond, appropriately and commensurately, to new and big problems. Congress knows what it doesn’t and can’t know when it drafts a statute; and Congress therefore gives an expert agency the power to address issues — even significant ones — as and when they arise.”
» Read article    

Xcel wind farm
As Federal Climate-Fighting Tools Are Taken Away, Cities and States Step Up
Across the country, local governments are accelerating their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, in some cases bridging partisan divides. Their role will become increasingly important.
By Maggie Astor, New York Times
July 1, 2022

Legislators in Colorado, historically a major coal state, have passed more than 50 climate-related laws since 2019. The liquor store in the farming town of Morris, Minn., cools its beer with solar power. Voters in Athens, Ohio, imposed a carbon fee on themselves. Citizens in Fairfax County, Va., teamed up for a year and a half to produce a 214-page climate action plan.

Across the country, communities and states are accelerating their efforts to fight climate change as action stalls on the national level. This week, the Supreme Court curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, one of the biggest sources of planet-warming pollution — the latest example of how the Biden administration’s climate tools are getting chipped away.

During the Trump administration, which aggressively weakened environmental and climate protections, local efforts gained importance. Now, experts say, local action is even more critical for the United States — which is second only to China in emissions — to have a chance at helping the world avert the worst effects of global warming.

This patchwork approach is no substitute for a coordinated national strategy. Local governments have limited reach, authority and funding.

But as the legislative and regulatory options available in Washington, D.C., become increasingly constrained, “States are really critical to helping the country as a whole achieve our climate goals,” said Kyle Clark-Sutton, manager of the analysis team for the United States program at RMI, a clean energy think tank. “They have a real opportunity to lead. They have been leading.”
» Read article     

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

attic insulation
House bills would require demand response-enabled water heaters, strengthen weatherization program
By Robert Walton, Utility Dive
June 23, 2022

Bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives would authorize a national approach for residential water heaters to be utilized as demand response resources, in a bid to strengthen electric grid resilience and flexibility. H.R. 7962 was introduced by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.

The bill would direct the U.S. Department of Energy to consider requiring residential water heaters be manufactured with hardware and software capabilities to moderate their energy use in response to incentive payments or changes in the price of electricity.

Water heater manufacturers support the bill, but at a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing on Wednesday some lawmakers and groups wary of government overreach voiced privacy concerns in mandating the new capabilities.

Multiple states, including California and New York, have already passed measures to ensure some water heaters are manufactured to be demand-response capable. Manufacturers say they prefer a national standard to the “quagmire” of varied compliance requirements.

“This provision represents an opportunity to establish a national standard for a narrow product class of innovative water heating technology,” Joshua Greene, corporate vice president of government and industry affairs at water heater manufacturer A.O. Smith, told lawmakers.
» Read article    
» Read the bill, H.R. 7962

» More about energy efficiency

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Shiprock obscured
Will carbon capture help clean New Mexico’s power, or delay its transition?

A virtually unknown company has a $1.4 billion plan to extend the life of New Mexico’s largest coal-fired power plant by installing carbon capture. Critics say it’s likely to be a costly distraction from the state’s just transition.
By Jonathan P. Thompson, Energy News Network
June 29, 2022

As New Mexico lawmakers were putting the finishing touches on landmark legislation to help workers and communities transition from the closure of the state’s largest coal plant, the city of Farmington had other plans.

“We have reached a milestone that few people thought remotely possible,” City Manager Rob Mayes told the local newspaper in February 2019. An agreement was announced between the city and a New York holding firm called Acme Equities to keep the aging San Juan Generating Station operating past its scheduled 2022 retirement date.

The state’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, had planned to retire the massive coal-fired power plant, eliminating hundreds of jobs and millions in local tax revenue that the 2019 Energy Transition Act intended to address.

After working behind the scenes for months, though, local officials instead threw their support behind an obscure real estate hedge fund promising to keep the plant and its associated mine open by installing the largest carbon capture system on a power plant to date — by far.

The $1.4 billion plan baffled energy-economics experts. After all, PNM was abandoning the plant into which it had just invested millions of dollars in pollution-control technology because it was no longer economically tenable. It simply did not pencil out, as Karl Cates and Dennis Wamsted, of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis IEEFA detailed in a July 2019 report.

“IEEFA does not see much likelihood of the project going forward,” Cates and Wamsted wrote, “and the resulting liabilities to the city, either way, are potentially significant.”

Acme’s bid has been more durable than critics expected, though. Three years later, with the plant’s closure impending, the effort is still alive under a new name, Enchant Energy. And despite setbacks, missed benchmarks and questions about the scheme’s viability, Enchant Energy continues to say it will take over the plant later this summer.
» Read article   
» Read the 2019 IEEFA report

» More about CCS

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Dover city hall
Community power advocates excited to see progress on New Hampshire rules
The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission is finalizing community power rules that would allow municipalities to replace distribution utilities as the default procurer of electricity for residents and businesses.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
June 23, 2022

New Hampshire regulators are expected to propose final rules for community power programs on July 5, a crucial milestone for the 18 communities and one county hoping to begin buying electric power on their own.

The announcement comes as at least one of the state’s major utilities, Liberty, is seeking to double the per-kilowatt-hour price it charges ratepayers, citing rising generation costs at natural gas-fired plants. Eversource is expected to follow suit.

“The rate spikes we are seeing are the perfect example of why community power is a good option for towns to lower energy costs for their customers,” said Henry Herndon, a consultant working with the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire. “The spikes are a direct result of the distribution companies’ regulated procurement process, which requires them to go to market now, which just so happens to be the exact peak of the market.”

New Hampshire’s community power law, signed into law in 2019, authorizes municipalities to procure power on their own, using the collective buying power of all of their residents and businesses to secure competitive prices.

They will be able to actively manage their power portfolios, making it easier for them to deliver lower rates to customers, Herndon said. And they can choose where their power comes from, which can help those municipalities that have set decarbonization goals.
» Read article    
» Read the NH Community Power Law

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

climate criminals
Fossil fuel industry faces surge in climate lawsuits
Number of climate-related lawsuits globally has doubled since 2015, with quarter filed in past two years
By Isabella Kaminski, The Guardian
June 30, 2022

The world’s most polluting companies are increasingly being targeted by lawsuits challenging their inaction on climate change and attempts to spread misinformation, according to a new report.

Research by the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment found a surge in legal cases against the fossil fuel industry over the past year – especially outside the US – and growing action in other corporate sectors.

People have been filing legal challenges on climate change grounds since the mid-1980s, but it is a strategy that has recently come into its own. The number of climate change-related litigation lawsuits around the world has more than doubled since 2015 and roughly one quarter of the 2,002 recorded cases to date were filed in the past two years alone.

Most of those lawsuits are challenging state inaction, many inspired by the landmark 2019 ruling that ordered the Dutch government to cut its emissions.

But the fossil fuel industry is increasingly within the sights of campaigners. At least 13 cases have been filed against the largest Europe-based polluters and at least two in Australia against gas company Santos. Exxon, Eni and Sasol are all also involved in challenges to government decisions about oil and gas exploration and licensing in Guyana and South Africa.

The food and agriculture, transport, plastics and finance sectors are increasingly targets as well, the report finds.
» Read article   

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS BANS

RI bag ban
R.I. bans plastic bags at retailers statewide
“We have seen first-hand the damage that plastic bags do to our oceans and environment for many years now,” said Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, who sponsored the bill in the House
By Alexa Gagosz, Boston Globe
June 22, 2022

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island lawmakers have approved a long-fought bill to ban plastic bags at retail checkout lines.

The legislation, which passed on Tuesday night, was introduced by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, and Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, a Democrat from South Kingstown.

The legislation, which will now head to Governor Daniel J. McKee’s desk for his signature, requires retail establishments to offer recyclable bag options such as paper bags, or reusable bags that were brought in by the customer. Those who do not comply will be fined.

“We all know how dangerous plastic pollution is to the health of our oceans and marine life, and how it contributes to climate change,” said Ruggerio.

Approximately 17 municipalities have already enacted similar policies to reduce plastic use, including Newport, Providence, and Cranston. Barrington was the first town to adopt the ban a decade ago.

“I think it’s appropriate to be consistent throughout the state,” Ruggerio said.

Businesses that do not comply with the proposed ban will be fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $500 for a third and any subsequent offenses. The legislation said those penalties will reset each year.

The ban will take effect Jan. 1, 2024, or within one year of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management establishing the regulation — whichever comes first.
» Read article    

» More about plastics bans

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 3/18/22

banner 15

Welcome back.

When an energy company wants to build a new natural gas pipeline, planners typically start by ginning up demand for the fuel it will carry. A classic ploy is to get utilities to place orders for the right to buy the pipeline’s future capacity, a bit of fakery to imply that the infrastructure serves a “public necessity and convenience” that bears little relation to actual predicted energy demand. Once construction begins, the inevitable backlash is usually countered by claims that too much has already been invested and the project is so near completion that stopping it is both nonsensical and futile. The beleaguered Mountain Valley Pipeline is deep into this tactic now, with the help of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Agency has long played along with that game, facilitating a recent massive build-out of pipeline infrastructure. But the agency has lately lost significant court battles over its permits, and it is finally moving to require consideration of the environmental impact of burning all the fuel a pipeline will carry. BEAT is grateful to Food & Water Watch for their invaluable help in bringing a key lawsuit against Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, which is partly motivating FERC’s new focus on downstream emissions.

Progress is also coming from activist investors, who are pressuring major corporations to commit to responsible climate lobbying and threatening to take action during shareholder meetings if firms present a green image while working behind the scenes to support business-as-usual pollution. And healthcare workers are organizing to encourage large hospitals to divest from fossil fuels, even as oil-soaked Texas threatens its own (reverse) boycott of financial institutions that refuse to support fossils.

Meanwhile, science keeps finding new sources of greenhouse gas emissions. In the “win” column, the Environmental Protection Agency is phasing out globe-heating refrigerants and cracking down on illegal imports. On the other side, a recent study shows that methane emissions from coal mining are much greater than previously understood. That’s bad because methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and because we are currently looking at a global resurgence in coal production.

Our climate stories cover the increasingly alarming effects of the western megadrought, along with the encouraging news that a federal appeals court blocked a Trump-appointed judge’s order barring the Biden administration from considering the future costs of climate damage in its rulemaking and public projects. At the regional level, New England’s grid operator continues to take heat for policies that favor gas generator plants, while slow-walking modernization efforts.

There’s continuing progress in the effort to make the new green economy more diverse and inclusive, along with sustained pressure to transition faster. And check out some clever innovations in clean energy and energy efficiency. We also dug up some insight into why much of the rest of the world seems to get the most interesting new electric vehicles, while the US market is sometimes bypassed altogether.

We’ll close with a couple stories about mining – a huge issue in obtaining the necessary resources for our clean energy transition. We’re seeing calls to finally reform the General Mining Law of 1872, which President Ulyses S. Grant signed into law and still guides mining on public lands. We’re also keeping a wary eye on the push for deep-seabed mining, an endeavor raising increasing alarm among ocean scientists who deem it too dangerous to allow.

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

PIPELINES

MVP 55 prcnt
Manchin Lying about Mountain Valley Pipeline, Says Landowner

Residents in its path know the true story
By Paula Mann, The Appalachian Chronicle
March 12, 2022

GREENVILLE, W.Va. – Recently, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin met with the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) to discuss recent changes to regulations on pipeline construction, as the Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported. During the hearing and in the article, he spouted false claims that the fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is 95 percent complete, suggesting its completion is inevitable.

I live on the pipeline’s path and I can tell you with certainty that this is not true. Due to legal, financial, and political pressure, the project is only 55 percent complete, according to FERC.

Manchin says we must ramp up natural gas production for the sake of our country’s energy reliability and security. This is completely false. Only a rapid transition to clean energy will secure our energy independence. The climate crisis presents a massive threat to our country’s security – as the Department of Defense has asserted.

Manchin claims the completion of the MVP is for the good of our country. This is impossible because the MVP has negatively impacted rural communities like mine. People have lost vital water sources, both springs and wells, and their roads, fences and topsoil are being washed away from increased flooding along the pipeline route.

Some of the poorest and oldest residents in the state live along the route. That’s no coincidence. MVP targeted our rural communities because they thought we were easy targets. I can assure you, we are not. We have fought this pipeline tirelessly for seven years, and recent court decisions signal that we are winning.

Manchin stated that there were no pipelines to get the Marcellus Shale gas out of north central WV. This statement is also false. The WB Xpress and Mountaineer Xpress are two newly constructed pipelines to move gas out to the East and the West. The Mountain Valley Pipeline isn’t needed.
» Read article     

» More about pipelines

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

activist investors are watching
Investors launch global standard for corporate climate lobbying
By Simon Jessop, Reuters
March 14, 2022

Investors stepped up pressure on corporate climate lobbying on Monday, launching a new 14-point action plan for companies to stick to or risk having their actions put to a shareholder vote.

The Global Standard on Responsible Climate Lobbying urges companies to commit to responsible climate lobbying, disclose the support given to trade groups lobbying on their behalf and take action if it runs counter to the world’s climate goal.

That goal, to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial norms by mid-century, is moving increasingly out of reach, scientists say, with urgent action needed in the short-term to have any hope of reaching it.

Developed by Swedish pension scheme AP7, BNP Paribas Asset Management and the Church of England Pensions Board, the standard is backed by investor groups leading on climate talks with companies whose members manage a collective $130 trillion.

“Time must be called on negative climate lobbying. Investors will no longer tolerate a glaring gap between a company’s words and their actions on climate,” said AP7, Sustainability Strategist Charlotta Dawidowski Sydstrand.

“As active owners we are committed to engaging collectively and individually with companies globally to highlight and improve their climate lobbying accountability and performance and to escalate this stewardship where required.”

In a statement, the investors said that lobbying that sought to delay, dilute or block climate action by governments ran counter to their interests and could result in resolutions being filed at the shareholder meetings of firms that failed to act.
» Read article     

» More about protests and actions

DIVESTMENT

MSK cancer center
Healthcare Workers Call on Hospitals and Medical Institutions to Divest From Fossil Fuels
The global fossil fuel divestment campaign continues to grow, but the healthcare sector has thus far refrained from large-scale divestment. A coalition of health professionals wants to change that.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
March 14, 2022

A coalition of healthcare professionals and climate finance organizations are calling on hospitals to divest their pension and retirement funds from fossil fuels, citing the severe public health hazards from climate change.

“The research on the severe, ubiquitous and accelerating consequences to public health from climate change is unequivocal,” Dr. Ashley McClure, a primary care physician and co-Executive Director of the California-based nonprofit Climate Health Now, said in a statement. “Just as many leading health organizations have divested from tobacco companies given the unacceptable health harms of their products, our institutions must now invest in alignment with public health and collective safety by urgently divesting our resources from the coal, oil, and gas corporations fueling the climate crisis.”

Around the world, more than 1,500 institutions have announced divestments from fossil fuels with commitments that total more than $40 trillion, according to a database maintained by climate advocacy groups 350.org and Stand.earth. The pledges come from governments, philanthropies, universities, faith-based organizations, and pension funds.

But activists are pressing on a new front, demanding that hospitals and healthcare institutions sever their financial ties with fossil fuels. Named “First, Do No Harm,” the coalition of healthcare professionals and climate finance organizers is calling on medical institutions to exclude oil, gas, and coal from their pensions and retirement funds. They are also asking healthcare workers across the country to join in the effort and pressure their employers to take that step.

“Our sector has to act on this. This is a healthcare issue. Climate policy is health policy. We can no longer ignore the voluminous research that can directly connect serious healthcare threats to fossil fuel air pollution, for example,” Don Lieber, a certified surgical technician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, told DeSmog.
» Read article     

Texas state boycott
Companies that divest from fossil fuel could face a state boycott in Texas
By Mose Buchelle, NPR
March 15, 2022

As threats from climate change grow, big financial firms are betting on the energy transition. But that’s provoked a conservative backlash, with Texas leading states aiming to boycott such funds.
» Listen to report (4 minutes)     

» More about divestment

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

downstream effects
FERC failed to adequately review a gas pipeline project’s effect on carbon emissions: appeals court
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
March 14, 2022

FERC in mid-February adopted a new framework for reviewing natural gas infrastructure proposals that includes expanded criteria for deciding whether the facilities are needed and how they could affect people and the environment.

The framework also includes an interim policy for reviewing a project’s potential GHG emissions.

The framework, especially the GHG review criteria, has come under sharp criticism from FERC commissioners James Danly and Mark Christie, some U.S. senators, and the natural gas industry.

In part, the new review criteria are in response to a string of court rulings that found flaws in FERC’s natural gas infrastructure reviews, Glick said on Thursday during the CERAWeek conference. Those cases include Sabal Trail, Birckhead, Vecinos and Spire Pipeline. Courts have recently found other federal agencies failed to adequately review projects such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Dakota Access oil pipeline.

“The courts send these projects back to the agencies and what that does is it takes years of additional litigation, years of additional review, and it adds hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of dollars of cost,” Glick said.

FERC is trying to provide a more legally durable approach through the new review framework, according to Glick.

[…] The latest court case — Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action Team v. FERC — centered on FERC’s review of Tennessee Gas’ upgrade project in Agawam, Massachusetts. The project included a 2.1-mile stretch of pipeline and a compressor station.

Then-FERC Commissioner Glick partly dissented from the December 2019 decision approving the project, saying the agency didn’t adequately consider the project’s climate-related effects.

Citing the Sabal Trail and Birckhead decisions, the D.C. Circuit on Friday said FERC is required to consider a project’s indirect effects. The court remanded FERC’s decision to the agency and told it to perform a supplemental environmental assessment that must quantify and consider the project’s downstream carbon emissions or explain in detail why it cannot do so.
» Read article     

Route 75 Agawam
Federal regulators to reconsider controversial Springfield compressor station
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
March 11, 2022

Federal regulators will have to reconsider their approval of a controversial plan to expand natural gas infrastructure in the Springfield area, a federal court ruled on Friday.

The proposal, put forth by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC — a subsidiary of the energy giant Kinder Morgan — aims to build 2.1 miles of new gas pipeline and replace two small compressors with a larger unit at its Agawam site.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — an independent agency that grants permits to build interstate fuel pipelines and compressor stations — approved the plan in 2019 after conducting a necessary environmental review. But Friday’s decision, from the DC Circuit Court, calls that 2019 review into question.

The ruling came in response to a 2020 lawsuit filed by environmental groups Food and Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action Team, which alleged that the commission had ignored precedent requiring regulators to consider all potential greenhouse gas emissions of proposed pipelines.

In their lawsuit, the environmental groups argued that, though regulators assessed the emissions that will come directly from building and operating the new pipeline, they ignored the indirect “downstream” emissions that will come from burning the gas it would bring.

“FERC failed to review the emissions that would result due to more gas being pushed into a local distribution network for combustion by residential and commercial customers,” Adam Carlesco, staff attorney at Food and Water Watch.

Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said the ruling was a “big victory.” But she wished the court would have gone further.

The court’s ruling did not uphold another argument raised in the suit, that FERC should have also considered the greenhouse gas pollution that would come from producing and transporting gas to fill the new pipeline, saying the issue wasn’t adequately fleshed out.

The suit also argued that FERC’s 2019 assessment didn’t adequately consider how the project could worsen air quality in an area already plagued by pollution. But the court found that because none of its members live in close proximity to the proposal, Berkshire Environmental Action Team did not have legal standing to make those claims.

That’s particularly “disappointing,” said Winn, because just last month, FERC announced a new policy to consider projects’ effects on both the climate and environmental justice communities.

“The ruling falls in line with the first half of that policy … but not the second,” she said.
» Read article     

» More about FERC

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Ski Dubai
US Blocks Illegal Imports of Climate Damaging Refrigerants With New Rules

The EPA implemented new rules on the gases early this year, but the climate is already seeing its benefits.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
March 17, 2022

Just weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency began enforcing strict new limits on the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, the agency said it has blocked illegal imports of the harmful chemicals equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from burning 1.2 million barrels of oil.

Starting Jan. 1, U.S. chemical and equipment manufacturers were required to begin phasing down production and consumption of climate-damaging HFCs as mandated by the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, which was enacted in December 2020.

The rule will reduce domestic production and consumption of HFCs by 85 percent over the next 14 years and brings the U.S. into compliance with an international agreement known as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The agreement is expected to prevent up to 0.5 Celsius of climate warming by 2100 through requiring manufacturers to use chemical refrigerants that are less damaging to the climate.

The HFC regulation places strict limits on the volume of HFCs that individual companies can produce or import. A key part of the rule is robust enforcement by an interagency task force that includes the EPA, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other agencies to ensure that U.S. companies do not violate the rule by exceeding their limits with additional, illegal imports.

Over the past 10 weeks, the agencies have prevented illegal HFC shipments equivalent to approximately 530,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions, the EPA said in a press release on Tuesday.

“Our task force is already sending the clear message to potential violators that we are fortifying our borders against illegal imports,” said Joe Goffman, principal deputy assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in a written statement. “Strict enforcement of our HFC allowance program ensures that U.S. efforts to phase down these climate-damaging chemicals are successful.”
» Read article     

» More about EPA

GREENING THE ECONOMY

BEM interns
Massachusetts program seeks to diversify clean energy job opportunities
An internship program that initially attracted mostly “White males from private universities” has been retooled to open doors for people of color.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
March 16, 2022

A Massachusetts agency is expanding a pilot program to recruit students of color for internships with clean energy companies with the goal of laying the groundwork for more diversity and equity within the sector.

[…] Massachusetts has long been considered a leader in solar energy policies and adoption, and was ranked the top state for energy efficiency by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy for nine straight years. Now the state is poised to be the first to deploy large-scale offshore wind with the development of the Cape Wind project.

As these sectors continue to grow, state officials and environmental justice advocates have emphasized the importance of making sure people of color and low-income populations share in the economic gains the industries promise to deliver.

“Getting folks in on the ground level so they are able to rise as the industry grows is of the utmost importance,” said Susannah Hatch, clean energy coalition director for the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “There’s enormous opportunity.”

One of the ways the clean energy center is trying to tackle this problem is by adjusting its flagship clean energy internship program, which launched in 2011, to more actively recruit and engage students of color.

The central program works by matching potential interns with employers through an online database. Interested students submit their information and resumes to the system, then Massachusetts clean energy and water innovation companies can search for and hire interns from this pool. Businesses that hire interns through the program are reimbursed $16 per hour for the students’ work. Many employers pay interns more than the subsidy rate, and they are not allowed to pay less than $15 per hour. Each company can hire two interns through the program; if they want a third, they must choose an applicant who attends a community college.

In its first 10 years, the initiative matched 4,400 students with internships; 880 of these students ended up with part-time or full-time jobs at their host companies. From the beginning, however, the program seemed to attract a narrow demographic, Jacques said.

“When the program first started, it was heavily White males from private universities,” she said.

[…] Then, in 2021, the clean energy center added a new section, known as the Targeted Internship Program, dedicated to recruiting and mentoring interns of color and students from other underrepresented backgrounds. This initiative placed 38 students with employers around the state. The agency hopes last year’s performance was just a start.

“We’re trying again to really grow those numbers,” Jaques said. “We’re trying to make it more innovative and making sure we really are tapping underrepresented communities all across Massachusetts.”
» Read article     

broader break
US Bans Russian Oil But Activists Want Broader Break With Fossil Fuels

Phasing out the consumption of fossil fuels is seen as critical in both the fight against the climate crisis and the violence of petrostates.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
March 9, 2022

President Biden signed an executive order banning the import of Russian oil and gas on March 8, but activists around the world are calling for a more comprehensive break with fossil fuels, warning against replacing Russian fuels with a new drilling frenzy elsewhere.

[…] “Up until now, Russia has been taking in $500 million a day in oil and gas sales. That’s hundreds of billions every year that Putin can put toward suppressing his people, undermining western democracies, and building his war machine,” Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré, former commanding general of the U.S. First Army, told reporters during a media briefing. “Putin is weaponizing gas, and calls to increase exports play right into his hands.”

Led by Ukrainian activists, a coalition of more than 465 organizations across 50 countries signed a letter calling on the world to not only reject Russian oil and gas, but to rapidly phase out all fossil fuels.

“Continuing any relationship with Russia means supporting war in Ukraine, killing children, women, and men on the streets of peaceful cities,” Yevheniia Zasiadko, head of climate department at the Center for Environmental Initiatives Ecoaction, said in a statement accompanying the letter. “This is the breaking point, where Europe must completely abandon fossil fuel from Russia, stop all business and support of fossil projects.”

On the same day Biden announced the Russian fossil fuel ban, the European Commission proposed a strategy to slash Europe’s use of Russian gas by two-thirds within a year. The plan calls for more liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports and more gas storage, but also a rapid expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Europe is seeking to speed up its break with fossil fuels, while using more in the short run, but such a path in the U.S. is much more contested.

Coming off a rough few years with the pandemic, the oil industry now appears poised to capitalize off of the war and the chaos in energy markets. As industry executives gathered in Houston this week for the annual CERAWeek oil industry conference, many were “feeling very good about themselves,” as the New York Times put it. With oil prices soaring, quarterly profits are destined to balloon.
» Read article    
» Read the “Stand with Ukraine” letter

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Lake Powell 2021
Second-Largest U.S. Reservoir Falls to Historic Lows
By Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch
March 17, 2022

The second-largest reservoir in the U.S. dropped to a historic low on Tuesday as a climate-fueled megadrought continues in the nation’s West.

Lake Powell, which sits on the border of Utah and Arizona, fell below 3,525 feet for the first time since the reservoir was filled more than 50 years ago to create the Glen Canyon Dam, AP News reported. There are now concerns about the dam’s ability to continue generating energy in the near future as the water levels drop faster than anticipated.

“We clearly weren’t sufficiently prepared for the need to move this quickly,” John Fleck, who directs the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, told AP News.

The Western U.S. is in the midst of its worst megadrought in 1,200 years, and the climate crisis has made the drought 42 percent more extreme than it would have been otherwise. So far, most of the concerns surrounding the drought have revolved around the supply of water to California, Nevada and Arizona, AP News explained. However, the situation at Lake Powell reveals that hydroelectric power is now also at risk.

The Glen Canyon Dam provides power to around 5 million customers in Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Currently, water levels at Lake Powell are 35 feet above the point at which turbines would stop moving, otherwise known as “minimum power pool.”

The 3,525-foot level is considered a “target elevation” for drought contingency plans, according to CNN. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicted in early March that the water would fall to that level sometime between March 10 and 16. That the target has ultimately been breached is cause for alarm, experts said.
» Read article     

ExxonMobil refinery
‘Common-Sense Decision’: Court Allows Biden to Weigh Social Cost of Carbon
The decision to block a Trump-appointed judge’s order “puts the government back on track to address and assess climate change,” said one climate advocate.
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
March 17, 2022

Environmentalists applauded late Wednesday after a federal appeals court blocked a Trump-appointed judge’s order barring the Biden administration from considering the future costs of climate damage in its rulemaking and public projects.

In March 2021, a coalition of 10 Republican attorneys general sued the Biden administration over a White House directive instructing federal agencies to factor the “social cost of greenhouse gases” into their policymaking decisions, from new pollution regulations to drilling on public lands.

Last month, a federal judge in Louisiana sided with the Republicans, issuing a sweeping injunction prohibiting the Biden administration from factoring the cost of carbon—which it pegged at $51 per ton—into its policy moves. The Trump administration, by contrast, contended that each ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere in 2020 would only cause roughly $1 to $7 in economic damages.

The Wednesday ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit stayed the Louisiana judge’s injunction, allowing the Biden administration to continue using the $51-per-ton metric—a figure based on Obama-era assessments that some researchers and climate advocates say don’t account for the full scope of emissions damage.

One recent analysis estimated that the actual social cost of carbon dioxide—from negative health impacts to destroyed homes—is at least 15 times the number adopted by the Biden administration.
» Read article     

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

thing in photo
Australian electrolyser breakthrough promises world’s cheapest green hydrogen
By Sophie Vorrath, Renew Economy
March 16, 2022

An Australian start-up spun out of the University of Wollongong has claimed a major new breakthrough that promises to enable renewable hydrogen production of around $A2.00 per kilogram by the mid-2020s – out-competing fossil fuel-derived hydrogen.

Hysata, launched just last year out of UOW’s Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM), said on Wednesday that the breakthrough had put the company on a clear path to commercialise the world’s most efficient electrolyser, and to reach giga-scale green hydrogen production by 2025.

As RenewEconomy has previously reported, Hysata was formed to commercialise the promising electrolyser technology developed by a heavy-hitting team at the UOW’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, led by Professor Gerry Swiegers.

[…] In a report published this week in Nature Communications, the team behind Hysata’s “capillary-fed electrolysis” (CFE) cell technology, said they had used it successfully to produce green hydrogen from water at 98% cell energy efficiency – a level well above the International Renewable Energy Agency’s 2050 target.

As the researchers explain, the evolution of electrolysers has been about reducing resistance to increase efficiency. To this end, the team’s CFE cell completely eliminates bubbles – one of the biggest remaining drags on efficiency – making it the highest performing cell globally.

[…] “Our electrolyser will deliver the world’s lowest hydrogen cost, save hydrogen producers billions of dollars in electricity costs, and enable green hydrogen to outcompete fossil fuel-derived hydrogen.

“Our technology will enable hydrogen production of below US$1.50/kg per kilogram by the mid-2020s, meeting Australian and global cost targets much earlier than generally expected. This is critical to making green hydrogen commercially viable and decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors,” [Hysata CEO Paul Barrett] said.
» Read article     

partial rainbow
Could clean energy replace Russian oil?
Fossil fuel interests are calling for more domestic drilling to supplant Russia’s fossil fuels. But climate advocates say there’s a better alternative: Speeding the renewable energy transition.
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
March 14, 2022

Minutes after President Biden announced last week that the US will ban imports of Russian oil, the American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s largest oil and gas lobbying organization, issued a statement calling for more domestic drilling and increased gas exports to Europe.

It’s a rallying cry the fossil fuel trade group has been sounding since the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. So have an array of politicians and pundits.

But climate advocates say there’s a better alternative: Speeding the renewable energy transition.

“This is the time to get ourselves unhooked from our volatile fossil-fueled economy,” said Collin Rees, a program manager at climate research and advocacy group Oil Change International.

It’s clear the world needs to rapidly phase out polluting energy. A landmark UN climate report concluded that any delay in global cooperation to cut greenhouse gas emissions “will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

Increasing drilling, said author and activist Bill McKibben, would move us in the wrong direction: “It only gets us deeper into dependence on fossil fuel.”

Russian fuel comprises just a small portion of the US’s energy mix — only roughly 3 percent of crude imports came from the country last year. Bringing new dirty energy sources online to supplant that, said Rees, makes little sense.

“Instead, we can massively ramp up energy efficiency efforts and massively ramp up renewable energy sources like wind, solar,” he said.

For Europe, which obtains a much larger portion of its fuel from Russia, weaning off Russian energy imports will be harder. But it’s a challenge the EU may soon have to face: Russia is threatening to cut off European gas supplies, and the EU is also weighing cutting imports from Russia by two-thirds this year.
» Read article     

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Fortum
Microsoft data centres to heat Finnish homes, cutting emissions
By Reuters
March 17, 2022

Finnish utility Fortum (FORTUM.HE) said on Thursday it will use waste heat from two new Microsoft (MSFT.O) data centres to warm homes and businesses in and around the capital Helsinki, while also cutting carbon emissions.

Microsoft simultaneously announced plans for the construction of the data centres, which will be powered by renewable energy, with their location chosen to allow for recycling of heat created from the cooling of computer servers.

District heating is widely used in Finland, pumping hot water through pre-insulated underground pipes, and has traditionally relied on fossil fuel sources.

Fortum operates a system of underground pipes stretching 900 kilometres and serving 250,000 users in the Helsinki metropolitan area. Once completed, the data centres will account for 40% of the system’s heat supplies, the two firms said.

Fortum said its investment for the heat capture side from the data centres was estimated at 200 million euros ($221 million), with expectations this would cut some 400,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
» Read article     

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

capacity market tilts toward gas
ISO-NE’s market rules biased toward gas plants, renewable energy groups say in FERC complaint
By Ethan Howland, Utility Dive
March 16, 2022

ISO-NE has long warned New England has limited natural gas pipeline capacity, which the grid operator in December said could lead to blackouts under extreme winter conditions.

However, when qualifying resources for its capacity auctions, ISO-NE assumes gas-fired resources will always have fuel supplies and be able to operate, according to the complaint from ACPA and RENEW.

In contrast, the grid operator assesses how much capacity other resource types can reliably deliver, leading renewable resources to have accredited capacity well below their nameplate capacity, Francis Pullaro, RENEW executive director, said Wednesday.

If FERC approves the complaint, pipeline-dependent generators would get a “haircut” on how much capacity they could qualify for in ISO-NE’s capacity auctions, Pullaro said.

[…] The need for reliable operating reserves is especially acute as New England adds more intermittent resources to its power system, according to the complaint.

ISO-NE is starting a stakeholder process to consider changes to its capacity accreditation process by using an “effective load carrying capability” methodology, which could address some of the concerns raised in the complaint, the trade groups said.
» Read article     

smart meter NC
How a smarter grid can prevent blackouts
By Peter Behr, E&E News
March 16, 2022

As the grid strains under the weight of climate change and new sources of demand, one important way to prevent blackouts comes from an unlikely location: your house.

Customers who allow utilities to control heat pumps, water heaters and electric vehicle charging stations would give operators a potent new tool for managing grid systems in extreme weather emergencies, like the Western wildfires, Gulf Coast hurricanes and Texas’ 2021 power crisis, researchers say.

The issue was highlighted in a January report from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that said customers’ major energy resources, if synchronized with utilities’ control centers, can be “shock absorbers” helping balance power supply and demand in grid emergencies such as California’s 2020 rolling blackouts.

In the past, California customers have responded voluntarily to officials’ pleas for electricity conservation. That won’t be good enough in the future, the new analysis said. And the need for strategic power use will only grow as the amount of customer-owned solar panels, storage batteries and EV charging rises, it added.

“We’ll quickly get to a point where the number of devices and the variability of generation and load will drive a need for better coordination,” said Hayden Reeve, an author of the report and senior technical adviser at PNNL.

Such interactive customer-grid connections require fundamental changes in utility electricity rate policies, according to the lab’s analysis.

Instead of static customer rates that remain the same regardless of changing demand and wholesale power prices, U.S. utilities need “dynamic” rates that vary with demand, rewarding customers with lower costs when they shift energy use to overnight hours, for example, when power is typically cheapest and often cleanest, the researchers said.

But dynamic rates have faced persistent resistance from utilities, regulators and customers in most of the U.S. over more than a decade, government and private think tank studies have found.

[…] The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in its annual review of advanced meter deployment blamed regulators for the slow growth of dynamic rates.
» Read article    
» Read the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report
» Read the FERC review on advanced metering deployment

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

not for US
Here’s a Cool New EV, but You Can’t Have It
The new Volkswagen microbus is the latest electric vehicle set to debut in Europe, but U.S. consumers must wait. Why is that?
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
March 17, 2022

Volkswagen has given the world a first look at the new ID. Buzz, an all-electric van that takes design cues from the classic Volkswagen microbus.

Buyers in Europe can get the new model later this year. But customers in the United States will need to wait until 2024 for a larger version tailored to the U.S. market.

EV buyers in the United States are now used to this, as automakers have introduced some of their most anticipated new models in international markets. Some models take years to arrive in the United States or don’t arrive at all.

I reached out to Brian Moody, executive editor for Autotrader, to try to understand why American buyers need to wait for certain EVs, and what that says about the U.S. car market.

“It could be as simple as wanting to debut [a new model] on your home turf first,” Moody said, about Volkswagen’s plans. The van will initially be assembled in Hannover, Germany.

Among the other possible reasons, U.S. vehicle safety laws are some of the most stringent in the world, Moody said.

Also, EVs are a smaller share of the passenger car market in North America, with 4 percent of new vehicle sales in 2021, than they are in Europe, at 17 percent, and China, at 13 percent, according to EV-Volumes.com (figures include all-electric and hybrid vehicles). The recent surge in gasoline prices should help to boost interest in EVs in all of those places.

Policies play a role. The European Union and China have more policy support for electric vehicles than the United States does, which affects companies’ strategies in each place. The Biden administration’s Build Back Better legislation includes an extension and expansion of incentives for buying EVs, but the proposal has been unable to get the votes it needs to pass the Senate.
» Read article     

Barrett and Roy on TUE
Senate seeks fixed date for bus electrification

Poftak said more money needed to transition more quickly
By Chris Lisinski, Statehouse News Service, in CommonWealth Magazine
March 14, 2022

WARNING THAT the pace of electrification underway for the MBTA’s bus fleet is “too slow for the Legislature,” a top senator is newly forecasting that his chamber plans to make the transportation sector a focus in upcoming climate legislation.

Sen. Michael Barrett, who co-chairs the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, told leaders of the Baker administration’s transportation secretariat on Friday that he expects a forthcoming Senate bill will make another pass at requiring the T to transition its bus network to full electrification by a specific date.

MBTA officials are preparing for an all-electric-bus future and rolling more zero-emission vehicles into the fleet, but General Manager Steve Poftak told lawmakers the need for new charging stations and updated maintenance facilities poses a challenge, more so than the actual purchase of non-fossil fuel vehicles.

The T should have a full suite of garages up and ready to handle an electric fleet in roughly the next 15 to 18 years, Poftak said.

“We’d like to do them faster. In order to do them faster, we’re going to need additional money,” he said at a Joint Ways and Means Committee hearing about Gov. Charlie Baker’s $48.5 billion fiscal 2023 state budget. “It’s approximately a $4.5 billion investment in electrified facilities.”

“I don’t think the Legislature is going to wait 15 to 18 years to green the T fleet because we can’t get to our emissions goals, we can’t get 50 percent below 1990 levels in total statewide emissions, if we operate on those kinds of timeframes. It just doesn’t compute,” Barrett replied. “I can appreciate the complexity here, but that is not going to work.”
» Read article     

carbon up
High gas prices have a lot more people searching for electric vehicles
But not everyone can afford to buy a new (or used) EV.
By Chad Small, Grist
March 15, 2022

There’s a war going on in Europe. Gas prices are sky-high. What’s an American to do? Well, search for electric vehicles, apparently.

According to Cars.com, online searches for new and used electric vehicles more than doubled in the roughly two-week period following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That’s around the same time President Biden announced the U.S. would ban oil and gas imports from Russia, which produces a significant chunk of the world’s fossil fuels. As a result, gas prices across the U.S. have risen sharply, reaching an average of more than $4.30 a gallon, as of last week.

“When gas prices spike, searches immediately go toward more efficient vehicles,” Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor at Cars.com, told E&E news. ​​

Because they do not run on gasoline like a traditional combustion engine, electric vehicles, or EVs, spare their owners much of the stress associated with skyrocketing oil prices. The cost of charging an EV depends on a few factors, such as the model in question and the location you use to charge your vehicle. According to the Energy Department, a “tank” of electricity for a mid-size EV charged at home comes out to about $16. And, naturally, the benefits of EVs go beyond individual savings: Because electricity can be produced from renewable sources, EVs are appealing to drivers looking to mitigate their carbon footprints.
» Read article     

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

Lavendar Pit
As the US Rushes After the Minerals for the Energy Transition, a 150-Year-Old Law Allows Mining Companies Free Reign on Public Lands
The Mining Law of 1872 lets miners pay no royalties for the precious minerals they dig from federal land and requires no restraints on their activities.
By Jim Robbins, Inside Climate News
March 13, 2022

[…] In May of 1872, a couple of months after he signed the bill that created Yellowstone National Park, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the General Mining Law of 1872: An Act to Promote the Development of the Mining Resources of the United States. It gave carte blanche to anyone seeking minerals on federal lands, as a way to finish populating the West.

On hundreds of millions of acres owned by U.S. taxpayers, the law transfers gold, silver, copper, uranium, lithium and other metals, in vast amounts, from public ownership to anyone who locates them, pounds four stakes in the ground around their location and files a claim. Foreign firms can stake claims by forming a U.S. subsidiary. Unlike publicly owned oil and gas resources, miners pay no royalties on the metals and minerals they dig from public lands.

Since the law’s passage, the population of the American West has increased almost exponentially and today the lands it applies to are seen as part of the solution to a different challenge—weaning the nation’s economy off of the fossil fuels that drive climate change.

Production of lithium and other minerals critical to electrifying the world’s economy will need to increase by 500 percent to reach clean energy goals by 2050, according to the World Bank. The price of lithium has recently soared to more than $35,000 a ton.

With the Biden administration prioritizing a domestic supply chain of minerals for the energy transition, and federal law giving them away royalty free to mining companies, the U.S. is poised for an unprecedented expansion of digging, which could leave environmental damage at such a large scale it cannot effectively be remediated.

That’s led to a growing clamor for reform of the 1872 law as this new gold rush continues to boom.
» Read article     

» More about siting impacts    

DEEP-SEABED MINING

death license
Deep-sea mining could begin next year. Here’s why ocean experts are calling for a moratorium.
The risks vastly outweigh the potential benefits, they argue.
By Joseph Winters, Grist
March 7, 2022

[…] Deep-sea mining in international waters is currently illegal, and environmental organizations, scientists, and many governments want to keep it that way. They argue that the practice could irreversibly harm one of the planet’s remotest ecosystems, one of the few places on Earth that has largely escaped human disruption.

Now, their calls have become increasingly urgent, as international regulators are expected to begin issuing deep-sea mining permits by the summer of 2023. Activists are trying to enlist everyone from tech companies to United Nations delegates in an all-hands-on-deck push to stop mining companies from exploiting the seabed.

[…] The case for deep-sea mining is simple: As the world transitions away from fossil fuels, increased demand for technologies like electric vehicle batteries and solar panels will require massive quantities of cobalt, manganese, nickel, and other clean-energy metals. Land-based metal reserves are few and far between, and they’re often located near communities that are harmed by mining activities. But there are billions of dollars’ worth of these metals at the bottom of the ocean — far from civilization — and no one is yet taking advantage of them.

Some also argue that, by powering clean-energy technologies and thereby accelerating a shift away from fossil fuels, deep-sea mining will protect the oceans from unabated climate change. Rising CO2 emissions have already caused devastating ocean acidification, deoxygenation, and the decline of marine species populations around the world. Gerard Barron, CEO of the Metals Company, a Canadian firm that is already preparing vessels to begin mining the ocean deep, has argued that deep-sea mineral deposits are “the easiest way to solve climate change.”

However, ocean experts vehemently disagree. The deep sea is one of the planet’s most obscure places, home to tens or even hundreds of thousands of plant and animal species that are still unknown to humans. Scientists argue it would be reckless to disrupt this environment. According to research from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, more than half of marine species in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone — a mineral-rich fracture zone that extends 4,500 miles along the floor of the Pacific Ocean — are dependent on the deep-sea mineral deposits that mining companies have set their sights on. Removing these potato-shaped deposits, which are known as polymetallic nodules, “would trigger a cascade of negative effects on the ecosystem,” the researchers concluded. And recovery would be nearly impossible, given the fact that these nodules take millions of years to develop.

There are other worries, too. Deep-sea mining would kick up debris from the ocean floor, and scientists worry that clouds of sediment could clog marine species’ filtration systems and make it harder for them to see through the water. Sonic disruptions caused by mining could also reverberate far and wide, negatively impacting whales and other species that rely on sound waves to hunt for prey. Meanwhile, fishing industry representatives have highlighted the practice’s risks to commercial fish stocks.

“The threat to biodiversity is really quite concerning,” said Jeffrey Drazen, a professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Drazen also warned that seabed mining could potentially exacerbate climate change by disrupting carbon sequestration dynamics in the deep ocean.
» Read article     

» More about deep-seabed mining   

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Merthyr Tydfil mine
Coal Mining Emits More Super-Polluting Methane Than Venting and Flaring From Gas and Oil Wells, a New Study Finds
So much methane is released from coal mining, the Global Energy Monitor says, that it exceeds the carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal at over 1,100 coal-fired power plants in China.
By Phil McKenna, Inside Climate News
March 15, 2022

Methane emissions from coal mines worldwide exceed those from the global oil or gas sectors and are significantly higher than prior estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency and the International Energy Agency, a new Global Energy Monitor report concludes.

“The numbers just aren’t adding up,” Ryan Driskell Tate, the report’s author, said of coal mine methane emission estimates when compared to those in prior reports. “It’s an area that has dodged a lot of scrutiny.”

Coal mining emits 52 million metric tons of methane per year, more than is emitted from either the oil sector, which emits 39 million tons, or the gas industry, which emits 45 million tons, according to the report, published Tuesday.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas and the second leading driver of climate change after carbon dioxide. On a unit-per-unit basis, methane is more than 80 times as powerful at warming the planet as carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere. The gas slowly accumulates in coal seams as organic matter is converted to coal, a process that can take millions of years.

Methane emissions from coal mining worldwide are comparable to the vast carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal at over 1,100 coal-fired power plants in China over the near term, the report concludes. China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, derived more than 60 percent percent of its power in 2020 from burning coal, compared to about 19 percent in the United States.

“We all know that the oil and gas industry emits a lot of methane and that coal plants in China are a major source of CO2 emissions,” said Driskell Tate, the energy monitor’s project manager for its Global Coal Mine Tracker. “The most surprising thing about this report is just realizing that coal mining has a comparable climate impact.”
» Read article    
» Read the Global Energy Monitor report

» More about fossil fuels

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 2/25/22

banner 11

Welcome back.

The invasion of Ukraine is underway, and Russia is deploying access to oil and gas for advantage over that country (and Europe more broadly) just as brutally as missiles, bombs, and bullets. In a perfect world, we would have nearly completed our transition to clean energy by now – possibly avoiding this conflict altogether. In a rational world, this violence would focus and strengthen everyone’s resolve to accelerate the current sluggish pace of change. But we’re human – neither perfect nor even particularly rational – and so this moment presents a boon to the fossil fuel industry. As extraction sharply increases and windfall profits roll in, the continuing rise of global emissions is sowing seeds of future conflicts.

But there’s hopeful news too. Legal actions against fossil fuel polluters and infrastructure are finally forcing regulators to focus on environmental and climate impacts. The broadening divestment movement is calling out corporate conflicts of interest and operating with increasing coordination and sophistication. And cities like Boston are driving opportunities for greening the economy into communities that have previously been left out.

Progress is also happening in energy efficiency, where air-source heat pumps are proving they can keep homes comfortable through frosty New England winters. Advances in energy storage using non-toxic, abundant materials is hastening the day when renewables + storage can entirely support the electric grid. And we’re finding creative ways to deploy solar arrays that provide benefits beyond power generation.

Meanwhile, so-called hard to decarbonize industries like steel and cement could one day use “heat batteries” charged up from wind and solar sources to deliver high-temperature, zero-emissions process heat. This suggests an even greener (and cheaper) solution than using hydrogen for industrial processes.

All those good things are happening because people are paying attention and staying involved. And there’s plenty to do. Pipelines continue to be proposed and permitted, grid operators still resist modernizing, and some of the biggest polluters are pushing false solutions like carbon capture and storage as an excuse to extend their ride on business as usual. Cities attempting to ban gas hookups in new construction are meeting resistance from the gas industry and their Republican enablers. But state utility regulators are – at least in some cases – starting to take a hard look at the need to decarbonize the natural gas distribution system, to the point of paring it back in favor of building electrification.

We’ll close with a look at the effect of plastics in the environment, and check progress on the UN’s global plastics treaty currently being drafted in Nairobi, Kenya. Fiercely opposed by the fossil fuel and chemical industries, the limitation of single-use plastics is hugely popular all over the world.

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

— The NFGiM Team

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

SCOTUS on DAPL
US supreme court rejects Dakota Access pipeline appeal
Pipeline operator sought to overturn 2020 legal victory striking down a key federal permit
By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian
February 22, 2022

The US supreme court has rejected a case by the Dakota Access oil pipeline operator to avoid a legally mandated environmental review, in a major victory for tribes and environmentalists campaigning to permanently shut down the polluting energy project.

Energy Transfer, the pipeline operator, had sought to overturn a legal victory won by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in 2020 that struck down a key federal permit that violated the National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa).

On Tuesday the US supreme court rejected the company’s bid to challenge the 2020 ruling, which required the US army corps of engineers to conduct a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS).

As a result, the lower court’s decision remains intact and the army corps must complete a review of the pipeline’s route underneath Lake Oahe, which straddles the border of North Dakota and South Dakota, that complies with Nepa. Indigenous communities rely on the lake, which they consider sacred, for drinking water and food.

The ruling is a huge victory for North Dakota tribes including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.

It signals the end of the litigation road for the Texan energy company, but the pipeline, known as DAPL and open since 2017, will continue to operate as the review is carried out.
» Read article      

» More about protests and actions       

PIPELINES

pipe dreams 2022
Global Gas Pipeline Boom Poses Climate, Financial Disaster
“The fact that nearly half-a-trillion dollars of gas pipelines are in development makes no sense economically as many of these projects will become stranded assets as the world transitions to renewables.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
February 22, 2022

As campaigners and scientists continue to demand keeping fossil fuels in the ground, an analysis on Tuesday revealed the incredible amount of gas development humanity has planned, despite the climate and financial risks.

The new report—entitled Pipe Dreams 2022: Stranded assets and magical thinking in the proposed global gas pipeline build-out—was authored by a trio of experts at the San Francisco-based Global Energy Monitor (GEM).

“A slowdown in gas pipeline development in 2021 was, unfortunately, more about Covid than a recognition that gas is contributing to the climate crisis,” said report co-author Baird Langenbrunner, a research analyst at GEM, in a statement.

“Looking ahead, the fact that nearly half-a-trillion dollars of gas pipelines are in development makes no sense economically,” he warned, “as many of these projects will become stranded assets as the world transitions to renewable.”

Stranded assets, as Carbon Tracker explains, are “assets that turn out to be worth less than expected as a result of changes associated with the energy transition.”

The GEM report states that “after a Covid-19-related drop in pipeline commissionings in 2021, the gas industry and gas-positive countries led by China, India, Russia, Australia, the United States, and Brazil are pushing ahead with plans to commission tens of thousands of kilometers of gas pipelines in 2022.”

The analysis projects that the planned expansion of the global gas pipeline network—70,889 kilometers (km) or 44,048 miles in construction and another 122,477 km or 76,104 miles in pre-construction development—creates a $485.8 billion stranded asset risk, in addition to jeopardizing the chances of meeting the Paris climate agreement’s goals.
» Read article     
» Read the GEM report

business as usual project
Eversource establishes gas reliability project plan, despite concerns
By Sarah Heinonen and Matt Conway, The Reminder
February 18, 2022

Eversource Energy introduced a gas reliability project during the latter half of 2021, with the proposed structure potentially adding a new point of delivery system in Longmeadow.

The proposed project would also bring the installation of a steel mainline between the new Longmeadow location and the gas line’s existing regulator station in Springfield, as well as upgrades to the existing gas line connected to an Agawam regulator station. As Eversource presents to the central communities involved, the project is already garnering an array of different perspectives.

Springfield’s Sustainability and Environment Committee heard the first Eversource presentation of the project during an Oct. 14 meeting. Eversource Energy’s Community Relations and Economic Development Specialist Joseph Mitchell showcased a presentation detailing, according to Eversource, the project’s necessity, stressing that the proposed point of delivery system will ensure that residents would not experience service outages if one of the points of delivery systems are affected by extreme weather or other disruptions.

“This is a reliability project, not an expansion project. We want to mitigate the risk in the greater Springfield area,” said Mitchell. Before finalizing the new point of delivery system’s plans, Mitchell presented different deviations of the pipeline’s potential route. Eversource’s shortest and preferred route would cost $22.7 million, while the company’s largest route costs $32.7 million.

In the aftermath of the presentation, Chairman of the Sustainability and Environment Committee and City Councilor At-Large Jesse Lederman expressed his perspective on the project by calling for an Independent Cost/Benefit Analysis from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU). The councilor explained his concerns as a part of his mission to ensure accountability between public utilities and Springfield.

Lederman cited two major reasons for calling for the independent examination. He expressed concern about investing in gas projects as the nation steadily embraces renewable energy sources while also questioning the viability of the proposed point of delivery system as a necessary addition.

“If we know that the benefit is not really there, then I think you’re going to have a strong case for the DPU to push back on this proposal,” said Lederman in an interview with Reminder Publishing. The councilor shared that the reliability project started as a rumor when Columbia Gas worked with the city before being acquired by Eversource in 2020.
» Read article      

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

Elsevier conflictedRevealed: leading climate research publisher helps fuel oil and gas drilling
Elsevier’s work with fossil fuel companies ‘drags us towards disaster’, climate researcher says
By Amy Westervelt, The Guardian
February 24, 2022

Scientists working with one of the world’s largest climate research publishers say they’re increasingly alarmed that the company works with the fossil fuel industry to help increase oil and gas drilling, the Guardian can reveal.

Elsevier, a Dutch company behind many renowned peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the Lancet and Global Environmental Change, is also one of the top publishers of books aimed at expanding fossil fuel production.

For more than a decade, the company has supported the energy industry’s efforts to optimize oil and gas extraction. It commissions authors, editors and journal advisory board members who are employees at top oil firms. Elsevier also markets some of its research portals and data services directly to the oil and gas industry to help “increase the odds of exploration success”.

Several former and current employees say that for the past year, dozens of workers have spoken out internally and at company-wide town halls to urge Elsevier to reconsider its relationship with the fossil fuel industry.

“When I first started, I heard a lot about the company’s climate commitments,” said a former Elsevier journal editor who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “Eventually I just realized it was all marketing, which is really upsetting because Elsevier has published all the research it needs to know exactly what to do if it wants to make a meaningful difference.”

What makes Elsevier’s ties to the fossil fuel industry particularly alarming to its critics is that it is one of a handful of companies that publish peer-reviewed climate research. Scientists and academics say they’re concerned that Elsevier’s conflicting business interests risk undermining their work.
» Read article     

loyalty
The campus divestment movement has a sophisticated new legal strategy
Students at five universities have launched a coordinated legal campaign against fossil fuel investments.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
February 16, 2022

Students and faculty have been asking universities to divest from fossil fuels for more than a decade now. But what started as a campaign to erode the industry’s “social license to operate” is developing more sophisticated arguments about fiduciary duty and prudent investing.

On Wednesday, student divestment activists from Yale, Princeton, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, and Vanderbilt filed legal complaints with their respective states’ attorney generals’ offices accusing their schools of violating the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, or UPMIFA. Every state in the U.S. except for Pennsylvania has passed a version of UPMIFA, which establishes investing principles that nonprofit endowment managers must follow. The students hope the coordinated action will not only pressure their own schools into divesting but potentially set a new legal precedent for all institutional investors.

“We didn’t just write this 80-page document to, like, make Yale scared,” said Molly Weiner, a freshman at Yale and organizer with the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition, a campus activist group. “If Attorney General William Tong does decide to open an investigation into fossil fuel investments, that means that in all of Connecticut, there is a clear imperative for pension funds and all other sort of institutional endowments with charitable statuses to divest. And it sets a powerful precedent for other states as well.”

While the law varies slightly by state, UPMIFA generally binds institutional endowment managers to consider the “charitable purpose” of the institution while investing, to invest with “prudence,” and to invest with “loyalty.”
» Read article      

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Davo Jefferson
Boston will put young people to work as part of city’s Green New Deal
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
February 23, 2022

Moving to a new green economy could bring thousands of new jobs to Boston, but right now, that transition isn’t happening fast enough. An upcoming city initiative aims to speed up the process while ensuring new positions go to those who need them most.

The Youth Green Jobs Corps will provide green job training and placement for unemployed and underemployed Boston residents between the ages of 18 and 30, including formerly incarcerated people. Last week, Mayor Wu announced the program will be led by Davo Jefferson, a longtime social justice reform advocate who says he “gets a charge like nothing else” out of helping people find jobs.

“This is my life’s passion, to help folks prepare for opportunities that they may have difficulty preparing for on their own,” he said.

Jefferson has spent the past 20 years helping kids, young adults, and re-entering citizens find work of all kinds, from entry-level finance roles to jobs in warehouses. Bringing those skills to the green economy, he said, “just makes sense.”

“This is an emerging field with tremendous growth potential for livable wage employment,” he said.

Jefferson says the new program will accelerate the transition to an economy that is not only more climate-friendly, but also fairer. Right now, green jobs aren’t equally accessible to people of all backgrounds. Employees of both the National Park Service and the solar industry, for instance, are overwhelmingly white.

“Marginalized communities are always last to get a seat at the table when these types of opportunities are available,” he said. “This will give the people from those communities a chance to get their foot in the door.”
» Read article      

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Gelsenkirchen coal plant
Climate Fears on Back Burner as Fuel Costs Soar and Russia Crisis Deepens
Energy security has gained prominence while the conflict in Ukraine raises concerns over the possible interruption in the supply of oil and natural gas.
By Patricia Cohen, New York Times
February 23, 2022

It was only three months ago that world leaders met at the Glasgow climate summit and made ambitious pledges to reduce fossil fuel use. The perils of a warming planet are no less calamitous now, but the debate about the critically important transition to renewable energy has taken a back seat to energy security as Russia — Europe’s largest energy supplier — threatens to start a major confrontation with the West over Ukraine while oil prices are climbing toward $100 a barrel.

For more than a decade, policy discussions in Europe and beyond about cutting back on gas, oil and coal emphasized safety and the environment, at the expense of financial and economic considerations, said Lucia van Geuns, a strategic energy adviser at the Hague Center for Strategic Studies. Now, it’s the reverse.

“Gas prices became very high, and all of a sudden security of supply and price became the main subject of public debate,” she said.

The renewed emphasis on energy independence and national security may encourage policymakers to backslide on efforts to decrease the use of fossil fuels that pump deadly greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Already, skyrocketing prices have spurred additional production and consumption of fuels that contribute to global warming. Coal imports to the European Union in January rose more than 56 percent from the previous year.

In Britain, the Coal Authority gave a mine in Wales permission last month to increase output by 40 million tons over the next two decades. In Australia, there are plans to open or expand more coking coal mines. And China, which has traditionally made energy security a priority, has further stepped up its coal production and approved three new billion-dollar coal mines this week.

“Get your rig count up,” Jennifer Granholm, the U.S. energy secretary, said in December, urging American oil producers to raise their output. Shale companies in Oklahoma, Colorado and other states are looking to resurrect drilling that had ceased because there is suddenly money to be made. And this month, Exxon Mobil announced plans to increase spending on new oil wells and other projects.

Ian Goldin, a professor of globalization and development at the University of Oxford, warned that high energy prices could lead to more exploration of traditional fossil fuels. “Governments will want to deprioritize renewables and sustainables, which would be exactly the wrong response,” he said.
» Read article      

western slope fog
Climate change is intensifying Earth’s water cycle at twice the predicted rate, research shows
Rising temperatures pushing much more freshwater towards poles than climate models previously estimated
By Donna Lu, The Guardian
February 23, 2022

Rising global temperatures have shifted at least twice the amount of freshwater from warm regions towards the Earth’s poles than previously thought as the water cycle intensifies, according to new analysis.

Climate change has intensified the global water cycle by up to 7.4% – compared to previous modelling estimates of 2% to 4%, research published in the journal Nature suggests.

The water cycle describes the movement of water on Earth – it evaporates, rises into the atmosphere, cools and condenses into rain or snow and falls again to the surface.

“When we learn about the water cycle, traditionally we think of it as some unchanging process which is constantly filling and refilling our dams, our lakes, and our water sources,” the study’s lead author, Dr Taimoor Sohail of the University of New South Wales, said.

But scientists have long known that rising global temperatures are intensifying the global water cycle, with dry subtropical regions likely to get drier as freshwater moves towards wet regions.

Last August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report concluded that climate change will cause long-term changes to the water cycle, resulting in stronger and more frequent droughts and extreme rainfall events.

Sohail said the volume of extra freshwater that had already been pushed to the poles as a result of an intensifying water cycle was far greater than previous climate models suggest.

“Those dire predictions that were laid out in the IPCC will potentially be even more intense,” he said.
» Read article
» Read the study

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

high energy bills
Will rising gas prices hasten the switch to renewables?
The soaring cost of energy is top of mind for consumers worldwide. How will the increase affect climate and energy policy?
By Dave Keating, Energy Monitor
February 21, 2022

Energy prices are soaring, chiefly driven by a sharp increase in the price of natural gas. Few places are feeling this more acutely than Europe, which is heavily reliant on gas imports for both heat and electricity. Natural gas in Europe now costs as much as €150 per megawatt hour (MWh), compared with an average of €49/MWh last year. During a visit to Washington, D.C. earlier this month, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said one way to ride out the storm is to accelerate the energy transition toward renewables – but is there any evidence this is happening in the short term?

The good news, according to a recent report by climate think tank Ember, is gas power generation is being replaced with renewable energy because renewables have become the cheapest form of electricity by far. Last year saw a decline in fossil fuels’ share of electricity production in the EU, from 39% in 2019 to 37% in 2021. Renewable electricity has had an average annual growth of 44 terawatt-hours over the past two years, and more than half of that new wind and solar power replaced gas plants.

The bad news is those renewables were until now going to replace coal instead of gas. From 2011 to 2019, more than 80% of new renewables came at the expense of coal, according to the Ember report. Because there are not yet enough renewables online to replace both, that means the decline in coal is slowing because there are less renewables available to replace it – they are busy replacing gas – and yet coal is much more emissions-intensive than gas.

“The gas crisis has really demonstrated that Europe needs to get serious about renewables deployment,” says Charles Moore from Ember. “Europe has been focused on coal, but not gas. The gas crisis is a big wake-up call. We need to get off both coal and gas by 2035.”
» Read article      

Amsterdam wind farm
US offshore wind auction attracts record-setting bids
The auction marks the US effort to bolster renewable energy development projects – it has lagged behind Europe.
By Al Jazeera
February 23, 2022

The largest ever US sale of offshore wind development rights – for areas off the coasts of New York and New Jersey – attracted record-setting bids on Wednesday from companies seeking to be a part of President Joe Biden’s plan to create a booming new domestic industry.

It is the first offshore wind lease sale under Biden, who has made expansion of offshore wind a cornerstone of his strategy to address global warming and decarbonise the US electricity grid by 2035, all while creating thousands of jobs.

With bidding still under way, the auction was on track to easily top the $405m US offshore wind auction record set in 2018, according to updates posted on the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) website.

The auction’s scale marks a major step forward for offshore wind power in the United States, which has lagged European nations in developing the technology. Currently, the US has just two small offshore wind facilities, off the coasts of Rhode Island and Virginia, along with two additional commercial-scale projects recently approved for development.

BOEM, which has not held an auction for wind leases since 2018, is offering 488,201 acres (197,568 hectares) in shallow waters between New York’s Long Island and New Jersey, an area known as the New York Bight.
» Read article      

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Martin HP
Granite Geek: Heat pumps don’t seem like they’d work here but they’re the future of home heating – and air conditioning
By DAVID BROOKS, Concord Monitor
February 21, 2022

Heat pumps are getting attention because one of the main slogans for those trying to reduce future climate change is to “electrify everything.”  Electricity can become clean in ways that fossil fuels can never be and electric motors are usually more efficient than internal-combustion motors – and heat pumps are more efficient than fossil-fuel furnaces, often by a factor of three or four. This is why Massachusetts wants to switch 1 million homes from oil or gas to heat pumps by 2030.

So what is a heat pump? (Terrible name, by the way). Just a machine with the same technology as a refrigerator. It absorbs heat in one place by condensing liquids, pumps that liquid somewhere else and then expands it to release the heat.

Most home heat pumps consist of an outdoor compressor that looks like a ground-mounted air conditioning unit, with tubes that go into the building carrying liquid or vapor, generally ending up in wall-mounted units called mini-splits (another terrible name). Those units blast out warm or cool air.

Cool air? One of their huge advantages is that the heat can be moved from indoors to outdoors or the other way around. In other words, they are simultaneously a furnace and an air conditioner.

As New Hampshire’s summers get hotter this is a big selling point, said Austin Atamian, who owns Atamian Heating in Greenland.

“A lot of people call and say hey, I’ve got baseboard hot-water heat and looking to add A.C. When I let them know they can use this for heat and save money. it’s usually a huge perk,” he said. “Generally people are in search of A.C. and the heat is a bonus.”

And before you ask – yes, modern heat pumps can keep us warm even in mid-winter, although they lose efficiency on the coldest nights and cost more to run. In case you doubt this, consider that they are very popular in Sweden, where winters are at least as gnarly as ours.
» Read article      

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

hot product
How a high-tech twist on a 19th-century process could clean up steel and cement making
This startup made a heat battery using old-school materials
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 22, 2022

Greenhouse gas emissions need to virtually disappear within the next few decades to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and the most difficult emissions to erase could come from industries like steel and cement set to play a big role in new, green infrastructure. Wind turbines, for example, are made mostly of steel — but, at least until now, it’s been almost unheard of to make that steel using renewable energy.

That could start to change if a startup developing a “heat battery” can successfully move from the lab to the real world. It’s what Oakland, California-based Rondo Energy aims to do with $22 million in new funding from Bill Gates’ climate investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and utility-backed investment firm Energy Impact Partners.

The heat battery is supposed to be able to supply heavy industry with extreme heat generated by renewable energy, a solution that could help clean up the pesky industrial operations that make up about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The company thinks its technology can cut down global emissions by 1 percent over the next decade.

Until recently, a lot of efforts to cut planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions have focused on getting the power sector to run on clean energy and then electrifying other sources of pollution like cars and buildings. But that doesn’t necessarily slash pollution that comes from making many construction materials, chemicals, and fertilizers.

Those industries have been called “hard to decarbonize” because they often rely on coal, oil, or gas to fire up kilns or furnaces to extremely high temperatures. Steelmaking, for instance, conventionally involves heating up coal to about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result of this dirty process and steel’s ubiquity in construction, the steel industry alone makes up about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

To change that, Rondo Energy has found a new way to use old tricks. Its battery draws on renewable energy to heat up a sort of brick that’s similar to refractory bricks already used in blast furnaces for steel.

Rondo Energy CEO John O’Donnell describes his company’s battery as a large “insulated shoebox full of brick.” Electricity heats the brick rapidly. As air passes through the array of bricks, it gets superheated — reaching about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That heat can be used directly or turned into high-pressure steam often used in manufacturing.

“Because it’s simple and boring, [the technology] can go to a very large scale with economics driving it and attack a big problem,” O’Donnell tells The Verge.
» Read article      

» More about building materials

ENERGY STORAGE

ESS flow battery
We’re going to need a lot more grid storage. New iron batteries could help.
Flow batteries made from iron, salt, and water promise a nontoxic way to store enough clean energy to use when the sun isn’t shining.
By Dawn Stover, MIT Technology Review
February 23, 2022

One of the first things you see when you visit the headquarters of ESS in Wilsonville, Oregon, is an experimental battery module about the size of a toaster. The company’s founders built it in their lab a decade ago to meet a challenge they knew grid operators around the world would soon face—storing electricity at massive scale.

Unlike today’s lithium-ion batteries, ESS’s design largely relies on materials that are cheap, abundant, and nontoxic: iron, salt, and water. Another difference: while makers of lithium-ion batteries aim to make them small enough to fit inside ever shrinking phones and laptops, each version of the iron battery is bigger than the last.

In fact, what ESS is building today hardly resembles a battery at all. At a loading dock on the back side of the ESS facility, employees are assembling devices that fill entire shipping containers. Each one has enough energy storage capacity to power about 34 US houses for 12 hours.

[…]ESS’s key innovation, though, is not the battery’s size—it’s the chemistry and engineering that allow utilities to bank a lot more energy than is economically feasible with grid-connected lithium-ion batteries, which are currently limited to about four hours of storage.

The iron “flow batteries” ESS is building are just one of several energy storage technologies that are suddenly in demand, thanks to the push to decarbonize the electricity sector and stabilize the climate. As the electric grid starts depending more on intermittent solar and wind power rather than fossil fuels, utilities that just a couple of years ago were looking for batteries to store two to four hours of electricity are now asking for systems that can deliver eight hours or more. Longer-lasting batteries will be required so that electricity is available when people need it, rather than when it’s generated—just as ESS’s founders anticipated.
» Read article      

» More about energy storage

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLES

Turlock irrigation canal
In Parched California, a Project Aims to Save Water and Produce Renewable Energy
Plan calls for building solar canopies over canals, and may be the first project of its kind in the United States
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
February 24, 2022

A project near Modesto, California, would have the double benefit of saving water and generating renewable energy.

The Turlock Irrigation District announced this month that it is building solar electricity-generating canopies over portions of the district’s canal system, working in partnership with a Bay Area start-up, Solar AquaGrid.

A series of canopies would cover more than a mile of canals, going online by 2024 with solar panels that would have a capacity of about 5 megawatts. By shading the sun, the structures would reduce evaporation, leaving more water for the district’s customers. And the cost, estimated at $20 million, is being picked up by the state government.

This is the first demonstration project by Solar AquaGrid, a company that sees the potential to install similar canopies over thousands of miles of canals in California and elsewhere.

Jordan Harris, the company’s CEO, told me that the idea for Solar AquaGrid came from him noticing how California canals were often in direct sunlight, while canals in France are often shaded by canopies of trees.
» Read article      

agrivoltaic pilot
Kenya to use solar panels to boost crops by ‘harvesting the sun twice’
Successful trials found growing crops beneath panels – known as agrivoltaics – reduced water loss and resulted in larger plants
By Geoffrey Kamadi, The Guardian
February 22, 2022

Solar panels are not a new way of providing cheap power across much of the African continent, where there is rarely a shortage of sunshine. But growing crops underneath the panels is, and the process has had such promising trials in Kenya that it will be deployed this week in open-field farms.

Known as agrivoltaics, the technique harvests solar energy twice: where panels have traditionally been used to harness the sun’s rays to generate energy, they are also utilised to provide shade for growing crops, helping to retain moisture in the soil and boosting growth.

An initial year-long research collaboration between the University of Sheffield, World Agroforestry and the Kajiado-based Latia Agripreneurship Institute has shown promising results in the semi-arid Kajiado county, a 90-minute drive from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi and this week the full project will be officially launched.

For example, cabbages grown under the 180, 345-watt solar panels have been a third bigger, and healthier, than those grown in control plots with the same amount of fertiliser and water.

Other crops such as aubergine and lettuce have shown similar results. Maize grown under the panels was taller and healthier, according to Judy Wairimu, an agronomist at the institute.

“We wanted to see how crops would perform if grown under these panels,” said Wairimu. But there is another pragmatic reason behind the technology: doubling up the output of the same patch of earth to generate power and cultivate food can go a long way towards helping people with limited land resources, she said.

According to Dr Richard Randle-Boggis, a researcher at the University of Sheffield’s Harvesting the Sun Twice project, the trial initiative will determine the potential of agrivoltaic systems in east Africa.
» Read article      

» More about siting impacts of renewables

MODERNIZING THE GRID

PJM fat market
How PJM’s ‘fat market’ for capacity fuels environmental injustice and consumer expense
By Liz Stanton and Joshua Castigliego, Utility Dive | Opinion
February 24, 2022

A lot of ears perked when Federal Energy Commission Chair Richard Glick called out the “obsession” with increasing power plant revenues in the largest U.S. wholesale power market. It’s not every day the nation’s top energy regulator speaks quite so bluntly, urging an end to the focus on “bolstering uneconomic generation” in the 13-state PJM Interconnection region.

There has been attention before to the ways PJM’s annual market for electric “capacity” – power to meet future demand – overbuys and overpays generation owners. But prior analysis has typically focused on the total megawatts of excess capacity being procured. To get more specific is difficult, given that individual power plant costs are not publicly disclosed. Yet communities and state officials would be well-served with more detail. Which types of units are being paid even though their capacity is expensive and unnecessary? Are there implications for environmental justice communities given the plants’ locations?

To help provide some daylight, our research team used public data on power plants’ size, age, location, plant type and history of use to model the costs of existing and proposed coal and gas units in PJM’s market to buy capacity for 2021/22, which was held in 2018. We also mapped generators in relation to environmental justice communities using the definition of the Department of Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania, the state where PJM is headquartered. This means census tracts in which more than 20% of residents live at or below the federal poverty level, or where more than 30% are people of color.

Region-wide in PJM, we find that the majority of existing fossil fuel units are located directly in or within a mile of an environmental justice community. More than 80% are located within five miles. Zeroing in on just those existing and proposed coal and gas units benefitting from excess capacity procurement in the PJM market, what we term the PJM “fat market,” we estimate that there are 77 uneconomic generating units receiving these excess payments. This is based on modeling plants’ capacity market offer prices and also estimating the market clearing price we might see in a more efficiently-run PJM market, one that’s not overbuying so much.

A third of the 77 units we estimate to be receiving fat market revenues in PJM are proposed gas units, which often rely partly on capacity payments to secure financing. Two-thirds are existing units on the grid today. Significantly, a substantial majority of these 77 “fat market” coal and gas units are located or planned within five miles of an environmental justice community, and nearly half are within a mile. We estimate that, region-wide, customers are paying $4.3 billion for the excess capacity.
» Read article      

» More about modernizing the grid       

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Petra Nova scrap heapCarbon capture tech is advancing in the wrong direction
It’s increasingly being paired with fossil fuel power plants
By Justine Calma, The Verge
February 18, 2022

Carbon capture tech that’s often sold as a solution for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from heavy industry — the most difficult sector to decarbonize — is still far off track from accomplishing that, according to a recent analysis by financial services firm ING.

The pipeline of new carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, which aim to remove CO2 from power plants’ and industrial facilities’ emissions, is growing. But the majority of projects expected to come online this decade don’t tackle industrial pollution. Instead, the biggest growth is expected to be in carbon capture paired with fossil fuel power plants, similar to how the majority of the 40 million metric tons of CCS capacity the world has today is used in natural gas processing.

That outlook doesn’t seem to jive with what some CCS proponents say is the best use case for the technologies. A lot of the recent enthusiasm for the tech has centered on its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from crucial industries like cement, steel, and fertilizer production. To be sure, some advocates would rather see polluting facilities move out of their neighborhoods than outfitted with new climate tech. But industrial pollution makes up about a third of global carbon dioxide emissions, and it’s hard to eliminate because this sort of manufacturing often requires extremely high temperatures that have been difficult to reach using renewable energy.

CCS is rapidly gaining momentum in the US, with support from Republicans and the Biden administration alike. Earlier this week, as part of a broader effort to slash pollution from the industrial sector, the Biden administration announced new federal guidelines for evaluating CCS projects that could encourage “widespread deployment” of the technologies. And in a bid to speed up permitting in Louisiana, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy threatened to block the appointment of Biden’s nominees for Environmental Protection Agency leadership because of the agency’s “delays” in approving his state’s application to regulate wells for captured carbon dioxide.

Despite those efforts, carbon capture as a strategy for tackling climate change is still divisive among environmentalists, in part because it’s been used to extend the reign of dirty power plants. An aging coal plant, for example, might be able to claim some green credentials if it captures some of its carbon emissions — even though other impacts of mining and burning coal, like habitat destruction and air pollution, remain.

What’s more, the CCS projects the US has funded in the past have a checkered track record. Since 2009, the Department of Energy has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in carbon capture initiatives for several coal plants that never came to fruition, largely because of high costs and investors’ cold feet, according to a December report by the Government Accountability Office.
» Read article      

» More about CCS

GAS BANS

red light
Mass. building code draft renews push for local autonomy on natural gas bans

A proposed building code update in Massachusetts would allow an option for continued use of fossil fuels in new construction, prompting cities and towns to renew a push for legal authority to prohibit new natural gas hookups.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
February 21, 2022

Activists and municipal leaders say a bill allowing Massachusetts cities and towns to ban natural gas in new construction and renovations is needed more than ever in light of a new building code proposal.

“The proposal was just disappointing on every level,” said Lisa Cunningham, a climate activist and member of the town of Brookline’s representative town meeting. “They’re allowing the installation of fossil fuels at every single level — they’re driving us in the wrong direction.”

Decarbonizing building operations, which account for 27% of the state’s carbon emissions, is a major component of Massachusetts’ plan for going carbon-neutral by 2050, but there is not yet any unified strategy for achieving this goal.

Some towns have attempted to take direct action by trying to prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure within their own borders. In 2019, Brookline, an affluent town adjacent to Boston, passed by an overwhelming margin a bylaw banning fossil fuel hookups in new construction and major renovations, the first such measure passed outside California. Inspired by the move, other towns began preparing their own proposals.

In July 2020, however, state Attorney General Maura Healey struck down the measure, saying cities and towns do not have the legal authority to supersede state building energy codes. Brookline, along with the towns of Acton, Arlington, Concord and Lexington, responded by passing home rule petitions — requests that the state legislature grant them a specific power usually reserved by the state, in this case, the authority to enact prohibitions on new fossil fuel infrastructure.

As the movement grew, state Rep. Tami Gouveia and state Sen. Janie Eldridge, who both represent Acton, filed their own legislation that would grant every city and town in Massachusetts the right to adopt a requirement for all-electric construction without petitioning the state legislature.

“It would allow any community to prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Eldridge said. “It’s an important tool in the toolbox at a time when you’re seeing a lot of new development in Massachusetts.”
» Read article      

preemption laws
Cities tried to cut natural gas from new homes. The GOP and gas lobby preemptively quashed their effort
By Ella Nilsen, CNN
February 17, 2022

In 2019, the city council in Berkeley, California, held a stunning vote: it would ban natural gas hookups in all new building construction to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the city’s impact on the climate crisis.

No gas furnaces in new homes, the council said. No gas stoves or ovens.

Other progressive cities followed suit with similar bans. San Francisco passed its own ban in 2020. New York City became the largest US city to pass a version in 2021, with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul vowing to pass a statewide law that would ban natural gas by 2027.

But other municipalities looking to take similar action are running into a brick wall. Twenty states with GOP-controlled legislatures have passed so-called “preemption laws” that prohibit cities from banning natural gas.

It’s bad news for municipal climate action: Taking natural gas out of the equation and switching to electric appliances is one of the most effective ways cities can tackle the climate crisis and lower their emissions, multiple experts told CNN.

“Natural gas bans are kind of low-hanging fruit,” said Georgetown Law professor Sheila Foster, an environmental law expert. Foster said cities can make a significant impact by moving away from natural gas and toward electricity, especially considering what little federal action there’s been on climate, and the mixed record of states.

The climate stakes are high. Residential and commercial emissions made up 13% of total US emissions in 2019, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About 80% of those emissions came from the combustion of natural gas, the fuel that heats homes or powers a restaurant’s cooking stoves, and emits planet-warming gases like methane and carbon dioxide in the process.

But clean alternatives exist: Electric heat pumps can heat homes more sustainably than gas furnaces; induction ranges can replace gas stoves. And experts stress that to fully transition to renewable energy sources like solar and wind, homes and businesses need to operate on electricity – not gas.
» Read article      

» More about gas bans

GAS UTILITIES

NARUC panel
Transmission, reliability and gas system decarbonization top of mind for state utility regulators in 2022

By Michelle Solomon and Hadley Tallackson, Utility Dive | Opinion
February 23, 2022

The power and gas system is rapidly changing from meeting relatively predictable customer demand with fossil fuels, to managing increasingly frequent extreme weather while integrating unprecedented amounts of clean energy. State utility regulators are trying to navigate this transition by guiding their electric and gas utilities to reduce emissions while maintaining affordable rates and reliable service.

This tension captured regulators’ attention at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) 2022 Winter Policy Summit last week, manifesting in three imperatives: transmission planning to unlock access to low-cost renewables, holistic approaches to planning for system reliability in the wake of last February’s Winter Storm Uri, and opportunities to reduce emissions from natural gas systems.

[…]In addition to winterization to protect against extreme weather, regulators are looking to address the root cause of climate change through gas system decarbonization, but they must be cautious about proposals that may not prove viable over the long term.

Gas utilities subject to emissions reduction requirements are exploring immediate actions for methane leak reduction through monitoring and pipeline repair. However, many are also eagerly proposing renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen as part of their longer-term decarbonization pathway.

NARUC panelists discussed the potential of near-term uptake of “certified natural gas” with verified low-methane emissions intensity to plug methane hemorrhaging from the gas supply chain. Panelists from the utility Washington Gas and gas producer EQT both highlighted the minimal cost impact of switching to certified natural gas, but regulators should ask their utilities how they will achieve close-to-zero methane emission intensities while exploring larger transition pathways.

However, RNG resource availability has thus far been limited, and widespread RNG reliance may not be scalable. While GTI Energy promoted hydrogen as a fixture of a decarbonized gas system, hydrogen production can still generate sizable emissions depending on the production method. Cost impacts and challenges around scalability, pipeline and end-use appliance compatibility, and safety also require additional regulatory scrutiny before significant investments are approved. Regulators must determine the feasibility and decarbonization potential of these proposals by requesting extensive information on total supply chain emissions and how they compare on cost and emissions bases to other end-use decarbonization strategies like electrification.
» Read article      

» More about gas utilities     

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

seventy percent
BREAKING: Fossils Emit 70% More Methane than Governments Report: IEA Tracker
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
February 23, 2022

Emissions of climate-busting methane from fossil fuel operations are 70% higher than national governments are reporting, according to the 2022 edition of the Global Methane Tracker released this morning by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The gap between the reporting and the reality is “massive” and “alarming”, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a release.

The tracker “shows emissions from oil, gas, and coal are on the rise again, underscoring need for greater transparency, stronger policies, and immediate action,” the IEA writes. “Methane is responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, and quick and sustained emission reductions are key to limiting near-term warming and improving air quality.”

Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it’s 80 to 85 times more potent a warming agent over a 20-year span—the period in which humanity will be scrambling to get the climate emergency under control.

Before and immediately after the groundbreaking science assessment released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last August, scientists identified methane reductions as the best opportunity to curb greenhouse gas emissions through 2040, and predicted climate catastrophe without immediate action. At last year’s COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow, more than 100 countries congratulated themselves for signing a global methane pledge, though experts quickly warned that their 30% reduction target by 2030 fell short of what’s needed.

Now, the Paris-based IEA says methane emissions from energy production increased nearly 5% in 2021, with almost equal proportions coming from coal, oil, and natural gas operations. The 135 million tonnes from the entire sector, including nine megatonnes from incomplete wood burning and four Mt from inefficient fuel-burning equipment, accounted for 38% of methane emissions resulting from human activities, making energy a slightly less methane-intensive sector than agriculture.

The biggest sources of energy-related methane emissions were China, at 28 Mt, followed by Russia at 18 Mt and the United States at 17 Mt. Satellite measurements in 2021 picked up major methane releases from oilfields in Texas, Turkmenistan, and other parts of Central Asia.
» Read article     
» Read IEA’s Global Methane Tracker 2022

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

garbage pile
U.N. pact may restrict plastic production. Big Oil aims to stop it
By John Geddie, Valerie Volcovici and Joe Brock, Reuters
February 18, 2022

United Nations member states are set to meet this month in Nairobi to draft the blueprint for a global plastics treaty, a deal that could see countries agree for the first time to reduce the amount of single-use plastics they produce and use.

It’s being touted as the most important environmental pact since the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

A global explosion of disposable plastic, which is made from oil and gas, is increasing carbon emissions, despoiling the world’s oceans, harming wildlife and contaminating the food chain. More than 50 countries, including all 27 members of the European Union, are calling for the pact to include measures targeting plastic production.

That’s a problem for big oil and chemical companies. The industry is projected to double plastic output worldwide within two decades.

Publicly, plastic industry groups representing firms like ExxonMobil Corp (XOM.N), Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Dow Inc (DOW.N), have expressed support for a global agreement to tackle this garbage.

Behind the scenes, however, these trade organizations are devising strategies to persuade conference participants to reject any deal that would limit plastic manufacturing, according to emails and company presentations seen by Reuters, as well as interviews with a dozen officials involved in the negotiations.

Leading that effort is the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a powerful group of U.S.-based oil and chemical firms. The Washington-based ACC is attempting to forge a coalition of big businesses to help steer treaty discussions away from production restrictions, according to an Oct. 21 email sent from the trade group to a blind-copied list of recipients.
» Read article      

» More about plastics and the environment

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 1/21/22

banner 04

Welcome back.

Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) met to consider the fate of Canadian energy giant Enbridge’s Weymouth compressor station. Their conclusion boiled down to this: “Gosh, folks, you’re right! We never should have approved such a dangerous, polluting facility right there in your neighborhood…. But we did. Sorry. Nothing to be done. Next!” It was a variation on Governor Charlie Baker’s earlier claim that even if he opposed construction of the compressor, there was nothing he could do about it. Given that level of spinelessness from our Governor and Federal regulators, we’re doubly fortunate to have Alice Arena’s Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) and their many allies including U.S. Senator Edward Markey and other state and local leaders, continuing to press for closing this climate-busting “mistake”. If you can support FRRACS, please do.

A little farther west, Massachusetts’ largest utility, Eversource, is running its own play to foist unwanted and unnecessary gas infrastructure on Longmeadow and Springfield communities through its proposed pipeline expansion, but the Longmeadow Select Board is unsatisfied with the utility’s answers to some basic questions like, “Who’s going to pay for this?” Meanwhile, cities and towns all over the state would love to cut the use of gas but can’t initiate bans because the Baker administration is months late delivering an updated building code that reflects emissions reduction requirements already on the books. Of course, those same regulations classify electricity produced through waste incineration as renewable….

To round things out, the MA Department of Environmental Protection is providing Boston with twelve new propane-powered school buses, even though the state’s climate legislation calls for a move away from fossil-fueled transportation and electric models are available. Did someone recently change the state motto to Coming up short!?

Now that we’ve aired a load of Massachusetts’ dirty laundy, let’s talk about Georgia, and how the Feds are stepping in because state regulators are on the cusp of accepting utility Georgia Power’s argument that they don’t really need to clean up unlined toxic coal ash storage pits that are in contact with ground water. While in North Dakota, a deal is being done to sell the state’s largest coal plant to investors chasing a scheme to use U.S. government subsidies for carbon capture and storage equipment, and thereby avoid shutting the plant down. So far, CCS has proved far better at wasting money than at removing CO2 from smokestacks.

This has been a bit of a rant, and we’re almost to the positive news. But first have a look at how the Permian Basin frack-fest has turned west Texas into an earthquake zone, and treat yourself to a romp through some of the lawless corners of the cryptocurrency world, where unpermitted gas plants in Alberta power bitcoin mining, and a rogue region of Kosovo compounds an energy crisis while refusing to pay electric bills.

While all of the above was going on, oceans absorbed record amounts of heat, and the divestment movement is expanding its scope beyond banking, insurance, and investments – calling for funds to be pulled from fossil-focused advertising and public relations campaigns.

Hydrogen continues to be a hot topic in the clean energy sector, but we’re seeing some encouraging debate about how it’s sourced and what it should be used for. At the same time, money from the recently-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is about to be applied to modernizing the grid – making it more resilient and able to bring renewable generation and storage onboard more quickly.

We’ll close with some intriguing news: Chinese battery maker CATL has developed a flexible, modular, battery-swapping scheme for electric vehicles with the potential to lower the cost of EV ownership while dropping road trip recharge times to just a few minutes. It’s disruptive, scalable, and very cool.

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

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

FRACCS and friendsFeds: Regulators ‘should never have approved’ Weymouth compressor, too late to shut it down
“What (FERC) did was morally, ethically and legally wrong on every level, and they just recommitted to that.”
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger
January 20, 2022

WEYMOUTH – While several members said regulators shouldn’t have approved the project to begin with, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says it won’t revoke authorization for the natural gas compressor station in Weymouth.

After reexamining operations and safety at the station following several accidental releases of natural gas, Richard Glick, the commission’s chairman, said regulators “should never have approved” the compressor on the banks of the Fore River, a “heavily populated area with two environmental justice communities and a higher-than-normal level of cancer and asthma due to heavy industrial activity.”

But Glick said the review and findings don’t justify revoking approval for the station, which the commission initially granted in January 2017. The compressor station is owned by Algonquin Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of Spectra Energy, which was later acquired by Enbridge.

“Going forward, the commission needs to pay attention to the impacts of its (decision) and I will push for the those changes,” he said. “I recognize that is cold comfort to the folks who live near the Weymouth compressor station.”

“This is their job. They get to set precedent. They get to say, ‘We went back and looked at this, and we looked into whether (Enbridge) ever needed the compressor in the first place, and the answer is no,’” Arena said. “(The commissioners) can say whatever they want that helps them get through the night, but what (FERC) did was morally, ethically and legally wrong on every level, and they just recommitted to that.”

State regulators also issued several permits for the project despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents. Arena likened the commission’s response on Thursday to that of state regulators and Gov. Charlie Baker.

“They’ve done exactly what Charlie Baker did and said, ‘Our hands our tied. There’s nothing we can do,’ ” she said.

Arena sad the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station will push forward with its opposition to the project in court. Several rehearing requests are pending in federal court, and the group’s appeal of the waterways permit will soon be heard in Superior Court.
» Blog editor’s note: You can follow and support Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) through their website or Facebook.
» Read article       
» Watch WBZ-TV news coverage of the reaction to FERC’s decision

» More about the Weymouth compressor

PIPELINES

no expansion
Longmeadow Select Board unsatisfied with Eversource’s pipeline answers
By Sarah Heinonen, The Reminder
January 12, 2022

Longmeadow Select Board Chair Marc Strange read answers provided by Eversource after a December 2021 public hearing on the proposed natural gas pipeline and metering station. The board had requested responses to five questions that the utility company’s representatives were unable to answer during the meeting.

The first question was regarding a 10 percent return on investment that Eversource had stated it would receive from the pipeline project. The board had asked if the return the company would receive was 10 percent of the total capital investment or if it would receive a return annually. After reading Eversource’s response, which cited a Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities docket and stated shareholders would not see a return from the project unless “deemed prudent,” it went on to talk about the relationship between rate base and capital investments and year-long “rate case” proceedings involving the attorney general.

After reading the response, Strange asked, “Does anybody understand what it says?” causing members of the board to chuckle at the legal jargon and industry terminology used.

Select Board Vice Chair Steve Marantz pointed out that Eversource insisted the project will not involve an increase in the amount of gas it moves to customers and questioned how the company can receive a return on its investment without selling more gas.

Select Board member Mark Gold responded that the $40 million investment will be written off in taxes. Fellow Select Board member Thomas Lachiusa agreed, saying, “Eversource will pay less in taxes while increasing their footprint.”

Marantz opined that the cost of the investment will be passed on to ratepayers.
» Read article       

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

climate lies uncovered
450+ Climate Scientists Demand PR Industry Drop Fossil Fuel Clients
“To put it simply, advertising and public relations campaigns for fossil fuels must stop,” states an open letter to ad agencies and major firms.
By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
January 19, 2022

In a new letter stressing the need for an “immediate and rapid transition” away from planet-heating fuels, a group of over 450 scientists on Wednesday called on public relations and advertising agencies to no longer work with fossil fuel clients.

“As scientists who study and communicate the realities of climate change,” they wrote, “we are consistently faced with a major and needless challenge: overcoming advertising and PR efforts by fossil fuel companies that seek to obfuscate or downplay our data and the risks posed by the climate crisis.”

“In fact,” the scientists continued, “these misinformation campaigns represent one of the biggest barriers to the government action science shows is necessary to mitigate the ongoing climate emergency. ”

Organized by scientists including Drs. Astrid Caldas, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, and Michael Mann, along with the Clean Creatives campaign and the Union of Concerned Scientists, the letter is being sent to a number of public relations and advertising agencies including Edelman—the world’s biggest PR firm—and major clients of those companies including Amazon, Microsoft, and North Face.

“If PR and advertising agencies want to be part of climate solutions instead of continuing to exacerbate the climate emergency,” the scientists wrote that those companies “should drop all fossil fuel clients that plan to expand their production of oil and gas, end work with all fossil fuel companies and trade groups that perpetuate climate deception, cease all work that hinders climate legislation, and instead focus on uplifting the true climate solutions that are already available and must be rapidly implemented at scale.”

“To put it simply,” the letter adds, “advertising and public relations campaigns for fossil fuels must stop.”
» Read article       

» More about divestment

CLIMATE

bleached corals
Oceans Absorb Record Heat in 2021
By The Energy Mix
January 16, 2022


The Earth’s oceans yet again absorbed record high levels of heat in 2021 as part of a steady and dangerous 63-year warming trend fueled by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, concludes a recent study authored by researchers from China, Italy, and the United States.

Published last week in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, the analysis confirms that the rate at which oceans have been absorbing heat, especially over the last 40 years, would be impossible in the absence of carbon emissions produced by human activity, reports the Washington Post.

The “long-term upward trend” has shown dramatic increases in recent years, with the oceans warming eight times faster since the late 1980s than in the three previous decades, said study co-author John Abraham, a professor of thermal engineering at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

“We’ve built up so much greenhouse gas that the oceans have begun to take in an increasing amount of heat, compared to what they previously were,” he told the Post.
» Read article       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

BayoTech hydrogen generator
New Mexico front and center in nationwide debate over hydrogen
By Kevin Robinson-Avila, Albuquerque Journal
January 17th, 2022

[The] potential wholesale embrace of everything hydrogen is facing a wall of opposition from environmental organizations, which say the governor and local hydrogen supporters are rushing forward to build a new industry that could actually slow New Mexico’s transition to a clean energy economy, and possibly even worsen carbon emissions here. Rather than produce a new, “clean fuel” to help decarbonize things like transportation and residential and commercial heating, environmentalists say full-scale hydrogen production could instead perpetuate mining and consumption of natural gas for 20 years or more at a time when New Mexico and the nation are aggressively working to replace fossil fuels with renewables like solar, wind and backup-battery technology.

That’s because nearly all of today’s hydrogen production uses natural gas in a process that extracts hydrogen molecules from methane, a potent greenhouse gas, with substantial amounts of carbon emitted during operations. Industry and hydrogen supporters say carbon capture and sequestration technology can mitigate nearly all the carbon emissions, but that only intensifies the controversy, because carbon capture must still be proven environmentally and economically effective in commercial projects.

As a result, environmentalists want to halt the hydrogen-promotion bills in this year’s session and instead launch a broad public process to fully evaluate the pros and cons of hydrogen before moving forward. Thirty environmental, clean energy and local community organizations sent a joint statement to New Mexico’s state and federal officials last fall outlining “guiding principles” to better determine whether and how hydrogen development could potentially be used as a supporting tool to combat climate change.

The local controversy reflects growing debate at the national and international levels over the role hydrogen can play as the world works to achieve carbon neutrality by midcentury.
» Read article       

blue is out
Germany’s Massive Boost for Hydrogen Leaves Out Fossil-Derived ‘Blue’ Variety
By The Energy Mix
January 19, 2022

Germany’s new coalition government has unveiled plans to massively accelerate the country’s national hydrogen strategy, while excluding fossil-derived “blue” hydrogen from eligibility for federal subsidies.

“Clean hydrogen is seen as a potential silver bullet to decarbonize industries like steel and chemicals, which cannot fully electrify and need energy-dense fuels to generate high-temperature heat for their industrial processes,” Euractiv reports.

“However, Germany will make no subsidies available for so-called ‘blue hydrogen’, which is created by using fossil gas and sequestering the resulting CO2 emission using carbon and capture (CCS) technology,” the publication adds, citing Patrick Graichen, state secretary to Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck.

At an event earlier this morning, Clean Energy Wire reports, energy and climate state secretary Patrick Graichen said the country may obtain the “blue” product from Norway for a transitional period. “We will go for green hydrogen in the long term, and whenever we put money on the table, it will be for green hydrogen,” he told a panel discussion on energy cooperation between the two countries, hosted by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry and German Chambers of Commerce Abroad.

That’s despite concerns from Germany’s oil and gas lobby, the European Commission, and non-profits like the U.S. Clean Air Task Force that “green” hydrogen produced from renewable electricity can’t scale up in time to do its part to reduce emissions.
» Read article       

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Beverly HS solar array
All around Massachusetts, cities and towns want to go fossil fuel free. Here’s why they can’t.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
January 18, 2022

Across Massachusetts, dozens of cities and towns have said they want to outlaw the use of fossil fuels in newly constructed buildings — considered an easy and effective step toward a carbon-free future.

The state’s new climate legislation aimed to do just that, and required the state to come up with a new building code that would allow cities and towns to move ahead.

The Baker administration promised a draft by fall 2021 but failed to deliver. And now some climate-concerned legislators want the administration to answer for it.

“Each additional day of delay means one day less of public discussion,” said Senator Mike Barrett, who cochairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, which is scheduled to discuss the delays — and what to do about them — at a hearing Wednesday. “The clock is ticking down, and Baker’s people know it.”

In light of the delay, Wednesday’s hearing will consider legislative action that would allow cities and towns to require new residential and commercial buildings to be “all-electric.”

The exact details of the building code won’t be known until the Baker administration releases it and it goes through a public comment period and a series of five public hearings. It is required to be finalized by December of next year. But the intent, as laid out by the climate law passed last year, is that cities and towns could require new buildings and gut rehabilitations would have net-zero emissions. This likely means a future of heat pumps to deliver heat, solar panels to generate energy, and onsite batteries to store what is produced to get to net zero.

But net zero is not zero, and the climate legislation allows for some wiggle room.

Advocates fear the draft from the Baker administration could ultimately allow for buildings to have fossil fuel hook-ups as long as emissions are offset in another way, like the installation of solar panels. While the offsetting is important for the climate, the continued use of fossil fuels in new buildings would ensure that the required infrastructure remains in place into the future, potentially putting the state’s climate targets at risk.

“The thing we’re really waiting for is to make sure that the code is what it needs to be” said Cameron Peterson, director of clean energy for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “The definition I would like to see would have a building that has no combustion in it, but depending on how they write the performance standards, it’s possible that fossil fuel hook-ups could be allowed.”
» Read article       

» More about energy efficiency

MODERNIZING THE GRID

Deepwater Wind
Biden administration announces major new initiatives to clean up the electric grid
Federal agencies announced plans to open up public lands and waters and lay new transmission lines
By Justine Calma, The Verge
January 12, 2022

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced a slew of new moves to transition the US to renewable energy, with a focus on upgrading the power grid and using public lands and waters to harness solar, wind, and geothermal energy. It’s the administration’s latest effort to clean up the nation’s electricity grid, as Democrats struggle to make headway on key legislation needed to tackle the climate crisis.

The Department of Energy is rolling out a “Building a Better Grid” initiative, which will put federal dollars to work after the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure law allocated $65 billion for grid improvements. Notably, there’s $2.5 billion earmarked for new and improved transmission lines that will be crucial for zipping renewable energy from far-flung solar and wind farms to communities. Another $3 billion will go towards smart grid technologies that aim to make homes more energy efficient and reduce pressure on the grid while balancing the flow of intermittent sources of renewable energy like wind and solar.

There’s also more than $10 billion in grants to states, tribes, and utilities for efforts to harden the grid and help prevent power outages. As the grid ages and extreme weather events are worsened by climate change, blackouts have grown longer in the US, with the average American going more than eight hours without power in 2020 — twice as long as was typical when the federal government started keeping track in 2013. Things could get worse without efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.
» Read article       

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Evogo swap
CATL rolls out one-minute EV battery swapping solution, entire business around it

By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
January 18, 2022

Battery swapping, once considered a solution that had been outmoded by the capability for faster road-trip charging, is back—with the world’s largest battery supplier CATL onboard and launching an entire business around it.

That business, called Evogo, makes a lot of sense right now that the longtime reduction in battery cell cost has reversed course, largely due to supply constraints. Most EV owners tend to buy the vehicle with the bigger battery so as to eliminate range anxiety, when only 10-20% of the total capacity of the battery is needed for daily use. “They have paid a high sunk cost for a power capacity that is rarely needed,” the company sums.

In terms that customers, automakers, and regulators will all like, it’s a scheme that will allow lower-priced EVs, and more of them.

Evogo, will revolve around “an innovative modular battery swap solution” that uses standardized battery blocks and has “high compatibility with vehicle models.”

That takes the form of a new bar-like battery—nicknamed Choco-SEB and designed around the idea of battery sharing, supporting cell-to-pack technology and an energy density of more than 160 watt-hours per kg, with a volumetric energy density of 325 Wh/L.

CATL says each 26.5-kwh block can enable a driving range of about 200 km (124 miles). And the idea is that you may only need one of these blocks for daily commuting, while three of these will comprise a long-range battery, with customers at battery swaps potentially swapping just one block or all three as needed.Likewise, customers could potentially lease one block with the vehicle but rent additional blocks as needed for a long trip.
» Read article       

detour at best
Boston is getting more propane school buses to combat pollution. They aren’t the cleanest option.
By Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe
January 13, 2022

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will spend $350,000 on 12 propane-powered school buses for Boston at a time when the state’s climate plan calls for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels in transportation.

The school buses are part of a $2 million round of Massachusetts grant funding provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency announced this week. The funding aims to cut pollution by getting rid of diesel-powered vehicles. The state said it will spend $740,324 on five electric school buses for Springfield contractor First Student Inc., and the 12 buses bound for Boston will use propane, a fossil fuel.

Governor Charlie Baker praised the funding announcements Tuesday.

“Our administration continues to identify and advance projects that better position the state in combating against the impact of climate change with an equitable approach,” he said in a statement. “The shift to cleaner vehicles will reduce the exposure of our citizens to diesel emissions, improve air quality, and assist us as we work to meet the Commonwealth’s ambitious climate goals.”

Those goals, part of climate legislation signed by Baker last year, are reducing the state’s carbon emissions at least 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 75 percent below those levels by 2040, and getting to “net zero” emissions by 2050. Key to achieving those goals is electrifying most of the transportation sector, according to the state’s own road map.

The majority of Boston’s school bus fleet already runs on propane, but advocates bemoaned the city adding more vehicles powered by fossil fuels rather than moving to electric school buses as some other Massachusetts cities are doing.

“It’s time for the city to step up and be a leader on electric buses,” said Staci Rubin, vice president of environmental justice at the Conservation Law Foundation. “Ideally this would have been the time to get electric buses and figure it out.”

Data from the US Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory’s transportation fuel calculator tool show that electric school buses far outperform propane school buses in reducing air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. Compared to diesel school buses, propane school buses emit less nitrogen oxides, which contribute to harmful air pollution. Depending on the age and fuel efficiency of the diesel engine, propane buses can provide a slight reduction or a slight increase in greenhouse gases compared to diesel buses.

“It’s a detour at best, a dead end at worst,” said Daniel Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at University of California Davis.
» Read article       
» Check out the Argonne National Lab’s fuel calculator tool

» More about clean transportation

CRYPTOCURRENCY

questionable value
Bitcoin Creates ‘Regulatory Hornet’s Nest’ as Alberta Orders Third Gas Plant Shutdown
By Jody MacPherson, The Energy Mix
January 18, 2022

A company facing more than C$7 million in penalties for operating two gas-fired power plants in Alberta without approvals has been ordered to shut down a third facility, after the plant in Westlock County was also found to be operating without approvals.

The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has also reopened its investigation into the previous two operations, combining it with the new Westlock investigation. At issue is whether the company was generating power for its own use and if the original penalty amount should change with the new information provided by the company.

Energy consumption and environmental concerns with bitcoin mining have surfaced around the world with a number of countries—including China—banning it outright.

China cited environmental concerns and cracked down on bitcoin mining this past summer. In August, an American company announced plans to power up to a million bitcoin “rigs” relocated from China to Alberta.

“It’s a question of what is the highest-value end use of an electron,” said clean energy policy consultant Ed Whittingham, former executive director of the Pembina Institute, in an exclusive interview with The Energy Mix. “Is it to mine a bitcoin? Or is it to help to get to these long-term goals that really balance environmental and social benefit?”

Whittingham said he would like to understand the environmental and social benefits produced by cryptocurrencies like bitcoin “because right now, it seems pretty opaque to me.”
» Read article       

Bitcoin accepted
Panic as Kosovo pulls the plug on its energy-guzzling bitcoin miners
Speculators rush to sell off their kit as Balkan state announces a crypto clampdown to ease electricity crisis
By Daniel Boffey, The Guardian
January 16, 2022

For bitcoin enthusiasts in Kosovo with a breezy attitude to risk, it has been a good week to strike a deal on computer equipment that can create, or “mine”, the cryptocurrency.

From Facebook to Telegram, new posts in the region’s online crypto groups became dominated by dismayed Kosovans attempting to sell off their mining equipment – often at knockdown prices.

“There’s a lot of panic and they’re selling it or trying to move it to neighbouring countries,” said cryptoKapo, a crypto investor and administrator of some of the region’s largest online crypto communities.

The frenetic social media action follows an end-of-year announcement by Kosovo’s government of an immediate, albeit temporary, ban on all crypto mining activity as part of emergency measures to ease a crippling energy crisis.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are created or “mined” by high-powered computers that compete to solve complex mathematical puzzles in what is a highly energy-intensive process that rewards people based on the amount of computing power they provide.

The incentive to get into the mining game in Kosovo, one of Europe’s poorest countries, is obvious. The cryptocurrency currently trades at more than £31,500 a bitcoin, while Kosovo has the cheapest energy prices in Europe due in part to more than 90% of the domestic energy production coming from burning the country’s rich reserves of lignite, a low-grade coal, and fuel bills being subsidised by the government.

The largest-scale crypto mining is thought to be taking place in the north of the country, where the Serb-majority population refuse to recognise Kosovo as an independent state and have consequently not paid for electricity for more than two decades.
» Read article       

» More about cryptocurrency

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE

Coal Creek power plant
Sale of North Dakota’s Largest Coal Plant Is Almost Complete. Then Will Come the Hard Part
Minnesota co-op utilities must vote on approval of the plant’s sale. The new owner is betting on carbon capture to extend its life.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
January 15, 2022

A plan to sell, rather than close, the largest coal-fired power plant in North Dakota is nearly final. The completion of the sale would allow the buyer to move on to the much greater challenge of making the plant financially viable and installing a carbon capture system.

Great River Energy of Minnesota originally planned to close the plant, Coal Creek Station, after years of financial losses, but the company changed course and decided to sell the plant after intense pressure from elected officials in North Dakota. State officials have been zealous in trying to preserve coal jobs, to the point that they helped to arrange the sale and hope to use government subsidies to help retrofit the plant with a carbon capture system.

The efforts by officials to keep the plant open is part of a larger pattern of state and local governments, from Montana to West Virginia, downplaying concerns about the high costs and emissions from burning coal and working to secure a future for coal mines and coal-fired power plants. In some of those places, the coal industry and government leaders are embracing carbon capture, despite warnings from energy analysts that this is a costly investment that is unlikely to be successful at substantially cutting emissions.

Minnesota environmental advocates have opposed the sale every step of the way.

“We need somebody to be held accountable,” said Veda Kanitz, an environmental advocate who also is a customer of one of the co-ops, Dakota Electric Association, that receives power from the plant. “We’re not seeing a true risk-benefit analysis. And I don’t think they’re properly factoring in the climate impacts.”
» Read article       

» More about CCS

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

Plant Scherer
How a Powerful Company Convinced Georgia to Let It Bury Toxic Waste in Groundwater
Documents reveal Georgia Power went to great lengths to advocate for risky waste storage. After a ProPublica investigation exposed this practice, the EPA is trying to block the move.
By Max Blau, ProPublica
January 18, 2020

For the past several years, Georgia Power has gone to great lengths to skirt the federal rule requiring coal-fired power plants to safely dispose of massive amounts of toxic waste they produced.

But previously unreported documents obtained by ProPublica show that the company’s efforts were more extensive than publicly known. Thousands of pages of internal government correspondence and corporate filings show how Georgia Power made an elaborate argument as to why it should be allowed to store waste produced before 2020 in a way that wouldn’t fully protect surrounding communities’ water supplies from contamination — and that would save the company potentially billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

In a series of closed-door meetings with state environmental regulators, the powerful utility even went so far as to challenge the definition of the word “infiltration” in relation to how groundwater can seep into disposal sites holding underground coal ash, according to documents obtained through multiple open records requests.

Earlier this month, Georgia Power was on its way to getting final approval from the state to leave 48 million tons of coal ash buried in unlined ponds — despite evidence that contaminants were leaking out. Georgia is one of three states that regulate how power companies safely dispose of decades worth of coal ash, rather than leaving such oversight to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency itself.

But last week, the EPA made clear that arguments like the ones Georgia Power has been making violate the intent of the coal ash rule, setting up a potential showdown among the federal agency, state regulators and the deep-pocketed power company. In a statement last week, the EPA said that waste disposal sites “cannot be closed with coal ash in contact with groundwater,” in order to ensure that “communities near these facilities have access to safe water for drinking and recreation.”

The EPA’s action follows a joint investigation by Georgia Health News and ProPublica that found Georgia Power has known for decades that the way it disposed of coal ash could be dangerous to neighboring communities.
» Read article       

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Permian Basin gas plant
Texas went big on oil. Earthquakes followed.
Thousands of earthquakes are shaking Texas. What the frack is going on?
By Neel Dhanesha, Vox
January 20, 2022

It’s been a big winter for earthquakes in West Texas. A string of small tremors rocked Midland County on December 15 and 16, followed a week later by a magnitude-4.5 quake, the second-strongest to hit the region in the last decade. Then a magnitude-4.2 quake shook the town of Stanton and another series of small earthquakes hit nearby Reeves County.

That’s an unsettling pattern for a state that, until recently, wasn’t an earthquake state at all. Before 2008, Texans experienced just one or two perceptible earthquakes a year. But Texas now sees hundreds of yearly earthquakes of at least magnitude 2.5, the minimum humans can feel, and thousands of smaller ones.

The reason why is disconcerting: Seismologists say that one of the state’s biggest industries is upsetting a delicate balance deep underground. They blame the oil and gas business — and particularly a technique called wastewater injection — for waking up ancient fault lines, turning a historically stable region into a shaky one, and opening the door to larger earthquakes that Texas might not be ready for.

Early signs of trouble came in 2008, when Dallas-area residents felt a series of small earthquakes that originated in the nearby Fort Worth basin. More earthquakes followed, and a magnitude-4 quake hit a town southwest of Dallas in 2015. No damage was reported, but according to the US Geological Survey, the impact of a magnitude-4 earthquake can include: “Dishes, windows, doors disturbed; walls make cracking sound. Sensation like heavy truck striking building. Standing motor cars rocked noticeably.”

Earthquakes in West Texas increased from a grand total of 19 in 2009 to more than 1,600 in 2017, according to a 2019 study, coinciding neatly with the rise of wastewater injection in the area. Nearly 2,000 earthquakes hit West Texas in 2021, a record high. According to the TexNet, the University of Texas’ earthquake catalog, 17 of those were magnitude 4 or higher.
» Read article       

» More about fossil fuels

WASTE INCINERATION

garbage crane
Trash is a burning question with mixed answers in some Mass. towns
By Hannah Chanatry, WBUR
January 20, 2022

Massachusetts categorizes trash incineration as renewable energy. In fact, it’s almost always one of the leading sources of renewable energy in the region, according to ISO New England’s real-time analysis of energy use, usually beating out solar and wind.

The designation as renewable is a critical problem for the Conservation Law Foundation.

“It’s really just a greenwashing campaign,” said Kirstie Pecci, and environmental attorney with the organization.

Pecci has worked opposing incinerators for a decade. While the idea of energy production sounds good, she said the pollution coming from the facilities is too dangerous for public health and the environment.

“The ash has got dioxin, furans, heavy metals,” she said, “all kinds of [other] nasty chemicals in it as well.” Dioxins are a class of organic pollutants, some of which are highly toxic and are known to cause cancer and reproductive problems.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection also identifies nitrogen oxides, which can cause breathing problems and are the primary ingredient in smog, as among the possible emissions from incinerators. Incinerators are required to take  measures to limit emissions below federal and state caps, and conduct continuous and annual monitoring for specific pollutants. Each incinerator is permitted by both MassDEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for air quality, water quality, stormwater and spills on site.

The Conservation Law Foundation and other environmental organizations want the state to move to close the incinerators.
» Read article       

» More about waste incineration

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!

Weekly News Check-In 1/14/22

banner 03

Welcome back.

Soon after Netflix released director Adam McKay’s doomsday thriller Don’t Look Up, the climate activist network started buzzing. For decades, those of us urging action have been frustrated by the vague, “sometime in the future” aspect of global warming’s effects, which has enabled a lot of can-kicking down the road. In this context, the film’s killer comet allegory is brilliant. If civilization’s end were total, certain, and precisely timed, it might finally focus the mind.

Divestment from fossil fuels has been increasingly impactful, to the point that Big Oil & Gas is having some trouble financing expansion projects. An even more direct action is to mount an actual takeover of a corporate polluter, and aggressively reorient it toward sustainability.

Pipeline developers often gain access to agricultural land by promising to bury the structure under fields and then “fully restore” the surface. The pitch to farmers: get some steady income for very little bother. Except that research now confirms that the combination of soil compaction by heavy construction equipment combined with the mixing of topsoil with deeper material, results in years of significantly reduced crop yield.

Of course, a great way to discourage those pipelines is to kick the gas habit. Massachusetts recently established the Commission on Clean Heat, with a mission to develop a pathway to greener buildings. Activists are keeping up the pressure for full electrification and gas hookup bans.

People all over the northern hemisphere who suffered the deadly combination of record temperatures, long brutal heat waves, epic floods, intense drought, and hellish wildfires, probably felt a little let down by recent climate reports that ranked 2021 only the 6th warmest year on record. We found an article that puts it all in perspective – and yes, your pain is real.

This week was full of encouraging news regarding innovations that will speed up a green transition. Battery recycling is developing quickly, roofing materials giant GAF announced a promising solar roof shingle, and Massachusetts startup AeroShield promises to revolutionize energy efficient windows using materials better known for heat-resistant tiles on space shuttles. We also take a closer look at long-duration energy storage using gravity, cranes, and heavy blocks.

On the clean energy downside, current-generation geothermal plants need to be located near relatively near-surface sources of very hot water. This often carries negative environmental and cultural impacts. But new deep-drilling methods may help solve that problem by allowing geothermal facilities to locate almost anywhere.

With huge SUVs increasingly clogging roadways, and with most legacy car manufacturers introducing their first round of EV models on crossover, SUV, and light truck platforms, we were wondering if there’s a future for the basic four-door sedan or hatchback. The answer is yes, and it looks pretty sleek.

We explore why so many states continue to approve new gas power plants, and also expose the plastics industry’s greenwashing efforts behind their big push for federal dollars to improve recycling.

And we close with coal, which is throwing a party that the planet just can’t afford.

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

POPULAR CULTURE

don't look up
Don’t Just Watch: Team Behind ‘Don’t Look Up’ Urges Climate Action
The satirical film, about a comet hurtling toward Earth, is a metaphor for climate change that has broken a Netflix record. Its director hopes it will mobilize the public.
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
January 11, 2022

“Don’t Look Up” is a Hollywood rarity on several fronts. It’s a major film about climate change. It racked up a record number of hours viewed in a single week, according to Netflix. It also unleashed a flood of hot takes, along with — in what may be a first — sniping between reviewers who didn’t like the film and scientists who did.

What remains to be seen is whether the film fulfills a primary aim of its director, Adam McKay, who wants it to be, in his words, “a kick in the pants” that prompts urgent action on climate change.

“I’m under no illusions that one film will be the cure to the climate crisis,” Mr. McKay, whose previous films include “The Big Short” and “Vice,” wrote in an email to the Times. “But if it inspires conversation, critical thinking, and makes people less tolerant of inaction from their leaders, then I’d say we accomplished our goal.”

In “Don’t Look Up,” a planet-killing comet hurtling toward Earth stands in as a metaphor for the climate crisis, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence playing distraught scientists scrambling to get politicians to act, and the public to believe them.

After the film premiered in December, climate scientists took to social media and penned opinion essays, saying they felt seen at last. Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that it seemed like a documentary. Several admirers likened the film to “A Modest Proposal,” the 18th-century satirical essay by Jonathan Swift.
» Read article  

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

fracker flipped
Leading UK fracking firm taken over by green energy group
Third Energy now has ‘absolutely no interest in fossil gas’ and is targeting renewable energy
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 14, 2022

A high-profile UK fracking company has been taken over by a green energy group and now has an anti-fracking campaigner as a director.

Yorkshire-based Third Energy was at the forefront of efforts to produce fossil gas and intended to use high-pressure fluids to fracture shale rocks under the county. But it was hampered by permit delays and fierce local opposition.

Now the company has been taken over by Wolfland Group, a renewable energy company. It has halted all fossil fuel production from its conventional gas wells and has no plans for further exploration or development. Instead it will focus on green energy, including solar farms, and the use of existing wells for geothermal energy and the burial of captured carbon dioxide emissions.

Steve Mason was a leading figure in the anti-fracking campaign in Yorkshire and is now a director of Wolfland Group. “The current energy crisis has shown that we must be energy independent as a nation and that fossil fuels need to be urgently replaced by clean renewable energy supplies, which will lead to cheaper energy and help us tackle climate change,” he said.

“We believe we’re now a real-life example of walking the talk and turning stranded fossil fuel assets into green energy solutions.”
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

keeps on robbing
Pipelines keep robbing the land long after the bulldozers leave
A flurry of new research shows the long-term effects of pipelines on crop yields.
By Jena Brooker, Grist
January 7, 2022

Before it began digging into the earth to bury its two-and-half-foot-wide, 1,172-mile-long pipeline in the ground, Dakota Access, LLC promised to restore the land to its previous condition when construction was finished. The pipeline company signed that pledge in its contracts with landowners stretching from North Dakota to Illinois, and the project was approved by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission under that condition. But farmers in the path of the pipeline have a different story to tell – one of broken promises and sustained damage to their land.

Now, there’s data to back them up.

Researchers at Iowa State University found that in the two years following construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline corn yields in the 150-foot right-of-way declined by 15 percent.  Soybean yields dropped by 25 percent.

One of the selling points that energy companies often tout is that pipeline infrastructure is seemingly invisible, buried and forgotten over the long run. The new study, published in the journal Soil Use and Management, seems to contradict that claim.

The scientists said the major issue is that soil is compacted by heavy machinery during pipeline construction, and that topsoil and subsoil are mixed together. Taken together, the damage “can discourage root growth and reduce water infiltration in the right-of-way,” Robert Horton, an agronomist at Iowa State and the lead soil physicist on the project, said in a statement. He and his colleagues also found changes in available water and nutrients within the soil.

The findings are important for a number of planned pipelines across the Midwest. In one instance, the planned Midwest Carbon Express would be built on land already used for the Dakota Access pipeline, leaving farmers reeling from double impact on their crops.
» Read article             
» Read the study

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

on the edge
Climate Justice Through Divestment
By Ray Levy Uyeda, Yes! Magazine
January 4, 2022

In recent years, a growing movement to achieve climate justice has connected the root cause of climate change not just with greenhouse gases but also with a more entrenched, insidious foe: capitalism. The United States supports a system that allows a few corporations and people to earn money off climate degradation, mainly through the extraction and proliferation of fossil fuels, such as coal or gas. And the very people who are tasked with regulating these industries, like federal elected officials, continue to choose not to. Time is running out to curb emissions and restore balance to global ecosystems, which is why front-line land defenders and climate activists are going straight to the source of climate chaos: financial firms.

The movement is called “divestment,” and it’s growing both inside and outside financial institutions’ walls. The idea is simple: Pull money, talent, and public approval away from banks and financial institutions that invest in fossil fuel extraction. Most often, this comes in the form of grassroots student-led campaigns at universities and colleges, as was the case with the Harvard students whose protests convinced the president and board of trustees to divest its $42 billion endowment from fossil fuel-related investments.

Divestment first emerged as a strategy in the 1980s in the fight against South African apartheid. Environmental activist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben was one of the first major U.S. figures to recycle the idea to apply to universities and financial firms, outlining the case for divestment in a 2013 Rolling Stone piece. “The logic went something like this: Most people don’t live near a coal mine [or] oil pipeline, but everyone is near some pot of money—their college endowment, their church pension fund, their local pension fund in their community,” McKibben says. “Those are all sites where you could take effective action about climate change.”
» Read article                      
» Read Bill McKibben’s 2013 Rolling Stone article

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

battery recycler
Inside Clean Energy: Here Come the Battery Recyclers

As battery use skyrockets for EVs and energy storage, a recycling industry is taking shape.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
January 13, 2022

The battery economy is booming, and with it a recycling industry is bracing itself for a wave of battery waste.

Battery Resourcers of Worcester, Massachusetts, said last week that it is planning to build a plant in Georgia that will be capable of recycling 30,000 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries per year. It will be the largest battery recycling plant in North America when it opens later this year.

But its reign will be brief because Li-Cycle, based in the Toronto area, is building an even larger battery recycling plant near Rochester, New York, that is scheduled to open in 2023. The company said last month that it is modifying its plans in a way that increases the plant’s size, a response to forecasts of high demand for recycling.

To help understand what’s happening, I reached out to Jeff Spangenberger, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and also director of the ReCell Center, a collaboration between the government and industry to improve battery recycling technologies.

“If the process is good enough, there’s no reason why you can’t make battery materials from the battery materials,” he said.

For him, the development of a battery recycling industry is one of the most important and exciting parts of the transition to clean energy.

It’s important because the growth of electric vehicles and battery storage systems will eventually lead to millions of tons of batteries that are unusable unless they are recycled. And it’s exciting because researchers and entrepreneurs are coming up with cost-effective ways to reuse most of that waste.
» Read article                       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

locally hotLast Year’s Overall Climate Was Shaped by Warming-Driven Heat Extremes Around the Globe
A quarter of the world’s population experienced a record-warm year in 2021, research shows.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
January 14, 2022

Earth’s annual average temperature checkup can mask a lot of the details of the climate record over the previous year, and 2021 showed that deadly heat-related climate extremes happen, even if it’s not a record-warm year.

Global average temperature isn’t always the most important measure, University of Michigan climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck said, after United States federal agencies released the Global State of the Climate report, ranking 2021 as the sixth-warmest year on record for the planet.

“As with politics, it is often what happens locally that matters most, and 2021 was one of the most deadly and destructive years on record because of the unusually warm atmosphere that is becoming the norm,” he said. “Extreme heat waves were exceptional in 2021, including the deadly Pacific Northwest U.S. and Canada heatwave that killed hundreds and also set the stage for fires that wiped out a whole town.”

Last year, the climate “was metaphorically shouting to us to stop the warming, because if we don’t, the warming-related climate and weather extremes will just get worse and worse, deadlier and deadlier,” he said. “Even tornadoes are now thought to strengthen as a result of the warming, and this effect probably also was the reason we had tornadoes in 2021 that reached northward into parts of Minnesota for the first time ever in December.”

The Pacific Northwest heat wave was the most extreme hotspot in a series of heat extremes that together seemed to stretch across the entire northern hemisphere for much of the summer, said Chloe Brimicome, a climate scientist and heat expert at the University of Reading.

“What really stood out for me was this period in summer, in July,” she said. “Everywhere you looked, consecutive records in many countries for temperature were being broken, day on day on day. I don’t think we’d ever really seen that before, or at least we hadn’t heard about it in the same way before.”
» Read article                       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

roof disrupted
New Nail-On Solar Shingle Could Transform Residential Solar Industry
By The Energy Mix
January 12, 2022

California-based GAF Energy has developed a mass-market shingle that could revolutionize rooftop solar generation.

“What we’ve built is a nailable solar shingle that goes on as fast or faster than a regular shingle, looks great, and generates electricity,” GAF President Martin DeBono told Canary Media.

GAF Energy is a division of Standard Industries and was co-launched with GAF, one of the largest roofing materials companies in the world. With Tesla and other tech companies pushing towards new approaches to rooftop solar, the roofing giant put its foot in the game to “disrupt the roofing industry” before someone else does.

According to DeBono, GAF Energy’s edge comes from approaching the shingles from the perspective of a roofing company, rather than a solar company. Their emphasis on the product’s utility as a roofing material can help rooftop solar move away from the (relatively) clunky panels we’ve come to know and love.

Customer acquisition is typically costly for solar businesses, but because GAF Energy is already embedded in the roofing industry, it’s in a good position to solarize the roofing market, a quarter of which GAF already commands, Canary Media says.

The 45-watt shingles take one to three days to install and measure 60 inches long, 16 inches tall, and less than a quarter-inch deep. The design strings together mono PERC (Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell) solar cells that contain a single crystal of silicon and are coated on the back to reflect back into the panel any light that passes through. At 23% efficiency when using standard industry technology, the product is at the high end of average range for the industry as a whole. The stringed cells are then laminated onto a backsheet made of a common commercial waterproofing membrane, then “encapsulated and topped with glass and a textured material that allows the shingle to be walked on,” writes Canary Media.
» Read article                       

headwinds for gas
Reality Check: US Renewable Energy Portfolios Can Outcompete New Gas Plants
By Laurie Stone, RMI | Blog
January 4, 2022

As coal plants shut down across the United States, there is a pervasive belief that gas is the necessary “bridge” to a low-carbon grid. As of late 2021, utilities and other investors are anticipating investing more than $50 billion in new gas power plants over the next decade. However, currently available renewable energy technologies are often cheaper than gas.

In fact, a recent RMI report found that clean energy portfolios—combinations of renewable energy, efficiency, demand response, and battery storage—are a cheaper option than more than 80 percent of gas plants proposed to enter service by 2030. At least 70 GW of proposed gas plants could be economically avoided with cleaner alternatives, saving $22 billion and 873 million metric tons of CO2 over project lifetimes. This is the equivalent of taking more than 9 million vehicles off the road each year.

Already, more than half of gas plants proposed to come online in the past two years have been canceled before construction began:

For example, in New Mexico, the Public Service Company (PNM) is planning to retire the coal-powered San Juan Generating Station in 2022. To replace capacity, PNM proposed a 280 MW gas plant, the Piñon Energy Center, along with solar and storage projects. However, stakeholders pushed back on the plan, and in July 2020, the commission approved an alternate 100 percent renewable and storage replacement for San Juan based on costs, economic development, and New Mexico energy law.

And in Maryland, the Mattawoman Generating Station—a 990 MW gas plant—was approved in 2015 in a majority-Black community of Prince George’s County. However, due to economics (clean energy portfolios became cheaper than the proposed gas plant in 2018), a federal civil rights complaint, and pipeline cancellations, the project was declared no longer feasible, and was canceled in January 2021.

Replacing all of the proposed power needs with clean, renewable power also has other benefits, based on RMI’s report. It creates 20 percent more job-years, mostly in construction and manufacturing, and would prevent $1.6 billion to $3.7 billion in health impacts each year​ compared with fossil alternatives. And many of these job and health impacts will be found in low-income communities and communities of color.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

clean heat now
Commission on Clean Heat eyes road map to cut building emissions
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, in The Berkshire Eagle
January 14, 2022

The new advisory commission created to help the state meet its carbon reduction requirements by shifting to cleaner buildings and addressing heating fuels that contribute to emissions was sworn in Wednesday and will begin gathering public input on the transition in March.

Gov. Charlie Baker created the Commission on Clean Heat, which his office says is a first-in-the-nation effort, through an executive order last year and gave the panel a Nov. 30 deadline to recommend policies that “seek to sustainably reduce the use of heating fuels and minimize emissions from the building sector while ensuring costs and opportunities arising from such reductions are distributed equitably.”

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides tapped Undersecretary of Energy and Climate Solutions Judy Chang to serve as her designee and chair of the commission. The commission’s roster also includes William Akley, the president of Eversource’s gas business; Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts President Emerson Clauss III; Passive House New England founder Mike Duclos; Dharik Mallapragada, a research scientist working on MIT’s Energy Initiative; Robert Rio, senior vice president of government affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts; NAIOP Massachusetts CEO Tamara Small; and Environmental Defense Fund Director of Energy Markets and Regulation Jolette Westbrook.

“Climate leadership over the next decade will require a fundamental transition in how we heat and cool our homes and buildings,” Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said.
» Read article                       

high temp HP
Vattenfall launches high-temperature heat pump solution to replace gas boilers
Developed in partnership with Dutch heating specialist Feenstra, the all-electric heat pump solution will initially be available in the Netherlands. The system’s buffer works as a heat battery that is used to provide heat to radiators and generate hot tap water.
By Emiliano Bellini, PV Magazine
January 7, 2022

Swedish utility Vattenfall and Dutch heating and hot water systems provider Feenstra have launched in the Netherlands a high-temperature heat pump solution for existing single-family homes that is claimed to be an easy replacement for traditional gas central heating boilers.

“The similarities between Dutch and British gas central heating mean these high-temperature heat pumps could be suitable for UK housing in suburban and rural areas,” the two companies said in a joint statement. “They could enable households to swap out their existing gas boilers without needing to go to the additional expense and disruption of changing the rest of their heating system or installing additional insulation at the same time.”

The heat pump is claimed to be able to provide a water temperature of between 60 and 80 degrees Celsius, which means its use doesn’t require the improvement of a house’s insulation, the setting up of underfloor heating or the adaptation of radiators, all of which is necessary when a conventional air heat pumps are utilized.

The system’s buffer works as a heat battery that is used to provide heat to radiators and generate hot tap water.
» Read article                       

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

AeroShield
Massachusetts startup sees path to more efficient windows with new material

AeroShield is working to commercialize a clear, lightweight material that, when sandwiched between two panes of glass, produces windows that are more insulating than bulkier, more expensive options.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
January 13, 2022

A new material developed in Massachusetts could someday help make super-efficient windows more affordable for home and business owners.

A Cambridge startup called AeroShield has developed a clear, lightweight material that, when sandwiched between two panes of glass, produces windows that are more insulating than even bulkier, more expensive options.

Early research by the company indicates that windows incorporating its material could cut residential heating and cooling costs by 20%. The first prototypes could be installed in demonstration projects by the end of 2022, and products could hit the wider market in 2023 or 2024.

“We’re really excited by a change we could start in the industry by enabling some better designs and some better products,” said co-founder Elise Strobach.

As the country grapples with the urgent need to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the energy consumption of buildings is a key problem to solve. Fossil fuel combustion in buildings accounted for about 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2018, according to a report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Virginia-based climate and clean energy nonprofit.

Lowering these emissions will require switching from fossil fuels to electricity wherever possible, generating cleaner electricity on the grid, and reducing overall power usage. And a key strategy for decreasing energy consumption is to create extremely tight building envelopes.

Windows, however, have always posed a challenge to achieving high levels of efficiency: Heat lost or gained through windows is responsible for up to 30% of the energy used to heat or cool a home, the federal Department of Energy estimates.

AeroShield began with research Strobach conducted for her doctorate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, searching for ways to better insulate solar panels so they would generate power more efficiently. She looked to silica aerogel which, despite what its name suggests, is not sticky or oozy. It is a very light, highly porous solid glass that is such a good insulator that NASA has used it to protect critical equipment.

First invented in 1931, aerogels are not a new technology. However, silica aerogel has always been a cloudy, pale blue color, too opaque to let sufficient sunlight pass through to solar panels. Strobach’s goal was to figure out how to make the material transparent.

“It’s one of the most insulating materials in the world,” Strobach said. “But it had never been clear.”

Her research succeeded even beyond her original goal. The material she created not only let adequate sunlight pass, but it was also clear enough to see through. Essentially, she explained, her team made nanoparticles of glass and the pores between them smaller than the wavelength of visible light, so, in the final material, the light doesn’t interact with the material.
» Read article                       

» More about building materials

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

heavy blocks
Gravity Could Solve Clean Energy’s One Major Drawback
Finding green energy when the winds are calm and the skies are cloudy has been a challenge. Storing it in giant concrete blocks could be the answer.
By Matt Reynolds, Wired
January 4, 2022

Without a way to decarbonize the world’s electricity supply, we’ll never hit net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Electricity production and heat add up to a quarter of all global emissions and, since almost every activity you can imagine requires electricity, cleaning up power grids has huge knock-on effects. If our electricity gets greener, so do our homes, industries, and transport systems. This will become even more critical as more parts of our lives become electrified— particularly heating and transport, which will be difficult to decarbonize in any other way. All of this electrification is expected to double electricity production by 2050 according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. But without an easy way to store large amounts of energy and then release it when we need it, we may never undo our reliance on dirty, polluting, fossil-fuel-fired power stations.

This is where gravity energy storage comes in. Proponents of the technology argue that gravity provides a neat solution to the storage problem. Rather than relying on lithium-ion batteries, which degrade over time and require rare-earth metals that must be dug out of the ground, Piconi and his colleagues say that gravity systems could provide a cheap, plentiful, and long-lasting store of energy that we’re currently overlooking. But to prove it, they’ll need to build an entirely new way of storing electricity, and then convince an industry already going all-in on lithium-ion batteries that the future of storage involves extremely heavy weights falling from great heights.
» Read article                       

» More about long-duration energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

low Cd
In the shift to electric, the three-box sedan is obsolete: Here’s why

By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
January 12, 2022

Not everyone who wants an electric vehicle wants an SUV. There’s still life for longer and lower electric cars—especially as highway models that are optimized toward maximizing driving range.

But fewer of them than you might think will be traditional three-box sedans, with a hood, a cabin, and a trunk. And more of them will have swoopy “kammback” rooflines and hatchbacks.

Simply put, if you design a car around lower aerodynamic drag, it will be able to cover more highway miles per kilowatt-hour of stored battery energy—which means a lower cost and a lower environmental footprint for the car. The sedan shape is turbulence-prone behind the rear window, but a softer slope and tapered sides near the rear remedy the issue.

That’s especially critical for entry luxury models, where all the numbers have to stand out versus basic commuter devices and yet keep to a price point. It’s why, with the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX, which previews a generation of compact to midsize EVs on the upcoming MMA platform debuting in 2024, Mercedes went all out with aero.

The EQXX concept achieves an excellent 0.17 coefficient of drag—far below that of any current production four-door. And company officials pointed to its aerodynamics as one of the keys to its projected real-world range of 621 miles on a battery pack with less than 100 kwh, perhaps with air-cooling for the battery.
» Read article                       

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY

BLM in hot water
Clean energy goes up against tribal rights and biodiversity in Nevada
A geothermal power plant is the latest battlefield for Biden’s green vision.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
January 7, 2022

The Biden administration is facing critical questions about how to balance the urgency of transitioning to clean energy with other progressive priorities. On Monday, a U.S. district judge halted construction of two geothermal power plants on public land in Nevada. The decision was in response to a lawsuit filed in December by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental nonprofit, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, against the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, for approving the project.

Geothermal power plants pump hot water from deep underground and use it to generate steam to produce clean electricity. The Nevada plants are set to be built on a verdant wetland in the desert called Dixie Meadows. The suit alleges that the project threatens to dry up the hot springs that support the wetland and are of religious and cultural significance to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone. The ecosystem is also home to the Dixie Valley toad, a species that is not known to exist anywhere else on Earth.

The plaintiffs have reason to be skeptical. The geothermal company behind the Dixie Meadows project, Ormat Technologies, opened a geothermal power plant in 2011 about 40 miles away on another hot springs called Jersey Valley. The springs dried up entirely a few years after the plant began operating.

To date, geothermal power plant development has been limited to areas with known geothermal resources close to the surface of the earth, which are often indicated by natural hot springs. But research underway at the Department of Energy and by private companies to tap into geothermal resources much deeper underground could open up new areas to geothermal development, potentially sparing treasured natural resources like Dixie Meadows.
» Read article                       

» More about siting impacts

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

unused and useless
Unused and useless: States must act to end flawed natural gas power plant buildouts
By Grant Smith, Utility Dive | Guest Opinion
January 11, 2022
Grant Smith is senior energy policy advisor at Environmental Working Group (EWG)

Nothing exemplifies the irrational utility business model more than the billions of dollars companies have wasted on the massive buildout of natural gas capacity over the last decade, ignoring obvious market trends favoring renewables and energy storage.

One great tool to end this financial mismanagement would be enforcing the once prominent “used and useful” standard through which states could mandate that new power plants be completed and providing service before a utility can recover costs from ratepayers. And those generation resources must remain economic, or useful, throughout their lifecycles.

But states have scrapped or severely weakened this requirement across the U.S.

And their approval of new, unnecessary natural gas infrastructure also rests in part on power companies’ misleading claims in their investment plans.
» Read article                       

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

coal was dying
Coal was dying. Then 2021 happened.
The dirtiest fossil fuel is on the rise — and with it, U.S. carbon emissions.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
January 10, 2022

Coal was supposed to be on its deathbed. For the past seven years, coal use in America has been trending down. Faced with falling natural gas prices and the growth in wind and solar energy, coal plants from Illinois to New Mexico closed their doors. In 2005, coal plants generated 2 trillion kilowatt-hours of American power; by 2020, that number had been cut by more than half. And as coal vanished, replaced by less carbon-intensive natural gas, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions edged down. In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic cratered carbon dioxide emissions overall, coal use fell by a whopping 19 percent.

Then 2021 happened.

According to a report released Monday by the energy research firm Rhodium Group, coal use rebounded for the first time since 2014, growing 17 percent in 2021. That coincided with a rebound in overall greenhouse gas emissions as the economy slowly recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, U.S. emissions fell by 10.3 percent, the largest drop since World War II; in 2021, they climbed 6.2 percent — not returning to 2019 emission levels, but perilously close.

That’s bad news for the climate. Over the past decade, most of the United States’ emissions cuts have come from cheap natural gas replacing coal. But last year, rising natural gas prices helped resuscitate the dirtiest fossil fuel. A cold winter and declining supply sent natural gas prices skyrocketing to more than double their 2020 average. In response, utilities leaned more on coal to generate electricity across the country — and emissions climbed.
» Read article                      
» Read the Rhodium Group report

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS RECYCLING

single use
Energy Department slammed for funding ‘false’ plastics solutions
Advocates say the agency’s efforts to develop chemical recycling are a “waste of tax dollars.”
By Joseph Winters, Grist
January 14, 2022

The U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, announced this week that it will invest $13.4 million in research funding to address the plastic industry’s contributions to pollution and climate change. But while the agency cast the investment as an opportunity to address urgent environmental problems while creating an “influx of clean manufacturing jobs for American workers,” environmental advocates said it was the wrong approach.

“It’s a waste of tax dollars,” said Judith Enck, a former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and founder of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics. Taking aim at the funding’s focus on “upcycling” and biodegradable plastics, she said the grants perpetuated “false solutions” that would keep the U.S. hooked on single-use plastics and do little to reduce the glut of plastic waste entering the oceans each year.

Enck’s take is a stark departure from the tone set by the DOE’s press release, which says it will contribute up to $2.5 million each to seven plastic-related research projects led by corporations and universities. It cites the need to “build a clean energy economy and ensure the U.S. reaches net-zero carbon emissions by 2050” and includes laudatory quotes from Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

But environmental advocates say most of the projects set to be funded by the DOE — “infinitely recyclable single-polymer chemistry,” “catalytic deconstruction of plasma treated single-use plastics to value-added chemicals” — are just industry-speak for a process known as “chemical recycling.” This process, which theoretically melts plastic into its constituent molecules so it can be repurposed into new plastic products, has been criticized as an industry pipe dream; due to technological and economic difficulties, most chemical recycling facilities end up just melting used plastic into oil and gas to be burned. One 2020 analysis from the nonprofit Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, or GAIA, found that of the 37 chemical recycling facilities proposed in the U.S. since 2000, only three are operational, and zero specialize in plastic-to-plastic conversion.

According to GAIA, the plastics industry has spent decades researching chemical recycling without much to show for it.
» Read article                      
» Read the GAIA analysis

» More about plastics recycling

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


» Learn more about Pipeline projects
» Learn more about other proposed energy infrastructure
» Sign up for the NFGiM Newsletter for events, news and actions you can take
» DONATE to help keep our efforts going!