Tag Archives: electric car

Weekly News Check-In 11/5/21

banner 14

Welcome back.

We’ll start with the somewhat obscure Energy Charter Treaty, a post-cold-war relic intended to integrate ex-Soviet energy markets with the west. Lately, the treaty has allowed fossil fuel companies to sue countries for hundreds of millions of dollars, claiming their attempts to reduce emissions have hurt profits. While we’ve been quick to support court action that slows or stops the expansion of fossil fuel projects, this is an uncomfortable reminder that the legal blade cuts both ways.

With COP26 climate talks underway in Glasgow, we’re highlighting a new report from Climate Analytics warning that we need to cut total natural gas use by 1/3 this decade to maintain a shot at keeping global warming within the Paris agreement limits. Note that the Paris warming limits of 1.5C to 2.0C aren’t just random numbers – exceeding them triggers a cascade of really bad things. Bearing that in mind, it’s difficult to justify the Eversource push for a gas pipeline expansion in Springfield. We agree that neighborhoods served by a single aging gas line are vulnerable. But our solution would be to double down on energy efficiency and electrification – and rapidly eliminate the gas dependence. We have all the tools to do that.

Connecticut offers another cautionary tale regarding the continued build-out of gas infrastructure when it should have been trimmed back.

Checking in on another fossil fuel, the COP26 40-country agreement to phase out coal is less significant than it seems on the surface. Big coal burners like China, Australia, India, and the US didn’t sign on. And even for its limited scope, the timeline is a decade slower than science demands for a total shutdown. In another softball lobbed to industry, a US proposal to increase tax credits for carbon capture and sequestration has environmentalists concerned that its practical effect will be to extend the life of fossil fuel plants. Note that CCS is still neither economical nor effective, but it’s talked up enthusiastically by industry as the magic pixie dust justification for continuing business as usual.

A hugely important energy efficiency effort is just starting to ramp up, especially in states with ambitious emissions reduction targets. That’s a career opportunity for tens of thousands just in Massachusetts, with jobs ranging from building insulation and sealing to installing and servicing heat pumps. And those workers need to come onboard quickly.

Elsewhere on the green scene, passage of a Maine ballot initiative blocked a proposed transmission corridor meant to carry hydro power electricity from Quebec to Massachusetts. The move upsets MA emission reduction plans, and presents a case study in the siting impacts of renewable energy resources.

We’ll close with fossil fuels, an industry that realized decades ago it could either transition to clean energy or cook the planet. That its leaders chose to cook the planet is now a matter of record. What’s almost stranger is the industry’s continuing campaign to spin facts and rebrand products, as if keeping the party going a while longer might make it fun again. “Responsibly sourced” fracked gas? Please!

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

Uniper suit
Secretive court system poses threat to Paris climate deal, says whistleblower
Treaty allows energy corporations to sue governments for billions over policies that could hurt their profits
By Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian
November 3, 2021

A secretive investor court system poses a real threat to the Paris climate agreement, activists have said, as governments taking action to phase out fossil fuels face a slew of multimillion-dollar lawsuits for lost profits.

New data seen by the Guardian shows a surge in cases under the energy charter treaty (ECT), an obscure international agreement that allows energy corporations to sue governments over policies that could hurt their profits.

Coal and oil investors are already suing governments for several billions in compensation for lost profits over energy policy changes. For example, the German energy company RWE is suing the Netherlands for €1.4bn (£1.2bn) over its plans to phase out coal, while Rockhopper Exploration, based in the UK, is suing the Italian government after it banned new drilling near the coast.

“It’s a real threat [to the Paris agreement]. It’s the biggest threat I am aware of,” said Yamina Saheb, a former employee of the ECT secretariat who quit in 2018 to raise the alarm.

“The Paris agreement … means that we need to decarbonise in the current decade before 2030,” said Saheb, also a co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on mitigation. She has estimated that foreign investors could sue governments for €1.3tn until 2050 in compensation for early closure of coal, oil and gas plants – a sum that exceeds what the EU hopes to spend on its green deal in the next decade.

As compensation to companies is paid by public funds, governments would have less money to pay for new technology to make buildings, transport and industry greener. Saheb argued these payments could endanger the green transition. “It’s impossible to do everything,” she said.
» Read article                  

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

alternative routes
Concern about gas pipeline proposed from Longmeadow to Springfield
By And Another Thing Team, NEPM
November 3, 2021

A proposed natural gas pipeline from Longmeadow to Springfield has some residents of both communities up in arms, but utility Eversource insists the five-mile pipeline is safe and essential to assure reliable service. What’s called the Western Massachusetts Natural Gas Reliability Project is a proposed pipeline that would take one of four routes from Longmeadow to a regulator station in Springfield.
» Listen to report              

both sides now
A Russian Pipeline Changes Direction, and Energy Politics Come to the Fore
Amid an energy crunch in Europe, one of Russia’s largest natural gas pipelines began pulling gas out of Western Europe back eastward, Russian news agencies reported.
By Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times
October 30, 2021

Natural gas, already in short supply in Europe this fall, began moving away from Germany on Saturday and back toward the east in an unusual reversal in a major Russian pipeline, Russian media reported.

In themselves, the Russian reports were no cause for alarm, and the giant Russian energy firm, Gazprom, said Saturday that it is filling all European orders. One Russian news media report even suggested the flow reversal was a short-term problem caused by balmy weather in Germany over the weekend.

But the reversal is playing out against a backdrop of a politically charged explosion in gas prices in Europe and accusations that the Kremlin is restricting gas supplies for political purposes. One such purpose is to prod the E.U. into approving a new pipeline, Nordstream 2, that would bring gas from Russia directly to Germany, bypassing Eastern Europe.

More broadly, analysts say, the Kremlin may be sending a message about renewable energy, illustrating that too quick a pivot away from natural gas will leave the Continent vulnerable to fickle wind and solar supplies.

Analysts say Russia has for weeks now been slow to supply fuel to make up for shortfalls, often by limiting deliveries to its own storage facilities. The reversal of the direction of flow on the major Yamal-Europe pipeline was seen as a potential new wrinkle.

The pipeline connects Russia to Germany and crosses Belarus and Poland. It accounts for about 20 percent of Russia’s overland supply capacity to the European Union, suggesting a significant shortfall if its operations were halted.
» Read article                  

» More about pipelines

GREENING THE ECONOMY

cheapest energyReasons to be hopeful: the climate solutions available now
We have every tool we need to tackle the climate crisis. Here’s what some key sectors are doing
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
October 31, 2021

The climate emergency is the biggest threat to civilisation we have ever faced. But there is good news: we already have every tool we need to beat it. The challenge is not identifying the solutions, but rolling them out with great speed.

Some key sectors are already racing ahead, such as electric cars. They are already cheaper to own and run in many places – and when the purchase prices equal those of fossil-fueled vehicles in the next few years, a runaway tipping point will be reached.

Electricity from renewables is now the cheapest form of power in most places, sometimes even cheaper than continuing to run existing coal plants. There’s a long way to go to meet the world’s huge energy demand, but the plummeting costs of batteries and other storage technologies bodes well.

And many big companies are realising that a failure to invest will be far more expensive as the impacts of global heating destroy economies. Even some of the biggest polluters, such as cement and steel, have seen the green writing on the wall.

Buildings are big emitters but the solution – improved energy efficiency – is simple to achieve and saves the occupants money, particularly with the cost of installing technology such as heat pumps expected to fall.

The real fuel for the green transition is a combination of those most valuable and intangible of commodities: political will and skill. The supply is being increased by demands for action from youth strikers to chief executives, and must be used to face down powerful vested interests, such as the fossil fuel, aviation and cattle industries. The race for a sustainable, low-carbon future is on, and the Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow will show how much faster we need to go.
» Read article                  

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

Watford CityWorld urged to slash gas use by a third to avoid climate disaster
‘Gas is the new coal’, says Climate Analytics report that finds it the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
November 4, 2021

The escalating rollout of gas for heating, electricity and cooking is turning it into the “new coal” and its use worldwide must be slashed by nearly a third this decade to avoid disastrous climate effects, according to a new report.

Gas has often been referred to as a “bridge fuel” as it emits about half the carbon dioxide of coal, and many countries have embraced it while also promising to transition to renewable energy in order to cut planet-heating emissions.

But this energy source, which has become easy and cheap to access due to the advance of fracking for its extraction, is still a fossil fuel, and the new analysis finds that it is now the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide emissions, putting the world at risk of blowing past dangerous global heating thresholds.

“Natural gas is not a bridging fuel. It is a fossil fuel,” said Bill Hare, chief executive of Climate Analytics and lead author of the new report. “Gas is the new coal. Governments, investors and the financial sector must treat it the same way as they do coal: phase it out as soon as possible.”

But growth in gas has had a significant influence over global heating, with the Climate Analytics report finding that gas was the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions increase in the past decade, rising by 42% and causing 60% of the methane emissions from fossil fuel production. Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas that is many times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat.

If the world is to avert disastrous 1.5C of global heating the use of gas should already be in decline, according to the report, but it is projected to cause 70% of the fossil CO2 emissions increase by 2030 under current policies.

This means unabated gas use must peak this decade and then drop sharply, the analysis finds, necessitating a decrease of 30% below last year’s levels by 2030 and then a 65% decrease by 2040. Renewable energy such as solar and wind should be ramped up to take the place of gas, according to the report.
» Read article                 
» Read the report: Why gas is the new coal

Tom Goldtooth
Tom Goldtooth at COP26: Absolute Carbon Reduction “Issue of Life and Death” for Indigenous Peoples
By Democracy Now, YouTube
November 2, 2021

» Watch video                  

Brianna Fruean
Samoan Climate Activist Brianna Fruean: If Pacific Islands Drown, the Rest of the World Is Doomed
By Democracy Now, YouTube
November 2, 2021

» Watch video                     

Dipti Bhatnagar
Voices from Global South Shut Out of U.N. Climate Summit As Vaccine Apartheid Limits Travel to U.K.
Democracy Now, YouTube
November 1, 2021

» Watch video                    

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

underwhelmingMore than 40 countries agree to phase out coal-fired power
Critics say pledge to end use of dirtiest fuel source in 2030s and 40s does not go far enough
By Fiona Harvey, Jillian Ambrose and Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian
November 3, 2021

More than 40 countries have agreed to phase out their use of coal-fired power, the dirtiest fuel source, in a boost to UK hopes of a deal to “keep 1.5C alive”, from the Cop26 climate summit.

Major coal-using countries, including Canada, Poland, South Korea, Ukraine, Indonesia and Vietnam, will phase out their use of coal for electricity generation, with the bigger economies doing so in the 2030s, and smaller economies doing so in the 2040s.

However, some of the world’s biggest coal-dependent economies, including Australia, China, India and the US were missing from the deal, and experts and campaigners told the Guardian the phase-out deadlines countries signed up to were much too late.

The goal of “consigning coal to history” has been a key focus for the UK as host of the Cop26 summit, which aims to put the world on track to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Expert assessments have found that for the world to stay within 1.5C, developed economies should phase out coal before 2030, rather than in the 2030s as in the deal announced on Wednesday night.

Elif Gündüzyeli, senior coal policy coordinator at the campaign group Climate Action Network Europe, said: “This is not a game-changer. A 2030 phaseout deadline should be a minimum, and this agreement doesn’t have that. Coal is already expensive [compared with renewable energy] and no one wants to put money in coal any more.”
» Read article                  

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

EE worker
Report: Massachusetts doesn’t have enough workers to meet its efficiency goals

A recent report by the clean energy nonprofit E4TheFuture says the state will need to attract some 35,000 people to energy efficiency related fields this decade if it wants to hit targets for 2030 and beyond.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
November 1, 2021

Massachusetts needs to grow its energy efficiency workforce by some 35,000 people if it is to make significant progress updating its aging homes by 2030, according to a recent report.

Massachusetts is already a leader in clean energy workforce development, advocates said, but the sector was already struggling to find qualified job candidates before the pandemic upended the labor market. More must be done if the state is to reach its goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050.

“We have to make the financial commitment,” said Pat Stanton, director of policy for E4TheFuture, the Massachusetts-based organization that developed the report. “How do we convince young people that going into the trades is a smart career path? And how do we help that whole sector grow?”

Energy efficiency is the largest employer in the energy sector nationwide, but it is particularly prominent in Massachusetts, where leading energy efficiency incentives, some of the oldest housing stock in the country, and cold winter temperatures combine to boost demand for efficiency services. In Massachusetts, efficiency jobs make up nearly 57% of the total energy workforce, well above the national average of 40%, according to the E4TheFuture report.

Still, the need for workers who can install heat pumps, operate high performance systems, conduct energy audits, and construct well-sealed building envelopes far outstrips the availability of trained workers in the state.

And demand is only likely to grow. Boston earlier this month passed new regulations calling for large buildings to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and the climate bill signed this spring will allow towns to require new buildings to have net-zero emissions. The state’s decarbonization roadmap estimates a million buildings will need heating system retrofits by 2030 to remain on pace to reach the state’s emissions-reduction goals.
» Read article                 
» Read the report

» More about energy efficiency

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY

shot down
Maine voters tell Mass. to stick its transmission line
Backers of project say referendum was unconstitutional
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
November 2, 2021

MAINE VOTERS delivered a shock to Massachusetts on Tuesday, overwhelmingly approving a ballot question that would block the Bay State’s bid to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by building a 145-mile transmission line delivering hydro-electricity from Quebec.

The ballot fight was the most expensive in Maine history. Opponents of the ballot question heavily outspent supporters and most of the state’s political and media establishment urged a no vote. But with 77 percent of the vote counted Tuesday night, the tally was 59 percent in favor of the question, 41 percent opposed.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine called the victory a landslide. Pete Didisheim, the group’s advocacy director, urged Central Maine Power to halt construction work on the transmission line immediately.

“We also call on Massachusetts to honor this electoral outcome by selecting an alternative option for meeting its climate goals without imposing significant environmental harm on another New England state,” Didisheim said in a statement.

Central Maine Power is likely to challenge the ballot outcome in court, possibly on the grounds that the question attempts to retroactively overturn regulatory approvals on which the utility relied in moving ahead with construction of the power line.

Clean Energy Matters, a political group affiliated with Central Maine Power, issued a statement saying “we believe this referendum, funded by fossil fuel interests, is unconstitutional. With over 400 Maine jobs and our ability to meet our climate goals on the line, this fight will continue.”
» Read article                  

» More about siting impacts of renewables

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

smoke and steamProposed U.S. carbon capture credit hike cheers industry, worries greens
By Richard Valdmanis, Reuters
November 1, 2021

A proposed tax credit hike for U.S. carbon capture and sequestration projects being mulled by Congress could trigger a big jump in use of the climate-fighting technology to clean up industry, but environmentalists worry the scheme will backfire by prolonging the life of dirty coal-fired power plants.

Carbon capture sequestration (CCS) is a technology that siphons planet-warming carbon dioxide from industrial facilities and stores it underground to keep it out of the atmosphere. The administration of President Joe Biden considers it an important part of its plan to decarbonize the U.S. economy by 2050.

Under the proposal, embedded in the Biden administration’s $1.75 trillion spending package, CCS projects would become eligible for an $85 credit for each metric ton of carbon dioxide captured and stored, up from the current $50-per-ton credit that the industry says is too low.

Some environmental groups expect the credit will have the unintended consequence of extending the lives of big polluters like coal-fired power plants, among the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, by giving them a new revenue stream.

Under the credit proposal, industrial facilities would be required to capture at least 50% of their carbon emissions to be eligible for the credit, with that threshold rising to 75% for power plants – thresholds green groups say are too low.

“Such a handout to the fossil industry risks putting a sharp stop to the transition plans of coal-fired utilities, causing them to pursue speculative and expensive carbon capture dreams that are likely never to be realized, to the detriment of the climate and taxpayers,” said the Sierra Club, an environmental group focused on speeding the retirement of coal plants.
» Read article                  

» More about CCS

GAS UTILITIES

stock pipeline image
Expert says natural gas program ‘has been a complete fleecing of utility ratepayers’
By Kimberly James | The Center Square contributor
October 29, 2021

A natural gas program designed to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year has yet to materialize in Connecticut, and is instead leaving homeowners and businesses who converted to it facing an expensive winter.

Former Gov. Daniel P. Malloy’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy included a large-scale natural gas expansion, in part to bolster the economy and in part to reduce high energy prices. By 2020, 300,000 homes were to be connected to natural gas.

“At a high-level, the program assumed that the economics of converting from fuel oil to natural gas would drive a substantial number of conversions, with some additional assistance through this program,” Taren O’Connor, director of Legislation, Regulations and Communications at Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, told The Center Square. “However, the relative prices of fuel oil and natural gas through the life of this program have proven more price competitive, leading to fewer conversions than projected through the CES and at the outset of the program.”

Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, told The Center Square the plan was built on a faulty premise that natural gas prices would remain low for decades. “At the end of the day, DEEP was wrong when it came to the economics and on the environmental benefits of natural gas.”

With natural gas prices currently soaring, those homes and businesses that have made the switch are looking at a costly winter season.

Herb said that conservation is the only proven way to cut costs and reduce emissions.

“At Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) insistence, an important discounting mechanism was taken away from the CT Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) when they dedicated non-firm margin which was used to discount the cost of natural gas, was given to the utilities to build new pipelines,” Herb said. “This was a fundamental flaw with the expansion plan that hurt consumers.”
» Read article                  

» More about natural gas utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Marcellus drill site
The Problem With Calling Fracked Gas ‘Responsibly Sourced’
The natural gas industry is increasingly trying to market its product to environmentally and socially conscious investors, but two environmental advocates argue these efforts leave out fracked gas’s massive water and waste issues.
By Ted Auch, PhD, FracTracker Alliance, with contributions from Shannon Smith of FracTracker Alliance, DeSmog Blog | Opinion
November 1, 2021

The fracked natural gas industry has never been the most responsible or efficient consumer of resources. Drillers are using ever-increasing amounts of water and sand in order to produce the same volume of gas, with a corresponding rise in the levels of solid and liquid waste created.

Nevertheless, the industry has begun a new wave of branding around “Responsibly Sourced Natural Gas,” or RSG. But what does RSG really mean?

We argue that right now it’s an inadequate and ill-defined measurement of the overall ecological and social burden imposed by fracking. Instead, we suggest a new ratio for more accurately calculating fracked gas’s full impacts so that the fossil fuel industry can’t use RSG standards as a thin green veil for continuing its polluting practices.

Quantifying methane emissions is central to most of the RSG programs, but none of them  require full public disclosure of the methane levels that are actually released. That practice mirrors the secretive nature of the fracked oil and gas industry, which also does not publicly disclose the full list of chemicals used during the fracking process.

There are benefits to the natural gas industry reducing methane emissions — most notably for the rapidly destabilizing climate — but it represents low-hanging fruit for the industry to clean up its practices. Given the scale of the climate crisis, we need a much more serious commitment on the part of policymakers and energy companies to phase out fracked oil and gas production entirely and in the interim to significantly lessen its resource demands and waste production.

After all, RSG programs do not transform natural gas from a fossil fuel that accelerates climate change into a renewable fuel that does not. Instead, the RSG label offers the oil and gas industry an undeserved pass to continue gobbling up resources and polluting the environment, at the expense of people and the climate.
» Read article                  

two energy futures
In Their Own Words: The Dirty Dozen Documents of Big Oil’s Secret Climate Knowledge
Science historian Ben Franta unpacks some of the most critical documents exposing what the fossil fuel industry knew and when they knew it.
By Paul D. Thacker, DeSmog Blog
October 29, 2021

“Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes,” said ExxonMobil lobbyist Keith McCoy. “Did we join some of these ‘shadow groups’ to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true. But there’s nothing illegal about that.”

For years, academics, journalists, and activists have been unearthing documents proving that the fossil fuel industry knew about the dangers of climate change since the late 1950s. That’s many, many years before McCoy was even twinkle in his daddy’s eye and decades before he came to Washington to join in Exxon’s campaign to deny science and delay action to save the planet from “catastrophic climate change” — a term Exxon used back in 1981.

These documents show how companies worked to erode public acceptance of climate science over the years — including Exxon corporate reports from the late 1970s, revealed by DeSmog in 2016, which stated “There is no doubt” that CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels was a growing “problem.”

To explain the long history of what the fossil fuel industry knew and when they knew it, Stanford University science historian Ben Franta has collected a dozen of his favorite documents.

The fossil fuel industry was first warned about climate change back in 1959 by famed physicist Edward Teller, known as “the father of the hydrogen bomb.” Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, oil and gas companies continued to gather evidence that burning fossil fuels was going to change the planet, perhaps even catastrophically. By the early ‘80s, the science was clear enough that oil and gas companies began to strategize on ways to control messaging about climate change and regulations. In 1989, they launched the Global Climate Coalition, a massive lobbying effort to undermine science and attack any attempt to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Franta and I recently discussed these key documents, what they say, how they were found, and what this means for the fossil fuel industry. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
» Read article                  

» 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 8/6/21

banner 19

Welcome back.

The ongoing protests and actions targeting Enbridge’s Line 3 are led primarily by indigenous groups executing all the components of a successful nonviolent campaign. Meanwhile, the aging and degraded Line 5 pipeline poses an imminent threat to the Great Lakes, and its most vocal opponent is Michigan’s Governor Whitmer. A latecomer to these battles against fossil fuel infrastructure is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which until recently seemed happy to rubber-stamp approval for nearly every new project. While still internally conflicted between the commissioners, Chair Richard Glick is getting backup from the DC Circuit Court, which has ordered FERC to conduct robust climate and environmental justice impact analyses prior to final approval of two Texas liquefied natural gas terminals. This could affect consideration of future projects.

Massachusetts’ green economy will anchor to the offshore wind industry, and the state is offering $1.6 million in grants for job training to reduce some of the barriers that would keep people of color and low-income people from participating in the coming boom. We’re also keeping an eye on the geothermal industry – not a newcomer, but not yet mainstream either.

We’ve heard “net-zero by 2050” so often that it seems both a good thing and also inevitable. We offer a climate report that warns both assumptions are dangerously off the mark. Related to this – an urgent issue within the larger climate puzzle is how to retire massive numbers of coal plants – many of them relatively new – sooner rather than later. The Asian Development Bank proposes a novel solution, and is enlisting private sector financing to help.

We’ve recently started tracking a couple of climate “solutions” that have some merit but are being co-opted by the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries, boosting them as excuses to continue with business as usual. Carbon offsets & reforestation, along with carbon capture & sequestration, are two areas drawing a lot of unhelpful industry attention lately. We’re starting to hear about plans for a vast network of pipelines to send carbon dioxide from where it’s captured at emitters to locations where it will be sequestered. It’s worth noting that CO2 is a toxic gas in anything but very small concentrations. It is odorless and heavier than air, and if leaked from a pipeline would pool in low terrain – displacing all the air and asphyxiating every living being in the area.

California is facing a looming energy crisis, with its power supply threatened by drought, heat, and fire. Their solution is to speed up the clean energy transition. And while the whole country struggles against entrenched interests (building trades, real estate industry, etc.) to improve energy efficiency in building codes, Colorado has stepped out front with a host of new laws. Of course, when you build a new, efficient building, the last thing you want is to incorporate carbon-intensive materials. Financiers are beginning pressure steel manufacturers to greatly reduce emissions associated with making their product.

This week’s energy storage news considers the promise of Form Energy’s recently revealed iron-air battery chemistry, while a report on a fire at an Australian lithium-ion battery reminds us that even green power carries some risk.

Since we’re on the cusp of a clean transportation revolution, it’s great that the Guardian just published an article looking back at the last time we did this. At the dawn of the 20th century, horses were rapidly replaced by machines and electric vehicles ruled the road.

Fossil fuel industry news includes some troubling new subsidies tucked into the bipartisan infrastructure legislation making its way though the Senate. Also, how Facebook looked the other way as the industry spread misinformation on its platform. Meanwhile, liquefied natural gas continues to face headwinds in North America, with the cancellation of an LNG export terminal in Québec’s Saguenay region. This comes just weeks after the collapse of Pieridae Energy’s scheme to build a similar facility in Nova Scotia.

Finally, it was a big week for biomass news in Massachusetts, as a hearing on the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard ran straight into the state’s new climate laws and limits associated with siting polluters near environmental justice communities.

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

— The NFGiM Team

 

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

Old Crossing Treaty
Everyone has a role to play in stopping the Line 3 pipeline
Indigenous water protectors and allies are effectively engaging all four roles of social change — just what’s needed to beat a company as powerful as Enbridge.   
By Eileen Flanagan, Waging Nonviolence
August 2, 2021

On Monday, July 19, in a red shirt and long black skirt, Sasha Beaulieu strode toward the Middle River in northwestern Minnesota to fulfill her official role as the Red Lake Nation Tribal Monitor. The water was incredibly low from the drought, and in parts the river bed was completely dry — all of which she would report to the Army Corps of Engineers with the hope of stopping the Canadian corporation Enbridge from drilling under Middle River to install the controversial Line 3 pipeline. Enbridge had already polluted the Willow River while trying to install the pipeline, an accident discovered by water protectors and reported to regulators. Beaulieu explained on Facebook Live that the company is supposed to stop pumping water when the river level is below a foot and a half, but Enbridge was not complying.

As Beaulieu recorded her findings, 40 people from the Red Lake Treaty Camp took up positions on the bridge, chanting and holding signs, the largest of which said, “Honor the Old Crossing Treaty of 1863,” which gives people of the Red Lake Nation the right to sustain themselves through fishing on the region’s rivers, as well as hunting and performing ceremony there. Meanwhile, at the Shell River, two hours to the southeast, a different tactic was being deployed, as famed Indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke and six other elder women sat in lawn chairs, blocking Enbridge construction in defiant civil disobedience.
» Read article            

» More about protests and actions                

 

PIPELINES

worst possible placeLine 5 pipeline between U.S. and Canada could cause ‘devastating damage’ to Great Lakes, say environmentalists
Canadian officials siding with Enbridge to keep pipeline running despite Michigan’s claims it is unsafe
By Samantha Beattie, CBC News
August 3, 2021

An aging pipeline that carries oil along the bottom of the ecologically sensitive and turbulent Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, is in such a state of disrepair it could burst at any moment and cause catastrophic damage to the Great Lakes, environmentalists warn. 

Line 5, a 1,000-kilometre-long pipeline owned by Calgary-based Enbridge, carries up to 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids a day from Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ont., where it is shipped to other refineries in Ontario and Quebec.

It’s at the centre of a politically charged dispute between Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who’s ordered what she calls the “ticking time bomb” to be shut down, and Canadian officials, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who’ve sided with Enbridge in insisting it’s safe to keep running.

“Over the past year, I have both written and spoken to the Governor to express my disappointment and stress the importance of Line 5 in ensuring economic, environmental and energy security to the entire Great Lakes Region,” Ford said in a statement to CBC News.

“Our government believes pipelines are a safe way to transport essential fuels across the Great Lakes, operating in accordance with the highest pipeline safety standards.”

Enbridge says Line 5 is safe and saves the hassle of transporting huge amounts of fuel by truck or train.

But Michelle Woodhouse, water program manager at Toronto-based Environmental Defence, said it’s time to put politics aside and cut through Enbridge’s “manufactured narrative.” She says the danger the pipeline poses to the Great Lakes is too risky to take “a gamble.”

Line 5 was designed in 1953 to have a lifespan of 50 years, or until 2003. Eighteen years later, it’s still running, and has had its fair share of problems, said Woodhouse. 

“This is a very old, deteriorating, dangerous pipeline that has already leaked significant amounts of oil into the surrounding lands and water that it crosses through,” she said.

Since 1953, Line 5 has leaked 29 times, spilling 4.5 million litres of oil into the environment, according to media reports.

A spill would cause “devastating damage” to Lake Huron and Lake Michigan’s shorelines, compromising drinking water, fisheries, businesses and homes, said Woodhouse.
» Read article            

» More about pipelines           

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

first circuit DC
DC Circuit orders FERC to analyze climate, environmental justice more thoroughly
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
August 4, 2021

Critics have long accused FERC of “rubber stamping” projects, a criticism Glick has often agreed with. In his dissent on the commission’s 2019 approval of the Rio Grande and Texas LNG projects, he argued that FERC was not allowed under federal law to “assume away” the impacts of these projects, and that their assessment at the time was inadequate.

The Tuesday decision “clearly demonstrates that the Commission has the authority and obligation to meaningfully analyze and consider the impacts from GHG emissions and impacts to Environmental Justice communities,” Glick said in a statement. “Moreover, failure to do so puts the Commission’s decisions – and the investments made in reliance on those decisions – in legal peril.”

In the commission’s environmental analysis of the projects, it found that it could not determine what the facilities’ impacts on the climate crisis would be, because there is no universal methodology for calculating those impacts. But petitioners argued FERC could use the social cost of carbon or some other generally accepted metric to make that evaluation. Ultimately, the court agreed that the commission could have tried harder in 2019 to make this assessment.

“This court is saying you really do actually need to try to evaluate impacts based on whatever information is either out there in the real world, or that is based on academic or other research,” said John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Before you say you can’t do it, you need to try a lot harder.”
» Read article            

» More about FERC           

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

equity in the wind
Massachusetts grants focus on equity in offshore wind workforce development

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has awarded $1.6 million in grants to eight offshore wind workforce training programs aimed at reducing specific obstacles for people of color and low-income people.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
August 3, 2021

A Massachusetts clean energy agency has awarded $1.6 million in grants to eight offshore wind workforce training programs, each of which targets a specific obstacle that might prevent people of color and low-income people from pursuing jobs in the burgeoning industry. 

“We wanted to up the game a little bit,” said Bruce Carlisle, managing director for offshore wind at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the organization that awarded the grants. “We made a conscious effort in 2021 that we were going to focus exclusively on this issue.”

The 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project, which is slated to become the country’s first utility-scale offshore wind installation, received its last major federal approval in May, effectively jumpstarting an industry that is expected to be a major employer and economic driver in years to come. 

The offshore wind industry could produce as many as 83,000 jobs in the United States and pump an annual $25 billion into the economy by 2030, according to an analysis by the American Wind Energy Association. With some of the country’s most wind-rich waters located off the New England coast, the region stands to reap significant financial benefits. 

In the face of this opportunity, many community and environmental groups have been pushing to ensure that people of color, low-income communities, and other marginalized groups have an equal chance to participate in the benefits of a promising new sector. The existing energy system has overburdened communities of color, who often face more pollution and higher rates of respiratory illness, said Susannah Hatch, clean energy coalition director for the Environmental League of Massachusetts. A diverse, inclusive workforce could help redress some of this damage, she said. 

“As we are looking to a decarbonized world, we have to figure out how this new system can be equitable and not repeat the sins of the past,” Hatch said.
» Read article            

geothermal boom
A Geothermal Energy Boom May Be Coming, and Ex-Oil Workers Are Leading the Way
Start-ups see a vast opportunity to utilize heat from beneath the Earth’s surface.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
July 29, 2021

A conference last week got into a subject that is deep and superhot.

Some of the leaders in geothermal energy and energy policy gathered virtually to talk about a form of clean energy that they said is getting close to a technological leap forward.

Geothermal energy comes from harnessing heat from beneath the Earth’s surface, which can be used to run power plants, heat buildings and provide heat for industry. Some form of geothermal has been used for decades, with power plants in the West and Mountain West, and even older geothermal heating systems in cities like Boise, Idaho.

The opportunity ahead is for researchers and entrepreneurs to develop ways to affordably use geothermal energy at a larger scale and in many more places.

“One of the things that really excites me about geothermal is that every building is already sitting on this vast reservoir of renewable energy right there for the taking,” said Kathy Hannun, president and co-founder of Dandelion Energy, a company developing affordable geothermal heating and cooling systems for houses.

Her comments were part of Pivot 2021, a conference organized by the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization at the University of Texas at Austin, with support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

One of the recurring themes across days of panels was the opportunity for the United States to build on the drilling technology and methods developed by the oil and gas industry and to shift people from the industry’s current workforce to work in geothermal energy.
» Read article            

» More about greening the economy               

 

CLIMATE

net zero faster
Net zero target for 2050 is too slow, and a strategy for climate failure
By Michael Mazengarb & Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
August 4, 2021

A major new research paper argues that setting “net zero by 2050” targets will fail to prompt urgent action on climate change, and won’t achieve the speed of emission reductions needed to avoid the worsening impacts of global warming.

The paper, released by the Australian-based Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, says shorter-term emission reduction targets are needed to compel action to cut fossil fuel use, including setting a more ambitious target to reach zero emissions as early as 2030.

“[Net zero by 2050] scenarios are based on models and carbon budgets generally associated with a 50 or 66 per cent chance of staying below the target, that is, a one-in-two, or one-in-three, chance of failure,” the paper says.

“We would never accept those risks of failures in our own lives. Why accept them for impacts which may destroy civilisation as we know it?”

The paper is significant because Australia’s mainstream political debate is currently dominated by Labor’s demand for a net zero target by 2050, and the federal Coalition’s commitment that net zero is nice, but it will only get there as soon as it can, or some time this century.

The Breakthrough paper is by no means the first that highlights that the Paris climate goals require much more urgent action, and that decisive action in the next 10 years is required to avoid depleting the “carbon budget.”

Last week, the Australian Energy Market Operator released a set of scenarios that observed that the only one that met the Paris stretch goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C was to reach net zero emissions, at least in the electricity supply, by 2035.
» Read article            
» Read the report: “Net zero 2050”: A dangerous illusion            

seeking early retirement
Earlier Coal Shutdowns on the Agenda as Finance Giants Develop Buyout Plan
By The Energy Mix
August 3, 2021

Some of the world’s biggest financial and investment firms are hatching a plan to speed up coal power plant closures in Asia, according to an exclusive report published yesterday by the Reuters news agency.

“The novel proposal, which is being driven by the Asian Development Bank, offers a potentially workable model, and early talks with Asian governments and multilateral banks are promising,” Reuters writes, citing five sources with knowledge of the discussions. Participating companies include BlackRock Real Assets, the Prudential insurance company, and Citi and HSBC banks.

“The group plans to create public-private partnerships to buy out the plants and wind them down within 15 years, far sooner than their usual life, giving workers time to retire or find new jobs and allowing countries to shift to renewable energy sources,” the news agency adds. “The initiative comes as commercial and development banks, under pressure from large investors, pull back from financing new power plants in order to meet climate targets.”

The group hopes to have its plan ready by the time this year’s United Nations climate conference convenes in Glasgow in early November.

“If you can come up with an orderly way to replace those plants sooner and retire them sooner, but not overnight, that opens up a more predictable, massively bigger space for renewables,” said Donald Kanak, chair of insurance growth markets at Prudential, who Reuters credits with coming up with the idea.

But the stakes couldn’t be higher, he told the BBC. “The world cannot possibly hit the Paris climate targets unless we accelerate the retirement and replacement of existing coal fired electricity, opening up much larger room in the near term for renewables and storage,” he said. “This is especially true in Asia, where existing coal fleets are big and young and will otherwise operate for decades.”

“The private sector has great ideas on how to address climate change and we are bridging the gap between them and the official-sector actors,” added ADB Vice President Ahmed M. Saeed.
» Read article            

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

Morro Bay storage
California speeds up energy transition to face immediate energy crisis and long-term climate goals
By Andy Colthorpe, Energy Storage News
August 4, 2021

California’s government has issued a roadmap for the US state to achieve its long-term goal of 100% clean energy, while an immediate State of Emergency has been declared over concerns the electric system will struggle under heat waves this summer.

Energy storage, renewables and demand response are at the heart of measures to address both. The long-term roadmap also recognises the important role long-duration energy storage will play in California’s clean energy future, putting it as one of five pillars the state’s energy system will rely on in decarbonising while delivering reliable and secure service.

Governor Gavin Newsom issued the proclamation of a State of Emergency last week, stating that it is “necessary to take immediate action to reduce the strain on the energy infrastructure, increase energy capacity, and make energy supply more resilient this year to protect the health and safety of Californians”.

The state’s residents are being put into the frontline of the climate crisis, with droughts in 50 counties, wildfires, heat waves, floods, mudslides and more affecting them directly. Hydroelectric power plants have lost nearly 1,000MW of generation capacity through droughts. Record-breaking heat waves are causing strain on the electric grid, the massive Bootleg wildfire in Oregon has reduced the amount of electricity that can be delivered by an interconnector into California by nearly 4,000MW and transmission lines in high fire threat areas within the state are vulnerable.

The state could face an energy shortfall of up to 3,500MW this summer and 5,000MW by the summer of 2022. While Newsom’s proclamation acknowledged that there is insufficient time to install enough capacity of renewables and energy storage this summer, it set out some actions that will be taken immediately such as incentivising lower energy demand from industrial customers of utility companies, as well as measures to expedite clean energy projects to give California a better opportunity to meet its 2022 challenges head-on.
» Read article            

» More about clean energy            

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

SF smoke
The Fight to Change US Building Codes
In cities and states around the country, conflicts over climate-friendly standards for buildings are heating up.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, Inside Climate News
August 2, 2021

To date, more than 40 California jurisdictions have established policies that either entirely ban natural gas in new construction or encourage electrification. And in the months since San Francisco’s sky glowed orange, the California Energy Commission has proposed state building standards that require “electric ready” equipment and encourage electric heating rather than the use of natural gas.

Last year, California became the first state to enact standards that encourage the installation of rooftop solar on most new homes. If regulators approve the “electric ready” code, it will be another first-in-the-nation state standard, and California will have accomplished both policies through an often-overlooked mechanism: codes that govern the design and construction of new buildings.

Though California is often seen as a trailblazer in climate policy, similar efforts are increasingly cropping up around the country. Advocates and progressive code officials are trying to push forward building codes that help drive decarbonization.

Energy consumed in buildings produced more than 30 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, making them a key part of the climate challenge. And the window to decarbonize them is narrowing: Analysts at organizations such as the International Energy Agency have said that new construction worldwide will need to start switching to all-electric around 2025, if nations are to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) in this century.

“The place that we are working right now is to get a better code on paper,” said Kim Cheslak, director of codes at the New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit that works with utilities and governments on energy efficient codes. “The place we need to work after that is to make sure that cities, states and building departments have the resources to enforce full compliance.”
» Read article            

Colorado leading
Social cost of methane changes the equation for Colorado utility policy

Colorado is believed to be the first state in the nation to apply the social cost of methane to a broad range of regulatory decisions. A batch of new laws are expected to dramatically improve the case for building energy conservation.
By Allen Best, Energy News Network
August 2, 2021

As a growing list of states pass laws aimed at curbing carbon emissions, Colorado has widened its scope, taking the groundbreaking step of requiring state officials to consider the social cost of methane in regulatory decisions.

Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, has powerful heat-trapping properties before it breaks down into water vapor and carbon dioxide after 12 years. It is 84 to 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

“By focusing on methane reduction now, it has the greatest potential to bend the curve on fighting climate change,” said state Rep. Tracey Bernett, a Democrat from Boulder County and a prime sponsor or co-sponsor of several bills passed this year that instruct state utility regulators to use the social of cost of methane when evaluating proposals. 

Other successful bills seek to reduce natural gas in buildings and other applications, and to stanch leaks in the supply chain of natural gas. Most natural gas is extracted from geological deposits by drilling.

Legislative and environmental advocates say the new laws have made Colorado the national leader in tackling emissions from buildings.
» Read article            

» More about energy efficiency           

 

BUILDING MATERIALS

climate needs you
Investors call for urgent action by steelmakers on carbon emissions
By Simon Jessop, Reuters
August 4, 2021

LONDON – Steelmakers need to take urgent action on producing less carbon in order to meet the Paris Agreement on climate change, investors managing $55 trillion in assets said on Wednesday.

Emissions from steel production account for 9% of the global total and must fall 29% by 2030 and 91% by 2050 to meet the net zero scenario laid out by the International Energy Agency in May, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change said.

The IIGCC, as part of the Climate Action 100+ initiative, said in a statement that while it was technically feasible to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, the steel industry was being too slow to act.

Steel firms needed to set short, mid and long-term targets in line with the IEA report, and align their capital expenditure plans with net zero, including not investing in new, unabated production capacity, the IIGCC added.

They also needed to demonstrate that emerging technology can work and produce reports by the end of 2022 on how carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen-based processes can be used.

In addition, they needed to be transparent about the public policy positions they will take to accelerate their transition, for example on carbon pricing and research and development.
» Read article            

» More about building materials              

 

ENERGY STORAGE

Form Energy iron-air
Is this a green-energy breakthrough, or just hype?
BY DAVID VON DREHLE, Berkshire Eagle | Opinion
August 2, 2021

The most important news story of 1903 received modest coverage, and it wasn’t very accurate.

Two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, conducted four machine- powered, heavier-than-air flights under human control on a single day in December. The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, not far from the Kitty Hawk, N.C., testing ground, ran an exaggerated account of the Wright Brothers’ triumph — but in Dayton, a hometown paper, refused to mention it. “Man will never fly,” a local editor harrumphed (perhaps apocryphally). “And if he does, he won’t be from Dayton.”

Another possible milestone of technology passed quietly not long ago. It might be the beginning of the end for fossil fuels and the key to reaching the goal of a green power grid. If so, it will certainly be among the most important stories of the year — bigger than space tourism, bigger than the Arizona election audit, bigger than the discovery that amazing Simone Biles is human, not a god.

One caveat: Very few engineering breakthroughs change the world. Most end up being less than meets the eye. That said, let’s have a look.

A Boston-area company, Form Energy, announced recently that it has created a battery prototype that stores large amounts of power and releases it not over hours, but over more than four days. And that isn’t the best part. The battery’s main ingredients are iron and oxygen, both incredibly plentiful here on God’s green Earth — and therefore reliably cheap.

Put the two facts together, and you arrive at a sort of tipping point for green energy: reliable power from renewable sources at less than $20 per kilowatt-hour.
» Read article            

Greelong blaze
Crews battle Tesla battery fire at Moorabool, near Geelong

By Leanne Wong, ABC News, AU
July 30, 2021

A toxic blaze at the site of Australia’s largest Tesla battery project is set to burn throughout the night.

The fire broke out during testing of a Tesla megapack at the Victorian Big Battery site near Geelong.

A 13-tonne lithium battery was engulfed in flames, which then spread to an adjacent battery bank.

More than 150 people from Fire Rescue Victoria and the Country Fire Authority responded to the blaze, which has been contained and will be closely monitored until it burns itself out.

“If we try and cool them down it just prolongs the process,” the CFA’s Assistant Chief Fire Officer Ian Beswicke said.

“But we could be here anywhere from 8 to 24 hours while we wait for it to burn down.”

The Tesla battery is expected to become the largest battery in the southern hemisphere as part of a Victorian Government push to transition to renewable energy.
» Read article            

» More about energy storage                

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

Detroit Electric
The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport
To every age dogged with pollution, accidents and congestion, the transport solution for the next generation seems obvious – but the same problems keep coming back
By Tom Standage, The Guardian
August 3, 2021

Much of the early enthusiasm for the automobile stemmed from its promise to solve the problems associated with horse-drawn vehicles, including noise, traffic congestion and accidents. That cars failed on each of these counts was tolerated because they offered so many other benefits, including eliminating the pollution – most notably, horse manure – that had dogged urban thoroughfares for centuries.

But in doing away with one set of environmental problems, cars introduced a whole set of new ones. The pollutants they emit are harder to see than horse manure, but are no less problematic. These include particulate matter, such as the soot in vehicle exhaust, which can penetrate deep into the lungs; volatile organic compounds that irritate the respiratory system and have been linked to several kinds of cancer; nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide; and greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, that contribute to climate change. Cars, trucks and buses collectively produce around 17% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Reliance on fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel has also had far-reaching geopolitical ramifications, as much of the world became dependent on oil from the Middle East during the 20th century.

None of this could have been foreseen at the dawn of the automobile age. Or could it? Some people did raise concerns about the sustainability of powering cars using non-renewable fossil fuels, and the reliability of access to such fuels. Today, electric cars, charged using renewable energy, are seen as the logical way to address these concerns. But the debate about the merits of electric cars turns out to be as old as the automobile itself.

In 1897, the bestselling car in the US was an electric vehicle: the Pope Manufacturing Company’s Columbia Motor Carriage. Electric models were outselling steam- and petrol-powered ones. By 1900, sales of steam vehicles had taken a narrow lead: that year, 1,681 steam vehicles, 1,575 electric vehicles and 936 petrol-powered vehicles were sold. Only with the launch of the Olds Motor Works’ Curved Dash Oldsmobile in 1903 did petrol-powered vehicles take the lead for the first time.

Perhaps the most remarkable example, to modern eyes, of how things might have worked out differently for electric vehicles is the story of the Electrobat, an electric taxicab that briefly flourished in the late 1890s. The Electrobat had been created in Philadelphia in 1894 by Pedro Salom and Henry Morris, two scientist-inventors who were enthusiastic proponents of electric vehicles. In a speech in 1895, Salom derided “the marvelously complicated driving gear of a gasoline vehicle, with its innumerable chains, belts, pulleys, pipes, valves and stopcocks … Is it not reasonable to suppose, with so many things to get out of order, that one or another of them will always be out of order?”

The two men steadily refined their initial design, eventually producing a carriage-like vehicle that could be controlled by a driver on a high seat at the back, with a wider seat for passengers in the front. In 1897 Morris and Salom launched a taxi service in Manhattan with a dozen vehicles, serving 1,000 passengers in their first month of operation. But the cabs had limited range and their batteries took hours to recharge. So Morris and Salom merged with another firm, the Electric Battery Company. Its engineers had devised a clever battery-swapping system, based at a depot at 1684 Broadway, that could replace an empty battery with a fully charged one in seconds, allowing the Electrobats to operate all day.
» Read article            

» More about clean transportation            

 

CARBON OFFSETS AND REFORESTATION

fire in the poolUS Forest Fires Threaten Carbon Offsets as Company-Linked Trees Burn
At least two forestry projects used by businesses including BP and Microsoft to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions are burning in Oregon and Washington.
By Camilla Hodgson, Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
August 4, 2021

Forests in the United States that generate the carbon offsets bought by companies including BP and Microsoft are on fire as summer blazes rage in North America.

Corporate net-zero emission pledges rely on such projects to compensate for the carbon dioxide generated by companies that are unable to make sufficient cuts to their actual emissions.

In principle each offset represents a ton of carbon that has been permanently removed from the atmosphere or avoided. Offsets generated by projects that plant or protect trees, which absorb carbon, are among the most popular.

But forestry projects are vulnerable to wildfires, drought and disease—permanent threats that are being exacerbated by global warming.

“We’ve bought forest offsets that are now burning,” Elizabeth Willmott, Microsoft’s carbon program manager, told attendees at an event hosted by Carbon180, a non-profit organization that focuses on carbon removal.

In Washington and Oregon, at least two forestry projects used by companies including BP and Microsoft are ablaze.

Given the risks from fire and drought, forestry offsetting schemes contributed about 10 to 20 percent of the credits they generate to the “buffer pool.”

Critics of the unregulated offsetting system have warned that buffer pools may be too small to compensate for the damage done by major fires.

“The concern is that the pool is not large enough to cover the increased risk of [the carbon benefits being reversed] with climate change over the full set of participating projects,” said Barbara Haya, research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.
» Read article            

Sand Martin Wood
Reforestation hopes threaten global food security, Oxfam warns
Over-reliance on tree-planting to offset carbon emissions could push food prices up 80% by 2050
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
August 3, 2021

Governments and businesses hoping to plant trees and restore forests in order to reach net-zero emissions must sharply limit such efforts to avoid driving up food prices in the developing world, the charity Oxfam has warned.

Planting trees has been [presented] as one of the key ways of tackling the climate crisis, but the amount of land needed for such forests would be vast, and planting even a fraction of the area needed to offset global greenhouse gas emissions would encroach on the land needed for crops to feed a growing population, according to a report entitled Tightening the net: Net zero climate targets implications for land and food equity.

At least 1.6bn hectares – an area five times the size of India, equivalent to all the land now farmed on the planet – would be required to reach net zero for the planet by 2050 via tree-planting alone. While no one is suggesting planting trees to that extent, the report’s authors said it gave an idea of the scale of planting required, and how limited offsetting should be if food price rises are to be avoided.

Nafkote Dabi, climate policy lead at Oxfam and co-author of the report, explained: “It is difficult to tell how much land would be required, as governments have not been transparent about how they plan to meet their net-zero commitments. But many countries and companies are talking about afforestation and reforestation, and the first question is: where is this land going to come from?”

Food prices could rise by 80% by 2050, according to some estimates, if offsetting emissions through forestry is over-used. About 350m hectares of land – an area roughly the size of India – could be used for offsetting without disrupting agriculture around the world, but taken together the plans for offsetting from countries and companies around the world could soon exceed this.
» Read article            
» Read the Oxfam report            

» More about carbon offsets and reforestation               

 

CARBON CAPTURE & SEQUESTRATION

new pipelinesThe infrastructure deal could create pipelines for captured CO2
The bipartisan infrastructure package gives billions to carbon capture and removal
By Justine Calma, The Verge
August 3, 2021

A new generation of pipelines could be born out of the bipartisan infrastructure deal making its way through Congress. But instead of hauling oil and gas, the pipelines would carry planet-heating carbon dioxide. The massive bill would allocate funding for new infrastructure devoted to capturing carbon dioxide, and transporting it to places where it can be buried underground or used in products like carbonated soda.

Carbon capture technology aims to scrub CO2 directly at the source of emissions — but it’s remained controversial among climate activists, with many seeing it as a false solution that distracts from emission reduction goals. But Congress’ new bipartisan infrastructure plan would invest billions of dollars into the idea, committing the US to ambitious carbon capture and removal schemes that have never been attempted at this large scale.

“The infrastructure bill has opened the floodgates for carbon capture piping. Watch out,” tweeted Alan Ramo, professor emeritus at Golden Gate University School of Law.

The new provisions focus mostly on using carbon capture and removal to tackle industrial emissions, rather than emissions from the power sector. The Biden Administration has particularly encouraged carbon capture for industries like cement and steel, which are difficult to electrify and decarbonize. (Cement alone is responsible for 8 percent of global CO2 emissions.) Focusing on those industries might keep carbon capture from being used as a way to extend the life of coal plants or other heavy-emitting power sources, a problem that’s come up with carbon capture technologies used in the power sector.
» Blog editor’s note: Adapted from BOC (Industrial Gases)…CO2 is a toxic gas. It is heavier than air and, if there is a leak from a CO2 [pipeline], it tends to accumulate [in low terrain] and pushes the oxygen-rich air upwards…. Air normally contains about 0.03% carbon dioxide, but breathing air with increased concentrations of the gas can lead to effects ranging from heavy breathing and a feeling of suffocation through loss of consciousness to asphyxiation.
» Read article             

» More about CC&S                

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

documents wheeled
Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Includes $25 Billion in Potential New Subsidies for Fossil Fuels
Instead of reducing the role of fossil fuels in the economy, critics say, the bill subsidizes industry “greenwashing.”
By Alleen Brown, The Intercept
August 3, 2021

The Senate’s new bipartisan infrastructure bill is being sold as a down payment on addressing the climate crisis. But environmental advocates and academics are warning the proposed spending bill is full of new fossil fuel industry subsidies masked as climate solutions. The latest draft bill would make fossil fuel companies eligible for at least $25 billion in new subsidies, according to an analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law.

“This is billions upon billions of dollars in additional fossil fuel industry subsidies in addition to the $15 billion that we already hand out to this industry to support and fund this industry,” said Jim Walsh, Food and Water Watch’s senior policy analyst. Scientists say that to meet the goals of the international Paris climate accord, the U.S would need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 — and be well on the way there by 2030. With subsidies that keep fossil fuel industries going, Walsh said, “We will never be able to meet the Paris agreement if we fund these kind of programs.”

Just as concerning is the new economy the subsidies could entrench, said Walsh, through the creation of new fossil fuel infrastructure. “This would support the development of four petrochemical hubs that would create profit incentives for greenhouse gas emission production and would be focused on finding new ways of integrating fossil fuels into our economy for transportation, energy, petrochemical development, and plastics.”

In short, he added, “This deal envisions a world where we will use fossil fuels into perpetuity.”

The subsidies would go toward technologies sold as dream fixes for ending the nightmare of the climate crisis without the colossal political hurdle of dislodging the fossil fuel industry from the U.S. economy. Such technologies include carbon capture and decarbonized hydrogen fuel. Both purported solutions in practice help fossil fuel companies mask the continued release of climate-warming gases. Neither of the technologies are currently commercially viable at a large scale, so the energy industry requires government help to carry out what critics see as a public relations scheme.
» Read article            

Facebook fossil influence
Facebook let fossil-fuel industry push climate misinformation, report finds
Thinktank InfluenceMap accuses petroleum giants of gaming Facebook to promote oil and gas as part of climate-crisis solution
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian
August 5, 2021

Facebook failed to enforce its own rules to curb an oil and gas industry misinformation campaign over the climate crisis during last year’s presidential election, according to a new analysis released on Thursday.

The report, by the London-based thinktank InfluenceMap, identified an increase in advertising on the social media site by ExxonMobil and other fossil-fuel companies aimed at shaping the political debate about policies to address global heating.

InfluenceMap said its research shows the fossil-fuel industry has moved away from outright denying the climate crisis, and is now using social media to promote oil and gas as part of the solution. The report also exposed what it said was Facebook’s role in facilitating the dissemination of false claims about global heating by failing to consistently apply its own policies to stop erroneous advertising.

“Despite Facebook’s public support for climate action, it continues to allow its platform to be used to spread fossil-fuel propaganda,” the report said. “Not only is Facebook inadequately enforcing its existing advertising policies, it’s clear that these policies are not keeping pace with the critical need for urgent climate action.”

The report found that 25 oil and gas industry organisations spent at least $9.5m to place more than 25,000 ads on Facebook’s US platforms last year, which were viewed more than 431m times. Exxon alone spent $5m.

“The industry is using a range of messaging tactics that are far more nuanced than outright statements of climate denial. Some of the most significant tactics found included tying the use of oil and gas to maintaining a high quality of life, promoting fossil gas as green, and publicizing the voluntary actions taken by the industry on climate change,” the report said.
» Read article            
» Read the InfluenceMap report          

» More about fossil fuels                  

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Quebec declines LNG terminal
Quebec Rejects $14-Billion LNG Terminal
By The Energy Mix staff
August 1, 2021

Quebec has rejected GNL Québec’s application to build a C$14-billion liquefied natural gas terminal in the Saguenay region, capping years of opposition by Indigenous communities, climate campaigners, scientists, and health professionals.

The announcement comes just a week after three Innu First Nations in Quebec declared a pipeline to the Énergie Saguenay project from Western Canada would not be allowed to cross their ancestral lands. “We listened, we did our own research on the project, and following the conclusions of the BAPE report, it is clear that our position will remain the same,” said Charles-Edouard Verreault, vice-chief of Mashteuiatsh First Nation and spokesperson for the three nations. “This project won’t be happening on our territories.”

“Relief!” headlined Coalition Fjord, a campaign group that waged a three-year fight against the project.

“The end of the GNL project and pipeline is an encouraging sign for citizen mobilization,” the group said in a release. “It’s a relief for the climate, after the science was finally heard”, so that the province will dodge an increase in its greenhouse gas emissions.

“Locally, it’s a massive relief for biodiversity,” including beluga whale populations that were threatened by the project. And “above all, it’s a relief to see the end of division and the beginning of a constructive dialogue,” the coalition said. “To many people, this project looked like a chance to create jobs and boost the local economy, but that was just a mirage” that masked the project’s “irreversible negative impacts”. 

Previously, Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) had issued a 500-page report concluding that the risks from the 750-kilometre-long gas pipeline would “far outweigh” the benefits. The project drew the widest response ever to a BAPE review with more than 2,500 briefs presented, 91% of them opposing the development.
» Read article            

no smoking LNG
DC Circuit faults FERC’s environmental analysis in two LNG project orders
By Maya Weber, S&P Global
August 3, 2021


The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has found fault with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s climate and environmental justice reviews for the Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG projects, planned in the Brownsville, Texas, area, and has remanded to FERC the orders authorizing the projects.

The Aug. 3 decision, marking the second blow the court delivered to FERC’s gas project orders, could have broader implications going forward for the commission’s approach to considering climate impacts. It arrives as FERC has remained split on the extent of its legal requirements to assess climate impacts of projects.

The orders remanded by the court Aug. 3 include applications for the 7 million mt/year Rio Grande project and the 4 million mt/year Texas LNG project. FERC first approved the projects in 2019, with rehearing orders issued in early 2020.

In one benefit for the projects, the court agreed not to vacate the FERC authorizations, acknowledging the LNG developers’ concerns that such a remedy could “imperil the intervenors’ ability to obtained funding necessary to complete the projects in a timely fashion.”

The three-judge panel of the DC Circuit agreed with petitioners that FERC failed to adequately assess the impact of the projects’ greenhouse gas emissions because it neglected to respond to the argument that it was required to use the social cost of carbon or some other generally accepted method to assess the GHG emissions’ effects.

FERC did not discuss or even cite the relevant Council on Environmental Quality regulation in its rehearing order that would have seemed to require it to evaluate the impacts based on theoretical approaches or research methods generally accepted by the scientific community, said the ruling Judge Robert Wilkins filed.

While the court did not rule on what method FERC should have applied on GHGs, it held that FERC was required to address the petitioners’ argument concerning the significance of a CEQ regulation and that its failure to do so rendered its analysis of the projects’ GHG emissions deficient.

The panel also found FERC’s environmental justice analysis for the two projects to be flawed. It agreed with petitioners that the decision to analyze the impact on environmental justice communities only in census blocks within two miles of the projects was arbitrary, given FERC’s determination that environmental effects would extend well beyond two miles. FERC determined air quality impacts could occur within 31 miles, the court said.

“The commission has offered no explanation as to why, in light of that finding, it chose to delineate the area potentially affected by the projects to include only those census blocks within two miles of the project sites for the purposes of its environmental justice analyses,” it said.

In deciding to remand, rather than vacate, the FERC orders, the decision called it “reasonably likely” that, on remand, FERC could address its failures to explain its approach on climate change and environmental justice while reaching the same result. [emphasis added]
» Blog editor’s note: once FERC performs the required climate impact and environmental justice studies, their rigor and validity can be scrutinized by environmental and legal experts. Should FERC reach the “same result” based on shoddy or flawed analysis, we expect further litigation to follow.
» Read article                    

» More about liquefied natural gas      

 

BIOMASS

smoke and pollutants
Environmental justice designation coming under scrutiny
Is Lexington really environmentally overburdened?
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
August 3, 2021

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE communities, marginalized areas of the state overburdened with pollution from power plants, industrial facilities, and highways, are turning out to be more commonplace in Massachusetts than you might think.

Earlier this year, when the Legislature passed a sweeping climate change bill containing language defining an environmental justice, or EJ community, advocates said the measure was needed to protect areas of the state with high populations of people of color, low-income residents, and other marginalized groups that face disproportionate environmental burdens.

But as the definition is being applied, the number of EJ communities is turning out to be larger than expected. According to a state analysis of Census data, close to 200 of the state’s 351 cities and towns contain some EJ neighborhoods. 

There were municipalities containing EJ neighborhoods you would expect, including Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, and Randolph, where the entire city was an EJ community. Others high on the list included Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lowell, Malden, New Bedford, North Adams, Quincy, Springfield, and Worcester.

But there were also cities and towns containing fairly high concentrations of EJ neighborhoods that one would hardly describe as environmentally overburdened, including Acton, Amherst, Arlington, Avon, Brookline, Lexington, Waltham, Watertown, and Westborough.

Last week, state environmental officials showed just how powerful the EJ designation could be. In setting regulations for the construction of wood-burning power plants, the officials said the facilities would not qualify for essential ratepayer subsidies if they were located in an EJ community or within five miles of one. That ruling meant that 89 percent of the state was essentially off-limits to biomass plants and someone looking to build such a facility in Massachusetts could only locate it in 35 of the state’s 351 cities and towns.
» Read article            

EJ-5
Biomass power rules leave 35 towns in industry ‘crosshairs’
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, in Berkshire Eagle
July 31, 2021

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have let the Baker administration know that they are not happy with proposed regulations that would effectively protect environmental justice communities and surrounding areas from new wood-burning power generation facilities while singling out just 35 towns as possible plant hosts.

In April, the Baker administration announced that its proposed updates to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard regulations would prohibit biomass projects from qualifying for the RPS program if they are located within an environmental justice community or within five miles of an environmental justice community.

The latest version of that plan got a hearing before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy on Friday, with Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock detailing the proposed changes for lawmakers.

The RPS governs the increasing amount of clean energy that utilities and municipal light plants must purchase each year. State law requires that DOER make biomass facilities eligible for the RPS program and rules that have been in place since 2012 make only efficient combined-heat-and-power biomass plants eligible to sell renewable energy credits into the RPS market.

But once each environmental justice community and its corresponding five-mile buffer was mapped out, about 90 percent of the state’s land area was excluded.

That leaves just 10 percent of the state — a stretch of communities west of the Connecticut River and along the Connecticut border, a strip of coastline that runs through Cohasset, Scituate and Marshfield, and small shreds of various other towns — where future biomass facilities could be located and be eligible for incentives under the Baker administration’s policy.

“It doesn’t matter where a facility is sited in Massachusetts or elsewhere, the science still says no,” Sen. Jo Comerford said, referring to the fact that biomass generation pollutes more than other sources like solar. “The logic here in these regulations is tortured. A biomass plant cited more than five miles away from the nearest environmental justice community is not any greener than a biomass plant in Springfield. The location of the facility has never been a factor in RPS class one eligibility. Class one should be reserved for the cleanest energy sources.”
» Read article            

biomass pretzel logic
Proposed biomass limits restrict new plants in 90 percent of state
Remaining 35 communities worried about pollution
By Shira Schoenberg, CommonWealth Magazine
July 30, 2021

MONTHS AFTER THE Baker administration pulled the plug on plans for a controversial new biomass plant in Springfield, state environmental officials proposed new regulations that would drastically limit where biomass plants can be located.

The rules promulgated by the Department of Energy Resources in April say new biomass plants located in or within five miles of an environmental justice community will not qualify as a renewable energy source under a state program, the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, or RPS, that requires energy producers to obtain a certain amount of energy from renewable sources. Financially, that would likely make it impossible for a company to locate a plant there. Environmental justice communities are generally poor communities of color that are disproportionately affected by pollution.

Practically, Massachusetts has adopted an expansive definition of environmental justice communities, which means that about 90 percent of the state is within five miles of one of these communities. Most of the remaining places where biomass would be eligible for the incentive are in rural Western Massachusetts.

The restrictions, which will be the subject of a legislative hearing on Friday, are angering representatives of the few communities that could still be targeted to host biomass plants.

 “If we’re going to regulate biomass out of 90 percent of the Commonwealth, we might as well make it ineligible for [incentive programs] across the entire Commonwealth,” said Sen. Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat who represents 17 towns where biomass would remain eligible. Hinds worries that the towns in his district will be aggressively pursued by biomass companies, and he worries about pollution.

Sen. Jo Comerford, a Northampton Democrat who represents three eligible communities, said she has long believed biomass should not be eligible as a renewable energy source because of the pollution it creates – which makes it less “green” than wind or solar power. Comerford said she agrees with DOER’s decision to keep biomass out of environmental justice communities. But she said retaining eligibility in 10 percent of the state puts DOER “in a pretzel-like argument.”

“It’s saying biomass in environmental justice communities is bad, but biomass in Leyden is good,” Comerford said.
» Read article          
» Watch TUE hearing video           

» More about biomass                

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!