While many of us are still basking in the glow of recently passed federal climate legislation, it’s important to remember that closing the deal with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin left a lot of good folks tossed under the proverbial bus. We’re paying particular attention to the inappropriately buoyed fortunes of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a boondoggle that activists had rightly beaten back through years of hard, science-based work. Facing defeat on the merits, industry played its money/influence/corruption card – so the fight continues. Beyond the MVP, plenty of other fossil misdeeds are drawing push-back both in court and on the street.
Back to the Inflation Reduction Act, which has a lot of good programs in spite of Manchin. We found a calculator that helps show what funds might be available to help individuals offset all sorts of expenses, from the purchase of electric vehicles or heat pumps, to upgrading windows and insulation in homes. Along those lines (news you can use!), you can now replace your fossil fueled water heater with an efficient electric heat pump model that plugs into the same 120V outlet – no electrical upgrade required.
Like other states taking steps to ban new gas connections, Massachusetts is beginning to grapple with the problem of phasing out gas without saddling the dwindling roster of customers with ballooning utility bills as fewer remaining users support an aging and obsolete fossil fuel infrastructure.
And the idea that fossil fuels can be completely phased out is gaining traction, as experts polish their crystal balls and gaze at the coming green economy. Only a few years ago, this idea was considered largely aspirational. Taken in context with disturbing new studies showing the extent of accelerating methane pollution in the atmosphere, this new confidence in a totally-renewable energy future is welcome indeed. Unfortunately, human conflict and persistent wars remind us that modern militaries are huge users of fossil fuels. When they’re the only customers left, where will their fuel come from? Just musing… this question keeps me up at night.
But energy transition is underway, so modernizing the grid moves to the front of the line. Recent delays in interconnecting the growing roster of renewable energy resources has exposed a glaring need. On top of that, where we place those renewables and how we mine materials for them remains fraught. In particular, deep-seabed mining raises a deafening ruckus of alarm bells. Fact is, we need to build millions of electric vehicles and stationary batteries quickly, and we’re in a race to figure out how to do it without screwing up an important pillar of the environment that sustains all life.
Meanwhile, fracking operations in the Permian Basin are creating oceans of toxic water that nobody quite knows what to do with, and yet another report shows that the fossil-burning industry’s favorite fig leaf, carbon capture and storage, has yet to show much effectiveness. Hint: stop burning stuff.
— The NFGiM Team
‘It’s a deal with the devil’: outrage in Appalachia over Manchin’s ‘vile’ pipeline plan
The fossil-fuel friendly senator has resurrected the Mountain Valley pipeline, leaving residents with a bitter pill to swallow
By Nina Lakhani and Oliver Milman, The Guardian
August 26, 2022
Taking on the fossil fuel industry in West Virginia was always going to be a David v Goliath type battle, but after years of protests, lobbying and lawsuits, 68-year-old Becky Crabtree thought the community-led resistance had beaten the Mountain Valley pipeline (MVP) in a fair fight.
So when news broke earlier in August that the state’s fossil-fuel friendly senator Joe Manchin had resurrected the beleaguered pipeline, Crabtree, a high school science teacher who teaches students about the climate crisis, felt “numb”.
Manchin, a conservative Democrat who receives more campaign financing from the fossil fuel industry – including pipeline companies – than any other lawmaker in Congress, had agreed to back his party’s historic climate legislation before the crucial midterm elections. But only after he negotiated a side-deal to fast-track the MVP.
“It’s the unfairness that makes me so angry. It’s a deal with the devil,” said Crabtree, 68, who owns a 30-acre sheep farm in Lindside, Monroe county.
The deal is a sweet one for the pipeline’s supporters. Democratic leaders agreed to advance separate legislation in September that would “require the relevant agencies to take all necessary actions to permit the construction and operation of the MVP and give the DC circuit jurisdiction over any further litigation”.
This could help the pipeline company circumvent judges who have suspended construction and overturned permits over environmental concerns, and have future legal cases heard in an appeals court in Washington, which is considered more favourable to developers.
It’s part of a broader set of concessions negotiated by Manchin to diminish environmental protections and expedite permits and construction of pipelines and other energy infrastructure, limiting legal challenges by concerned communities and environmental groups.
» Read article
Could you get home energy and EV incentives under the climate law?
Find out which tax credits and upfront discounts you can earn for heat pumps, solar, electric vehicles and more — and how much money they could save you.
By Alison F. Takemura, Canary Media
August 30, 2022
The new climate law is chock-full of incentives to electrify your home and car, but the specifics are a maze to navigate. To help you find your way through, pro-electrification nonprofit Rewiring America has released an online calculator that tells you which of the incentives you’ll likely qualify for. And over 200,000 people have already tried it.
“I’m so excited that we put this out because it does seem like it’s being legitimately useful to people trying to figure out what the [law] means for them,“ said Sam Calisch, head of special projects at Rewiring America.
Consumer choice is a big deal for the climate. According to Calisch, more than 40% of U.S. energy emissions stem directly or indirectly “from the decisions households make at their kitchen tables” — things like “where they get their electricity from, what they use to heat and cool their homes, and what they drive.”
The calculator can inform those decisions, pointing Americans to the home and vehicle electrification discounts, rebates and tax credits that are, or will soon be, available to them thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act.
Still, when Canary staff tried the calculator, some furrowed their brows; the results that it delivers can be a little confusing. So think of this article as your unofficial guide to how it works and what you can do with your results.
» Read article
» Try the online calculator
As wealthy towns go electric, who will pick up the tab for aging gas infrastructure?
Advocates in Massachusetts say the time is now to start thinking about how to protect lower-income residents as those with the financial means begin to abandon the natural gas system
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
September 2, 2022
As the first Massachusetts cities and towns prepare to ban new residential fossil fuel systems, some advocates say now is the time to create a long-term strategy to make sure lower-income residents aren’t left to pay for a sprawling and aging natural gas system they can’t afford to opt out of.
“Absent a policy intervention, our most vulnerable consumers could be left holding the bag,” said Michael Colvin, director of regulatory and legislative affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker last month signed a sweeping new climate bill that includes authorization for up to 10 towns and cities to ban the use of fossil fuels in new construction or in substantial remodeling projects, as long as at least 10% of the housing units in the municipality qualify as affordable. New homes would not be allowed to install oil or propane tanks or use natural gas for heating or cooking.
[…] There are already signs, however, that the idea of fossil fuel bans may be picking up momentum. Activists are already starting to push for a statewide authorization in the next legislative session. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has said she’d like the city to join the list of ten. There are questions about whether that would be possible under this legislation, but her announcement suggests the strategy may be gaining supporters.
[…] Though these bans are likely to slow the growth of fossil fuel demand by a small amount, it’s also likely that more affluent residents will be the first to benefit. The 10 municipalities set to adopt the bans first all have median household incomes well above the state average. And higher-income residents are also more likely to be able to afford the new homes or major remodels that regulations apply to.
Early on, that disparity is less concerning, said Dale Bryk, director of state and regional policies at the Harvard law School Environmental and Energy Law Program.
“In some ways it’s not bad to have wealthier towns work out the kinks and figure out how to do this,” she said.
The authorization of fossil fuel bans, however, signals a pivotal shift in the way utilities and policymakers need to look at the natural gas system, Colvin said. Until now, the assumption was always that the infrastructure would continue to expand to meet the energy needs of a growing population: “It was never in the cards that we weren’t going to add capacity, that we weren’t going to build a new pipeline,” he said.
Now signs suggest the reach of natural gas could actually be headed in the other direction. And if the bans become more widespread, they could create significant inequities if there are no policy interventions, Bryk said.
As households step away from the natural gas system, there will be fewer customers left to pay for the infrastructure. And that infrastructure is aging and leak-prone, and expected to require repairs costing as much as $16.6 billion in Massachusetts alone in coming years, according to a report from nonprofit consulting group the Applied Economics Clinic.
Statewide policies are necessary to make sure that financial burden isn’t put disproportionately on lower-income residents and people of color, advocates said. And policymakers and legislators need to start crafting these strategies immediately, they added.
» Read article
» Read the Applied Economics Clinic report
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
After Deadly Fires and Disastrous Floods, a Canadian City Moves to Sue Big Oil
A potential lawsuit by Vancouver would be the first in Canada to target the fossil fuel industry’s role in climate change.
By Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times
August 29, 2022
LYTTON, British Columbia — Nothing has been rebuilt since flames devoured the tiny village of Lytton last year, turning it into a national symbol of climate change. It was in Lytton, about 90 miles northeast of Vancouver, that temperatures set a national record of 49.6 degrees Celsius — 121.3 Fahrenheit in Canada! — before the deadly fire erupted.
Blue fencing on either side of Main Street blocks off access to the ruins of the village. Charred trees, flattened roofs, collapsed walls and piles of debris stretch over the full length of the village center, the silence broken only by helicopters dumping water to try to extinguish more recent fires in the nearby mountains.
“It’s a flashback of what happened last year,” said Phyllis Speinks, 54, who was filling her truck up at a nearby gas station and had been evacuated for two weeks because of this summer’s fires. “I was afraid.”
The heat that started the inferno in Lytton killed 619 people in the province last year and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. It has sent government officials scrambling for policies, tools and approaches they can use to steer the province away from more disasters by stemming the effects of climate change, which scientists believe contributed to the extreme heat and other destructive weather events of the past year.
Now, the region is fighting back. Vancouver’s City Council took preliminary steps in July toward suing major oil companies, seeking damages for the local costs of climate change.
The move, in a city that has been a leader of the environmental movement in Canada and was the birthplace of Greenpeace, would be the first lawsuit of its kind in the country against the fossil fuel industry, whose carbon emissions contribute to global warming.
» Read article
Lawsuit challenges ANOTHER Arctic drilling program (that’s worse for the climate than Willow)
By Friends of the Earth, in RedGreenandBlue.com
August 28, 2022
Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit Thursday on behalf of Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace USA challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of Peregrine, an exploratory drilling program entering its third year in the Western Arctic in Alaska. The complaint takes the agency to task for its failure to consider the greenhouse gas consequences of burning the oil the developer hopes to discover and produce. According to EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions calculator, extracting and burning the quantity of oil that could be found at the Peregrine site would be the carbon equivalent of emissions from 173 coal-fired power plants operating for a year.
The plans were submitted by Emerald House, a subsidiary of Australian petroleum firm 88 Energy. After drilling an initial oil well labeled “Merlin-1” in the winter of 2020/2021, the company told investors it believed the remote and undeveloped public-lands area where it intends to drill could contain 1.6 billion barrels of petroleum. If that proves true, extracting and burning that total volume would release 645 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to expert analysis. By comparison, ConocoPhillips’ Willow project – which has attracted significant opposition from climate advocates – would release an estimated 275 million metric tons of CO2.
The lawsuit alleges that the Biden administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to analyze the greenhouse gas emissions consequences of allowing this project to move forward when issuing a permit, particularly given the existing climate impacts arising from fossil fuel projects already underway on federal lands.
“We are beyond frustrated with Biden’s rubber stamping of Big Oil’s drilling in Alaska’s vulnerable and wild places,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director for Friends of the Earth. “Unfortunately, the administration failed to see how this unlawful decision throws yet another carbon bomb at our rapidly warming planet. We hope the court system helps ensure that the federal government fully upholds our bedrock environmental laws before approving such harmful activities.”
» Read article
GREENING THE ECONOMY
Ukraine sets plans for ambitious ‘green’ reconstruction
Ukraine’s reconstruction from Russia’s full-scale war gives Europe’s most energy-intensive economy the opportunity to become a hub for green electricity and hydrogen exports to Europe.
By Anna Gumbau, Energy Monitor
August 24, 2022
Even as Russian hostilities against Ukraine continue, Kyiv has kickstarted its plans for a green reconstruction after the war.
Ukrainian authorities and international partners – including the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and the World Bank – met in Lugano, Switzerland, on 4–5 July to outline plans as well as the financial support needed for the country’s post-war recovery. There, the Ukrainian government and its National Council for the Recovery of Ukraine presented a draft reconstruction plan – written over one-and-a-half months with the support of industry and civil society groups in “a big, hugely inclusive process”, says Anna Ackermann, founding member of Ukraine-based NGO Ecoaction and a policy analyst at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
“We don’t want to do things as we used to,” said Ukrainian energy minister German Galushchenko during the Ukraine Reconstruction Conference. “We want to reconstruct [Ukraine] based on the modern possibilities which exist in the energy sector.”
That reconstruction “has to rebuild Ukraine in a sustainable manner aligned with the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and the Paris Agreement, integrating social, economic and environmental dimensions including green transition”, said the declaration that emerged from the conference.
[…] “We expect the reconstruction will be sustainable and according to the highest European standards as we have a good opportunity to rebuild an even more progressive and technological country,” Myronko tells Energy Monitor. “Moreover, [we expect] that decarbonisation will be one of the key principles in Ukrainian economic development. Nevertheless, the priority is to stop the war.”
In fact, the Ukrainian reconstruction plan has upgraded its renewables commitment to make it to 45% of its energy mix by 2032, and the country now aims to build as much as 30 gigawatts (GW) of solar, hydro and wind capacity by 2030, with the prospect of exporting part of that renewable power to and producing “green hydrogen” for export.
» Read article
Wind turbine blades could be recycled into gummy bears, scientists say
By Chelsie Henshaw, The Guardian
August 23, 2022
The next generation of wind turbine blades could be recycled into gummy bears at the end of their service, scientists have said.
Researchers at Michigan State University have made a composite resin for the blades by combining glass fibres with a plant-derived polymer and a synthetic one. Once the blades have reached the end of their lifespan the materials can be broken down and recycled to make new products including turbine blades – and chewy sweets.
Wind power is one of the dominant forms of renewable energy. However, turbine blades, usually made of fibreglass, can be as long as half a football field and cause problems with disposal, with many discarded in landfills when they reach the end of their use cycle.
To combat the waste, researchers designed a new form of resin. Digesting the resin in an alkaline solution produced potassium lactate, which can be purified and made into sweets and sports drinks.
“We recovered food-grade potassium lactate and used it to make gummy bear candies, which I ate,” said John Dorgan, one of the authors of the paper.
The alkaline digestion also released poly(methyl methacrylate), or PMMA, a common acrylic material used in windows and car taillights.
On eating gummy bears that are derived from a wind turbine, Dorgan says “a carbon atom derived from a plant, like corn or grass, is no different from a carbon atom that came from a fossil fuel. It’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown that we can go from biomass in the field to durable plastic materials and back to foodstuffs.”
He added: “The beauty of our resin system is that at the end of its use cycle, we can dissolve it, and that releases it from whatever matrix it’s in so that it can be used over and over again in an infinite loop. That’s the goal of the circular economy.”
» Read article
Methane Hunters: What Explains the Surge in the Potent Greenhouse Gas?
Levels of the gas are growing at a record rate and natural sources like wetlands are the cause, but scientists don’t know how to curb it.
By Leslie Hook and Chris Campbell, The Financial Times, in Inside Climate News
August 24, 2022
Every year, 6,000 flasks arrive at a laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. Inside each is a sample of air, taken from one of a chain of 50 monitoring stations that spans the globe. Together, these samples could help answer one of the most important questions facing the planet: why is there so much methane in the atmosphere?
[…] The laboratory measures the levels of different gases inside the samples, from carbon dioxide to nitrous oxide and sulfur hexafluoride, compiling a meticulous record that forms the basis for major climate models. About 15 years ago, its researchers observed an uptick in atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a warming impact 80 times greater than CO2.
Many researchers initially assumed the increase was linked to fossil fuel production. Methane is the primary ingredient in natural gas but is also produced by other human activities such as landfills, rice paddies and raising cattle.
In the past few years, however, that uptick has accelerated into a surge. The implications for global warming are immense: of the 1.1 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures since pre-industrial times, about a third can be attributed to methane. Atmospheric methane had its highest growth rate ever recorded by modern instruments in 2020, and then that record was broken again in 2021. Nobody knows exactly why.
“It is shocking,” said Lindsay Xin Lan, a researcher based in the Boulder laboratory who is analyzing the data. “A lot of research, a lot of scientists, are trying to explain it.”
[…] The sources of the methane may be natural, but a climate warmed by human activity is fueling these emissions. Climate change is expected to lead to more intense rainfall in east Africa; and these wetter, warmer wetlands will produce more methane. Other natural sources of methane—melting permafrost, and wildfires—are also linked to climate change.
[…] A concerted global effort to reduce methane emissions using existing technologies could slash anthropogenic emissions by 45 percent by 2030, according to a May 2021 report from the U.N. Environment Program, avoiding 0.3 degrees Celsius of warming by the 2040s.
The quickest methane fixes are in the fossil fuel sector, which accounts for about one-third of anthropogenic emissions. Special venting installed in coal mines; early detection of gas leaks; reducing methane venting during oil and gas production and other “readily available” measures could cut methane emissions by more than 40 million tons a year, according to the report. Capturing natural gas from landfills would even pay for itself because of its resale value.
Still, it’s not clear this will be enough. The world’s biggest methane emitters—China and Russia—have not signed the COP26 pledge. And even if they did, it’s not clear that reductions in human-caused methane will be enough to compensate for the increase from natural sources.
If the warming Earth is already starting to release more methane, then this vicious cycle—in which warming triggers more warming—could become self-perpetuating. Although that moment could still be decades in the future, once that tipping point is reached, it will be very hard to reverse.
» Read article
It’s Happened Before: Paleoclimate Study Shows Warming Oceans Could Lead to a Spike in Seabed Methane Emissions
Shallow deposits of frozen methane beneath oceans may be more vulnerable to thawing than previously known.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
August 22, 2022
The slowdown of a key ocean current could release methane that is frozen in layers of organic seabed sediments along some of the world’s coastlines, a new study shows.
Cold temperatures and high pressure on sea floors currently sequester about one-sixth of the world’s methane, a potent but short-lived greenhouse gas, in an ice-like form called methane hydrate, or clathrates. Sudden thawing of those clathrates could result in a surge of methane emissions that would spike the planet’s fever. The new research, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that some of the shallower layers in the Atlantic Ocean could be more vulnerable than previously thought to warming that could release that methane, and that such events have happened in the distant past.
The trigger for such warming and thawing, according to the study, is a large inflow of fresh, frigid water from melting Arctic ice, which can disrupt the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current, a slow ocean heat pump, pushing cold water in the Arctic deep down and southward, and warm water to the surface and northward.
Temperature, density and salinity contrasts drive the pump. But in recent decades, the influx of water from rapidly melting Arctic ice, especially the Greenland Ice Sheet, appears to be weakening the current, which could warm the ocean at depths of 300 to 1,300 meters to destabilize methane hydrates buried 20 to 30 feet deep in the seabed.
» Read article
» Read the PNAS study
The Idea of 100 Percent Renewable Energy Is Once Again Having a Moment
Wind, solar and other renewable sources could supply all of the world’s energy, according to a growing body of research.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
August 25, 2022
In 1975, Danish physicist Bent Sørensen published a paper examining the possibility that his country could run on 100 percent renewable energy. Appearing in the journal Science, it could have been an important moment for beginning to look seriously at transforming the way the world produces energy.
“It was not a loved idea at all,” said Christian Breyer, a faculty member at LUT University in Finland, in a video interview from his office.
But things have changed. In the last five years or so, as the world faces the escalating toll of climate change, the concept of 100 percent renewable energy has gotten a much more serious look from scientists, policy analysts and governments.
Breyer is the lead author of a new paper published by IEEE Access tracing the development and growth of this idea, and the pushback. The concept of 100 percent renewable energy hasn’t quite reached the mainstream in most large economies, but it’s getting close, he said.
I should specify that Breyer is not a neutral party in this discussion. He and the roughly two dozen co-authors of the paper include some of the best-known researchers who focus on, and advocate for, 100 percent renewable energy. This includes Mark Jacobson of Stanford and Auke Hoekstra of Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.
The paper is a valuable primer for understanding what 100 percent renewable energy means, where these ideas have found the most support in government and what others say are the major flaws.
One of the people cited is Amory Lovins, an American physicist who wrote about the possibility of an all-renewable system in 1976. He would go on to be co-founder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, now called RMI.
Lovins told me this week that the Breyer paper is “impressive and important” and he is pleased to see that Sørensen’s work is getting proper credit for being ahead of its time.
“It’s become increasingly obvious over the past few decades that all-renewable electricity can work well pretty much anywhere,” Lovins said. “Denial is increasingly confined to the uninformed.”
» Read article
Finally, a heat-pump water heater that plugs into a standard outlet
How a public-private collaboration brought a key climate-change-fighting tool to market: an efficient 120-volt water heater that can be easily installed in homes.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
August 29, 2022
Last month’s launch of Rheem’s ProTerra 120-volt heat pump water heater might not seem like a big step forward in the fight against climate change. In terms of home electrification accessories, it’s not as sexy as a rooftop solar array, Tesla Powerwall battery or Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck.
But to home electrification policy wonks, an efficient electric water heater that can plug into a standard wall socket is a major advance in getting U.S. households off fossil fuels. It’s also an example of what climate activists, policymakers and big businesses can accomplish when they work together.
That’s how Panama Bartholomy, executive director of the Building Decarbonization Coalition, described the multiyear effort that has enabled major U.S. water heater manufacturers to fill a big gap in the U.S. electric appliance lineup.
Back in October 2018, Bartholomy’s group and fellow nonprofit New Buildings Institute gathered state policymakers, utilities and representatives of major U.S. water heater manufacturers at a conference in San Francisco to start tackling a problem that was impeding California’s building decarbonization goals: More than nine in 10 of the 14.5 million water heaters in California homes burn fossil gas. Few of those homes are wired for 240-volt heat pump water heaters, which were the only models available at the time. Asking homeowners and contractors to undertake expensive rewiring or electrical panel upgrades to support these more power-hungry replacement units could have triggered pushback from customers and contractors, and left many smaller homes or renters locked out of the market altogether.
So “we pulled together over 100 people and worked for six months on a specification for a ‘retrofit-ready’ heat pump water heater,” Bartholomy said. The goal was to provide a clear signal to companies that their work on a novel product would bear fruit, or as he put it, to do some “trust-building — the basis of any good relationship.”
Now, more than three years later, that trust-building has paid off. Rheem’s ProTerra is expected to be followed by the launch of 120-volt heat pump water heaters from A.O. Smith, General Electric and Nyle over the coming year, said Amruta Khanolkar, senior project manager at the New Buildings Institute.
“There are about 118 million residential water heaters nationwide, and more than 50 percent of them are using fossil fuel for heating water,” she said. About 7 million water heaters are replaced every year in the country, and those customers “need a solution to easily plug in.”
» Read article
MODERNIZING THE GRID
Why the energy transition broke the U.S. interconnection system
The same processes that created the U.S. power system may now be preventing its transition to clean generation.
By Emma Penrod, Utility Dive
August 22, 2022
Boone Staples, director of transmission analysis for the engineering and construction group at energy developer Tenaska, has been doing essentially the same job for the last 15 years. And in spite of his tenure, he says he can’t remember a single solar project that hasn’t run into interconnection delays.
“We have projects in the [Midcontinent Independent System Operator] queue that have been there for four and a half years now. In [the Southwest Power Pool]…we’re looking at eight years start to finish on a project. In PJM we have projects that have been there since March 2019 – these projects were shovel ready. They have offtake contracts completed with full permits ready to start construction, just waiting on PJM,” Staples recounts. “Those have been put on pause. With queue reform it looks like they will get kicked out to late 2025, so that’s pretty severe for us.”
Tenaska, Staples says, is ready and willing to participate in interconnection studies and pay for transmission upgrades. And yet the ever-growing queue times, he says, continue to cost the company projects. Power purchase agreement negotiations have fallen apart, and options on land have even expired, as projects wind their way through the lengthy interconnection process – difficulties that can trigger the cancellation of an entire project.
Data from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory show that interconnection queue times have increased dramatically since 2005, when a typical solar project could be built, start to finish, in two years. Today, the average developer can expect to need four years or more to complete a project, according to Joseph Rand, a senior scientific engineering associate tracking interconnection queues at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab.
But it’s not just that navigating the queue takes longer today than in the past decade, Rand says. Projects are also significantly less likely to succeed. Less than a quarter of the projects that enter interconnection queues around the U.S. will make it through to completion. Between the delays and the need for developers to hedge their bets, the U.S. currently has roughly 700 GW of solar, 400 GW of energy storage, and more than 200 GW of wind energy sitting in overflowing interconnection backlogs – just gigawatts shy of what the Biden administration projects is needed to generate 95% carbon-free energy by 2035.
“Our backlogs are indicating that our wind and solar developers are eager to meet that demand,” Rand says, “but that our transmission and interconnection system and procedures are not keeping pace with meeting that demand.”
So how did we get here? After decades of dominating the energy and technology scenes, the U.S., it seems, got complacent. Instead of upgrading the grid and related bureaucratic systems, industry, regulatory and government leaders took a business as usual posture that assumed the nation’s traditional ad hoc, bottom-up approach to energy development would work for renewables, too.
And it did – partially. But the bottlenecks this process creates, experts say, now threatens the nation’s ability to transition to clean energy with the same speed seen in countries with more cohesive regulatory systems.
» Read article
SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES
Maine court finds part of referendum blocking transmission line to Massachusetts unconstitutional
Now, it’s up to a lower court judge to decide whether the project can go ahead.
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
August 30, 2022
Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Tuesday that part of a referendum effectively blocking a transmission line that would bring hydroelectric energy to Massachusetts was unconstitutional, sending the case back to a lower court to decide its future.
It’s not a full green light for the project, which is seen as critical to Massachusetts achieving its clean energy mandate, but advocates in the state cheered the ruling as a much-needed step in the right direction. Opponents to the project, meanwhile, say the fight is far from over.
The $1 billion transmission line, known as the New England Clean Energy Connect, was dealt a serious blow in November of last year, when nearly 60 percent of Maine voters approved a ballot question to kill the power line.
The five members of the court found it was unconstitutional to retroactively apply the referendum because the project had already completed substantial construction based on the permits it had already received, and sent it back to a lower court for further proceedings.
Some clean energy advocates in the region were happy to have the ruling.
“Like everyone, we were waiting with bated breath to see what the court would say, and wasn’t clear which direction they would go,” said Daniel Sosland, president of the clean energy advocacy group the Acadia Center.
The project’s future depends on whether a lower court finds that, at the time of the statewide referendum vote, the transmission line was far enough along that it had established what’s known as vested rights.
Opponents to the transmission line argue that Central Maine Power, a subsidiary of Avangrid, sped up its timeline to complete as much work as possible despite knowing that the referendum was coming. “We think it’s very well documented that CMP really rushed to build this, despite the fact that this referendum was ongoing, despite the fact that they knew they were going to lose this referendum,” said Adam Cote, an attorney with Drummond Woodsum who is representing opponents to the transmission line.
Massachusetts cannot reach its mandate of net-zero emissions by 2050 without greening the electricity grid, and while wind and solar are expected to make up a significant portion of that, Canadian hydro is “an essential element,” according to the state’s roadmap for reaching that goal.
» Read article
» Read the court’s decision
Maine farmer pairs solar panels with wild blueberries. Will it bear fruit?
The University of Maine is studying how mounting solar panels in wild blueberry patches will affect income and production. The plants rebounded well from construction but so far show signs of producing fewer berries.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
September 1, 2022
Maine’s wild blueberries are a unique crop that can’t be planted from seed, explains lifelong blueberry farmer Paul Sweetland. They must be gently cultivated where the low-lying bushes grow naturally, and the small, sweet berries are sold in the local area, too delicate to easily transport far.
But blueberry land and other parcels of rural Maine are being increasingly eyed for housing development, and Sweetland feels the wild blueberry sector is under pressure, especially when blueberry market prices drop.
He hopes that a new “crop” growing in tandem with berries could help boost the local industry and preserve farmland. That would be solar panels that have been installed across 11 acres of the land where Sweetland farms blueberries in Rockport, Maine.
The University of Maine is studying this example of dual-use agrivoltaics. The solar installation was developed by the Boston-based solar developer BlueWave, and it is owned by the company Navisun, which makes lease payments to the landowner. Sweetland tends, harvests and sells the blueberries, and shares profits with the landowner.
Across the country, farmers regularly lease their land for utility-scale or community solar installations, but typically crops are not grown on that same land. With dual-use agrivoltaics, crops are grown under or between the rows of solar panels, with the aim of generating renewable energy without removing farmland from production.
Farmers or landowners can collect incentives for solar energy, and some states including Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have or are considering incentives specifically for agrivoltaics. Agrivoltaics work best with crops that don’t grow too high, that are picked by hand, and that benefit from the shade the panels provide.
» Read article
Massachusetts likely to ban new gas-powered cars, thanks to California
By Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe
August 26, 2022
California’s newly announced ban on sales of fossil-fuel-burning cars and small trucks starting in 2035 has cleared the way for a similar ban in Massachusetts. That’s because of a provision in Massachusetts’s new climate change law, as well as a unique feature in federal law that lets California set environmental standards for other US states.
In late 2020, Governor Charlie Baker endorsed a ban on fossil-fuel vehicles by 2035, and language to that effect was included in the climate bill he signed earlier this month. But Massachusetts couldn’t enforce the requirement unless California went first.
It all goes back to an unusual feature of the Clean Air Act, which empowers the federal government to set environmental standards for cars and trucks. While automakers chafed at government regulation, they hoped that the new law would at least give them a single set of nationwide standards.
“The carmakers of course did not want 50 states setting up all different rules,” said Larry Chretien, executive director of Green Energy Consumers Alliance in Boston.
However, some states still wanted the right to impose even tougher anti-pollution rules. In the end, Congress came up with a compromise. California, the most populous US state, and one with severe air pollution problems, could apply to the federal government for permission to impose stricter standards. No other state is permitted to do this.
However, if a tougher California regulation is approved by the federal government, any other state can adopt the rule as well. Massachusetts, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s environmental standards for automobiles.
Chretien said that carmakers could urge the US Environmental Protection Agency to reject the California and Massachusetts rules. But he predicted little opposition, noting that the industry is already spending billions on an aggressive transition to electric vehicles.
» Read article
So you’re in the market for an electric vehicle? Here’s how the new federal and Mass. laws will help
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
August 18, 2022
August has been a big month for the environment. At the national level, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocates over $360 billion to help fight climate change. And more locally, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a sweeping state climate and clean energy bill into law.
Both laws cover a lot of ground. But one notable commonality is the emphasis on getting more electric vehicles on the road. To help make this happen, the laws establish tax credits or rebates for consumers — you don’t have to choose one, you can take advantage of both — as well as mandates and incentives for building charging infrastructure.
So whether you’re already in the market for an EV, or just starting to think about making the switch, here’s what you should know about how these two new laws can help.
» Read article
CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE
10 of 13 ‘Flagship’ CCS Projects Failed to Deliver, IEEFA Analysis Concludes
By Mitchell Beer, The Energy Mix
September 1, 2022
After a half-century of research and development, carbon capture and storage projects are far more likely to fail than to succeed, and nearly three-quarters of the carbon dioxide they manage to capture each year is sold off to fossil companies and used to extract more oil, according to a sweeping industry assessment released today by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).
The report lands just as analysts in the United States warn of major verification problems with a CCS tax credit that received a major boost in the Biden administration’s new climate action plan, and as Canadian fossils lobby for more tax relief to match what’s becoming available in the U.S.
One of the case studies in the 79-page IEEFA report [pdf] concludes that the troubled Boundary Dam CCS project in Saskatchewan has missed its carbon capture by about 50%. The 13 “flagship, large-scale” projects in the analysis account for about 55% of the world’s current carbon capture capacity, the institute says in a release.
Those 13 projects captured a grand total of 39 million tonnes of CO2 per year, the report found, about one-ten thousandth of the 36.3 billion tonnes that emitters spewed into the atmosphere in 2021.
“CCS technology has been going for 50 years and many projects have failed and continued to fail, with only a handful working,” said report co-author Bruce Robertson, a veteran investment analyst and fund manager now serving as IEEFA’s energy finance analyst for gas and LNG. The report, co-authored by energy analyst Milad Mousavian, concludes that seven of the 13 projects underperformed, two failed outright, and one was mothballed.
“Many international bodies and national governments are relying on carbon capture in the fossil fuel sector to get to net-zero, and it simply won’t work,” Robertson said in the release. Though there is “some indication it might have a role to play in hard-to-abate sectors such as cement, fertilizers, and steel, overall results indicate a financial, technical, and emissions reduction framework that continues to overstate and underperform.”
» Read article
» Read the IEEFA report
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Texas Study Finds ‘Massive Amount’ of Toxic Wastewater With Few Options for Reuse
Oil and gas companies produce 3.8 billion barrels of wastewater per year in the arid Permian Basin.
By Dylan Baddour, Inside Climate News
August 31, 2022
Oil and gas extraction in the Permian Basin of arid West Texas is expected to produce some 588 million gallons of wastewater per day for the next 38 years, according to findings of a state-commissioned study group—three times as much as the oil it produces.
The announcement from the Texas Produced Water Consortium came two days before it was due to release its findings on potential recycling of oilfield wastewater.
“It’s a massive amount of water,” said Rusty Smith, the consortium’s executive director, addressing the Texas Groundwater Summit in San Antonio on Tuesday.
But making use of that so-called “produced water” still remains well beyond the current reach of state authorities, he said.
Lawmakers in Texas, the nation’s top oil and gas producer, commissioned the Produced Water Consortium in February 2021, following similar efforts in other oil-producing states to study how produced water, laced with toxic chemicals, can be recycled into local water supplies.
The Texas study focused on the Permian Basin, the state’s top oil-producing zone, where years of booming population growth have severely stretched water supplies and planners forecast a 20 billion gallon per year deficit by year 2030.
[…] Their estimate—about 170 billions of gallons per year [of produced water from the Permian]—equals nearly half the yearly water consumption in New York City.
That quantity creates steep logistical and economic challenges to recycling—an expensive process that renders half the original volume as concentrated brine which would have to be permanently stored.
“It’s a massive amount of salt,” Smith said. “We’d essentially create new salt flats in West Texas and collapse the global salt markets.”
He estimated that treatment costs of $2.55 to $10 per barrel and disposal costs of $0.70 per barrel would hike up the water price far beyond the average $0.40 per barrel paid by municipal users or $0.03 per barrel paid by irrigators.
On top of that, distributing the recycled water would require big infrastructure investments—both for high-tech treatment plants and the distribution system to transport recycled water to users in cities and towns.
“We’re going to need pipelines to move it,” Smith said. “We have quite a gap we need to bridge and figure out how we’re going to make it more economical.”
That is only if produced water in West Texas can be proven safe for consumption when treated.
» Read article
Secret Data, Tiny Islands and a Quest for Treasure on the Ocean Floor
Mining in parts of the Pacific Ocean was meant to benefit poor countries, but an international agency gave a Canadian company access to prized seabed sites with metals crucial to the green energy revolution.
By Eric Lipton, New York Times
August 29, 2022
As demand grows globally for metals needed to make batteries for electric vehicles, one of the richest untapped sources of the raw materials lies two and a half miles beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
This remote section of the seabed, about 1,500 miles southwest of San Diego, could soon become the world’s first industrial-scale mining site in international waters.
The Metals Company, based in Vancouver, has secured exclusive access to tons of seabed rocks packed with cobalt, copper and nickel — enough, it says, to power 280 million electric vehicles, equivalent to the entire fleet of cars in the United States.
“No mining has ever been done on a scale like this on the planet,” said James A.R. McFarlane, former head of environmental monitoring at the International Seabed Authority, an agency affiliated with the United Nations that will regulate mining by the Metals Company and the many other businesses and countries expected to follow.
An examination by The New York Times of how the Metals Company is prepared to exploit this new frontier in the green energy revolution — the firm calculates it will clear $31 billion in earnings over the 25-year life of the project — tells the story of a single-minded, 15-year-long courtship of the small Jamaica-based seabed agency that holds the keys to the world’s underwater treasures.
Interviews and hundreds of pages of emails, letters and other internal documents show that the firm’s executives received key information from the Seabed Authority beginning in 2007, giving a major edge to their mining ambitions. The agency provided data identifying some of the most valuable seabed tracts, and then set aside the prized sites for the company’s future use, according to the materials.
The sharing of that information has angered employees at the agency, who said some of the data was meant for developing countries trying to compete with richer countries, something the agency is mandated under international law to assist. “You are violating the legal concept behind the Seabed Authority,” Sandor Mulsow, who held top positions at the agency before leaving in 2019, said in an interview. “It’s scandalous.”
The Metals Company is one of nearly two dozen contractors that have exploration deals with the agency; most of them are held by nations. But the firm has been especially aggressive in pushing the Seabed Authority to allow it to start mining, and is now racing to begin in late 2024.
The undertaking has raised concerns among environmentalists about the perpetually underfunded agency’s commitment to protecting life on the ocean floor, and has renewed broader questions about who gets to profit from the riches of the sea.
» Read article
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